Podcasts You Should Know About Part 2

This week I want to call your attention to not just a podcast, but another ministry that has more than one fine podcast. Reasonable Faith, the ministry of Dr. William Lane Craig, is a highly useful resource, including two podcasts: Reasonable Faith, and Defenders. Reasonable Faith is a weekly podcast hosted by Craig and Kevin Harris where they discuss recent events and debates related to Christianity and apologetics. Defenders is a weekly class taught by Craig that is accessible, yet thorough in its systematic treatment of Christian doctrine. Defenders is available as a podcast, but also can be accessed as a live stream on Sundays at 12:45 Eastern time. In addition to the podcasts, the Reasonable Faith website has a wealth of information related to apologetics, as well as philosophy. There is a whole library of videos of Craig’s teaching and debates.

Podcasts You Should Know About Part 1

Over the next several posts, I will highlight some really useful resources for Christians. Obviously, being the geek that I am, the emphasis will be on apologetics resources, but many of the websites and podcasts I will profile have a broad range of information for any Christian interested in growing in the area of the life of the mind.

 

Unlike other “Top…” lists, I will start with what I think is the number one ministry in this field, and the rest will be in no particular order. Far an away my favorite (and arguably the best) is Stand to Reason. Greg Koukl has been like a long-distance (and occasionally up close) mentor to me since around 2000. He has had a radio presence for over 20 years, and the show has been available online since before there were podcasts. It is still available as a live stream on Tuesday evenings from 4-6:00 pm PDT (7-9 EDT) or the show can be downloaded as two one-hour podcasts on Wednesday and Friday. There is also a shorter podcast released twice a week called #STR Ask.

Additionally, he offers a wide range of resources from books (two of which he has written or co-written) as well as short booklets, called Ambassadors’ Guides, which are available in paper or electronic editions. STR also offers instructional DVDs like Tactics. These resources and podcasts can also be accessed through their mobile apps.

Finally, Greg and his team are available to speak to your church or ministry. More content can be found on their blog, as well as the bimonthly newsletters, such as Solid Ground.

 

STR is a valuable resource to help Christians think more carefully about and communicate their faith.

 

Philosophy In Seven Sentences By Douglas Groothuis: A Review

The author

Douglas Groothuis is professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary. He earned his PhD at the University of Oregon and he specializes in Philosophy of Religion, the History of Philosophy and other areas. Dr. Groothuis is the author or editor of 13 books including

Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith, Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism, and In Defense of Natural Theology: A Post-Humean Assessment in addition to the title under review here. Groothuis is passionate about careful thinking as an element of worship.

 

Thesis

In Philosophy In Seven Sentences, Groothuis seeks to make philosophy a little less intimidating and esoteric to the uninitiated, while demonstrating the need to think well in order to live a good life. He does this by introducing the work of seven philosophers with quotes that embody their work. Each chapter fleshes out the ideas behind the sentences, as well as some background information on the philosophers to whom they are attributed.

 

Synopsis

In chapter 1, Protagoras’ claim “Man is the measure of all things: of the things which are, that they are, and of things which are not that are not” is examined. Groothuis notes how this idea has some merit, but pressed to its logical conclusion, it leads to the inability to know anything.

In chapter 2, we hear from Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Groothuis notes that this is a hyperbolic statement, urging the hearers to seek truth by which to live, which requires comparing one’s life to that truth.

In chapter 3, Aristotle tells us, “All men by nature desire to know.” In service of this belief, Aristotle formulated the laws of logic, especially the Law of Noncontradiction. Groothuis points out that knowledge is impossible if we cannot escape contradiction.

In chapter 4, Augustine’s quote, “You have made us for yourself, and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in you” is examined. Augustine came to this realization, which he wrote in Confessions, as he reflected on his life and the process through which he became a Christian. He argues that humans feel a real guilt, stemming from an awareness of objective morality, and since the only remedy for this guilt is in God’s provision, rest can only be found in him.

