Philosophy Word of the Day – William P. Alston (1921 – )

Although he has contributed to other areas of philosophy, his main interests lie in the areas of epistemology and philosophy of religion.  His work on epistemic justification has been particularly influential, and he has published extensive discussions of religious language.

In Perceiving God (1991), these two interests come together in a detailed account of the epistemology of religious experience.  Alston argues that religious experiences which are taken by their subjects to be direct non-sensory experiences of God are perceptual in their character because they involve a presentation or appearance to the subject of something that the subject identifies as God.

He defends the view that such mystical perception is a source of prima facie justified beliefs about divine manifestations by arguing for the practical rationality of engaging in a belief forming practice that involves reliance on mystical perception. (by Philip L. Quinn in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy [1995], 22.)

Together with other philosophers (Alvin Plantinga, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Robert Adams) Alston was involved in setting up the philosophy journal Faith and philosophy and the Society of Christian Philosophers. Alston is a past president of the American Philosophical Association and was one of the core figures in the late 20th century revival of the philosophy of religion. (via Wikipedia)

Bookmark and Share

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Does Twitter Make You Evil?

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

I’ll bet you were just asking yourself that. : )

Here are some opposing opinions shared by The Week.

Okay, it’s official, said Owen Thomas in Valleywag. Twitter makes you evil, according to a University of Southern California study. Or, more precisely, people caught up in the rapid flow of information in some online social spaces, such as Twitter, don’t have enough time to process the moral implications of their exchanges. But that’s by design, because Twitter was meant to be “empty of values except for the cultish worship of the now.”

Come on, said Sarah Perez in Read Write Web. Yesterday we heard about a bogus study saying Facebook users get bad grades in school, and now we’re getting another updating of the “TV rots your brain” mantra of the last century. Maybe it’s true that people aren’t as compassionate as they could be while monitoring a string of tweets, but “we do, in fact, still feel things.”

Of course, said Samantha Rose Hunt in TG Daily, but our ability to rapidly sort information erodes our capacity to sense the needs or pain of others, according to the study, to be published next week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. So if you try to process your friends’ tweets too quickly, you could miss what they’re really trying to say.

These caveats do have the ring of truth.  I guess the lesson is, think before you tweet.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Bookmark and Share

Most U.S. Christians Don’t Believe Satan, Holy Spirit Exist

The Descent of the Holy Spirit in a 15th centu...
Image via Wikipedia

What does everyone make of this?  The Christian Post reports:

In contrast, about 35 percent of American Christians believe Satan is real. Twenty-six percent strongly disagreed with the statement that Satan is merely symbolic and about one-tenth (9 percent) somewhat disagreed.

The majority of American Christians do not believe that Satan is a real being or that the Holy Spirit is a living entity, the latest Barna survey found.

Nearly six out of ten Christians either strongly agreed or somewhat agreed with the statement that Satan “is not a living being but is a symbol of evil,” the survey found.

Forty percent strongly agreed with the statement while 19 percent of American Christians somewhat agreed.

The remaining eight percent of American Christians responded they were unsure what to believe about the existence of Satan.

Interestingly, the majority of Christians believe a person can be under the influence of spiritual forces, such as demons or evil spirits, even though many of these same people believe Satan is merely a symbol of evil. Two out of three Christians agreed that such forces are real (39 percent agreed strongly, 25 percent agreed somewhat).

Likewise, most Christians in the United States do not believe that the Holy Spirit is a living force. Fifty-eight percent strongly or somewhat agreed with the statement that the Holy Spirit is “a symbol of God’s power or presence but is not a living entity.”

Only one-third of Christians disagreed with the statement that the Holy Spirit is not just symbolic (9 percent disagreed somewhat, 25 percent disagreed strongly). Nine percent expressed they were unsure.

Interestingly, about half (49 percent) of those who agreed that the Holy Spirit is only a symbol but not a living entity, agreed that the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches. The Bible states that the Holy Spirit is God’s power or presence, not just symbolic.

My guess is that this is mainly a matter of biblical and theological illiteracy – rather than, for example, a conclusion arrived at after considering the main hermeneutical positions and then choosing a metaphorical interpretation as the best option.

It seems anyone in a teaching or preaching position has their work cut out for them.  Maybe we need Theology 101 classes in all of our churches.  Or a Theology 101 series from the pulpit.  I’m an optimist and like to look on the bright side, but those statistics are pretty dismal.

What do you think?

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Bookmark and Share

Free, Unabridged Textbooks Online

Image representing Flat World Knowledge as dep...
Image via CrunchBase

Flat World Knowledge is a new company that offers professional-quality textbooks that are free to read online.  They summarize their business as follows:

We preserve the best of the old – books by leading experts, rigorously reviewed and developed to the highest standards. Then we flip it all on its head.

Our books are free online. We offer convenient, low-cost choices for students – softcovers for under $30, audio books and chapters, self-print options, and more. Our books are open for instructors to modify and make their own (for their own course – not for anybody else’s). Our books are the hub of a social learning network where students learn from the book and each other.

