Saturday, August 30, 2014

Video: Teaching on John 1-2

The video below is my supplementary video/presentation for the class I'm teaching online called "Johannine Writings." Check it out!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Spiritual Change

This blog post is about spiritual change. I was getting ready for bed last night, and I just knew I needed to pray. So I did. It wasn’t anything earth shattering. No chance that the prayer would be published as some example of poetic greatness. Instead, it was just an acknowledgment that I could not keep on living the “Randy” life. Don’t get me wrong. I lead a very privileged, very easy life. Very little bad or negative actually happens in my life (most of my problems, I realize, are actually worry about problems that haven’t or aren’t taking place—and most times just don’t happen). I am by no means complaining.

However, I’ve come to realize it’s not the life that I was meant to live. I was meant to live like Christ. So what does this mean? Are things going to change? Absolutely. I need to be conformed to the image of the Son. Oh, I’m still going to live at my same address, have my same family, operate this blog, go to school, and I even still have the same aspirations. But I can’t do it for me. I’ll certainly enjoy the fruits of life, and whatever labor in which I engage. But the “best life” (pardon the terrible theology behind how that phrase is most commonly used) that I can be living has to do with bringing honor and glory to God in everything that I do.

It’s why we need a robust theology of work, theology of calling, theology of life. It’s why we need a philosophy that is thorough, well thought-out and that honors and reflects God’s thoughts, as he is the ground of truth. Make me more like your Son, Jesus Christ. The journey starts anew for us every day. The biggest challenge we face is not external activity to change, but the second-order capacity to want to change.

A few recent books I have been reading, as well as the Holy Spirit, have prompted this. Within this prompting (and reading), I’ve seen that the reason we don’t often change is because we don’t work on (and allow ourselves to be worked on) at the “lower orders” of capacity. For an example, we can’t quit caffeine because we haven’t examined the second-order issue of why it is that we feel we need caffeine, or what is bringing it around. Perhaps it is a lack of sleep (second-order), and perhaps that lack of sleep is due to a schedule that is too full (third-order), and perhaps that is due to a failure to organize time properly (fourth-order), and so on. Maybe small, baby steps, and growing very slowly, are the ways in which most of us will do most of our growing. What will you do? Share your comments below!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Definition of Atheism and Burden of Proof

I can solve the "atheism only means a lack of belief" debate rather quickly: "Theism" is not an epistemological claim, it's an ontological claim. It's a claim saying "God exists." From this claim, an epistemological position is developed, called a "theist," one who believes theism is true. "Atheism" is not a negation of "theist," nor is "atheist" derived from "theist." Instead, "atheism" is an ontological claim, negating "theism;" the corresponding epistemological claim is "atheist," meaning one who believes in "atheism." I suspect the whole thing is designed to avoid talking about whether or not God exists and to avoid having to back up anything anyone says, but there it is, people.

Now an atheist may retort that he’s undecided on whether there are any gods and which one or ones might exist, but that he thinks Christianity’s God is false. Fine; technically, you’re not an atheist. You win. But now notice the problem: the skeptic has admitted that he espouses a truth claim about Christianity—namely, that it is false. And now he cannot merely assume such a claim is true, but must argue for it.

The only way someone remains both not an atheist and avoid the burden of proof is by stating that he doesn’t know nor take a position on the truth of Christianity, either. But notice even here, claims the skeptic makes within the context of the debate will still need to be defended. So, essentially, the skeptic only gets completely off the hook by not making any claims whatsoever within the debate. That will be nearly impossible to do (since most, if not all, objections to arguments or points involve counterexamples taken as true). Hope this helps everyone!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Getting an Unaccredited Degree

I’m starting a brief series of posts dealing with education. They should provide some advice about what to do with education in general, and some particular advice about theology and philosophy in education. I’m seeking to answer questions that I occasionally get about what the best route is to take for an individual’s education. I freely admit there are far too many fields that I know virtually nothing about, so it’s quite likely some of the advice I give is flat-out wrong in some cases. Use your best discernment! Today’s post will deal with unaccredited degrees.

A school is accredited by a body that has been approved to do so ultimately by the U.S. Department of Education. The DOE is not themselves the accreditation-grantor. Because accreditation is technically privatized, the argument that the government controls accreditation is not quite right. Still, some schools choose the unaccredited route for religious and theological reasons, and that is their right. An accredited degree is no guarantee of high quality, but it does guarantee that minimum standards are set. We’ll get into other types of accreditation in future articles. Should you do an unaccredited degree? Not in most cases. Let me explain.

