Sunday, April 28, 2013

On your comments

This page was not letting me see or publish comments for  a long time. Don't think I was snubbing you--although I publish what I want since it is my page. I will try to get to the comments soon. Quite a few have stacked up. It is not my fault, really.

Doug Groothuis

CS Lewis

"Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy must be answered... The learned life then, is for some, a duty."
- C.S. Lewis

Sunday, April 14, 2013


Duke Ellington's America
by Harvey G. Cohen
Edition: Paperback
Price: $17.59
55 used & new from $9.81

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Thorough and Satisfying EffortMarch 9, 2013
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Mr. Cohen has written perhaps the definitive overall biography of the inimitable Duke Ellington, whose larger-than-life life resists easy interpretation or apt commentary. Cohen's thesis is that Duke Ellington contributed incomparably to American culture in the twentieth century in numerous ways: through his music (of course), his views of race (a complex subject), his unique style, and his representation of America abroad. This is a felicitous unifying narrative, a way into most areas of Ellington's robust biography.

Those wanting detailed musical analysis will need to go elsewhere, since this is more a cultural and personal approach than that of a musicologist. However, Cohen understands Ellington's musical stages and his complex relationship to his nearly fifty years as a big band leader--a mark that was never equaled and will never be approached again.

Cohen spends particular attention on Ellington's finances, which, despite his long-term fame, were anything but stable. After the peak of the big bands, Ellington had to subsidize his band with his own profits. He was often in financial straights and had money confiscated by the IRS. It may be too much to ask a bona fide musical genius (no exaggeration here) to be a financial planner, but Duke might have paid a bit more attention to the details of his personal assets.

"Duke Ellington's America" is an outstanding biography of an outstanding and complex man, a man who helped shaped twentieth century America as few others have. And his indomitable influence lives on.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Blaise Pascal

Blaise Pascal

Blaise Pascal was many things - a theological controversialist, a superb French stylist, an inventor, a scientist, and a mathematician. But he is most known for being a philosopher of the heart. ‘The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing; we know this in countless ways,’ he wrote in Pensées (or Thoughts, 1670), his unfinished book commending Christianity for skeptics. Given this and other references to the heart, many take Pascal to be an early religious existentialist, who, like Kierkegaard, disparaged reason and opted for an emotional leap of faith. One can only wager that God exists for the sake of what can be gained by believing in God if God does exist. This common description is a bit of caricature. The truth is more interesting.
Pascal was possibly the greatest mind of his day, despite a frail constitution and chronic pain. His mathematical and scientific abilities were prodigious and well known, sparking the envy of the older and eminent philosopher René Descartes. Pascal’s scientific research proved that, against received opinion, nature did not abhor a vacuum. He designed the first working calculating machine in order to aid his father in assessing taxes. He also engineered the first mass transit system to help the poor of Paris.
When Pascal discussed religion, he did not put aside his exceptional intellect or deny the power of reason. Instead, he employed a variety of arguments in support of Christian faith, despite the fact that he disparaged traditional arguments for God’s existence as too abstract and generic. (He distinguished ‘the God of the philosophers’ from ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’.) Some of his most searching and memorable lines come from his reflections on the human condition contained in the fragments of Pensées, which were written with the skeptic’s doubts in mind. Speaking for the baffled skeptic, he writes, ‘Why have limits been set upon my knowledge, my height, my life, making it a hundred rather than a thousand years?’ Pascal wanted the skeptic to be puzzled by his own contingency and to seek out answers to these riddles.
Pascal addressed this sense of cosmic wonder by delving into the condition of the one wondering. ‘What sort of freak then is man! How novel, how monstrous, how chaotic, how paradoxical, how prodigious!’ This polarity at the heart of humanity - or ‘greatness and misery’ - is both troublesome and resistant to simple explanation. Humans are neither angels nor beasts; neither entirely praiseworthy nor entirely blameworthy. They are, rather, enigmas to themselves.
Finding no consolation in human philosophy, Pascal appeals to biblical revelation to solve the riddle. We are great by virtue of our origin as God’s creatures, made in the divine image; we are miserable because of original sin. Pascal believed that the evidence for both propositions was abundant once one took them seriously.
Pascal presents this case as an argument for Christianity, but he realised the limitations of unaided human reason. Therefore, he attempts to strike a balance between conceiving Christianity as either an airtight rational system devoid of mystery or as a dark mystery that escapes understanding entirely. Nevertheless, there are ‘reasons of the heart,’ or first principles, which can be known intuitively. These include mathematical, common sense, and religious beliefs.
Pascal realised that some skeptics would not be convinced to embrace Christianity by evidence or rational arguments alone. Therefore, in the famous wager argument, he appealed to the eternal stakes involved in Christianity’s truth or falsity with respect to one’s belief or unbelief. The wager is not an argument for the existence of God (which the hardcore skeptic would reject), but rather concerns situations where one must make momentous prudential decisions under conditions of uncertainty. Pascal challenges the unbeliever to believe in God, despite the lack of proof, because of the infinite gain (heaven) that accompanies belief if Christianity is true. There is little for the believer to lose if Christianity is false. On the other hand, there is much to lose if Christianity is true and one fails to believe (the loss of heaven). A terse fragment outside the longer wager fragment captures the essence of this proposition: ‘I should be much more afraid of being mistaken and then finding out that Christianity is true than of being mistaken in believing it to be true.’
Therefore, Pascal advises the unbeliever to become a believer by engaging in certain religious practices that may result in belief and the eventual beatitude. But Pascal thinks the skeptic can in this way find certainty; it is not brainwashing. He may find ‘reasons of the heart.’ Pascal does not offer the wager as the essence of faith, but as a step toward truer faith.
Because of the fragmentary nature of Pensées, interpretations of the wager (and other arguments) differ, but readers of Pascal will, nevertheless, find themselves in for an intellectual adventure.
Douglas Groothuis
Suggested reading
Groothuis, D. 2003. On Pascal. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.
Hammond, N. 2003. The Cambridge Companion to Pascal. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Pascal , P. 1995 [1670]. Pensées. Harmondsdworth: Penguin.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Christian worldview is not proven in one or two strokes, but is rather verified by appealing to a wide and compelling variety of converging arguments. Christianity is shown to be the best explanation for origin and nature of the universe as well as the human condition and the facts of history. Moreover, Christians must be pastoral in their apologetic practices. We must care deeply for the lost, not simply desire to defeat their arguments. The stakes are too high for apologetic one-upmanship. - Douglas Groothuis

