Monthly Archives: January 2010

At night, the monsters come out.

Putting my daughter to bed the other night I listened as she whined in protest about not wanting to go to bed. I half-heartedly asked her why (as I was hurriedly stuffing her blankets, dolls, and other paraphernalia around her) and right as began to shut the door, giddy with the anticipation of a few hours of glorious silence (freedom!) I heard her whisper ever so quietly…

At night, the monsters come out.

Something about this struck me. Not wanting to miss a teachable moment, I stopped what I was doing, walked over to her bed and sat down next to her. The following conversation ensued about the monsters in her room that come out at night.

Me: Honey, you don’t need to be afraid of monsters. Want to know why?
Her: Why?
Me: Because Jesus is stronger than the monsters.
Her: Jesus?
Me: Yes, and do you know where he lives?
Her: Heaven?
Me: Yes, and He also lives in mommy and daddy. And you know what else?
Her: What?
Me: He owns this house.
Her: Really?
Me: Yes. So who can beat up the monsters?
Her (more confidently now): Jesus!
Me: Right, and where does he live?
Her: Mommy and daddy.
Me: Right
Her: and me too?
Me: Some day honey. But for now, you can rest assured in the protection provided by your father and mother through Jesus.

Since then, not only has my daughter “been brave” and faced the monsters with the knowledge that they aren’t stronger than Jesus. She has also begun to look forward to the day when she can accept Jesus into her heart.

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Wordy Wednesday: Philosophical presuppositions

Philosophical presuppositions are ideas and beliefs we hold, consciously or unconsciously, which affect the way we interpret facts and evidence. In short, our philosophical presuppositions affect how we reason.

Many people are completely unaware of their philosophical presuppositions which is unfortunate since awareness of our philosophical presuppositions helps us better understand the arguments made by others who are often approaching a topic or subject from a completely different philosophical presupposition. Being aware of our presuppositions also helps us address the root of our differences with others rather than the outlying branches or surface issues.

Without addressing the fundamental differences in our world views what we end up managing to produce is more confusion and hard feelings than meaningful communication with others who hold fundamentally different presuppositions than we do.

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Is Libertarian Free Will a Myth?

I recently debated the relationship between libertarian freedom and God’s sovereignty with a dean of a reformed seminary in Colorado Springs. During our discussion He told me that libertarian freedom is a myth. Here’s my response:

To claim that libertarian free will is a myth is to introduce a logical paradox in that we disagree, where do our disagreements and confusion come from if not from our own free wills/minds? Either we (and everything) is causally controlled (not just determined from eternity past) or we aren’t. If we are, and if you maintain that God is the puppeteer1, then God becomes the one who essentially disagrees with himself.

You also seem to be confused (as evidenced by the host of straw men you’ve managed to manufacture) as to the motives behind the desire of people like myself to uphold the doctrine of libertarian freedom2. You seem to think, along lines common to many Calvinists I’ve noticed, that my motives are to lower God or exalt man. Nothing could be farther from the truth which is quite the opposite. If we slaughter libertarian freedom (which includes the power to act against God’s wishes/will) then you end up pinning all sin, destruction, evil, etc. on God which, as Job’s friends quickly found out, brings God no glory.

The bottom line is that while not verse in Scripture trumps another3, it is our sacred duty to uphold all of the tenets of Scripture (including libertarian freedom and God’s predestining) with equal tenacity. If we uphold one aspect of God’s character above others we bring God no glory and do not do justice to a faithful and honest search for truth. God’s love or creative choice to allow conscious beings other than himself to exist is in no conflict with his sovereignty, omnipotence, or omniscience.

  1. Calvinists whine about this comparison all the time claiming it is an unfair characterization. Unfortunately, the shoe fits and I haven’t heard a reformed person (who doesn’t hold to Molinism, which excludes them from being classically reformed) offer any reason why such a characterization is not warranted yet. I’m always open to rebuttals, though, so if you can offer a reason as to why this characterization doesn’t fit, feel free to comment below! []
  2. Unfortunately many people who hold to reformed doctrine assume that opponents to the notion of causal determinism (like me) hold their positions out of willful defiance or stubborn pride. Sadly, this shows how poorly educated even many proponents of reformed theology are. Sadder still is the fact that the existence of credentials (like a Phd.) makes little difference when it comes to willful ignorance of the honest philosophical difficulties detractors may have to their position. []
  3. For the life of me I don’t understand why reformed proponents can’t accept that our differences lie not in the text, but in our interpretation of the text which includes our philosophical presuppositions. For this reason I loathe the challenge of “Oh yeah? Show me that in scripture!” []
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On Pat Robertson’s thoughtless remarks about Haiti

Haiti was recently hit by the largest earthquake in nearly a hundred years.

Here’s what Pat Robertson had to say about it:

I’ve heard many atheists and anti-Christians take Pat’s comments above as reinforcements to support their belief that Christians are intolerant, bigoted, and wholly devoid of compassion. It’s this group of people I want to address..

