"And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'"
-Luke 2:13-15 (KJV)

This must have been an amazing scene.  It is one of many moments in the Nativity story that I would liked to have seen with my own eyes.  But it’s also somewhat of a strange scene – the messengers, the audience, and the message itself.  I’ve always enjoyed Handel’s setting of this in Messiah.  It’s a tremendously epic chorus, but it ends as soon as it begins, and we’re left with just a few more bars of the strings by themselves.  While listening to the end, I always picture the shepherds staring blankly at the sky, completely and utterly dumbfounded.  There is something very poetic about the scene.  The grand announcement was not made to kings or religious rulers; it was made to simple shepherds without any sort of warning.

But I’d like to focus on the message itself; it’s a message that I have found difficult to understand.  From what little study I’ve done, translations other than the KJV come closer to the original meaning.

Recall from a previous post that I have recently read a book called Free Will: A Contemporary Introduction by Robert Kane.  In that post, I introduced the Free Will Problem and explained the basic position of compatibilism.  To review, a compatibilist holds that free will and determinism are not at odds with one another; in other words, someone can be considered to have free will in a completely determined world.  The way that a classical compatibilist will defend this notion, is by arguing that if we understand free will as the ability to do that which one desires without physical constraint or coercion, there is no contradiction.  While our desires and urges may be determined by our genetics or environment, not to mention the natural laws of the closed physical system, as long as we are not prevented from acting on those desires, we are free.

From despair.com
Or so the saying goes.  It is a popular maxim that has been around for some time, and has maintained an almost universal popularity.  But G.K. Chesterton, some years ago, gave a powerful critique of it.   In his book, Orthodoxy, he writes this.  It is worth mentioning that these words were published in 1908, well before the decades and decades of "believe in yourself" mantra in the U.S.
Thoroughly worldly people never understand even the world; they rely altogether on a few cynical maxims which are not true.  Once I remember walking with a  prosperous publisher, who made a remark which I had often heard before; it is, indeed, almost a motto of the modern world.  Yet I had heard it once too often, and I saw suddenly that there was nothing in it.  The publisher said of somebody, "That man will get on; he believes in himself."  And I remember that as I lifted my head to listen, my eye caught an omnibus on which was written "Hanwell."  I said to him, "Shall I tell you where the men are who believe most in themselves?  For I can tell you.  I know of men who believe in themselves more colossally than Napoleon or Caesar.  I know where flames the fixed star of certainty and success.  I can guide you to the thrones of the Super-men.  The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums."
The reader will recall from a previous post that I recently finished How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, with my small group. Overall, our group found it to be an incredibly helpful guide for how to approach the unique nature of the Bible with all its different genres and books. In that post, I summarized the first two chapters of the book, which serve as introductions to the difficulties of interpreting and translating scripture. In the current post, I will discuss those chapters of the book which I found most and least helpful.

The Epistles as Occasional

Chapters two and three of this book, which are among my favorites, focus on how one should read the Epistles. As discussed in the previous post, in order to understand what any part of the the Bible means to us, we must first understand what it meant to them (the original recipients). To do this, we must really understand what type of literature a book is, and why it was written in the first place. The epistles, of course, are letters. Simple, right? After all, letters are often straight forward and easy to follow. Except these letters are obviously not simple. If they were, there would not be quite so many disagreements among Christians. Each letter is slightly different. Some are letters written to individuals, while others are written to groups. Each uses different parts of what formal letters of that time would have contained. Some would be impossible to recognize as letters at all if the recipient had not been addressed.  For example, 1 John has none of the formal elements of a letter (name of writer, greeting, etc) and James is written such that it is almost indistinguishable from a theological tract.  The one thing that all the epistles have in common, though, is that they are occasional. This means that they were "occasioned, or called forth, by some special circumstance, either from the reader's side or the author's."1 This is the most important point to keep in mind while reading the epistles, because it is the single factor that makes them so difficult to understand.

