My MCCC Classes


I’m in my 8th or 9th year (I don’t know!) teaching philosophy at Monroe County Community College. I am so thankful for the opportunity to do this. I’ve spent a lot of time in academia, both as a student and as a professor. I think our community college is a tremendous deal, with a good facility that’s getting better, a wonderful location, and a lot of very, very good professors who are dedicated to teaching students. (Note: at major universities there are professors who are not so dedicated to teaching students but spend their time on grants used to further their own research and publishing. A number of them are not so student-oriented, because in the unversity it’s “publish or perish.”)

This fall I’m teaching Introduction to Logic and Philosophy of Religion.

What’s Intro to Logic about? Logic is the area of philosophy that evaluates arguments. Philosophers are interested in issues concerning meaning and truth. A major way to arrive at truth is by using logic. Persons make arguments to explain or persuade or convince others of the truth of some statement. The philosopher then asks – is the argument “logical?” For many philosophers if the argument is not logical, then it need not be believed. Personally I think this is too narrow an approach to truth, but that’s the approach I teach becaise it’s a logic class.

What’s Philosophy of Religion about?

The study of the philosophy of religion concerns philosophical ideas and concepts that are brought to bear on religious issues. The purposes of this course include:

1)      To introduce the student to basic issues in the academic discipline of the philosophy of religion.

2)      To enable the student first of all to understand these issues and then, secondly, to enable the student to evaluate the issues.

3)      To engage the student in dialogue about major issues in the philosophy of religion.

4)      Students will have learned some new ways of thinking about some of life’s most important issues.

Areas we especially look at include:

v     Classic and contemporary arguments for the existence of God

§         The Ontological Argument

§         The Teleological Argument

§         The Anthropic Teleological Argument

§         The Cosmological Argument

§         The Kalam Cosmological Argument

v     Classic and contemporary refutations of the above arguments

v     Classic and contemporary arguments against the existence of God

§         The Argument from Evil

v     The hermeneutics of suspicion – Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche

v     Philosophical issues in the comparative religions – especially regarding the idea of God or gods or lack thereof, and regarding the problem of evil as understood in each of the great world religions.

§         Hinduism

§         Buddhism

§         Islam

§         Judaism

§         Christianity

I love the beginning of the school year and the opportunity to meet new students and teach them things I am passionate about.

Dead Sea Scrolls to Be On Internet

Today’s says that “Israel [Is] To Display Dead Sea Scrolls on the Internet.”

“The 2,000-year-old scrolls, found in the late 1940s in caves near the Dead Sea east of Jerusalem, contain the earliest known copies of every book of the Hebrew Bible (missing only the Book of Esther), as well as apocryphal texts and descriptions of rituals of a Jewish sect at the time of Jesus. The texts, most of them on parchment but some on papyrus, date from the third century B.C. to the first century A.D.”

Note: The Dead Sea Scrolls say nothing about Jesus but tell us about the Qumran community known as the Essenes. They give us valuable historical background to a type of Jewish life at the time of Jesus.


Right and Wrong Is Not About Personal Pleasure

What is right and what is wrong? In the 20th century a major theory about this was called utilitarianism. Utilitarianism has to do with “usefulness.” The question was: what is most useful when it comes to giving the most people pleasure, and eliminating pain from the most people. A crude version of utilitarianism said, “If it feels good, do it.” But this idea didn’t take into account the pleasures and pains of other people.
In 1971 Harvard philosopher John Rawls wrote a ground-breaking book called A Theory of Justice. In his book Rawls rejected utilitarianism. Again, utilitarianism seeks to answer the question: how can we maximize people’s preferences? How can we achieve the most satisfaction possible for everyone? But utilitarian theory “has some odd consequences.” Why, e.g., is rape “wrong?” The utilitarian answer would have to be that the pain to the victim outweighs the pleasure to the rapist. But this cannot be why rape is “wrong.” Surely the pleasure the rapist gets shouldn’t be counted at all, and the whole thing sounds ridiculous. 
Consider this example. Executing a few Danish cartoonists may bring pleasure to a Muslim mob, giving them pleasure. Doing this would achieve greater satisfaction for a greater number of people. A utilitarian would have to endorse the execution. And that’s the problem with utilitarianism as an ethical theory. Rawls says, “there is a sense in which classical utilitarianism fails to take seriously the distinction between persons.””
Here’s a nice essay explaining this in more detail. 
Note: From the Jesus POV “right” and “wrong” is defined in relationship to the being of God. Moral values are not merely subjective preferences and tastes, but are objective. For an explanation of this go to William Lane Craig’s website here and click on his article “Can We Be Good Without God?”

