Thinking


Materialists will tell you they don’t believe anything other than the material world exists, but seem oblivious to the fact that propositions – such as the proposition that only the material world exists – are not material.  That means materialism is falsified the moment you think about it. Pun intended.

God of GapsI’ve noticed that many nonbelievers (and even believers) misunderstand what constitutes a “God of the gaps” argument.  They tend to think one is guilty of a God of the gaps argument if they offer God as an explanation for some X rather than some natural phenomenon.  The problem with this definition is that it presumes the only valid explanation is a naturalistic explanation.  God is ruled out as a valid explanation for anything a priori, so anyone who offers God as an explanation for X is thought to do so merely because they are ignorant of the proper naturalistic explanation.  This begs the question in favor of naturalism and against theism.  One could only conclude that every effect has a naturalistic explanation, and that God is not a valid explanation, if one has first demonstrated that God does not exist.  So long as it is even possible that God exists, then it is possible that God may be the cause of X, and thus explain X.

What makes an argument a God of the gaps type of argument is when God is invoked to explain X simply because we do not know what else can explain X.  In other words, God is used to plug a gap in our knowledge of naturalistic explanations: “I don’t know how to explain X, so God must have done X.”  This is not at all the same as arguing that God is the best explanation of X, based on what we know regarding X and the explanatory options available to us.  Here, God is being invoked to explain what we know, not what we don’t know.

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overheadIf what’s being taught in church goes over your head, it’s either the fault of the speaker or our own. If the speaker is not communicating complicated concepts in ways that are understandable to the uninitiated, then shame on him. But if he has done his due diligence to make it as understandable as possible, but we give up on the message simply because it is unfamiliar to us, then shame on us.

The solution to the problem of things going over our head may not be for the messenger to dumb down the message, but for us to do our due diligence to raise our heads higher. Let’s raise the bar intellectually. Discipleship requires that we move on from milk to solid meat. We cannot rehearse our spiritual ABCs year after year and think we’ll ever grown in the Lord. We need to challenge ourselves theologically and intellectually to become better disciples of Jesus. So raise your heads high, and so far as it is within your power, do not let another message go over your head.

Like spilled milk, it only takes a few seconds to spew utter nonsense from one’s mouth. Clean up, however, takes much more time.

In a sound bite culture like ours, most people don’t have the patience or interest to listen to the evidence and follow the logic of a rebuttal, and thus nonsense passes for common sense.

Most discussions of religion entail foregone conclusions in search of anything resembling justification.  The goal of the participants is not to discover truth, but to leave the conversation with the same beliefs they came with.  We can do better.  Our beliefs should be properly justified – not just asserted based on what we would like to be true – and our desire for truth must outweigh our desire to be right.

“I don’t think, I know.”  We’ve all heard this, and most of us have probably uttered this phrase ourselves a time or two.  But when you think about it (no pun intended), this phrase represents a misuse of language.  It sets up a contrast between thinking and knowing, wherein “thinking” denotes uncertainty and “knowing” denotes certainty.  While this may reflect a popular connotation of these words, denotatively speaking, neither has anything to do with certainty.

“Think” is a description of what the mind does.  It describes the mind’s activity.  Knowledge is “justified, true belief.”  Certainty is not part of the definition, and thus certainty is not required for knowledge.  To know something only requires that we have adequate justification.

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think more feel lessToo many people in our day think with their feelings.  “Feeling-speak” is so pervasive in our culture that the vast majority of us talk about what we think in terms of what we feel.  For example, one might say “I feel that Christianity is true” rather than “I think Christianity is true.”  Feelings are wholly subjective and have no truth value – they cannot be true or false.  They just describe our psychological dispositions.  Thoughts, however, do have truth value.  They purport to describe reality, and the description is either true or false.

Since our ideas and beliefs have truth value, let’s be intentional about speaking in terms of what we think rather than what we feel.

Arrogance is not descriptive of what you believe, or even the confidence with which you believe it, but rather how you believe it.  Arrogance is an attitude one has about their beliefs; an unwarranted display of superiority over others who do not think as you do.  It is a feature of one’s character and behavior, not one’s beliefs.

Apologetics DefenseSome Christians think that if we appeal to reason and evidences to demonstrate that the Bible is truly God’s Word, then we are elevating reason and evidence to a place of authority over God’s Word.  I think this conclusion is misguided for several reasons.  First, I don’t think it is legitimate to consider reason an “authority.”  Reason is merely a tool for assessing reality.  It is basic to all human thought.  Indeed, one cannot even understand God’s revelation apart from reasoning.  It would be a mistake, then, to pit reason against revelation as if they are two competing authorities.  As Greg Koukl has argued, using reason to assess whether or not the Bible is God’s revelation to man no more puts reason above the Bible than using grammar to understand God’s revelation puts grammar above the Bible.