File:US Navy 050102-N-9593M-040 A village near the coast of Sumatra lays in ruin after the Tsunami that struck South East Asia.jpgIn this last post of the series on the problem of evil (here are parts one and two), I will skim the surface of the two issues that now take up most of the conversation among contemporary philosophers.

The Evidential Version

The evidential version of the problem of evil (also known as the probabilistic version) differs from the logical problem in that it does not claim there is an explicit contradiction in God and evil both existing; rather, it simply seeks to show that God's existence is improbable, given that evil exists, especially the amount of evil we see.

It certainly seems to have some force.  While it is possible that God has morally sufficient reasons to allow evil, it does seem, in light of the horrors that have taken place as well as their disturbing frequency, rather unlikely.  Many of these evils we see seem utterly pointless.  The evidential version is also easier to prove, since it does not seek a definitive deductive proof.  William Rowe and Paul Draper (from our alma mater!) have put forth their own versions of the evidential argument.  The conversation remains lively today.

They may take our lives, but they'll never take our freedom!
-William Wallace, Braveheart

Who doesn't love these words spoken by the fictional rendition of William Wallace in the movie Braveheart? Hearing such a phrase, we know that something truly meaningful is being communicated. But why is the concept of freedom so important? Perhaps it is because many of us in the Western world have been taught the value of civil liberties since we were young-- civil liberties grounded in the metaphysical belief that we can make real choices.   Or maybe, it's because many of us grew up in religious denominations which emphasized the importance of making theologically significant decisions-- the ability to choose good versus evil, or to follow God. Even more so, the concept of freedom just seems intrinsically good to us. We yearn for the power and opportunity to think for ourselves, make our own decisions and steer our lives in the direction we so choose. Questions of free will have been grappled with since perhaps the dawn of human consciousness. What is free will? Do humans have it? Is it compatible with a deterministic world? The twelfth century Persian poet once remarked that, "There is a disputation that will continue till mankind is raised from the dead, between the necessitarians and the partisans of free will."1 This appears to be true as the discussion still continues nine centuries later, no less vehemently than in 1100AD.

Talk with just about any self-proclaimed atheist sitting next to you on an airplane, at Starbucks, or online; if you try to critique their own position they will almost invariably say, "Ah, atheism isn't a belief that there is no God, it is simply a lack of belief in God or gods."  Or something to that effect, sometimes much less charitably.  This is often done in attempt to pin the burden of proof in the theist.  (Such a position can trace its roots to the work of Antony Flew, especially his brief - but very influential - paper, The Presumption of Atheism, in which he argued that atheism should be presupposed until evidence of God surfaces.)

In simple point of fact, this is not the traditional definition of atheism.  Further, it is rather telling that no atheist philosopher subscribes to such a definition.  All the same, it hints at a useful distinction, despite the definitional blunder.

The distinction is between what is known as positive (or "strong") atheism and negative (or "weak") atheism.  A positive atheist not only lacks belief in God but affirms that there is no God.  Therefore, the positive atheist must have justification for their lack of belief and must demonstrate that their arguments against the existence of God are compelling.  A negative atheist, on the other hand, simply lacks belief in God.  The negative atheist does not provide any arguments against the existence of God; she simply believes the arguments for the existence of God are not compelling.1

Over the past few months, my small group read through the book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart.  This book has been incredibly helpful in terms of both practical tips and theoretical background knowledge necessary for really understanding the Word of God.  Some passages left me feeling stupid for never having realized the point before, and others left me deep in thought pondering the implications.  In the current post I will summarize the introductory chapters of the book, and in the following post I will discuss some of my favorite and least favorite sections.

