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January 1, 2016 / compassioninpolitics

Answering 9 Questions Atheists Might Find Insulting

Questions and inquiry generally serve both truth and science. They are pretty much the pre-conditions for allowing answers to emerge.

The nature of the debate seems bristled. Chill pill. Do you have experiences of overly aggressive Christian evangelists? I’m sorry. I’m sure they have the best of intentions.

Can the person with the perfect worldview please stand up? Everyone has limits on their worldview.
Thats why we proceed on faith.

Quality discussion does not proceed on the basis of overgeneralization. Religion has done some bad thins. But the specifics. Thats like saying high school students bombed–therefore I won’t go goto high school. Or the Nazis were from Germany–so I won’t go there.

This dialog has to proceed as cross-personal, we should not attempt to erect enourmous roadblocks in this conversation as “off limits”


I would suggest you check out some of the videos on Veritas Forum.

Well, the articles tone could probably do with some adjustments. Perhaps in the same way the caricature its replying to could use adjustments. It seems to suggest that critical exploration of the biggest questions of the universe should be off limits because of guilt by association. It assumes the motive of the person….without evidence. Discouraging dialog, listening, and understanding (or creating a bias against them) runs counter to the the project of education and debate. Are there any questions off limits to discussion and truth-finding in the court-room?

She outlines 9 questions in the article and then probably another 10 questions in the conclusion. Very few of those can you actually draw a line to bigotry or dehumanization. Her analysis fails to look at the issue of motive–an issue far, far, far more important than the a supposed and unproven connection to dehumanization or bigotry. Both sides should be more sensitive–less name calling and less trafficing in overgeneralization. The article perhaps should have been called “9 questions I don’t like to answer about faith and atheism.” Encouraging skeptics to have or experiencing anger or resentment doesn’t help further understanding, communication, or truth.

January 1, 2016 / compassioninpolitics

Richard Rohr on the Focus on Church Doctrine

“This consensus (both at the scholarly and experiential levels) is revealing that Jesus tended to emphasize very different things than present organized Christianity tends to emphasize. Present organized Christianity (in all denominations) tends to be preoccupied with things that Jesus never talked about ever, and sometimes even disagreed with.”

– Richard Rohr, Franciscan priest

December 14, 2015 / compassioninpolitics

Theodicty of Evil/Problem of Pain Bibliography

This is borrowed from Frame’s Syllabus on Christian Apologetics at Reformed Theological Seminary.  Used via education & fair use.
Overall it has a reformed flavor.
Adams, Jay. The Grand Demonstration: A Biblical Study of the So-called Problem of Evil. Santa Barbara: EastGate, 1991. I offered some criticisms of this in Apologetics to the Glory of God, which Adams answered in an Appendix. Actually, I think this is one of the better books on the subject.
Adams, Marilyn McCord, and Robert M. Adams, ed. The Problem of Evil
. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.
Feinberg, John. Theologies and Evil. Lanham: Univ. Press of America, 1979.
Frame, John. Doctrine of God. Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co, 2002, chapter 9.
Geisler, Norman. The Roots of Evil. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978.
Gerstner, John. The Problem of Pleasure. Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1983. Building on the Reformed doctrine of the Fall, Gerstner argues that the real problem is this: Why should God allow fallen sinners to have any pleasure at all?
Griffin, David Ray. Evil Revisited. Albany: SUNY Press, 1991. A process philosopher, Griffin reasons that God is blameless because he is not sovereign. See Frame’s review in Calvin Theological Journal 27 no. 2 (Nov., 1992): 435-38.
Hick, John. Evil and the God of Love . New York: Harper and Row. 1966. Advocates Irenaean “soul-making” theodicy.
Hopkins, Hugh Evan. The Mystery of Suffering . Chicago: IVP, 1959. Evangelical.
Lewis, C. S. The Problem of Pain. New York: Macmillan, 1957. Classic; excellently written.
Mavrodes, George. Belief in God. New York: Random House, 1970.
Peterson, Michael, ed. The Problem of Evil: Selected Readings
. Notre Dame: UND Press, 1992.
Classic selections by ancient and modern writers.
Tada, Joni Eareckson, and Steven Estes. When God Weeps . Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997. 254. H.
Wenham, John. The Enigma of Evil. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985. Evangelical.
Whitney, Barry L. What Are They Saying About God and Evil? New York: Paulist Press, 1989. 134. p.
The full bibliography is available here, including the Problem of Evil/Problem of Pain
December 8, 2015 / compassioninpolitics

