Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Buffy & The Good Life

For my friends who are Buffy fans, I have to post this link to an thoughtful and funny commentary by John Mark Reynolds, a philosopher and professor at Biola University.

(Reynolds uses the phrase "jump the shark" in his post, which I had heard before but couldn't remember what it meant. When I looked it up, I laughed. I remember the Happy Days episode that this refers to!)
Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Freewill and Evil

My friend Charlie (the picture is Al Plantinga, not Charlie -- Charlie's much better looking) has challenged me to defend Plantinga's Freewill Defense (FWD), a possible solution to the logical problem of evil (here is a really brief summary of the FWD), which is a little like asking Kuwait to defend the United States from invasion. So I'm replying to a post on his blog. Anyway, here are some thoughts -- sorry we're already in the middle of this discussion.

(Charlie wants to be sure I agree with the FWD)
Don't worry -- I agree with Plantinga, so this should be good grist for the mill.
OK, I'm thinking carefully about what you're saying, and it is very interesting. I need to re-read the essay myself.

One critical issue seems to be this idea of freedom. Let me introduce another important distinction -- possibility and feasibility. (I didn't make this up, it's a traditional way of understanding possible worlds and middle knowledge.)
Today I had pizza for lunch, which I think was a free choice. Now, there is a possible world in which I had Chinese for lunch today, given the exact same circumstances. It is possible only in the LOGICAL sense. I.e., talking about that world entails no logical contradictions -- saying "Chris was in circumstances C and freely chose Chinese food" does not violate logic. However, since in circumstances C, I actually chose pizza, that is what God foreknew. Therefore, even though the Chinese world was LOGICALLY possible for God, it was not FEASIBLE. In order to create the Chinese world, God would have to cause me to choose Chinese instead. This would no longer be a free choice on my part. With me so far?
OK. What I think Plantinga is saying is that a world in which Eve is in circumstances C and she freely chooses not to eat the fruit is LOGICALLY possible, but not feasible, since God knows that Eve will, in fact, freely eat. He cannot change that fact anymore than he can create a square circle.

So your beef is, why doesn't God just create a different world in which all the choices of all people are always good? I.e., God just needs to make sure all the "good" circumstances are in place to ensure this. This strikes me as an odd scenario.
Why? Let's use an analogy. Suppose I am the dictator of a 3rd world country, and I hold elections. I tell you, "Vote for whomoever you like." But on the ballot, there is only my name. This does not appear to be a genuinely free choice, since you could not have voted for anyone else.

Also, suppose that the whole point of the garden scenario is to give Adam and Eve an opportunity to choose to serve God freely. If God never gave them a genuine opportunity to say "no," then would their decision to serve him be free in any meaningful sense?

I think you have raised an interesting issue here, Charlie. Let's keep talking. Anyone who would like to join in the fray should feel free.
Monday, November 28, 2005


If you don't already have it, here's a link to "Bloglines." It's an easy and free way to keep tabs on your favorite blogs without having to check them everyday. I highly recommend it, especially if you're often frustrated by my lack of posting.
Saturday, November 26, 2005

More on Logic

Here are a few other argument forms:

Modus Tollens
P-->Q (Read as "If P, then Q)
~Q (Not Q)
Therefore, ~P

Disjunctive Syllogism
Either P or Q
Therefore, Q

Hypothetical Syllogism
Therefore, P-->R
Saturday, November 19, 2005

Logic and Arguments

I just wanted to give a quick primer on logic and arguments:

Generally, an argument is logical if it follows the laws of logic, which typically take standard forms: modus ponens, modus tollens, dysjunctive syllogism, etc.

Any argument that follows these rules is considered valid. If it violates these forms, it is invalid.

Example of modus ponens:
1. If it is raining outside, then the streets are wet. (P--> Q)
2. It is raining outside. (P)
3. Therefore, the streets are wet. (Q)

This is a valid argument. The following is also valid:

1. If the moon is made of green cheese, then I am the president. (P--> Q)
2. The moon is made of green cheese. (P)
3. Therefore, I am the president. (Q)

While clearly false, this is a valid argument because it follows the rules of logic.
If an argument is valid and its premises are true, then the argument is sound. The first argument is sound (assuming it is raining outside), while the second is unsound.