The Need to Interpret

The first chapter of this book discusses the role of the reader as an interpreter.  Interpreter, you say?  I don't need to interpret scripture, I merely need to read and understand what it says at face value!  Well, not so fast.  It's just not that easy, for there are two things that get in the way: the nature of the reader and the nature of Scripture.  We can see the way human nature influences interpretation all around us in the contemporary church; not all "plain meanings" are plain to all.  Should women be allowed to speak in church?  Should they cover their heads?  Should infants be baptized?  What is the correct mode of baptism?  Many churches argue that their understanding of these biblical issues is the "plain meaning."  As a result, we have everything from insignificant pragmatic differences to disagreements about the way to be saved.  Yet everyone claims to be reading the same words of scripture.  As the authors state it, "The antidote to bad interpretation is not no interpretation but good interpretation, based on commonsense guidelines."1  Further they concisely state their goal for the book: "to heighten the reader's sensitivity to specific problems inherent in each genre [of the Bible], to help the reader know why different opinions exist and how to make commonsense judgments, and especially to enable the reader to discern between good and not-so-good interpretations"2 (emphasis by the authors).

Here we have two separate series' converge.  This is the second part of three on the problem of evil, but it is also the third part of the ongoing series on Alvin Plantinga.  While the first two parts of the Plantinga series were almost a book summary (as the book itself is credited by the likes of William Lane Craig for kicking off Christian philosophy's comeback), this post deals with a single argument.  It was his second great contribution to the world of philosophy of religion.

Before continuing, it's worth keeping in mind that the Free Will Defense is only an answer to the logical problem of moral evil (see my previous post for a refresher on the various distinctions).  This is not to say that the argument is weak - it just has a particular focus.  Further, the logical problem of moral evil was for years so often used by philosophers to dismiss the traditional view of God. 

The Free Will Defense made a pretty big splash in the philosophical world.  Today, arguing against the existence of God based on the logical problem of moral evil has fallen quite out of style.  Contemporary discussions about the problem of evil now focus on the evidential problem and the problem of natural evil.  It is really only laymen that continue to peddle the logical problem.

The following is a guest post by the user idunno from the Reasonable Faith forums. The authors of this blog intend to use guest posters from time to time in order to promote diversity of ideas and viewpoints.

In his work Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton poses the question, “How can we contrive to be at once astonished at the world and yet at home in it?” I think the question is of great importance for the thinking Christian to ask his or herself. In our quest to not only understand the natural order of things, but the deep things of God revealed in Scripture, have we failed to be astonished by it all? Have we missed the majesty of the forest for the formation of the tattered leaves scattered on the ground?

I’d like to suggest that understanding, however great, if not accompanied by a sense of wonder and awe at the beauty of both Creator and His creation is missing the point. Actually no, I’d like to make the bolder claim that knowledge, void of awe, is incomplete. For only by experiencing the beauty of life, the love of God, and His creation will we truly come to understand these things. This is obvious enough when you think about love. For it’s one thing to have an abstract understanding of the concept, and another to actually fall in love. One might spend years locked up in a room tirelessly doing research on this thing called love. Reading and interviewing those who have fallen in love. But only when this individual falls in love himself does he realize that all his head knowledge was but straw. To be sure, his conclusions may have been accurate, but they were in a sense hollow until his experience. For the philosophically minded among you, think the knowledge argument involving the neurophysiologist Mary.1 The same is true of Christian truths. The psalmist can sing of the beauty of God’s creation till he's blue in the face, but it will not move you till you've stepped away from the books and computer and seen it for yourself. Yet we can so easily get caught up in thinking that this book, or that lecture will really show us something. The truth is we’ll never begin to fathom the wonder of heaven till we've begun to grasp the wonder of the here and now.

File:David Hume.jpgHistorically, the problem of evil is without a doubt the most famous and most compelling argument against the existence of God.  More broadly, the existence of evil is something with which every person must grapple, regardless of religious views.  The staggering amount of evil in the world, on display in the news, in our own lives, and in the books of history defies understanding.

It is unsurprising, given the prevalence of evil from day-to-day life to the world stage, that the problem of evil is often considered a powerful argument of against any sort of benevolent creator.

Continuing on from my previous post on the Trinity in the Old Testament, I will now discuss the use of the plural "we" in Genesis 1:26.  This verse has interested scholars and theologians for centuries; how it is both translated and interpreted could have a significant impact on one's theology.