Flat World Knowledge. Because great minds are evenly distributed. Great textbooks are not. Until Now.

Currently, the site has textbooks in the categories of Accounting and Tax, Communications, Economics, Finance, General Business, Information Systems, Management, and Marketing.

Bookmark and Share

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Learning Physics Through Open Courses

The Large Hadron Collider/ATLAS at CERN
Image by Image Editor via Flickr

If you have an interest in physics or would like to learn what it’s all about, some of its history, and its current cutting-edge theories, Open Culture gives a nice summary of the best online audio and video resources.

At Stanford, we’re putting together a six course sequence called Modern Physics: The Theoretical Minimum. Taught by Leonard Susskind, one of America’s leading physics minds, this course traces the development of modern physics, moving from Newton to Einstein to Black Holes. So far, we’ve made five of the six courses available online (get them here), which amounts to 100 hours of free classroom footage. Hard to beat. (And, in case you’re wondering, the sixth course is being taped right now, and it will be coming online during the months to come.)

Another program that has received a fair amount of attention is Walter Lewin’s series of courses at MIT. As The New York Times has noted, Lewin has long had a cult following at MIT, and now, thanks to his physics courses, he’s achieved a minor degree of fame on the internet. His lectures, delivered with panache, can be found here:

A third course to call your attention to is Richard Muller’s Physics for Future Presidents (FeedMP3sYouTube).  The course comes out of UC Berkeley, where it’s an undergraduate favorite. (It’s also the basis of a recent book by the same name.) And the whole point here is to give citizens the scientific knowledge they need to understand critical issues facing our society.

Finally, another course worth reviewing is Fundamentals of Physics, which is taught by Ramamurti Shankar and it’s part of Yale’s Open Course initiative.

All of these physics courses, and many more, can be found in our Free University Course collection.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Bookmark and Share

C.S. Lewis Gets a New Look from HarperOne

In other C. S. Lewis news, Publishers Weekly reports that HarperOne,

the publisher of Lewis’s adult books since 2001 (of which they have sold 3.7 million copies), [has] decided to repackage the nine Lewis books it publishes to give them “a look that’s in keeping with the classic magisterial image of C.S. Lewis, but also to make it more contemporary,” according to Claudia Riemer Boutote, v-p and associate publisher of HarperOne. These nine books—including Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters and A Grief Observed—are widely considered to be among the major works of 20th-century Christian thought.

HarperOne redesigned both the paperback and hardcover editions of the books. The paperbacks of all nine books received a smooth, simplistic look featuring a black-and-white drawing for each title and a band with Lewis’s signature cutting across the cover. For the hardcovers—of The Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity, A Grief Observed and, for the first time, The Great Divorce—are all off-white, with the title in bold black letters, and Lewis’s name in gold foil; each features a small black icon. Boutote said, “I think this look has more of a cool factor than our previous look, and I think it’s more likely that young browsers who haven’t read Lewis before would just pick these books up.” HarperOne will also offer boxed sets of both the paper and hardcover editions, the latter of which will be available for Christmas, as well as a single-volume paperback edition of all nine books. The new editions went on sale on in early March.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Bookmark and Share

C. S. Lewis on Metaphors of the Incarnation and Atonement

Another fine piece from the C. S. Lewis blog, this time describing some of Lewis’s metaphors for understanding the Incarnation and Atonement.  David C. Downing (Professor of English at Elizabethtown College in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania) writes:

“God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself.” That concise statement by the apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 5:19a) has kept theologians busy for nearly two thousand years, trying to understand what exactly is being affirmed in the Christian doctrines of the Incarnation and the Atonement.

C. S. Lewis never lost his sense of wonder about either one of these central Christian teachings. Referring to the Incarnation as “The Grand Miracle,” Lewis said he could not conceive how “eternal self-existent Spirit” could be combined with “a natural human organism” so as to make one person. He added, though, that every human embodies the same enigma to a lesser degree, an immortal spirit inhabiting a mortal body (Miracles, chap. 14).

In one of his most extended comparisons, Lewis compares Christ to a pearl-diver, a passage so elaborate that it borders on allegory:

“One may think of a diver, first reducing himself to nakedness, then glancing in mid-air, then gone with a splash, vanishing rushing down through green and warm water into black and cold water, down through increasing pressure into the deathlike region of ooze and slime and old decay; then up again, back to colour and light, his lungs almost bursting, till suddenly he breaks the surface again, holding in his hand the dripping, precious thing he went down to recover. He and it are both coloured now that they have come up into the light: down below, where it lay colorless in the dark, he lost his color too” (Miracles, chap. 14) . . . .

In a more mystical vein, Lewis describes God as an infinite ocean of light, able to absorb all shadows: “The pure light walks the earth; the darkness, received into the heart of the Deity, is there swallowed up. Where, except in uncreated light, can the darkness be drowned?” (Letters to Malcolm, chap. 8).

Bookmark and Share

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]