Tag Archives: philosophy

Here’s what three Reformed / Calvinist scholars say about the variety of views within Christianity


If anything gives me a bit of hope for evangelicals and Calvinists and self-identified Reformed folks, it’s this kind of honest, clear-headed assessment from three leading scholars:

…Most of our theories of the world — philosophical, commonsensical, or even scientific — are underdetermined by the evidence that supports them. They are consistent with the facts, but the facts are not so compelling that their competitors can be shown to be logically inconsistent with the facts. When two such theories are in competition, no appeal to evidence, therefore, could determine the winner.

Biblical interpretations and theological statements are underdetermined by the biblical data. Scripture is a mix of history, myth, poetry, moral instruction, praise, hyperbole, prophecy, and so forth. Sorting through this array of genres requires some sort of hermeneutical [interpretive] method. The inerrancy or infallibility of Scripture are of themselves incapable of delivering God’s truth. Without a hermeneutical method, the inerrant or infallible biblical data cannot communicate truth claims…..

Underdetermination may account for the apparent intractability of theological disputes…. Theologians on both sides of these disputes believe their doctrines to be the only adequate explanation of the biblical data. However, if their competitors also adequately account for all of the biblical data, no appeal to the evidence could resolve the dispute.

Those are excerpts from the entry entitled “Underdetermination” in 101 Key Terms in Philosophy and Their Importance for Theology (Westminster John Knox, 2004) by Kelly James Clark and James K.A. Smith of Calvin College (at least at the time of the book’s release) and Richard Lints of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (ditto).

Reading this assessment from top-notch scholars helped me exhale. Of course, I imagine Clark, Smith, and Lints have strongly held points of view, and I don’t think they’re saying all systematic interpretations are equal. Then again, they seem to be saying the available data does not lend itself strictly to one point of view.

I’m especially appreciative of the authors’ definition of “Underdetermination” and, as I’ve noted previously, “Aesthetics.”

God and meaning on Twitter — a snapshot


Zombies take over philosophy departments!


Based on a survey of approximately 1,000 professional philosophers in 99 philosophy departments of North America, Europe, and Australasia:

ZOMBIES

Conceivable but not metaphysically possible: 36 percent

Metaphysically possible: 23 percent

Inconceivable: 16 percent

Other: 25 percent

The “other” is taxing my imagination.

Source: David Chalmers and David Bourget, “What Do Philosophers Believe?,” Philosophical Studies, quoted in The Philosophers’ Magazine, 1st Quarter 2014

‘still frantically concerned…to keep thought separate from the exigencies of the flesh’


quotation by Steven Shaviro from tiredshoes.tumblr.com

from tiredshoes.tumblr.com

Compare what Shaviro says with the information on Pietro Torrigiani’s marble bust “Christ the Savior.” Consider physicality and materiality, and wonder about the default modes of anti-materiality and anti-physicality within Western culture and sub-cultures.

Living well is not a gift from God (but the ability to live well is): Seneca on God & wisdom


I should start with three quick notes on Seneca’s relevance in Christian history because some background will give reasons for considering his writings as relevant to thinking about God.

First, a general assessment of Seneca’s point of view in relation to Christianity:

His [Seneca’s] writings represent Stoicism at its best and have been much studied by Christian apologists for the similarities as well as the contrasts of their moral teaching with the Gospel ethic.  — The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church

Second, John Calvin’s interest in Seneca:

In 1532 he [John Calvin] issued a Latin commentary on Seneca’s ‘De Clementia’. — The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church

And third, a translator’s note on Seneca’s importance to four Christian thinkers:

While scholars and schoolmasters in the century following continued to condemn Seneca, early Christians were taking to this kindred spirit among pagan writers, so many of who ideas and attitudes they felt able to adopt and share. Anthologies were made of him and he was frequently quoted by such writers as Jerome, Lactantius and Augustine. Tertullian called him saepe noster, ‘often one of us’.  — Robin Campbell, in the introduction to his translation of Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic

Furthermore, as Campbell also notes, Dante frequently quotes Seneca.

So, as I was recently reading Seneca’s Letter XC, I came across something that helped me think about what God does and what God doesn’t do for humans.

