Thursday, December 5, 2013


So I posted the other day of a pop culture surprise and how I randomly ran across a song by Selena Gomez with some positive lyrics.  This week while out on a run (I'm prepping for a Feb marathon), I happened to hear this song by MIKESCHAIR:
MIKESCHAIR - "Keep Changing The World" Lyrics by
Something here is wrong
There are children without homes
But we just move along to take care of our own
There's so much suffering just outside our door
A cry so deafening
We just can't ignore
To all the people who are fighting for the broken
All the people who keep holding on to love
All the people who are reaching for the lonely
Keep changing the world
Take a look around
Before the sun goes out
What's lost can still be found
It's not too late now
It only takes one spark to make the fire burn
So reach inside your heart and let this be the start
Chorus (X2)
I know you see this suffering
How they gonna recover when
People just look over like,
Like they don't even notice em,
Everyone who's focusing,
On ending all this hopelessness
You can change the world
By changing Who the world is hoping in.
I see the sun coming up
It's a brighter day
Let's show the world that love is a better way
So lend a hand join the fight
'Cause time is ticking away
Keep changing the world
Chorus (X2) (Italics mine.) 
Now, I understand that MIKESCHAIR is a (so called) "Christian" band.  The reason I phrase it like that, is the simple fact that a group technically cannot fall under the category of Christian.  Because a Christian is a person that follows/believes in/bases one's life on Jesus Christ.  But, a band can be comprised of Christians, and can seek to write God-honoring lyrics/songs, but it cannot really be in that sense of the word.  So, I wasn't really surprised hearing such a great message, but I did want to bring it up here as it really hit me.

I don't know if you're a regular reader, or first-time visitor, or whatever but I often talk about/discuss/debate apologetics and other philosophic issues through this site, and I love a good debate/discussion about the existence of God, morality, philosophy, etc.  But, in all that, sometimes I lose sight of what the Gospel is really about.  I mean the word actually means, "good news," but I don't think about the hope of the Gospel.  This song really put that back into my thoughts.  Is apologetics important?  Yes.  Does it offer strong arguments for Christ?  Yes.  Will it (alone) bring people to the hope that is in Christ Jesus?  Probably not, it's too confrontational.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Sociological Approach to Abortion

I know, I'm a glutton for punishment.  The last time I posted about abortion here a veritable conflagration of comments and arguments ensued.  But, here I am again, making another argument for life.  It's so important to me that I actually plan on doing at least one more after this one.

Let's look at a sociological approach to sex.  Ignore hollywood's glamorizing and glorification of sex.  Let's look at it from a biological point of view.  What is the chief goal of sex?  Well, that answer is obvious, to some, to procreate.  That's not to say sex can't be fun that'd backfire pretty quickly, it is fun and it's intentionally so, it encourages security and commitment between sexual partners.  Is sex a right?  No.  Procreation is a right, more a responsibility for all humanity.  If everyone were to stop procreating, what would happen to society tomorrow?  Well, there's actually a movie about that, Children of Men with Clive Owen paints a grim picture of a society that is unable to procreate.  So, what is the best scenario in which one should engage in sex?  Well, this is an easy question for me (religiously).  That would be marriage.  HOWEVER, this is not about pushing biblical morality or religious teaching.  What is the sociologically best situation for sex?  Now, this is arguable and I'm (again) not trying to force peoples' social mores to change, but the best situation in which one engages in procreation (which requires sex) is a committed relationship.  I'm not going to throw in any extra stipulations or anything like that, but think about social stability.  Mother and father both have care over the resultant child.  One or both can work while the other can remain with the child to care for it during the child's defenseless developmental periods.  Again, this isn't going to apply to every situation; these are generalities that make sense.

Now, since the biological goal of sex is to procreate, what does abortion do to this process?  Well, the answer is obvious, it aborts it.  Now, wait a second you might say, "What about single mothers?"  Does this sociological answer let them off and give them the right to kill the fetus?  NO.  Not only does this argument work in concert with many other arguments against abortion, one needs to keep in mind what sex is really about.  Procreation.  The stereotypical love affair in movies, where boy meets girl in X social scene, goes home with the partner, has sex, falls in love or whatever, is NOT real life and that's not a good way to build a relationship.  As anyone in a healthy relationship will tell you, if they're honest, relationships need more than one dimension.  A relationship only about sex (or any other single-dimensional characteristic) is doomed to fail because some day (usually soon) one or both partners won't have matching sexual desires.  Likewise, if it's built on some other single dimension, if that one thing fails the relationship fails, but a relationship built on many pillars is more secure.  Don't get me wrong, I don't think the state must get involved in a relationship to validate it.  Having that piece of paper from the courthouse really doesn't mean anything.  The real meaning is in the commitment made between the two in the relationship (I won't go into the multiple partners area because I find it fairly clear common sense that that kind of relationship is definitely not as secure as one-to-one).  Also, the reason a commitment should be public is fairly obvious.  Which commitments are more likely to be kept, ones in secret between one or two people, or ones made in front of friends and family?  Now, I don't want to go into the social ills of divorce, but it seems obvious (again) that divorce is terrible sociologically.  Again, I'm not saying the alternatives don't work.  Obviously millions of people grow up without one or the other parent involved; keep in mind we're not looking for a line in the sand, we're just exploring the way things ought to run.

