Monday, September 29, 2014

Philosophy Exams This Week and Next

For my MCCC Philosophy of Religion Students:

Your oral exams will be in room A173b. Sept. 30 and Oct. 2.

The exam questions are:

  1. Explain Anselm's Ontological Argument for God's existence.
  2. Explain Gaunilo's response to Anselm, plus our response to Gaunilo.
  3. Explain Kant's criticism of the Ontological Argument.
  4. Explain William Lane Craig's Kalam Cosmological Argument for God's Existence.
  5. Explain Robin Collins's Anthropic Teleological Argument for God's Existence.

For my MCCC Western Philosophy Students:

Your oral exams will be in room A173b. oct. 2 and Oct. 7.

The exam questions are:

  1. Thales - a) What is the problem of the One and the many? b) What is Thales' solution to the problem of the One and the many; c) What is a contemporary example of the One and the many? d) Which ancient Greek philosopher (Pre-Socratic) anticipated quantum theory?
  2. Parmenides - What is Parmenides solution to the problem of the One and the many? 
  3. Plato - a) Explain Plato's (Socrates') idea of knowledge as recollection; b) explain Plato's Theory of Ideas; c) Explain Plato's "Allegory of the Cave"; d) What is a contemporary example of Plato's Idealism?
  4. Aristotle - a) Explain Aristotle's idea of form and matter; b) How does Aristotle explain "change?" c) How does Aristotle's reasoning provide an alternative to Parmenides?

In Praying I Come to Know God (PrayerLife)

Linda and I
I regularly get together with people who come on Sunday mornings to check out our church. In just an hour's time, with some coffee added for clarity's sake, I come to know a lot about someone. When I share with and listen to people I grow in my knowledge of them.

In the same way praying increases my knowledge of God. I come to know God, over time, in the act and habit of conversing with God. Wayne Grudem writes: "Prayer, which is personal communication from us to God, not only helps us know about God but also helps us truly know God." (Wayne Grudem, Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know, Kindle Locations 588-589)

Reading a book on prayer is good; praying is better. Hearing about other people's prayer lives helps; praying helps more. Knowing about God is cool; way cooler is knowing God.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Praying as Interfacing (PrayerLife)

N.T. Wright writes:

"We are people who live at the interface between God’s world and the life of this present world. We are people who belong in that uncomfortable borderland. We are called to stay at this post even when we have no idea what’s actually going on." (Wright, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, Kindle Locations 4725-4727)

To "stay at this post," for Wright, is to be a praying person. Prayer is the act of interfacing this world and the kingdom of God. Praying is one of the things Jesus-followers do at the place where heaven and earth intersect.

In the act of conversational prayer we confer with God about what we (you and God) are doing together. This viewpoint radically changes a traditional view of prayer as only "petition," or "asking." Instead of sending prayer requests up to heaven, heaven meets with earth, in the place and act of praying.

Prayer is where the rule of God (aka the "kingdom of God") invades this present darkness.

Today, as you pray, view yourself as interfacing with the Maker of heaven and earth.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Today Is a Day of Opportunity (PrayerLife)

The River Raisin in Monroe

Today I awoke with a feeling of gratitude for life. For life itself, on its own. Just to have life, to have another day to be

I often feel this way. When I first met Christ 44 years ago a transcendent gratefulness was deposited in my soul. Life poured into me resurrected my heart from death, and has never left. Let all the living read Ephesians 5:15-16, which says: 

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.

Today I want to live wisely. Today is a day of opportunity, a chance to live in a certain way. For this I am thankful.

The object of my gratitude is God. I can thank the farmer for the food I eat. I can thank the techie for the computer I am writing this on. I can thank you for reading this. But this morning I am thankful for the life I have, for my very existence and being, and the only possible object of my gratitude for this gift can be God

If God did not exist, then this thankfulness I feel would be absurd. On the non-existence of God there is no way, there is no path, and there is no Giver of life. How inconsequential to thank the penny for turning up "heads."

Today I will meet problems. Thank you, God, for the opportunity to make the most of them. Choices lie ahead of me, today. Help me, God, to choose wisely. Thank you for choice-making ability. Thank you for libertarian free will (that ability to choose which is not fully reducible to antecedent causal conditions).

Today I get to help some people. I will be with people today. It's another day with Linda. Another day, by God's grace, on this earth and within his created order, which amazes me with its intricacy, beauty, and transcendence.

