Monday, February 1, 2016

Catching up with the Present in Presentist Time?

Presentists hold that only one time exists. Obviously, since there are no other times, this time is the only one that can be correctly referred to as "the present", absolutely speaking. Previous times, however - "the past" - do not exist or at least are not real times in the same sense as the present.

Now consider the scientific fact that it takes time to perceive things. It takes time for light to bounce off a surface and enter into my eye, or for the signals from any one or more of my senses to travel along my neural pathways and make their way to my brain. It likely takes time for my brain to process any kind of input prior to it even becoming conscious. What this means, then, is that what is perceived (or at least those particular conditions or slices of life of whatever objects are perceived) is always in the past relative to your perception of it.

So if the past is unreal as the presentist claims, the world you perceive is also not real and hence your perception is, in a sense, illusory since it presented as real and existing, the conditions of it presented as actually obtaining. The world you perceive has no real existence - your perceptions are of the ghosts of another world allowed to slip into the actual world, the present, and not of the actual world itself.

Perhaps you can try to infer what the real world is like from what is presented in experience, but this also takes time. Our perceptions and our mental faculties in general have difficulty in "keeping up" with what is real as everything we try to grasp is swept away into oblivion.

In the presentist's world, then, we are disconnected from reality in a much stronger way than one would have otherwise thought, contrary to many presentists' claims that presentism is somehow the "common sense" view (a claim I would reject for many reasons - see my dissertation, for example). A real past, however, one that exists and is fully actualized in the actual world we live in (and I think this actually fits common sense a bit better), renders our perceptions true, with us really perceiving and in touch with reality as it is and exists. Including what we see when we gaze out into the stars...

Monday, January 25, 2016

Some (Slightly Edited) Facebook Posts about Gay Marriage and Related Topics from Last Year

** In response to the Supreme Court's decision on gay marriage:

Okay, here's my rant-y, overly-long, and potentially incendiary post for the quarter (actually a cleverly disguised apology/call for love and understanding):

Thank you friends for being who you are. I'm proud to say that, given the recent Supreme Court judgment on gay marriage, Facebook pretty clearly shows I have friends on BOTH sides of the issue. This is a good thing (surrounding yourself only with those you agree with is not the best way to go about life). And frankly, you've all been, without any exceptions, extremely respectful and loving in every one of your posts on the subject, even when others may not be. Even the articles you share have been similar. On the one hand, you have been celebratory without being gloating or judging. On the other hand, you have been disappointed without being bitter or judging. Thank you for doing your part in making the internet and life in general a more respectful, friendlier, and generally more decent place for everyone.

In general, I get annoyed by debates over gay marriage or homosexuality in general. Not because I don't have an opinion on some matters (listen to my Cornerstone class on the Old Testament laws where I talk about biblical commands about sex) or that people don't agree with me but rather because of the tone and irrationality of the debate in most cases. Debates generally consist almost entirely in name calling, straw men, false analogies, condemnation for even making an analogy (without even considering the merits of the argument), begging the question, equivocation, ad hominems, genetic fallacies, etc.

On the debate over the legalization of gay marriage I just have a few points to make which, if taken seriously, would have at least as much chance as any in making things a bit more tolerable (though maybe not):

1) Just because someone supports the legalization of gay marriage does not mean they think it is morally permissible. You can think being a Jehovah's Witness is wrong, for instance, all the while thinking that people have a basic right to be a Jehovah's Witness. People can have rights to choose whether or not to do a bad thing.

2) Just because someone is against the legalization of gay marriage does not mean they think it is morally wrong. The majority of the legal and philosophical arguments against legalization do not depend in any way on the moral (or even religious) status of gay marriage. (Nor does anyone claim that gay marriage will harm their own personal marriage - that's a straw man) For instance, one argument is that marriage by definition excludes two persons of the same sex so that saying we should legalize same sex marriage would be akin to saying that we should legalize round squares. Whether the argument works or not, that has nothing to do with morality.

3) Similarly, just because someone thinks it's wrong doesn't mean they are against legalization and just because someone thinks it's morally permissible doesn't mean they think the law should recognize it. In other words, issues of legal rights and legal values are separate (though not always necessarily completely distinct from) issues of moral rightness and moral values. Just because it should be legal doesn't mean it's okay. Just because it shouldn't be doesn't mean it isn't. To repeat: these are distinct questions. How we relate the questions to each other will largely depend on the political and legal assumptions we adopt. It's not a matter of being a bigot or not, or being an approver of sin or not - it's about political and legal views, period. In general, Americans tend to confuse legal and moral values and jump to conclusions about one from a conviction about the other. "People should have the right to do X; it's none of your business if they do it, so mind your own business" quickly becomes "So doing X is okay"; and "Doing X is wrong" quickly becomes "We should outlaw X".

