Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Gen Eds Series P3: How do I know what I think I know?

This is my third philosophy post in a series called, "General Education in a Nutshell." Philosophy is the first of ten subjects I plan to overview in this series. These are the subjects a person normally takes in college (or high school) to be a generally educated person (most of them also make up what is sometimes called the "liberal arts").

The first two philosophy posts were:
1. The technical term for this week's subject is epistemology, which is the name for the branch of philosophy that asks what truth is and how we know if something is true. "How do I know that I really know what I think I know?"

I want to start by anticipating an answer that might immediately come to the mind of someone who knows the Bible a bit. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). So someone might answer the question, "What is truth?" with the answer, "Jesus."

Of course that is an important answer, the most important one for any person to know in a relational way! Perhaps you have heard it said that "truth is a person."

However, I'm not sure that it helps me answer a question like, "What color is that flower?" or "What is the speed of light?" I believe that Jesus was with me when I connected a battery cable the other morning. But "Jesus" is not a particularly helpful answer to the question, "Will I get shocked when I connect this battery cable?"

In short, Jesus is the answer to this question when you are asking it in a particular kind of way. But it doesn't take much reflection to know that most of the times we ask this question, he is not a really helpful answer. "Did you turn the electricity off so that I can work on this plug?" "Jesus?"

2. One claim that I will make in this post is that, whether we like it or not, we all use basic reasoning and rely on basic evidence to make our way through this world. We can talk loftily about worldviews or the narrative of salvation history, but there is a basic logic and reasoning we use that is far more basic to our day to day lives--and far more forceful. [1] I have sometimes called it "micro-reason" such as we will look at in next week's post, basic logic.

So it is fine to have lofty worldviews and presuppositional frameworks. But treat them as pictures and proverbs, snapshots of the truth. Micro-reason, basic logic, is undeniable. Only the most intellectually perverse can resist it for very long. The same goes for what you might call, "in your face" evidence. We can resist evidence for a very long time, but "in your face evidence" slaps us in the face and forces us to reckon with it whether we like it or not.

Of course I believe God is a God of truth--the real truth. "All truth is God's truth," meaning that something that is truly true in one part of existence will inevitably be compatible in some way with every other truly true thing. [2] The problem is not with the truth or with God. The problem is that we humans have a persistent tendency to mistake our ideological systems for God's own thoughts as they fully and "literally" are. [3]

Our thoughts about God and about the world strongly tend toward the imprecise. They are pictures. Meanwhile, God's ways "are higher than our ways" (Isa. 55:8-9). How foolish of us to think that our simplistic systems come anywhere close to God in his exactness!

So when it comes to the systems of thought we humans so often construct, micro-reason and in-your-face evidence are like truth viruses in our pretentious systems (that have always been modified throughout history). They unravel our claims to have everything figured out. They "de-construct" our nice tidy worldviews and ideologies. [4]

3. It is important for us to pause and reckon with the fact that the Bible also gives us pictures of God rather than God in his exactness. To think otherwise is to make the Bible into an idol, to mistake pictures for the thing itself. Even when we speak of images of God, Jesus is the image of God rather than the Bible. The Bible gives witness to the image of God.

But the primary function of the Scriptures is much larger than the cognitive. It is transformative. God uses it much more to form us than to inform us. It is for God to master us, not for us to master the subject of God so we can pass a test. The Bible is the "answer book" in the sense that God leads us to himself through it. It is not the "answer book" when it comes to questions like how many neutrons carbon 12 has.

Human language can point beyond itself because of its capacity for metaphor and symbol. The God-given vehicle of the poetic allows human language to point toward the infinite in a powerful way. The danger of Christian fundamentalism is that it treats the Bible as if it can contain God in literal terms. [5] It pretends to have certainty on that which cannot be fully grasped or contained. It actually tries to shut down the poetic nature of inspired Scripture and treats it as if it is a set of rational propositions.

4. Further, even when we try to understand the Bible, our limitations get in the way. The Bible does not enter our heads without going through the filter of our reasoning and experiences. It does not come built in on my hard drive. I cannot escape interpretation when I read the Bible. I do not see the Bible as it is. I see the Bible as it appears to me. The Bible has to be "inputed" into my brain, and that means my understanding of it is inevitably "infected" by my fallen mind.

Hopefully, I rely on the Holy Spirit to help me. Hopefully, I am part of a community that has carried over something from the Christians before us. Hopefully I wrestle with Scripture in a community that is also seeking to hear and experience God as new challenges arise. But a quick look at what even the most godly individuals and communities have come up with throughout the last 2000 years shows that these are not infallible paths to God's mind.

No one simply sees the Bible as it is or was. We all read the Bible through the glasses we are wearing. We all reason its meaning out, affected by our life experiences. P.S. This means "scholars" too.

Even if the Bible had the answers to all the questions I could ever ask, I cannot escape myself to see them as they are. There are tens of thousands of different churches that demonstrate that the "Bible alone" has not in any way resulted in a common understanding of the Christian faith. [6] Any sense of the Bible's clarity surely must have to do with salvation, not the details.

And, the more you understand the Bible, the more you understand it in context. You see how its meaning was a function of its first audiences thousands of years ago. You see that it was written to people quite different in culture and thinking than someone like me in twenty-first century America. Contextual understanding, without something more, tends to distance the meaning of the Bible from us today.

So, on the one hand, God uses the Bible to lead us to the most important answers to the question, "What is true?" The Bible is special revelation. The Bible gives witness to the most important truths--the existence and nature of God, the way of salvation, the hope of eternity.

But it does so by using the greatest capacity of human language--its poetic capacity, its ability to use metaphor and symbol to point to that which cannot be captured in human words. And even here, it does not tell me what to think about cloning or stem cell research. On so many issues--even abortion--we wrestle as communities of faith to connect biblical teaching that addressed one world with our world and its issues.

Often when we think the Bible's answer is straightforward, we are simply defining the words as a mirror of what we already think. The more a person knows about what the Bible really meant, the more likely it is that he or she will find the need for wrestling with it in order to know how to apply it to today.

5. This observation brings us to the terms pre-modernmodern, and post-modern. I want to discuss these terms and then throw them away when we are done.

René Descartes (1596-1650) seems to mark an important turning point in epistemology, and he is often called the "father of modern philosophy." Prior to him, the reality of the world outside myself was largely assumed. Truths about the world were more or less assumed to be "in" the world. Beauty was seen "in" the world.

Although earlier philosophers recognized from time to time that our perception of the world could be skewed, the question of how played a role in what I saw in the world was underdeveloped at best. There was more or less the assumption that "What I see is what is there."

This time before Descartes is sometimes called the pre-modern period. Descartes then is said to usher in the modern period with his questioning about what can I know is true for certain. Think of the time when he lived. The Protestant Reformation had taken away a more or less common understanding of God in the early 1500s. Now any individual with a Bible could in theory decide what he or she thought God thought on any issue. Descartes, interestingly, was Catholic.

In England, Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was developing a "scientific method" for discovering what was true about the world. Rather than doing science in his head, as most before him, he had the revolutionary idea of gathering evidence to try to determine what was true about the world. No more was it assumed that we know what was true about the world. With Copernicus' (1473-1543) new idea that the earth went around the sun, assumptions about the world that had stood for as long as anyone could remember were now uncertain.

So Descartes asked, "What can't I doubt?" He realized he could doubt almost anything. You can doubt whether God exists. You can doubt whether you're dreaming right now. You can doubt that the straw is really crooked even though it looks crooked in water.

But he decided he couldn't doubt that he was doubting. "I think; therefore, I am," he concluded (cogito ergo sum). [7] He concluded that he knew for certain that he existed. About everything else outside himself, he could not be entirely sure.

6. Descartes thus commenced the modern period in philosophy. Old debates over whether reason or experience were the best path to truth were revived but this time with a vengeance because they were raised in the context of modern uncertainty. Descartes took the side of the rationalists, those who suggested that the best path to truth was through reason.

Plato had argued for an extreme version of this approach in the 300s BC. Plato believed that we could not trust our senses for truth. For him, what you seeheartouchsmell, or taste are unreliable sources of truth. Rather truth is something we need to "remember" with our minds from the time before our souls took on a body.

