Saturday, December 6, 2014

With Love from North Africa: St. Augustine on Math and the Existence of God

You like math?  Or, if your're from certain parts of the world: You like the maths?  Oh, don't turn away.
St. Augustine (354-430) has an argument for the existence of God based on the reality of number, of 
mathematical law.  Here it is in summary form below in 11 points.  Of utmost importance is the first 
premise, which states that God, as the Highest Being or Good, is greater than the human mind, and 
whatever is greater than the human mind would be the highest good.  Maybe you think the universe 
itself is greater than the human mind.  You'd be wrong, of course.  The universe doesn't contemplate the 
meaning of itself.  In this argument, the intellectual giant from modern day Algeria is having a 
conversation with his friend, Evodius.  Augustine already knows that people know God exists by the 
mere observation of nature, as it says in Psalm 19:1-6 and Romans 1:18-20.  But, just in case people 
need rational argument, Augustine is ready with the whip to snap people to attention of things greater 
than the human mind: wisdom and the laws of mathematics.  These, in turn, speak of Truth, and the 
Truth is the greatest good.  God is also the greatest good, and the embodiment of Truth in the person of 
Jesus Christ.  Here it is.  I wrote a paper on this subject, replete with Latin footnotes!  Doesn't that make 
me special?  I'll spare all that, and just let you contemplate the argument.  If you want a copy of the 
paper, just email me.  It's not been graded yet, so I can't say it's worth the read.  Augustine is 
worth reading though, and here is a summary of his argument in his discourse with Evodius in The Free 
Choice of the Will, Book II.  Pay special attention to point number 7.  

1)   “You (Evodius) granted that if I could prove that there was something above our minds, you would admit this is God, provided that there was still nothing higher.”[1]

2.    Augustine systematizes the natural order into three categories: a) things that exist, b) things that exist and live, and things that exist, live, and also understand. 

3)      The act of understanding is “most excellent”[2] among things that exist and live.
4)      Sense-perception (or, the five senses) exist in the human being, and in animals.

5)      Animals, as well as humans, share an “inner sense,” which we might call “instinct.”  (Instinct is that sense which enables an animal to “seek and acquire things that delight and to repel and avoid things that are obnoxious.”)[3]

6)      Reason exists in man only.  The “inner sense” of 4) is the servant of reason in the human knower.

7)   Numbers (or, mathematical laws), differentiated from corporeal bodies i.e. food and water, are infinite, unchanging, eternal truths.  Reason shows these things to exist.  For example, take any integer, n, and double it.  The distance between n and its double and n zero is the same, ad infinitum.  We know this to be true, of course, even though we cannot observe all numbers.  Therefore, this mathematical law, or "rule of the double" exists outside the human mind, for it is neither dependent upon the mind in order to be observed and named (nominalism), nor is it created by the human mind (conceptualism), for this would lead to epistemological relativism, which is self-refuting.  These things are real, ya'll (realism).  

8)      Number and Wisdom are identical (or, number is “contained” in wisdom).  And yet, even if they are not identical, or, if it cannot be shown that the former is contained in the latter or vice versa, it is certain that both number and wisdom are true and unchangeably true (immutable).  These truths are discovered, not invented, for if the latter, they would change with the human mind, which changes.

9)      These truths come from one Truth itself, which is higher than reason. Truth is the highest conceivable concept.

10)  This truth, as the highest good and most excellent thing, is God Himself, per the first premise. 

11)  Therefore, God exists, by reductio ad absurdum. It is absurd to believe that Truth does not exist, and it is impossible that anything is higher than Truth, which, according to the first premise, is God.[4]

Now, the greatest part of the argument that needs teasing out is the conflation of "many truths" found in 
mathematical laws and wisdom, with One Truth, from which all truths come.  A metaphysical system 
similar to the Aristotelian/Thomistic paradigm that deems Truth as Being would do the trick.  Or, a 
Principle of Sufficient Reason as a Cause of truth from which all truths come would do that as well.  The 
next time you look up at the stars or contemplate the rule of mathematical law, think on this argument, 
and the great wisdom in the Mind of God.


