Top Posts of 2009

These are some of the most popular posts at Cloud of Witnesses in 2009.

Thanks to everyone who has read, commented, subscribed, or just stopped by!  I look forward to continuing in 2010.

May God richly bless you in the New Year!

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Miracles

What is a miracle? Controversy over the conception of a miracle focuses primarily on whether a miracle must be, in some sense, contrary to natural law. Must it, in particular, be a violation of natural law? Supposing that it must be, a second question arises, namely, whether the conception of such a violation is a coherent one.

Philosophers have also been concerned about what sort of observable criteria would allow us to identify an event as a miracle, particularly insofar as that means identifying it as a violation of natural law. How, for example, can we tell the difference between a case in which an event is a genuine violation–assuming that some sense can be made of this notion–and one that conforms to some natural law that is unknown to us? And given the occurrence of a genuine violation, how are we to determine whether it is due to divine agency, or whether it is nothing more than a spontaneous lapse in the natural order?

The second main issue is epistemological: Once we settle on what a miracle is, can we ever have good reason to believe that one has taken place? This question is generally connected with the problem of whether testimony, such as that provided by scriptural sources, can ever give us adequate reason to believe that a miracle has occurred.

(Via Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

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The Decade’s Biggest Changes in Christianity

Several scholars and journalists weigh in at Christianity Today.  For example,

“The huge surge of Christianity in China is a major development that several decades down the road could make the difference between peace and war. If Christianity continues to grow in China, I think relations between the U.S. and China will develop very well. If Christianity sputters out there, we’re probably looking at a military confrontation of some kind. The hopes for world peace depend on what happens in China.”
Marvin Olasky, editor-in-chief, WORLD Magazine

“The speed with which the emerging church movement has dissipated, or lost momentum. At the beginning of the decade, ‘emerging’ was a huge buzzword. It peaked in 2002 or 2003; in the time since then, it has become a stigma or albatross that people don’t want to associate with. You don’t hear anyone talking about the emerging church any more. It doesn’t really sell the books that it used to. People thought it was going to be the next big thing and revolutionize the way we do church and change everything, but it seems like the reaction against it has been even more significant.”
Brett McCracken, author, Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Civil Disobedience

What makes a breach of law an act of civil disobedience? When is civil disobedience morally justified? How should the law respond to people who engage in civil disobedience? Discussions of civil disobedience have tended to focus on the first two of these questions. On the most widely accepted account of civil disobedience, famously defended by John Rawls (1971), civil disobedience is a public, non-violent and conscientious breach of law undertaken with the aim of bringing about a change in laws or government policies. On this account, the persons who practice civil disobedience are willing to accept the legal consequences of their actions, as this shows their fidelity to the rule of law. Civil disobedience, given its place at the boundary of fidelity to law, is said to fall between legal protest, on the one hand, and conscientious refusal, revolutionary action, militant protest and organised forcible resistance, on the other hand.

This picture of civil disobedience raises many questions. Why must civil disobedience be non-violent? Why must it be public, in the sense of forewarning authorities of the intended action, since publicity gives authorities an opportunity to interfere with the action? Why must persons who practice civil disobedience be willing to accept punishment? (Continue article)

(Via Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

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Climategate and Attacks on Darwin Dissenters

Stephen Meyer points out the remarkable parallels at Human Events.

Believers in human-caused global climate change have been placed under an uncomfortable spotlight recently. That is thanks to the Climategate scandal, centering on e-mails hacked from the influential Climate Research Unit (CRU) at England’s University of East Anglia. The e-mails show scientists from various academic institutions hard at work suppressing dissent from other scientists who have doubts on global warming, massaging research data to fit preconceived ideas, and seeking to manipulate the gold standard “peer review” process to keep skeptical views from being heard.

Does this sound familiar at all? To me, as a prominent skeptic of modern Darwinian theory, it sure does. For years, Darwin-doubting scientists have complained of precisely such abuses, committed by Darwin zealots in academia.

There have been parallels cases where e-mail traffic was released showing Darwinian scientists displaying the same contempt for fair play and academic openness as we see now in the climate emails. One instance involved a distinguished astrophysicist at Iowa State University, Guillermo Gonzalez, who broke ranks with colleagues in his department over the issue of intelligent design in cosmology. Released under the Iowa Open Records Act, e-mails from his fellow scientists at ISU showed how his department conspired against him, denying Dr. Gonzales tenure as retribution for his views. (Continue article)

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C. S. Lewis on Avoiding God

C. S. Lewis, “The Seeing Eye” in Christian Reflections (Eerdmans, 1967), pp. 168-167:

Avoid silence, avoid solitude, avoid any train of thought that leads off the beaten track. Concentrate on money, sex, status, health and (above all) on your own grievances. Keep the radio on. Live in a crowd. Use plenty of sedation. If you must read books, select them very carefully. But you’d be safer to stick to the papers. You’ll find the advertisements helpful; especially those with a sexy or a snobbish appeal.

(HT: Maverick Philosopher)

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News about Former Kansas Member Kerry Livgren

Kerry Livgren has put up a Christmas Eve letter about his recent, very severe stroke and significant but still-only-partial recovery.

For those who don’t know, Kerry Livgren was a founding member of Kansas and chief songwriter until the mid-80s. He became an evangelical Christian near the end of his time with the band and had a Christian band called AD in the 80s, after which he has spent much of his time running a farm and producing solo albums, while occasionally appearing with Kansas and contributing some new material for them to record (even contributing an entire album that reunited the original members of the famous 1972-on version of Kansas in 2000). Most recently, he reunited with some members of Kansas from before the band was famous in a group called Proto-Kaw (“Kaw” is another name for the Kanza people, from who the state got its name). He appeared on Kansas’ new DVD There’s Know Place Like Home and former Kansas vocalist John Elefante‘s new Mastedon project Revolution of Mind, and he’s been reworking some of his solo album, writing a cantata about the death and resurrection of Jesus’ friend Lazarus in John 11, and updating his autobiography.