John Locke (1632-1704) then took the side of the empiricists, who suggested that the path to certainty in truth was through our senses. Again, Aristotle had argued for a version of this approach in the 300s BC when he suggested that "there is nothing in the intellect that was not first in the senses." [8]

But it was Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) who broke the tie between these two approaches to knowledge. [9] The content of our understanding, he argued, comes into our minds through our senses. We get that content after our experiences, after the fact (a posteriori). But the organization of that content, the way our minds glue those inputs together, is built in or, as we say, innate. We have this software, as it were, from the beginning, built in (a priori).

There is something quite simple and profound about Kant's solution to the age old debate between reason and experience. We obviously interact with the world around us through our senses. We see things. We hear things. We touch things. We smell things. We taste things.

But our minds clearly organize these inputs. They interpret these inputs. Some of these patterns of organization are common to all human beings. From psychology, we now realize that there are physical structures and chemical reactions in our brains that we have in common with one another. Whether you think of God as designing us this way or of them evolving so that we might survive better (or some mixture of both), these structures glue causes to effects and facts to values. They interpret reality in a way that helps us make sense of the world and survive in it.

7. Of course our cultures, families, and environments also have a huge effect on the way our minds interpret our world, put values on things, and give rules to our behavior. Some of our built-in software is decisively shaped by our earliest years of life. Our genetics and environment shape the "paradigms" through which we view and process the world.

We see another person and we might assume that what is obvious to me is obvious to them. If they were raised in a similar culture and context, if they have some of the same genetic predispositions as me, maybe we will find the same things obvious. But if they were born somewhere else, raised somewhere else, if they have a different set of genetics, they may very well find an opposing interpretation of the world obvious.

When we get to the subject of psychology and world cultures in this series, we will have recourse to explore these sorts of differences more extensively.

8. Now I want to return to the terms pre-modernmodern, and post-modern. If Descartes is sometimes said to have ushered in the modern period, what is the "post-modern" period? The emphasis of the modern period was on objectivity. The goal was to rid ourselves of all our biases and let reason and experience speak for themselves. So we rid ourselves of all logical fallacies and we follow the scientific method of gathering evidence and drawing conclusions.

Post-modernism was a late twentieth century movement that more or less concluded that the goals of modernism were unattainable. No one can ever be objective. Human truth claims have as often been about power than about anything like truth. The meaning of words can be ambiguous. Ideological systems have a persistent tendency to unravel over time.

Some of the key figures of this movement arguably went to extremes in their attempt to make these points. Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) wrote playful and obscure books whose implied point was that the meaning of words is completely unfixed and unstable. Michel Foucault (1926-1984) argued that "truth is violence" and that every claim to know forces an idea on history. Thomas Kuhn (1922-1996) suggested that science doesn't really make progress. It only changes paradigms.

Nevertheless, we all seem to do pretty well at making our way through this world. We even seem to do pretty well at communicating with each other. Richard Rorty (1931-2007), another post-modern thinker, suggested that we can speak of reality in pragmatic terms. Some ideas work better than others. He suggested a kind of pragmatic realism that acts as if the world is there and that we know things about it because it works.

9. So I am ready to modify our terms. In the end, we are all inevitably "pre-modern" in many ways. That is to say, we can never become fully objective. We can never see the world as God fully and literally sees it. We cannot ever achieve a "God's eye view."

Why? We can't not least because we do not know all the data. It is really laughable even to think such an absurdity. The number of things to know about any given situation or subject must surely approach the infinite. As humans we sift through this barrage of data by selecting the bits that seem to be the most important, and we thereby de-select a lot of other data.

God knows all the data in all its relationships to all the other data. We know an infinitesimal amount of the data and can see a small handful of possible connections.

Therefore, we are all "unreflective" to some extent about the world. We are all pre-modernists in that respect. But we can become more "reflective." We can move toward greater objectivity by considering more possible ways to interpret the data. We should aim at objectivity. We should aim at sound thinking and logic. We should aim at forming the most likely theory given the evidence. But we always should know that we can only get more reflective. We cannot ever become fully reflective.

We thus can form a kind of poetic and pragmatic epistemology. There are ideas that work better than other. The idea that I can fly doesn't work very well. Let's say that's a false hypothesis. We should think of our ideologies as pointers toward truth. Ideas that work and that help us live well in the world are good ideas.

There are also ideas that point toward something greater, like God. We should not think that these ideas exhaust God or are fully literal. Our thoughts about God and the deepest truths of the world enter the territory where we must speak poetically because the literal cannot capture them. Here we enter the realm of mystery, where God speaks to us in parables and pictures.

Some Christians have spoken of a kind of critical realism. By faith we believe that there is something more than the appearance of things in my mind. By faith I believe there really is a world outside myself. By faith (not blind faith), I believe that God exists and that he rewards those who diligently seek him (Heb. 11:6). The world outside myself exists and is real.

But my personal knowledge of that world will always be vastly partial and it will be inevitably skewed. I do not abandon reason and experience as "working" paths to walk through life. I do not abandon special revelation as true pictures of that which I could not discover on my own. But I acknowledge that I see through a glass darkly. I see, but I do not see fully or with complete accuracy.

Next Week: Philosophy 4: Critical Thinking

[1] There is some truth to the claim that our ideas play themselves out in our lives, but it is much more the case that we live out our lives negotiating the "evidence" in front of us using basic reasoning skills. We only play out our ideas in life if they seem to work. If they don't on a significant enough scale, we chuck them.

[2] An idea made popular by Arthur Holmes

[3] It is worth giving a definition for the way I am using the word literal. To take a word "literally" is to take it in its normal sense rather than in a metaphorical sense. To say "God is love," for example, is not to speak of him literally. It is to give a picture of God by comparing him to something in human experience with which we can relate. We know God by analogy, not literally, on his own terms.

[4] The word deconstruct came from Jacques Derrida, a postmodern thinker whom I believe went too far. His idea was that the meaning of words disintegrates even as we are constructing them. They "de" construct. So it is that often our systems of ideas have internal inconsistencies that ultimately unravel them if we take them too seriously. If, instead, we treat them as pictures of the truth (rather than the literal, exact truth), they can remain useful to us.

[5] "Fundamentalism" seems innocuous enough. It aims to get back to the "fundamentals" of a particular faith (so there are Islamic fundamentalists). Three key characteristics show why we should be cautious about fundamentalism in all its forms. 1) It usually happens as a reaction to changes in its context, both internally and externally. So American fundamentalism emerged as a defensive reaction to modern developments in science and the study of the Bible. 2) Because it emerges as a force in times of uncertainty, it tends to overemphasize the certain. It prohibits change by strict limitations of truth to its Scriptures and enforces particular interpretations of those Scriptures. It thus acts as if it can capture God in human words. Indeed, it is essential to eliminate mystery so that no changes can be made to traditional forms of the religion. 3) Given these dynamics, it is no surprise that fundamentalism tends to have a militant flavor. In Islam, it can create terrorists. In Christianity, it creates Christian soldiers marching to war against whoever or whatever is thought to be threatening tradition.

[6] The Bible does not tell us how to connect the material of its many books to each other. The Bible does not tell us how to play out its specifics in our time and place. Indeed, the meaning of many passages is seriously "under-determined," meaning that we lack sufficient information to interpret all of them with certainty (which is why even scholars often disagree on the meaning of the Bible). For these reasons, the Methodist notion of prima scriptura, "Scripture first," is much more coherent an approach to the Bible that sola scriptura, "Scripture alone," which is not even possible.

[7] Actually, in our world of artificial intelligence and neuropsychology, perhaps he should have concluded, "I think; therefore, a thought is."

[8] Prior Analytics.

[9] Kant was reacting to David Hume (1711-1776), who took Locke's empiricism to an extreme. If our minds are entirely a "blank slate" (tabula rasa) then anything we cannot connect to experience isn't real. So we experience a cause (vase falls) and we experience an effect (vase breaks), but we do not experience the glue that connects them as cause-effect (vase falling caused it to break). We see facts (hitting me hurts) and we feel values (you shouldn't hit me), but we do not experience the glue that says the value is a fact (hitting me is wrong because it hurts me). Kant sought to justify these connections.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Happy 90th Birthday Mom!

