Archive for January, 2011

January 19th, 2011

The Art of Persuasion – Philosophy and Debate

by Max Andrews

Guest Blog Post by Josh Beaty

The Art of Persuasion:  A Brief Application of Communication Theory Towards an Understanding of Debate

Communication has been systematically studied since antiquity (Clevenger, Jr., 1991)  but it became an especially important topic in the twentieth century.   W. Barnett Pearce describes this development as a “revolutionary discovery,” largely caused by the rise of communication technologies (such as social media, television, satellites, etc.) along with industrialization, big business and global politics. (Pearce as Cited in Littlejohn, 2008).  We live in a world of intentional interpersonal influence on a daily basis.  People, in general, look for ways to counter arguments or stand for a personal position in the wake of personal, corporate, academic, and spiritual life.  It is important to remember that communication is a vital factor in processing philosophical topics.  Therefore, it is my belief that a thorough understanding of communication studies can aid in the development of a philosopher.  As a result one may ask, “How can I take charge and stand up for my position(s) I am developing as a philosopher?”.

Communication theory has many different explanations for one seeking an understanding of their communication style and understanding the process of persuasion.  For the contributing blog entry I will briefly illustrate two examples of communication theory in action for a potential debate that a philosopher may find oneself in.

ELM

For example, Petty and Cacioppo’s Elaboration Likelihood Model posits that “message elaboration is the central route of persuasion that produces major positive attitude change.  It occurs when unbiased listeners are motivated and able to scrutinize arguments that they consider strong.  Message irrelevant factors hold sway on the peripheral path, a more common route that produces fragile shifts in attitude” (Griffin, 2006).  In light of this explanation I would assume that philosophers, in general, are rather attuned to a way of thinking and not totally unbiased as rhetoric and philosophy are part of a “humanistic” approach in communication studies, whereas a scholar who quantitatively measures variables for objective explanations of human phenomena slants towards a more unbiased approach into research and inquiry.

Social Justice

In other instances, a philosopher may find oneself in a debate and contemplate whether or not the opponent will ever be persuaded to understand their argument.  In context of this dilemma, I believe Sherif’s Social Judgement Theory can be applied as it suggests that “the larger the discrepancy between a speaker’s position and a listener’s point of view, the greater the change in attitude – as long as the message is within the hearer’s latitude of acceptance.  High ego-involvement usually indicates a wide latitude of rejection.  Messages that fall there may have a boomerang effect” (Griffin, 2006).

It may make more sense as to why you never are able to get a specific point across to another individual to join you in your respective position in any philosophical topic.  Sometimes the latitude of acceptance is just not in range.  This could be due to a sense of personal conviction, moral upbringing, political ideology, spiritual beliefs, and so forth. These beliefs/attitudes are difficult to change.  My advice to those who desire to persuade another is to make small steps toward attitude change.  Someone once told me a few years ago that “persuasion does not happen during debate and heated argument- it happens when one is all alone, laying in bed, reflecting and thinking about the world around them.”  Bring a structured, well-rounded argument, and you will be on your way to effective persuasion.  However, remember: persuasion is an artful process and it is not always guaranteed.

_____________

Griffin, E. (2006). A first look at communication theory.  McGraw Hill: Boston.
Littlejohn, S. W., & Foss, K. A. (2008).  Theories of Human Communication.  Thomson Wadsworth: USA.

 

 

Guest Blog Post by Josh Beaty

www.joshbeaty.com

Bachelor of Science in Communication Studies: Speech Communication, Liberty University 2010

Master of Arts in Organizational & Interpersonal Communication, Liberty University 2011

Research Interests: Rhetorical Theory & Criticism, Conflict Theory & Resolution, Computer-Mediated Communication, Social Media Marketing, Interpersonal Communication

 

January 15th, 2011

Science and Sola Scriptura

by Max Andrews

Our understanding and interpretation of nature has a significant presuppositional role in hermeneutics.  The most prevalent role I find science to hold in a biblical hermeneutic is how we recognize what a miracle is.  Natural laws are based on induction, we see the universe behave in a regular pattern that is predictable.  These laws are descriptive and not prescriptive.

We understand that given the chemical make-up of water its chemical structure cannot change to wine by natural means in the manner in which the miracle at Cana is described.  It has never been observed that a once living organism dies and comes back to life.  That would be contrary to what is predictable by these laws and by empirical experience.  I don’t want to suggest that miracles are a violation physical law either.  I would define a miracle as:  A divine intervention into, or interruption of, the regular course of the world that produces a purposeful but unusual event that would not have occurred otherwise (see The Problem of Miracles for more).