[1] Andrew B. Schoedinger, Reading in Medieval Philosophy, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), p.22.
[2] Ibid., p.6.
[3] Ibid., p. 7.
[4] Douglas Groothuis argues similarly for the ontological argument in Christian Apologetics, (Downers Grove, Ill: Intervarsity Press, IVP Academic, 2011), p.188. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

How to Teach Hebrew to Your Children

My wife and I educate our children at home, and since I spent a lot of time and money in learning the languages of the Bible, I thought I'd put that to good use.  There are a number of reasons for teaching Hebrew to your children, and while this post is about how to teach it to them, here are a few reasons why it's a good idea.  First, it's helpful to the development of their minds.  Hebrew is a language that has symbols very different from English, and it's a good way to introduce an abstract (or at least, alternate) way of thinking for little ones.  This will in turn aid their conceptual and abstract thinking, enabling them to think in ways that require problem-solving.   Secondly, it's a great way to introduce children to the Bible, and get them "into" the biblical world.  Language is connected to reality, to history, to people, and culture (no matter what Wittgenstein says).  Third, reading the Bible in the original is the schizzle.

Ok, so how am I doing it? Well, I started out with the alphabet, and had them copy the letters for a few days until they got it down.  Then, I taught them how to sound out words, after teaching them the vowel pointings.   The girls like to do exercises on the board, so I began by spelling words for them, and they write it on the board.  Example, "Aleph, segol (vowel pointing), resh, segol, final tsade." Eretz.  Land! 

Here are some different exercises we do: 
  • Vocab flash cards. (Also preposition and vowel pointings).  
  • Reading Genesis 1 from the Hebrew Bible, explaining grammar and syntax as we go along. 
  • Say aloud spelling and vocab.  I say a word, and the girls write it on a piece of paper.  Example: I say, "Eretz."  Then the girls spell it in Hebrew and give the vocab definition. 
  • Grammar: I'll read a section from my Hebrew grammar books (Pratico and Van Pelt, Weingreen, Cook & Holmstead).  The Cook/Holmstead book is a great, new grammar that has all kinds of interesting exercises in it, including conversational Hebrew, crossword puzzles,  comic strips, and fill in the blank. 
I try to keep it simple.  I'm not plowing through the Grammar texts.  I mostly do reading from Genesis, and vocab flash cards.  From time to time, I'll do a grammar lesson.  We're taking it slowly, only 3 lessons per week, because on the other two days, the girls are learning Latin, and we don't want to overwhelm them.


Friday, August 29, 2014

An Ode to Bacon

Dear Bacon, 

I love you,
No matter what they say,
I dream of you, your thick slabs,
sliced to lip-smacking dabs
of delight, there is no fright
of parasites, for garlic is light
to the stomach as wine is to the soul
It'll kill after the thrill any semblance of malice
wrought by the chalice of your beneficence;
I'll take a plate, or rather a bowl
of bacon. My love, to thee I sing
I bring, my salivating glands and widening waist band
Here's a cup of coffee, and then a pancake (or five)
Then into a deep coma, I dive
and rest, for I am blessed by your love, my dear,
I'm in fifth gear, in perfect bliss,
I therefore dismiss anyone's remiss at your goodness,
Oh bacon, my help and comfort and joy.
Oh boy, it's bacon for breakfast!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Marx, Jesus, and Mohammed at War