Happy Birthday to my mother, who turns 90 years young today! Looking forward to seeing her tomorrow!

Loving, prayerful, smart and studious, musical, faithful, ever calm and peaceful--I'm immensely grateful to have her as a mother. It's hard for me even to fathom how blessed I am!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Gen Eds Series P2: Philosophy of Religion

This is the second week of philosophy in my series, "The Gen Eds in a Nutshell." Last week I overviewed the subject matter of philosophy and set out a course for twelve posts on the topic.

1. A philosophy class might not normally begin with the philosophy of religion. Questions about God, as it were, are logically a subcategory of questions about what is real (metaphysics). And before we can ask questions about anything, don't we have to establish what it means for something to be true (epistemology)?

I start with philosophy of religion not only because I teach in a Christian context but because some Christians believe there are certain assumptions or presuppositions that must be made before any discussion of truth can take place. These are "epistemological" questions that have to be addressed first if that particular way of Christian thinking is correct.

We are dealing here with the role of reason and revelation when it comes to truth. We might outline three basic positions:
  • I believe in order to understand (credo ut intelligam, Anselm)
  • I understand in order to believe (intelligo ut credam)
  • I believe because it is absurd (credo quia absurdam, Tertullian)
At present, there are strong forces in Christian circles against a predominant role for "reason" and evidentiary thinking in theological or Christian philosophical thinking. This way of thinking is particularly typical in Reformed thinking ("Reformed epistemology"), which has often emphasized the given-ness of Christian belief. from this perspective, unless you assume the right presuppositions (which the elect will ultimately assume), you cannot hope to arrive at the right conclusions.

These forces have had significant influence in late twentieth century American Christian thinking, and they have been empowered by postmodernism in recent decades. Late twentieth century postmodernism seriously undermined any claim to objectivity on the part of thinkers, opening the door for a kind of fideism which isolates faith from any rational evaluation or evaluation on the basis of evidence.

Another force that fits this Zeitgeist or "spirit of the age" is post-liberalism. Post-liberalism is a post-modern movement toward faith emerging from "liberal" circles where traditional faith claims had largely been marginalized, especially in mainline churches and seminaries. Post-liberalism tends to see all of us as situated within "narratives" from which we cannot remove ourselves in order to get anything like an objective standpoint. From this perspective, we cannot really get outside of our narrative in order to evaluate our narrative, so we more or less can just assume it. [1]

2. By contrast, the Methodist tradition has more typically seen a significant role for reason in truth-seeking, born as it was at the height of the Enlightenment. Wesley's theological method has often been called a "quadrilateral" of Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. [2] American frontier Christianity, both heavily Methodist and Baptist, was very comfortable with human reason, and the possibility that argument or persuasion might convince someone to believe. American fundamentalism, which is strongly Baptistic, has always claimed to correlate strongly with reason and evidence, as captured well in the title of Josh McDowell's well known book, Evidence That Demands a Verdict.

The Catholic tradition has also had a strong openness to rational argument, especially under the influence of Thomas Aquinas. "Faith seeking understanding" may be the dominant mode of truth-pursuit, but reason is not seen as the enemy of faith. "The heavens declare the glory of God" (Ps. 14:1) is taken to indicate that there is both natural revelation (truths that God has put into the universe to be discovered) and special revelation (truths we would not know unless God revealed them.

Next week's post on epistemology will set out an argument for a kind of critical realism. This perspective recognizes that no one is objective and that none of us can have a God's eye view of truth. But reason and evidence are paths to truth. Indeed, they are ultimately inescapable. The evidence may not demand a verdict, but Christian faith hopefully is not irrational. That which refuses to be subject to evaluation is prone to abuse.

3. "Faith versus evidence" is thus one key topic within the philosophy of religion. We might mention three others: 2) the meaning of life, 3) arguments for the existence of God, and 4) the problem of evil and suffering.

The meaning of life of course relates heavily to other topics in philosophy like the philosophy of a person and ethics. Nevertheless, religion usually makes claims on ultimate meaning. Albert Camus once suggested that the only serious philosophical question was, "Why not suicide?" [3] In other words, what do you have to live for? For him, this was a question without a particular answer. A person simply needed to have one or end it all.

Soren Kierkegaard started this "existentialist" line of thinking in the 1800s. For him, we take a "leap of faith" to embrace some meaning in our lives. For him, God was the appropriate destination toward which to jump. But of course he had no basis to preclude jumping into something else.

Christians believe that God should be the ultimate focus of our existence. As the Westminster Confession says, "The chief goal of humanity is to glorify God and enjoy him forever." Augustine prayed to God, "You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you." God is thus should be the focus of our lives, the one for whom we exist. He is the meaning of life.

4. Many arguments have been made for the existence of God. It is not clear that they actually prove God's existence, although they may suggest that faith in God's existence is reasonable. Alvin Plantinga, coming from a Reformed perspective, has suggested that belief in God is a "warranted Christian belief." That is to say, it is such a fundamental human belief that no argument is necessary.

Blaise Pascal suggested that belief in God is a good wager to make. If you are wrong, you have lost nothing. If you are right, you have won everything. However, Pascal did not believe God had made his existence obvious. Rather, God had left his existence sufficiently ambiguous that believing in him required faith more than proof.

Nevertheless, the three classical arguments for the existence of God are the 1) cosmological argument, 2) the teleological argument, and 3) the ontological argument. The cosmological argument suggests that the existence of the universe needs to have a cause, since we observe no effect in this world without a cause. [4] The current consensus that the universe was created in a big bang and that it began 13.8 billion years ago plays into this argument. What caused it to begin? [5]

The teleological argument is sometimes called the argument from design. It suggests that the complexity of the universe is unfathomable without positing some sort of intelligent Designer. While this idea is often applied to the question of evolution by chance, the argument extends much further. Life on the earth is predicated on a razor thin set of circumstances, sometimes called the "anthropic principle."

If the earth were a little closer or further away from the sun, life would not exist as it does. In current theory, if there had not been a two in a billion imbalance between matter and antimatter in the early universe, no stars or galaxies would be here. In current theory, if the sun had not burned and exploded multiple times, there would be no heavy elements to form the world. Even smaller molecules like carbon and oxygen were not the immediate by-products of helium fusion in the early universe, in the current understanding.

All that is to say, an unfathomable number of chance events would have had to happen in just the right sequence for life to be here by chance. It is much simpler to suppose that an unfathomable Mind was involved.

A third argument usually mentioned is the ontological argument. In its principal forms, it is unconvincing. As Anselm in the 1000s and Descartes in the 1500s formulated it, it largely argued that God must exist in reality because he exists in our minds. If I can conceive of God, he must exist.

But perhaps there is a more profound version of the argument, perhaps something akin to Thomas Aquinas' argument for God as a necessary Being. If every thing that exists were contingent, then there would be no basis for anything to exist. Surely, Aquinas argued, there must at least be one Thing that exists necessarily, which cannot not exist. This, he suggested, we call God.

Ultimately, the strongest reason to believe in God is a personal one. In Wesleyan theology, God reaches out to everyone in the world at some point of their life so that no one can be without excuse (prevenient grace). In Calvinist theology, God reaches out to those who are chosen. In either case, faith in God is initiated and empowered by God himself.

If these beliefs are true, we should expect them to correspond to our experience. We should experience a "tug" from God that leads us toward faith in his existence and goodness. It is not a matter of rational proof, although it is more than likely that God draws some people to him through argument. Ultimately, however, our faith comes from an encounter with God and so, for any specific individual, the definitive argument for God's existence is a matter of personal experience.

5. The problem of suffering and evil is one of the strongest objections to the idea of God, especially against a God who cares for his creation. It is often noted that the other arguments for the existence of God do not in any way point toward a God who is good, even if they suggest a creator. [6]

The issue has been expressed in this way: "If God is God he is not good. If God is good he is not God." [7] The idea here is that if God had the power to stop evil and suffering, he would have if he were good. On the other hand, if God is good, then he must not have the power to stop evil and suffering.

