Not qualified

Posted on August 20, 2010
Filed Under Theological | Comments Off on Not qualified

That’s it. R. C. Sproul is officially not a philosopher. He continues to demonstrate an inability to understand what other people are saying just because he doesn’t agree with it.

In Sproul’s rendition, Immanuel Kant taught that knowledge comes from experiences and experiences come through our senses, so that our knowledge is limited by what our senses are capable of. (I am trying to summarize the noumenal and the phenomenal; forgive my hack job.) This is the modern philosophy almost universally agrees on; the reality we talk about can only be the reality that we perceive, and all of our perceptions are subject to mistakes and errors. Therefore what we say about reality we can never say universally or absolutely, since we cannot perceive universally or absolutely.

Now Kant, according to Sproul, did not at all mean that universals or absolutes cannot exist, but that when we talk about them we must go beyond reason, that is, beyond our perceiving, thinking, and concluding. With respect to God, his existence, while real, cannot be observed through anything natural–eyes, ears, brains–if he exists as a supernatural God.

Sproul said that this contradicted the writing of the apostle Paul. (Any time someone tells you that something is simple they are probably trying to force you to accept some unjustified connections; Sproul his disagreement with Kant was a simple matter of believing the Bible.) According to Sproul, Paul (and, he says, Thomas Aquinas) teach that the supernatural God is revealed through the natural. To quote, “His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead.”

But Sproul is confusing the results with the methods. I do not deny that God is evident to all, and revealed in his own creation. But is this by logic? Do you hear the sun? Do you see the voices on the other side of the wall? Is the knowledge of God coming to us by the power of our brains?

Kant, and post-modern, relativist philosophers who have built on him, make valid critiques of human knowing. Everything that a man knows of himself comes through his senses, which are not reliable; everything that he concludes depends upon his understanding, which is not complete. Therefore man, from his own intelligence, cannot make conclusions that are absolute and true. Amen.

This does not mean that nothing is absolute and true. It does not mean that man cannot know of things that are absolute and true. It only means that if man has such knowledge, he has not got it by his own powers.

Reason requires predicates. To say “That is a car,” you must first have some idea of what a car is. We look at the Mt. Rushmore and say “Man must have done that” because of our predicate knowledge of what man can do and what can be found where man has done nothing. But what of the mountain itself–not its shaping, but the mass itself? We do not conclude that man put the mountain there so he could shape it. We reject out of hand that man had anything to do with getting the mountain there, and only conclude that he shaped it.

There are other rocks that are shaped in such a way that we think a man must have shaped them, but none did. Our conclusions can be false.

In the last year or so I have had several christian philosophers trying to convince me (via recording) of how thoroughly rational my faith is: Del Tackett, Jason Lisle, and now R. C. Sproul. They all generally seem to say such things as this: When we see a mountain we know that God must have made it. We know it was not made by a man. It could have been made by some other thing (say an extra-terrestrial alien), but then something had to make that other thing.

We have this assumption that everything has a cause because we currently see everything having a cause. The entire universe is in motion–it is, in fact, “going downhill”, and it can’t just spontaneously go up, so it must have started higher up on the “hill.” And if it just suddenly appeared there with a big bang, the question becomes: what happened to all the other bangs? The little tiny ones and the medium sized ones and all of that? If an entire cosmos can bang into existence, smaller things should be banging away all the time. (There is some evidence of this with subatomic particles, but it leaves the question of the medium-sized ones open.)

So the great conundrum is this: either the universe is not entirely consistent, because it began with a great big irregular bang but has continued in a regular fashion after that, with no more banging, or else there was something else that caused the bang. You could call that God, and you could say that something else cause him or it, but then that would be God. You could say that everything is going in some kind of cosmic circle, so when it winds down it goes bang all over again; but once more, that is not consistent with how everything we observe now works. Any one particular thing or system of things is winding down and requires outside power to re-set it.

So: the consistency of the universe was set in place by something that is not consistent with the universe.

The Christians are telling me that this is rational proof of God. But it isn’t. I agree that it is proof of God but it is not rational; there is no logical requirement to call it God nor indeed any rational basis to say anything about it. Conclusions require predicates; “That is a car” means that you know what a car looks like ahead of time. “That is God’s doing” means that you know ahead of time what God’s doing looks like.

Classically, it goes like this:

All men are mortal.
Socrates is a man.
Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

We already know what a man is and we already know what mortal means, so we can understand the original argument. If we didn’t know any of those things ahead of time we would have to reduce our argument down to the basics, like this:


Not much of an argument, is it? If we have to start with the basics then we really can’t reason at all. So the Christian philosophers are saying that,

Everything in the universe has a cause.
Only God can cause the whole universe.
Therefore, the whole universe is caused by God.

But first we have to know what the universe is (which we only know through our faulty senses) and what God is. Otherwise, our argument is just


And so it must be. Immanuel Kant and the post-modernists and relativists and sinners and liberals (in descending order of vileness, of course) are all right to say that man cannot know anything universally or absolutely or rationally, and least of all God.

The Christians are still right to say that there are absolute truths and we can know them in a meaningful way and we can learn about God using reason. It just can’t start with reason; it can’t start with man.