Marx, Jesus, and Mohammed were in a war.  Marx told the followers of Jesus that Jesus wasn't who his followers say he is.  Marx then ate and swallowed Jesus whole.  Still, the followers of Jesus insisted that what Marx had eaten was that of his own imagination; then Marx had the followers of Jesus silenced and cast to the level of the proletariat, while Marx and his children ran the schools, media centers, and even the churches.  The followers of Jesus were jailed, taxed, and given menial jobs, lest they conform in thought to that of Marx himself.  Meanwhile, as Mohammed and his men spread his word by means of the sword, they galloped to nation after nation, putting to death all who stood in their way.  The followers of Jesus fed the ground with their blood and were no more, while others joined the ranks of the Mohammedans.  Soon enough, however, word of this fertile soil reached the ears of some who resisted the call of Marx and his materialist regime in which the only crime was a suggestion of an unseen world.  "For," they said, "there are good reasons to believe that there is more than meets the eye."  Marx quickly had these people thrown in prison, where they suffered til they died, but not with despair.  With the followers of Jesus gone (or so they thought), they rejoiced with Mohammed that the great enemy--the followers of Jesus--had been removed from the face of the earth.  "Now," said Marx to Mohammed, "You and I shall be one," though Marx had in his mind to destroy Mohammed as well, for he was a brutal beast, and held no sway in the academic halls of the eternal dialectic.  Marx drew from his own army in the new bourgeois, which had been the proletariat ("Funny how that happens," he thought) and did his best against Mohammed and his sword.  However, Marx had at this point in his life become a soft pleasure-seeker ever and anon, and was not able to resist the sword of Mohammed.  So filled with pleasure was Marx that he no longer knew if he were male or female; Marx turned on himself, and Mohammed waged war against Marx for ever and anon.   Now, the spirit of Jesus endured, and his followers came up from the ground like an army of ants.  Here an ant, there an ant. Marx's remnant and Mohammed's bloodthirsty men paid no attention to them, and with the world in darkness and chaos and filled with the blood of the followers of each man, the ants grew in greater number as the followers of Marx and Mohammed dwindled.  Marx dwindled in his lust for pleasure and academic power, and Mohammed diminished Marx and his followers with ease.  Soon too, the followers of Mohammed turned on each other and cut each other asunder, spilling blood in their anger and despair at the hopelessness of life and the false promise of heaven for murderer (for they knew it wasn't true in their heart of hearts). The followers of Jesus rose up and resisted the bloody sword of Mohammed by proclaiming peace.  They also buried Marx in a grave marked with sadness, and began to reason with their previous oppressors that indeed, there was more to the eye than indeed meets it.  Through patience, reason, love and faith, they endured, and repaired the ruins of war wrought by Marx and Mohammed.  They forgave their captors, their murderers, and the ones who slaughtered their own children with unmentionable brutality.  Peace then came upon the earth, forever and anon, in the name of the Prince of Peace.

Reflections on My Ethiopia Mission Trip, July 2014

For three weeks in July, I stayed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where I lived at the office compound of Transformation Love, a child sponsorship ministry in a blighted area known as Korē.  During the day, we visited the homes of the women and children who benefit from the ministry, and at night, I taught a philosophy and theology class at Evangelical Theological College.

Learning about Korē

My first experience with Ethiopia was in 2010 when I went there to help with a course at ETC, and also to check out this blighted area called Korē.  Korē is an area in Addis Ababa, where approximately 80,000 people live in small, shanty homes made from sticks, mud, and metal sheeting, with severe limitations to food, clean water, and basic sanitation.  Plastic tarps are also used on homes as shelter from the rain, which comes down in torrents in the winter months (summer months for Americans).  Korē started out as a leper colony decades ago and centered around ALERT hospital, which ministered to these people.  With the industrialization and development of Addis, Korē soon became a highly populated place where lepers, HIV victims, widows, and orphans abounded.  In addition to a labor-intensive way of life, Korē is a place where there is abuse, prostitution, and violence.  The only refuge has been the refuse of the city dump, Koshē, offering scant food supplies, and plastic to be rummaged for sale. 

My first experience in Korē involved visiting women in dark, windowless, mud homes, who sat in lonely desperation with HIV while their children wandered the streets amid animal waste, garbage, muddy pits scattered among crude, stepping stones, and where men and boys played pool during the day and drank away whatever money they had in alcoholic doldrums.  Where were the husbands?  There were all gone: gone with abandonment, or death by disease, or to another city to find another meager labor position, making mere dollars per day.  I saw food stands, which was good, but on a closer look, the food was covered with hundreds of flies.  Women and children washed their clothes in dirty tubs of water.  There were blind people.  There were lepers.  These walk the streets in awkward, mechanical, uneasiness.  Some men wander the streets with nothing on but a shirt, walking in a half-daze. 

What possible hope can these people have for this life?  The question weighed me down with a heaviness too difficult to explain. This place shook me to the core.  I’m reminded of a recent song by Pearl Jam – not exactly Captain Christian K-Love– but a poignant criticism of the suffering people undergo even with the hope of a blissful afterlife.  The lyrics say, “Go to heaven, that’s swell, how do you like your living hell?” 

Well, that all sounds bleak, doesn’t it?  As Christians, even though we have the hope of a new heavens and a new earth, we are indeed called to bring hope to the hurting in the here and now.  But how?  How is this to be done?