Two primary arguments have been advanced to explain the conundrum. The one is called the "Irenaean theodicy," where a theodicy is an explanation for how God can be just and yet evil persist. Irenaeus' suggestion was that God uses suffering to help us grow morally. The struggle against suffering and evil helps us become better people. In the words of Friedrich Nietzsche, who was no friend to Christianity, "what doesn't kill us makes us stronger."

Perhaps better known is the "Augustinian" or "free will theodicy." The idea here is that God does not force us to choose the good because a world in which we freely (or somewhat freely) choose him and the good is a better world than one in which we are forced to do the good. But if God gives humanity the freedom to choose, some will make the wrong choice and will bring evil into the world.

Of course in Augustine's thinking, it was Adam, the first human, who made the wrong free choice. Now, according to Augustine, the world is fallen. Sin is woven into the fabric of the universe. The evil and suffering in the world is not only the result of the evil perpetuated by fallen angels but is the direct consequence of Adam's sin.

From Paul's perspective, perhaps we might say more precisely that our world is currently under the power of Sin. Christians believe that God has used his power to address this situation. He sent Jesus to fix the problem and to identify with human suffering. The power of Sin is broken, even if it has not finally disappeared. But God has definitively addressed the problem of evil and suffering. The solution just has not finally worked its way out into history.

6. These are thus the primary topics relating to the philosophy of religion: the role of reason and evidence in faith, the meaning of life, the existence of God, and the problem of evil and suffering.

Next week: Philosophy 3: How do I know what I think I know?

[1] It is thus another kind of fideism that tries to isolate itself from the possibility of critique.

[2] Unsurprisingly, post-liberal forces in the Methodist tradition have pushed back on this description in recent decades.

[3] The Myth of Sisyphus.

[4] Thus the law of conservation of mass and energy. Matter cannot be created or destroyed, although we have come to learn that it can be converted to energy.

[5] One theory currently in play is the idea that our universe is just one "bubble" as it were in a multiverse. Even if this theory were to gain traction, it might only extend the question back into such a multiverse. What caused the multiverse?

[6] A "moral argument" is sometimes made to suggest a moral God. In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis suggested that the fact that human beings have a morality (not the specific content of that morality) suggested a moral God. Given the general moral state of the world, however, it seems difficult to argue for a moral God on the basis of human morality.

[7] From Archibald MacLeish's play, J.B.

Monday, May 16, 2016

2.3 Electromagnetic Induction

This is the third week of Module 2 of the Navy Basic Electricity and Electronics series. The last couples week were:

2.1 Electromotive Force
2.2 Magnetism

This section is about the dynamics of electromagnetic induction involving a magnetic field and a conductor moving through it.
  • The diagram below shows a magnetic field moving from the north end of one magnet into the south end of the other. A conductor is moving through the magnetic field, which generates an electric current.

  • There is a "left hand rule" for such situations (for the generation of current). [1]
  • In the left hand rule, you place your index finger pointing like a gun in the direction of the magnetic field, with your thumb pointing in the direction that the conductor is moving through the magnetic field. Then your middle finger (pointing in the third dimension) indicates the direction of the current. See the second diagram.
  • There are three ways to increase the electromagnetic force. One is to increase the strength of the magnetic field. A second is to increase the speed of the conductor as it moves through the magnetic field. The third is to increase the length of the conductor moving through the magnetic field.
  • EMF will only be generated if the conductor is moving perpendicular to the field, not if it is moving parallel to the magnetic lines of force.
Next week: 2.4 Generating AC Voltage

[1] A right hand rule is used in physics for torque and other aspects of current. In math, a right hand rule is used to find the cross-product.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

ET19. The Bible views hoarding wealth as a sin against God and neighbor.

This is the nineteenth post on Christian ethics in my ongoing series, theology in bullet points. The first unit in this series had to do with God and Creation (book here), and the second unit was on Christology and Atonement.

We are now in the third and final unit: The Holy Spirit and the Church. The first set of posts in this final unit was on the Holy Spirit. The second set was on the Church. The third set was on sacraments. This final section is on Christian ethics.
The Bible views hoarding wealth as a sin against God and neighbor.

1. To be sure, there are verses of prosperity in the Bible. God blessed the patriarchs incredibly on a material level. Abraham and Lot became so prosperous that they had to part ways. Their bounty had begun to collide. Job's prosperity was a sign of God's blessing both before and after he lost it. The theology of Deuteronomy 28 suggests simply that as Israel obeys the LORD's commands, it will experience material blessing.

There are at least two important contextual elements to keep in mind when reading these stories. The one is the agricultural nature of their world. The second is deuteronomistic theology. First, we live in a monetary world where dollars and cents (or whatever currency your culture uses) stands at the heart of our economy. The ancient world was more a world of bartering and trade. Wealth was a matter of animals, land, servants and family (cf. Job 1:2). The economy of Abraham's world was quite different from our economy.

A second factor we should keep in mind is that the theology of Deuteronomy and a strand of the Old Testament only gives us the basic connection between obedience to the LORD and prosperity. Deuteronomy 28 tells Israel that they will be blessed in the land, in crops, and so forth if they will serve the LORD. If they do not, they will be cursed in the land and in the other aspects of their lives. This is a less precise understanding than those parts of the Bible showing us that the wicked sometimes prosper and the righteous sometimes suffer (e.g., Isa. 53).

2. At the same time, those who are blessed materially are expected to help those in need. There was no system of welfare or assistance in biblical times. If a widow or orphan did not have family to help them, they were in dire circumstances indeed. The plight of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 suggests that an able bodied man might become someone's servant. But in general, a person who had some debilitating illness or circumstance was entirely dependent on begging or the generosity of others.

So provisions were made in Israel for the poor. A farmer was to leave fallen grapes for the poor, and a field was to be left for the poor and even for the wild animals in the seventh year. Israel was commanded to "Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land" (Deut. 15:11), especially when the LORD blessed them.

One of the primary indictments of the prophets against Israel is the fact that Israel neglects the poor. "The Lord enters into judgment with the elders and princes of his people: It is you who have devoured the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding the face of the poor? says the Lord God of hosts" (Isa. 3:14-15).

3. In the New Testament, the indictment of wealth becomes acute at many points. The situation of the audiences has changed. In the Old Testament, Israel is in possession of its own land and its kings are wealthy. In the New Testament, the Jews were under Roman rule and subject to the taxes of a foreign regime. Paul's audiences tended to live in big cities. In Palestine, the accumulation of wealth usually involved complicity with the Roman regime or the power to take from others.

So it is little surprise to find that the New Testament is generally negative toward the accumulation of wealth. There was an Arab proverb a few centuries later that perhaps caught the sentiment of many in that day: "Every rich person is either a thief or the son of a thief."

Jesus says Luke 12:15, "Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." Then he tells a parable about a rich man whose land produces a great abundance. The rich man thinks to himself, "I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry." God's response to this man is, "You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you." Jesus concludes, "So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves" (Luke 12:15-21).

The book of James echoes Jesus' warning when it chastises a traveling merchant who thinks he can go from place to place and make money in his own power and by his own plans. "Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring" (Jas. 4:14). James goes on to say, "Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you... You have laid up treasure for the last days. Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter" (5:1, 3-5).

Earlier in the letter, James warns synagogues from trusting or showing favoritism to the rich. He tells them, "Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?" (2:5-7).

Similarly, Jesus tells the crowds that, "No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth" (Matt. 6:24). Instead, Jesus urges the crowds to "store up for yourselves treasures in heaven" rather than on earth (6:20). 1 Timothy 6:10 generalizes this teaching: "The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil."

4. The concept of limited good is usually mentioned when looking at the generally negative view of the New Testament toward those with wealth. Say there are only twenty apples in a room and each of twenty students each have one at the beginning of class. But then say at the end of class only one student leaves with twenty apples. In that case it is quite clear that the one student's gain is the other students' loss.