Quotes on Christianity, God, and Atheism by Nobel Lauretes in Literature

Christianity is a religion of redemption, not a religion of law; that is to say, it makes the critical turning-point, the winning of the new world, depend not on man’s resolve or exertions, but on divine grace meeting him and lifting him upwards, grace that does not merely second his own effort, but implants within him fresh springs of action and makes his relationship to God the source of a new life, a new creature.
For man as we find him has wandered too far from goodness and become too weak in spiritual capacity to be capable of bringing about his own conversion; all his hope of salvation depends on God and from Him must he receive everything. Thus deep humility and joyous gratitude become, as it were, pillars of the new life; but they are genuine only when they are the result of a great upheaval and an in ward transformation.”
(Eucken 1914, 7)
The material world is a combination of seeing and blindness. The blindness we call Satan. If we would become all seeing, we would not have free choice anymore. Because, if we would see God, if we would see His greatness, there would be no temptation or sin.  And since God wanted us to have free will this means that Satan, in other words the principle of evil, must exist. Because what does free choice mean? It means the freedom to choose between good and evil. If there is no evil, there is no freedom.”
(Singer, as cited in Farrell 1976, 157).
In his autobiography Out of My Life and Thought Dr. Schweitzer wrote: “The essential element in Christianity as it was preached by Jesus and as it is comprehended by thought, is this, that it is only through love that we can attain to communion with God. All living knowledge of God rests upon this foundation: that we experience Him in our lives as Will-to-Love.” (Schweitzer 1933, 277).
“God’s love speaks to us in our hearts and tries to work through us in the world. We must listen to that voice; we must listen to it as a pure and distant melody that comes to us across the noise of the world’s doings…”
(Schweitzer, as cited in Albert Schweitzer: The Man and His Mind by George Seaver, Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1947, 133)
“Being born again is a new life, not of perfection but of striving, stretching, and searching – a life of intimacy with God through Holy Spirit. There must first be an emptying, and then a refilling. To the extent that we want to know, understand, and
experience God, we can find all this in Jesus. It is a highly personal and subjective experience, possible only if we are searching for greater truths about ourselves and God.”
(Carter 1998, 20-21)
“One of the tenets of my faith is that all of us are equal in the eyes of God. As the Bible said, there’s no distinction between male and female; there’s no distinction between master and slave; there’s no distinction between gentile and Jew; there’
s no distinction between say white and African-American in the eyes of God. And those guiding lights prove adequate to me as a foundation for faith.”
(Carter 1996)
Our civilization cannot survive materially unless it is redeemed spiritually. It can be saved only by becoming permeated with the Spirit of Christ and being made free and happy by the practices which spring out of that Spirit. Only thus can discontent be
driven out and all the shadows lifted from the road ahead.”
(Wilson, as cited in Collins 1988).
“The Bible is not something to turn aside to; the Bible is not something to which to resort for religious instruction and comfort; the Bible is not something to associate merely with churches and sermons.  It stands right in the center, in the market place, of our life, and there bubbles with the water of life. It is, itself, the fountain; it is, itself, the inexhaustible fountain. Only those
who have learned from it, and only those who have drunk of those waters, can be refreshed for the longer journey.”
(Woodrow Wilson, The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, 1977, Vol. 23, p 499, Arthur S. Link – editor).
December 2, 2015 / compassioninpolitics

Criticism of the Libet Experiment on Free Will

Both Wegner and Gazzaniga are inspired, in part, by a famous experiment performed by the late Benjamin Libet, a neurophysiologist.19 When someone makes a voluntary movement, an event-related potential appears in the EEG about 600 milliseconds beforehand: this is known as the readiness potential. In Libet’s experiment, subjects viewed a light that revolved around a circle at a rate of approximately once every 2.5 seconds; they were instructed to move their fingers anytime they wanted, but to use the clock to note the time of their first awareness of the wish to act. Libet discovered that the awareness of wish preceded the act by about 200 msec—not much of a surprise there. But he also discovered that the readiness potential preceded the awareness of the wish by about 350 msec (200 + 350 = c. 600 msec). So there is a second type of readiness potential, which Libet characterized as a predecisional negative shift. Libet concluded that the brain decides to move before the person is aware of the decision, which manifests itself as a conscious wish to move. Put another way, behavior is instigated unconsciously (Wegner’s “unconscious cause of action”); conscious awareness occurs later, as a sort of afterthought, and conscious control serves only as a veto over something that is already happening. In other words, conscious will really is an illusion, and we are nothing more than particles acting in fields of force after all.

Libet’s observation of a predecisional negative shift has been replicated in other laboratories, but that does not mean that his experiment is immune to criticism and his conclusions are correct.20 In the first place, there is considerable variability around those means, and the time intervals are such that that the gap between the predecisional negative shift and the readiness potential could be closer to zero. And there are a lot of sources of error, including error in determining the onset of the readiness potential and error in determining the onset of the conscious wish (as for the latter, think about keeping track of a light that is rotating around a clock face once every 2.5 seconds). Still, that difference is unlikely to be exactly zero, and so the problem does not go away.