So, if someone claims that a particular argument is fallacious or illogical, he must show how it violates the rules and laws of logic, OR he must show that one of its premises is false. For instance, the second argument above is valid, but someone could defeat it simply by showing that the moon is not, in fact, made of green cheese. If premise (2) is false, then the argument is unsound.

More Blogging at ETS/EPS

Well, here are my last few thoughts from ETS/EPS.

Why Did God Create Such a Big Universe?
Jay Richards of the Acton Insitute tackles this question. He mentions Carl Sagan, who says that if we're the only life in the universe, it seems like an awful waste of space. This argument, while at first glance seems to make sense, really is based on a false assumption. If you were in the desert with a friend, and you saw him washing his SUV with a hose that was constantly running, you would say, "What a waste of water!" But why is it a waste? Because water is scarce. If you has an infinite supply of water, it would be impossible to waste any. The universe is the same way -- space cannot be wasted because there is no scarcity. (The illustration is my own, but similar to one that Richards used.)

Richards goes on to explain that possible reason for the size of the universe is that God knew it would provide us with important scientific information about the age of the universe. Only by observing light from distant stars and galaxies are we able to determine that the universe is billions of years old.

A Great Time
Overall, I had a great time. I saw some old friends, had some amazing conversations, heard some first-rate scholarship, and visited Valley Forge. Maybe I'll post on Valley Forge later.
Thursday, November 17, 2005

Blogging at ETS/EPS

Blogging at ETS/EPS

More from ETS/EPS. J.P. Moreland (one of my profs from Talbot) had a lively exchange with a postmodern theologian, John Franke.

Postmodernism & Truth

John Franke & J.P. Moreland

  • Non-foundational approach to truth in theology

  • 1922 – Karl Barth – “The Word of God is a Task of Theology.” We must recognize that we are, in a sense, unable to speak about God. But we still want to give a faithful witness of God. Barth commends a dialectical approach to theology: the dogmatic approach vs. the self-critical approach. We get close to the truth, but in a fragmentary way. We must relate affirmation and negations to each other. Like walking a narrow ridge between two chasms.

  • Truth about God only happens when humans speak of God AND God speaks through them. We have no control over this self-revelation of God.

  • We adopt our method because it is the best we can do – not because it is ideal.

  • Human communications, even in the incarnation, are limited in their ability to speak about God. The human nature of Jesus was not divinized – revelation was still indirect in this case.

  • Revelation in the Scripture is not the end of God’s revelatory work. It still requires God’s revelation to understand the Scriptures – we are always epistemically dependent.

  • A non-foundationalist approach (NFA) seeks to embrace this dependence, which yields a theological plularism.

  • Does this deny “Truth?” (with a capital “T”) Perhaps there is Truth, but only for God, not us.

  • Foundations of knowledge are not “given” to human beings. We are always in a position of dependence. We cannot “seize control” of these foundations or revelations. NFA seeks to oppose such seizure by acknowledging our limitations.


  • There is a real world, independent of observers and their language.

  • The Bible expresses this reality and the importance of knowledge thereof.

  • Franke sees reality as social constructions. Words and language to not represent reality – they do not have fixed, timeless meanings.

  • Perhaps John is not making an ontological claim, but an epistemological one. There is a spiritual reality out there, but we have no direct access to it.

  • Just because we have limitations or our perception of God is incomplete, it does not follow that our knowledge of God (no matter how limited) is not accurate.

  • When I see an apple, I do not have exhaustive knowledge of the apple. I see only one side, etc. But the knowledge that I do have of the apple (it is red, it is a certain size, it is shiny) is still accurate and true.

  • To say that “we cannot speak of God,” or “there is no capital T truth for us – only for God,” or “the information we have about God is not really information,” is very close to being self-refuting.