To set the stage, I will first remind the reader of the familiar creation account from Genesis 1. God created the earth and it was without form, dark, and void. The choice of language here paints a picture of chaos, but also of potential; for the Spirit of God was hovering over the water, pregnant with power, ready to create, form and organize. First God created light and separated it from the darkness.  Next, He created and separated the sky, the sea and the land, providing realms for His future creatures to dwell, and then vegetation and fruit to sustain them.  Moving on, He provided function for the sun and the moon in the sky: that they may provide signs for the seasons, the days and the years, as well as provide light.  During God's fifth and sixth day, He filled the earth with animals-- birds of the sky, fish of the sea, swarms of insects, and beasts to inhabit the land.  This is where we find ourselves upon approaching Genesis 1:26. God has created and shaped the earth, the sea, the sky, the luminaries, the flora and the fauna; but He is not through yet, for the capstone of His creation is still forthcoming: man.  Consider Genesis 1:26-27 in this context, using the following three translations.

Since the first two parts of the Plantinga Pwns series were pretty intense philosophically and covered quite a lot of ground, and given that the next topic in the series is the problem of evil - which also promises to be pretty intense - I decided to write this post as a bit of a breather.  Here I'll cover the basics of philosophy "versus" science.  (If you'd like to read up on the subject in more depth, check out Part IV of this book by William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, the philosophy of science wikipedia page, and - if you're feeling ambitious - Part II of Popper Selections)

This is the development of a thought experiment that I took part in coming up with on a fourm a while back. Consider the following three hypothetical situations:

In my last post, we ended with Plantinga's rather disappointing conclusion that the arguments for the existence of God are not compelling.  In the quest to determine whether belief in God is rational, he moves on to some of the arguments against the existence of God.  It should come as no surprise that the main argument discussed is the Problem of Evil.

http://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/Resources/titles/80140100315570/Images/80140100315570L.jpg Arguments of Natural Atheology

For most atheologians of the time, the force of the problem of evil is that it shows a logical inconsistency in the core tenants of theism.  They take the following five propositions as being essential to theism:

a. God exists
b. God is omnipotent (all-powerful)
c. God is omniscient (all-knowing)
d. God is wholly good
e. Evil exists

Here we already run into a snag.  These five propositions do not entail a formal contradiction.  This may not be readily apparent to you, and it almost certainly isn't to an atheist with whom you might be debating.  Nonetheless, the point remains.  H. J. McCloskey apparently did not realize this; however, J. L. Mackie - one of the most brilliant atheist philosophers of the 20th century - did .  He realized that in order to arrive at a formal contradiction, at least one other proposition must be added.

The Doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most important pieces of orthodox Christian theology, having been with the Church since its earliest days. The first known use of the Greek word "trias" was by Theophilus of Antioch in the late second century, and the first use of the Latin word "trinitas" was by Tertullian in the early third century, each translating to the English "trinity." The word is used to describe the concept of the essential nature of God as One God in Three Persons-- the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Although one could easily write hundreds of pages on the Trinity and never come close to exhausting all there is to say about it, I will here focus on how far back the idea can be traced, rather than what it entails.

File:AlvinPlantinga.JPGAlvin Plantinga, now 80, is professor emeritus at the University of Notre Dame and has taught at Calvin College and Wayne State University, when it was a hotbed for analytic philosophy.  He studied at Calvin College, Harvard, the University of Michigan, and received his PhD from Yale.  He has been a visiting professor at Harvard, Chicago, Michigan, Boston, Indiana, UCLA, Syracuse, and Arizona.  He has also given lectures in several prestigious lecture series, including being a Gifford Lecturer twice.  Further, he has honorary degrees from numerous universities.  His family's accomplishments are correspondingly sickening, with various professorships, degrees, etc. etc.