God is not rationally consistent. He is consistent in himself, yes, but in talking about the origin of the universe we have already figured out that it is not consistent. It was not; it was. That’s not consistency. God does not fit inside of reason, even though reason fits inside of God. If you have got those Russian dolls that stack up inside each other, God is the biggest one and reason is a smaller one.

So it is not correct to say that Immanuel Kant is contradicting the Apostle Paul. He may have meant to, but saying that God is not deductible by the human mind is not necessarily the same as saying that God is not known. You don’t hear the sun, but you still know of it. God is revealed in his creation, but not altogether by your brains. It requires your spiritual organ to see him; which you have; you cannot excuse yourself by saying that your brains could not deduce God.

Slices of Brain

Posted on August 20, 2010
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“This card was declined.” He said it quietly, professionally, his tone a mixture of sympathy and inquiry, inquiry to suggest the face-saving possibility that there was some mistake and sympathy because we both know there wasn’t. It’s not the first time I’ve heard this.

I have never been truly financially straightened, but from some muddled circumstances I was not perceptive of as they transpired I have gotten credit far below my means and have passed the meager limits on certain cards. I’ve overdrawn my checking; I’ve missed bill payments. I don’t think of myself as being one of those people; in principle I believe in paying bills in full, on time, from my savings. I have the savings. I don’t scheme to pay bills as late as possible. But I don’t behave the way I believe.

I tried to pay for my routine dental work using my credit-debit card (underwritten by a major credit agency, provided by a bank, arranged by a health care company contracted by my employer) but the card was declined. The card I am supposed to be using now was sitting on my desk in the envelop–activation not permitted when the card actually arrived, and thus set aside for later.

Meanwhile, I also got a form letter from a previous health care provider, contracted by the same employer, inquiring about a check not cashed that was written out to me two years ago. I definitely remember cashing a check of that value, but as far as my records show I had two claims for the same value within six months, and only one deposit. I can’t find any checks amidst my layers of accumulated paperwork, but all I have to do is agree with them that it is still owed.

I still feel like a shmuck for not knowing what is going on.

And that, hour by hour, day by day, is how I feel at my job. You fumble the glass and it tumbles toward the floor–alarm, dread, resignation, a desperate attempt. Telling yourself it doesn’t really matter. Getting angry anyway. The glass, at least, breaks quickly.

Sacrificing first principles for first priorities

Posted on August 3, 2010
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It’s happening. The enemy is getting in the back gate.

From the day I set foot out of my parent’s house I have been telling myself to remember my priorities in life; not to get caught up in things that don’t matter when they are over. Remember to do the things you be pleased that you did later, when the doing is only a memory. Remember that family comes first.

For a few years now I have been tempted with the opportunity to move several states away to get a better job. I could do something more interesting, work on something I enjoy with people who can help me, and get paid more money, with better chances of doing even better in the future. I have been eyeing that pasture through the fence but I have stayed away from the open gate.

Then earlier this year I faced the loss of my current job. They began plowing up my pasture with that gate still wide open into the green fields beyond. I held my ground. I turned them down. Family comes first.

In the meantime, I have been looking for other opportunities in this area. I have not been doing a robust professional job of searching, but I have felt like I ought to be. I told everyone else who was losing their job not to wait–find your next job now, before someone else gets it. I took the job search coaching right away, rather than delaying until my actual job termination. I rammed my way through some of the material.

I started thinking a little further out. If I get a different job and I don’t want it to be further from my family, there is a very good chance I won’t be able to live here any longer. If I move, the best place to get decent apartments is in town. I don’t enjoy living in town and there aren’t that many towns closer to my family–especially that I would want to live in. Out in the country side renting is mostly either meth dens or houses that the owner is not quite ready to be rid of yet. So if I get a new job there is at least a healthy possibility that I will want to get a house.

If I want to get a house then I will want a good credit score so I can get a good mortgage. Cheated out of my credit history by an innocent-sounding legal technicality, I would need to build up my credit score by keeping good standing on some kind of significant credit short of a home mortgage–like a car loan.

All of this may sound like proper planning to support my first priority. But I was a little sloppy earlier when I said that my first priority was family. It’s actually not. My first priority is following God. It sounds an awful cliche because it is usually gratuitous; most people don’t imagine that following God in any way conflicts with keeping family as your first priority. And may God grant that the two are not in outright antagonism! But it is amazing how often the one will put the other in a different light.

For some people, putting family first means working fourteen hour days for twenty years so that the family has everything they should have and the kids get all the education they can handle. But then the family has stuff and the kids have their education but there is no family left. Just stuff and education.

In fact for pretty much every person, being a Christian or an American or a good person from anywhere means planning ways to take care of your family. And this is not by itself wrong. But following God is not the same thing as giving God a business plan and expecting him to fund it, either. The first rule of following God is that God doesn’t follow rules. Not yours, anyway. Even if God does want you to take care of your family, that doesn’t mean you have to do whatever you were planning on doing.

If I really wanted to do the right thing to prepare for the future, I’d move away and earn loads of money and come back fabulously wealthy 40 years later and take care of everybody’s needs for good! Whoever is left, anyway.

Shirking my career is making me miserable. Nobody is going to go hungry if I don’t have a job on January 1, 2011. Even if they were that doesn’t mean I am doing the wrong things right now. So forget it. I may throw resumes at jobs that look interesting, but I won’t worry about the rest of the fuss and intrigue that is supposed to be part of scoring your next job.