Philosophy Word of the Day – Omniscience and Divine Foreknowledge

Omniscience is an attribute having to do with knowledge; it is the attribute of “having knowledge of everything.” Many philosophers consider omniscience to be an attribute possessed only by a divine being, such as the God of Western monotheism. However, the Eastern followers of Jainism allow omniscience to be an attribute of some human beings. But what exactly is it to be omniscient?

The term’s root Latin words are “omni” (all) and “scientia” (knowledge), and these suggest a rough layman’s definition of omniscience as “knowledge of everything.” Yet even though this definition may be somewhat useful, there are a number of questions which the definition alone does not address.

First, there is the general question of what exactly our human knowledge is and whether or not an understanding of human knowledge can be applied to God. For example, does God have beliefs? And what kind of evidence does God need for these beliefs to count as knowledge? There is also the question of what exactly this “everything” in the definition is supposed to mean. Does God know everything which is actual but not all that is possible? Does God know the future, and if so, how exactly? This last question is a perennial difficulty and will require a thorough investigation. (Continue article)

(Via Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

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The Religious Views of Scientists

An overview of the structure of DNA.
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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports on these interesting statistics:

According to a survey of American Association for the Advancement of Science members, conducted by the Pew Research Center in May and June, a majority of scientists (51 percent) say they believe in God or a higher power, while 41 percent say they do not.

Furthermore, scientists today are no less likely to believe in God than they were almost 100 years ago, when the scientific community was first polled on this issue. In 1914, 11 years before the Scopes “monkey” trial and four decades before the discovery of the structure of DNA, psychologist James Leuba asked 1,000 U.S. scientists about their views on God. He found the scientific community evenly divided, with 42 percent saying that they believed in a personal God and the same number saying they did not. . . .

But the scientific community is much less religious than the general public. In Pew surveys, 95 percent of American adults say they believe in some form of deity or higher power.

And the public does not share scientists’ certainty about evolution. While 87 percent of scientists say that life evolved over time due to natural processes, only 32 percent of the public believes this to be true, according to a different Pew poll last year.

(HT: Faith-Science News)

It seems that most scientists aren’t compelled by their discipline to abandon their religious beliefs.

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Quotable – J. P. Moreland on Philosophy and Science

“Philosophy undergirds science by providing its presuppositions:  Science (at least as most scientists and philosophers understand it) assumes that the universe is intelligible and not capricious, that the mind and senses inform us about reality, that mathematics and language can be applied to the world, that knowledge is possible, that there is a uniformity in nature that justifies inductive inferences from the past to the future and form examined cases of, say, electrons, to unexamined cases, and so forth.  These and other presuppositions of science . . . are philosophical in nature.”

J. P. Moreland, Christianity and the Nature of Science (Baker, 1989, p. 45)

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The Making of an Atheist

The website for Christian philosopher James Spiegel’s newest book, The Making of an Atheist, is now up here.  I had the pleasure of editing this volume and I believe it will be a helpful resource – and probably a source of some controversy.  Part of Spiegel’s aim is to make the case that

atheistic rejection of God is precipitated by immoral indulgences, usually combined with some deep psychological disturbances, such as a broken relationship with one’s father. I also show how atheists suffer from what I call “paradigm-induced blindness,” as their worldview inhibits their ability to recognize the reality of God manifest in creation.

For those in the Reformed tradition – especially in terms of Reformed or presuppositional apologetics – this analysis will sound familiar.  For those who adopt a more evidential-oriented apologetics, this viewpoint may feel foreign or uncomfortable.  However, most of us who are steeped in the evidential tradition have probably not taken non-rational factors seriously enough in dealing with disbelief.  I came away from the book much more convinced that the will and psychological dispositions play as important a role in choosing to believe or disbelieve as rational factors.

The book doesn’t officially release for a couple of more weeks, but I would be interested in hearing responses and reviews from those who read it.

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Scholarly Essays at the Biologos Foundation

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A nice collection of papers here on the relationship between Christianity and evolution.  A few reflect a theistic evolutionary point of view, while others defend skepticism towards a Darwinian approach.  The titles that look especially interesting are

  • “Evangelicals, Creation, and Scripture: An Overview” by Mark Noll

In this paper, Mark Noll — University of Notre Dame historian and author of The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind — looks at 15 of the attitudes, assumptions and convictions considered the most influential in inciting anti-intellectual sentiment among evangelical Christians. He also traces the historical background of when these ideas became prominent and suggests how they still affect contested issues of science and religion.

  • “Barriers to Accepting the Possibility of Creation by Means of an Evolutionary Process: I. Concerns of the Typical Evangelical Theologian” by Bruce Waltke

In this white paper from the November BioLogos workshop, evangelical and renowned Old Testament scholar Bruce Waltke looks at eleven barriers that prevent evangelical theologians from accepting evolution as a possible means for creation and what we these barriers tells us about the tensions between science and religion perceived by many evangelicals. Waltke’s work is based on a survey forwarded to presidents of the Fellowship of Evangelical Seminary Presidents and their faculty, asking them to identify the reasons that they do not personally accept evolutionary theory.

  • “Barriers to Accepting the Possibility of Creation by Means of an Evolutionary Process: II. Concerns of the Typical Parishoner” or “Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople” by Tim Keller

In this paper, considers three main clusters of questions lay people raise when they learn of anyone teaching that biological evolution and biblical orthodoxy can be compatible. Keller offers some ideas on how to provide responses that take these concerns seriously.

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Consciousness

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Explaining the nature of consciousness is one of the most important and perplexing areas of philosophy, but the concept is notoriously ambiguous. The abstract noun “consciousness” is not frequently used by itself in the contemporary literature, but is originally derived from the Latin con (with) and scire (to know). Perhaps the most commonly used contemporary notion of a conscious mental state is captured by Thomas Nagel’s famous “what it is like” sense (Nagel 1974). When I am in a conscious mental state, there is something it is like for me to be in that state from the subjective or first-person point of view.

But how are we to understand this? For instance, how is the conscious mental state related to the body? Can consciousness be explained in terms of brain activity? What makes a mental state be a conscious mental state? The problem of consciousness is arguably the most central issue in current philosophy of mind and is also importantly related to major traditional topics in metaphysics, such as the possibility of immortality and the belief in free will. (Continue article)

(Via Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

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Quotable – John Searle on the Overriding Question in Philosophy

“‘There is exactly one overriding question in contemporary philosophy . . . . How do we fit in? . . . How can we square this self-conception of ourselves as mindful, meaning-creating, free, rational, etc., agents with a universe that consists entirely of mindless, meaningless, unfree, nonrational, brute physical particles?’

For the scientific naturalist, the answer is, ‘Not very well.’”

– J. P. Moreland in God is Great, God is Good (p. 34), quoting John Searle, Freedom & Neurobiology (pp. 4-5).

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