Flotsam and jetsam (9/29)

Conserve water, or this fish dies!

 

How’s your religious knowledge (aka Are you smarter than an atheist?)

By now you’ve probably heard about the survey that recently demonstrated that atheists and agnostics know more about religion than most religious people do. (If not, you can read the full report here. NPR also discusses it here.) Now, you can take the quiz for yourself. Answer this brief 15-question survey and see how your religious knowledge compares to the population as a whole.

More Sufjan Stevens online

A while back I mentioned that you could stream Sufjan Stevens’ new album, All Delighted People, for free. Well, he’s at it again. His latest, The Age of Adz is out, and you can stream it for free at NPR. It’s quite a change from Stevens’ earlier efforts, but still worth a listen – especially at that price.

Driscoll and MacDonald vs. Dever on multi-site churches

Here’s an interesting discussion between Mark Driscoll, James MacDonald, and Mark Dever on multi-site churches. Driscoll and MacDonald, both multi-site pastors, obviously argue in favor of that strategy and try to convince Dever, not a multi-site guy, that this is a good way to go. And, Dever responds with some good questions of his own.

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http://vimeo.com/13082622

HT

Flotsam and jetsam (9/28)

God speaks English

This has nothing to do with immigration debates, Anglo-centrism, or the KJV-only argument. No, this is about academic rivalry/mockery, pure and simple.

The following is a picture of a cake that one of our counseling professors just bought for the students who will be spending four hours this evening learning Hebrew. I can’t wait to see how they respond. Maybe for their next lesson, Dr. Verbruggen will teach them how to make fun of Freud in Hebrew.

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Does Justifiable Belief Exist?

[This post is part of a series that the Th.M. students at Western Seminary are doing this semester on understanding the relationship between philosophy and theology.]

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with humanity’s inability to know. At least, this is my sarcastic conclusion after a brief educational survey of epistemology covered in Stanford’s encyclopedia of philosophy.  Actually epistemology covers a few different ways of knowing: knowing how to do something, knowing a person, knowing a place, or knowing propositions.  The Stanford article deals only with the knowledge of propositions.

I’ll summarize in brief starting with Foundationalism, the idea that our justified beliefs (can’t be false, doubted, or corrected) rest upon basic beliefs.  Basic beliefs don’t need justification from other beliefs. Coherentism disagrees, stating that every belief receives its evidence from other beliefs.  For instance, “I think therefore I am,” presupposes a belief that I think and a belief that I could exist.  Or, “I perceived the chair is yellow,” presupposes a belief in the existence of a chair, the belief in a personal ability to perceived, and the belief in the concept of yellow.  Coherentism is critiqued because one can never arrive at a belief; there is an infinite series of beliefs before that belief.  Skeptics jump all the way in and claim something fantastic like, “You can’t know that you have feet.”  They base this on the possibility of radical deception; someone could be in the matrix, or in a dream world, or similarly disembodied and at the same time being in the situation of radical deception would have no way of knowing they were in such a state.  Since you can’t know you’re not in that situation, you can’t know whether or not you have feet.  In order to defeat the skeptics, the definition of knowing underwent changes.  Contextual knowing and fallible knowing are put forth as potential skeptic killers.   Find the full discussion here.  If you have trouble following all the terms and positions visit, Wikipedia has a nearly identical summary with accessible resources.

Simply put, I’m a skeptic.  I found all the other positions too vulnerable to devastating critique.  Foundationalism’s strongest thought, “I think therefore I exist,” is perceptual knowledge based on existence can only be understood by appealing to someone’s perception of their own existence.   If we all believe that we exist, but we could all be wrong.  If no one existed, no one would know.  If we base our knowledge of existing on our perceived existence all we are left with is perceived existence not justifiable belief (can’t be false, doubted, or corrected).

Coherentism finds the truth but can’t accept it.  I believe Coherentism discovers the true reason why justifiable belief doesn’t exist, because belief is based upon belief to an infinite or at least unknowable/undiscoverable degree.  Coherentism wants to build justifiable belief on a web of interconnected ideas, only they missed the web and fell into a bottomless chasm.

Contextual knowing, in my mind, changes the whole topic of discussion.  We take the problem of the existence of justifiable belief (can’t be false, doubted, or corrected) as a universal human question dealing with propositional knowledge and instead ask, “Can we have justifiable belief in a smaller group of humans controlled by selective ignorance?”  In a group of similarly ignorant and mentally disabled patients there might be a belief that can’t be proven false or doubted within the same group.  However, that same belief has the possibility of being corrected.  Either way, we are no longer talking about universal human knowing; we are discussing group knowledge.  This group knowledge is only justifiable belief in propositional knowledge if it isn’t challenged.  I find this view ignores the fact that we live in the age of world-wide communication and information.  An argument starting with ignorance and ending with a positive result is a poor argument indeed.

Fallible knowledge is also not a response to the same question.  Fallible agrees with the skeptics, in so far as they agree infallible knowledge is impossible.  This is just another way of saying justifiable belief does not exist, but belief does exist.  They seek to have justified beliefs based on knowledge’s inability to be justified.  To believe in fallible knowledge is to believe in nothing more than the usefulness of belief itself.

All of the positions agree (even the skeptics) that propositional knowledge exists.  Since they are in agreement on this point, their arguments (in my mind) are centered on the existence of justifiable belief, not belief itself.  Can humans have justifiable belief?  I say no.  I say no with a caveat.  Humans cannot have justifiable belief about themselves or the existent world.  Galaxies, stars, planets, plants, animals and all physical elements can also have no justifiable beliefs about humans or the existent world.  If these things were all that existed, humans would have no possibility of justifiable belief.  I however, do not believe the above things mentioned are all that exist.  (I’m leaving myself an opening for later.)  Is your belief justifiable?

The 100 Best First Lines from Novels

American Book Review recently published its list of the 100 Best First Lines from Novels (HT). I actually considered making my own list of best opening lines a while back, but never got around to it. Here’s their top 10.

1. Call me Ishmael. —Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)

2. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. —Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)

3. A screaming comes across the sky. —Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow (1973)

4. Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. —Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967; trans. Gregory Rabassa)

5. Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. —Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955)

6. Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. —Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1877; trans. Constance Garnett)

7. riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs. —James Joyce, Finnegans Wake (1939)

8. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. —George Orwell, 1984 (1949)

9. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. —Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

10. I am an invisible man. —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)

Apparently good opening lines are in short supply recently, at least according to this list. I could only find two entries on the list since 2000:

50. I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974. —Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex (2002)

62. Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person. —Anne Tyler, Back When We Were Grownups (2001)

I know at least a few of you out there are big fiction fans. What are some of your favorite opening lines? I’d be particularly interested to hear if you have any favorites from the last decade or so.

2010 Karl Barth Blog Conference

The annual Karl Barth Blog Conference (KBBC) is up and running at Der Evangelische Theologie.

The overarching theme is ”Karl Barth in Conversation with…”, where the blank is filled by some significant thinker or field. Each conference session contains plenary posts and responses that cluster into sub-conversations.

This week will see posts on Barth in conversation with Schleiermacher, Bavinck, Bonhoeffer, Tillich, and Jenson. (You can view the Week 1 outline and author bios here.) Today’s post by Matthew Bruce deals with “Schleiermacher and Barth: On Theology as the Science of the Divine Word.”

If you’re looking to understand Barth’s theology and his location in the broader theological community, this should be a fascinating conference to follow.