Saturday, May 16, 2009

Lunch and a Survey

*UPDATE* - A culturally deprived and gastronomically-challenged Canadian asks (gasp), "what are Hawkins Cheezies"? Answer: a company that's great at making cheezies, not so great at marketing. See picture, above.

Canada has three national icons -- the apostrophe-challenged Tim Hortons, Swiss Chalet, and Hawkins Cheezies. Every Canadian embassy should have a Swiss and a Tim's on the property -- along with bowls of Hawkins Cheezies. Am I right?

Anyway, we ate at Swiss Chalet after church on Sunday. The bill had a survey on it good for a free appetizer, so I took it. I was one of those surveys drawn up by marketing types. They don't ask you when it was you visited the restaurant, they ask you the date of your last experience; they don't ask you if you came because you like the food, they ask if you were drawn by the product. Then they asked me this:

"Did your server enhance your experience with recommendations from our menu?"

No, my server enhanced my experience by not making recommendations from the menu. But this response was not an option.

So, this is what I said at the end of the survey:

"Did your server enhance your experience with recommendations from our menu?"

This is an ambiguous question. The server may make recommendations from the menu that do not enhance the diner's experience -- the diner may find them unnecessary or annoying. If you meant, "Did your server recommend items from our menu?", then you should just say so.


I liked the food better than the survey. What they really need is a survey about the survey.

And that's the way the "Yes, I'd like fries with that!" Ball bounces.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bishop Graham Cray - Mission-Shaped Church

UK Bishop Graham Cray was the guest-speaker at St. Paul's Bloor St. in Toronto Sunday. He has a book out, Mission Shaped Church -- what a great title for a book, eh?

Some of the key points he left us with:

* Don't settle for seeing life smaller than it really is

* Be the good news:

* don't rail against the world, don't be conformed to it, but seek to outclass the world, i.e.,

* show it something better

Outclass the world -- what a great objective -- but what would this mean?

Perhaps something like this: live fuller, cleaner, more decent lives, and out-love, out-think, and out-give the world.

As Christians, we have an obligation (and the privilege) to live the fullest, richest possible lives -- remember Jesus said, "I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly".

Friday, May 08, 2009

Anselm's Ontological Argument for the Existence of God

The so-called "proofs" for the existence of God are not proofs in a mathematical sense. They are more along the lines of evidences, or clues, or intuitions, that suggest or point to the existence of God, and which make the existence of God a reasonable and justified (or warranted) belief.

Anselm's Ontological argument is one of the most unusual. It has been hotly contested for nearly 1,000 years. It was attacked by Kant and defended by Hegel. More recently, Alvin Plantinga is a 21st cc. defender of the ontological argument.

Here it is, in summary form (this is my paraphrase -- Anselm scholars can tell me if I have represented him accurately):

1. God exists in human understanding as the greatest of all possible beings. (Even "the fool" who says in his heart "there is no God" has a definite sense of the being whose existence he is denying -- a supreme, greatest being for whom a greater being is, by definition, neither possible nor conceivable.)

2. The concept of God as the greatest possible being resides in our minds and is not an incoherent or nonsensical category of thought (unlike, e.g., flying spaghetti monsters, for whom atheists seem to have a particularly unhealthy obsession). *Update: see second comment, below*.

3. Something that exists only in our understanding is not as great as something that exists in reality. If God exists only in our minds but not in reality, it would in fact be possible to conceive of a greater being -- one who exists in reality.

4. Therefore, it would be contradictory to hold in our minds the concept of the greatest possible being and to deny his existence.

5. Therefore God, the greatest possible being, exists in reality as well as our understanding.

The argument is notable because it is the only one that seeks to prove the existence of God on the basis of pure reason without recourse to perception or empirical evidence. The proof relies on a human being's seemingly innate and pre-wired mental capacity to intuitively grasp the concept of God as the greatest of all possible beings.

For more...

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Zeroing in on Numbers

Let's do a thought experiment.

Suppose there is a universe where there is only one of every thing. There's a baker, call him Joe, who bakes a single square and sells it each day. If you want to get a bit grotesque, imagine that he has only one eye, one arm, one hand, one finger, etc. And, since there are no collections in this universe, we don't add up all the single things into an aggregate. So one is the only number in town.

One day, Joe's knife slips and he ends up cutting the square in... two. For the first time there is now two of something. According to some of those who provided intelligent critiques of my previously post, numbers exist only as a conceptual reflection of material phenomenon, so now that we have two squares, the number two can now exist.

So far, so good.

One day Joe contemplates the reality of the split square, and realizes it was a money-maker. He says to himself, I could cut the square into more sections, call them "three", and "four", and make even more money from my squares! At this point, the square has not been cut, and there is only one of everything else, so can three and four exist at this point? According to the external-phenomenon-correspondence view, they can't exist because there isn't three or four of anything in the external world to describe. I think they can, and do. Three and four can exist as mental concepts, weightless, massless, without energy or matter or motion, and without any necessary correspondence to anything in the physical realm.

If and when Joe takes his knife and cuts the square into three and four, what once existed in Joe's mind now exists as material reality as well.

So, numbers are subtle things that seem to exist on the edge of materialism. It seems that the necessary correspondence to real-world phenomena is not as tight as some would insist, and that numbers can have, in some sense, independent existence.

A further point -- while the theist may argue that both numbers and mathematics existed in the mind of God before he (like Joe the baker) created his creation, the antitheist materialist insists that they exist only in the mind of man. But scientists, atheists among them, have noted the beauty that often accompanies the mathematical equations associated with the laws of physics. And this surprises them -- it's not what you would expect from a universe caused by nothing, for nothing, and governed by cold, unfeeling, unconscious, mindless processes.

Maybe it's because there's a beautiful mind behind them.

And that's the way the Ball bounces.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Evidence for the Existence of God: Uncaused Realities

Good morning!

I had an interesting exchange with Anonymous about uncaused causes and the Kalam argument. I want to offer something more for consideration.

1. The presence of uncaused, immaterial entities within our reality would point to a reality beyond our finite, material cause-and-effect universe
2. Numbers exist, and are uncaused and immaterial (they do not require the material world to exist, and would exist whether humans were around to "discover" them or not)
3. The rules of logic exist, and are uncaused and immaterial -- they do not require the material world to exist
4. Therefore uncaused, immaterial entities exist
5. Uncaused entities must be eternal (because a cause would indicate a point-in-time)
6. Therefore eternal, immaterial entities exist
7. Therefore the materialistic worldview assumption of atheists is an inadequate depiction of the reality in which we live, and the materialistic assumptions of science are an inadequate methodology to discover all of reality

Part Two:

8. Logic and mathematics are products of mind
9. Therefore there is an eternal mind
10. Whoever possesses this mind would be characterized by earthlings as "God"
11. Therefore, God exists

It is very interesting that the apostle John refers to Christ as the Logos, a rich term that can be understood as Word, or divine Reason, or Logic even, which would also encompass the rules of mathematics.

In my theist worldview, the mind of God is imprinted in the very fabric of the reality we inhabit. And that is why atheists are, to my mind, "in the dark", and why theism is both superior in its explanatory capabilities and true. The universe is rational for a reason -- because there is a divine reason behind it. And human beings are rational creatures for a reason -- we were created in the image of the One who created the universe.

"... nothing intellectually compelling or challenging.. bald assertions coupled to superstition... woefully pathetic"