Secondly, this confuses the order of being (ontology) with the order of knowing (epistemology). While the Bible is first in terms of authority, it is not first in terms of the order of knowing. Knowledge of the divine origin and revelatory status of the Bible is not innate. We must acquire this knowledge.  Knowledge of a proposition requires three elements: (1) belief that the proposition is true; (2) justification for the belief that the proposition is true; (3) the proposition must actually be true.  Put another way, knowledge is justified true belief.  Given the fact that knowledge requires justification, it cannot be wrong to require justification for believing the Bible is God’s Word.  We could not know the Bible is God’s Word apart from such justification.  As Kelly Clark has pointed out, reason is not autonomous as the standard of truth, but it is the best tool for discovering the truth. 

A proper use of reason is not an exercise of subjecting God’s Word to a higher authority, but an examination of the Bible to determine if it is truly what it claims to be.  We use our God-given reason to discover the truth that the Bible is a product of divine revelation.

Michael Patton has a nice article detailing 12 ways we can prepare children for times of doubt in their Christian life.

Burden of ProofIn philosophy, a burden of proof refers to one’s epistemic duty to provide reasons in support his assertion/claim/position.  While listening to a debate recently, I noticed that one of the participants spoke of a “burden of justification” rather than “burden of proof.”  I thought this terminological shift was helpful since when most people hear the word “proof” they think “certainty.”  Clearly, no one has the burden to demonstrate their position with apodictic certainty.  “Justification,” on the other hand, makes it clear that one only has a burden to back up their claims with good reasons.  I am going to be intentional about adopting this terminology in the future.

New Scientist has a short video discussing the proper understanding of reality.  It’s a 2:30 philosophical mess!  It’s almost as bad as their video on how the universe came from nothing, but I won’t go there.

They present two definitions of reality.  Their first definition is that “reality is everything that would still be here if there was no one around to experience it.”  But they find this view problematic because “as far as we know, we humans actually do exist, and a lot of the things that we can all agree are real, like language, or war, or consciousness, wouldn’t exist without us.”  What?

This objection is irrelevant.  Yes, humans exist, but how does that count against this definition of reality?  The definition doesn’t assume or require that people do not exist.  It merely holds that some X is real if and only if X would still obtain in the absence of a mind to think about it.  While it goes without saying that those things germane to humans would not exist if humans did not exist, what does that have to do with everything else non-human?  The question is whether anything else would exist if we didn’t exist, not whether things unique to humans would exist if humans did not exist.

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Some people want to reject the testimony of the NT evangelists on the basis that they are biased.  I have written on the problems of this claim before, but here is a brief summary of my argument (with some added insight offered by Greg Koukl in his September 10, 2012 podcast):

  • This is an example of the genetic fallacy – dismissing one’s arguments because of its origin, rather than addressing it on its own merits.
  • Having a bias is irrelevant to the legitimacy of one’s testimony and/or arguments.  One must grapple with the evidence rather than dismiss it because it comes from a biased source.
  • Everyone has a bias, including those who reject Jesus.  The only people without a bias are those who are ignorant of the matter.
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Scott McKnight alerted me to a couple of posts by philosopher Jeff Cook on the topic of desire and reason in evangelism (1,2).  Cook contends that “the debate about God today is not about what’s reasonable—it is almost entirely about preferences and desire.”  That doesn’t mean he is opposed to using reason or providing evidence for Christianity in our evangelism of the lost.  He simply believes that this alone will not persuade most people because it is not rationality alone that causes them to reject Christianity. 

Cook proposes that if people are going to be persuaded by our reasons for Christianity, they must first want there to be a God.  In his words, “Wanting God to exist is more important than believing in God.  By ‘more important,’ I mean desire is more crucial to the transformation of a person’s heart, more helpful in moving them toward faith in Christ, and more instrumental in one’s ‘salvation’ than right thinking. … It seems then that enticing the passions and wills of those who do not follow Christ is far more important than targeting their intellect with arguments for God’s existence. Showing that God is desirable will be the primary target of the successful 21st century apologist, for wanting God to exist opens highways for subpar apologetics; yet a closed heart will not here [sic] the voice of wisdom.” 

