Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who contribute their thoughts to this blog as well as interacting with me at other places. Cyberkitten is foremost in my mind, but I appreciate each of more than you know. However, I've come to understand that I have dedicated too much of my limited resources to blogging and that the good I gain is at the expense of greater goods I'm missing, perhaps even avoiding. I may not have come to this realization without the impetus you all provided with your comments and the thought required to respond to them. Thanks.

I've just completed a flurry of responses here and there, and it convinced me beyond all doubt how easily blogging can eat up my time and dominate my thoughts. I can't allow this. Real life calls. People need help and I need to help them.

I may continue to monitor a few of my favorite places and I'll probably post here now and then, but my goal is to invest more of my time and energies where there is real risk and real reward.

I'll see you when I see you and miss you when I don't.

With thanksgiving,
Laughing Boy

Thursday, November 8, 2007

My brief encounter with Jim

'Jim' maintains a very interesting blog which, in the interest of protecting his privacy, I won't name. He has high standards of his commenters, as any attempt to figure out how to comment will show. After being granted probational commenting priviledge, I stopped by his blog and noticed a post regarding reparations for Blacks in America. Jim made some very good points, but I noticed something in one of his subsequent comments that I thought worthy of discussion. He said:

...[Blacks] need to be more like the Italians (predictably enough his racial stock) who came to this country and faced discrimination. Don't whine and complain, work hard and make something of yourself...

So I replied (in keeping with the question-asking mode I promised in my 'application' to comment):

Did the Italians come here in chains? Were the Italians hung from trees? Were the Italians barred en masse from educational opportunities and other public services? When was the last time you read of an Italian being dragged to death behind a pickup truck because he was Italian? Can you think of other circumstances that differentiate the American experience of Italians and Blacks?
Do you think there is some inherent inferiority in Blacks that accounts for their problems? If not, then what might?

Jim, it seems, was irked:

"Did the Italians come here in chains?" No, but neither did contemporary blacks. You've missed the point entirely. And you have completely ignored the argument I gave. Since this, your first comment, is so obviously worthless, I will now delete your account.

Not wanting to have any bad feelings loose in the ether I sent Jim a personal e-mail:


My point was that in America there is an undercurrent of bigotry towards Blacks that continues to this day; this is not the case for Italians or any other racial group. I was calling attention to an issue which, although broader than the topic of reparations, is nevertheless fundamental to any worthwhile discussion of the topic.

I admit to being ignorant that such discussion was not welcome. Sorry.

It's unlikely that Jim will get my message as this notice was at the bottom of his e-mail form:

Please Note: Your IP Address is being logged with this message to help prevent abuse.

...with which Jim, I suspect, is well acquainted...being Italian.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Confusion at the Gate

Kevin Parry had a dream. The angels at the Pearly Gates couldn't decide if he was to be allowed into heaven. He was once a Christian, but now he's not and the angels have a dilemma. Kevin creatively addresses the issue of what we in Christian circles call 'eternal security'. Since nobody at Kevin's blog had much to add concerning the theological point in question I thought I'd see if anybody is willing to take it up here. For convenience I have presented most of Kevin's original post and a mostly original, somewhat modified version of my comments after that.

Kevin's original post:

Kevin: Um, hello? What's happened to me?

Angel 1: Hello there. You have just died. Welcome to the gates of heaven.

Kevin: Heaven! Oh, my word! I was wrong. God really exists!

Angel 2: Indeed he does. Now, what is your name?

Kevin: My name?

Angel 1: Yes, we need to find your file.

Kevin: Okay. I'm Kevin Parry. That's Parry with an 'a', not an 'e'. (A few moments pass as a large file is recovered from a cabinet and placed on the table. Both angels start reading)

Angel 2: Oh, dear. I'm sorry, but it looks as if you cannot enter heaven. Eternal torment for you, I'm afraid.

Kevin: Darn! I knew I should've taken Pascal's Wager more seriously.

Angel 2: You see, your file says that you are an atheist. I will make arrangements for your transfer to Hades. . .

Angel 1: Hang on a moment! It says here that Kevin was a Christian. That means he qualifies for heaven.

Angel 2: (sighs) No, no. Kevin was a Christian, yes. But he has since rejected the saving grace of our Lord Jesus. He has lost his salvation.

Angel 1: Since when was that a rule? Once saved, always saved, right?