Obama’s Pay Grade Is Not Above Answering the Question About the Beginning of Human Life


In his interview with Barack Obama Pastor Rick Warren asked him the question, “At what point does a baby get human rights, in your view?” Obama replied: “Whether you are looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity is above my pay grade. ”

Well, it’s not above my pay grade, so here’s my answer. For some years now I’ve agreed with Baylor University professor Francis Beckwith. Here’s Beckwith’s argument against abortion, with the answer to Warren’s question in premise 1. Note: Beckwith’s pay grade is surely lower than Obama’s.

1. The unborn entity, from the moment of conception, is a full-fledged member of the human community.

2. It is prima facie morally wrong to kill any member of that community.

3. Every successful abortion kills an unborn entity, a full-fledged member of the human community.

4. Therefore, every successful abortion is prima facie morally wrong. (In Francis Beckwith, Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice, p. xii.)

Beckwith’s book is brilliant, and i think his argument is powerful. In the book he argues strongly for premise 1.

I now submit the following argument, which I think is understandable by people way below my pay grade:

1. Barack Obama’s pay grade is higher than my pay grade.

2. I can understand Beckwith’s argument that the unborn entity, from the moment of conception, is a full-fledged member of the human community and therefore gets all the rights of the human community.

3. Therefore answering the question “When does a baby get human rights” is not above Obama’s pay grade.

And, by the way, the question as to when a baby gets human rights, or when personhood begins, cannot be answered scientifically.

It’s Not Enough to Just Give Thanks For What You Have


My passion is to know Jesus and make Jesus known to others. And by “Jesus” I’m not interested in some “cultural Jesus” or some “American Jesus.” Jesus, remember, was not born in Monroe.

I recently preached on Jesus’ story about a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus. In the story the rich man is outrageously, hideously rich, and Lazarus is phenomenally rock-bottomly poor. Lazarus wears Armani suits, eats every day at Carl’s Chop House, and lives in a gated community. Lazarus wears open, oozing sores, would like to eat the rich man’s table scraps, and his home is on the ground outside the rich man’s gate.

The rich man sees Lazarus everyday or, better, steps over Lazarus on his way to shop at Neiman Marcus. He’s dressed in fine purple linen imported from Egypt. He doesn’t even see the dogs who lick Lazarus’s open sores after they’ve been dining on dead carcasses.

There’s a huge gap, a monstrous abyss, between the world of the rich man and the world of Lazarus even though physically they are very close.

As the Pharisees hear Jesus tell this story it must have outraged them because Jesus has just identified them as lovers of money.

Then, Mr Rich Man dies. He has a funeral unlike the funeral you and I will ever have. And Lazarus dies too, only he gets no funeral or burial. But, in the story Jesus tells, he does get the greatest funeral procession ever recorded as angels carry him away to sit at the Great Banquet next to the Big Three – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (as well as the prophets of God).

The rich, self-aggrandizing guy sits on the other rim of what looks to him like the Grand Canyon, and sees Lazarus… sitting at the BIGGEST FOOD-THING ever known. Still thinking he’s in his gated community replete with servants who wait on him, he asks Abraham to send lowly, slavish, disgusting Lazarus over and give him some water because he’s parched. Abraham says, sorry… this gap is now fixed.