This is the idea of limited good or what we might call a "zero-sum" game. If there is a scarcity of resources in the world and one person has excess, then someone else by implication will be in need. In that case, the hoarding of wealth directly implies the deprivation of someone else. This is largely the economic perspective in play during the time of the New Testament. [1]

And there is a great deal of truth to this model, especially in Palestine. The ordinary person worked hard to produce just enough to subsist. Then the nature of Roman rule siphoned off the top layer in taxes. No wonder those involved with the collection of taxes were usually viewed negatively. Meanwhile, those who collected created wealth for themselves by unjustly adding on to those who had already added on.

5. The book of Acts presents us a model of an ideal community where "All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need." This was not a forced communalism. In Acts 5 Ananias and Sapphira are not condemned for not giving all of their money. They are condemned for trying to lie to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:4).

Nevertheless, Acts does idealize a community where its members sell their excess possessions and contribute them to those who are in need (e.g., Acts 4:34). "Everything they owned was in common" (4:32). We see this emphasis of the Jerusalem community when Paul visited James and Peter in Galatians 2:10. James exhorts Paul to remember the poor, presumably of Jerusalem, as he goes about the world on his missionary journeys.

Many would draw a connection between this concern and the offering that Paul collected and brought back for the Jerusalem church. We can see from 1 Corinthians 16 and 2 Corinthians 8-9 that this offering was of great significance for Paul. He may even have seen it as the fulfillment of prophecy, the bringing of the wealth of the nations into Israel (e.g., Isa. 61:6).

And Paul's churches did probably have some individuals of some resource. For Gaius to host the whole church of Corinth, he must have had a large house (cf. Rom. 16:23). Similarly, it is unlikely that Erastus could be the city's treasurer unless he was a man of some means. You can still see a paving stone in Corinth that he may have funded. Lydia was a merchant of purple, an expensive dye. Paul himself was a Roman citizen, suggesting he was a man of some social status.

So Paul's philosophy of abundance seems a little different from Luke's. In 2 Corinthians 8-9, Paul suggests that some of us will have abundance at some points, and some of us at some times will be in need. Paul teaches that it is fitting for those who have abundance at one point in time to help those who are in need at that point. Then when fortunes reverse, those who received on that occasion can help those who are now in need.

Paul puts it this way. "You know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich… I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need [in the future]” (2 Cor. 8:9, 13-14). In other words, it is important for those who have extra now to help those who are in need now. Then when the situation is reversed, they will reciprocate.

Interestingly, Paul does not consider such giving a matter of force. "The one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Cor. 9:6-7). The idea of tithing was not part of Paul's mission (Mal. 3:8-10). [2] Rather, there was a general principle that those with abundance should help those in need.

4. John Wesley perhaps captures the spirit of Scripture when he suggested the following maxim: "Earn all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can."

First, "earn all you can." There are individuals who are gifted at multiplying resources. [3] The Parable of the Talents points to such individuals (e.g., Matt. 25:14-20). God does not ask those who have such gifts to hide them in the ground. It should be obvious of course that this ability must be exercised in love. It would be sinful for such a person to make money in a way that is harmful to others or that abuses others in the process. The Bible has nothing good to say about such individuals.

By "save all you can," Wesley did not mean to hoard resources. He meant to be frugal. Do not be extravagant in the money you spend on passing material possessions or the treasures of this world. Eat to live rather than living to eat. Why waste God's resources on expensive things when you can have enough and give the extra to God's mission and those in need?

Here it is important to recognize again that everything we have belongs to God. We are stewards of his possessions. Will we take God's possessions and selflishly waste them on earthly pleasures? God loves us. There is a time for feasting and celebration (e.g., Luke 15:32). Even Jesus let the woman anoint his feet with costly perfume (Mark 14:7).

But "give all you can." When God blesses a person with abundance, we have an obligation before God to help others who are truly in need. The New Testament has nothing positive to say about those who hoard their abundance. The person who has material possessions and ignores those who are in need is a murderer, 1 John 3:15-17 implies.

Jesus sums up the situation: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God" (Mark 10:25). The problem is not the abundance itself but the selfish human tendency to hoard our resources and to lavish abundance on ourselves. The Bible views such hoarding of wealth as a sin against God and our neighbor.

Next week: ET20: The economic structures of society can be more or less loving.

[1] Bruce Malina, The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, ***).

[2] Tithing was not part of Christian tradition until the turn of the twentieth century, when American churches adopted the Old Testament tithing model in order to stay financially afloat. See William Kostlevy, Holy Jumpers: Evangelicals and Radicals in Progressive Era America (Oxford: Oxford University, 2010), ***.

[3] Those communities in history that went entirely communal and abandoned the normal means of subsisting have often found themselves in dire economic straits later on. If they had simply committed to giving away all their excess rather than the means of subsistence themselves, they might have lasted much longer.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

From Big Bang to Dark Energy

I finished a MOOC for the first time. I've started several but this was the first one I finished. It was a four weeker with Hatoshi Murayama through the University of Tokyo, called "From the Big Bang to Dark Energy." He is a phenomenal teacher.

1. There has been massive movement in the field of cosmology in the last twenty years. We've seen the rise of the concepts of "dark matter" and "dark energy." Something that correlates well with the Higgs boson has been discovered. Gravitational waves have been detected. There seem to be a number of projects in motion. Much seems in flux in the field.

[Now for the Christian disclaimer. Even physicists are in flux here--the room is hardly painted, let alone dry. Meanwhile, I have never seen anything contradictory between the idea that the universe began with a bang and the belief in creation. Indeed, there is much in the current scenario that would do well with a Designer. The theological issue with evolution primarily has to do with Adam, not the age of the universe. In short, I neither consider this course correct, nor do I find anything in it that contradicts the Bible or orthodox faith.]

2. The image above a standard picture of the big bang hypothesis. We can see everything since the "afterglow" of cosmic radiation release by pointing our telescopes out into the galaxy. The most natural explanation for what we see in the sky is the following:
  • Given the speed of light and various mathematical and scientific tricks, the most natural explanation is that, when we look up at the stars, we are looking into the distant past. If Andromeda is 2.5 million light years away (the next closest galaxy), then the universe must be at least 2.5 million years old in order for the light to reach us. 
  • Sure, God could have created the light in mid-stream. Sure, the stars could be an angel kindergarten project painted onto a wall just outside our solar system (with Voyager 1 soon to smash into the wall). But since there's no need for us to worry about taking the universe as it seems to be, we probably shouldn't worry about it.
  • In 1964, a couple of radio astronomers accidentally discovered cosmic background radiation (CMB). It is everywhere you point a radioscope into the universe. It is the "Afterglow Light Pattern" in the image above. Cosmologists currently date it to 380,000 years after the Big Bang.
  • Again, as a Christian I have found this gold and am puzzled by those who think the Big Bang is hostile to the Bible or Christian faith. CMB suggests that the universe had a beginning, which plays directly into the cosmological argument for the existence of God. If the universe began, we can plausibly ask, what caused it?
Fluctuations in CMB (blue wrinkles in the second image) have been part of the puzzle that cosmologists are trying to solve as they try to theorize back behind the 380,000 year mark.

2. CMB is said to reflect a point when the universe had cooled enough for electrons and protons to combine ("recombination") to form neutral hydrogen atoms. Before that point, photons of light were absorbed by a kind of hydrogen plasma with a temperature exceeding about 3000 degrees Kelvin. But when the universe had cooled down enough, these photons were "decoupled" and burst free all over the universe.

Since then, allegedly some 13.8 billion years ago, the photons have been spreading everywhere, but steadily diminishing in frequency because of the red shift of the Doppler effect. They are thus currently in the microwave range.

The fact that this radiation points to about the same temperature everywhere in the universe at about the same point in the past suggests that the vast expanse of the universe we now see, some 13.8 billion light years across, was originally all together. Einstein's relativity suggests that space would contract to a point in relation to an infinitely massive object.

Meanwhile, the fact that everything in the universe is red-shifted suggests that everything in the universe is moving away from everything else in the universe. Sure, there could be some other explanation. But right now, given the evidence, the most plausible suggestion is that the universe exploded from a point and space itself has been expanding ever since.

[Again, there were plenty of scientists in the 1950s that hated this big bang idea because it fit with the idea that the universe had a beginning, which is amenable to a God interpretation. The steady state theory was what was popular (constant generation of matter). And the Roman Catholic priest Georges L'Maitre who suggested a big bang was scorned by morons like Fred Hoyle.]