4) There's a distinction between what should or shouldn't be legal and what is or isn't constitutional. Someone can think the supreme court ruled correctly while also thinking that gay marriage should be illegal or think that it should be legal while thinking that the court ruled incorrectly. (A distinction that was lost on those who, simply because they thought it should be illegal, criticized Chief Justice Roberts for ruling in favor of "Obamacare")

5) The Bible does not explicitly and directly tell us which political and legal theories to adopt nor does it explicitly and directly speak about gay marriage, hence to say "the Bible says no to gay marriage", etc. is a bit misleading when we're talking about legal rights.

6) On the other hand, to say "The Bible says nothing about gay marriage" is also misleading since it does in fact (in my opinion) say direct things about homosexual acts and morality (note that I say "morality", not "legality"), which are topics obviously closely related to gay marriage.

Bottom line: As someone who has not chosen a specific political/legal reference point, I don't have a particular opinion on whether or not the Supreme Court made the right decision. I don't know - I haven't considered these reference points nor the arguments for and against gay marriage in enough detail to make an informed decision regarding legality. (I really can see both sides of the argument at the moment.) I make decisions based on warrant and right now I simply haven't acquired enough information. Some other people may have done this, but I haven't. I hope that's okay - it wasn't up to me to make the decision anyway. But let's be understanding of those who do not share our own views, whether of the legality or the morality of gay marriage. Let's listen and understand where they're coming from, WHY they hold the views they do, and let's see things from their point of view before we rush to condemn. Let's have empathy with others and drop the name calling, shaming, and judging. We're not enemies, we're family. We're people. Let's treat each other as such.

** In response to Kim Davis refusing to sign marriage licenses:

Not a popular opinion (feel free to disagree) - and I may be wrong about this - but I can't help but think regarding what's going on in Kentucky that recognizing that two people have met government requirements to enter into a government contract, regardless of whether entering into such a contract is sinful or unwise or otherwise inadvisable (and the clerk in question apparently has no problem recognizing other contracts she disagrees with), is in no way an endorsement or moral acceptance of such a contract. I'm a very strong supporter of religious liberty, but I don't think religious liberty has much of anything to do with what's going on here. That's just my initial reaction, though.

** In response to this bit of silliness:

Oy. Sorry, short rant: While I agree that Davis isn't doing the right thing here, I have to object to the way Huffington Post is trying to argue for that position. This is the sort of article you see again and again (not necessarily about this case, but in general), and it's really annoying since it completely ignores how biblical hermeneutics (the interpretation and application of the Bible) even works. The majority of these jobs are not "banned by the Bible". For one thing, most of the out-of-context quotes don't even match the job description given. Not eating pork, for instance, doesn't have much to do with selling other people pork (though if the former is wrong, one could argue the latter would be as well, but that doesn't follow automatically). For another, even if they did, it still wouldn't be relevant since lists like this ignore the fact that there are biblical and theological reasons why Christians follow some laws strictly and literally today and others not so much. Articles like this try to make it seem arbitrary, silly, and a case of picking and choosing. While many Christians might not be aware of the exact reasons WHY some laws are followed more strictly than others, that does not mean that there are no good reasons. This is precisely one of the many reasons why I did the Old Testament laws class I did, so people would understand biblically how to interpret these laws and how they are supposed to be applied today. Other than the psychic advisor or maybe the gossip columnist (which is kind of a scummy job to do anyway), I don't see how any of these would be a violation of biblical principles.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Bibliography: Second Half of 2015

A bibliography similar to the previous one. This one covers July-December 2015. Again, it's not necessarily complete and contains only whole books, not articles or primarily reference works. I'm also trying to only include books that are newish - i.e., not on the previous couple lists. (Childrens' books also not included!) Starred books are ones I consider particularly outstanding, interesting, important, or otherwise likable.

Nonfiction

Bruce, F.F., The Defense of the Gospel in the New Testament.
*Dulles, Avery Cardinal, A History of Apologetics.
Edgar, William and K. Scott Oliphint, eds., Christian Apologetics Past and Present: A Primary Source Reader, Volume 1, to 1500.
Edgar, William and K. Scott Oliphint, eds., Christian Apologetics Past and Present: A Primary Source Reader, Volume 2, from 1500.
Enns, Peter, Ecclesiastes.
Fox, Michael, A Time to Tear Down and a Time to Build Up: A Rereading of Ecclesiastes.
Marcel, Pierre, The Christian Philosophy of Herman Dooyeweerd: I. The Transcendental Critique of Theoretical Thought.
*Pascal, Blaise, The Mind on Fire: An Anthology of the Writings of Blaise Pascal.
*Walton, John (with a contribution from N.T. Wright), The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate.

