Saturday, February 28, 2009

Plantinga vs. Dennett

Here is a blow by blow account of a quasi-philosophical debate on February 21, between Plantinga and Dennett over at The Prosblogion. Plantinga basically argues that naturalism and evolution are incompatible, and that theism and evolution are not. Dennett doesn't really disagree, but takes the opportunity to insult Christians. There's a surprise.

What struck me even more than Plantinga's argument, (which was well reasoned, by the way), was the anonymous writer's take on one of Plantinga's points. (Emphasis mine.)

2:55 pm - The really good possible worlds all involve divine incarnation and atonement and so all the best worlds have sin and suffering - an old view that many Christian philosophers resist today. He even mentions that outrageous (to the naturalist) idea that the demons are part of the errors in human development. Dennett is clearly stunned and amused. He probably thinks Plantinga's claims are insane or at least silly. Plantinga's orthodoxy is completely unabashed. It is commendable that he is wholly without embarrassment, something rare for a modern Christian. Perhaps it signals an attitude to come.

If you read the whole post, you will see that Plantinga was always gracious, always logical and thoughtful, yet he didn't apologize for his beliefs and understanding. I think too many times in an effort to not offend or to ingratiate ourselves to those with whom we disagree, we Christians cede our beliefs, or at least couch them in such terms as to render them null and void. I thank God for true intellects in the academy and in the world of ideas who will take a stand for truth in all graciousness, and I hope the anonymous writer is correct, that, "Perhaps it signals an attitude to come.".

H/T Jonah Goldberg

Friday, February 27, 2009

If Your Hope is in the Stock Market....

There is a very interesting article, by Jason Zweig, on the Wall Street Journal website. You can access it at the folowing link:

For those unlucky enough to not have a defined pension plan, our 401k's and IRA's have long been invested in the stock market. Until October, Modern Portfolio Theory promised a relatively secure retirement, if one was well diversified and had an asset allocation appropriate to once's age and risk tolerance. Until October, that was the promise and the hope.

Until the 1970's, almost everyone who worked full time had a defined pension plan. This meant that they would receive a definite monthly payment, annually increased for the cost of living, as long as they lived, upon retirement. This was a normal part of compensation for one's work. Then companies became more interested in the concept of a 401k, where both employers and employees made contributions. Generally these contributions were invested in the stock market. Congress had originally intended the 401k plan to act as a supplment to defined benefit plans and social security. Gradually, they became the only retirement savings option for workers. Currently, the average Joe is probably down about 40-60% in his retirement savings. His hope for retirement security is also down, with those numbers.

Jason Zweig has some very worrying things to say about investing in the stock market. Generally speaking, these are things that your financial planner will not share with you. It is a very interesting article.

In this market, financial planners are as confused as the average Joe about investment strategy and what the future might hold. Just listen to CNBC & the evening news. Every expert seems to have a different idea about what the individual investor should do.

I have been spending alot of time lately, wondering what God is trying to teach us thru these circumstances. I cannot help but think that these current circumstances have something to do with where we have chosen to place our hope.

Is our hope for the future in our stock portfolios, or, in God's eternal Kingdom?


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Ash Wednesday

I was not raised in a liturgical tradition, so the idea of church seasons was new to me as an adult. While those raised in such a tradition may take it for granted or even tire of it, I find it refreshing and helpful in keeping the whole of Christian life in proper perspective and balance. As the season of Lent is upon us, I look forward to this time of discipline and intentionality. It is sort of like recalibrating and becoming resensitised to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Below is a video with a short explanation of Ash Wednesday and Lent. I particularly like the inclusion of the Orthodox tradition of Forgiveness Sunday.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Enchanted April

Finally, Enchanted April will be released on DVD May 5, 2009. The movie was released in the U.S. in 1992. It then went to video, but not to a DVD format that would work with American players. This is a wonderful gem that was largely missed when showing at the theatres. Many of us have been hoping to get it on disc and a little confused as to why this was put on DVD and not this lovely, little masterpiece.

This would make a great Mothers Day gift, don't you think?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Trend Forecaster

Below is an interview with Gerald Celente from Trends Research Institute. H/T Rod Dreher. Right now, I am not listening to those in politics or the financial institutions for an idea of what is to come in the near future, or how to fix it. I find there is too much coloring of the facts to make what they say worthwhile. Nouriel Roubini was able to forecast the current mess we're in, in large part because of his willingness to look at all the facts available to him. When looking at his reasons, one has to ask why he was ever doubted, except for the wish that things would turn out all right.