Okay, so this line of reasoning means that every time one has sex one should expect to get pregnant.  Right?  That's the rational, biological, normal outcome of sex.  So why is the question of abortion all about women's rights?  I know women's rights have been trampled on in the past, I mean look at how long it took women's suffrage to pass!  Women have all the same human rights as men and it's completely moronic to argue otherwise.  Women have reproductive rights.  Women have health care rights.  Women have rights over their own bodies, anyone who argues differently is ignoring the truth of what it means to be human.  Those are rights that everyone has and is born with.  (Even a biblical argument against women's rights falls apart though many have claimed otherwise.)  The fact that the genders are different and fulfill different roles in different situations, has nothing to do with rights, that's one of the strengths of human society.  We can adapt and grow better together because we have differences that work better together than separately.  That's part of the reason the sociologically best situation for sex and procreation is two happily married (or committed in front of their friends and family) couple.  This whole argument for abortion rips at the already feeble fabric of society.

I don't think anyone can stand solely on sociological arguments and say that abortion is morally wrong.  Sociology isn't really about making those kind of judgements.  Sociology can tell us what works well and the way things really ought to work.  Sociology can also seek out variations and show how they can succeed and what types of things will help bad situations work out.  But, it's clear that aborting an average of 3,000 fetuses daily is NOT good for society.  We need to work together as a society to stop this rift in the way things ought to be.

Based on some comments I'd like to add some edits:

A research paper devoted to studying and comparing the statistics for children growing up in various types of families said this:
Research indicates that, on average, children who grow up in families with both their biological parents in a low-conflict marriage are better off in a number of ways than children who grow up in single-, step- or cohabiting-parent households. Compared to children who are raised by their married parents, children in other family types are more likely to achieve lower levels of education, to become teen parents, and to experience health, behavior, and mental health problems. And children in single- and cohabiting-parent families are more likely to be poor.
This being said, most children not living with married, biological parents grow up without serious problems. In individual situations, marriage may or may not make children better off, depending on whether the marriage is “healthy” and stable. Marriage may also be a proxy for other parental characteristics that are associated with relationship stability and positive child outcomes. The legal basis and public support involved in the institution of marriage helps to create the most likely conditions for the development of factors that children need most to thrive—consistent, stable, loving attention from two parents who cooperate and who have sufficient resources and support from two extended families, two sets of friends, and society. Marriage is not a guarantee of these conditions, however, and these conditions exist in other family circumstances, but they are less likely to.
Emphasis on my points though the conclusion is tempered in the second paragraph with the fact that most don't have serious problems, it's more about individual situations.  Again, I don't think this research says that marriage is required to make happy, healthy, productive members of society, but the research is pretty clear on the fact that it does (provided it's a low-conflict marriage).  We're seeking what works best, not a solution to all the world's social ills.  This is an argument that shows sex/procreation belongs between committed, individuals that are intending to take care of their offspring anything else (especially in excess) is counter-social.

The God Delusion Book Review Part 1 Ch. 1-3

So, I've read several reviews of this book and I've seen several reactions to this work, but I wanted to get it straight from the horse's mouth in a manner of speaking.  So I'm reading The God Delusion, and I'll give you my notes.

Even in the preface Dawkins has already shown his prejudice.  Obviously the title says a lot, "Delusion."  He even mentions that psychologists asked him to change it because the word delusion is a scientific term and to apply it to the millions of people that believe in god wouldn't do justice to the word.  Of course that doesn't seem to faze Dawkins and his writing about that almost seems boastful, like he's proud of the fact that he's insulted the majority of the world.  How about this quote?  "... I believe there are plenty of open-minded people out there: people whose childhood indoctrination was not too insidious, or for other reasons didn't 'take,' or whose native intelligence is strong enough to overcome it" (pg6).  In case you didn't catch that, if you're open-minded or intelligent you'll give up anything you were taught about God in your childhood and be an atheist, like all the other smart people in the world.

How about this "gem"?  Quote from a Roman Catholic bishop who wrote to Einstein, "...He is all wrong.  Some men think that because they have achieved a high degree of learning in some field, they are qualified to express opinions in all."  Of course, Dawkins' retort is a false analogy based on his presupposition that God is just as fanciful as fairies.  Dawkins claims that theology isn't a "proper field" at all.  I find this particularly interesting because I've heard a very similar comment levied against Dawkins.  He's a world-renowned ethologist and evolutionary biologist, not a philosopher or theologian yet he's written extensively and authoritatively on subjects he has no (formal) education in.  No offence to his brilliance in his fields, but what expertise does a animal behaviorist and evolutionary biologist have in the fields of philosophy of religion, theology, philosophy in general?  Being brilliant in one particular field of knowledge doesn't give one authority to speak to all other fields of knowledge.

The biggest problem I have so far is that there haven't been any arguments (yet, he keeps hinting that they'll be proven in later chapters).  Chapter one, the first section is simply a childish foot-stomping raving that when atheists say "god" they don't mean the word "god."  Something akin to a child throwing a fit saying, "I did not say what you think I said!"  Alright!  When Dawkins and other atheists say "god" they really mean, uh, well... nothing really, they apparently mean force or nature or the universe, or whatever they want it to mean at that particular moment, but they most certainly do not mean a personal intervening god that is worthy of worship.  Dawkins talks about how Einstein was NOT a theist as some theists claim, that he was actually a deist or pantheist.  The only acceptable belief in god, to Dawkins, is the deists' god that creates the universe then leaves it alone and never interacts with it again; an invisible, intangible, inactive, uncaring, uninvolved, person-less, unintelligent being with no human characteristics at all.  The deists' god is the same as the pantheists' god, an impersonal force that has nothing to do with humanity, that's the only acceptable god, one that has nothing to do with the universe.