I will savor this day, rejoice in it, and give thanks. Praise God from Whom, ultimately, all blessings flow!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Logic: Self-Contradictory Sentences

For my MCCC Logic students. The following sentences are not propositions or statements. They are meaningless because self-contradictory.

My brother is an only child.
John is a bachelor and his wife’s name is Linda.
There is no such thing as truth.
            1. There is no such thing as truth.
            2. Therefore, premise 1 is not true.
All the statements I make are false.
            1. All S are F.
            2. Premise 1 is S.
            3. Therefore, Premise 1 is F.
All human behavior is determined.
            1. All human behavior is determined.
            2. Making statements is an example of human behavior.
            3. Premise 1 pretends to be a statement.
            4. Premise 1 is determined.
5. Therefore whoever believes Premise 1 is determined to believe Premise 1.
Which is... nonsense.
I only believe things that you can see, touch, hear, taste, or smell.
1.    I only believe things that you can see, touch, hear, taste, or smell.
2.    I believe sentence 1 above.
3.    Therefore I believe something that cannot be seen, touched, tasted, heard, 
or smelled.
There is no such thing as free will.
            1. There is no such thing as free will.
2. Sentence 1 was not freely chosen. Any person who believes Sentence 1 does not willfully believe Sentence 1, but was causally determined to believe Sentence 1.
            3. Therefore there is no good reason to believe that Sentence 1 is  a statement, and true.
The "verification principle." (VP)
            1. A statement is true IFF (if and only if) it : a) can be empirically
            verified; or b) is mathematical (tautological). (This is called the VP.)
            2. The VP claims to be a statement.
            3. The VP itself can be neither a) empirically verified; nor is it b)
            mathematical (tautological; redundant; definitional.
            4. There the VP is false (by its own criteria).
Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote: "Most propositions and
questions which have been written about philosophical matters are not false, but
senseless. We cannot, therefore, answer questions of this kind at all, but only
state their senselessness. Most questions and propositions of the philosophers
result from the fact that we do not understand the logic of our language."
All truth is relative.
            1. All truth is relative to individual knowing subjects.
            2. Sentence 1 is true, universally (note the word "all").
            3. Sentence 1 is relative (and thus, by definition, is not
            universally applicable).
4.    Therefore Statement 1 is false.

Hence subjective relativism is nonsense (the idea that some things are, e.g., 
"true for you" but "false for me"). 
See the logic text I am using - Vaughn, The Power of Critical Thinking, Ch. 2, on the 
"subjectivist fallacy."

The Anthropic Teleological Argument for God's Existence

For my MCCC Philosophy of Religion students.

This is an evidential argument for God’s existence.

Physicists have discovered at least three features of the universe (three pieces of evidence) that point to divine creation.

1)   The so-called fine-tuning of laws, constants, and initial conditions of the universe for complex life of comparable intelligence to ourselves.
a.   See the summary, p. 189
b. Physicists have discovered that the cosmological constants (e.g., expansion rate of the universe, gravitational constant, and so on) appear fine-tuned for a life-permitting universe. If any of the constants were slightly different our universe would not be life-allowing.
c. "Fine-tuned" is a metaphor used to illustrate this. Imagine a radio panel with 20 dials, each of which has to be exactly dialed in.
2)   The extraordinary beauty and elegance of the laws and mathematical structure of the universe. E.g., physicist Stephen Weinberg.
3)   The intelligibility and discoverability  of the basic structure of nature. E.g., Einstein – the miracle is that our universe is discoverable by us.

The likelihood principle of confirmation theory.
According to the likelihood principle, an event or state of affairs E counts as evidence in favor of a hypothesis H1 over a hypothesis H2, if E is more probable under H1 than H2.
Example: An ink splotch that looks like the face of Abraham Lincoln would support the idea that the splotch was designed, whereas a splotch of random looking ink marks would not.
If the ink splotch looks like Lincoln then we would not be surprised that it was designed; if the ink splotch was random looking we would not be surprised if it was not designed.

The Argument
1.   The existence of a universe with the features cited above (the 3 pieces of evidence) is not surprising under theism.
2.   The existence of such a universe is enormously surprising under naturalism.