Fiction

McNeill, Graham, Nightbringer.

The Horus Heresy series:
The Imperial Truth.
Cybernetica: Mars Must be Purged. 
Nemesis: War within the Shadows.
The First Heretic: Fall to Chaos.
Aurelian: The Eye Stares Back.
Prospero Burns: The Wolves Unleashed.
Age of Darkness.
Various short stories. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Bibliography: First Half of 2015

A bibliography similar to the previous one. This one covers January-June 2015. Again, it's not necessarily complete and contains only whole books, not articles or primarily reference works. I'm also trying to only include books that are newish - i.e., not on the previous couple lists. (Childrens' books also not included!) Starred books are ones I consider particularly outstanding, interesting, important, or otherwise likable.

Bergman, Murray, and Rea, eds., Divine Evil?: The Moral Character of the God of Abraham.
Copan, Paul, and Matthew Flanagan, Did God Really Command Genocide?: Coming to Terms with the Justice of God.
*Copan, Paul, Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God.
*Douglas, Mary, Leviticus as Literature.
Feder, Yitzhak, Blood Expiation in Hittite and Biblical Ritual: Origins, Context and Meaning.
Gundry, Stanley, and Charles Halton, eds., Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither?: Three Views on the Bible's Earliest Chapters.
*Wright, Christopher, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God.
Wright, David, The Disposal of Impurity: Elimination Rites in the Bible and in Hittite and Mesopotamian Literature.

Fiction
The Horus Heresy series:
Fallen Angels
A Thousand Sons

A Song of Ice and Fire:  

A Feast for Crows
A Dance with Dragons  

Friday, January 2, 2015

Bibliography: Second Half of 2014

A bibliography similar to the previous one. This one covers July-December 2014. Again, it's not necessarily complete and contains only whole books, not articles or primarily reference works. I'm also trying to only include books that are newish - i.e., not on the previous couple lists. (Childrens' books also not included!) Starred books are ones I consider particularly outstanding, interesting, important, or otherwise likable.

Follis, Bryan, Truth With Love: The Apologetics of Francis Schaeffer.
Kuyper, Abraham, Principles of Sacred Theology.
Oliphint, K. Scott, Covenantal Apologetics: Principles and Practice in Defense of the Faith.
Schaeffer, Francis, The God Who Is There.
Schaeffer, Francis, Escape from Reason.
Schaeffer, Francis, He Is There and He Is Not Silent.
Schaeffer, Francis, How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture.
Schaeffer, Francis, A Christian Manifesto.
Warfield, B.B., Biblical and Theological Studies.

Fiction
The Horus Heresy series:  
Horus Rising 
False Gods 
Galaxy in Flames 
The Flight of the Eisenstein 
Fulgrim 
Descent of Angels 
Legion
Battle for the Abyss
Mechanicum
Tales of Heresy

A Song of Ice and Fire:  
A Clash of Kings 
A Storm of Swords 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Bibliography: First Half of 2014

A bibliography similar to the previous one. This one covers January-June 2014. Again, it's not necessarily complete and contains only whole books, not articles or primarily reference works. I'm also trying to only include books that are newish - i.e., not on the previous couple lists. (Childrens' books also not included!) Starred books are ones I consider particularly outstanding, interesting, important, or otherwise likable.
 
Bahnsen, Greg, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith.
Bahnsen, Greg, Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended.
Bockmuehl, Markus, The Epistle to the Philippians. BNTC.
Clark, Gordon H., Religion, Reason and Revelation.
Clark, Gordon H., Three Types of Religious Philosophy.
Clark, Gordon H., An Introduction to Christian Philosophy.
*Fee, Gordon, Paul's Letter to the Philippians. NICNT.
*Frame, John, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God.
Frame, John, Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction.
*Frame, John, Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought.
Gundry, S., M. Barrett, and A. Caneday, eds., Four Views on the Historical Adam.
*O'Brien, Peter T., The Epistle to the Philippians: A Commentary on the Greek Text. NIGTC.
Oliphint, K. Scott, Reasons for Faith: Philosophy in the Service of Theology.
Oliphint, K. Scott and Lane G. Tipton, eds., Revelation and Reason: New Essays in Reformed Apologetics.
Osborne, Ronald, Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering.
Thielman, Frank, Philippians. NIVAC.
Thompson, Alan, The Acts of the Risen Lord: Luke's Account of God's Unfolding Plan.
Van Til, Cornelius, Christian Theistic Ethics.
Van Til, Cornelius, The Defense of the Faith, Fourth Edition.
Van Til, Cornelius, An Introduction to Systematic Theology: Prolegomena and the Doctrines of Revelation, Scripture, and God, Second Edition.
Van Til, Cornelius, Christian Apologetics, Second Edition.
Wright, N.T., Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Vaccination is NOT a "Personal Decision"

