Dr. Larycia Hawkins and Wheaton College

Wheaton College has initiated termination proceedings against tenured professor Dr. Larycia Hawkins, who has been a faculty member since 2007, and who received tenure in 2013, for her statement that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Apparently, this idea is counter to the Wheaton statement of faith. I note, for the record, that there is no explicit sentence in their statement of faith regarding which groups worship which God. Furthermore, in a FAQ published by Wheaton, question 7 asks "Is it true that Christians and Muslims worship the same God?" Wheaton lists doctrines which are distinctive to Christianity and are denied by Islam. But, note carefully, that Wheaton doesn't specifically answer the question with a simple "yes" or "no." For if they did, a bright undergraduate would then ask, "given this criteria, do Christians and Jews worship the same God?" I suspect Wheaton doesn't want that question to be asked.

But I digress. On December 17, 2015, Dr. Hawkins
wrote to Wheaton in which she explained the reasons for her position as well as her personal statement of faith.

Opinion is of course, split, concerning the question of whether or not Muslims and Christians worship the same God.
Dr. Edward Feser addressed the issue in the affirmative here. Vox Day, and many of his readers, answered in the negative, here. Last night at dinner, my wife initially said, "no"; this morning at breakfast, my reform seminary graduate friend Steve immediately said "yes."

I think Wheaton College is about to fall into a pit that they just don't yet see.

Let us consider two cases, one from literature and one from science. For literature, consider the two authors C. S. Lewis, who wrote the Narnia Chronicles, and Gene Roddenberry, who wrote Star Trek. Now suppose that there are two groups of people. One group asserts that humans owe their existence to having entered our world through a gate from Narnia. This is, of course, backwards from the way Lewis told the story in "
The Magicians Nephew" — but bear with me. The other group asserts that humans originally came from the planet Vulcan. And again, in the original lore, it was the Romulans who were the offshoots of the Vulcans — just let me run with this. The only thing these two groups have in common is the idea that we came from somewhere else. Everything else is completely different and they are completely different because they are solely products of human imagination. Fans may argue the differences between Narnia and Star Trek, or Battlestar Galactica and Babylon 5. No one takes them seriously (except themselves) because we know it's "just fiction." It doesn't make sense to argue about which imaginary world is right.

Now consider the realm of science which attempts to discern how Nature works. We believe that this Nature exists independently of us. It is not a product of our imagination. At one time, science advanced the theory of the
aether which was thought to be necessary for the propagation of light. But the Michelson-Morley experiments showed that this theory was wrong. Improvements to experiments to test Bell's inequality have shown that local realism isn't a viable theory of quantum mechanics. No discussion of misguided and incorrect scientific theories would be complete without mention of the famous phrase, attributed to Wolfgang Pauli, "That is not only not right, it is not even wrong." And let us not forget to mention String Theory, where some scientists say that not only is it not good science, it isn't science at all; while other scientists claim that it's really the only theory which can unite relativity and quantum mechanics. (As always, Lubos Motl is entertaining and instructive to read when it comes to String Theory).

In this case, we do not say, "you aren't studying the same nature we are." We say, "your understanding of nature is flawed."

If Wheaton continues down this path with Dr. Hawkins, whether they know it or not, they will be giving aid and comfort to those who claim that God is purely imaginary. And if they do that, then they are the ones who have betrayed their statement of faith.
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What Would Jesus Do?

Every once in a while, a simple question comes along which shows the stark differences between what people believe Christianity teaches. This morning at Starbucks, I asked one of my friends one of these types of questions:

To set the stage, suppose we're in Arkansas, since the mascot of the University of Arkansas is the razorback. Some good old southern boys have prepared a pig and barbecued it in a pit. They invite the post-resurrection Jesus to eat with them.

Does He eat the pork or does He keep kosher?

My answer was "yes, of course, He eats barbecue pork." My friend's answer was "Absolutely not! He is a Jew and Jews are obliged to follow their dietary laws."

I don't know how it could be any more obvious, since Romans 7 teaches that death ends the jurisdiction of the Law:

Do you not know, brothers and sisters--for I am speaking to those who know the law--that the law is binding on a person only during that person’s lifetime? Thus a married woman is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies, she is discharged from the law concerning the husband. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man, she is not an adulteress. In the same way, my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God. While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.

