Friday, February 29, 2008

Van Til, Piper and Triperspectival Ethics

In Van Til's "Christian Theistic Ethics" Van Til gives us a tri-perspectival approach to dealing with ethics he says, "All ethics then deals with these three questions: a.) What is the motive of human action? b.) what is the standard of human action? c.) What is the end or purpose of human action?" All three aspects must exist in any good ethical system.

I am reading "Christian Theistic Ethics" and I have been running this part of the first chapter through my head for sometime. Yesterday, I finished reading John Pipers "God is the Gospel." Van Til answers these questions is a slightly different manner than I think Piper would. However, I think that they would agree but simply use different language. Anyhow, I think that Piper would answer these questions this way: The motive of our actions should the Glory of God. The standard of our actions should be the word of God. The end or purpose of human action is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.

Written by Stephen Stanford

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Materialism,Weirob and the Perception Problem

In January I reviewed a John Perry book. Now I will present some of the issues more in depth. In John Perry’s book “A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality” there is a philosopher name Wierob who is on her death. To pass the time and perhaps have some hope for an afterlife, she debates her friend a chaplain by that name of Miller on the subject of souls and the afterlife. Wierob does not believe it is possible for an afterlife. Miller on the other hand believes that there will be an afterlife. In this essay I will argue that one of the arguments given by Wierob, I call the perception argument, is weak. First I will lay out the argument presented by Weirob. Next, I will counter this argument by presenting a counter argument. Then I will take on a few objections that I think the dead Wierob would have fired at me had she lived long enough. Before I begin, I will lay on the table just what I will be assuming so that one given my assumptions would follow my argument. I assume that we believe that our friends, relatives, acquaintances and loved ones genuinely have subjective-mental states. Even poor Weirob believed this.

Weirob wants reasons to believe in the afterlife. Miller argues that, given our soul, we would have an afterlife to look forward to. Weirob points out that we never perceive a soul. If personal identity corresponds to our soul then we never know that the physical body that we meet corresponds to the same soul that directed the body earlier. This is a particular problem that would relate to us all. Suppose you met your wife on Monday, you assume that the body corresponds to the person of your wife, but the next day you would have no assurance that the soul of your wife corresponded to the same body.

Let us suppose that there are no souls. Let us suppose that all that constitutes personal identity is some aspect of the body. When a person meets a friend on Monday and on Thursday, one assumes several things about that the person. The assumption that is made during our meeting with that person is that that same body on Monday as well as on Thursday is accompanied with a subjective-mental state. Perhaps I should say that that body “accompanies” a subjective mental state but rather that body contains a subjective mental-state. Now remember we are not assuming here a mind body dualist position we are assuming a mind-body materialist position. On Monday when I go to class to meet Dr. Hutcheson I have perception of his body but I do not have perception of his subjective mental states. The question that I should then ask is this: Does he have subjective mental states? If so, how do I know? I hold that Dr. Hutcheson in fact does have subjective mental states. It is important to note that we do not in fact observe Dr. Hutcheson’s subjective mental states. If perception is what verifies knowing Dr. Hutcheson has a subjective mental state then the fact of Dr. Hutchesons subjective mental state cannot be verified. Thus, if I am required to be able to perceive X in order to believe X exist, then other peoples subjective mental states are outside of the realm of knowledge.

Another example of the perception problem is the problem presented by Hume. Suppose that we perceive pool ball A strike ball B then B moves. Suppose we see it a thousand times we still do not see the “causation” behind it all. For all we know it could turn out that B could do something unexpected.

Also we must note that, except for those lucky few who have found a place to buy a magical crystal ball, we do not perceive the future. Thus given the perception criteria we have no knowledge that the future will resemble the past given the same circumstances. For all we know, for example, there might be a brief period of time in the future when gravity will randomly malfunction.

This problem is importantly related to Wierob’s argument because she cannot have it both ways. She cannot reject the idea of a souls continual correspondence to a particular body because the soul is not perceived and still accept that there is a non-empirical subjective mental-states in the people that she meets. This strict empiricism also gives us the problems of skepticism toward induction as well as causation. The criterion that Wierob has given us not only leads her toward skepticism of souls, but a whole lot of other things including causation and that her friend Miller really has a subjective mental state of feeling her speak to him. Thus it is not right to object to the continuity of the soul in a particular body because of a lack of perception. If it is a problem of perception that she wants it is a problem of perception that she will get.