Then in chapter one, section two, Dawkins offers a half-hearted attempt at an (advance) apology, which comes too late since the only thing he's said so far is that only intelligent people believe in either an impersonal god or that the universe is god, and by extension only idiots believe in a personal god.  It's almost comical, Dawkins makes this claim that theists are always trotting out scientists, especially Einstein, that believe/believed in god and then dismisses it as a bad argument.  Then, he turns the same fallacious argument around and uses it, saying that this or that brilliant scientist is atheist and the vast majority of Nobel prize winners in science have been atheists, on and on.  I'm sorry, but if an argument is fallacious for one side of an argument, it's equally as fallacious for the opposing side.  Think about it; if I say, "Thousands of people believe in pink unicorns, therefore I'm a pink unicorn."  You cannot say, "Thousands of people don't believe in pink unicorns, therefore there's no such thing as pink unicorns."  An appeal to the people or authority is a fallacy for either side.

In chapter two the insults just keep coming.  Not only does Dawkins attack those that believe in a personal god, but he begins attacking anyone who believes that we cannot know whether or not there is a god, agnostics.  As part of his disdain for agnosticism he attacks the concept of NOMA (Non-Overlapping MAgisteria).  He, who has been continuously accusing God of evil acts and intentions, seems to be calling on god to prove himself.  It's like Dawkins is calling upon god to submit to scientific inquiry or proof.  It's like Dawkins is saying he expects this wicked, sneaky, conniving, evil, all-powerful entity to answer this puny ant's call.  Reminds me of a quote from the 2012 Avengers movie, "The ant has no quarrel with the boot."  (Don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying God is the boot looking to crush ants like us, merely that Dawkins is making god out to be this crushing, killing, evil boot character then complains when that entity doesn't kowtow to his demands for proof.)  Dawkins, who is much less than an ant, is shaking his puny fist at a god he doesn't believe exists saying, "How dare you not prove yourself to me!  How dare you presume to break the laws you set by performing miracles, but when I ask you're silent!"

I just finished reading Jenna Miscavige Hill's book about getting out of Scientology, and she had a quote that Dawkins would do well to listen to: "My parents were aware it was my choice to remain in [Scientology], but they also knew I was brainwashed.  The last thing you want to tell a person who is brainwashed is that they are brainwashed."  If Dawkins really wants to get through to us poor brainwashed theists, telling us we're brainwashed is definitely not the way to go.

Then on pg. 83 Dawkins quotes Norman Malcom in relation to Anselm's ontological argument, which seems to have a loophole in it about existence being more perfect than non-existence.  "The doctrine that existence is a perfection is remarkably queer.  It makes sense and is true to say that my future house will be a better one if it is insulated than if it is not insulated; but what could it mean to say that it will be a better house if it exists than if it does not?"  The answer to this riddle seem painfully obvious.  If you need/want shelter, it's much better to have a house that exists than one that doesn't.

In summation: the first three chapters and preface do nothing in the way of arguing against God; hopefully the actual arguments will begin in chapter four.  The first three chapters have been nothing but blustering and casually brushing aside arguments for god.  Even Aquinas' eloquently framed ways to God were poorly treated and no real arguments or counter-arguments have been made.  These first three chapters can be summed up as such: Anyone who believes there is a God and anyone who believes that we cannot know if there is or isn't a god, is an idiot.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas: Part 6: What Is God? The Divine Attributes

Continuing this series on the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas given in fourteen lectures by Professor Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College and King's College.  A short note before I dig into this lecture.  I've noticed that these entries are getting way too long.  I think I need to pare down some of the lecture notes and only give a bullet point style outline of the lectures (of course when I came to the end I noticed I really hadn't shortened it much).

First about Thomas' philosophy in general, three things: disciplined, only going as far as logic takes it, his abstract deduction is fruitful from small premises a great edifice is built, although theoretical in nature Thomas' philosophy is full of powerful practicality.

To answer this question, "What is God?"  Thomas starts off, we can't know exactly what God is only what He is not.  All of the divine attributes are negations.  Infinite: not finite, Eternal: no termination, immutable: not changing, even oneness has a meaning that includes not divisible.  He starts off with and finishes with, God's unity.

Here are some of the compositional possibilities that Thomas proves cannot be within God:
He is not composed of material parts, of matter and form, of subject and nature, or substance and attributes, of essence and existence, of genus and difference, of substance and accident, of any other composition at all, or of composition with other beings.
God doesn't lack any perfection which exists within any genus.  The "argument" for God's perfection doesn't seem like an argument so much as an assertion.  God is such and such.  E.g. beauty, whatever beauty we recognize in the things we see, is in God fully actualized and whole, without limits.  A detachment from worldly beauty is a deeper appreciation of beauty because true beauty is in God.

The goodness of existence has two proofs for Thomas, one that all desire goodness, and perfection is only as far as a thing is actual, existence is what makes all things actual, existence is goodness.  That's not to say there isn't evil, that's from moral choices.  Just that existence itself is good.  Also, everything that exists is either the Creator or the creation.  The Creator is perfect goodness and anything the perfectly good Creator makes must also be good.  Thomas agrees with Aristotle that there are "three kinds of goodness: the pleasant, the useful, and the virtuous."  All things are created with these three things, it's only moral choices that can be virtuous or vicious.