3. We then enter a dark period. Hydrogen clouds wander as space itself continues to expand. Over the next half billion years, gravity clumps them to form stars. Once stars begin to form, we can see again as we look out into space at the distant past.

In the dense centers of stars, hydrogen fuses into helium and some lithium. For the next 8 billion years or so, stars burn, burn out and explode, then collapse to form second and then third generation stars. Galaxies are formed around black holes, which are the remnants of particularly dense stars after they burn out. Galaxies cluster.

With each each generation of star, heavier and heavier elements are formed by fusion. About 4.5 billion years ago, our own sun--perhaps a third generation star--reformed with eight larger rocks and countless smaller ones in tow. Its third rock was in just the right place for life as we know it.

4. The most recent measurements suggest that the universe is not only expanding, but that its rate of expansion is increasing. If so, it is unlikely that the universe will ever collapse back into a ball (a "big crunch"), such as those who suggested an "oscillating big bang" used to suggest. [a theory that also potentially by-passed a creator, since then the universe might simply be an unending cycle of explosions]

The current thought is that instead the universe is heading for a "big rip," where its rate of expansion will eventually rip every atom of the universe apart. To try to explain why the universe is expanding, cosmologists have suggested an unknown energy, which is currently being called "dark energy" because no one has actually detected it. But it is thought to constitute about 73% of all the mass and energy of the universe, in order to make the math work. We'll see.
4. Theories that push back before CMB do so in part on the basis of our understanding of how nuclear particles work. Nuclear particle accelerators crash particles into each other in search of these sorts of relationships.

So from about 3 minutes after creation to the suggested creation of neutral atoms about 380,000 years later, you have hydrogen and helium nuclei in a soup of plasma. All light is absorbed. Some call this the "photon epoch."

5. At some point, I may review Stephen Weinberg's classic work, The First Three Minutes (2nd ed). The problem is that I'm sure it is hugely out of date. It was first written in 1979 and updated in 1993.

The epoch from about 10-10 seconds to three minutes after creation is a period sometimes called the "lepton epoch." During this period, with a temperature of about 1015 to 1012 degrees Kelvin, protons and neutrons are formed out of quarks. In Murayama's approach, dark matter is formed.

Dark matter is thought to make up about 25% of the universe. It is called dark matter because it is unknown matter that has not been observed but seems necessary to explain what we see. For example, the stars at the edge of galaxies swirl at the same speed as stars near the centers. If galaxies exist in the middle of spheres of some unknown matter, that would explain this motion. It might also explain why there is an unevenness to the distribution of stars and galaxies throughout the universe.

6. The period from about 10-34 to 10-10 is sometimes called the "quark epoch." At the end of this era,
the recently "discovered" Higgs boson gets frozen into the universe at about a trillionth of a second, and the electromagnetic force is now distinguished from the weak nuclear force. Supersymmetry is broken and now time has an arrow. Entropy now points irrevocably toward the future.

Somewhere in here, Murayama thinks there was a grand annihilation of matter and antimatter, but perhaps because neutrinos can switch back and forth between neutrino and anti-neutrino, we ended up with a 2 in a billion excess of matter over antimatter. Thus, after most of these particles had become photons, enough matter remained to form the stars that now remain.

7. The period from about 10-43 to 10-34 is sometimes called the "grand unification epoch." During this period, the universe undergoes an inflation that increases its size by 1026 times in less than a trillionth of a second. At the end of this brief period, the electroweak and strong nuclear forces differentiate.

A by-product of this inflation is thought to be gravitational ripples. They have been claimed to be detected in the last year or so.

8. Before 10-43 seconds, we have a breakdown of our understanding of space time.

9. "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."

Seminary PL8: Thinking Missionally

This is the eighth post in the Pastoral Leadership part of my Seminary in a Nutshell series. The first six were:
1. The last four posts have been about strategic planning. The typical process begins by clarifying the mission of your church in a way that leads to a sense of vision for its immediate future. Often the core values of the church or organization are also clarified before the church sets specific goals to work toward. Thus far we have been looking at the first two steps--clarifying mission and setting vision.

In this post and the next, I want to mention two key factors a church should take into account when working through this process. Again, many will intuitively connect these dots, but it is worth mentioning them explicitly. The first has to do with the divine opportunities of your church's context. The second has to do with the specific strengths of your church and ministry. Today's post is about the missional opportunities of your church's context.

2. One of the "books" of this Seminary in a Nutshell series has to do with mission. In theory, that entire topic would come into play in strategic planning. For example, one post in that series will have to do with demographics--what do the people who surround your church look like? While there are plenty of churches where the people drive in from some distance, there is something peculiar about a church that has no connection with its immediate environment.

The key to thinking missionally is to think about what God is doing rather than what your church or ministry wants to do. God is on a mission to reconcile the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:18-20), and the church is his agent in the world to bring it about. While we may talk about "our" mission, we are really about God's mission.

A key question in strategic planning is thus, "What is God already doing here?" What is God already doing in our community to reconcile it to himself? What is God already doing in our church? The missional question is, "How can our church join God in the mission that he is already doing here?"

What does our community look like? What are the greatest needs of our community? What people groups are not being reached in our community? What tools does our church already have that we can use to good effect?

3. It is unlikely that your church can do everything or reach everyone. Certainly you do not want anyone to feel unwelcome. Certainly you must not exclude anyone from the reach of your mission. Certainly there is no aspect of being in the kingdom that you want to leave completely out.

But focus multiplies the effort. A well known pastor in my denomination was once convicted that his church was almost completely Caucasian while his community was incredibly diverse. To put it in missional terms, he realized that his church was not participating in the mission of God in the community to which it belonged. He engaged in a mission to see his church look more like his community.

Then, as the congregation had increasingly come to look like the community, he made sure that the leadership of the church began to look like the community as well. Finally, he himself turned over the senior leadership and transitioned to another ministry.

In the city where I live, there are dozens and dozens of churches. Different churches serve different groups of people. There is a "college church." It certainly wants to reach everyone it can, but it simply is not as likely to minister to "blue collar" individuals in the city. Yet there is another growing church that does an incredible job ministering to that cross section of the city.

We are not arguing for complacency here. We are not arguing that a church segregate itself. There are great dangers in a church "excusing" itself from groups that should be its primary mission. So the college church I mentioned has worked hard to minister to the community immediately to its north, which tends to be quite different than the college community immediately to its south.

So there is a tension here. The mission of God in your church's community may not look like your church currently looks. That should tug on the church's conscience, and it should strongly consider strategic goals to change that fact. Yet a church cannot do everything and should focus its ministry. And you can't minister to anyone if you destroy the church trying to change it.

There thus has to be a balance. Is it worth splitting a church over the mission? If those that leave are weeds rather than wheat, maybe it is (Matt. 13:24-30). But God cares for the souls of those who might leave too, and sometimes it is the leader who is in the wrong, not the objectors. There is a time for the pastor to "wipe the dust off her feet" and move on too (Matt. 10:14). Or it may be time to wait, to continue to minister faithfully until a window opens for movement. Or there may be opportunity to work more subtly, creating a parallel ministry that can be integrated later.

It is also a fact of human nature that people cohere the most when they consider themselves part of the same group on the same mission (a slightly reworked version of the so called "homogeneous principle"). The pastor who integrated his congregation led his congregation to own the vision of a church that looked like its community. Although the church is now diverse, they still see themselves as a single church with a common identity and vision.

4. The bottom line of this post is that a church and its leadership should think missionally as they formulate their vision, while also taking into account the realities of their situation. The mission of your church, if it is legitimate, will always be a subset of God's mission. What is God doing in your community and how can your church get on board? This should be the primary question, not "What do we want to do?" or "Who do we want to be?" Rather, the question is what God wants to do with your church.

How might God use your church as part of his mission for your community? How might God use your church to minister to those already part of its congregation? How might God use your church to minister to the world?

Next Week: Pastor as Leader 9: Evaluating Strengths

Friday, May 13, 2016

Friday Science: Does time have an arrow?