Transformation Love

Just before I left Addis Ababa on my first trip there, I learned of a child sponsorship ministry.  This ministry helps children to go through school, all the way through college, so they can get decent jobs and have a hope for their future.  The ministry also gives families a month’s supply of food so women don’t have to forage for things in the dangerous dump.  They get soap for both bodies and clothes.  Children get uniforms and supplies for school, which is a must if a child is to go to school.  (Education is free in Addis, but families must supply both uniforms and books.  Otherwise, children are not allowed in school).

Having been to Korē three times now, I have seen how Transformation Love helps women and children, and some men, by showing the compassion of Christ through physical and spiritual nourishment.  There is nourishment for the whole person in terms of food, shelter, medicine, education, Bible study, worship, and prayer.  I have seen the youth in TL graduate from high school with high honors and pursue education in nursing, IT, business, and pastoral ministry.  Transformation Love and other ministries like it truly help people break the cycle of poverty. 

Still, there are a number of challenges that lie ahead.  Korē is developing economically.  Roads, sidewalks, banks and other business, shopping centers, and large, expensive homes are converging on Korē from its outer rim.  The city of Addis is under current plans to move the dump further outside the city, and therefore, people are investing in construction projects in Korē.  This means jobs for many people doing many different things, and it is hard to deny the goodness of this development.  However, what this also does, is raise the rent for the disenfranchised who either are unable to work these jobs due to lack of education or sickness, or both.

We have therefore a great challenge ahead of us, and this includes plans for both housing and the creation of jobs for the women.  What kind of jobs can we help create for women who are sick and carry the stigma of HIV, and who are also uneducated, and are unable to work at a bank, for example?  These are the questions we are now asking, and there is still much work to be done for these poorest of the poor.

Teaching at ETC

At the college and seminary, the course on philosophy and theology covered the history of western thought, along with major theologians and theological movements within the Christian church from its inception until now.  Wanting to maximize the potential of relevance, I asked my students to tell me the challenges to the gospel in their culture, and they said they involve primarily the teachings of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Islam, African Traditional Religion, and Cultural problems, which are similar to our own here in the U.S. 
First, the EOC teaches that because Jesus is divine, he is unable to intercede on behalf of sinners before God.  Therefore, people are to pray to Mary, angels, and saints, and receive blessings by incantations, kissing the church gate, blessings from the priest, and other similar things.  This brings in a lot of syncretism with pagan religion, and even witchcraft into the lives of people. 
Second, there is the great challenge of Islam, which comprises 35-40% of the population in Ethiopia.  There have been cases of violent persecution.  Doctrinally, however, Islam teaches the impossibility of God becoming a Man in Christ, that the Bible is corrupted, that the concept of the atonement of Christ on the cross is blasphemous, as Allah would never allow one of his prophets to suffer shame, and that people must pay for their own sins, and may not receive forgiveness by means of the punishment of another. 
African Traditional Religion is a third challenge for the gospel, as it teaches that God, the Supreme Being, is distant, unknown, and only to be feared; this means that life on earth involves appeasing good and evil spirits in order to be blessed. These spirits are arbitrary, and cannot be trusted, so it seems that fear is a constant emotion in ATR adherents.   
In Ethiopian culture, as in our own, there are problems of fatherlessness, divorce, pornography, drug and alcohol addiction, depression, abortion, & hints of homosexuality imported by the West’s dominant, secular worldview.  My Ethiopian students they are experiencing a whole host of challenges imported by the West through social & news media, movies, tv shows, and the like. 
In A Nutshell
I want to thank my local church, Corinth Reformed Church, for all the support I’ve had, and for everyone else who supported me and my family in prayer, encouragement, and in finances.  I couldn’t do this without you all.  Although I was in Ethiopia in body, you were there in spirit.  As Paul thanked the Philippian Christians for their partnership with him in the gospel, so I also thank my local church, and everyone who gave financially and prayed for me and helped take care of my family.  Our Ethiopian brothers and sisters in Christ rejoice at the visitation of their American friends.  They rejoice with hugs, kisses, handshakes, and tears.  It means so much to them to have someone come such a long way to visit, teach, and show love and compassion.  I do hope to go back next year, as the college has given me this invitation.  Thank you again.  May the Lord bless you all richly in Christ Jesus.  Amen.