The next feature is infinity.  An interesting comparison with Greek and Roman philosophy here, because in Greek and Roman thought infinitude is a negative thing.  Prof Kreeft's reasoning is that they were thinking too concretely/literally when it came to God.  They envisioned things in the physical sense.  God being infinitely tall or big would be a negative concept.  That's evident in their theology, even the greatest of their gods had physical bodies, physical attributes.  The God of Judaism and Christianity is infinite in His spiritual characteristics wisdom, goodness etc.

Next on omnipresent:
“God is in all things not as part of their essence nor as an accident but as an agent is present to that upon which it works . . . And since God is being itself by His own essence, created being must be His proper effect, as to ignite is the proper effect of fire. Now God causes this effect in things not only when they first begin to be, but as long as they are preserved in being (that distinguishes him from Deism), as light is caused in the air by the sun as long as the air remains illuminated. Therefore as long as a thing has being, God must be present to it. (Now watch what second premise he adds to this first premise to prove his stunning conclusion.) But being is innermost in each thing and most fundamentally inherent in all things. Hence God is in all things, and innermostly.” (Quote from lecture notes.  Prof Kreeft's interjections in parentheses.)
I could be mistaken here, and I don't want to try to claim that science has proven God or even described God per se, but I see an interesting parallel between Thomas' arguments and the idea of strong and weak nuclear forces (or all four of the "fundamental forces").  Prof Kreeft goes on to say that God is more present to everything than that thing is to itself.  God is more present to you than you are to yourself.  This does not contradict God's transcendence, see above God is not "of composition with other beings," because God is not in a way physically present in everything (that's why I'm not so sure about the fundamental forces parallel), rather God is present in everything as a mind or will.  God's transcendence is such that He's not limited by space (or time).

Next is immutability: "God is pure actuality, without potentiality. All mutability, all change, begins with something potential and actualizes it. If there’s nothing potential in God, there’s no change in God. If there were, then some new perfection would be gained or some old perfection would be lost, and then God would not be perfect at every moment."  (Quote from lecture notes, not Thomas' writings.)  Part of immutability is wrapped up in eternality, that is to an eternal being there is no future, no change, no movement through time.  As humans we move through time one moment at a time, to God all moments are simultaneously now.  As a side note not really mentioned in the lecture.  Coming from this argument it's a simple step to say God is omniscient.  If God is everywhere, at all times obviously He knows all things.

Lastly, unity (against polytheism):
“The unity of God is proved from the infinity of His perfection. For it was shown above that God comprehends in Himself the whole perfection of being. If then many gods existed, they would necessarily differ from each other. Something therefore would belong to the one which did not belong to the other. And if this were a privation, one of them would not be absolutely perfect; but if it were a perfection, one of them would be without it. So it is impossible for many gods to exist.”
How does this work with the Trinity?  The concept of the Triune God doesn't conflict with this concept of oneness as much as people think.  Thomas' theological points on this matter echo or quote Bernard of Clairvaux, that God, is love and the unity of love is stronger and more perfect than the unity in the mathematical unit, one.  Real love binds people together in such a way that one would die rather than let his or her beloved be harmed.  This is why the unity of the Trinity is greater than any other unity.

Sorry that this entry has been so long in coming.  I've been taking a break while I completed this semester of classes and I've been busy with other things.  Also, in all honesty, this one was quite difficult for me.  Some of the arguments seem circular though I think part of it is Prof Kreeft's style.  He doesn't seem to follow a clear, concise, flowing outline with bullet-points, introductions and conclusions.  He seems to have written these lectures in stream-of-consciousness style and they are often difficult to follow.

HDR from the Cub Scouts campout on Saturday

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Philosophical Approach to Abortion

The goal is to arrive at a position wherein one either must accept abortion as wrong or accept that their own murder is right.  Or, that abortion is equivalently wrong to murder.

(1) Human life is intrinsically valuable.
  • Within this premise is the concept of invaluable/priceless as in it cannot be measured, counted, or quantified by any utilitarian means.  By intrinsic, I'm saying it's not about what someone has done, or will do that makes one valuable, simply that life is valuable because it's life.  One cannot exchange life for money nor anything else for that matter.
  • The only reason to end a life relates to (2) that is if one uses force to deny someone else their right to life (that is if someone murders someone) their right to life is invalid, that is capital punishment.  Also, the idea of war was mentioned in a comment (on Facebook).  How could war be justified if all life is valuable?  That's just it, war is only valid/justified to stop one person from killing another person/oneself.  That is self-defense or defense of the innocent.  If one can go to war for any other reason, then any killing is justifiable.
  • In regards to the current state of affairs in the US, I can't speak for the government nor against the government, I obey the orders of those appointed over me.  It's not my place to make a comment otherwise.
(2) One's own rights only extend to one's own being.
  • That is, one's rights end where they infringe on someone else's rights.  I have the right to say what I want to say, but when what I say actually hurts another person my right to free speech ends.  (Edit: I did some further research on this.  There is some precedence for hate speech being censored, but by-and-large hate speech has still been defended and won in high courts.  Perhaps a better analogy or example is needed here, I will work on it.)
(3) The potentiality of life should be treated with the same value as the end resultant life could be.

(4) Even at early stages of development (weeks 1-9) it is medically discernible that the group of cells comprising an embryo is going to develop into a human fetus.