My point with hermeneutics is that we should not use sola scriptura for epistemic purposes.  The Bible is not a science textbook, though it is consistent with issues of science it does touch (see Article XII of the Chicago Statement).  Scripture isn’t our only revelation and we must, and do, rely on the reliability of natural revelation as well (i.e. biology, chemistry, cosmology, human reason, moral intuition, and other records of nature).  Sola sciprtura suggests that the Bible alone is the final authority on matters it addresses.  There’s more science in your exegesis then you probably realize.  Science isn’t an enemy.

January 13th, 2011

A Probability So Small It’s Impossible

by Max Andrews

I was listening to William Lane Craig’s most recent podcast (Existence of God Part 15) on design and fine-tuning and I recently had William Dembski’s The Design Inference given to me as a gift by a friend (I know, I’m embarrassed I didn’t already own the book).  Craig spoke of Dembski’s local and universal small probability calculations and I wanted to make this information available here.[1] The question is at what probability is the probability so small that it could be considered impossible?

1080 x 1045 x 1025 = 10150

The unit 1080 is a number representing the number of elementary particles in the universe.  Elementary particles are believed to have no substructure, this would include:  quarks, leptons, and bosons.

The unit 1045 is measured in hertz, which represents alterations in the states of matter per second.  The properties of matter are such that transitions from one physical state to another cannot occur at a rate faster than 1045 times per second.  This universal bound on transitions between physical states is based on the Planck time, which constitutes the smallest physically meaningful unit of time.

The unit 1025 is in seconds.  This is a generous, upper bound on the number of seconds that the universe can maintain its integrity [before expanding forever or collapsing back in on itself in a “big crunch”].  This number is according to the Standard Model (the big bang).

The product, 10150, is the total number of state changes that all the elementary particles in the universe can undergo throughout its duration.  Compare this number to Oxford physicist Roger Penrose’s calculation that the odds of the special low entropy condition having occurred by chance in the absence of any constraining principles is at least one in 1010^123.  In other words, that’s how many different ways the universe could appear from it’s initial conditions.  To understand how large of a number 1010^123 is, take away the exponents and try writing out the number.  If you were to write a one and put a zero on every elementary particle in our universe you could then write out 1080, which only makes up an incredibly tiny portion of Penrose’s probability (twice for Dembski’s universal probability).


[1] For all this information see William Dembski, The Design Inference (New York:  Cambridge, 1998), 203-214.

January 12th, 2011

The Absurdity of Life

by Max Andrews

Divine teleology is what gives the universe meaning, value, and purpose.  I recently wrote a paper titled:  The Absurdity of Life and Reconciliation by Divine Telos. I’ll skip to the end of the paper so you know my conclusion on the role of teleology.  Notice the role of death.

The two divisions of absurdism and teleology are, by all evidence, binding.  If God does not exist then man lives in Bertrand Russell’s world of scaffolding despair.  Man is merely the product of pointless cause and effects with no prevision of the ends being achieved.  All the labors of the age, devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vase death of the solar system.  Man’s achievements are destined to be buried in the debris of the universe.  Only within the scaffolding of these [teleological] truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.[1]

If there is no God to provide meaning, value, and purpose, the only consistent option for humanity is suicide.[2] Any becoming of life-affirming or life-denying acts are illusory.  Absolutely nothing can be a positive or negative act for the individual since there is nothing to determine a differentiation.  One is forced to face Nietzsche’s abyss and face the reality that no rope can scale the depth of nothingness.  One is only left with despair, guilt, and angst.  If one can determine that despair, guilt, and angst are not preferred then his only option is to eliminate such emotions and thoughts.  If there is no God, the only remedy for absurdism is to participate in Nietzsche’s abyss of nothingness:  suicide.

[1] Bertrand Russell, Mysticism and Logic (New York:  Barnes & Noble, 1917), 47-48.

[2] Here is where Sartre, Camus, and others disagree.  Because of absurdity, man’s only option is to choose suicide.  Death is the only means by which it can be overcome.  In a Christian context, God recognizes that death is the only way to overcome man’s absurdity.  The means by which God provides teleology is by means of death.  God becomes incarnate and overcomes absurdity by means of his own death, which may be imputed to humanity.  Here we find a paradox.  In order for there to be a genuine sense of teleology and becoming there must be death.  There must be death to bring about life, a life of becoming, relationships, and of teleological existence.