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Being a Christian in College

Sarah Geis and I wrote a three-part article on being a faithful Christian in college. Since the church loses most students in college, this is very significant. Take it from a 56-year-old philosopher who worked in campus ministry for 12 years and who will teaches at one.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

A Moral Case Against Darwinism

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D.

A Moral Argument Against Darwinism

1.      If Darwinism is an adequate account of the biosphere, then human beings have no essential nature, since they evolved without design into their present forms.

2.      If (1), then various races of humans may be more evolved (that is, more adaptively successful) than other races. Darwin himself states this in The Descent of Man.

3.      If (2), there is nothing intrinsically valuable about the human race as a whole. That is, some races may prevail upon other races given their selective advantages due to their unique evolutionary path.

4.      If (3), then there is no philosophical basis for the claim that humans qua humans have objective and universal human rights.

5.      But (4) is false. Our moral intuitions and the history of Western law treat every human being, irrespective of race, as possessing intrinsic human dignity and must be treated as such. The United Nation’s statement on human rights affirms this, for example, as does The United States Declaration of Independence: “All men are created equal.”

6.      Further, if (4) is true, then we have no objective basis to morally condemn the enslavement or even eradication of the “less favored races” (Darwin’s term).

7.      But (4) is false, because of (5).

8.      Therefore (6) is false because of (5)

9.      Therefore, (1)—Darwinism—is false. This is by modus tollens, which in this case is a reductio ad absurdum (reduce the claim to absurdity).

Note: modus tollens (or denying the consequent):

a.       If p, then q.
b.      Not-q.
c.       Therefore, not-P.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

A Well-Instructed Tongue for the Weary

4 The Sovereign LORD has given me a well-instructed tongue,
to know the word that sustains the weary.
He wakens me morning by morning,
wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed. --Isaiah 50:4.

This passage is from one of the servant songs, which presage the coming of the Messiah, Christ Jesus. Since his followers are called to walk in steps, we too should learn how to be instructed by the Sovereign Lord to have a "well instructed tongue to know the word that sustains the weary." We need to learn this from God, considering the perfect example of Jesus, who comforted the afflicted.

The chronically ill desperately need a word that sustains the weary, for they are so terribly weary--weary of doctors, tests, medicines, the misunderstanding of friends of family; weary of broken dreams, broken relationship ships, bodies that betray them, weary of life under the sun and east of Eden. Instead of hearing words from "well instructed tongues," they too often her from tongues on fire with anger, impatience, unkindness, and simple ignorance. This compounds the chronic misery and tempts them to despair.

Here is a word to the well: Consult the Sovereign Lord for words that sustain, nourish, and encourage the weary. This is a skill that needs to be learned in the crucible of other's suffering. It is neither fun or easy. But it is necessary to show love to those suffering in ways that most of us can scarcely understand. "Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one shares its joy" (Proverbs 14:10).

Instructed words to "the least of these," the brethren of Jesus, are words of love, from the God of love. As such, they are patient and kind, neither rude nor self-seeking; they persevere under pressure and do not fail (I Corinthians 13).

Please ask God, the God of all comfort, the Sovereign Lord, to give you a "well instructed tongue that sustains the weary. This requires heart-work, since out of the heart, the mouth speaks. But God can enter deeply into the hearts of the meek and humble.