Now she could respond that we do in fact see the body and that the body contains the subjective-mental state. Thus, she might think that we see the mechanism that created the subjective-mental state. However this would not be a solution to the problem because we still do not actually perceptually verify the subjective mental state. Further more, it is at least possible, there is nothing logically contradictory, about a body interacting within an environment without a subjective mental state. It is at least possible that others are in fact similar to zombies. Like zombies others might have no subjective mental feeling but interact as if they do.

It might be given in response that we could always ask. This simplistic solution still does not verify for us the truth of the other persons subjective mental state. Suppose that we had a computer has a special program. This program is designed by its creator to respond every time you type “do you have a subjective mental state or feelings” into a bubble on a screen, with a voice “yes I do have feelings and please do not punch so hard on my keys.” Given the fact of its programming alone, this would not establish that the computer does in fact have subjective mental states. What is needed is to be able to perceive the subjective mental states.

It might be responded that we know that others have subjective mental states because we have ourselves subjective mental states. However this commits one to the same problem that Wierob pointed out. Trying to generalize from one owns personal example would be too hasty of a generalization.

Now someone could respond that they do not believe in induction, causation, other people subjective-mental states and least of all souls. I respond that they have bitten the bullet. I am astonished and astounded at their willingness to believe in just a very few things.

However, I seriously doubt that anyone believes that. Here I deviate a little from arguing with poor dead Wierob. It seems to me doubtful that someone would really have doubts about causation, induction and other people’s mental states. I could believe that someone genuinely does not believe in souls (although by what I have argued lack of perception should not be the reason). What I am saying is not that it is impossible that someone has those beliefs or rather the lack thereof, but rather it would be difficult for me to accept someone really having a lack of belief in causation, induction and other people subjective mental states. The reason for this is that it is hard to take someone serious that claims that they believe a belief say -X but act and revolve their whole life as if X.

If I have argued cogently we cannot deny the existence of souls because of a criterion of perception, to do so is to put not only souls to doubt but so also other peoples subjective mental states and other areas of knowledge that we rely on every day.

Written by Stephen Stanford

Monday, February 25, 2008

New Biography on Van Til

Check this post out. The bio looks interesting.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Follow the Evidence

On a recent broadcast of the Albert Mohler Radio show about evolution and Christianity a caller mentioned that we must follow the evidence, follow the truth wherever it leads. Now I think that this caller meant that whatever we believe, we need to let the evidence lead us to the truth that we should believe. Such a statement is an appeal to being objective not letting our own biases get in the way. But it betrays a simplistic understanding of evidence that is misleading. Allow me to illustrate this with an analogy.

Someone leaves a trail of bread crumbs as they walk through a cave. Another person finds this trail and follows it. He hopes to find either the source of the crumbs or the mouth of the cave by following this trail. There are two possibilities in his mind and he follows the evidence wherever it leads him. There it is a simple picture of what we mean by following the evidence. The problem is that this is not the kind of evidence that has been left around. I think this simple idea is also visible in popular television, where CSI and House rule the day. While the heroines follow the evidence, despite being sidetracked by a few rabbit trails along the way, they eventually come to the truth. It is a pretty picture of a scientific age in which scientific evidence always, ultimately, leads to the truth. In reality, however, this isn’t how things happen. In criminal investigations crimes are often unsolved and the innocent convicted. In the scientific world claims to what the truth is, namely theories, are verified or falsified, kept around because there is nothing better and many are useful though untrue. These theories are all supported by evidence. But the evidence has not led to the truth in every case. If one thing is clear, evidence is not truth.

What is it that constitutes evidence and what is it that constitutes truth? Let us explain this by way of example. A criminal investigator comes to a scene with some idea of what a crime scene looks like, this is the truth. When he arrives he examines the scene and decides whether it is a crime scene based on his knowledge of what one looks like. His examination reveals the evidence. The investigator decides what is evidence based on the truth, or what he supposes to be the truth not vice versa. The challenge, then, for creationists and evolutionists is not found in the evidence, but in what is considered the truth, because the truth determines what is evidence. The battle is over truth rather than evidence. The evidence may lead to or correspond to the truth, but it is no trail of crumbs. It is, rather, more akin to a mountain of bread crumbs.

Scientists do not have a unified body of thought that comes to one conclusion. Disagreements between scientist and opposing theories exist in abundance. But the more fundamental the questions that are asked the more important the answer and the more entrenched the opponents become; since it is on the fundamentals that everything is based. But the more fundamental the question is the more difficult it is to answer. There are many questions that science can not answer about reality. How does one scientifically, test the existence of God anyway? Instead, our worldview or understanding of the nature of reality determines what is truth and our sciences attempt to show how nature corresponds to that truth as in the example of our investigator given above. The grander a theory is the more tentative it should be considered and it will be, at least apart from the worldview to which it corresponds. When coupled with that worldview by those that affirm it, such theories are easily seen as truth. These grand theories of which I speak are ones that provide a framework for other theories to function within, that provide a sort of coherence by binding many theories to one. Theories that are compatible with different worldviews may not be as controversial and often times are judged without appeal to a worldview. But the more paradigmatic a theory is the more likely its justification is to be found not in sciences but in worldviews.