It's time for another chapter in Brian Greene's, The Fabric of the Cosmos.

My first five summaries were:

a. Overview
b. Spinning Space Buckets
c. Relativity and the Absolute
d. Particles Separated at Birth
e. Does time flow?

1. My apologies to Dr. Greene, but I found this chapter very annoying. The basic flow of the chapter is clear enough: 1) All the king's horses and all the king's men can't put Humpty Dumpty together again because of entropy, 2) The math however would suggest that it is just as likely that Humpty Dumpty was splattered thirty minutes ago and did get back together again, 3) But, no, the universe doesn't work this way when you consider that the overall entropy of the universe has steadily decreased since the Big Bang.

It was somewhere in #2 that I stalled. I couldn't figure out where he was headed with it. I stopped reading for about a week. :-) My apologies.

2. "Entropy is a measure of the amount of disorder in a physical system" (154). It is the tendency of events toward a multiplicity of possible variations rather than toward a smaller number of variations. There are lots of possible combinations of splattered egg. There are not as many ways for an intact egg to hold together. Many possible variations is called high entropy. A lower number of variations is low entropy. "Physical systems tend to evolve toward states of higher entropy" (155).

3. He spends several pages in the middle of the chapter arguing that it is theoretically just as likely that a glass with ice in it was a glass with dissolved water in it thirty minutes ago. There are some graphs and I believe him. But we readers probably don't know enough to understand why, so the fact that he eventually comes back to reaffirm what we all believe--ice cubes don't form out of standing drinks on their own accord--was annoying to me.

4. In the end, he suggests that the factor of gravity in the early universe somehow implies that the crunched universe of the Big Bang was in a lower state of entropy than today. He argues that, in fact, the entropy of the universe has been steadily and continuously increasing since the very beginning, even if evolution and all sorts of other incidences of order have taken place.

So he's going to suggest why in future chapters. It's like a teaser. :-)

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Gen Eds Series: P1. Philosophy Overview

School of Athens, by Raphael
Last week I started a series, "The Gen Eds in a Nutshell." The first subject in the series of ten general education topics is philosophy. So for the next few weeks, I will slowly be summarizing the primary take-aways a person should have if they have taken a college (or high school) class in philosophy.

1. It is traditional to say that philosophy is the pursuit of wisdom, but this definition isn't really that helpful. It's vague and doesn't really tell you anything. Philosophy is the exploration of all the ultimate questions. What is real? What is true? What is right?

Philosophy is the ultimate "meta" discipline. It stands alongside all other disciplines and asks what they are doing. Philosophy of science asks what science is really about. Philosophy of the person asks what people really are and what psychology is really about. Philosophy of history asks what history is really about. Philosophy of art asks what art and beauty are? Social and political philosophy ask what the best ways are for humans to live together. Philosophy of religion asks what God and religion are really about.

2. The following ten posts overview these topics in philosophy as an introduction to this entire series on a general education and the liberal arts. We will pursue these topics in the following order:
  • philosophy of religion - Does God exist and how does he relate to the world? What is the meaning of life?
  • epistemology - How do I know that I know what I think I know? (what is true)
  • logic - What does good thinking look like? (critical thinking)
  • metaphysics - What is real?
  • philosophy of science - How do we go about discovering truths about the world?
  • philosophy of the person - What is a human being?
  • ethics - What is right? What is valuable? How should we be and live as individuals in the world?
  • social and political philosophy - How can people best live together in the world?
  • philosophy of history - Does history have a direction? How do humans go about telling their stories? How do those stories relate to "what really happened"?
  • philosophy of art - What is beautiful? What is art?
Let philosophy begin.

Next Week: Philosophy 2: Does God exist and act in the world?

Monday, May 09, 2016

2.2 Magnetism

This is the second week of Module 2 of the Navy Basic Electricity and Electronics series. Last week was:

2.1 Electromotive Force

The key points of the section on magnetism are:
  • In the 1970s, the chief way of making electricity was to use mechanical energy to create electrical energy through magnetism (as opposed to batteries, which converts chemical energy into electrical energy). It probably still is.
  • We think of a magnet creating a magnetic field with lines of magnetic force around it. If you pour iron fillings around a magnet, you can see the lines of force (see diagram below).
  • Another name for lines of force is lines of flux.
  • The section presents six basic rules of magnetism. The first is that magnetic lines of force always form closed loops.
  • Another rule is that magnetic lines of force pass through all kinds of material.
  • A third is that they always try to form the smallest loops possible.
  • Magnetic lines of force have a polarity. They leave the north pole of a magnet and return into the south pole. (Inside the magnet, they move from south the north, much as with batteries.)
  • They enter and leave the magnetic poles at right angles, perpendicular.
  • Like magnetic polarity repels, unlike attracts. So a north pole is attracted to a south pole, but repelled by another north pole.
  • The measure of a magnetic field is its flux density.
  • Some materials are more attracted by magnets than others. Magnetic materials distort the more usual form of a magnetic field.
Next week: Electromagnetic Induction

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Seminary PL7: Vision Statements

This is the seventh post in the Pastoral Leadership stretch of my Seminary in a Nutshell series. The

first six were:
1. Let's say that the whole church has come together for a brainstorm. What is our mission? Perhaps the pastor began the process with a sermon on the mission of the Church. Or perhaps there were two meetings, at the first of which the pastor made a presentation on the mission of the Church. Perhaps the pastor had someone else give that presentation to secure buy-in, someone the church deeply respects. Maybe the pastor even asked a key informal or formal influencer give a presentation on the history of that local church.

The goal is not to manipulate the congregation but for everyone to own the process and the goals of strategic planning, the church moving forward on the mission of God. The goal is to get buy-in and to minimize frivolous opposition to what is a significant and meaningful process leading to a good and important goal.

Then let's say that a strategic planning committee has formulated a mission statement that has gone through the appropriate channels and has been adopted. Perhaps it went to the church board and they were given time to weigh in before voting on it. Or perhaps they were given time to give feedback prior to a vote of the whole congregation. Perhaps the church as a whole was given time to put in feedback. Then let's say finally that the church as a whole adopted the mission statement.

2. By the end of this whole process of strategic planning, you want the church or organization to have a clear sense of what goals it is moving toward. Often associated with this process is a vision statement and a statement of the church's core values. [1]

A statement of vision is often thought to follow next. Perhaps. If the pastor or the strategic planning team has a clear vision, then it is appropriate to introduce it after the church or organization has agreed on the mission. The vision has to do with the next five to ten years, where does the leader or leadership team want to see the church or organization go. Aubrey Malphurs has emphasized that a vision statement is about seeing where the church is going. [2]

At other times, there may not be a clear vision for the future. In that case, the church may want to spend some time reflecting on what its core values are, which can clarify a sense of direction. Similarly, a church may want to do a self-evaluation, such as a "SWOT analysis," to identify its greatest strengths. These also provide a natural sense of direction.

In the next post, we will talk about the idea of God's mission. The idea of a church being missional prioritizes what God is doing in your community and getting on board with his mission. Before you set a vision for your church, you might take some time to identify what the needs of your community are and what God is already doing to meet them.

It is common to think that the vision for your church will come as a mandate from God. [3] You may think that you need to "pray down" the vision God has specifically for your church. Certainly prayer should be involved in this whole process. Perhaps God does have a specific path he wants your church to take. We used to speak of getting a "burden" for someone or something. This is a strong sense of concern that draws you in a certain direction.

But God does not plan everything for us. Sometimes he works together with and even inside our wills. If a pastor or leadership team has a peace about a certain vision, move forward with it, even if there is not a overwhelming sense of urgency and "tugging." On the other hand, if there is a "check," a gut feeling of reservation, you might spend a little longer in prayer. [4]

3. A vision statement can be fairly succinct, like the mission statement, or it can be a little more involved. The previous president of my university had a vision for Indiana Wesleyan University to become a premier university. The current president adopted a vision statement that simply says, "Indiana Wesleyan University: A truly great Christian university serving the world." Can you see it? It is where we are moving. We want to be a truly great Christian university.