At a different level, Libet’s experiment has been criticized on the grounds of ecological validity. The action involved, moving one’s finger, is completely inconsequential and shouldn’t be glibly equated with choosing where to go to college, or whom to marry, or even whether to buy Cheerios or Product 19—much less whether to throw a fat man off a bridge to stop a runaway trolley careening toward five innocents. The way the experiment is set up, the important decision has already been made—that is, to participate in an experiment in which one is to raise one’s finger while watching a clock. And that decision has been made out of view of the EEG apparatus. I find this argument fairly persuasive. But still, there remains the nagging possibility that, if we recorded the EEG all the time, in vivo, we would observe the same predecisional negative shift before that decision was made, too.

More recently, though, Jeff Miller and his colleagues found a way to address this critique.21 They noted that the subjects’ movements are not truly spontaneous, for the simple reason that they must also watch the clock while making them. They compared the readiness potential under two conditions. In one, the standard Libet paradigm, subjects were instructed to watch the clock while moving their fingers and report their decision time. In the other, they were instructed to ignore the clock and not asked for any reports. Subjects in both conditions still made the “spontaneous” decision whether, and when, to move their fingers. But Miller and his colleagues observed the predecisional negative shift only when subjects also had to watch the clock and report their decision time. If Miller is right, Libet’s predecisional negative shift is wholly an artifact of the attention paid to the clock. It does not indicate the unconscious initiation of ostensibly “voluntary” behavior, nor does it show that “conscious will” is illusory. Maybe it is, but the Libet experiment does not show it.

Miller’s experiment is important enough that I would like to see it replicated in another laboratory, though I want to stress that there is no reason to think that there is anything wrong with his original study. When Miller did what Libet did, he got what Libet got. When he altered the instructions, but retained voluntary movements, Libet’s effect disappeared completely—not just a little, but completely. The ramifications are pretty clear.

This does not mean that the problem of free will has been resolved in favor of compatibilism, though it does suggest that compatibilism deserves serious consideration. Personally, I like the implication of a paper by the philosopher John Searle, titled “Free Will as a Problem in Neurobiology.”22 We all experience free will, and there is no reason, in the Libet experiment or any other study, to think that this is an illusion. Free will may well be a problem for neurobiology, and if so it is a problem for neurobiologists to solve. I do not lose any sleep over it. But if free will is not an illusion, and we really do have a meaningful degree of voluntary control over our experience, thought, and action, then moral judgment is secure from this threat as well. We should be willing to make moral judgments, using all the information—rational and intuitive—that we have available to us.

(Source: Link)

For more on this:

For extended discussions of Libet’s work, including replies and rejoinders, see William P. Banks and Susan Pockett, “Benjamin Libet’s Work on the Neuroscience of Free Will,” The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness, ed. Max Velmans and Susan Schneider (Malden: Blackwell, 2007) 657–70; and Benjamin Libet, “The Timing of Brain Events: Reply to the ‘Special Section’ in this Journal of September 2004, edited by Susan Pockett,” Consciousness and Cognition 15.3 (September 2006): 540–47.

November 29, 2015 / compassioninpolitics

My Journey through CS Lewis

This is just scratching the surface:

  1. Mere Christianity
  2. Miracles
  3. Abolition of Man


I would also point out there were denser texts along the way like God is in the Dock and a number of books which extend The Abolition of Man and CS Lewis’ critique of reason.

Why have I written this?  Well, I hope that others can have the same experience of learning through CS Lewis that I have had.  (Its also something I hope to return to to unpack a bit more).

November 28, 2015 / compassioninpolitics

Teaching Writing/Speech Philosophy

Draft One:

  1. Humans are truth seeking and pattern seeking beings.
  2. Humans are rational and deliberative beings.
  3. Humans are social, communal, and relational beings.
  4. Human relations are governed by ethical value choices.
  5. Questions drive discovery.
  6. Research is the transmission of discovery.
  7. Developing critical thinking is key to learners.  This primarily occurs through peer to peer discussion, class discussion, essays, revisions, and project based learning.
  8. The goal is to provide students of critical thinking.

To be added.

Six other main goals for the course:

  1. Exposure to great ideas and specifically great ideas in conflict. (ideas in dialog and conflict)
  2. Great speeches & great pieces (although not necessarily “classic,” but culturally, ethically, and relationally relevant)
  3. Critical thinking/Class discussion
  4. Self-expression
  5. Self-reflection
  6. Leveraging digital tools & search in a practical way

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