Thinking of God

This argument,
so brief,
yet so enduring,
makes nothing of sense,
and everything of thought.

Its conceptual point
of departure
is God
as mere idea-
the idea of:
a being
than which nothing greater
can be
conceived-
and moves on to
its referent,
the reality that transcends
the idea that it entails,
God Himself.

It proceeds
going backwards:
a clever move
to catch
the “No”-theist
in a merciful trap:
Think it as
not-real;
then it must needs be
a thought only ….
and yet,
a thought of the greatest conceivable
(being) that does not be,
which therefore is not
the greatest conceivable
being as such.

Could such a thought
proceed from
a saint
Anselm of Canterbury
thought so,
and, please God,
presented it
with solid conviction,
that it was both
proof
of God
and
(of) answered prayer.

-RDG

Grading papers

Last week I received this semester’s first stack of papers to grade. I’ve set a goal of grading two papers a day. At that pace I’ll be finished by the time we resume class after Reading Week and I won’t want to kill myself for trying to grade so many at once.

So far, I’m pleased with the quality of papers. They are for my Philosophy of Religion class, so it’s a subject I care about quite a lot. At this point in their educational journey I’m not expecting them to be all that original in what they have to say, but do expect them to say it well. What really makes me happy is to see someone carefully present an argument and then nicely evaluate it. It might be their own argument or that of someone else. But either way a good philosophy paper needs an argument and it needs a good examination of it. Most have done this, some have not. 

One thing that has been encouraging is that I’m starting to notice just how much I’ve learned over the years. It’s easy to be so caught up in what you’re doing in school that you don’t actually realize you’re learning quite a bit. For example, I had one student cite an author as advocating a certain position but because I’m familiar with the book, I knew he only said that in the introduction to his book while explaining various other views. It wasn’t until chapter 3 that he advocated a more nuanced, but similar, position.

This whole process makes me think back to my time as a 3rd or 4th year student and the types of papers I turned in to my professors. I get the feeling that some of my students are turning in work that is better than the work I turned in at that stage. That is exciting.

This post was a bit random (with a lot of rambling), but hey it’s what I was thinking about and I couldn’t fit it into 140 characters for Twitter. By the way, this is my first blog post with the tag ‘school’ indicating not my own education but to my educating others. Wow.

My Dissertation Prospectus

This morning I had the pleasure to send off the final copy of my dissertation prospectus to my advisory committee. It took me much longer to write than I thought it would, but considering there were some major changes in the dissertation’s aim, that isn’t too unexpected. 

For now, the title of dissertation is “A Rational Problem of Evil: The Coherence of Christian Doctrine and the Free Will Defense.” If you’d like to read a bit more about the project, I’ve posted a copy of the prospectus on the “Research” page of this blog.

A Problem of Hell?

I was talking with a good friend (his website) last night about the problem of evil and how it relates to Christian theology. I’m starting to think that an adequate answer (solution?) to the problem of evil has to rely on specific Christian resources. For those unfamiliar with the problem, I’ll briefly state it. It seems that the following are inconsistent (either logically, or at least probably inconsistent):

  1. God is omnipotent
  2. God is wholly good
  3. Evil exists

If God is wholly good he would want to eliminate evil and if he is omnipotent he could eliminate evil, but yet we experience (or hear of) evil all the time. I think this poses the greatest challenge to Christian theism, but also think there are good responses to the problem.

In the philosophical discussions it is often tempting to try to resolve this problem without appealing to specific Christian doctrines, but I think that is a mistake. There aren’t many who believe in a God that is just omnipotent and wholly good and know nothing else of him or his plan for this world. So, it seems that the problem is directed toward Christian theists and so it should be acceptable to appeal to certain Christian understandings of justice and eschatology in giving an answer to the problem.

During our discussion last night my friend pointed out that many people are glad they exist even if they have experienced a great amount of evil. I think that is a really important thing to keep in mind. Sure, person X may have experienced a lot of evil, but if X thinks it is better for him to have existed than not, is the problem of evil still as pressing? I wonder how many people would say they really wish they were never born. (On a side note, it would be interesting to study the psychology of a suicidal person. Do they wish they were never born, or just that they don’t want to go on living? I think an answer to that will play a role.) As I was reflecting about last night’s conversation I began to wonder how this would fit into the Christian’s understanding of hell.