January 12th, 2011

What Keeps Me Going

by Max Andrews

I’ve recently experienced love from so many people and I wanted to list a few things that sustain me:

  1. Encouragement:  When you’re not encouraged you begin to notice how much you take it for granted.  I remember one summer when I experienced no encouragement at all and it was the first time I ever noticed it.  For someone else to see your fruit of your labor, to see your work, to see that you even exist (you’ll understand this if you read Dostoevsky’s Notes From the Underground).
  2. Desire/Passion:  I have a desire to discover the truth and to use that truth for whatever purpose it has in and of itself.  This is not an arbitrary goal I have, I believe it’s a divinely instilled telos for my life.  If you’re not passionate about something you’ll have no incentive and apathy will plague your mind and heart.
  3. Intellectual Substance:  During times of doubt, confusion, despair, depression, and those times of apathy you have something to back up your faith.  Sometimes I feel weak in my faith, yet my faith has a foundation for truth and reason.  My intellectual endeavors have had practical implications on my life.  The more I know God and discover who he is the greater our relationship with each other becomes.  It’s the same with any other relationship with a friend our spouse, the more you know them the greater love you have for each other.  God already knows me more than I know myself, I now have an eternity to discover more of him.
  4. Worship:  Worship isn’t belittling yourself to make God seem bigger, it’s realizing your place in this universe and in the heart of God and then responding to that.  I’d encourage you to have a realistic understanding of your rebellion against God, past and present, and then try to understand God’s relentless pursuit for you.  Consider who you were before you were saved.  God gave you the breath to blaspheme his very name, your eyes to see the things that have made him weep for you, the heart and mind to devise evil and carry out your evil.  God gave you that breath to share knowledge of him to others, your eyes to see his works, and your heart and mind that you may respond to him with a renewed mind and repentant, passionate heart for him.  Just think about how he overcame all of this to make you new (and his current pursuit to make you holier).
  5. Prayer:  This is incredibly profound, yet it’s probably my weakest spiritual discipline.  Try not communicating anything to a loved one for a while and see what that does to your relationship.  Now apply that to your relationship to God.  Profound…
  6. Teleology:  If God didn’t exist then I would have no objection meaning, purpose, or value.  I recently wrote a paper on teleology, consider my closing thoughts on the issue.
  7. Paradox:  I don’t know what it is but the paradoxes and mysteries of life, as depressing, frustrating, and annoying as they can be, have become integrated in every day living for me.  It’s my Romans 7 moments, my Solomon in Ecclesiastes moments, those moments where I’m reconciled by God after I chase after the wind.  Vanity of vanities, all is vanity without God.

Don’t be upset because I didn’t say “Jesus” as any of the points.  None of this would happen apart from the work of God.  These are merely parts of an aggregate of God’s work.  I hope this can initiate some reflection for you.

January 11th, 2011

Where Is That In Scripture?

by Max Andrews

I recently had an online exchange with someone who was arguing against middle knowledge.  He included statements like, “Supposedly Scripture teaches man has a free will” and, “That’s no where in Scripture.”  You’ll be surprised how much doctrine we believe to be true is not explicitly stated in Scripture.  Here are a few things that are not explicitly stated in Scripture that are commonly accepted doctrines:

  • The Trinity:  I believe God exists in a trinity of persons and I believe the Bible teaches the trinity but only implicitly.  You’re not going to find “trinity” or “three beings in one” anywhere in the Bible.
  • The Hypostatic Union:  There isn’t a clear articulation of the coherence of the hypostatic union in Scripture.  The Bible merely teaches what it was and that it happened.
  • Dispensationalism:  Find the Greek word for that, I dare you.  Hebrew will get you extra points, go.  (For the record, I wouldn’t consider myself a dispensationalist).
  • God’s Relationship to Time:  There are passages that discuss God and time, but no amount of exegesis will arrive you at a static or dynamic theory of time and which model ensues post the creative decree.  The Bible doesn’t say anything about general relativity and particle relations (Copenhagen suggests particles that move backwards in time).
  • The Logical Moments of God’s Knowledge:  You won’t find middle knowledge in an exegesis nor will you find an explication of natural and free knowledge either (free knowledge is a given, but that it relates to other moments).
  • Supralapsarianism/Infralapsarianism:  Count all the syllables and use those words at least once in a conversation today, you’ll look smart.
  • Monotheletism/Diotheletism:  Did Christ have one will or two wills? Hmm…
  • The Age of the Universe:  Scripture isn’t our only means of revelation, though it may be indicative.