The one caveat is that we are not to use our freedom to cause a weaker brother or sister to stumble in their faith (cf. Romans 14, Acts 15). But one would hope that in the presence of the Risen Savior, that weakness wouldn't last. Too, it's one thing to desire to keep a cultural or national identity, which can be perfectly fine. But one mustn't forget the Jesus is King over all nations and cultures. He is free to move among them as He will. As are those who have died and risen with Him.
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2105 Reading List

1All You ZombiesRobert Heinlein
2The Puppet MastersRobert Heinlein
3Revolt in 2100Robert Heinlein
4Stand on ZanzibarJohn Brunner
5Do Androids Dream of Electric SheepPhilip K. Dick
6Neutron StarLarry Niven
7Strange StonesPeter Hessler
8The Nominated Short WorksJohn C. Wright
9The City on the Edge of ForeverHarlan Ellison
10Vic and BloodHarlan Ellison
11Dangerous VisionsHarlan Ellison
12Mention My Name In AtlantisJohn Jakes
13Tokyo ViceJake Adelstein
14The Old Man and the SeaErnest Hemingway
15Primates of Park AvenueWednesday Martin
16Of Mice and MenJohn Steinbeck
17The Best Laid SchemesLarry Eisenberg
18And Then There Were NoneAgatha Christie
19SJWs Always LieVox Day
20QED: The Strange Theory of Light and MatterRichard Feynman
21The Meaning Of It AllRichard Feynman
22The Shape of Inner SpaceShing-Tung Yau
23Does God Control Everything?R. C. Sproul
24The Space TrilogyC. S. Lewis
25Natural TheologyEmil Brunner & Karl Barth

Additionally, I've started, but not completed, these books:

1The History of the ChurchEusebius of Caesarea
2Philosophy of MindEdward Feser
3Beyond Good and EvilFrederich Nietzsche
4Systematic TheologyLouis Berhkof
5SomewitherJohn C. Wright
6Riding the Red HorseTom Kratman
7Freedom of the WillJonathan Edwards
8Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical DoctrineWayne Grudem
9Paul's Letter to the RomansColin G. Kruse
10How to Read SlowlyJames W. Sire
11Javascript and JQueryJon Duckett

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Feser's Philosophy of Mind, #3

This chapter deals with materialistic views of mind, namely that reality, and therefore the mind:

consists of purely material or physical objects, processes, and properties, operating according to the same basic physical laws and thereby susceptible of explanation via physical science. There is, in short, no such thing as immaterial substance, or soul, or spirit, nor any aspect of human nature which, in principle, elude explanation in purely physical terms.

I note, purely in passing, that the second sentence doesn't necessarily follow from the first. In any case, Feser then proceeds to argue that it is difficult to see how things like cultural conventions, for example, are:

… hard to reduce to the properties of molecules in motion.

and

There seems to be no way to match up sets of logically interrelated mental states with sets of merely causally interrelated brain states, and thus no way to reduce the mental to the physical.

Here is how it's done. We have no problem understanding that there are quarks and electrons. We have no problem understanding that quarks combine to form protons and neutrons, and that protons, neutrons, and electrons form atoms. Atoms form trees and stars, bacteria and brains.

Instead of combing things into more things, consider the case where two things are "combined" into one of the two things. Consider the physical process where an apple and an apple combine to an orange, and apple and an orange combine to an apple, an orange and an apple combine to an orange, and an orange and an orange combine into an apple. Or consider the case where an apple and an apple combine to orange, while apple and orange, orange and apple, and orange and orange combine to apple. There are sixteen ways for these combinations to happen. We can demonstrate that repeated application of either of two of these processes can reproduce all of the others.

This is a purely physical process. Instead of using apples and oranges, we can use more or fewer electrons flowing through a wire. We can use variable resistors to make a physical process that combines more and fewer electrons just like we combined oranges and apples. Let's call this collection of variable resistors and wires a "device". These devices can be strung together into complex networks.
We can show that arrangements of these devices are equivalent to neurons and computer gates. Furthermore, and this is one of two key insights, arranging devices and wires one way gives one behavior; arranging devices and wires another results in a different behavior.

This is important, because we normally think of a computer as an arrangement of wires and devices that takes a program as input, performs the steps in the program, and produces a result. This leads us to believe that a computer cannot do anything without programming. Feser falls into this way of thinking when he writes:

A computer program is something abstract – a mathematical structure that can be understood and specified, on paper or in the programmer’s mind, long before anyone implements it in a machine.

While this isn't wrong, it hides the key concept that the arrangement of the wires and devices is the program. No external program is necessary. If it were cost effective, instead of writing abstract programs that run on a general purpose computer, we could custom build an arrangement of wires and devices for each program we wished to run.