In chapter 5, Groothuis analyzed Descartes’ quote “I think, therefore I am.” Descartes was searching for something he could know with certainty, and he found one such item in the realization that thinking requires a thinker. Descartes also devised an argument for God from the fact that the idea of God is innate and therefore implanted by God. Groothuis also notes Descartes’ contribution to the mind-body problem.

In chapter 6, Pascal’s quote “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing” is unpacked. Like many references to “the heart” in older (and even ancient) literature, this one is often misunderstood. Rather than pitting emotion against intellect, Pascal was pointing to basic beliefs, and first principles on which all other beliefs depend.

In chapter 7, Kierkegaard warns us, “The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all.” Groothuis points out that for Kierkegaard, an adequate self-awareness leads to despair, and one must come to terms with that despair such that they throw themselves on God’s mercy.

 

Analysis

 

Philosophy In Seven Sentences serves as an excellent primer on philosophical thought. In fact, it ought to be required reading before any undergraduate takes and introduction to Philosophy course. Far too many take these courses and hear and read the opinions of philosophers when the students lack the tools of philosophy. This books shows how even the most brilliant philosophers’ opinions require careful consideration. This book is accessible to anyone with at least a high school education. Reading it made me wish I had the time and resources to pursue a degree in Philosophy.

 

So Now I’m a Christian. Now What? Part 3: God

 

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.  He descended into hell.

The third day He arose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.

In this installment, I want to go a little deeper into the issue of God’s power. God is called “almighty” fifty-eight times in the Bible, forty-eight in the Old Testament and ten in the New. Historically, this has been taken to mean that God has the power to do anything that power can do. If you are collecting nerdy theological terms, this is called “omnipotence.”

Some have tried to challenge this belief with questions like, “Can God make a rock so big or heavy that he can’t lift it?” They think that whether you answer “yes” or “no” to this question, you undermine the doctrine. If you answer “no,” then there is something God cannot do, so he is not all-powerful. If you answer “yes,” then since he cannot move it, there is something God cannot do, so the doctrine is undermined. However, this is a silly challenge if you look a little deeper.

First, it is a logically absurd question. Remember I said almighty means God has the power to do anything power can do. What power cannot do is accomplish something that power cannot do. (Ya think?) Power cannot do the absurd.

Second, what would it mean for a rock to be too heavy for anyone to lift? It would mean it had so much mass that it had an irresistible gravitational attraction. However, such an object would attract everything else to itself. If all of matter were in one lump, what would it mean to lift it? “Lift” usually means moving in an “up” direction. However, which way would be “up?” Moreover, if such a universal lump existed, what sort of resistance could there be to God moving it? There would be no other objects to provide a gravitational attraction against the effort to move it, and no air to provide drag.

Third, what would it mean for a rock to be too big for God to move it? In this case, it would actually be possible for God to make a rock too big to move.

“Ah ha! See? He’s not all-powerful, omnipo.. omnibus… om nom nom… whatever you said!”

Not so fast. I said it would be possible. However, in order to make it, God could make a universe in which all that existed was the rock, and just enough space that the rock filled all of space. What is movement? It is a change in location in space. However, in such a world, since there is no empty space, movement is impossible.

“Wait! I clicked on this to read about God, not rocks!”

Fair enough. I think we’ve squeezed enough out of this. Let’s move on.

What omnipotence does mean is that the same God who made all of matter, energy, space and time can also do all the other miracles found in the Bible. Some have balked at things like Jesus’ virgin conception, the parting of the Red Sea, and the Resurrection because they don’t happen very often. Well, of course not. If they did, they wouldn’t be miracles, and they would prove nothing. However, if God made the universe, then a pregnant virgin or a dead man rising is not even difficult. And if he raised Jesus, he will raise you too on the last day. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians (that’s first Corinthians, Mr. Trump) 15:20-24,

“But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.  But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming,  then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power.”

 

In my next article, I will address God as love, and (brace yourselves,) the Trinity.