  • We can embrace humility in our knowledge claims and relinquish our need for control over God without giving up our claims to objective knowledge.
Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Blogging at ETS/EPS

Blogging at ETS/EPS

I’m here at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society/Evangelical Philosophical Society. For those of you that like this kind of stuff, I’ll try to put my notes from the sessions on my blog. Enjoy!!

Middle Knowledge and Evil

  • God does not have the ability to create any possible world, but only any feasible world, given libertarian freedom. God cannot control the free choice of men, and thus cannot actualize certain worlds.

  • Is this the best possible world? If a sinless world is possible AND feasible, then this would be a sinless world. This is not a sinless world, therefore, it is must not be feasible for God to create a sinless world.

  • This line of thinking strikes me as similar to the ontological argument. It seems rather “in house,” and wouldn’t be very satisfying to the atheist. “How do you know this is the best possible world?” “Because it has to be.”

  • Is there any other way to know that a sinless world is not feasible for God?

  • Bruce A. Little, the presenter I just heard, argued that because God pronounced the creation as “good,” it could not have been improved upon. Thus, for Little, “good” = “best.”

Clark Pinnock’s Open Theism

Pinnock is critical of what he considers the undue Greek influence on classical theology, especially the doctrine of God. I.e., our view of God has been tainted by Greek philosophy. Pinnock suggests that we revise the following 6 attributes:

The first three are not really new, but accepted among most evangelical theologians:

  • Immutability – Pinnock thinks that God is faithful, and yet dynamic in relationships. But Pinnock confuses immutability with immobility. You can believe that God is immuatable in the weak sense and not give up his changelessness. However, I would not want to say that God changes in his knowledge. How could he, if he has exhaustive foreknowledge?

  • Impassability – God is incapable of suffering. Pinnock wants to say that God does experience sorrow and pain. But almost all modern and early theologians also affirm this. So what is so interesting about Pinnock’s view?

  • Timleslessness – Pinnock thinks this idea is pure Greek philosophy. But many theologians hold this for other reasons (myself not included).

The next three are controversial and contrary to the accepted evangelical view:

  • Omniscience – Pinnock want to limit God’s knowledge to only the present and past. Sometimes called “presentism.” God does not know what free agents will do in the future. How does this square with predictive prophecy? Eschatology? God certainly seems to know the future in these matters.

  • Omnipotence – Pinnock suggests that God is “omnicompetent.” God can do almost anything, except violate the freewill of man. He cites the parable of the prodigal son – the father could not compel the son to return, but only wait. But just because the father does not compel the son to return, it doesn’t mean that he cannot. This idea would also create eschatological uncertainty, which seems inconsistent with Scripture.

  • Omnipresence – Pinnock wants to say that God may be mysteriously embodied, which helps to make him more personal. This should be rejected, since it seems to make God corporeal, which is clearly unbiblical and illogical.
Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Truth & Beauty

Me: Beauty is objective, not merely subjective.
Friend: But when my 4-year old child draws a picture for me, it's beautiful to me.
Me: You can say that the drawing is meaningful or significant, but it isn't objectively beautiful.
Friend: But when a person who is tone-deaf sings a worship song to the Lord with all his heart, it's beautiful.
Me: Well, the intention and heart of that person may be "beautiful" (in a sense), but that doesn't mean I can't say that his singing is awful.

I was flabbergasted. I hadn't intended to teach on the objective nature of aesthetics that day, but it came up nonetheless. I fumbled and clumsily bumbled my way through the topic, making a mess of things, I think. I'm sure many people were more confused after class than before.

I was surprised to run into so much resistance to the notion of objective beauty. The classical concept of truth -- for 2,000 years -- has included the idea of objectivity in aesthetics. For the ancients, truth existed in three categories: moral truth, aesthitic truth and propositional truth. Goodness, beauty and truth. Goodness is a property of persons and their actions, beauty is a property of objects, and truth is a property of propositions. All three converge with perfection in the person of God.

What will happen next week? I hope I can untangle the mess I made and shed light on this subject.