Once we understand that the physical network itself is the program, we have to ask how we can get meaning out of networks of apples and oranges or high and low voltages. Consider the network that given an apple and an apple, or an orange and an orange, produces an apple and when given an apple and an orange or an orange and an apple produces an orange. This is equivalent to the question "are the inputs equal" with "apple" being assumed to be "yes". We could just as easily chose the network that takes apple and apple or orange and orange and outputs orange. The choice of which network to use is completely arbitrary, but networks that use this convention can now be constructed that can compare two things for equality. This is the second key insight. Meaning is achieved by building a network that uses one of the two inputs to answer the question "are these things equal?" And once you have that, you have the basis for constructing systems that can, for example, associate sights with sounds.

One network can wag a tail at the enjoyment of a bone, another network can contemplate the ontology of thought. Dogs don't discuss epistemology simply because their brain wiring is insufficient for the task.

So the question isn't "is thought a physical process?" It certainly is. Logic is built into the very fabric of reality. The "devices" are just logic gates. The astounding thing is that a network of these gates can recognize and describe themselves. Furthermore, our brains aren't capable of proving that logic can be separated from reality. Every attempt to do so changes reality such that we destroy our ability to think.

The real question is "how did these complex networks arise in the first place?" But with the current state of the art, the answer to that question depends very much on your philosophical assumptions.
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Feser's Philosophy of Mind, #2

Feser ends chapter one by introducing the "mind-body" problem which is this: if the brain is purely physical, how can something that is composed of atoms think and be conscious of itself and its surroundings? Are mind and "matter" two fundamentally different kinds of things ("dualism") or are mind and matter different forms of the same thing? In chapter 2, Feser presents three arguments for dualism, and one argument against it. The three positive arguments are the "indivisibility," "obviousness," and "conceivability" arguments, while the "interaction" argument is the negative argument. I will not consider the interaction argument here.

The indivisibility argument goes like this. Matter is one form of substance which can be divided into parts. Atoms can be divided into protons, neutrons, and electrons; protons and neutrons can be divided into quarks; quarks and electrons are made up of strings (assuming string theory is true), with the string being the fundamental indivisible unit of matter. What remains after each division is of the same kind — it's matter all the way down — and since it doesn't divide into something else, it's one "substance". A mind, however, is not divisible. The "I" is one (considerations of schizophrenia not withstanding). Therefore, the "string" and the "mind" are two fundamentally different things.

A problem with this is that "matter" is not the only component to the physical universe. Along with strings (or higher level particles), there is space-time, motion, energy, charge, etc… To hold to dualism is to say that mind is not only not any of these things, but is also not some form of combination of these things. If mind is some form of combination of these things, then the "indivisibility" of the mind might only hold when the combination of these things are working in concert. Break the synchronization of the parts and the mind ceases to function correctly (or at all).

The obviousness argument holds that just as oranges and apples are obviously different, mind and matter are obviously different. That is, because we perceive them differently, they are fundamentally different. Oranges and apples have different shapes, textures, colors, and tastes. But the indivisibility argument shows that apples and oranges aren't fundamentally different. They are just different arrangements of the number and kinds of atoms, which are just different arrangements of electrons and quarks. The dualist's perceived difference between mind and brain, like the difference between apples and oranges, could be explained by the operation of nature where the mechanism isn't immediately obvious. Someone who has never seen a modern phone might wonder at a symphony coming from someone's pocket. Humans are not violins and to hear the Brandenburg Concerto #3 coming from someone's pocket might cause no end of consternation and speculation as to its cause. Saying that mental stuff is different from physical stuff is to put a label on a lack of knowledge and put it in its own category.

The conceivability argument is as follows:


That is to say, it is entirely conceivable that one could exist as a disembodied mind, with one’s body and brain, and indeed the entire physical world, being nothing but a figment of one’s imagination. But then it is conceivable and therefore at least metaphysically possible for the mind to exist apart from the brain. Therefore, the mind is not identical to the brain.

The problems with this are manifold. First, the mind is not identical to the brain, any more than a symphony is identical to an orchestra. Therefore, this doesn't show that the mind can exist apart from the brain. Second, the conceivability argument can be used to show that solipsism is true. But in chapter 1, Feser argues against solipsism, thereby undercutting the power of the conceivability argument. Third, Feser himself admits the weakness of conceivability arguments in the next chapter by writing:

But conceivability arguments, if they prove anything…

Conceivability arguments prove nothing at all.

The indivisibility, obviousness, and conceivability arguments are so bad that professors who present them should be stripped of their degrees and run out of their supporting institutions.

And I say this as a convinced dualist. But I am a dualist who thinks that matter and mind are so entangled in a loop that they are impossible to separate without destroying our ability to think about them (cf.
The Physical Nature of Thought).
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