Finally, our worldviews determine truth which discriminates between evidences and weighs it. So, for materialist no supernatural event is evidence, because it is impossible and for a Christian that which contradicts the scripture can not be true. Clearly, the evidence is not objective nor does it lead to one truth as a trail of bread crumbs. Instead, following the evidence means that a person must see what evidence supports what worldview; and then which worldview provides the most coherent understanding of reality. Worldviews are not proven by only scientific evidence, but by historical and philosophical arguments as well. I hope this post serves to enlighten the reader by helping him to understand the proper place of evidence, especially scientific evidence.

By Sam Gantt

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Nooma: what its missing

Here is a link to an article and the 9marks site that examines the Nooma series. It is worth a look since Nooma is now very popular among youth. There is a problem with them though. They lack the message of Christ. You can't learn about his work or redemption from these videos. Check out the site for details.

Written by Sam Gantt

Alcohol and Ethics: what both sides need to know

There has been a debate among some evangelicals, particularly Baptist, as to whether Christians are morally obligated not to drink alcohol or if drinking alcohol is morally permissible. In this post I plan not to argue for a particular position on this issue, but rather hope to be neutral. This is not because I do not have a position that I hold. I in fact do. I hope to present some points that will further the discussion. This will by no means be exhaustive.

First, I want to consider a point made by the pro-choice position (for lack of better word). This position usually argues that the scripture never speaks against the use of alcohol . Thus they argue that we cannot bind believers to an unbiblical position of complete abstinence. I think there is truth in this position. We cannot bind believers to an ethical position that the scripture does not support. This is one of the problems that the pharisees had. Moreover this is a problem that can be manifested without reference to alcohol. For instance, a while back many Christians thought that it was wrong to play with cards. Legalism is a deceptive virus that hides under the guise of holiness.

However, I want to point out to my brothers in Christ who support the pro-choice position that Christian ethics are not just determined by what the bible explicitly says, but also by scriptural principals that are applied differently in certain contexts. For instance, the bible says "honor your father and mother." But this scriptural principal is applied in America differently from the way it will be applied in Korea. In Korea the cultural relationships of older people, especially with parents, is very different that the cultural relationships here in America. Therefore, those who are with the pro-choice position need to realize that ethics is much more complex than just simply pointing out that the scripture never says, "though shalt never drink."

Second, we shall consider the not -even -a -sip-position. Now some within this position need to realize that scripture never explicitly says "Do not drink alcohol." This will be hard for some to take, but for the sake of not looking biblically illiterate, morally arbitrary and for further discussion to reach agreement this needs to be readily admitted. Another problem for some people that hold this position is they tend not to show that they have thought through this position with much clarity or with much critical thinking. I had a professor in my philosophy department point out one time that a good philosopher will not only know why he disagrees with a position, but also will know the criticisms for his own position. Many who engage in the alcohol discussion do not sufficiently understand the other sides position and I think that this is more so with the not even a sip position. Another problem generated by those that hold this position is that they tend to make generalizations based on their own past experience. This causes a lot of problems for the person to think critically through a debated subject. It can help blind a person from a true belief. It does not follow that because I had experience D with A that every body will have D with A when A does not entail D.

As I pointed out in a previous paragraph; that explicit statements in scripture do not mean that scripture does not forbid a particular thing. It also must be noted the those who argue that scripture teaches against something not explicitly stated, also have the burden of proof. While it is not impossible to prove from scripture that the non-explicit rule is true, it must be readily admitted that it is not as easy to find as those rules as those in scripture that are explicitly taught.

Therefore, both sides of the debate must remember that they are to be humble and not treat the other side as if it is simply obviously wrong!