Reflections on the Skeptics Forum

Tonight, I attended a panel discussion between neurologist Steven Novella and RTB‘s Hugh Ross and Fazale Rana. Ross gave a presentation defending Biblical theism from the origin and design of the universe, galaxy and solar system, and Rana did so from the origin of life. Novella then offered a rebuttal. After some dialogue among the panelists the floor was opened for a brief Q&A.

The Good

Ross is second to none when it comes to explaining all of the parameters that must be fine tuned in order for life to be possible anywhere in the universe, and how these parameters point to a creator who seemed to want organisms a lot like humans to live on earth. Likewise, Rana presented a strong case for a sudden origin of life which is inconsistent with typical naturalistic models. Novella’s critique of Ross and Rana’s Biblical concordism was also informative. (More on that below.) Concordism in this context means the idea that there is a strong (in the case of strong concordism) correlation between scientific discoveries and Bible passages.

The Bad

There is a well respected principle of Bible hermeneutics (the science of interpretation) that says “A passage can never mean what it never meant.” Isaiah 45:12 says, “It is I who made the earth, and created man upon it. I stretched out the heavens with My hands And I ordained all their host. “Ross claims that this and other verses that say similar things, is a reference to the expansion of the universe. There is no good reason to think the Israelites to whom Isaiah was writing 2700 years ago would have understood him to be speaking of the expansion of the universe. This strongly suggests Ross is mistaken. Moreover, Rana, who in my opinion destroys naturalistic origin of life hypotheses in his written work, tried to tie Genesis 1:2 to the origin of life. Now THAT was stretching on a cosmic scale. (Sorry, guys. I couldn’t resist.) For his part, Novella trotted out the “god-of-the-gaps” charge against Ross and Rana, while appealing to naturalism-of-the-gaps to explain the lack of scientific answers to the question of the origin of the universe and of life. He claimed that all scientific adjustments to models accommodated new evidence while anything tied to a theistic model adjust to avoid evidence.

He also claimed Ross and Rana, and those who think like them, are guilty of what he called “retroactive continuity.” This is similar to the “humans are pattern recognizing organisms” claim. He accuses creationists (in the broad sense) of taking what we know now and applying Bible texts to it retroactively to harmonize them, as if Darwinism does nothing similar. In conversation afterward, Novella denied Darwinism is vulnerable to the same charge because it made successful predictions. He claimed Darwinism predicted DNA because it posited heredity. This is another cosmic stretch, since even the simplest organism has an incredibly complex genome, not to mention Darwinism’s inability to account for the origin of information. (For the purposes of this article, I am using Darwinism and neo-Darwinism interchangeably since the difference is not relevant to the point.)

The Christian worldview holds that God created the universe out of nothing. Genesis 1:1 is consistent with this, even if some would argue it is not stated there, and Hebrews 11:3. However, the Christian worldview does not stand or fall on a particular interpretation of Genesis or other passages with respect to science, since it is not a science text. For example, C. John Collins notes the style and structure of Genesis 1 is distinct from straightforward historical narrative. He calls the style, “exalted prose.”[1] This is part of an argument he makes for an interpretation of Genesis 1 that shows it was not intended to teach how or when God created the universe. This is just one of several interpretations of Genesis, and related texts, that make better sense of the texts.

Ross and Rana do great work on scientific evidence that is consistent with the involvement of an intelligent agent in the design and creation of the universe and life. I wish they would apply more care to hermeneutics.

For his part, I am sure Dr. Novella is a fine neurologist. However, this is only possible because he is made in the image of God. His own worldview cannot account for how he could have a reliable understanding of his discipline.

[1] C. John Collins. Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, And Theological Commentary (Kindle Location 530). Kindle Edition

Is It Possible That God Exists?

I was recently asked to “prove that it is even possible for God to exist.” In order to answer this challenge, we need to define some key terms. I will leave off “prove” for reasons that I think will become clear.