My point is that our doctrine is coupled with reason and empirical evidence.  I believe sola scriptura as the Bible alone being the sole authority and final say concerning an issue.  We arrive at these truths through theological and philosophical reflection.  We use our natural revelation (record of nature and scientific inquiry) in conjunction with our special revelation, the two are not mutually exclusive.  We take so much for granted and lack an appreciation for the early church fathers who labored and debated so we may have an understanding of sound doctrine.  So, whenever you get into a discussion about an issue, please don’t ever say, “Just read the Bible,” or “Well, you don’t have a verse,” because if you resort to that odds are you’re losing ground and you don’t have an intelligent rebuttal.

January 10th, 2011

Bayes’s Theorem Applied to the Historicity of the Resurrection

by Max Andrews

I concluded that the probability the resurrection of Jesus happened lies within a 72% likelihood that it occurred.  I thought that was a bit low myself, my biggest interfering factor was the possibility of living in an open system multiverse.  I would like to see some more evaluation on the role and probabilities when open systems are considered as an objection to the resurrection.  An abstract from my [non-exhaustive] recent paper titled “An Application of Bayes’s Theorem to the Case for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus“:

Thomas Bayes’s theorem, in probability theory, is a rule for evaluating the conditional probability of two or more mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive events.  The conditional probability of an event is the probability of that event happening given that another event has already happened.[1] The theorem may be expressed as:

What the solution [P(h|e&k)] represents is the probability of the hypothesis in question is given the evidence and the background information.  The numerator [P(e|h&k) P(h|k)]  is the probability of the product of evidence and background knowledge and the background knowledge alone. The denominator [P(e|k)] is the probability of the event with the evidence alone.  Each factor involved is assigned a probability between 0 and 1 with 0 as impossible and 1 being completely certain.[2]

When this theorem is applied to the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus the hypothesis in question is that God raised Jesus from the dead.  The evidence for the resurrection will be Gary Habermas’ minimal facts approach.  The background knowledge will be commonly accepted dates, the actual existence and crucifixion Jesus, the roles other persons played in the crucifixion, and the method of inquiry.

[1] Patrick J. Hurley, Logic (Belmont, CA:  Thomson Wadsworth, 2008), 519.

[2] For an in-depth look at Bayes’ Theorem applied to arguments, particularly theistic arguments, see Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2004) 66-72.

January 9th, 2011

Non-Standard Semantics and Divine Command Theory

by Max Andrews

An abstract from my recent paper titled “A Critique of the Use of Non-Standard Semantics in the Arbitrariness Horn of Divine Command Theory“:

If divine command theory is to prove true, the God manifesting the commands must be an Anselmian God.  In Louise Antony’s example, “If DCT is correct, then the following counterfactual is true:  If God had commanded us to torture innocent children (τ), then it would have been morally right to do so.”[1] Antony is assuming the counterfactual, in the subjunctive mood, is a feasible circumstance for God to find himself in.  Thus, Cgτ ⊃ Mτ[2], the antecedent is necessarily false.  If something were necessarily false it would be nonsensical to derive any meaningful counterfactuals since it is counteressential to an Anselmian God… To separate the essential properties of God from the necessary truths derived from these essential properties would render an incoherent proposition.

[1] Louise Antony, “Atheism as Perfect Piety,” Goodness Without God, 71.

[2] M = Morally obligated to.  Assuming an Anselmian God in the proposition.