There are many of us whose hearts do break for the pain, suffering, and evil that has been unleashed upon the people of Haiti. While we do maintain that God is wholly sovereign over the world we also vehemently deny assertions like the one made by Pat Robertson.

We don’t consider him to be unsaved or a devil in disguise. Since we are all members of a much larger family which includes those hurting in Haiti, we simply maintain that men like Pat are like the black sheep that run in all families.

Except, we also recognize that in this family we were all black sheep at one point in time.

Yes, we are all very much aware that there is a cancer in the body of Christ and we are desperately trying to fight it.

But where does that cancer come from? We know full well it comes from the hearts of sinful men who are still in need of a savior.

No, we aren’t perfect. We just know someone who is.

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Wordy Wednesday: Counterfactual

Counterfactuals are statements about “what might have been” regarding an event in time had circumstances been different.1

Counterfactual statements are characterized by the conditional keywords “if-then”, as in “if Obama had not raised the national debt to record levels, unemployment would have been much higher.”

The “counter” part of a “counterfactual” statement is that such a statement may be true even through the event described never happened (or “obtained”). The value of such statements is only apparent if one assumes a non-causally deterministic view of the universe where different circumstances (or decisions by causal agents) could have caused events to turn out differently.

Counterfactuals are intergal to the Molinistic view of the relationship between the sovereignty of God and the limited causal agency of man (in other words, limited free will). Specifically, counterfactuals are what give us reason to believe in the existence of logically possible worlds and the notion that while God certainly does predestine all that happens2 there exist truly free, albeit limited, causal agents such as humans and angels.

Verses that point to the existence of counterfactual (statements that can only be valid if there were a logically possible world where the events described would have obtained if circumstances were different) are Jeremiah 38:17-181 Samuel 23:6-10, Matthew 11:23, 1 Corinthians 2:8, John 15:22-24, John 18:36, Luke 4:24-46 and Matthew 26:24

Note that each of the above statements would be rendered incoherent if they were not true in their counter (not obtained) factual (proposition of truth).

  1. For more information, see Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s entry. []
  2. Since, out of all logically possible worlds, or potential worlds, He chose to actualize the one we are currently in. []
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Intelligent Design is not simply warmed over creationism

A recent article on the excellent Intelligent design website, Uncommon Decent, made the case that intelligent design is not simply warmed over creationism and that some ID proponents even hold to common decent.

Many, many people seem to misunderstand the relationship between Intelligent Design and Common Descent. Some view ID as being equivalent to Progressive Creationism (sometimes called Old-Earth Creationism), others seeing it as being equivalent to Young-Earth Creationism. Ihave argued before that the core of ID is not about a specific theory of origins. In fact, many ID’ers hold a variety of views including Progressive Creationism and Young-Earth Creationism.

But another category that is often overlooked are those who hold to both ID and Common Descent, where the descent was purely naturalistic. This view is often considered inconsistent. My goal is to show how this is a consistent proposition.

The author goes on to argue that, while he personally is not an adherent of the theory of common decent, a person who holds to ID is well within their epistemic grounds and how intelligent design does not require one to hold specific beliefs in regard to the nature of the designer.

This will hopefully help dispel the myth that intelligent design is merely warmed over creationism as an attempt to sneak Biblical Christianity into the public classroom.

Read the rest of the article here.

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How does a belief in causal determinism influence how one lives?

A friend of mine recently asked what, if any, impact the belief in causal determinism (or lack thereof) has in practical day-to-day living. Here’s my answer:

Well, one example to the contrary1 is this:

I never locked my doors.

This was because I believed that men had no free will and that not only were all things determined, but that they were causally and directly brought about by God. So that, if someone were to break into my house or steal my car, or even if I or someone I loved were to become ill, such an event or circumstance would be directly caused by God himself so that any interference2 would be bad and wrong3.

As you know, this view didn’t serve me very well practically4 and the realization that we are commanded to take reasonable measures to secure what we are in charge of or responsible for (which includes people as well as possessions) led me to change my beliefs which, in turn, made me change my behavior.

I now lock my doors5 as religiously as I kept them unlocked because my belief in causal determinism vs. limited freedom changed.

  1. When I did hold to a view of causal determinism as a result of my commitment to Calvinism. []
  2. I never did reconcile how all things could be causally determined and yet we still influence their outcomes. This lingering paradox also helped lead me to the abandonment of the belief in causal determinism. []
  3. I used to hear all the time how we ought to never “get ahead of God” or interfere with “God’s plan”. such notions sound nice, but upon further examination they are neither logical nor Biblically mandated. []
  4. My car was stolen, keys still in the ignition. This happened in the driveway next to our house, which also was not locked, which contained an infant and a 2 year old inside. Needless to say, this incident was a very clear catalyst to cause me to re-evaluate my beliefs on the matter. []
  5. I still maintain that all events are predetermined, just not causally so such that my actions do not matter. For more information on how these seemingly opposing views can be safely reconciled to the detriment of neither, see my previous post on Molinism. []
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Christian time management by JP Moreland

I like to think of myself as superman sometimes and try to “do it all” when it comes to reading, studying, praying, etc. Some of it is how I am wired, and some of it is from an intense desire (bred into me from my years of institutional church experience) to “get busy for Jesus”.