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J.P. Moreland rightly asks, Why is it that if you want to be a chemist or teach literature you have to have training, but if you want to be a minister all you need is to feel a call on your life? Where is the need for knowledge?

Think about it this way. Would you seek the services of a physician who only had a master’s degree in medicine? Would you allow a physician who had no training at all in medicine, but merely felt the “call” to be a doctor, to operate on you? No, because your health is too important to entrust to someone who lacks the knowledge necessary to fix your body. Why then, do we think it is acceptable for ministers of the gospel to “operate” on people’s eternal souls—which is much more important than operating on temporal bodies—with just a call to ministry? Jesus’ disciples sat at His feet for 3+ years before they entered into full-time ministry. Theological education (whether formal or not) should be viewed as a precondition for ministry. Too much is at stake for anything less. Attempting spiritual surgery without sufficient knowledge can lead to others’ spiritual death rather than life. Let’s get educated!

True tolerance is how we treat people, not how we treat ideas. All people are equal, but all ideas are not. I am glad we live in a society that allows people the freedom of mind and conscience to believe as they choose, but we must not confuse one’s right to believe what they choose with the absurd notion that beliefs are true. Some beliefs are true, and others are false.  That is why all beliefs should be critically examined, including our own.

 

A popular maxim advanced by naturalists and atheists is that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”  This maxim is often invoked in discussions about the existence of God and the resurrection of Jesus.  These are extraordinary claims, they say, and thus require extraordinary evidence.  Not surprisingly, those who advance this maxim think Christian theists have failed to provide the required evidence.

J.W. Wartick wrote a nice article questioning the truth of this maxim.  He notes that on first blush the maxim seems obviously true, but upon further reflection it can be shown to be obviously false.  Consider the claim that I am a giant pink salamander.  This is an extraordinary claim, and yet the claim could be evidenced in rather ordinary ways.  For example, one could come to my home and observe me.  If I appear to be a giant pink salamander (one who talks and types), then the extraordinary claim is justified.  If one is not convinced by their eyes, then perhaps they could take a DNA sample and compare it to other salamanders.  Such evidence is ordinary, but sufficient to verify the rather extraordinary claim that I am a pink salamander.  It is false, then, that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.  All that is required to justify an extraordinary claim is sufficient evidence.

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Here is an important excerpt from an article by Drew Dyck, discussing one finding from his personal research into the question of why so many teens leave the church:

Another unsettling pattern emerged during my interviews. Almost to a person, the leavers with whom I spoke recalled that, before leaving the faith, they were regularly shut down when they expressed doubts. Some were ridiculed in front of peers for asking “insolent questions.” Others reported receiving trite answers to vexing questions and being scolded for not accepting them. One was slapped across the face, literally.

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In today’s society everyone seems to be hyper-sensitive to judgmentalism.  The minute you tell someone you disagree with something they are doing, you are accused of being judgmental.  Of course, it always escapes their notice that they are judging you for being judgmental, so they are guilty of both judgmentalism and hypocrisy!  But the problem runs deeper than mere self-contradiction.

As the term is commonly used today, judgmentalism is thought to be limited to expressions of moral disapproval of X, or attempts to correct some person P for doing X.  In reality, judgment involves both moral disapproval and moral approval.  Judgment requires that we distinguish what is right/good from what is wrong/evil.  Judgments are involved when you say X is good, as well as when you say X is bad.  Indeed, the only way to say some X is good is if you know what bad is, and know X is not that.  The only way to avoid making judgments is to make no moral distinctions whatsoever.  No sane person can do this, nor is this a worthy goal.  Moral judgments are indispensable to a healthy society.

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translationA couple of months ago we had a guest preacher at our church.  He was a seasoned preacher, and overall, his message was edifying.  There was one point he made, however, that had me shaking my head.  He quoted John 14:2 where Jesus says “in my house are many mansions,” and then went on to explain that in the Greek this literally means “spiritual bodies.”

When we got home my wife asked me what I thought of the message.  I told her I liked it, except for his absurd interpretation of John 14:2.  She asked if I had looked up the Greek to know that this was the case.  I told her no.  She asked how I knew it was absurd, then.  Here is what I said, and what I want to share with you: If someone says the correct translation of a certain word is radically different than the translation appearing in mainstream translations, then you can bet your bottom dollar the person is mistaken. Think about it, what are the chances that hundreds of individuals who dedicated their entire lives to understanding the Biblical languages are going to miss the boat by a mile, but an individual who has no specialized training in Biblical languages is going to get it right simply by looking up a few words in Strong’s Concordance?

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