I have seen many times recently where someone posts an article, a comment, or whatever about how vaccination of children is the moral thing to do and then all sorts of people chime in with bad science and bad reasoning.  It drives me crazy and, frankly, makes me a bit angry at all the innocent people, especially kids, who will get horrible diseases as a result of the perpetuation of this latest bit of American gullibility, scientific ignorance and anti-intellectualism.  (So apologies if this post comes across more strongly worded than usual) But what irks me the most (well, one of the things at least) is when people trivialize or dismiss the issue by saying things like "it's a personal decision" or "every family must decide for themselves", etc. 

Now, let's back up for a second.  There are five basic groups (here's where I'll probably get in trouble!) of which I think most anti-vaccine folks fall into at least one (often more): 1) Charlatans; 2) quacks; 3) people with poor reasoning skills; 4) people who, as a result of poor reasoning skills (thus making this a subset of 3), think that faith in God is incompatible with modern medicine; 5) people who have been deceived by any or all of the above.  It's really a very similar phenomena to snake oil, superstitions, and all manner of popularly spread falsehoods that have polluted society from its very beginning.  It's really all in the same boat.

So when people say the sorts of things I listed at the end of the first paragraph, I can't stand it. Seriously, it's only a personal decision in the same sense in which it is a personal decision whether to fire a gun into a crowded room is a personal decision.  And every family must decide for themselves, yes, but in the same sense in which every family must decide for themselves whether to commit murder (thankfully, most choose not to).  These attempts to sidestep the issue or ward off the ethical duties associated with it are perilously close to a lapse into utter ethical or even factual relativism - the whole vaccine thing might be true for you, but not for me! Such attempts make it seem like it's a matter of taste whether we ought to vaccinate or how safe vaccines are, rather than a matter of objective fact.  They make it seem like the issue is unclear in some way or that reasonable people, reasoning well, with the same facts available, would disagree with each other.  But, of course, none of that is remotely true.  Nor is it true that it is strictly personal, since the effects of such decisions affect others and society as a whole.

I think it is telling that the issue is often spoken of in terms of "my beliefs" or "personal beliefs" and other language usually reserved for matters of taste, "philosophies of life", or weakly-held religious convictions, as opposed to the language of scientific fact, evidence, or objective ethical realities.  The latter kind of language is appropriate here, not the former.  Yet I think the former actually does capture how this opposition to vaccines actually functions in many people, even though it shouldn't.  It is a quasi-religious belief held dogmatically and immune to actual evidence or reasoning (and not based on any good evidence or reasoning and certainly anti-scientific authority).  Whereas I think religious beliefs can in fact be justified, being responsive to evidence and reasons, and, if true, can have adequate epistemic grounding, this anti-vaccine position does not have the benefit of being a central node in a foundational world view or being even supposedly divinely revealed. Whereas religious beliefs, for instance, can at least make claims to divine authority, anti-vaccine positions do not have anything close going for them - there is no real claim to authority here and hence no reason to treat it in the way it gets treated by its proponents.

Ultimately, there should not be "sides" as to whether most children should be vaccinated - any more than there should be sides over whether we should let toddlers play alone in a pool with a live handgrenade and a family of water moccasins.  And, what's more, these "sides" matter - lives, health, and economy are all on the line here - but people do not think properly about them; they do not actually look at the evidence objectively and without resorting to logical fallacy.  People should stop merely "feeling strongly" about the issue and start thinking strongly (and, more importantly, thinking well).  Perhaps critical thinking classes or classes on scientific reasoning would be useful, assuming people would pay attention or actually absorb what they were taught.  At the end of the day, I would make vaccinations mandatory for everyone for whom there was no special health risk associated with them.  That way, people can be ignorant, deluded, and so on all they want without it hurting others. But then, that's why, in America, I'd probably never be elected for office in the first place!