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A Tribute to the Retiring Alvin Plantinga

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Alvin Plantinga has been a professor of philosophy for over 50 years, spending his last 28 years at Notre Dame.   To be quite frank he is one of the best philosophers in the past few centuries.   I think the greatest complement I have ever heard of Plantinga came a Jewish atheist professor at UF, who said something to the effect, ‘Alvin Plantinga has single handidly made Christianity respectable again in philosophy… his arguments are so damn good, that I have reconsidered my atheism.’

In analytic philosophy circles, Christianity was seen as an epistemological joke.  Plantinga painstakingly carved out a space for Christianity back at the discussion table in even the most hostile departments.  It is perhaps somewhat ironic that Plantinga was at Notre Dame considering his theological and philosophical heritage was from the Reformed tradition.  However, from what I understand the President of Notre Dame at the time wanted the best Christian thinking and at that time it happened to be Reformed epistemology.   So, Notre Dame grabbed guys like Plantinga, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Peter van Inwagen.

Here is a poor attempt at a brief and uncomprehensive summary his contribution to Christian thought:

Warranted Christian Belief and God as properly basic (Reformed Epistemology)

In Warranted Christian Belief, Plantinga makes a case that several things are properly basic.  Something that is properly basis does not require proof and functions as the bedrock that we layer our daily lives on top of.  One such example is Descartes’ famous “cogito ergo sum” or “I think therefore I exist.”  The most important thing that Plantinga voraciously argues for is that the existence of God is properly basic [and the atheists gasp, throwing the yellow flag calling for a 5 yard illegal motion penalty].  Plantinga makes a very good case (along with the presuppositionalists) that belief in God requires no proof or justification.  Consider the following – can you prove that other minds exist.  It sounds like a stupid question, but can you?  I could be a brain in a vat, or Neo in the Matrix, or the muse of some evil genius and all of what I think is reality could be completely constructed, and I am on the only thinking being.  None of us thinks or believes that we are the only mind in existence.  In simple terms, the belief in other minds is properly basic in a similar way that belief in God is properly basic.  Plantinga spends the rest of the book defending that the Christian worldview is justifiable.

Free-Will Defense Against the Logical Problem of Evil

There are several Problem(s) of Evil in philosophy.  The most common had been the logical problem of evil:

1. If a perfectly good god exists, then evil does not.    2. There is evil in the world.    3. Therefore, a perfectly good god does not exist.

Most philosophers have conceded that Plantinga has solved the logical problem of evil in his Free-Will Defense, and have given up on the logical problem of evil.  First off, it is important to say that his argument is a defense and not a theodicy.  A theodicy is a justification for why evil exists in a world created by God.  A defense exists merely to show a logically possible set of premises that refutes the trilemma above.  Plantinga’s argument goes like such:

A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all. Now God can create free creatures, but He can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren’t significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. As it turned out, sadly enough, some of the free creatures God created went wrong in the exercise of their freedom; this is the source of moral evil. The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence nor against His goodness; for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.  God, Freedom, and Evil, pp. 166-167.

In undergrad, I wrote a paper reworking Plantinga’s argument removing a free-will view of Divine Sovereignty and human responsibility and inserting a compatibilist view in its place.  I believe that my paper did no harm to Plantinga’s argument and that his argument is still compatible with compatibilism.

Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism

The evolutionary argument against naturalism is sheer brilliance.  He argues that if evolution and naturalism are true then it seriously undermines both evolution and naturalism.  Naturalism is the idea that we hold ideas “true” today because they have “survival value.”  If evolution and naturalism are true, then human thinking evolved to produce ideas that have survival value and not necessarily truth.  The set of beliefs that maximizes my ability to eat, reproduce, and fight is not always what is true.  Evolution and naturalism, therefore, are tuned to survival rather than truth.  Therefore, this casts significant doubt on trusting our thinking itself, and included in that thinking are both the ideas of evolution or naturalism themselves.  Genius.