Reasons not to do Unaccredited Degrees:

1.     It might be a degree mill.

Strictly speaking, a “degree mill” only describes a “school” where you send them money, and they send you a degree (on any level, including doctoral). It also includes schools where they “evaluate” your prior transcripts and application (where you often list work history), and they can give you a bachelor’s, master’s, or even doctorate based on life experience (and, of course, a down payment). But I’d say most people are wary these days of simply sending money and receiving a degree (at least usually, and if they’re honest). More recently, “degree mill” has also come to describe schools that technically exceed this standard, but only barely. They require little work and time and, frequently, bachelor’s through doctorate can be obtained in perhaps 18 months. One particular school I’m thinking of asks you to do chapter summaries/critiques of a book in order to complete a course, and maybe 20 books to complete a master’s degree. This is a travesty! Higher education should be much more than doing book reports. You don’t want a degree from a degree mill, or anything resembling one.

2.     It might be illegal to use your credentials.

In some states, and in some cases, obtaining the degree isn’t the problem. It’s using it. In some situations, you can actually be breaking the law by claiming to have a credential that, in the eyes of accreditation, you do not have, in order to get a job or obtain business. Just tread carefully here. If you’ve done the homework and you’re OK with obtaining the degree but never using it for professional purposes, you might be all right.

3.     Your credits may not be accepted at most accredited schools.

Let me be frank: your credits will not be accepted at most accredited schools. While it is true that some accredited schools will accept unaccredited credits or degrees, especially if the school has a good reputation (I’m thinking about Liberty and some unaccredited schools specifically), this is not usually the case. I can think of so many times where someone has done an unaccredited bachelor’s, and can’t get into any accredited seminaries. The disappointment can make you feel trapped, as sometimes people find out that instead of being able to do a standard PhD, one must start her education all over again. All because the schools they chose were unaccredited.

4.     In some cases, it’s dishonest.

Note the qualifier “in some cases.” Some, perhaps many, states still allow unaccredited schools to offer PhD’s, specifically. The PhD is often recognized as the Western world’s highest academic degree. It is like the driver’s license for world-class scholarship. It means you have interacted with the best and most up-to-date scholarship in your field, perusing anthologies, monographs, and especially journal articles. Not only that, but a successful PhD will have journal articles published of his own (at least eventually), and has always completed a lengthy dissertation. This dissertation isn’t just a long project, or even a long research paper. Instead, it’s taken all of the recent scholarship on a narrow topic into consideration, and formed an original contribution the world of academia has not yet seen. In all likelihood, the successful PhD is the foremost authority in the entire world on her particular dissertation topic. The vast majority of unaccredited PhD’s don’t even come close to these standards (many of them having never researched a journal article). Having a PhD from this type of an institution gives the impression you’ve done much, or perhaps all of this, but the reality is really far short.

5.     It usually does not meet the standards of scholarship.

This goes with (4). Even some unaccredited schools that are “recommended” fall into this trap. They honestly believe they have world-class scholarship, but they do not. One way to find out: read a dissertation or master’s thesis from their school, and then read one on the same level from an accredited school. That’s not a surefire way to tell (perhaps the student on either end is exceptionally good or bad), but it’s a small indicator. Or perhaps ask someone who has been to both an accredited and unaccredited school. There are good ones out there.

6.     If you want to teach at an accredited school, you usually must have an accredited degree.

This is huge. So many of the people who ask me for advice are fellow Christians who want to know the best way they can earn qualifications to teach. Some plan on being a professor, others just want to have the opportunity, or to do it part-time. Try perusing a regionally accredited school’s job requirements for professors one day. Try several such schools. Know what almost always shows up as one of them? You must have a PhD/master’s from a regionally accredited school! What about nationally accredited schools? You must have a PhD/master’s from an accredited school! In most cases, at most accredited schools, if you don’t have an accredited graduate or post-graduate degree, you can forget about teaching. Your options will be limited to unaccredited schools, which are usually so small that it’s difficult to make a career out of teaching there (usually it could be part-time or even no pay).

As I have tried to hint at, there are good unaccredited schools. If you have your eyes wide open to the future ramifications, and if the pitfalls above won’t apply to you, and you want to study at an unaccredited school, don’t be discouraged! As always, follow God’s will in all things. But, for the average student, I wouldn’t recommend going to an unaccredited school.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Is God Really Necessary?

A friend alerted me to another argument against God that I think was poorly made. Christians typically conceive of God as a necessary being. For newcomers, God as necessary means that he could not fail to exist; God exists in all actually possible situations; God cannot come into nor go out of existence; he just exists! For this, we often say God has the property of necessary existence. With me so far? Yes? No? Well, I’ll pretend you said yes, because this is my blog.