Angel 2: Where did you learn that?

Angel 1: Err . . . well, that's my interpretation of the Word.

Angel 2: You have obviously interpreted incorrectly. The Word states that any person who stops believing is like the branch that breaks off the olive tree. Romans 11:17-22.

Angel 1: I beg to differ. The Lord himself, In John 10:27-29, says that no believer can ever be plucked out of his hand.

Angel 2: You are not reading that verse in context.

Kevin: Excuse me. . . .

Angel 1: But many of the Lord's followers believe in eternal security. Take the Calvinists, for instance. . .

Angel 2: The Calvinists are wrong. It's the Methodists that have it right: a human can loose his or her salvation.

Kevin: Sorry to interrupt. Are you going to let me in or not? I've had a bad day, being dead and all, and I want to get this over with.

Angel 1: Sorry about all this. You see, there are so many different teachings on important issues; so many interpretations of the Word; so many verses that seem to contradict each other. It's all a bit confusing really.

Angel 2: I'm afraid you will have to go back to earth until this is sorted out with the boss up stairs.

Kevin: Does this mean that I will have a second chance at salvation?

Angel 1: Yes.

Angel 2: No.

* * *

My postscript:

Serendipitously, Jesus walks past within sight of the gates.

Angels 1 and 2 (yelling out in unison): Jesus! Jesus!

Jesus : Yes, what is it?

Angel 1: Lord, we have a problem here. This gentleman's records are somewhat ambigious. Angel 2 and I disagree as to whether he is eligible for admission.

Jesus (under His breath, shaking His head in resigned frustration): Why must we repeat this nonsense every day? (To Kevin) Man!

Kevin: Yes, Jesus.

Jesus: Would you like to come in?

Kevin: Not really.

Jesus: Then go.

Angel 2: Ha! I told you.

Angel 1: But Sir, I have documentation that says this man is a Christian.

Angel 2: ...and he thinks that once a person is saved that he can never become unsaved, but that can't be right. This man here is proof!

Angel 1: What about John 10:27-29 where it says no one can pluck them out of your hand?

Jesus: A worthy passage.

Angel 2: But what about Romans 11:17-22 where it talks about branches that, once broken, can't be grafted back in?

Jesus: Another worthy passage. Both are true.

Angel 2: So can the saved lose their salvation or not? Why is there so much confusion?

Jesus: Have you ever wondered why you two are outside the Pearly Gates?

Angel 1: It is a position of honor!

Angel 2: We guard the Gates of Heaven!

Angel 1: Yes, we are both very proud of our service.

Angel 2: So will you settle this matter for us?

Jesus: Those who are granted admission into Heaven come directly into my presence. My Father gave them to me; they don't need to have their credentials checked by you two.

Angel 1: But Sir, the documents...

Jesus: I hold the Book of Life; all other documents are meaningless.(Looking at Kevin) You are free to go.

Kevin: Thank you.

* * *

The dilemma Kevin poses regarding eternal security (ES) is not the typical one. Most people who do not believe in ES think that a certain level of sinfulness (or any sin at all) in a Christian's life will 'undo' that person's salvation. Unless that person repents before he or she dies, it's the Lake of Fire for them. Others, like me, who hold to ES believe that salvation is irrevocable since it's difficult to see why God would originally grant it to me at a time when I exhibited (or inherently possessed) a 'certain level of sinfulness', only to revoke it later for the same reason. In other words, if my sin could make God reject me, why did He accept me in my sin in the first place? The John 10:27-29 passage Angel 1 refers to is a popular one for the pro-ES folk and it goes a little something like this:

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand.

In Kevin's post, Angel 2 raises the issue of context, which is always important. Who are the sheep? What does it mean to be "snatched out"? What does Jesus mean when He says His Father has given them to Him? In context this passage is pretty easy to understand. I won't exegete it here. Additionally, if we have questions about the meaning of a passage we can look to see if the concept is affirmed elsewhere in Scripture. For instance we read in Romans 8:27-39:

For I [the Apostle Paul] am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This seems to offer some support to the pro-ES position. But again what about context? Who is "us"?, What are all these things that are listed? Is there anything Paul slyly left out of that list? If one had the time or inclination they could pursue it further.

Angel 2 counters with Romans 11:17-22 which says:

If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, "Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in." Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.

