Tag Archives: Tim Keller

Blue-haired old ladies or reasoning from experience

5 Oct

 

mimi-with-blue-hair-and-maria-age-8  I was at my hairdresser the other day and our conversation turned to her many regulars, mostly old ladies who come weekly for a wash and a set.  I told her about Mimi, my grandmother, and her blue hair.  How she never seemed to be pleased with the color each time she came home from the beauty shop.

I then casually asked Lisa, “You probably don’t even know about blue hair for little old ladies!”  She came back right away with, “Oh, yes I do!  In fact, I regularly have blue-haired elderly clients.”

After recovering from my shock that blue-haired OLD ladies still existed, I decided to spring that news on my middle school students.  My ‘show and tell’ venture, using the above picture, brought many questions.

I think because I could produce a photo, no one boldly proclaimed, “Well, I’ve never seen a blue-haired little old lady.  I don’t believe you!”

But that is exactly how most people identify truth in our culture today.  Unless they have personal experience of something, or have heard about it from their friends and contacts, they don’t believe it.

Kind of arrogant, don’t you think?

What makes someone think that he can trust his experience and personal knowledge enough?  Does not that seem a bit presumptuous to dare to declare a universal truth, one that applies across the board?  Are you that infallible?

In logic, there are statements or premises that, if true, apply to all members of the subject of the premise.  We call that a ‘universal’. An example is:

  • All men are mortal

If this statement is true, then every member of the ‘man’ family must be mortal.

If this feature does not apply to every single unit of the subject, then at most one can say:

  • Some men are mortal

The same logic laws apply to the negative versions of these statements:

  • No men are mortal is a universal assertion
  • Some men are not mortal is a particular premise

I’ve noticed recently that a lot of us are relying on self-centered sloppy thinking in making truth claims. Consider the following types of generic statements:

  • “I’ve never heard of X.  I just can’t believe X exists.  For surely, if it did, then I would have encountered some mention of it?”
  • “No one I know of thinks that.  I don’t believe it.”

That’s as ridiculous as us saying, ‘I’ve never experienced echolocation (bees use of magnetic cues to travel), so I don’t believe in it.’

Or, ‘I’ve never seen God, so He isn’t real’.  Allegedly one of the Soviet cosmonauts boasted like that upon returning from orbit.

And just this morning I read a Tim Keller quote.  He’s pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan: “Just because you can’t see or imagine a good reason why God might allow something to happen doesn’t mean there can’t be one.”

As our American culture polarizes more, may we be slow to proclaim these sweeping universal generalizations with a tone of authority and pursue the more humble reasoning of the particular.

I don’t want to be like the little boy in CS Lewis’ mud pie example, taken from his essay The Weight of Glory:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

 

 

Logical Gal and an argument against God

13 Jun

Problem of Evil

The most oft-cited reason for why God cannot exist is the fact of evil in the world.  At least since the Enlightenment.

It goes like this:

Premise 1:  If God exists, then he would not allow suffering and evil in the world

Premise 2: Suffering and evil DO exist

Conclusion:  Therefore, God must not exist

When we run into a hypothetical argument like this, it can be valid without being true.

The above form of this particular conditional syllogism is ‘MODUS TOLLENS’ and it is valid.

The way we can see that this argument is valid, is to focus on the 2nd premise and see whether it does one of two things:

  • it can either affirm the antecedent (the clause preceding the comma in the 1st or major premise , i.e. – “God exists“)
  • or it can deny the consequent (what follows the comma in the 1st or major premise, i.e. – he would not allow suffering and evil in the world)

If the 2nd premise (the minor premise) affirms the antecedent, we call its form of hypothetical syllogism ‘Modus Ponens’.  If instead it denies the consequent, then we call this form of the valid argument ‘Modus Tollens’.

*

If you are a biblical Christian and not an adherent to Enlightenment thinking, then you can quickly spot the false premise.

Bingo!  The first premise IS false.  Only when humans started to look to their reason and perceptions as arbiter of what was TRUTH, did philosophers begin to craft God in their own image.  As Tim Keller suggests in his latest book on suffering,

Tim Keller's book on suffering

Link to book here on Amazon

 

…God might actually have a reason for allowing suffering.  But post-enlightenment man reasons this way: If I can’t see a good reason for evil and suffering, then there must not be one!   And that in itself is ANOTHER hypothetical major premise to examine.

If we are truthful, this line of thinking sure makes us seem pretty self-centered and self-referential.  Did it not occur to modern man that he might not actually know ALL the details regarding our universe?  Where is the humility???

So back to Modus Ponens and Modus Tollens, what was the point of that little Latin-flavored Logic exercise?  Just to reenforce that there are several steps to examining an argument.  We look at clarity of terms, the form of the syllogism and then the truthfulness of the premises.  Before you jump in to either congratulate someone who shares your wisdom OR to beat them over the head verbally for espousing nonsense, do your homework!  You’re less likely to come across as a fool!

Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent; with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent.   Proverbs 17:28 –

monkey with mouth shut

 

Logical Gal and parsing God’s role in evil

23 Apr

A sign of maturity is the ability to live with tension between several messy concepts.

I was listening to Justin Brierly interview Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC.  Keller has just written a book on suffering.  You can buy the book here

Tim Keller's book on suffering

When asked how he pastorally responds to the question of evil and suffering, he described how his seminary professor led his class to consider this theodicy (problem of defending God). All the students read a chapter about the doctrine of God in a textbook, authored by Herman Bavink. Two of the views distinguishing God’s role in evil and election are big words:

supra-lapsarianism” and “infra-lapsariansim

According to Keller, the ‘supra’ version is the argument that God DID choose to create a world in which there is evil …….because THOSE circumstances will best glorify Him.

The ‘infra’ variation maintains that God did NOT decide to create a world with evil and suffering in it. But because of the Fall, He did purposefully elect some people out of it, yet did not ordain to save everyone….because THOSE conditions would best glorify him

So there is this argument back and forth.

Keller’s seminary professor then made the case that the Bible doesn’t actually let us choose either one of these.  The Bible says that you mustn’t come down too hard in one direction or the other.   Because if on the one hand you say, “God didn’t ordain evil.  He couldn’t help it, ” you’re left with a bigger problem.  For if evil wasn’t His design, then you really don’t have a god.  You have something else in charge of the universe and we really don’t know what that is. If on the other hand you say, “Yes, God DID create a plan to include evil so that it would glorify Him,”  then that view of God does not fit in with a lot of what the Bible says about His purposes and design as well as His heart and love for the world.

So what does one do with this dilemma, this either-or?

Dilemma

Keller continues with how his seminary professor and Bavink suggested they think. God’s ordaining of evil and good are not identical. They are rather ‘asymmetrical’. That is, His permissiveness in allowing some evil and His purposes in ordaining good are different.

In other words, these two Calvinistic views, the supra and the infralapsarian explanations,  are both right and wrong. (or another conclusion is that we cannot know one way or the other!)  So stick with what the Bible affirms.  Grow to be able to accept that in this life, there WILL BE loose ends.

We are, after all, finite creatures attempting to comprehend an infinite super-natural power.  Yes, God has communicated with us through the written word.  We can’t know everything, but we can know SOME things.  We can have certainty about His character, but His purposes are another matter.

God says in Deuteronomy 29:29 –The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but what has been revealed belongs to us and to our children forever, so that we might observe the words of this Law.

Question:  How comfortable are you at accepting uncertainty about some of these important issues in life?