While it appears as though things are going to get pretty rough, those of us who are Christians are not to despair. God is working in this, even if we can't see on this side of the veil how exactly he is working it out for good.

If you would, in the comments, tell us what possible good we might see coming out of this and how we might prepare for the continuing downturn in the economy so that we may be of help to ourselves and others.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


I am a skeptic when it comes to conspiracy theories. I figure most of the time when people have a master plan to commit a crime, someone in on the plan flubs it up, or circumstances cause it to go awry. I think usually when something dastardly occurs, it is because someone has taken advantage of circumstances, not caused them.

This story may be different, however. This from Representative Kanjorski on C-span in January.
"I was there when the Secretary and the Chairman of the Federal Reserve came those days and talked to members of Congress about what was going on. It was about Sept. 15. Here's the facts, we don't even talk about these things.

On Thursday at about 11 o'clock in the morning, the Federal Reserve noticed a tremendous drawdown of money market accounts in the United States to the tune of $550 billion, as being drawn out in the matter of an hour or two.

The Treasury opened up its window to help. It pumped $105 billion into the system and quickly realized that they could not stem the tide. We were having an electronic run on the banks. They decided to close the operation, close down the money accounts and announce a guarantee of $250,000 per account so there wouldn't be further panic out there, and that's what actually happened.

So, who made a run on the money markets, and what was their purpose? This didn't happen out of the blue. It wasn't that investors got cold feet, because this wasn't even public news until after the fact, and even then hardly disseminated very widely.

Diana West reports on this further at

A friend of mine has a quote of Jefferson's on his Facebook wall. It says:

I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around [the banks] will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered. The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs.

Timely, isn't it?

Watch Kanjorski's statement below.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Is All Beauty Objective? Continued...

These posts on beauty began with me wondering why some are repelled by beauty and hypothesizing that it may be because it exposes the dreariness in some lives. (Dreariness that I believe could be relieved if one looked to where the beauty is pointing.) They have since focused on the question of whether beauty is objective, with Janine holding the view that some beauty is objective and other beauty is subjective. I maintain that beauty is objective because its source is God. I will try to explain better my thoughts, borrowing heavily from Edwards, Kreeft, and of course, Lewis.

Truth, goodness and beauty are the attributes of God, and therefore are objective. Truth is defined by being. God is. He is the great I AM. Goodness is defined by truth and right relation to truth. Beauty is defined by goodness, we recognize goodness by it's beauty.

When we are tempted to say that beauty is subjective, it is not really beauty that is subjective, but we ourselves that are subjective. We recognize beauty by our desires, or heart, we recognize goodness with our will and we recognize truth with our minds. We who are Christians understand that sin has corrupted our minds, wills and hearts, so when we are tempted to say that all or any of these attributes are relative or subjective, we know this cannot be true as these are attributes of God. We continue to see through a glass darkly because we are still being conformed to the likeness of Christ.

Jonathan Edwards speaks of beauty as the consent of being to being. He sees the beauty in the goodness of actively looking out for an other's welfare. He also sees this beauty reflected in what we understand as aesthetics - harmony, proportion, symmetry, et cetera.

I think Janine's discourse comes from the question of why we are attracted to different things. I think there are a few different reasons. One could simply be how our aesthetic sensibilities have been shaped. Someone raised on pop music and television may have different sensibilities than someone raised being taken to the symphony and theatre, or even of someone raised with fairy tales and simple folk music. Another may be sin. When one is attracted to pornography or drugs, it is a substitute for real beauty. As Anonymous wrote in the comments, it is a lie. The only way to break such an addiction is to exchange it for real beauty. There may also be some who experience different facets of beauty, differently. I recognize in myself this limitation when it comes to cheesecake. I understand that for most people it is a luxurious dessert, but I do not care for it. I see this as a flaw of my palate, not a flaw in the dessert itself. I can recognize the harmony and balance of the ingredients, yet I don't like it.

In his article , A Holy Longing, published in Christianity Today, David Taylor says,(referring to a list of beautiful things),

All these works are beautiful, though never merely subjectively. For in every case they reveal the objective pattern of unity, complexity, and richness, which collectively evoke longing. Differently for each of us, they stir an ache in our hearts. The longing for what? For starters, the longing for joy, for order, and for more beauty.