If context is important for the John passage it's also important here. Who or what are the branches? Who or what is the root? Who are those who were grafted in to replace those who were broken off? Can this imagery be validly stretched to include Kevin or any other individual as a branch?

If you're interested in the answers to these questions there are plenty of resources available and I'd be happy to suggest some.

* * *

It seems to me that Kevin has juxtaposed his knowledge of Christianity against his knowledge of other competing philosophies and Christianity came up short. It is possible he believes disagreement among Christians is evidence that 1) Christian truths, if there are any, can't be discerned from Scripture, 2) Christianity is false due to its internal contradictions which give rise to such disagreements, and 3) Christianity is false since there would be no disagreements if it were objectively true.

Kevin has stated in earlier posts that, even if God exists, he does not want to spend eternity in Heaven. Yet he also claims to have wanted to at some point in the past. This is where Kevin's argument is atypical. The 'ethical-standard' aspect of salvation is usually what's debated which asks, "How good must I be to keep God from rejecting me?" Instead Kevin says, "I reject God."

I don't know anybody who would take the side of Angel 1. I'm pro-ES and I don't. I don't think Angel 2 is correct, either. Why? Because being 'saved' is not another way of saying that one acknowledges theistic or even specifically Christian concepts, nor is salvation validated by or reliant on emotional experiences.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me....My Father...has given them to me.

One way to define salvation is given in John 10—it is being known by Jesus because God has given you to Him. If you are known by Jesus then you know Jesus in a way that can't be denied or rejected as a mere intellectual acknowledgment or a passing emotional experience can. I am confident that a person named Kevin Parry lives in South Africa. But maybe "Kevin" is an concocted cyber-persona. I could become convinced no real Kevin does actually exist if I were presented with some counter-evidence. Kevin's wife, Cori, is confident that a person named Kevin Parry lives in South Africa. That same evidence would not cause her to change her mind. She has her own evidence. Maybe a particularly clever philosophy professor (if there is such a thing) could give her a moment's doubt, but she will just return home to her evidence. Will her evidence be sufficient to cause me to believe as strongly as she does? No; not until I experience Kevin in a similar manner.

Christians have this kind of evidence (and more tangible kinds as well). Sometimes a philosophical argument or a troublesome experience will challenge that belief, but those who know God because the are known by God will not, rationally cannot, turn away.

* * *

My goal here was to lay a very basic foundation for understanding what being a Christian, or being 'saved' means. In doing so I have tried to show that both angels in the dream may have erred by classifying anyone who claims to be a Christian as truly 'saved'. I have not tried specifically to refute Kevin's basic point (conclusion #2), that Christianity has an inherent contradiction regarding this crucial issue. Only those with some small knowledge of Scripture could even begin to make that case, and only those with some small knowledge of Scripture could begin to appreciate the case against it.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Deluge

Though giant rains put out the sun,
Here stand I for a sign.
Though earth be filled with waters dark,
My cup is filled with wine.
Tell to the trembling priests that here
Under the deluge rod,
One nameless, tattered, broken man
Stood up, and drank to God.

Sun has been where the rain is now,
Bees in the heat to hum,
Haply a humming maiden came,
Now let the deluge come:
Brown of aureole, green of garb,
Straight as a golden rod,
Drink to the throne of thunder now!
Drink to the wrath of God.

High in the wreck I held the cup,
I clutched my rusty sword,
I cocked my tattered feather
To the glory of the Lord.
Not undone were the heaven and earth,
This hollow world thrown up,
Before one man had stood up straight,
And drained it like a cup.

G.K. Chesterton

Monday, October 15, 2007

Essay Question: The Origin of the Universe

There are, I believe, three exhaustive and mutually exclusive explanations for the origin of the universe:

1. The universe has always existed. It has an infinite past.
2. The universe popped into existence from nothing with absolutely no cause.
3. The universe was caused to exist by something outside it.

Choose the one you think is true and write a brief (or long, I don't care) summary of why you hold that opinion. There will be no judging and no rebutting of any of the opinions offered. I may ask a followup question if I don't understand some point. If you think these three are not exhaustive and mutually exclusive, propose another option then summarize your case for holding that opinion.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

What does science have to do with metaphysics?