3.   Therefore, by the likelihood principle, the existence of such a universe strongly supports theism over naturalism.


Anselm's Ontological Argument for the Existence of God (Philosophy of Religion Students)

Praying In the Place of Least Distraction (PrayerLife)

Cemetery, Princeton University
When I pray, I go away from my home, office, or car. Instead of going to these familiar places I find the Place of Least Distraction. Yes, I can and should pray in familiar places. But these call for my attention. They define me, to some extent. They praise and blame me. They can cover over who I really am and who God intends me to be. 

Praying in the familiar place is not true solitude. It's different thing to be praying alone with God in the Place of Least Distraction. Ruth Haley Barton writes:

"Solitude is the place of our own conversion. In solitude we stop believing our own press. We discover that we are not as good as we thought but we are also more than we thought." (Ruth Haley Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry, p. 51)

Today I will pray in the Place of Least Distraction, the place of change, the place of my conversion, the place of my breaking and re-making.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Aristotle on Form and Matter, Actuality & Potentiality, and Change (for my Western Philosophy students)

Raphael, from "The School of Athens"

For my MCCC Western Philosophy students.


1. Explain Aristotle's idea of "form" and "matter."

A "form is what a thing really is. ("Actuality.") Aristotle links form with "function" or "telos" (the Greek word for "purpose.") For example the form of "this chair" is to be sat on; the form of "my house" is to be lived in.

"Matter" is eternal. Matter can take on different forms.

A form is non-physical, non-material. A form cannot be matter or physical for at least 2 reasons:

1. matter is always going in and out, always changing. E.g., you cut your hair; or you paint the chair; or you paint your house.
2. Things can remain the same in form even if we replace bits of matter on it. E.g., we put a new roof on the house.

2. How does Aristotle explain "change?"

There are two kinds of change.

1. "Substantial change" is when one form changes into another form. E.g., when cream becomes butter.
2. "Accidental change" is when the form stays the same but the matter gets reconfigured. E.g., when you put a new roof on the house.

Change requires stability. If there is not some unchanging form then we cannot talk about change.

3. How does Aristotle's reasoning provide an alternative to Parmenides?

Parmenides denied that change was real, because Being cannot come from Unbeing, since Unbeing cannot be thought (is nothing).

For Aristotle change is explained like this:
  Matter is eternal. So, change is not transitioning from "nothing" to something.

Change is explained by either: 1) matter taking on a different form; or 2) a form/substance changing accidentally.

Praying for Greater Inner Security (PrayerLife)

Crossing by boat over Lake Michigan
Over the years I have struggled with inner insecurity about my own self. Thomas Merton (Henri Nouwen too) distinguished between one's false self and one's true self. Inner security and freedom comes as I discover and experience and live out of who I truly am and have been created to be.

I have been greatly helped by re-reading and meditating on my true nature, which is a child of God, in Christ. 

I can relate to the many people who, mostly unconsciously, listen to the inner voices of the false self and experience the insecurity those voices produce. I meet these people every day in the work I do. Maybe that's you. I have had moments where I have felt a failure and worthless. Have you? If so, join me in praying these things, asking God's Spirit to move them from mental assent to heart-reality, from inner bondage to freedom.


I am accepted...
I am God's child.
As a disciple, I am a friend of Jesus Christ.
I have been justified.
I am united with the Lord, and I am one with Him in spirit.
I have been bought with a price and I belong to God.
I am a member of Christ's body.
I have been chosen by God and adopted as His child.
I have been redeemed and forgiven of all my sins.
I am complete in Christ.
I have direct access to the throne of grace through Jesus Christ.
I am secure...
I am free from condemnation.
I am assured that God works for my good in all circumstances.
I am free from any condemnation brought against me and I cannot be separated from the love of God.
I have been established, anointed and sealed by God.
I am hidden with Christ in God.
I am confident that God will complete the good work He started in me.
I am a citizen of heaven.
I have not been given a spirit of fear but of power, love and a sound mind.
I am born of God and the evil one cannot touch me.
I am significant...
I am a branch of Jesus Christ, the true vine, and a channel of His life.
I have been chosen and appointed to bear fruit.
I am God's temple.
I am a minister of reconciliation for God.
I am seated with Jesus Christ in the heavenly realm.
I am God's workmanship.
I may approach God with freedom and confidence.
I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me

Monday, September 22, 2014

God's Love Has No Conditions

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Praying to Make My Life Add Up (PrayerLife)

I'm on Urbana, Ohio this morning. I went for an early morning prayer walk, using Psalm 23 to meditate on. What a beautiful fall morning it is!