Modal Logic Version of Ontological Argument

It took me 3 years, 4 philosophy professors, and 4 versions of the argument to finally understand its genius.  It is not sophistry; it is not a parlor trick; it is not a aberration of grammar.  Do not go chasing the ontological argument unless you have copious amounts of time, a willingness to make your brain hurt, and the patience to deconstruct why Gaunilo and Kant’s objections are incorrect.  If you are up to the task, start here.

In the wake of evangelicalism’s massive receding from all public spheres (particularly the University), Plantinga has nearly single-handidly re-carved out a space for the Christian to have a voice in philosophy and respectability in the University.  You would be wise to have a basic understanding of his thinking.

Thank you Alvin.  I am deeply indebted.

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Nietzsche vs. Christianity: Part 3

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Lecture 3 focused on four things:  1.  The intellectual backdrop to Nietzsche  2.  Nietzsche’s 3 main objections to Christianity  3.  Nietzsche’s positive affirmations in place of Christianity  4.  The Nietzschean Catechism.  Audio is available here.

I.  Intellectual Backdrop

19th century Western (Continental) Europe was unkind to Christianity.  Some of the major works floating around were:

The Origin of Species: By Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life by Charles Darwin

Replaces need for God in cosmology

The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

Inherently atheistic

On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers by Friedrich Schleiermacher

Book basically splits Protestantism in two

Origins of the History of Christianity by Ernest Renan

The New Testament is essentially myth.  This revisionist history was seminal in classic liberalism and influential in the later Jesus Seminar.

The Essence of Christianity by Ludwig von Feuerbach

Christianity is superstition that will soon be replaced by humanism

The Future of an Illusion by Sigmund Freud

Humanity has invented God and this delusion is a kind of mental illness.

Prolegomena to the History of Israel by Julius Wellhausen

Wellhausen espouses that the first five books of the Old Testament were not written by Moses but by editors from four schools of thought.  A flood of Bible criticism followed Wellhausen.  Tubingen.

History of Materialism and Critique of its Present Importance by Friedrich Lange

Atomistic Materialism and Darwinism.

II.  3 OJECTIONS:

1.  Intellectually impossible (this is assumed a priori without argumentation)

2.  It demeans humanity (herd mentality, Dionysianism…)

3.  Its morality is fatal to life (slave morality, Dionysianism…)

Nietzsche is more concerned with assessing the damage that Christianity has done rather than tearing it apart limb from limb.  Nature was determinant and all metaphysics are to be rejected.

III.  Nietzsche’s Positive Affirmations

1.  Be a free-spirit

2.  Be curious

3.  Be nomadic (as well as will to power, master morality…)

IV.  The Nietzschean Catechsim

Nietzsche ends book 3 of The Gay Science with 8 hypothetical questions and answers (see page 142):

1.  What makes one heroic?

To approach at the same time one’s highest suffering and one’s highest hope

2.  What do you believe in?

In this, that the weights of all things must be determined anew.

3.  What does your conscience say?

You should become who you are.

4.   Where lie your greatest dangers?

In compassion

5.  What do you love in others?

My hopes

6.  Whom do you call bad?

He who always wants to put people to shame

7.  What is most human to you?

To spare someone shame

8.  What is the seal of having become free?

No longer to be ashamed before oneself.

Lovely Day for a Guinness

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Os Guinness that is...

Justin Taylor has a wonderful little interview of Os Guinness, where he peppers him with insightful questions regarding on old book, The Gravedigger File (in anticipation for his forthcoming book The Last Christian on Earth).  For those not familiar with Guinness, he is the great-great-great grandson of Arthur Guinness, brewer and founder of Guinness beer.  He is a keen analyzer of evangelicalism and a necessary read for developing both a Christian worldview and philosophy of ministry.  He is well-travelled, well thought out, cogent, and prescient in his thinking.  1983’s Gravedigger put forth the idea that Christianity was the major force behind modernization and capitalism in the West and what Christianity created it also uncritically adopted, thereby undermining Christianity.  Undoubtedly true.

3 Month Introspective

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Introspective

So, I’ve been blogging consistently for three months.  This is the week of Christmas and I’ll be all over the place.  I thought I would briefly summarize the 3 months of blog series on here:

Blaise Pascal:  We took a look at Blaise Pascal’s thinking, its use of aphorism and its relationship to both tri-perspectivalism and presuppositionalism.  We also looked at his use of aphorism and his warnings against deism and atheism.