When we encounter beauty, it points to the All Beautiful, All Desirous. One day we will be united in beauty. As Lewis says in his sermon, The Weight of Glory,

At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in. When human souls have become as perfect in voluntary obedience as the inanimate creation is in its lifeless obedience, then they will put on its glory, or rather that greater glory of which Nature is only the first sketch.....

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Is All Beauty Objective?, The Friendly Debate Continues

I am very glad that we are fleshing out our thoughts regarding beauty. It is an important and profound subject. Now, I see more clearly the points at which Gina & I agree, and disagree. I love a good conversation!

The dictionary definition of beauty is as follows: 1) the quality attributed to whatever pleases or satisfies the senses or mind as by line, color, form, texture, proportion, rhythmic motion, tone, etc., or by behavior, attitude, etc. 2) a thing having this quality 3) good looks 4) any very attractive feature

I think I believe that some beauty is objective and some is subjective. I guess this is a philosophical distinction on the order of the Platonic question, “if a tree falls in the forest, and there is no one there to hear it fall, does it make a sound”? If an object, piece of music or natural wonder is intrinsically beautiful, does it’s categorization as beautiful depend upon it’s intrinsic beauty or the agreeable perceptions of human beings? I would argue that some things, like natural wonders, are intrinsically beautiful and that their beauty does not depend in any way on human perception. I would also argue that music can be either intrinsically beautiful or not intrinsically beautiful. For music that is not intrinsically beautiful, I think that human beings decide, as individuals, whether or not they find beauty in it.

This seems to be in keeping with the dictionary definition. “Whatever pleases or satisfies the senses or mind”…. I would submit that it is the mind of each individual person that determines whether or not the object of it’s perception is beautiful. The obvious exception to this would be those things that are beautiful from God's perspective.

Perhaps there is no one area in which this is more clear cut that the area of “good looks”. In large part what appears beautiful to one person does not appear beautiful to another. Determining an objective consensus of what the most attractive features of a person are can be perplexing. Some think long hair is beautiful, some think short hair is. Some prefer light skin, some dark. Some think blue eyes are beautiful, some prefer brown.

One can even see this principle illustrated on a cultural level. American men tend to think that Barbie is the ideal of feminine beauty. Primitive Hawaians tended to think that the more obese a person became, the more beautiful they were. A hundred years ago, Japanese men idealized the Geisha with their snow white makeup, buffant hairdos and tiny deformed feet. In the African Bush, women stretch the flesh of their ears around earrings the size of dinner plates. Men impale the flesh of their noses with foot long bones. These are the ideals of attractiveness. Again, I would submit that some beauty is objective & some is subjective. Other people’s subjective ideals of beauty can strike us as funny or nonsensical.

Gina’s example of classical music is also a good illustration of this point. Nine times out of ten, my own reaction to classical music is that it is profoundly boring. There are a few movements, in a few pieces, that move my soul. By in large though, I cannot escape it quickly enough, whenever I am exposed to it. I do not think that it is beautiful.

Perhaps this is because I am a lyrics person. I am deeply moved and pierced by the beauty of the words, when it comes to music. The actual music itself can be below average, if only the lyrics are pure poetry and deeply meaningful. That is where I find beauty.

At our church, I tend to go to the Contemporary Service. Gina mentioned, in her original posting on this subject, that there are 2 services at our church--- Traditional and Contemporary. The main difference between the 2, in my mind, is that the Traditional service uses a pipe organ to accompany the music and the Contemporary service uses a small band that includes guitars, keyboards, saxophones/trumpets, etc. I prefer the Contemporary service because I can really focus on the lyrics of the worship songs. While I also appreciate the Traditional Service, I tend to experience the organ music as an obstacle to worship.

The Traditional Service attendees are blessed by being allowed to worship in the beautiful sanctuary. We worship in a gymnasium. Being deprived of the undeniable aesthetic beauty of the sanctuary during worship is worth it to me though, because I often loose myself in the beauty of the contemporary worship music—with my eyes closed. I just can’t get lost that way, during worship, in most of the more traditional music.

Anyway, my Dear Friend Gina & I probably agree on 99.999999% of everything. It is interesting for me to learn that we disagree about, what I believe, is the subjective nature of beauty.