"Separate creation...does not explain adaptation. When the species originated, they must have already been equipped with adaptations for life, because the theory holds that species are fixed in form after their origin. An unabashedly religious version of separate creation would attribute the adaptiveness of living things to the genius of God; but even this does not actually explain the origin of the adaptation, it just pushes the problem back one stage...

"We can accept that an omnipotent, supernatural agent could create well-adapted living things: in that sense the explanation works. However, it has two defects. One is that supernatural explanations for natural phenomena are scientifically useless. The second is that the supernatural Creator is not explanatory. The problem is to explain the existence of adaptation in the world; but the supernatural Creator already possesses this property. Omnipotent beings are themselves well-designed, adaptively complex, entities. The thing we want to explain has been built into the explanation. Positing a God merely invites the question of how such a highly adaptive and well-designed thing could in its turn have come into existence."

Mark Ridley, Evolution (Boston: Blackwell Scientific, 1993) 57, 323.

[As this is a widely used science textbook, it seems that science and metaphysics are all mixed together somehow.]

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Hit it with "The Origin of Species"

(In response to cyberkitten.)

How do evolutionists react to scientific evidence when it conflicts with their metaphysical committments? Here is one representative example excerpted from Darwin's God by Cornelius G. Hunter (Brazos Press, 2001) 69-71.

One problem with the fossil evidence is its abrupt character. If we are to believe that evolution occurred, then according to the fossil record large evolutionary change probably happened in relatively short periods, with little or no change in between....Paleontologists estimate that over the last 600 million years the major groups in the fossil record made abrupt appearances....As one recent paleontology text put it, "The observed fossil pattern is invariably not compatible with a gradualistic evolutionary process." There is a problem either with the fossil record or the idea that evolution is gradual. To make the data compatible with the theory, "undiscovered fossil forms can be proposed" or "unknown mechanisms of evolution can be proposed." But neither of these ad hoc hypotheses is known to be true or untrue. (1)

Such ad hoc hypotheses are often used by evolutionists to try to explain the "Cambrian Explosion"...[which is] estimated to have taken place almost 600 million years ago over a period of no greater than five million years, it initiated virtually all the major designs of multicellular life with barely a trace of evolutionary history. In a geological moment, the fossil species went from small worm-like creatures and the like to a tremendous diversity of complex life forms, including virtually all of today's modern designs.

Evolution did not predict, nor can it provide a detailed explanation for, abruptness in the fossil record. But evolutionists are not alarmed, for the Cambrian Explosion does not refute evolution. They point out that observed rates of small-scale change are sufficient to account for the abrupt changes observed in the fossil record.

And how do evolutionists measure these rates of change? They measure rates of small-scale changes within species. For example, traits in guppies, such as growth patterns, were found to change when the guppies were placed in a new environment. The guppies, of course, were still guppies, but evolutionists argue that the rate of change observed is theoretically sufficient to account for any of the abrupt changes seen in the fossil record. We could argue, against the evolutionists, that there is no justification for assuming that such small-scale changes fall into the same category as large-scale changes. But it is important here to understand the thrust of the evolutionists' argument. They are not showing that evolution is compelling or even likely; they are merely saying that evolution is not proved false by abruptness in the fossil record.

It certainly is true that one cannot use biology's big bangs [vis. Cambrian Explosion] to absolutely disprove evolution, but this simply points out how adaptable evolution is to whatever evidence comes along. One might think that evolution requires evidence of slow, gradual change, but in fact evolution can also accommodate abruptness in the fossil record. Why should we accept a theory that does not provide compelling explanations or bold predictions but rather molds itself to whatever evidence comes along?

Rather than being falsified by abruptness, evolution simply adopts it. We are told that big bangs like the Cambrian Explosion do not call evolution into question; they define it. They help answer the question how evolution occurred, not whether it occurred. For [Geneticist Steve] Jones...the Cambrian Explosion is a failure not of Darwin's theory but of the fossil record. Yes, for some reason shells appeared all of a sudden, but they must have evolved from soft shell creatures that leave no mark on the geological record.(2)

The fact that the Cambrian Explosion does not refute evolution does not mean that the abruptness problem is resolved. There are all sorts of unlikely theories that otherwise cannot be falsified. What science needs are likely explanations for its observations. And the array of vague explanations about how evolution could have produced big bangs such as the Cambrian Explosion does little to help. Their speculative nature reveals what little hard evidence there is that evolution is the right explanation and, in spite of what evolutionists maintain, how big a problem the Cambrian Explosion is for evolution.