(5) A fetus becomes alive while still in the womb, that is by the typical definition of human life, discernible brain waves. Approximately in the 20th to 36th weeks of pregnancy, as currently measured, not that it doesn't occur earlier, just earliest measurable.

Given the above:

(6) Abortion is wrong, equivalent to manslaughter or murder.

Some background arguments:

For (1), If one rejects this premise than one's own life is invaluable.  If one makes a case for non-intrinsic value, then what is human life's value based on?

For (2), This is a loophole of sorts.  IF a thieving murderer breaks into your house and threatens you with death, you have every right to self-defense and are perfectly justified in killing that person in self-defense.  The same could be said of a pregnancy, if the presence of a fetus in a woman's womb is killing her, with a physician's assistance making that determination she would be justified in killing the fetus.  This is a common critique for pro-lifers because many take the stance that it's never justifiable to kill the fetus.  I can only make that exception and even so, if the mother determines that it's worth the risk to her own life to provide life for the fetus that's her choice.

For (3), Take this endangered frog, the Panamanian Golden Frog

Picture Credit The Guardian
And we had some of these eggs
Picture Credit Flickr
That we know, with as much certainty as anyone can have, that they're going to hatch into these tadpoles:

How would we treat those eggs and or tadpoles?  Would we just throw them away?  Now, one might say, "they're just frogs," but remember we're talking about the same level of potentiality in the first week(s) of pregnancy as these eggs.  The parallel is clear, even the very beginnings of the potentiality to be a human life should be treated as valuable as full-grown human life.  (I personally think it's more valuable, because it has more potential than a grown human mathematically, it has more life to live and it hasn't already made choices which guide itself.)

For (4), Just as in (3) the eggs/tadpoles are almost certainly going to grow into a living thriving fetus, then baby, then child, then adult.  (I realize I left off certain developmental levels, but the argument still stands, if life is precious and the potential for life is also precious then it is clear at all levels it's precious.)

For (5), Why is there a double-standard among abortion advocates that a fetus isn't alive until it's removed from the womb, but a person is alive until they have no readable brain activities?  There's an even more telling double-standard when one considers just what we call alive?  We refer to viruses and other single-celled organisms as alive, why do we call a fetus a "mass of cells"?  I know the reason, but just wanted to point out the double-standard.

For (6), This should be clear.  I know there are many counter-arguments, I'll try to cover some of them.

(1) Some answers to the question of the value of a human life try to make it scientific, or some other rationalization.  But, no matter at whatever level one deny the value of human life, one opens the argument up to mutability/relativism.  Under relativism, one can rationalize pretty much anything including one's own murder.

(2) Some claim that the "mass of cells" is a part of the woman's body and liken it to a cancerous growth or something like that.  The answer is in (4) even at the earliest stages of development the "growth" is distinct from the mother.  Both in DNA structure and general cell structure itself.

(3/4) Some just deny (3) flat out, but I think my treatment of the concept is fair, we're as certain as anyone can be that this "mass of cells" is going to develop into a human, therefore it should be treated as such.

(5) Again I hear this double-standard from pro-abortionists.  One slippery slope this quickly leads to: If a fetus isn't alive until it's removed from it's mother, what happens as technology improves?  This will lead to earlier and earlier outside-the-womb viability, does that mean our treatment of such should change?  That defeats the purpose of developing an ethical standard.  Also, if that line is moveable, then why stop at outside-the-womb viability?  It could easily lead to out-and-out infanticide then on to euthanasia and then to genetic cleansing.

(6) There might be more objections but none that I haven't at least somewhat dealt with.

In order to waylay some reactions...  I am NOT being misogynistic.  The fact that I'm a man and cannot experience this has no bearing on the arguments I've raised.  I'm NOT seeking to "take away a woman's choice" or seeking to control a woman's body or choice, at least no more than any other social convention, do mass murderers have the right to choose to buy weapons?  Remember a person's rights end when they interfere with another's rights, and this isn't an issue about a woman's right to control her own healthcare, it's about the rights of a fetus.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Faith and Philosophy Blog Carnival, November 2013, 10th Edition

Anna M @Don't Forget the Avocados presents Variations on Normal, and How to Control the World posted at Don't Forget the Avocados.

There has only been one entry so far this month that has fit the topic of faith and philosophy or philosophy of religion.  I look forward to more entries throughout the month.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Death of Free Will

Calvinism leads to the death of free will. I know that May seem like a serious claim but let's break it down.

Freedom - The ability to do as one wants.

Now, this is a simplistic definition of freedom because there are, most certainly, limitations to freedom. Take for example, I am not free to choose to breath oxygen, freely without mechanical assistance, under water. I'm limited by the laws of physics. I'm also bound by circumstances. For example right this moment I'm not free to go parasailing because I'm sitting in my living room and part of the laws of physics and my circumstances dictates that I cannot parasail at this very moment.

One last, and possibly the most important part of this idea, one cannot go against oneself. Now, before you get in a huff about this and say that I'm Calvinist after all... Listen, there are different levels to a person. For example, I want to eat ice cream right now, but I'm choosing not to do so because my will is overriding my natural desire. Anyone who's ever dieted can attest to this conundrum. I want to but I don't want to and that's okay. In the end I'm still doing what I want on a certain level.

Choice - an act of selecting or making a decision when faced with two or more possibilities.