Written by Stephen Stanford

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Meditation on Evangelism in Acts 4

In the fourth chapter of Acts we see that the Jewish leaders had charged Peter and John not speak about our Lord (verse 18). However, Peter and John responded with such steadfastness, sturdiness and strength by setting the leaders straight that they in fact served the Lord. The question I want to pose is this: How can we who are believers in Christ have such boldness in our witness to unbelievers. This is a particularly important question for several reasons. First, the church has a mandate to spread the Gospel and second, secularism both in the modernistic and postmodern form has become so effective in distracting our culture away from the Lord of the universe, Jesus.
Now, there are alot of areas that I think Christians could improve on. I think that Christians need to take up the task of serving God with their minds by thinking theologically through many current intellectual issues and by thinking more clearly and systematically about the faith. However in this post I want to focus on prayer. I believe that if Christians spent more time in prayer then we would see a growth in the health of the church and we would see the church more victorious in her mission to convert those who rebel against our Lord.
Notice what Acts 4:29 says "And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness.
Now I want you to notice several things about this passage. First, notice that they had to pray for boldness. It did not come naturally. They prayed because they had threats with persecution against them. We who are a part of the body of Christ and live in America now do not have to undergo such persecution, yet many of us still do not willingly go out and share the gospel. We need boldness. Second, I want you to notice that it is the Lord who grants that we have boldness. Thus our boldness comes from the Lord. It is the Lord who deserves the glory in his saints passion to spread the gospel. Next, I want you to pay attention to the fact that they prayed for the boldness to continue to speak about the Gospel. They could have thought in their heads that they did a good job in the past and that that was enough. I have had experiences in the past where I will do a good deed and then I will think in my shallow heart that I do not need to spend my efforts doing it again. It is kinda like the kid who cleans his room and pats himself on the shoulder and thinks, "Well I cleaned my room two weeks ago I don't need to do that now." But this kinda thinking is wrong headed, moreover it serves as kind of an excuse from our duty. Peter and John knew that just because that had evangelized in the past did not excuse them from evangelizing in the future.Thus, they prayed for boldness to continue. Now you dear reader have an option. You can either delude yourself from thinking that you have an obligation to witness to the world (in that case read James 1:22) or you can pray for boldness to evangelize as Peter and John did. May God grant you the grace to be bold to spread the name and fame of our Lord.

Written by Stephen Stanford

Monday, February 4, 2008

Philosophy of the Mind and Problems for Mind Body Materialist

Q: What is the Philosophy of the Mind?
A: Philosophy of the Mind is a discipline within Philosophy that seeks to understand what exactly the mind is. Philosophy of the Mind seeks to deal with problems that are associated with the fact (or some would say the appearance) that we have a mind.

There are basically two different views on what the mind is. These basic views are called 1.) mind-body-dualism and 2.) mind-body-materialism. When I say that these are the two basic views, I mean that they are fundamentally two basic views. Within view 1.) and 2.) there are differing views on how everything works out, but basically all of the views fall within category 1.) and 2.) There have been some monistic (views that state mind and body are neither material nor non-materical) views. But these views either reduce to 1.) or 2.), or they just dont make sense (at least as far as I can tell).

Anyhow the big question is this: Can our mind and those things that are thought to go along with it (thought, subjective-perception, qualitative feelings) be explained holistically in physical or materialistic categories. Now Christians will typically say no and that we have a soul. The materialist will say that all of our mental activity can be explained in physical or materialistic ways.

Below I have provided an arguement against mind body materialism. There are certainly other arguments, but I just read this particular argument and I find it pretty forceful. I have written a kind of rough sketch of the argument. The argument is taken from a paper written by philosopher Joseph Levine called "Materialism and Qualia: The Explanatory Gap." Joseph if you read this and I did not do a good job of representing your argument then I (Stephen) take responsibility.

Problems for The Mind Body Materialist

Consider 3 statements

1.) Pain is the firing of C-fibers

2.) Heat is the motion of molecules

3.) To be in pain is to be in state F

A.) The Mind Body Materialist (MBM) must argue that 1.) & 3.) are intelligible.

B.) If MBM is true then 1.), 2.) & 3.) will be true necessarily and cannot possibly be false.

C.)Is it easily granted that 2.) is true and understandable given

2` The phenomenon we experience through the sensations of warmth, heat & cold are the motion of molecules.

D.)It is epistemologically possible that someone be the state F or C-fibers firing and not be in the state of pain.

E.) It is at least epistemologically possible because we do not have the explanatory gap in 1.) & 3.) like we do with 2.) given the fact of 2`.

Thus we have a mind body problem for materialist. How is it that we have a subjective qualitative feel (or at least to some the appearance)? We don’t have an explanatory fill in (like 2`).

While this does not prove MBM false metaphysically, it does still provide us with a sufficient reason to doubt MBM to be true.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Book Review: Basics for Believers

Title: Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians

Author: D. A. Carson


In this book there is found solid instruction for the believer. As the title indicates it is meant for new believers, but is refreshing for mature ones as well. Using Philippians and Paul’s example Carson exhorts the reader to have a Christ-center life of which prayer, fellowship and suffering are all an integral part. The Gospel ought to dominate our thoughts and guide our actions. Throughout Paul is shown to be a man worthy of emulation and by highlighting his strengths Dr. Carson identifies what we ought to look for in believers whom we should imitate. This is both an easy and invaluable read for the new believer.