January 7th, 2011

Addicted to Sin – Neuroscience and Depravity

by Max Andrews

Craig Gross from xxxchurch.com recently put out a series of books and I’ve been reading one of them titled Pure Eyes.  There are a few sections in the book that discuss the physical effects of addiction.  They equate the use and addiction of pornography to drugs. The similarity between behavior seen in chemical addiction (alcohol, heroin, cocaine, and so on) and pornography addiction is so profound that it is likely that similar neurobiological changes occur in the brain (73-74).  Here’s a few things they found:

  • Exposure to rewards (pleasures) triggers a portion of the brain called the ventral tegmental area to release a surge of the neurochemical dopamine into three different areas of the brain:  the nucleus accuumbens, the prefrontal cortex, and the amygdala.
  • Dopamine release into the nucleus accumbens gives a feeling of ecstasy and exhilaration in the body.
  • Dopamine release into the prefrontal cortex, or the reasoning part of the brain, leads us to strengthen the behavioral circuits needed to pursue and obtain a certain reward.  In other words, the more we have exposed our brains to [whatever pleasure], the more we are going to continue pursuing [that pleasure] whether we want to or not.
  • Dopamine release into the amygdala leads us to remember–both consciously and unconsciously–the details of a situation related to a reward.  In other words, through continued use of the pleasure, our brains remember the details of the situations associated with acquiring and using the pleasure.  For instance, environment, being alone, feelings such as sorrow, frustration, or stress can trigger a deep desire to seek that pleasure independent of that pleasure’s presence.
  • Our brains become increasingly tolerant of dopamine levels so that for an addicted person to achieve the same dopamine high, increasingly novel forms of the pleasure become necessary.  In other words, you seek more of it and in different forms if possible. (74-75)

Gross and his source, biobehavioral scientist Dr. Ralph Koek from the David Geffen School of Medicine UCLA, get into more details about the chemical releases and effects in the book (please buy it).  My main concern is how does this relate to depravity?  Surely our sin is more than a biological defect, right?  I’m not suggesting that if we were to somehow knock out a certain gene or be able to manipulate the neuron and chemical releases we would be free of addiction and sin, quite the contrary.  Our brains are the most incredible machines in the universe.  Our hard-wiring is incredibly fine-tuned for the functions that God has intended.

I’m not a scientist, I’m a philosopher and this is how I see it.  There’s a question of the will and the biochemistry.  The will is the initiating cause and the biochemistry follows suit respective to the will.  Our depravity isn’t a physical curse by any means, it pollutes our very being, our immaterial self.

Why is it that we find so much pleasure in the worldly things?  Just imagine if our pleasures were founded in God and loving him and others.  Imagine the addiction then!  Have you ever heard of someone who was literally addicted to God?  They got so much pleasure from God that they were stimulated by environmental cues to need more of God.  Yet, we are so engrained in these worldly pleasures that our neuro-pathways have set their circuitry to need more worldliness.

Sin is more than a biochemical addiction.  It can’t be treated with drugs and no scientific advancement will cure it.  Paul talks about this very thing in Romans 7.  He knows that he is caught in contradictions, he loves God but yet he does what he doesn’t want to do.  The only cure for this is Jesus Christ.  Please watch this video on Romans 7.

January 5th, 2011

That Megalomaniac of a God

by Max Andrews

Interestingly, John Piper recently did a blog post on the same issue I’m writing on today but I’ll be looking at the issue from a different perspective.  I’ve been thinking about Paul Copan’s recent book Is God a Moral Monster (and here), though I haven’t read it, the main thesis to the book is important.

One of my favorite objections to the existence of God is an objection to the moral caliber of such a being.  A pop-atheist website, evilbible.com, is a good example. Richard Dawkins’ rant in The God Delusion will paint a nice picture of the problem,

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. (51)

Who can believe in a God like this?  Surely such a transcendent being is impossible, right?  Yes, such a transcendent being is impossible.  So is this a good argument for the atheist [or non-Christian]?  No, I don’t think it’s a good objection to the existence of God at all.  It’s misplaced, it’s really an objection to inerrancy.  Let’s refer back to Anselm, God is a maximally perfect being or the greatest conceivable being.  This would entail maximal ontological perfection.  The “megalomaniac objection” (what I prefer to call this) objects to God’s moral attributes (all things being equal, a lack of perfection).  If you drop inerrancy from one of the presuppositions of the objection then it implodes on itself because what the objector is referencing may indeed be false information, thus not an objection at all.

Now for those of us who hold to inerrancy, how do we respond?  If it comes up in a debate on the existence of God you need to explicate the objection’s misplacement.  It doesn’t belong in a discussion on the existence of God, it belongs in a discussion on inerrancy and that is an inter-Christian debate.  At that point you’ll need to have understanding of the Bible as a whole and the metanarrative (take that postmodernist, I used your word!) and construct a proper exegesis of the text.  So many times these objections are made by those who have a horrible exegesis in hand.