Thoughts on Evangelicalism Past, Present, and Future, Parts 1-7:  We defined the term evangelical.  We looked at its historical roots in the First Great Awakening, Second Great Awakening, and its ties to celebrity culture, democritization of knowledge, and modernism.  Then we looked at the roots of liberalism, the Protestant split and suburbanization, and defined and outlined evangelical populism and their game plan for reaching America.  Finally we assessed the current status of American evangelicalism and then made some predictions of future trends.

Introduction to Apologetics, Parts 1-7:  We looked in broad strokes at the various schools of apologetics.  We then took a more in-depth look at:  Classical Apologetics, Evidentialist Apologetics, Presuppositional Apologetics, and the specific apologetics of Blaise Pascal and Alvin Plantinga.  Finally, we employed the three phases football as an analogy for the different apologetic schools and I likened Tim Tebow to the presuppositionalists.

Thoughts on Evangelicalism Moving Forward, Parts 1-10:  We looked at some analysis of some shifts evangelicalism will need to make moving forward:  Doctrine, Worldview, Urbanization, Globality/Mobility, “Post-Modernism,” American Culture(s), Contextualization, Balance, and Final Analysis.

Top ~10 Books by Topic:

Top 10 Systematic Theology Texts

Top 10 Devotional Classics

Top 10 Books on the Church

Top 10 Books on Science and Christianity

Top 10 Books on Christian Biography

Top 10 Books on Culture

Top 10 Books on Eschatology

Top 5 Books on Worldview

Top 15 Books on Status of American Evangelicalism

Top 10 Books on Church History

Top 40 Books to Read While in College

Top 10 Books on Missions, Discipleship, and Evangelism

The 25 Most Destructive Books Ever Written…

Top 10 Apologetic Works

Top 10 Books on Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

Top 10 Books by John Piper

Top 5 Children’s Books

Best Creeds, Confessions, and Catechisms of the Christian Church

A Comprehensive List of Top 10 Book Lists of 2009

Up Next:  We will be looking at some thoughts on the economy and investment and then delve into the mind of Friedrich Nietzsche…

Written by Michael Graham

December 19, 2009 at 11:29 am

Climategate: Over-realized Anthropology and The Biggest Story Getting NO Mainstream Press

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Global Warming: Over-Realized Anthropology

The Story

This post is a brief departure from the Top XX lists.  No major tv news network has yet to pick up this story over two weeks after it broke.  The gist of the story is the Climate Research Unit had their email servers hacked.  1000 emails and 3000 documents were taken from the servers.  These emails and documents allegedly reveal highly incriminating evidence implicating many of the world’s top ‘climate researchers.’  Notable figures at Penn State University, University of East Anglia, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research have been implicated.  Here is one quote (via Wikipedia):

The paper in question is the Mann, Bradley and Hughes (1998) Nature paper on the original multiproxy temperature reconstruction, and the ‘trick’ is just to plot the instrumental records along with reconstruction so that the context of the recent warming is clear. Scientists often use the term “trick” to refer to a “a good way to deal with a problem”, rather than something that is “secret”, and so there is nothing problematic in this at all. As for the ‘decline’, it is well known that Keith Briffa’s maximum latewood tree ring density proxy diverges from the temperature records after 1960 (this is more commonly known as the “divergence problem“–see e.g. the recent discussion in this paper) and has been discussed in the literature since Briffa et al in Nature in 1998 (Nature, 391, 678-682). Those authors have always recommended not using the post-1960 part of their reconstruction, and so while ‘hiding’ is probably a poor choice of words (since it is ‘hidden’ in plain sight), not using the data in the plot is completely appropriate, as is further research to understand why this happens.

Copenhagen hosts a world summit on climate change from December 7th-21st.  Climategate will/ought to cast a long shadow over the Copenhagen summit.