When I first heard JP’s talk on the subject in his Kingdom Triangle series, my first thought was “there he goes again loosing his mind”. Especially since I had just discovered and started trying to implement a more regimented sleep schedule in order to help me get more things done.

However especially now as the year is winding down and since Jesse has come, interrupting much of our plans (Lessons from the book of James in action), I’ve come to see the wisdom in JP’s words of allowing yourself to be flexible and paying attention to your biological clock and rhythm and not falling into the temptation of thinking that “beating your body into submission” means destroying it in the process.

JP makes a good point that God designed all things to work within a specific framework (including the body and it’s biorhythms) and that while we can disrupt them from time to time in order to accomplish specific tasks, we should be cautious about making a habit of disrupting them permanently lest we cause damage to our bodies (which, from a logistics perspective causes more problems long-term than it helps solve).

Ecclesiastes 12:12 sums it up quite nicely:

..of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.

In all things, balance.

Further reading:

While writing this post I ran across a great post by Internet Monk titled “Can You Study A Book Too Much?

Also, JP Moreland made waves not too long ago with a paper he wrote regarding evangelicalism’s dangerous flirtation with bibliolatry. The paper is titled “How Evangelicals Became Over-Committed to the Bible and What Can Be Done About It.“.

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Wordy Wednesday: Prime mover

The term “prime mover” comes from book 12 of Aristotle’s Metaphysics where he argues for the existence of an unmoved mover which sets all causes and effects in motion.

In recent times it has been popular to think of the prime mover in terms of a cue ball which starts a chain reaction of balls hitting other balls on a pool table so that, while the prime mover was involved and required for the initial impact, it’s effect and influence on the resulting chain reaction of causes and effects is essentially nill.

However, in Aristotle’s view, the prime mover was required not only for the initial cause (ie. big bang) but for subsequent reactions as well since they all derive their energy from the prime mover1 which must remain in the picture for there to be any subsequent causes or effects.

For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ -Acts 17:28

  1. Aristotle considered the prime mover to be raw energy or a ‘force’. []
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On the De-conversions of “True believers”

I read a lot of blogs. Shocking, I know. However, you may be surprised to find a section on my reading list that is quite unlike the rest. This section I have labeled “Anti-theology” (yes, it comes right after the “Theology” section) and it’s filled with sites like exChristian.net, De-Conversion.com, and What God Has Made Crooked.

Why? Because I learned a long time ago that the people worth listening to the most are generally your harshest critics because their criticisms usually contain some bit of truth worth pondering.

However, one of the most recurring themes I’ve run across when listening to and reading “de-conversion testimonies” has been the notion that the person who “de-converted” was, at one time, a “true believer”.

I’ve heard this more times than I can count so, in an effort to consolidate an answer to this oft-used phrase I want to spend some time on the whole notion that someone could be a “true” or “devout” believer in Christ one day (after years, decades in some cases. I’ve even read many testimonies from former deacons, pastors, even apologists!) and a “died again” heathen the next.

So here’s my simple response to those who claim to have been true believers:

No you weren’t.

Lets back up a second and examine why you claim to have been a “true believer” in the first place.

My guess is that your beliefs weren’t based on intellectual conviction of facts. My guess is that they were shaped more by your environment and the influence of those around you more than they were by your sincere efforts to study and understand what Christianity teaches and what the alternatives are (such as the paradox of infinite regression).

Whatever it was, your beliefs probably weren’t based on facts, since facts are required for a belief to have warrant (among a few other factors). In short, this is simply an epistemological issue, not a theological one in the vein of the “no true Scotsman fallacy“.

Oh you can choose to accept or reject Christ all you want. You can even claim to have been a Christian at one point and not at another point. In fact, I claim to have been a proponent of several incompatible religious and philosophical systems at one point or another in my past. I am merely taking exception with your assertion that you were a “true believer” or that “true believers” require blind faith as opposed to evidence1.

For example, you are obviously a “true believer” now in the theory of Darwinian evolution2 and I imagine you base your belief on what you deem as credible facts and evidence, not blind faith.

Some people3 do base their beliefs on blind faith, however we wouldn’t call them “true believers” no matter what they claimed to believe. We may call them fanatics and passionate, but we all know that fanaticism and passion can only get you so far before you are forced to rationalize and harmonize your belief with the rest of your life.

“True belief” requires much more than intense feelings, a deep desire, encouragement from others, a conducive environment, etc. “True belief” can only come from evidence, argument, and clear reasoning on a subject. That’s why “true belief” endures even when everything else (environment, people, etc.) is against it.

Or, as John so eloquently put it:

They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. -1 John 2:19

  1. now, whether that evidence is, itself, true is another story []
  2. Don’t get sidetracked with the mention of the topic of Darwinian evolution right now, I merely use it as an illustration. []
  3. Theist and atheist alike. []
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