It would not be a stretch to say that Alvin Plantinga was the most prominent Christian philosopher of the 20th century.  His influence continues into the 21st, where he remains a leader not only in the philosophy of religion but also epistemology, and has contributed to the field of metaphysics as well.  His most notable contributions in the philosophy of religion include his famous Free Will Defense in response to the logical problem of evil which has received wide acceptance (which is a rarity in philosophy), the school of thought known as reformed epistemology, his modal ontological argument for the existence of God, and his Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN).

As alluded to several times in past posts, a major interest of the writers of this blog is the origin of the universe, the earth, and mankind. Specifically, the relationship between the historical sciences and the book of Genesis is a subject by which we are both fascinated. In this post, I plan to give my view on a topic that is often brought up in discussions of origins: the assumption of uniformitarianism. Before jumping in, however, I implore readers to maintain a charitable attitude when both reading and commenting on this. The exchanges that accompany this subject matter can often be passionate to the point of detriment; they seek truth at the expense of tearing others down, when Christians are instead called to encourage each other and build one another up.

From time to time, I hope to discuss some of the philosophical conundrums that currently plague philosophers.  And defining knowledge is one of the chiefest.  It is perhaps the main point of contention in the world of epistemology.  Epistemology is the study of knowledge, rationality, and justification.  While metaphysics - the study of the nature of being or reality as well as categorization of things that exist - includes the nature of truth, epistemology often ventures into the nature of truth as well, as knowledge is closely tied to it.

On the face of it, answering the question "What is knowledge?" shouldn't be too difficult.  Simply put, it is the ascertainment of a fact about the world.  Dig a bit deeper, however, and things become increasingly complex and ambiguous.  In fact, despite the best efforts of epistemologists from the time of Plato to today, there is no agreed upon definition of knowledge among philosophers (though, as we shall see, there was a definition that was agreed upon by some for centuries until a few potent counterexamples punched some major holes in it).

Reasonable Faith, the organization of Dr. William Lane Craig, has recently made an animated video on the Kalam Cosmological Argument. The KCA argues for the existence of a first cause of the universe, which it posits as God. We plan on doing some extensive writing on the KCA in the future, based on the section of the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology with the same name. In the meantime, this video is an excellent presentation of the argument in a very concise format. Enjoy!

I recently (in the last year) read an outstanding book on the resurrection by Michael Licona called The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographic Approach. What follows is a brief review of the book. I do not intend this review to be exhaustive, but encourage readers to pick up the book themselves. As will be evident in the below text, I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the historical case for the resurrection. Those interested, more generally, in the philosophy and method of history will also find this book to be a fascinating primer and case study to the subject. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the conclusions of this scholarly work, one should appreciate and respect the rigor and attention to detail with which Licona approaches this highly controversial subject. There is much to learn from this work, not least of which is how to think critically when approaching the subject of history.

http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/images/paintings/raa/large/wmr_raa_pl002247_large.jpgAs many reading this may be familiar, the term "apologetics" derives from the classical Greek word apologia.  In Greek law, the prosecution would give a kategoria, and the defense would respond with an apologia.  Today, apologetics can refer to the defense of any religion.

In the case of Christianity, followers are told in the Bible to give a defense of their faith (I Peter 3:15, Philippians 1:7).  Paul provides the prime example in the New Testament of giving a defense of Christianity.  As recorded in Acts chapters 17 through 19, Paul makes a custom of reasoning with both Jews and Gentiles in the cities he traveled through - in synagogues, marketplaces, and schools of thought.

The following post is a continuation of what will be an ongoing series, "The State of the Church," where we look at issues relevant to the current state of the body of Christ. Through these posts, we hope to bring to light issues of both encouragement and criticism which we feel deserve more attention.

I landed early this morning at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, returning from a short trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina. This was the second consecutive year that I traveled to the "Paris of South America" to visit and help support La Misión Iglesia, a partner of my home church in Memphis. La Misión is located in Bajo Flores, a diverse district of Buenos Aires, and birthplace of the newest pope of the Catholic Church. Flores is the home of both middle-class citizens as well as some of the most materially poor in the country. One of only a few evangelical churches in the city, La Misión leads ministries in the district that seek to transform the community and alleviate poverty through the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I had the opportunity of spending the week with members of this church, standing alongside them in their ministry to the city and gaining a perspective of the issues that face the Church in South America, and specifically Argentina. I would like to use this post to discuss several items which are relevant to the Church, the Body of Christ, El Cuerpo de Cristo. If you would like more details, please email us at our Contact Email and request to receive a more specific follow-up of the trip.