 When I pay attention to God I see things. I saw a billboard that read "Make Every Day Count." These words seemed important for me. I began repeating, as I continued walking, "I will make every day count. I will make every day count." This is not "mindless repetition," because repetition on truths are profoundly mindful.

I will make my life "count" - for what?

I will make every day "add up" to something. When I die perhaps someone will "sum up" my life, and I hope it "amounts" to something more than "He liked watching sports."

There is something called "the sum total of my life." There is an "amount" to my life. My life can amount to something.

My life can have eternal results.

I prayed, "God, pour everything into this present day. Into this present moment. Now. Make my "now" count, for You.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Speaking in Urbana, Ohio This Weekend

I'm leaving for Urbana, Ohio to lead a Presence-Driven Conference at First Baptist Church of Urbana.

Tonight - 6:30 - I'll share my story of coming into a presence-driven life.

Saturday - 10 AM - "Leading the Presence-Driven Church"/"Living the Presence-Driven Life"

Saturday - 2 PM - "In the Presence-Driven Church There Is 'Discernment' Rather than 'Decision-Making'"

Sunday - 10:30 AM - "Humility As the Foundational Attitude for Discernment"

"Surrendered Life" - Redeemer Church - Sept. 21, 6 PM

We have child care available for children 0-10.

Holly Benner leads worship - begins at 6.

Connie Goncin shares her testimony. (See "A Wild Weed Finds a Home In the Garden of God")

Sue Anderson shares what it is to live a surrendered life.

Max Tegmark on Plato and Ultimate Reality

I've been reading physicist Max Tegmark's Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality. I used this example in one of my philosophy classes yesterday. Like the Pre-Socratic philosophers, Plato, and Aristotle, the search for ultimate reality takes us behind the appearances into a world that often seems counterintuitive. Tegmark writes:

"Not everything is the way it seems at first, and this goes even for trucks and reality itself. Such suggestions come not only from philosophers and science fiction writers, but from physics experiments. Physicists have known for a century that solid steel is really mostly empty space, because the atomic nuclei that make up 99.95% of the mass are tiny balls that fill up merely 0.0000000000001% of the volume, and that this near-vacuum only feels solid because the electrical forces that hold these nuclei in place are very strong." (p. 4)

Tegmark concludes: "If my life as a physicist has taught me anything at all, it's that Plato was right: modern physics has made abundantly clear that the ultimate nature of reality isn't what it seems." (p. 8)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Presence-Driven Church - More Programs ≠ Spiritual Growth

In All Saints Spitalfields in Chicago.

I got burned out on the Program-Driven Church years ago and entered into the surprising, delightful, non-striving Presence-Driven Church. It's in the latter that disciples of Christ are formed.

See, e.g., "Willow Creek Finds Limits to its Model: Spiritual Growth Is not Keeping Pace."

From this 2008 article:

  • Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek, said it was “almost unbearable” to learn that almost a quarter of his congregation’s people were either “stalled” in their spiritual growth or dissatisfied with the church, with many considering leaving.
  • Hybels - “It is causing me to see clearly that the church and its myriad of programs have taken on too much of the responsibility for people’s spiritual growth.”
  • Researcher Diana Butler Bass says: “I have interviewed dozens and dozens of people throughout the United States who used to belong to churches like Willow Creek but left them in order to become Presbyterians or Lutherans or Episcopalians. Ex-members of the megachurches have sort of rediscovered a level of being Christian that they were unaware of.”
  • What's needed for spiritual revitalization and growth? Simple things like Bible study and prayer. What's cool, says Bass, is that “the littlest congregation in the world can do those kinds of things. It’s through those pathways that those churches have actually found revitalization.”

Get small.

Study the Word.



Be free.

Bear much fruit.

Give all the glory to God.

History of Western Philosophy - Aristotle

These are the notes I'll be using this morning to introduce my MCCC Western Philosophy students to Aristotle's metaphysics.



1.    Explain Aristotle’s idea of “form” and “matter.”
2.    How does Aristotle explain “change?”
3.    How does Aristotle’s reasoning provide an alternative to Parmenides?