(1) T.S. Kemp, Fossils and Evolution, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 16.
(2) Steve Jones, Darwin's Ghost (New York: Random House, 2000) 207.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Doctrinal Dominoes

There is an ongoing conversation at Dawn Treader regarding the inerrancy of scripture, and some of the comments refer to the opinions of the popular NT scholar Bart Ehrman on the matter. In order to refresh my memory on some scholarly response, I re-read an article I first found back when Ehrman's book, Misquoting Jesus, was all the rage, written by another NT scholar and author, Daniel B. Wallace. I quote from his conclusion:

...what I tell my students every year is that it is imperative that they pursue truth rather than protect their presuppositions. And they need to have a doctrinal taxonomy that distinguishes core beliefs from peripheral beliefs. When they place more peripheral doctrines such as inerrancy and verbal inspiration at the core, then when belief in these doctrines starts to erode, it creates a domino effect: One falls down, they all fall down. It strikes me that something like this may be what happened to Bart Ehrman. His testimony in Misquoting Jesus discussed inerrancy as the prime mover in his studies. But when a glib comment from one of his conservative professors at Princeton was scribbled on a term paper, to the effect that perhaps the Bible is not inerrant, Ehrman’s faith began to crumble. One domino crashed into another until eventually he became ‘a fairly happy agnostic.’ I may be wrong about Ehrman’s own spiritual journey, but I have known too many students who have gone in that direction. The irony is that those who frontload their critical investigation of the text of the Bible with bibliological presuppositions often speak of a ‘slippery slope’ on which all theological convictions are tied to inerrancy. Their view is that if inerrancy goes, everything else begins to erode. I would say rather that if inerrancy is elevated to the status of a prime doctrine, that’s when one gets on a slippery slope. But if a student views doctrines as concentric circles, with the cardinal doctrines occupying the center, then if the more peripheral doctrines are challenged, this does not have a significant impact on the core. In other words, the evangelical community will continue to produce liberal scholars until we learn to nuance our faith commitments a bit more, until we learn to see Christ as the center of our lives and scripture as that which points to him. If our starting point is embracing propositional truths about the nature of scripture rather than personally embracing Jesus Christ as our Lord and King, we’ll be on that slippery slope, and we’ll take a lot of folks down with us.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

What Science Does That Religion Doesn't

I recently read an article on new research findings regarding homo habilis and homo erectus that had supposedly negative implications regarding evolutionary theory—at least that's the way the story was presented in the media. Fearing, I presume, that research she was a party to might be latched onto by creationist-types, one of the researchers, Susan Anton (not that Susan Anton), launched a preemptive strike,

"This is a great example of what science does and religion doesn't do. It's a continous self-testing process."

This post is not in the least about the scientific findings or its implications. What I want to know is what does she mean when she says self-testing is something science does but religion doesn't (if that's what she's saying). It seems so broad a statement as to be practically meaningless. Am I missing something? I've heard the same line used almost verbatim recently in a blog conversation (before this article appeared) so I'm wondering if it's a currently fashionable anti-religion blurb. In any case I'm hoping someone can shed some light on what this put-down of religion is supposedly putting down.

In case you're interested, here's an instance of the article: Fossils Challenge Old Evolution Theory

08/28 Edit: I have updated the link. Hopefully this one will be functional for a while.

Math is a Religion

Monday, August 6, 2007

The Argument Against Naturalism v1.1

Is it likely, given naturalistic evolution, that our cognitive faculties (minds, brains, or whatever else might be involved) are reliable in that they produce true beliefs? In order to present the argument properly, or at least as best I can, I will broadly define the main ideas in question.

First, evolutionary theory maintains that all forms of life , including we humans, have developed from simple single-celled organisms by the processes of natural selection, genetic drift working on genetic variation, and, most popularly, random genetic mutation. Second, naturalism states that there are no supernatural beings, there is no God to direct the evolutionary process in any way.

So what is the probability (P) that our cognitive faculties are reliable (R) given the conjunction of naturalism (N) and evolutionary theory (E)? Stated as an equation it's P(R/N&E).

In the previous post I mentioned that Darwin himself had doubts that this probability was very high. It may be more accurate to say he was worried the probability was very low.