Videmus enim quod aliqua quæ cognitione carent, scilicet corpora naturalia, operantur propter finem (We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end).
~Thomas Aquinas

In order to move things along, I have decided to forgo explanations and arguments for Aquinas' Third and Fourth Ways, the Arguments from Contingency and Degree, respectively, and skip to the Fifth Way. There are a number of reasons for this decision. First, this series has already been going on for almost ten weeks and there are so many other interesting topics sbout which I would like to write. I would prefer to complete this series sooner, rather than later. Second, out of the five main arguments put forth by Aquinas, his Third and Fourth Ways are the ones which I personally find the least convincing. This does not mean that they are not ultimately correct and sound, but simply that if I were an atheist I would likely not be convinced by those arguments (whereas I find the Arguments from Motion, Efficient Causality and Final Causality to be very persuasive, indeed). The last reason, which is likely tied to the second, is that my understanding of these arguments is not as full as the others; they would be the hardest for me to explain and defend. So, in brief, this will be my last post for a while in this series on Aquinas. It should be noted again, that much of this post (as with previous posts) is taken directly from Edward Feser's work in Aquinas and The Last Superstition. Without further adieu, let's get to work!

"A flabby mind is no badge of spiritual honor." ~David Hazard

Many circles in Christianity have been accused of anti-intellectualism. In many cases, rightly so. There is often an intellectual laziness that affects the minds of some Christians. In terms of defending the faith, it most often shows itself as an underlying assumption that any argument that concludes God exists or that Christianity is true must be sound. This results in nothing but embarrassment for those genuinely seeking to carefully evaluate or defend their faith.

In this post I hope to cover a few truly terrible defenses of theism, in the hopes that readers will both see the errors in the arguments and avoid such arguments. Like terrible objections to theism, they only serve to obstruct meaningful dialogue. In a later post I hope to outline why it is so important for Christians to think carefully and defend the faith in an intellectually responsible and gentle way.

After a short break, we will now continue along in our series on Thomas Aquinas, focusing today on the first two of his arguments for the existence of a First Cause, or God. These first two "ways of knowing God," can broadly be categorized as cosmological arguments. According to the philosopher Alexander Pruss, "a cosmological argument takes some cosmic feature of the universe -- such as the existence of contingent things or the fact of motion -- that calls out for an explanation and argues that this feature is to be explained in terms of the activity of a First Cause, which [is God.]"1 Aquinas' first two arguments attempt to do just that-- the first with respect to motion or change, and the second with respect to causation itself. Most of this post will focus on the first way, the so-called Argument from Motion, because the second way is very similar to the first. I apologize in advance because it will be quite impossible to do these arguments justice in a single blog post, and I encourage readers to check out Aquinas themselves along with some modern commentary for a better understanding.

"The philosophical case against Christianity is rather easily dealt with.  There is no philosophical case against Christianity." ~G.K. Chesterton

There are many objections to the existence of an all-powerful creator God, and even more to Christianity.  They range from the powerful  -  even compelling - to the truly embarrassing.  This blog will tend towards examining some of the more interesting objections.  But some of the truly terrible objections are so pervasive today that they must be dealt with even in passing.  Otherwise, they only serve to provide a roadblock to meaningful dialogue between atheists and theists.  This post will tackle only a few.  My next post will deal with a few really bad defenses of Christianity.