My Analysis

This is a major story and the lack of coverage is deplorable.  I think how the information has come to light is reprehensible, nonetheless is has come to light.  I think the main reason why Global Warming has had traction as an idea, is that it puts MAN at the center of the world.  WE have caused this problem, now let US show our greatness and sovereignty by fixing it.  I have yet to see good scientific data on Global Warming.  I think Global Warming has been successfully marketed by a handful of people (Al Gore… et al) and it struck a chord with our heavily man-centered society/world.  The problem is that if Global Warming was founded on rhetoric, conjecture, and marketing, then it was a deck of cards waiting to fall.  For me, Global Warming is at its essence and over-realized anthropology.  Politicians decided that they could use climate change to their advantage.  Big corporations found a new marketing tool:  being ‘green.’  It is pretty rare that a major corporation be gift wrapped a completely new thing that they can market themselves with, especially with a lemming public clamoring and groveling to eat it up.  I am tired of shoddy science, whether Neo-Darwinian drivel or Global Warming.  Someone please email me when you there is some good data.

Further Reading

Many of you probably already know about “Climategate“, but in case you have not, here is a survey of internet stories:

Washington Times Editorial:  “Hiding evidence of global cooling”

Climategate: the final nail in the coffin of ‘Anthropogenic Global Warming’?

Climate change: this is the worst scientific scandal of our generation

Climategate: University of East Anglia U-turn in climate change row

BBC NEWS:  Inquiry into stolen climate e-mails

Secrecy in science is a corrosive force

Press Secretary Robert Gibbs: Despite research dispute, ‘climate change is happening’

Saudia Arabia calls for ‘climategate’ investigation

FOXNEWS:  Obama Ignores ‘Climate-Gate’ in Revising Copenhagen Plans

Copenhagen climate summit: 1,200 limos, 140 private planes and caviar wedges

FOXNEWS:  Bah Humbug! Christmas Trees Axed From Copenhagen Conference

Update:

Justin Taylor has a nice article that concisely explains the UN role and Copenhagen conference in the whole climategate debacle.  It is a worthwhile read.

Top 15 Books on Status of American Evangelicalism

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No Place for Truth by David Wells

These books represent the best analysis on the present status and recent history of evangelicalism.  This list is meant to be informative and not to be alarmist or disconcerting.  I think the classic Dicken’s line, ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times‘ will apply the Christ’s church til He return.  It is implicit also in this list that works commending a Christian worldview, like Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth, are must reads.  I have also omitted more esoteric debates including books on open theism, federal vision, new perspectives on paul… etc.  The purpose of this list is zoomed out than those specific issues.

1.  No Place for Truth by David Wells  [e, p, s]

How modernity crept in and screwed up evangelicalism.  Absolute classic.

2.  The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Mark Noll  [y, l, e, p, s]

The scandal of the evangelical mind is that it is so scarce and scant.  You may also want to read Os Guinness’ Fit Bodies Fat Minds, addressing evangelicalism’s intellectual laziness and preoccupation with the temporary.

3.  The Democritization of American Christianity by Nathan Hatch  [e, p, s]

Fascinating analysis of the democritization of Christianity in America.  His historical analysis is keen and well-researched.

4.  Christianity and Liberalism by J. Greshem Machen  [e, p, s]

This classic work delineates the liberalism of the early 20th century as being a completely other faith than the historic orthodox Christian faith.  86 years later it is still relevant.

5.  God in the Wasteland by David Wells  [e, p, s]

Wells continues where he left off in No Place for Truth, by challenging evidenced consumerism in evangelicalism.

6.  The Courage to Be Protestant by David Wells  [e, p, s]

The title is a play on Paul Tillich’s The Courage to Be.  Tillich’s work was a classic in early 20th century Protestant liberalism.  Wells draws connections between the emergent movement as really being a form of rehashed 20th century era liberalism.  Wells is also scathing on the level and abuse of marketing in modern evangelicalism.  As far as Wells goes, his Above All Earthly Pow’rs s also a worthwhile read:  in terms of analysis Pow’rs is to post-modernity what No Place for Truth was to modernity.