I guess if I’m willing to appeal to Christian theology to respond to the problem of evil I also need to deal with difficult parts of that same Christian theology. I’m not exactly sure what the orthodox understanding of hell is, but I’m pretty sure it’s not literally fire & brimstone. Either way, it’s not a place that anyone would want to be (regardless of their jokes about it). No matter how much evil a person inflicts on earth, eternal punishment for that temporal evil seems to be a bit of an overkill. At some point, would it actually have been better for the person in hell to not have existed? Even if people experiencing evil on earth still are glad they exist, would the person in hell feel the same way? Is the fact that they are in hell because they rejected God and not because they committed evils relevant? My intuitions lead me to think they would not want to have existed at all instead of spending eternity in hell, but that’s just my intuitions talking. This, of course, leads to the discussion about whether a wholly good being could annihilate his creation and still be wholly good. The two questions are closely connected, but I just don’t know what to say about either at this point.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Maybe a better understanding of what hell is (and not just what it isn’t) would help resolve the problem, but I’m not sure.

The Problem of Evil

Every Christian should realize that the problem(s) of evil are difficult to deal with and can stand as legitimate obstacles to someone’s belief in the existence of God. For those that are not familiar with this problem, I will give you a very quick version:

  1. If God exists, he is omnipotent and omnibenevolent
  2. Evil exists.

So, it seems that:

  1. God wanted to prevent evil, but couldn’t and so is not omnipotent, or
  2. God could have prevented evil but didn’t want to and so is not omnibenevolent.

It seems that there is an inconsistency within the first two premises, so they both cannot be true at the same time. The non-theist says we have good reasons for believing evil exists, so we should reject (1). The theist, however, doesn’t want to reject either so must figure out a way to make (1) and (2) consistent. This version of the problem of evil is one of many, but gets the general idea across.What I hope is that Christians understand the force of this problem and do not just chalk it up to the lack of faith in God in the non-believer. That probably plays a role, but even many Christians are troubled by this as well. I feel that we have good responses to this type of problem in the ‘free will’ defense, but it isn’t likely to answer the non-theists questions on the first pass. I recently had the opportunity to lecture for two introduction to philosophy classes at the University of Oklahoma on the problem of evil and had some really good discussions with many of the students. If you would like more information on this type of objection, let me know and I’d love to direct you to some great resources.Grace and peace,

Sweet relief, for now

Well, I finished my PhD qualifying exams this morning. The first one on the history of modern philosophy was yesterday and went well. I answered the three questions that I was really hoping were going to be on the exam:

  1. What is the charge of circularity against Descartes in the Meditations and how could one defend Descartes against this charge?
  2. Explain the view of creation as held by Descartes, Leibniz, and Spinoza. Be sure to include Descartes’ discussion of the creation of eternal truths, Leibniz’s divine calculus, and Spionza’s necessitarianism.
  3. What is Locke’s view on the primary/secondary quality distinction? How does he argue for this distinction? How does Berkeley critique Locke’s view? Does Berkeley misunderstand Locke?

This morning I took the exam on metaphysics and epistemology and, again, the questions I wanted to be on the test most were there:

  1. What is the ontological argument for the existence of God and what are the objections to it? How does it stand up to those objections?
  2. What is (are) the main problem(s) of free will? What is a compatibilist response to the problem(s)? How does compatibilism stand up to objections raised against it?
  3. What is Gettier’s objection to the traditional account of knowledge? What are the possible responses to that problem? How do the responses fair to objections?

I feel really good knowing that I answered everything that I wanted to and don’t think I forgot anything that was crucial to the arguments. My only concern is that in preparing my notes and outlines, I may have overlooked or forgotten something important and because of that, it didn’t end up on the exam. I don’t think that is a real plausible scenario, but it is plausible at least.So, I leave with another request. Please continue to pray for favor among the 5 professors that will be grading the exam. I need to get a ‘high pass’ to continue in the program. I’ll keep you updated.Grace and peace,