When I speak of God, I am referring to a being that is all knowing, all powerful, everywhere present, unchanging, good, rational, wise, and loving, and holds all these attributes perfectly and without limit. He is also self-existent, which means he is not in any way dependent on anything or anyone else for his existence, rather all else that exists is dependent on God.

With respect to time, I hold that he is timeless without creation, but temporal since creation. This is important to note in order to explain how it is more reasonable to think God is the one who brought the universe, all of matter, energy, space, and time, out of nothing. It is my view that time is simply the relation of before/after, duration and interval between events, where an event is a change in the state of affairs. On this view, there was a state of affairs where all that existed was God. God created the universe, and with it time. He has since sustained the universe for some length of time (it is beyond the scope of this post to argue for how long that has been.)

So how does this prove that God is possible? Now we have to define possible. Philosophers divide possibilities into three modalities: logical, metaphysical, and physical.

“…on the standard model of the relation between these kinds of modalities the logical possibilities are the most inclusive; they include any proposition that sheer logic leaves open, no matter how otherwise impossible it might be. The metaphysical possibilities are the logical possibilities that are also allowed by the natures of all of the things that could have existed. The physical possibilities are the logical and metaphysical possibilities that are also allowed by the physical laws of nature. [1]

So rather than “prove” it is possible that God exists, I need only show that his existence is consistent with at least one of the above modes of possibilities.

Is there any law of logic violated by God’s existence, or even the proposition “God exists?” It is not an identity statement, so there is no violation of the Law of Identity. There is no compound proposition from which an excluded middle could be suggested, so there is no violation of the Law of the Excluded Middle. And, since there is no claim that God exists and does not exist at the same time in the same sense, there is no violation of the Law of Noncontradiction. So in this case, asking for proof of logical possibility is really asking for proof of a negative, and really the burden should be on the one who thinks it is logically impossible since it would be so easy to meet it, but that’s just my opinion.

Is God’s existence metaphysically possible? Metaphysics is the study of things and what kind of things they are. In a sense it is the study of what is and what can be. It seems to me that a being with the attributes listed above is the kind of being that is among those things that could have existed. There is nothing about such a being that is incoherent. For this distinction, however, let me illustrate the difference between metaphysical and logical possibility. It is strictly logically possible that the Prime Minister is a prime number (there is no violation of the laws of logic.) However, since prime numbers are not the kind of things that by nature are Prime Ministers, it is not metaphysically possible. To say that God is the creator and sustainer of the universe is logically possible, and metaphysically possible since the kind of being God would be is the kind of being that could create and sustain the universe. Conversely, it is not metaphysically possible that God is the Flying Spaghetti Monster since the FSM is a material being and material beings are not the kind of things that can exist timelessly and unchanging.

With respect to physical possibility, there is nothing in the laws of nature that precludes the existence of God. This is a separate issue from whether it is possible to empirically detect God. How we can even in principle know God exists is a distinct issue from whether it is physically possible. It may even be fair to say that to ask the question of physical possibility is a category error since God is not a physical being. However, something is possible just in case there are no impossibilities against it.

So in all three modalities, it is possible that God exists. Ordinarily, I think whoever is making a claim bears the burden, and I have tried to support my claim that God’s existence is possible. However, it seems that taking a stance that it is impossible is to hold that the idea violates logic, or God cannot be the kind of thing that could have existed, or that there is a law of nature that precludes such existence. I would love to hear which of these is the case with respect to God.

[1] http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/modality-epistemology/#PriPos

What is Logic? “Baby, don’t hurt me…” Oops! Wrong Song

Argument From Logic to God

In a recent conversation, it was asserted that logic can exist all by itself and even “stands above God.” My interlocutor even suggested a logical version of the Euthyphro Dilemma whereby either things are logical because God says they are, and therefore could have been otherwise, or God says they are because they are logical, and therefore God is subject to logic, which would mean God is unnecessary to explain logic. This view fails for the same reason that the Euthyphro Dilemma in moral argumentation fails, because God is the ground of Logic, just as he is for morality. This solution was dismissed out of hand because it was somehow “illogical” for an eternal, self-existent being to exist. However, my friend seems to admit that logic is indispensible. He seems to think it can stand on its own. In order to resolve this, we need to look at just what logic is.