I am currently reading through Gordon Wenham's commentary on the first few chapters of Genesis in order to gain a better understanding of what has been a controversial issue in the church for some time, and especially in recent decades (the issue I am referring to is, as you might have guessed, the relationship between modern science and the Genesis creation narratives).  After an exhaustive study of the issue from different viewpoints (or at least as exhaustive as two full time engineers can muster!), Steve and I plan to systematically explain our perspective and understanding of the doctrine of creation (though we may not necessarily agree on everything).  In the meantime, because the literature is so fascinating, I thought I would begin posting on other themes learned while studying the issue of origins.  Today's post will focus on Wenham's discussion of the meaning of "knowledge of good and evil" as used in the context of Genesis chapter two.

To provide a contrast to Austin's ongoing series on Thomistic philosophy, I thought I would start a series to look at notable Christian philosophers of the analytic tradition, and some of their contributions to philosophy.  Before diving in, it is necessary to give at least some explanation of what on earth analytic philosophy is.  Since this a blog, we've tried to avoid being too systematic.  That task is left for the various books that no one bothers to read.  Nonetheless, it is still sometimes necessary to give some background and explanation on certain subjects.

Currently, there are several competing philosophical traditions.  Two of the minor traditions today are Eastern and Islamic philosophy.  Older philosophical traditions, such as Scholasticism and Platonism, are still studied at the university level.  However, current work in philosophy is dominated by two schools: analytic philosophy and continental philosophy.

Unfortunately, neither analytic nor continental philosophy have a clear definition or claims common to the various movements within each tradition.  Frankly, the easiest way to distinguish either is geographically: continental philosophy is found primarily in mainland Europe, whereas analytic philosophy dominates in the English-speaking world.  The vast majority of schools of philosophy in America and the United States follow the analytic tradition.
Resuming our series on Thomas Aquinas, we will now delve into his metaphysics.  You'll recall from a previous post that metaphysics is basically the study of the fundamental nature of reality, or first principles.  Metaphysics is critical for coherently piecing together all those seemingly independent beliefs that together constitute a worldview.  The metaphysics that one holds (usually subconsciously) will shape the way one views the entire world.  You'll also remember from the first post in this series that while some of Aquinas' proofs for the existence of God are elegant, clever and compelling when correctly understood, they are often dismissed as foolish because modern thinkers are so far removed from his metaphysics.  The purpose of this post is to familiarize the reader with some basic distinctions that were crucial to Aquinas' thinking, and explain the history behind them.  This will allow us to venture into the arguments themselves without feeling overwhelmed (or underwhelmed if you are an atheist).1

The following post is the first part of what will be an ongoing series, "The State of the Church," where we look at issues relevant to the current state of the body of Christ. Through these posts, we hope to bring to light issues of both encouragement and criticism which we feel deserve more attention.

This is a pretty common question today in the church, and not without good reason. From the college level, to young professionals, to families, to the more chronologically experienced, there seem to be a lot more women involved and active in the church than men.

How could this be? It’s been called a real crisis in the church by many. There are quite a few explanations given for the overall lack of presence of men; unfortunately, the conversation often devolves into misandristic bashing (yes, I did just invent the word “misandristic”). Before moving on, it is important to stress that the crisis should not be overstated; in many conversations over the subject, it seems pastors, elders, and male worship team members somehow don’t count towards the overall level of involvement of men in the church. That said, even taking them into account it seems men are just less involved.

In attempts to solve this problem, the issues are often oversimplified, so that a single reason and its corresponding solution emerge as dominant. I tend to think the issues at hand are complex, and that there may be many reasons for men being less involved. Here I hope to cover one or two that are seldom – or never – mentioned. I do not think for a moment they are the only – or even primary – reasons. Nonetheless, identifying these reasons may go a long way in finding a solution and turning the tide.
It is often asserted by the New Atheists that there is no evidence for the existence of a god, much less the god of Christianity. One reason for this is that the presuppositions derived from their metaphysics (subconsciously) do not allow them to consider the possibility of anything non-material. This leads them to hold to an epistemology, or method for discovering truth, which rules out a priori1 any evidence that is not mathematically quantifiable or subject to empirical observation. In short, they rig the game in their favor. Perhaps another, less obvious, reason for this mistaken idea is that the New Atheists are only looking at the New (contemporary) Christians. While I certainly think it worthwhile to study the many outstanding works of modern philosophers and theologians, it would be a great misfortune for any student to ignore the great thinkers of the last few millenia. The history of Christian thought is so rich and full that to focus on the present would be to only see a small tip of the intellectual iceberg.
After my last pretty heavy-hitting post, this one should be a bit easier to follow.  Identifying a fallacy requires some subtlety, but can become second-nature after some practice.  That being said, one of the real pitfalls of catching fallacies is that one can obsess over them, seeming to find them everywhere.  This is often due to misusing the new-found "power," identifying fallacies that aren't there in the first place.  Today we find ourselves surrounded by sloppy skeptics of just about every subject, determined to slap "fallacy" on the side of any argument.  Because of this, some care is required.