Gina’s final point, in her last posting, about Judaism & Christianity having perceived truth, goodness and beauty as objective for most of history was very interesting to me. I did not know that…. It is interesting that the western world now perceives these 3 as largely subjective.

I would agree that truth and goodness are purely objective. However, I do think that beauty contains both objective and subjective aspects.


Monday, February 2, 2009

Truth, Goodness and Beauty

Peter Kreeft on Goodness, Truth and Beauty, with a good dose of Lewis.

Is All Beauty Objective? A Friendly Debate.

It appears that Janine and I have some fleshing out to do regarding the terms and meaning of beauty. I graciously accept her critique and present my defense. I also thank her for causing me think more deeply about the questions and thoughts I presented.

To begin, I believe beauty is objective, not subjective. When Janine speaks of the beauty of creation, I think she is quite correct. Where I think we may differ is in her assessment of everyone's reaction to it. Her belief that everyone's breath would be taken away shows how pure her spirit is, yet I don't think everyone's breath is taken away. There are those who would shun it, ignore it, be jealous of it, or fear it, which would explain why so many seem hellbent to destroy it. My question from my previous post is why this is? For those who followed the link and read the article to which I referred, why does Bach keep hooligans away from shops as well as ear piercing tones? Many's reaction would be attraction to the music, but that is obviously not a universal reaction. I think the problem in this instance is not with the music, but with the lives of the juvenile troublemakers. Why this repulsive reaction to such beauty?

I actually think Janine and I agree more than appears on the first reading of our posts. She sees what attracts us, mirrors our hearts, and I fully agree with that, though I would not say that a person views pornography because they see it as beautiful, but to feed a desire in a way God did not intend. My point is similar. Here is what I said in the post to which she responded. I may be wrong, but I have a suspicion that beauty takes us outside of ourselves to see the possibility of something greater, and that, in our current culture, makes us uncomfortable, because if what is reflected back exposes the dreariness of our lives, it is almost too much to bear. Is there not sometimes a similar reaction when someone is faced with an unwanted truth? Repulsion and denial?

Here is something to think about. For most of history, Judaism and Christianity thought of truth, goodness and beauty as objective. Isn't it interesting that all are now seen by the majority of the western world as subjective? If God is true, good and beautiful, then there must be an objective standard, and He is the standard. In the Garden of Eden, the fruit was eaten so that we could decide what was good and what was bad, and this appears to fully be our zeitgeist.

Is Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder?

I really liked the questions that my Dear Friend Gina asked about beauty and I loved the Vivaldi piece on Winter that she shared. The images and music together almost brought me to tears. I would absolutely agree that beauty can take us outside of ourselves to see the possibility of something greater. The evidence of God truly is painted on the tapestry of creation. However, I don't know that beauty reflected back necessarily makes us uncomfortable or exposes the dreariness of our lives.

I cannot conceive of the existence of a single human soul who's heart would not be stirred into longing for something greater than itself when gazing upon a vast field of crystalline stars, moonlight on snow covered trees or sunlight bouncing off of ocean waves. I think that the beauty of God's creation is commonly recognized and acknowledged by all human creatures, whether or not they actually believe in God.

I think that there are certain kinds of beauty though that are unique to the eyes of the beholder. Certain things in the world can act as mirrors of the individual human heart, when taken in by the eyes. Instead of one's own reflection in a mirror, the desires of one's heart can be revealed by visual images (or music, or literature, etc.) I guess my question would be, what does the individual find beautiful that the whole of humanity might disagree with?

Some men, and women, think there is nothing more beautiful than pornography. Much of their time is spent in pursuit of the visual images that they believe most satisfy their souls. If you could pry them away from their computer terminals, I do not think that they would argue about the relative majesty of an iridescent sunset. I imagine that they would want to return immediately to their other preoccupation though. Their hearts are fixated on their ideals of beauty.

Some people think that there is nothing more beautiful in all of creation than the mangled, mutilated, bleeding flesh of a man who was horrifically nailed to a cross and murdered over 2000 years ago. How could such a horrific visage appear beautiful to some? Those who find that countenance beautiful also find that their hearts become strangely fixated on that ideal of beauty.

To one human being, pornography may seem repulsive and disgusting. To another human being, the cross of Jesus Christ might seem repulsive and disgusting. I think that both examples of beauty can act as mirrors of the human heart. For if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it is the human heart that judges what appears beautiful and what appears repulsive. It is the human heart that is revealed by the object of it's attraction.