According to MirriamWebster.com:

Logic

: a proper or reasonable way of thinking about or understanding something

: a particular way of thinking about something

: the science that studies the formal processes used in thinking and reasoning

From dictionary.com

noun

  1. the science that investigates the principles governing correct or reliable inference.
  2. a particular method of reasoning or argumentation:
  3. the system or principles of reasoning applicable to any branch of knowledge or study.
  4. reason or sound judgment, as in utterances or actions:
  5. convincing forcefulness; inexorable truth or persuasiveness

From the Stamford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

“Philosophically, logic is at least closely related to the study of correct reasoning. Reasoning is an epistemic, mental activity. So logic is at least closely allied with epistemology.”[1]

Finally, the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy says thus:

For the purposes of this entry, let us define logic as that field of inquiry which investigates how we reason correctly (and, by extension, how we reason incorrectly).  Aristotle does not believe that the purpose of logic is to prove that human beings can have knowledge.  (He dismisses excessive scepticism.)  The aim of logic is the elaboration of a coherent system that allows us to investigate, classify, and evaluate good and bad forms of reasoning.[2]

With the exception of source titles, italicized words denote mental activity, which is activity engaged in by a mind. The only way logic can exist is if there is a mind in which it operates.

Logic is not one of many possible conditions. It is a necessary reality in any world that exists. Keith Yandell writes, “Logic holds in all possible worlds. It applies to anything there possibly is, and hence to everything there actually is. To deny this is to embrace a self-contradictory claim.”[3]

Having laid this groundwork, l could lay out my argument in syllogistic form:[4]

  1. Logic is the structure of mental activity
  2. Mental activity is that which is engaged by a mind.
  3. Because logic holds necessarily, it must be grounded in a mind that exists necessarily.
  4. A mind must be had by a person.
  5. Human persons are contingent.
  6. A divine mind, if it exists, exists necessarily.
  7. On 3, if logic holds, a divine mind exists.
  8. If a divine mind exists, God exists.
  9. Logic holds, therefore God exists.

It might be objected that the only minds known to exist are human minds. However, this would beg the question, since such “knowledge” presupposes logic, which would have to exist prior to the arrival of the first humans.

Another issue that could be raised, “Then who made the divine mind?” This would be the same as asking, “Who made God?” However this would be a category error since the God posited by classical theists is, by definition, self-existent. Moreover, such a question raises the issue of an infinite regress. If you say some agent made God, you could ask who made that agent, ad infinitum. However, in his work on the Kalam Cosmological Argument, Craig shows that an actual infinite number of things cannot exist in the world (such as an infinite number of moments in time.) Moreover, even if it were possible, you could not accumulate an infinite number of things, like seconds, weeks, years, etc by successive addition.[5]

Ultimately, since logic is a related to mental activity, it is not possible for it to hold if no minds exist. Moreover, it is not a defect on God’s part if he cannot violate the laws of logic any more than it is a defect that he cannot do evil. This is a perfection, not a defect. That he cannot violate logic just means he cannot err in his thinking. Likewise, that he cannot do evil means he cannot fail to be perfectly good. All this is to say that God cannot fail to be God.

Logic holds in all possible worlds. Logic is mental activity. Mental activities are activities of a mind. Logic must be grounded in the mind of a necessary person. Humans are contingent. Only divine minds can exist necessarily. Therefore, logic is grounded in a divine mind, therefore God exists.

[1] http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/logic-classical/#1

[2] http://www.iep.utm.edu/aris-log/, “Laws of Thought”

[3] Yandell, Keith E. (2002-01-22). Philosophy of Religion: A Contemporary Introduction (Routledge Contemporary Introductions to Philosophy) (p. 70). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

[5] An article that goes into more detail on this can be found at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/forming-an-actual-infinite-by-successive-addition