Why would Darwin harbor such doubt? Patricia Churchland explains:

“Boiled down to essentials, a nervous system enables the organism to succeed in the four F’s: feeding, fleeing, fighting, and reproducing. The principle chore of nervous systems is to get the body parts where they should be in order that the organism may survive. Improvements in sensorimotor control confer an evolutionary advantage: a fancier style of representing is advantageous so long as it is geared to the organism’s way of life and enhances the organism’s chances of survival. Truth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost.” (Churchland's emphasis)

In the previous post cyberkitten objected, saying that we can test our cognitive faculties (CF) to determine if are indeed producing true beliefs. My reply was that relying on the deliverances of our CF in order to verify our CF is pragmatically circular. Either way it's beside the point. If Timmy wants to prove that Santa Claus brought him an X-Box for Christmas, by verifying that it indeed is in his room he hasn't shown us anything relevant to our question: did Santa bring it?

This conversation is not about our CF per se, but rather, if what we know about naturalistic evolution is accurate, does that knowledge give us any reason to trust our CF as the output of that process?

Simply put, is P(R/N&E) high, low, or inscrutable?

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

An Argument Against Naturalism

Richard Dawkins: "Although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist."

Charles Darwin: "With me, the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey's mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?"

Karl Popper: "Since we have evolved and survived, we may be pretty sure that our hypotheses and guesses as to what the world is like are mostly correct."

W.V.O. Quine: "Creatures inveterately wrong in their inductions have a pathetic but praiseworthy tendency to die before reproducing their kind."

Patricia Churchland: "The principle chore of nervous systems is to get the body parts where they should be in order that the organism may survive...Improvements in sensorimotor control confer an evolutionary advantage: a fancier style of representing is advantageous so long as it is geared to the organism's way of life and enhances the organism's chances of survival. Truth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost."

So who is right?

Darwin and Churchland propose that the probability of human cognitive faculties' being reliable, given that they've have been produced by evolution is low. The ultimate purpose or function of our cognitive faculties, if indeed they have a purpose or function, will be survival—of individual, species, gene, or genotype. But then it is unlikely that they have the production of true beliefs as a function. So the probability or our faculties' being reliable, given naturalistic evolution, would be fairly low.

Popper and Quine, on the other side, judge that probability fairly high.

What do you think? I was planning on going through Alvin Plantinga's entire argument against naturalism, but, since I hate to read long posts I guess probably shouldn't write one. It might even be better to let the argument unfold, err...., naturally.

Friday, July 20, 2007

In Nebo-Sarsekim We Trust

Over at Scriptorium Daily Greg Peters has restrained his enthusiasm over a recent story in the London Times entitled, “Museum’s tablet lends new weight to Biblical truth.”

Monday, July 9, 2007


Recently I've had conversations with people who label themselves atheists while insisting that means they "do not believe God exists" but not, heaven forbid, that they "believe God does not exist". They say the two are very different claims. Honestly, in those conversations I may have muddied the waters in attempting to make a case that the two statements are indistinguishable for all practical purposes. In my defense, I have always understood how they differ. Of course they are not logically identical. Stating "I believe there is no [whatever]" is a positive claim to knowledge, while stating "I don't believe there is a [whatever]" is a negative claim to knowledge. My assertion remains that a proper atheist is one who makes the positive claim. And I'm not alone. Anthony Flew (when he was still an atheist) wrote,

"the word 'atheist' has, in the present context, to be construed in an unusual way. Nowadays it is normally taken to mean someone who explicitly denies the existence...of God.... But here it has to be understood not positively but negatively, with the originally Greek prefix ‘a-’ being read [the] same way in ‘atheist’ as it customarily is in...words as ‘amoral’.... In this interpretation an atheist becomes not someone who positively asserts the non-existence of God, but someone who is simply not a theist.

The Presumption of Atheism (emphasis mine)

If this "unusual way" of defining the word 'atheist' is accepted—despite the fact that such a definition is otherwise engaged—we need:

1) a new term for a person with sufficient philosophical fortitude to make the positive claim, and
2) a new definition for the word 'agnostic'.