In a way, the following passage sounds like an overview of the biblical book of Proverbs.

From Seneca’s Letter XC, as translated by Campbell:

“Who can doubt, my dear Lucilius, that life is the gift of the immortal gods, but that living well is the gift of philosophy? A corollary of this would be the certain conclusion that our debt to philosophy is greater than the debt we owe to the gods (by just so much as a good life is more of a blessing than, simply, life) had it not been for the fact that philosophy itself was something borrowed by the gods. They have given no one the present of a knowledge of philosophy, but everyone the means of acquiring it. For if they had made philosophy a blessing, given to all and sundry, if we were born in a state of moral enlightenment, wisdom would have been deprived of the best thing about her — that she isn’t one of the things which fortune either gives us or doesn’t. As things are, there is about wisdom a nobility and magnificence in the fact that she doesn’t just fall to a person’s lot, that each man owes her to his own efforts, that one doesn’t go to anyone other than oneself to find her. What would have have worth looking up to in philosophy if she were handed out free?

“Philosophy has the single task of discovering the truth about the divine and human worlds. The religious conscience, the sense of duty, justice and all the rest of the close-knit, interdependent ‘company of virtues’, never leave her side. Philosophy has taught men to worship what is divine, to love what is human, telling us that with the gods belong authority, and among human beings fellowship.”

My takeaway:

Life is a gift from God. Living well is a gift of philosophy. Philosophy is also a gift from God, and philosophy has taught us to worship “what is divine.” But living well is not a gift from God. We must engage philosophy to learn how to live well.

The Penguin Classics edition of Letters from a Stoic, selected, introduced, and translated by Robin Campbell

“Letters from a Stoic” by Seneca, translated by Robin Campbell

Context for the humanities: quotations recently discovered inside a book


AAAAA Quotations AAA

Perception Is Prediction


Colin Foote Burch:

I think the following look at perception has everything to do with several areas of our daily lives: relationships, work, management, leadership, psychological insight, creativity, fine arts, and many more.

Originally posted on darth adorno:

Here are four features of perception to consider:

1. Perception is transactional: perceptions can only be studied in terms of the transactions in which they can be observed.   There is no separate, divisible event of perception; the act of perception occurs within transactions between humans and humans, humans and objects and objects and humans.  Context is everything.

2. Perception is rooted in a personal behavioral center: perceiving is always done by a particular person from her own unique position in space and time and with her own combination of experiences, needs and set of transactions.  For example what does the perceiver want or need from the perceived event?  Perception is rooted in desire.

3. Perception is an externalization: each of us, through perceiving, creates a psychological environment which we believe exists independent of the experience.

4. Perception is more about controlling the environment than taking in sense stimuli.  Perception is most…

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Can you rest in skepticism? Nope. Kant.


“Skepticism is a resting place for human reason, where it can reflect on its dogmatic wanderings. But it is no dwelling place for permanent settlement. Simply to acquiesce in skepticism can never suffice to overcome the restlessness of reason.”  – Immanuel Kant  (h/t to Fide Dubitandum)

My journey through alternative values


T.J. Maxx was unsettling. I wasn’t shopping. I was traveling through an alternative universe of value, or through too many alternatives to previously held values. The store provides a place to buy good stuff at low prices, yet each appealing price tag is attached to an unappealing reality about the product: “This used to be considered really valuable. It wasn’t.”

This T.S. Sullivant cartoon, entitled "No Doubt," was published in Life magazine on September 29, 1898.  This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.

This T.S. Sullivant cartoon, entitled “No Doubt,” was published in Life magazine on September 29, 1898. This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.

Kill the mystery!


“The Cartesian only recognizes or is satisfied with the existence of rational systems, and so he both denies and aims to eradicate all that is unsystematic. The Cartesian defines the human being as two systems, mind and body, both impersonally rational but with no connection to each other. The Cartesian modern philosopher incoherently both denies the reality of and aims to eradicate the disorder of the being with language. He tends not to come to terms with, much less attempt to account for, the reality of human alienation. He will not acknowledge that man is a stranger in the cosmos.” — Peter Augustine Lawler, in Postmodernism Rightly Understood: The Return to Realism in American Thought