I found the argument, as originally given, to be a muddled mess, but I think I can represent it both fairly and validly.[1] It seems to be this:

1.     All necessary beings have all their properties necessarily.
2.     It is possible for God to have different properties than he does have (i.e., some of God’s properties, at least, are not-necessary, or contingent).
3.     Therefore, God is not a necessary being.

Some Christians might shrug their shoulders since, after all, this doesn’t mean that God doesn’t exist. But it does mean that God is radically different than how we have conceived him. Perhaps he is powerful, perhaps good, perhaps all sorts of things, but one thing he is not is necessary. He therefore would not be the maximally great being (at least, the maximally great being would not exist). This is a price most Christians would not want to pay, though I suspect the atheist thought this means that God does not exist. So what is his defense for (1)? He never actually said. He simply asked a question to the effect of, “How can a necessary being have non-necessary properties?” Asking a question is just that—a question, certainly no substitute for an argument. It’s barely more than an assertion, perhaps masking as an objection, just dying to get out.

But what is that objection? The property of necessary existence itself doesn’t entail that all properties of such a being are necessary. Take the extrinsic, contingent property that God has of “having created Randy Everist.” Why would God’s having the property of necessary existence necessitate or entail that Randy Everist is created? I fail to see the link. I suspect that perhaps the objector means something like “all of God’s essential properties are necessary; there cannot be any essential properties that are not-necessary.” Agreed, but of what relevance is this? Anyway, I can’t figure out a good argument for why we should think (1) is true. What about (2)?

I think (2) is correct: I think some of God’s extrinsic properties are contingent. But it occurs to me in the cleaning up of this guy’s argument that he may not have meant this at all. He may have meant something like, “It is possible for God to have different essential properties than he does have.” But no Christian will agree to this. He says something in the post like, “We can conceive of this type of God, and it would have to be the case that a logical impossibility would come about from this God’s existence. No impossibility comes, therefore the conclusion still follows.” Since he never says what this God is (beyond a vague statement about God having a different “personality,” whatever that means), it’s difficult for us to evaluate and criticize.

Now since we’ve already taken care of God and accidental properties, we need only concern ourselves with necessary properties here. Let’s also assume that (1) means something more like:

1*. All necessary beings have all their essential properties necessarily.

(1*) should be entirely unobjectionable, since everything that exists, necessary or contingent, has all their essential properties necessarily. And interpreting (2) to mean essential properties, the same conclusion still follows: that God is not a necessary being. Now, at first glance, the obvious answer is that it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever to say that it’s possible for God to have different essential properties than what he does have on Christian theism, since:

4.     Whatever exists has its essential properties necessarily.

If (4) is true, then not only is (2) false, but it’s necessarily false—that is to say, it’s impossible! So perhaps what he’s really getting at in this argument is that there are no necessary beings, because it seems that for any being postulated, a different set of essential properties could be had. But that doesn’t follow from the current argument. A new argument is needed. Take (1), and add:

5.     There is, at most, only one necessary being.
6.     If there is a necessary being that can be distinguished in its necessary properties from the Christian God, then the Christian God is not the necessary being.
7.     But for any and every proposed necessary being, there can be a necessary being coherently postulated that can be distinguished in its essential properties from the Christian God (and each other).
8.     Therefore, the Christian God is not the necessary being.
9.     Therefore, there is no necessary being.

But, strange as it may seem, this argument is incoherent. For if (7) is true, (9) cannot possibly be true, and vice versa. Why? For something to be coherent, it must be the case that there is a possible world in which it exists. For newcomers, “possible worlds semantics” is a heuristic device philosophers use to discuss ways things possibly could have gone, in reality. So, if (7) is true, then there is a possible world, or a possible way things could have gone, in which that particular necessary being exists. But what it means to be necessarily existent is that you exist in all possible worlds, not just one or some. This would include the actual world, or the way things actually are. But that means that (9) is false, because if there is a necessary being in the actual world, then it can hardly follow that there is no necessary being.

Premises (7, 9) form an inconsistent set: they can’t both be true. So which one will you choose? If you choose (9), you’ll have to say (7) is false. In that case, (8) only follows from (9), and (9) will need its own new argument. If you choose (7), then you’re just left arguing for some other necessary being and not God—which hasn’t been done.

What justifies us in thinking that the Christian God is this necessary being? Well, Perfect Being Theology reveals a God who has all the properties it is better for a being to have than to lack, and he has it to the greatest degree there is (where certain properties admit of degrees, and where those degrees have an intrinsic maximum). When that is fleshed out, it reveals a God of essential properties that looks strikingly like the orthodox Christian conception of God. Other conceptions tend to fail on various accounts; our God never does.

[1] For newcomers, logical validity doesn’t equal correctness. It just means that if the premises are true, then the conclusion does indeed follow. It’s only a statement about the form of an argument, not its truth.