Dr. D. A. Carson is a research professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

Reviewed by Sam Gantt

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Good News for Prospective Missionaries

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary recently add two new options for students wanting to go into the mission field: the reverse 2+2 and 5/12 program. The goal is to get more missionaries in the field more quickly.
See the article here.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Book Review: A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality

A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality is written by John Perry. John Perry is the Henry Waldgrave Stuart Professor of Philosophy at Stanford University. He received a B.A. in philosophy from Doane College and a Ph.D in philosophy from Cornell University.

A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality (DPII hereafter) is deigned to provide readers an introduction to some of the main philosophical issues raised in the discussions regarding the belief in an afterlife and the constitution of personal identity. The book is separated into three parts. Each part is a separate night in the dialogue. There are three main characters: Gretchen Weirob, a philosopher at a local college; Sam Miller as chaplain and friend of Weirob; Dave Cohen a former student of Gretchen Weirob. The DPII is set in a hospital room. Weirob has been in a car accident and she is expected to die. Weirob asks Miller to try to persuade her that there is an afterlife. Miller takes up the challenge but fails to fully convince Weirob.

The book over all is very interesting. For those who have an interest in philosophy, but have a difficult time staying tuned in to the rigorous finely-tuned arguments that make up most of the analytic philosophical tradition, this might be a way of becoming familiar with some of the main concepts in the area of personal identity and immortality.

There are though, quite a few problems. First, Miller who represents the Christian minister is presented as someone who is not at all familiar with the philosophical issues related to the soul and the body. Perhaps this is true of many Christian ministers, but I think it would have been helpful to have Miller bring out some of the better philosophical arguments.

Weirob is cast as the ideal philosopher. She represents everything that modernist philosophers either want to be or pretend that they are. For instance, even though it would have been emotionally pleasing to have accepted a weak argument in the face of death, instead she is true to her philosopher self and she is able to analyze the arguments under such duress. The point of the book is to get at the philosophical arguments, but I think that there is something to be said about what she represents to modernist philosophers. Weirob wins all the arguments and is never persuaded to believe in an afterlife before she dies.

I know that I am biased, but I thought that some of the arguments were not all that good given by Weirob (Perry). For example, on the first night she makes a point to Miller about the existence of a soul. Her point is that we never see each others soul but we do see each others body. For instance, when I meet my friends on Monday, I do not see their soul I see their body. Since we only see each others bodies and no soul, how do we know that on Wednesday your friends soul is the same as the soul on Monday. Could not our souls be continually switched out and a new soul put in such that we never know our friends are the same people we spoke to at an earlier time?

Now I find this argument unconvincing and here is why: Is is all that different to presuppose that the soul is the same on Wednesday as it is on Monday than it is to presuppose that your friend has a subjective mental state on Monday and on Wednesday? Now let us pretend that there is no soul. Let us pretend for the sake of argument that personal identity consist in purely physicalistic categories. We still have the problem of experiencing one another's subjective mental states. We never actually experience the subjective mental state of another human being. We know for instance that we our own selves have subjective mental states because we experience our own feelings and perspective. But we never actually experience another person's feelings. How do we know that on Wednesday our friend has a subjective mental state? It is at least possible, there is nothing logically contradictory, about a body interacting within an environment without a subjective mental state. There is nothing contradictory about having no mental experience. How do we know on any day that our friends have subjective mental states? The answer is that we presuppose it because it is not something we can empirically verify. So I think the skeptical argument cuts both ways. If Weirob wants to say that we cannot have souls because it will force us into skepticism regarding our loved ones personal identities since there is a lack of empirical testability. So also we can not have physicalistic minds because it will force us into skepticism of other peoples subjective mental states, since other's subjective mental states cannot be empirically verified. Anyhow this is simply one of the problems I had with the arguments in this book.

Overall, it is very entertaining to read. It can be read in a sitting or two. It is only 49 pages. This book is good for Christians who want to better understand the metaphysical materialist worldview. It will help Christians understand how the materialist thinks about the constitution of personal identity and immortality. Materialism, as a philosophy, is now the dominant philosophy of academia and it could be argued the western world. Materialism is inherently atheistic. So for those Christians that want to learn how to handle the present and future intellectual challenges to our faith, it would be good to read this, but with critical thinking skills and with Christ as Lord of your heart and mind (see Colo. 2:6-8 and 1 Peter 3:15).

Written by Stephen Stanford