Of course both of these dicta are somewhat undefined. That's where the specific strategic goals that follow come in. My home church, College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana, has three components to its vision. It wants to transform its community, develop leaders, and resource the church. The former president of Indiana Wesleyan University used to summarize the vision of Wesley Seminary as to provide "practical, accessible, and affordable" ministerial education.

4. A vision statement is meant to motivate and communicate general direction. Malphurs defines a vision statement in this way: A vision is a clear, challenging picture of the future of the ministry, as you believe that it can and must be. [5]

What is it that your church really wants to focus on in the next ten years?

Next Week: Pastor as Leader 8: Thinking Missionally

[1] It is probably worth reiterating that the process we are unfolding here--mission, vision, core values, goal-setting--particularly suits a particular, methodical personality. Churches have personalities and pastors have personalities. Many churches and pastors, however, have intuitive personalities. It is possible that a church or organization has an assumed mission, vision, and set of core values on which pretty much everyone agrees.

In such cases, this slow, methodical process may seem like a waste of time to many. In such cases, it might be more efficient simply to focus on what the primary goals of the church or ministry should be for the next five years, short-cutting months of time in the process. Or, in such cases, the pastor or leadership team might simply submit a mission, vision, and core values statement with which they are fairly certain the church will agree.

[2] Aubrey Malphurs, Advanced Strategic Planning: A 21st Century Model for Church and Ministry Leaders, 3rd ed (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2013), 132.

[3] E.g., Andy Stanley, Visioneering: God's Blueprint for Developing and Maintaining Vision (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 1999), 14, says, "You were tailor-made, carefully crafted, minutely detailed for a selected divine agenda." This is not the perspective of my tradition, the Wesleyan tradition, which believes that God empowers us to cooperate in the planning.

[4] It is wonderful when everyone feels the same way about a course of direction. There are times, however, when most feel good about movement forward and there is still one or two in leadership who do not want to move forward. The leader will have to weigh and carefully evaluate this situation. Are you wanting to press ahead for personal reasons or is this really a case where you need to agree to disagree and continue to move forward?

[5] Malphurs, Strategic Planning, 134.

Friday, May 06, 2016

First Seminary DMIN cohort starts!

The first Wesley Seminary DMin cohort is now up and running with Bob Whitesel. It's a three year series of courses in Leadership, with a fourth year to do an individualized project.

Bob was built for this sort of thing and it is amazing the schedule he has put together. Next year, Lenny Luchetti is up with a Preaching DMin!

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Master's courses for the Fall!

The Holy Spirit, Karl Barth, and the Minor Prophets walk into a semester...

These are all courses you can take onsite at IWU in the new master's degree offered by the School of Theology and Ministry.

Here's the Fall schedule for our new Master of Practical Theology degree, a two year degree that spends the first year on campus and the second in an internship in a local church. It is designed especially for the person just graduating from college who wants a smooth transition into ministry. At the end of the degree, you'll have a degree that you can then use later as a stepping stone into a PhD or DMin program.

Fall Courses (2016)
  • Minor Prophets (Brian Bernius)
  • Hermeneutics for Ministry (Abson Joseph)
  • Pneumatology (John Drury)
  • Karl Barth (John Drury)
  • Formation in Ministry Practice (Dave Ward)
  • Practical Theology of Ministry (Amanda Drury)
Spring Courses (2017)
  • Corinthians and Thessalonians 
  • Biblical Theology 
  • Theology of John Wesley
  • Ecclesiology
  • Strategic Pastoral Counseling
  • Christian Education of Children's Families
  • Formation in Ministry Practice
This week, the first class of students in the program are doing a crash course with Constance Cherry on worship. Then Eddy Shigley will launch them out of Marion and into local churches for their internship year. Everyone in the program is significantly scholarshiped!

Again, this is a GREAT way to transition from college to ministry, with some of our students headed off this summer to everywhere from 12Stone Church to Australia. Come join us!

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Wednesday Gen Eds

I want to start a series on Wednesdays something like my series I do on Saturdays. My Saturday series is "Seminary in a Nutshell," and I am going through a seminary curriculum over the course of perhaps several years. Today I want to start a series called, "Gen Eds in a Nutshell."

1. Most colleges and universities, indeed, pretty much all high school curricula, cover what we might call "general education" topics. Colleges often consider most of these topics to be something called the "liberal arts." The term is an old one and one that does not always communicate well, not least because of the connotation that the word liberal has.

The "liberal arts" are the liberating arts. [1] That is to say, education presents possible options on various topics that might not have occurred to a person previously. In that sense, a people becomes "freer" to make their minds up because they have more information and know more of the previous discussion experts have had on those topics.

When we only know one option, we are a slave to that option. We cannot possibly pick another one because we do not know any other options. A good education opens up new possibilities and brings a critical eye on existing ones. Ideally, this process creates greater freedom for our thinking. We become liberated from past blind spots.

Of course there is a very important caveat here. You may know the saying, "The more you know the less you know." Socrates (470-399BC) is reported to have said at his trial that true wisdom is to know that you really know nothing. [2] In some respects, education is as much about "unlearning" as it is learning. That is to say, education tends to reveal that there are rarely easy answers. If you think the answer is always obvious, you are probably missing something.

2. Plato, an ancient Greek philosopher, told a story that has come to be known as the "Myth of the Cave." [3] In the story, some people are chained in a cave in such a way that they can only see shadows of people walking in front of the cave entrance. Because all they can see are the shadows, they assume the shadows are the reality.

Then one of them gets free and comes to realize that the reality is not the shadows but the figures in the light outside the cave. Having reached this Enlightenment, he returns to those who are still chained and shares with them. In response, they kill him.

While this story relates strongly to Plato's philosophy of what is real and how we can best apprehend it, the story has also come to symbolize the quest for knowledge. [4] There is an enlightenment that can take place with education. Indeed, Socrates' statement that "The unexamined life is not worth living" is often quoted. [5] Whether the statement is too extreme is a topic for another time, but he suggests that knowledge is virtuous for its own sake. A reflective life is arguably a more meaningful life than one in which we only eat and drink our way through life until we finally die.

A group known as existentialists in the twentieth century suggested that we do not really have a life until we make some choices about who we want to be. Our bodies may exist, but we have no identity until we decide who we are. [6] Albert Camus put it another way. The only serious philosophical question is "Why not suicide?" [7] This is perhaps another way to look at Socrates' statement on the unexamined life. If we have never reflected on the meaning of our lives, are we really living? What reason do we have to live?

Of course these questions take on added significance in a Christian context. There is a sense in which a Christian might say that a person does not fully existence until he or she has found their ultimate identity in God. As Augustine said in the late 300s, "You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you." [8]

3. In the series that follows, I propose to summarize in a nutshell some of the most important insights that one should receive from a "gen ed" education, whether in high school or at a university. Indiana has helpfully created an agreement between most of its colleges that 30 credit hours of such general education will be a package that can be exchanged from one to another. So if you do these 30 hours at IWU, you have potentially fulfilled all your gen eds for IU, Purdue, or Ball State.

What will follow is thus ten "courses," a series of posts on each subject. The intention is to capture, in a nutshell, the main learning that a roundly educated person would have after a solid liberal arts education. The courses are:
  • Philosophy
  • World History
  • World Culture and Language
  • World Literature
  • World Art and Music
  • Sociology
  • Psychology
  • Written and Spoken Communication
  • Basic Mathematical Skills
  • Basic Scientific Knowledge
Let the liberal arts begin!

Next Week: Philosophy 1: Philosophy Overview

[1] The original sense was that the liberal arts were the kind of education worthy of a free citizen in Athens. My redefinition is more appropriate for our modern context. In the history of education, the liberal arts are classically discussed in terms of the "trivium" and "quadrivium" of the Middle Ages. The trivium laid the foundation of education for a free person in grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Then the quadrivium formed a second story build upon it that was more mathematical: arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music.

[2] Plato's Apology.

[3] In Plato's Republic.

[4] Since Socrates was put to death by the Athenians, there is also the allusion to Socrates' death as a martyr for philosophy.

[5] Also in Plato's Apology.

[6] Jean Paul Sartre, "Existence precedes essence."

[7] The Myth of Sysiphus.

[8] Augustine's Confessions.