This requires an actor, and two or more options. This doesn't mean that there cannot be agreement between two actors. Take my wife and I together we chose to attend a financial class. We came together and talked about the choice and decided that we agreed we should take this class. That's a different class of choices.  We're talking about two separate actors that do not consult each other.

Take Bob. Bob decides to murder his neighbor. Did God choose for Bob to murder his neighbor? There is no evil in God, therefore God could not have gone against His nature to choose murder.

Take Jim. Jim hates the very thought of God. His heroes are Nietzsche and Hitler. Jim is faced with a choice, to murder his neighbor or not. He chooses not to do so. Did God choose this? If all choices are God's choice then He did choose that. But, everything an evil person chooses is evil, so God couldn't have made this choice either because it's an evil choice too because Jim is evil.

If God makes all choices then God is evil.

Now, if you say God made the decision to let Bob and Jim make those decisions, that is a TOTALLY different position. That is a totally different decision. God didn't decide between the two options to murder or not to murder. That is not an option that God's nature allows. God chose to let Bob and Jim make those decisions.

Within Calvinism there are several ideas that rob everyone of this idea of choice. That is, within Calvinism mankind is limited by his nature to choose; the whole TULIP acronym, Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints means that mankind has absolutely no decision in salvation.  Within total depravity, is the concept that mankind has a sinful nature, and as such people cannot choose to love God.  Also, this sinful nature is part of mankind's birthright, it has nothing to do with each individual's behavior or anything like that.  To a certain extent I can see the point there, but the problem comes when one says that a sinful-natured person cannot go against that nature and choose God.

In this Calvinist view, mankind cannot be said to be punished for individual choices, only the choices of Adam/Eve.  They're the only people who have ever been able to make the choice to love God or disobey Him, ever since that one fateful decision all mankind has been doomed to hell.  Don't get me wrong, I feel the Bible more or less supports that idea (Rom. 5:12ff).  The problem is this, if no one can choose to do good ever, that means that mankind is doomed to hell not based on his own decision but based on the decisions of someone else.  That isn't freedom, that's slavery.  Now, yes, we are slaves to sin and after forgiveness we're slaves to righteousness so, we're always enslaved, but here's the kicker, how can we be punished for our nature?  That'd be like me being punished because I'm red-haired.  So, according to this view, I'm a slave because I was born a slave and I'll be punished to everlasting torment because I didn't win the lottery?

Here's the second issue, Unconditional Election especially when coupled with Irresistible Grace.  They also together remove all choice from mankind.  So, according to Calvinism, not only can I not make the decision because of my sinful nature, God specifically chooses exactly who gets saved.  Now, don't misunderstand me, I think in a certain way God chooses.  God is omniscient, which would mean that He knows who does and who doesn't want to be saved, and God is omnipotent, which means that He could work in such a way that makes whomever He wills choose salvation.  But, again, that's not freedom.  Being chosen by God as a random (that's the unconditional part, meaning it's not contingent on our actions or choices) recipient of grace and forgiveness is not freedom.  Especially with the idea of irresistible grace.  Not only can we not choose God, but if chosen we cannot resist, we cannot go against His choice in us.

So, where's this free will again?  Oh, it's dead.  It was recently engaged in so strong an argument that I would rather be an atheist than a Calvinist.  If this God that Calvinists believe in is really that terrible I don't want anything to do with it.  Maybe it's supposedly more biblical as some seem to believe, but it's certainly not rational.

I found yet another site about Calvinism and the first point it tries to make is that "man is one hundred percent responsible for his behavior."  I found this interesting site also which makes it clear that the Bible teaches that mankind can make free choices.  "Luke reports that, “by refusing to be baptized by [John], the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves” (Luke 7:30, emphasis added). How could Scripture be more explicit than that? So too, in Isaiah the Lord says, “Oh, rebellious children…who carry out a plan, but not mine; who make an alliance, but against my will, adding sin to sin” (Is. 30:1). Again, how could Scripture get any clearer than that?"  So, which is it?  Did the Pharisees actually reject God?  Not according to Calvinism, they were born rejecting God as part of their sin nature, not as any actual choice of their own.  So, how is man responsible for his own choices if his choices are

I realize that philosophically speaking having at least two options presented to an individual is all that's required for choice.  However, I would posit that there's more to it than that simple concept.  I believe that for a choice to be real the different options have to be viable options.  Like in the examples in Calvinism the sinful human cannot choose God/good because of a born-in predilection to sin.  That is not a real choice.

If Calvinism is right then John the Baptist was wrong in saying: "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"

In summary, I still believe in God.  I will always believe in God.  Also, I believe Christianity (really the Bible) has the best description of God available for mankind.  I will never and can never accept that Calvinism has the answers to the nature of Christianity/salvation.  I know I may be missing something, but as it stands, I don't think I will ever be dissuaded from holding that view.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Pop Culture Surprise