After we come to agreement on terms, we can then address why those atheists who have retreated to the meeker agnostic position still want to retain the bolder label? I think William Lane Craig has the answer:

"If atheism is taken to be a view, namely the view that there is no God, then atheists must shoulder their share of the burden of proof to support this view. But many atheists admit freely that they cannot sustain such a burden of proof. So they try to shirk their epistemic responsibility by re-defining atheism so that it is no longer a view but just a psychological condition which as such makes no assertions. They are really closet agnostics who want to claim the mantle of atheism without shouldering its responsibilities."

So is there a God or not? Theists answer yes. Atheists answer no. Those who defer are agnostic. Which are you? Why say one thing when you mean another?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Mastec Motors: Scenario A: The Walker

Part 2 of a response to Kevin Parry's A Difference of Paradigms
(Read Part 1)

A customer walks into a Mastec Motors showroom and is approached by a salesman.

Salesman (S): Hello, can I help you?
Customer (C): Hi. Yea, maybe. I've heard a lot of talk about the 320i Turbo and I'd like to know more about it, maybe take a test drive.

S: Well, I'm glad you stopped by. But first let me say that I take my job very seriously and I want to make sure that the 320i is the car for you. If I sell you a car and you're not happy with it, even if it works exactly as advertised, then we've got an unhappy customer and our reputation is damaged. You understand, don't you?
C: That makes sense.

S: Good. So let me ask you a quasi-philosophical question.
C (looking puzzled): Uhhhh...I really rather talk cars.

S: If you want a 320i you've gotta answer the quasi-philosophical question, it's company policy.
C: Alright.

S: What's a car for?
C (puzzled): What's a car for?

S: Right.
C (pauses): Cars are for taking people to places.

S: Very good. But people can go places without a car, can't they? For example they can walk, bike, or take a bus, right?
C: Sure.

S: So, what's a car for?
C: Is there anyone else I can talk to?

S: Sorry, no.
C (sighs): Ok. are for taking people places they can't walk or bike to, and are not near the bus lines.

S: Very good. Cars take people places they can't easily get to any other way. Is that a fair restatement?
C: Yes.

S: Ok. Now for a more personal question. Are there places you want to go that you can't get to any other way than by car?
C: Well...

S: I ask you that because I noticed that you didn't drive up to the showroom, you walked.
C: That's right.

S: Do you currently own a car?
C: No, I don't.

S: Do you have a need to go places you can't walk to?
C: Well, no, not really. Where I live I can walk everywhere I need to go. My job, my friends', restaurants, libraries, the doctor, bars, Whole Foods, the Apple® store; I can get to these places and many more on my own.

S: Sounds like you're pretty well set; self-contained, as it were.
C: I suppose I am.

S: So why are you here?
C: I can't deny that this is a car-centric culture. People without a car are considered oddballs—or worse. Some of my walker friends would never set foot inside a dealership. Some even advocate making cars illegal, but every now and then I like to hear what you guys have to say. After all, I'm an open-minded and reasonable person. Can you prove to me that the Mastec 320i Turbo is my best transportation option?

S: If you don't believe that there are places you need a car to get to, I doubt any amount of performance data, reliability statistics, expert opinions, or even a test drive will convince you to buy. If you consider a concept irrational, the details are irrelevant.
C: But you shouldn't care whether I'd actually use the car. Aren't you supposed to get me to buy one even if I leave it in the garage.

S: No. That wouldn't do either of us any good.
C: So I guess you have to convince me first that there are interesting things happening in distance places that I missing out on.

S: Do you think I can do that?
C: Many car-owners have tried. But, of course they have to believe. If they don't they'll realize how much they've wasted.

S: So they are hopelessly biased.
C: Biased and, with all due respect, weak.

S: Weak?
C: Yes. They can't take the strain of life in the city. They dream of distant, idyllic meadows or white-sand beaches or other such delusions so they can deal with—or ignore—the dirt and violence outside their windows. Instead of accepting their situation, much less trying to improve things, they buy a car and read travel brochures all day long.

S: And that bothers you?
C: It wouldn't, but they think that being car owners makes them better than everyone else. They feel the need to tell everyone how great their car is, or how much better their "far-off country" is to the city. When they hear that I prefer to walk, they react with anger, or worse, pity. The oh-you-poor-thing look—I can't stand that!