1.    Explain Aristotle’s idea of “form” and “matter.”
A “form” is what a thing really is. “Matter” is not what a thing really is.
o   For 3 reasons:
·         Your physical being (“matter”) could not be what it is to be you. For three reasons.
1)    Matter is always going in and out, always changing.
E.g., you change your material constituents a lot without
stopping to be yourself. E.g., you cut your hair.
2) Something can remain what it is even if we replaced bits of matter on it. E.g., we could take a house, tear out some rotting boards, and replace them with different kinds of boards.
§  As long as it stayed that same continuous functional structure, serving the function of a house, we would still have the same thing or entity on our hands.
3) Matter is not definite enough to be what a thing really is.
§  Matter is just a lump or heap of stuff, so we couldn’t say you are some stuff or other.
§  It’s only when we’ve identified the structure the stuff constitutes that we can even go on to say something intelligent about the stuff itself.
Forms are non-material. But not in some abstract Platonic Realm of Ideas.
o   Aristotle thought we actually cannot go coherently beyond our experience. The only thing we can do is the investigating, the mapping, of the sphere of our experience.
o   E.g. – Raphael painting
Immaterial forms exist in physical things.
“Form” makes things belong to a certain kind. E.g., “dog.” Matter makes them individuals of that kind. E.g., “This German Shepherd.” Or: “My dog.”
“Matter is the principle of individuation in material things. This means, for instance, that two peas of the same size and shape, however alike they are, however many properties or forms they may have in common, are two peas and not one pea because they are two different parcels of matter.” (82-83)
EXAMPLE: These two dry erase markers have the same form. But they are two individual markers, because of matter.
“Forms are logically incapable of existing without the bodies of which they are the forms. [This is against Plato.] Forms do not themselves exist, nor come to be, in the way in which substances exist and come to be. Forms, unlike bodies, are not made out of anything; and for a form of A-ness to exist is simply for there to be some substance which is A; for horseness to exist there simply are horses.” (83)
So? This chair is a form-matter composite.

2.    How does Aristotle explain “change?”
In our experience we contact things that are changing. E.g., a leaf unfolds, is green, turns yellow, then withers.
A child is born, matures, grows older, then dies.
Now the question is: If we are to talk about changing things, there still must be some “It” that stays the same while all the attributes of it are changing.
            Otherwise it will be hard to talk about change at all.
            Change, paradoxically, requires stability.
E.g. – I cannot say “You have changed since I last saw you” unless there is some stable, unchanging “you.”
The question Aristotle asks is: what are the more continuous, persisting things on which we can anchor our discourse about change, things which themselves persist while properties or attributes are changing?
This is the “What is it?” question.  E.g., Who are you, really?
E.g., “you.” Which among the many properties of you that impress themselves on my senses are the most fundamental ones, the ones you couldn’t cease to have without ceasing to be yourself?
You could change your jacket. But obviously you would still be you.
Aristotle’s question about identity is the search for the parts or elements in the thing which play that very fundamental role, which are what it is to be that thing.
Two questions:
#1 – What are the characteristics of an object that are fundamental and indispensable, in that they make the object what it is?
#2 – What are the characteristics of an object that persist through change, so that the object, though changing, remains the same object?
(For Plato it’s the Forms.)

For Aristotle, there are two kinds of change:
o   Substantial change
§  When a form/substance of one kind turns into a form/substance of another kind.
§  “Matter” takes on a different form.
§  E.g., when you shake a bottle of cream and it changes into butter.
o   Accidental change
§  When a form stays the same but the matter gets reconfigured.
§  E.g., when you put a new roof on a house.
·         What a substance is, is its actualities (e.g., this piece of wood); what a substance can be or change into are its “potentialities” (e.g., a pile of ash).
o   Potentiality – the capacity to undergo a change of some kind. (82)
o   ‘Forms’ – the actualities involved in changes.
§  E.g., a bottle of cream can change into butter.
§  E.g., a piece of wood can change into a pile of ash.
o   ‘Matter’ – that which has the capacity for substantial change.
§  Matter can take on different forms.

·         E.g. – a piece of wood is actually cold but potentially hot; actually wood but potentially ash.
o    “The actualities involved in changes are called ‘forms’, and ‘matter’ is used as a technical term for what has the capacity for substantial change.” (82)

3. How does Aristotle’s reasoning provide an alternative to Parmenides?
-       Kenny, 83
Parmenides denied that change was real, because Being cannot come from Unbeing, since Unbeing cannot be thought (is nothing).
For Aristotle change is explained like this:
·                     Matter is eternal.
·                     Matter cannot exist without form.

·         Change is explained by either: 1) matter taking on a different form; or 2) a form/substance changing accidentally.