I have a general distaste for pop culture, especially the music scene, so I was pleasantly surprised the other day when I heard this song and it actually has meaningful lyrics that teach a positive message.  So much of pop culture today is telling kids to go out and do whatever they want, to eat drink and be merry for tomorrow you may die (generally that last bit is left off, who wants to be a Debbie Downer?). Then when I hear this song:
"Who Says"
I wouldn't wanna be anybody else, hey
[1st Vs]
You made me insecure, Told me I wasn’t good enough.
But who are you to judge; When you’re a diamond in the rough?
I’m sure you got some things; You’d like to change about yourself.
But when it comes to me; I wouldn’t want to be anybody else.
I’m no beauty queenI’m just beautiful me
You’ve got every right; To a beautiful life; C'mon
Who says, who says you're not perfect? Who says you're not worth it?
Who says you're the only one that's hurtin'? Trust me, that's the price of beauty
Who says you're not pretty? Who says you're not beautiful?
Who says?
[2nd Vs]
It’s such a funny thing; How nothing’s funny when it’s you
You tell ‘em what you mean; But they keep whiting out the truth
It’s like a work of art; That never gets to see the light
Keep you beneath the stars; Won’t let you touch the sky
I’m no beauty queenI’m just beautiful me
You’ve got every right; To a beautiful life; C'mon
Who says you’re not star potential? Who says you’re not presidential?
Who says you can’t be in movies? Listen to me, listen to me
Who says you don’t pass the test? Who says you can’t be the best?
Who said, who said? Would you tell me who said that?
Yeah, who said?
Who says you're not perfect? Who says you're not worth it?
Who says you're the only one that's hurtin'?
Trust me (yeah), that's the price of beauty; Who says you're not pretty?
Who says you're not beautiful?
Who says?
I italicized the part that really stuck out to me (also, I took out all the "Na na na na's," which there were many).  It's nice to see a positive message coming out of something that's usually as shallow as this example:
"Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)"
There's a stranger in my bed,
There's a pounding in my head
Glitter all over the room
Pink flamingos in the pool
I smell like a minibar
DJ's passed out in the yard
Barbie's on the barbeque
This a hickie or a bruise
Pictures of last night
Ended up online
I'm screwed
Oh well
It's a blacked out blur
But I'm pretty sure it ruled
Last Friday night
Yeah, we danced on tabletops
And we took too many shots
Think we kissed but I forgot
Last Friday night
Yeah, we maxed our credit cards
And got kicked out of the bar
So we hit the boulevard
The song goes on, but I'm sure you get the point.  I wasn't able to read through all the different song lyrics by either of those two artists, Selena Gomez and Katy Perry (I didn't listen to them all either), but I didn't really notice a trend either direction for either artist.  It's like they, on a whim, decided to sing these good or terrible songs.  Honestly, I have no delusions of grandeur for these artists.  I would assume they don't really have much say in the content of their works, so I don't really blame the artists as much as the producers.  I could be wrong on that account and it could be more of the artists than I think.  Regardless, whoever is responsible, I thank them.  (Lyrics by:

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Splitting Hairs Theologically Speaking

I've recently been studying theology as part of my major at Liberty University Online.  I'm currently taking Theology 201 and let's just say, it's been an uh, interesting time.  To me, when it comes to religion I've always been very inclusionary.  Especially when I hear discussions about doctrinal issues in churches that actually drive people away from God, or make people not want to come to church.  That's one of the reasons I've always like apologetics more than theology.  It seems that apologetics is about bringing people together to reason about the things of faith, but theology is about arguing the minutiae about what "[f]or in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form" exactly means.

The reason I bring that particular verse is the subject in theology class for the last two weeks has been Christology.  I won't go into the details, because I'm sure many of you don't care, but even though the class has interesting things to teach me, I don't really like the divisiveness of theology in general.  Take Christology for an example.  It is vitally important to accept that Jesus Christ is God and man, called hypostatic union.  Now, how Christ did so, is called kenosis (κένωσις) that relates to "pouring out" from Philippians 2.  Now, as an amateur philosopher, these ideas pose some interesting problems.  How can two completely different things occupy the same exact space at the same time?  Obviously, nothing is to difficult for God, as Mary was told when she questioned the impossibility of her giving birth.  But, as Prof Kreeft taught in one of his lectures on the Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, God is the God of logic and we shouldn't claim God breaks the laws of logic (even though I've thought that way before).

Now, maybe it's just a problem of teaching.  Because as much as I don't like to bash the college from which I'm seeking a degree, I don't feel like there's anyone to explain why these theological puzzles are the way they are.  On that topic of Christology, there was a section in the textbook about the wrong views of kenosis.  One of them said something to the effect of Christ set aside His attributes of deity when He was born on earth as our Savior.  However, according to the text, the "right" view is that Christ "veiled" His attributes of deity.  As I'm reading this section, I couldn't help but think that there's such a fine line there and does it really make a difference?  It's obvious from various parts of the Gospel accounts Jesus is limited.  Like, He doesn't know various facts that an omniscient God would know.  In fact He specifically says, that He doesn't know (Matt 24:36).  So, obviously Jesus didn't have His attribute of omniscience.  But wait, He did have knowledge that no mere man could have.  In several places it's said of Jesus that He knew what was in their hearts or a similar phrase.

All these doubts can be explained in the simple fact that God is omnipotent and nothing is too difficult for Him, as was noted before.  But, that makes this a mysterious concept and I distrust anyone who claims complete knowledge of any detail of these high-level theological questions.  I really have a problem with people who not only claim to have the truth but also reject those that partially disagree with their view.  I talk about this all the time, though I don't see any past entries about this... I really dislike any teaching or theology that drives people away from Christ.

Now, don't get me wrong, theology is important, and it's important to make sure we have definitions that match the teachings found in the Bible.  But, as my dad always liked to say, "let's keep the main thing the main thing."  As part of my studies I think it's important in my life to draw a line in the sand theologically speaking.  Here's an important thing to remember though, while I hold the following list to be true and in accordance with God's Word as revealed in the Bible.  If there's a mistake or a misunderstanding in the following list I can revise it without feeling I've betrayed myself somehow.  Everyone makes mistakes, I could be misunderstanding something and that's okay.