S: I understand. But can you blame believers in distant, idyllic meadows and such for telling other people about them? Don't you share exciting news with your friends?
C: Exciting news, sure, but I keep my fantasies to myself. I have no desire to escape from the city. I like it here despite its problems. It's real, it's dangerous, it's unpredictable. It's fun! And anyway, idyllic meadows, if they did exist, would bore me to tears; everyone sitting around watching the grass grow doesn't sound idyllic to me. No, I'm sorry, I'm not interested in idyllic meadows. Regardless, the city is all there is; there are no "far-off places" of any sort.

S: Ok. I have another question for you.
C: Alright.

S: There are many components that go into a car and many other things without which it wouldn't run. Can you name some?
C: Well, there's gasoline, tires, various metal parts, is that what you mean?

S: Exactly. And where do car-owners get gasoline?
C: Gas stations, of course. They're on every street corner, you can't miss them with their big, obnoxious signs. But you know that it's not just car owners that use gas. I have a gas stove and a gas heating system. Almost everybody uses it.

S: True, I can't think of anybody that does not use some form of processed oil.
C: But car owner's think—

S: Wait, my question is not about what car-owners think. It's about gas, and tires, for example.
C: What about them?

S: Where do they come from?
C: Gas comes from gas stations, like I said, and tires can be bought there as well. Or you can get tires at a hundred other places. By the way, like with gas, tires are not just for cars.

S: Sure. Gas stations, however, only distribute gasoline to the public. They don't extract it or refine it. Even though there's a gas station on every corner have you ever seen a oil rig or a refinery in the city?
C: Out on the edge of the city there's vast industrial areas with huge tanks...

S: That's just another level of distribution. I'm talking about manufacture. Does gas come from the within the city? And although tires can be bought at hundreds of places have you ever seen a single rubber tree, much less the many millions it would take to produce all the rubber products sold and used in the city?
C: No, but it's a big city. I haven't been everywhere. The fact is we have gas and tires, so there must be oil rigs and rubber trees in the city somewhere.

S: Why's that?
C: Because, as I said, the city is all there is. Maybe I've never seen them but that's no reason to make up stories about distant lands with vast oil reserves or acres of rubber trees.

S: But that's a reasonable hypothesis, isn't it?
C: Only if you are naive enough to believe in distant lands in the first place. Even if I were that naive, I'd still have no reason to by a Mastec 320i Turbo, which is, if I recall, the reason I came in here.

S: It seems you have no need of any car.
C: Right.

S: (says nothing)
C: Well, it's been interesting; however, once again I leave a dealership without any desire to buy a car.

S: I'm sorry I couldn't be of more help. All I ask is that you think about our conversation. Keep your eyes open as you walk around the city. Don't dismiss ideas that don't fit your theory, but consider them with the same open-mindedness and reasonableness that you do for anything else. Maybe I'll see you back here again. Stop by anytime.
C: I'll do that, thanks. Bye.

S: Goodbye.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Mastec Motors

Part 1 of a response to Kevin Parry's A Difference of Paradigms. Please read it you haven't yet.

From: CEO and Founder of Mastec Motors
To: All Sales Staff

It has come to my attention that some members of our sales staff have abandoned our long-established standards in dealing with customers by brushing-off their reasonable requests for evidence supporting our claims of industry superiority. Blind faith has never been the byword at Mastec Motors. Read the Manual. True, some prospective buyers come into our showrooms ready sign on the bottom line with little more than a warm hello for a sales pitch. Others, however, need to be persuaded of the validity of our claims, and to those we are required to give an answer. Again, read the manual. Our voluminous customer list is filled with men and women who where initially skeptical. In fact, many of our most well-known, respected, and effective advocates were once unconvinced of our superiority. Some were even out-spoken and hostile critics. Such customers as these did not merely roll-over submissively upon hearing a salesperson say, "Trust me."

Some of the blame for this unorthodox salesmanship may fall on our man in Denmark. I personally feel he has been misunderstood, nonetheless I wonder if his work has done us more harm than good.

But I am convinced that the primary reason for this unacceptable sales method is the current distain for intellectual exercise. In addition to our founding documents, there are libraries full of evidence in support of our claims; but if they are not read all that work is wasted.

In the coming days I will present scenarios that more properly convey approved sales methods in the hopes that such disgraceful techniques as represented here are not repeated.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

2 reasons why I don't like to go to church.

1. The Reverence Deficit.
2. The Pseudo-Reverence Surplus.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Leave your comments here...

...regarding my posts on other blogs. I will make sure they get a good home.