There are both formal and informal fallacies.  A formal fallacy is an argument that is invalid. Interestingly, this says nothing of the premises or the conclusion of the argument; it is only the structure of the argument that is at fault.  An argument may be fundamentally flawed and yet the conclusion be correct.  Formal fallacies are not limited to deductive arguments.  Inductive arguments that misapply the principles of probability, statistics, or causality are also considered formal fallacies.  An informal fallacy, on the other hand, is an argument that can suffer from any number of shortcomings that render the argument unpersuasive; the error in the argument is not a flaw in the logic but in something else, such as the plausibility of the premise(s).  In other words, an informal fallacy is found in the argument's contents, rather than in the form of the argument.

Let's look at some examples of formal and informal fallacies.

In preparation for a series of posts on Thomas Aquinas and his Five Ways of knowing God, we thought it would be helpful to write something explaining what metaphysics is.  Though this post may seem somewhat dry and abstract, it is a critical first step toward the understanding of much more interesting subjects to come.  We encourage the reader to take a deep breath, watch this ridiculously awesome video of Darth Vader playing the bagpipes while riding a unicycle, and then dive in!

What is Metaphysics?

As with most of philosophy, many contemporary laypeople (and professionals of other fields) are confused about what metaphysics actually is. It is not uncommon to hear someone define metaphysics along the lines of "the study of those things which are unprovable, unrealistic or generally abstract in nature." This sort of "definition" seems to have been crafted for the explicit purpose of dismissing those things which cannot be empirically verified. Though admittedly hard to define, the term metaphysics actually means something more along the lines of "the study of the fundamental nature of reality," and is concerned with questions such as "What things actually exist?" and "What are those things like?" How one answers these questions will largely affect the way one thinks about virtually everything.

We thought it would be good to do a brief primer on logic before moving forward with any other posts. This will be a series consisting of two posts, the first dealing with some of the basics of argument and propositional logic, and the second with informal fallacies. Obviously, these two posts will hardly even scratch the surface of the field of logic, but it is nonetheless an important foundation to have for any reasoned debate. In this age of internet trolls and drive-by commenting, these two posts alone will take the reader well past the average person’s understanding of logic.

Let's play a game. I'm going to throw out three names, and you tell me what they have in common:

John Calvin
Thomas Hobbes
If you've stumbled upon this blog, welcome. It is run by two friends who met in their undergraduate days and – rather strangely – found out that they grew up within minutes of each other, several hundred miles away from their alma mater. We have been interested in defending the Christian faith for some time, as well as hearing out the objections to that faith. Both of us are engineers by training, and a keen interest in science originally led us to seek an intellectual defense of our beliefs. We gradually came to realize that the battleground between Christianity and its opponents lay in the realm of philosophy, a much maligned and thoroughly misunderstood branch of study. Perhaps you will see through our posts how we came to recognize philosophy's ultimacy as a foundation for all belief systems and world views. This is not to say that we have lost interest in science and its interaction with Christianity; on the contrary, we recognize that there are still many interesting and contentious issues here worth considering. Similarly, in working through the Christian faith itself, there are many facets of theology worth exploring. It should be evident through our writing that these fields are inter-related, and cannot possibly be studied in isolation from one another.