God the Father:
Almighty maker of Heaven and Earth infinite, holy and actively working in the world today.

God the Son:
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, second person in the trinity, coequal with God the Father and Holy Spirit who came to earth as a man.

God the Holy Spirit:
The third member of the Trinity who is always working to convict of sins, persuade unbelievers, and comfort the saints.

The Bible:
God's inerrant Word, His Truths written by men as they were carried along in the Spirit that we might hide in our hearts that we might not sin against God.

The Depravity of Mankind:
All have sinned and no one can save oneself from sin's hold.

Salvation is not by works but only through the saving work of Jesus Christ through His death and resurrection.

Resurrection of Jesus Christ:
Jesus Christ bodily rose from the dead on the third day, and it is through that work that sin and death are defeated.

Return of Jesus Christ:
Jesus Christ could return at any moment and His followers should live with that in mind.

Resurrection of the Dead:
Just as Christ rose from the grave and rules in Heaven, believers and all the dead in Christ shall someday join Him in everlasting peace and joy in Heaven.

Church Family:
As followers of Christ we need to be happily and actively involved in a local community of believers.

I've purposely left certain dividing terminology out, e.g. "Total Depravity."  I've recently had a long discussion with my theologian/friend +James Hooks and he makes a powerful argument for Calvinism/Reformed Theology.  But, I still don't see eye to eye with all the views in Calvinism.  Mainly because how it is apparently irreconcilable with the concept of free will.  I'm sure the answer there lies in some different definition of freedom and will, but that still doesn't work with the way I view free will and choice.  I'll save that for a future entry.

This same list is now on a separate tab as I'd like to join with other believers that agree with these statements to join me in sharing through this site.  I've put out the call several times, but apparently no one is interested in sharing.  The invitation still stands, if you agree with these statements of faith, and would like to share your thoughts on my blog I welcome you.  That doesn't mean that I won't host people that disagree with these statements, as I've hosted several entries in the past even from people that I don't really know, including the regular Faith and Philosophy Blog Carnival.  What I mean to say, is that if you would like to partner with me in this blog you'll have to agree with this statement of faith, but if you have something you'd like to share, as long as it doesn't contain any ad hominem attacks or illogical/irrational statements, I'd still welcome dissenting entries.  As the (current) sole administrator of this blog I reserve the right to refuse any entries.  Though I commit to fairly assess any entries and give my response with reasons for acceptance or denial of any entry.

Sunday, October 13, 2013


I've been thinking about this for a while and I'd like to address it here.

As a bit of background, I've often mentioned the History of Philosophy podcast.  Unfortunately, I don't get the chance to take notes, so I'll be honest, I don't remember many of the names of the philosophers mentioned in the podcast.  The other day however, one of the Hellenistic philosophers had a thought lesson that goes something like this.
Philosopher: Here is one grain of sand.  Is it a "heap of sand"?
Respondent: No of course not.
P: Here is two grains, it is a heap?
R: No.
P: Here are three, it is a heap?
R: No.
.... This continues, then eventually the respondent will answer, "Yes."
P: Let me take away one grain of sand, is it still a "heap"?
R: Well...
P: Certainly you don't mean to tell me that ONE grain of sand constitutes a "heap of sand" because earlier you said it wasn't.
This speaks to many different issues, one of which was that the sage (wise man) will withhold judgement, and the topic I have been thinking about, vagueness.

This basically falls into the philosophy of language subset of philosophy but it has serious ramifications for all levels of philosophy.  Think about it, the term "human" as clear as it seems, has at least some vagueness to it.  From; the Science Dictionary, "A member of the species Homo sapiens;  a human being."  A member of any of the extinct species of the genus Homo,  such as Homo erectus or Homo habilis,  that are considered ancestral or closely related to modern humans.  Assuming darwinian or neo-darwinian evolution, when does that start?  How many human characteristics does something need to have to be human?  How can you define something so vague?  No matter how detailed a dictionary may be, there's always going to be some level of vagueness.

Obviously I've picked one of the hardest definitions to start out with, but this relates to epistemology as well.  If there's skepticism in everything including definitional issues, how can we communicate at all?  How are you reading this blog?  What if you don't even define blog the same way as I do?  Granted my definition is the correct one!  Obviously we're standing on some amount of common ground, but that brings up what type(s) of common ground we need to communicate.  There's vagueness within my talk about vagueness.  Definitions, what's a definition?  We need a definition of definition before we can talk about vagueness because we need that common ground.  Are definitions subject to the will of the people?  Dictionaries change and disagree, which one do we trust?  Even if we agree on which dictionary we should use, what about when dictionaries change?  Do we both agree with the new definition?  What about what made the definition change, do we agree on the reason why the dictionary decided to change the definition?

Now that we've not decided on that bit of common ground, now we need to decide how much common ground we need to have before we can communicate.  So we don't completely completely agree on the exact word-for-word definition of each and every word used in this discussion, does that mean we can't communicate?  Apparently not, because I'm assuming you can read and understand what I'm writing here.  So now, even if we have a level of acceptable vagueness in definitions and definition change, what about agreeing on how much difference is acceptable?  There's vagueness in the amount of vagueness acceptable for communication.

I don't have any answers for you here, only questions.  Just casting doubt on everything we say and the very basics of communication.