7.  The New Shape of World Christianity:  How American Experience Reflects Global Faith by Mark Noll  [e, p, s]

I am surprised by the lack of press for this book.  Noll examines the history of Christianity in America and draws parallels in key growth areas (Southern hemisphere and the East).  Noll is actually rather positive amid the torrent of bad press on what American Christians are exporting.  This is an important work because we are good to be reminded that American evangelicalism is not the height of church history.  Further, the church is Christ’s and she will prevail.  I think Noll has his fingers on the pulse of what is going on and what is next, we would be wise to listen to what he has to say.

8.  Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism by George Marsden  [e, p, s]

This is a must read if you seek to understand our history.  Also an important work is Revival and Revivalism by Iain Murray.

9.  Reclaiming the Center:  Confronting Evangelical Accomodation to Postmodern Times by Various Authors  [y, l, e, p, s]

Various heavyweights chime in on the necessity of remaining faithful to the preaching of the Word and to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  If you like this work, I suggest also Os Guinness’, Prophetic Untimeliness:  Challenging the Idol of Relevance.

10.  Christless Christianity by Michael Horton  [y, l, e, p, s]

This books has caused a bit of a stir.  You can read John Frame’s book review here.  I have yet to read the book, but I thought it a worthwhile mention to engage in present dialogue over the status of the Gospel in evangelicalism.  From what I gather, Horton has guys like Joel Osteen in view when he speaks of a Christianity without Christ.

11.  Young, Restless, and Reformed by Colin Hansen  [y, l, e, p, s]

This book is an important first look at the growing demographic of young Reformed folk.  This is an area that needs further analysis and hopefully a good work will come soon.

12.  Respectable Sins:  Confronting the Sins We Tolerate by Jerry Bridges  [y, l, e, p, s]

Bridges is 100% right when he highlights several sins that evangelicals strangely tolerate:  gossip, anger, pride, jealousy, anxiety, and selfishness to name a few.

13.  Why Johnny Can’t Preach:  The Media Have Shaped the Messengers by T. David Gordon  [e, p, s]

Gordon applies Marshall McLuhan’s keen insights to shed light on the dearth of serious bible teaching in evangelicalism.

14.  Confessions of a Reformission Rev by Mark Driscoll  [y, l, e, p, s]

I think Mark Driscoll is a very important voice in evangelicalism, moreso than many of my fellow Reformed brethren.  This book is a humorous yet insightful look into the story of the planting of Mars Hill Church in Seattle.  There are many lessons weaved into the narrative that are wise and memorable.

15.  Why We’re Not Emergent:  From Two Guys That Should Be and Why We Love the Church:  In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck  [y, l, e, p, s]

The first book is a solid book on the emergent church.  I also wanted to end this list with on a positive note with Why We Love the Church.  Many times we can get so bogged down in self-criticism that we forget to praise God for all the truly good things he is doing in and through the church in America.

What we need is always adherence to the same three things:  orthodoxy, orthopathos, and orthopraxis.

(c=children; y=young adult; l=lay leader; e=elder; p=pastor; s=scholar)

Top 5 Books on Worldview

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Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey

1.  Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey  [y, l, e, p, s]

Again, excellent book on worldview that I have commended here numerous times.  Get it and read it.

2.  Francis Schaeffer Trilogy by Francis Schaeffer  [y, l, e, p, s]

In The God Who Is There, Escape from Reason, and He Is There and He Is Not Silent, Schaeffer dissects modernity and modern culture, exposing its corrupt roots and highlighting its end consequences.

3.  Universe Next Door by James Sire  [y, l, e, p, s]

Great worldview introduction.  Sire’s Naming the Elephant and Habits of the Mind are also really good.

4.  Intellectuals by Paul Johnson  [l, e, p, s]

See previous write-up here.

5.  Gnostic Empire Strikes Back by Peter Jones  [y, l, e, p, s]

Jones does a good job helping us understand some recent worldviews are really just rehashed Gnosticism.

Honorable Mention:  No Place for Truth by David Wells  [l, e, p, s]
Wells dissects evangelicalism’s roots in modernity in this devastating critique.

(c=children; y=young adult; l=lay leader; e=elder; p=pastor; s=scholar)

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