Thanks to Parableman for this update.

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C. S. Lewis on the Nativity

Merry Christmas, everyone!  May we all see the Incarnation afresh.

The Nativity
by C. S. Lewis

Among the oxen (like an ox I’m slow)
I see a glory in the stable grow
Which, with the ox’s dullness might at length
Give me an ox’s strength.

Among the asses (stubborn I as they)
I see my Savior where I looked for hay;
So may my beast like folly learn at least
The patience of a beast.

Among the sheep (I like a sheep have strayed)
I watch the manger where my Lord is laid;
Oh that my baaing nature would win thence
Some woolly innocence!

Lewis writes about the incarnation in Miracles. He names it as the central miracle, that, “every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this.” In other words, the incarnation is the hinge that open the heavens. And they are opened (or reopened) in a way that completes the myths of old and reimagines the relationship of God to his creation.

Jesus, God incarnate, enters nature in order to reclaim her. God, Lewis says, is part of nature like the corn-king of old and more… “He is not the soul of Nature nor any part of Nature,” Lewis explains, “He inhabits eternity: He dwells in the high and holy place: Heaven is his throne, not His vehicle, earth is His footstool, not His vesture.”

So, the incarnation is God’s claim on us, not ours on him. He is the invader, the thief, the wrestler of Jacobs. “It is not to tell of a human search for God at all, but of something done by God for, to, and about, Man,” Lewis says.

Advent prepares us to encounter The Incarnation and to turn off the noise of the Christmas racket while we point square into the face of God.

(Via the C. S. Lewis Blog)

Adoration of the Wise Men by Murillo

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Book Review – Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth

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  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (September 29, 2009)
  • Official Logicomix Website
  • Amazon

The wedding of philosophical mathematics and a graphic novel seems an ideal marriage. What in other forms of media could be an overlong, tedious tale, can spring to life and breathe in an illustrated story. That’s my impression after reading Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth. Logicomix tells the story of mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell’s decades-long search to establish an unshakeable foundation for mathematics in logic. Russell narrates his own life story and describes his quest, which began in childhood and continued well into his adult life. Along the way, he interacts with some of the greatest logicians, mathematicians, and philosophers of the early twentieth century—Ludwig Wittgenstein, Georg Cantor, G. E. Moore, David Hilbert, Kurt Gödel, Alfred Whitehead, and Gottlob Frege.

While the quest comprises the main storyline, the authors also shed light on Russell’s private life, which had its fair share of drama and conflict. Having a family history of mental illness, one of his greatest ongoing fears was losing his mind. (On a side note, nearly all of the thinkers mentioned above contended with a serious mental illness.) Russell was married four times, though the book only features his first two wives, and his well known affairs are hinted at. Though his contributions to mathematics and logic were considerable, he came to see his original quest as a failure, especially in light of Wittgenstein’s criticisms and Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem (which the authors explain in the text and in a helpful glossary of terms in the back).

At the same time, the authors suggest that Russell was admired for his pacifism, his endeavoring to apply reason and logic to every area of human activity, and his ideas, which influenced a younger generation of mathematicians such as Alan Turing, who helped break the German “Enigma” code in World War II and whose work importantly influenced the development of the digital computer.

An interesting and intentionally ironic literary device used by the writers is inserting themselves into the story, so that the reader follows the process (interspersed occasionally) of the writing of Logicomix along with Russell’s story. Logicomix is thus self-referential, which characteristic also lies at the heart of “Russell’s Paradox” (also nicely described in the glossary).

At the end of his life, the Russell of Logicomix arrives at the conclusion that much of human nature and behavior can’t be explained or captured by logic, and that no single system can encompass the multi-faceted nature of reality. He declares, “If even in logic and mathematics, the paragons of certainty, we cannot have perfect assurances of reason, then even less can this be achieved in the messy business of human affairs—either private, or public! . . . Wittgenstein has a point, you see: ‘All the facts of science are not enough to understand the world’s meaning.’” (p. 296).

While the authors admit that they have taken some liberties with the reconstruction of Russell’s life, the major characters “are based as closely as possible on their real-life counterparts” and no liberties were taken with “the content of the great adventure of ideas which forms our main plot.” (p. 315, 316). I was pleased to know this, since a mainly fictional account wouldn’t have interested me nearly as much.

Logicomix succeeds, in my view, in shaping a fascinating story out of complex and abstract ideas. The story is epic, recounting some of the most important events in philosophy and mathematics in the last century, while also capturing the very human face of that unfolding drama. Who said comic books couldn’t be educational?

Thanks to Bloomsbury USA for this review copy.

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Laws of Nature

Within metaphysics, there are two competing theories of Laws of Nature. On one account, the Regularity Theory, Laws of Nature are statements of the uniformities or regularities in the world; they are mere descriptions of the way the world is. On the other account, the Necessitarian Theory, Laws of Nature are the “principles” which govern the natural phenomena of the world. That is, the natural world “obeys” the Laws of Nature. This seemingly innocuous difference marks one of the most profound gulfs within contemporary philosophy, and has quite unexpected, and wide-ranging, implications.

Some of these implications involve accidental truths, false existentials, the correspondence theory of truth, and the concept of free will. Perhaps the most important implication of each theory is whether the universe is a cosmic coincidence or driven by specific, eternal laws of nature.  Each side takes a different stance on each of these issues, and to adopt either theory is to give up one or more strong beliefs about the nature of the world. (Continue)

(Via Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

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