What’s happened is that the gap in the rich man’s heart between him and Lazarus, and also between him and God, becomes an eternal reality. He gets the desires of his heart, which is to be apart from the true heart of God.

The prophets, says Abraham, told you all about this. Remember Amos 5? You failed to have compassion on the poor. You failed to act. You failed to pro-actively attend to Lazarus and his likes. You built your own little earthly kingdom on the backs of the poor, stepping over them with your Guccis on your way to the spa.

So…? What’s Jesus saying here? I think Jesus, the Real One, is telling us that to occasionally or even often say “Thank you God that I have so much!!” but NOT use what we have been given to help the poor is far, far from the heart of God. To thank God for what we’ve been given and not to spend our money and resources on eternal things and the things Jesus is passionate about (= the poor) is scandalous. At least, according to my Bible, and Matthew-Mark-Luke-and John.

The Sex Lives of Our Teens & Pre-teens


I’m not shocked by what I read in today’s Detroit Free Press. It does, however, sadden me. Teenage girls are having lots of sex with multiple partners. Sexual intercourse is now the new norm for “dating.”

The article is about teen girls who came together for a conference in Detroit featuring Bill Cosby. The article says:

“Many girls who were 13 to 16 years old were having sex and have had anywhere from 10 to 15 sexual partners — most they don’t know by name.

Some girls in that same age group are “dating” men as old as 30 because the men can give them things — love, money, presents — that their parents cannot.

They talked about girls who are being raped and feeling powerless to do anything afterward, blocked by a sexual irrevolution that has made feelings irrelevant and intercourse the new dating. They feel that these encounters are their fault, and they are ashamed to tell anyone. They are not seeing doctors. And some are getting pregnant.”

The article’s author, Rochelle Riley, reflects: “Days later, my head reels from the things I heard. I have never felt more frightened for our children than while learning what passes for normal life for teenagers now. With vulgar music making objects of girls and gangsters of boys, with teen fashion being designed by seeming pedophiles — and with standards for behavior being set by veejays on a half-dozen TV stations, a few dozen radio stations and thousands of Web sites — it’s no wonder our children don’t know where to turn or how to act.

And sadly, increasingly for many girls, as some said Saturday, they are not turning to their families.”

What about “Christian” girls? My guess is there’s not a whole lot of difference. There should be, but I bet there’s not, just like Christian marriages should divorce less but in fact the divorce rate for Christians is no different than that of non-Christians.

We now live in a culture where fewer and fewer children have biological parents that are still married. Riley is correct in her observation that the media feeds and lives off the glorification of sex outside of marriage.

I’ve done lots of premarital counseling over the years, especially when I was a campus pastot for 11 years at Michigan State University. I’d like to tell all these girls that there is a God who is a loving Father, and that God can heal the scars gained from parents who didn’t have the courage to keep their vows, from fathers who abandoned their mothers and them, from mothers who themselves never matured beyond adolescence and was more of a teenaged peer than an example and mentor of what love really is.

Watch this. Parents divorce. Children are devastated. Children need help. Media says “have sex.” Children need love. Children look for it in shallow sexual relationships. Children make babies. Babies born to children who won’t stay together. Babies grow up without both biological parents. Lack of role models of healthy marriage and family. They go looking for love…

Pray for our parentless generation…

Chinese Repression of Christians


There’s an article today on about four Christians who were bringing 300 Bibles into China to give to Chinese Christians. The Bibles were confiscated, because according to Chinese law it’s illegal to bring religious literature into China unless it’s just enough (= one Bible) for personal use.

Last fall I stayed at the home of a friend who’s been sneaking Bibles into China for years. He told me that maybe one day I’ll visit China with him, and added, “Of course you’ll have to bring a suitcase of Bibles into the country, too. There’s such a need for them, so we use every opportunity to bring them in.”

I also teach at a Chinese seminary in New York City, and at a large Chinese church there. I’ve talked with many Chinese, some who recently feld the country because they were Christians. They have told me firsthand about religious repression and persecution.

For all the beauty of the Olympics before us China remains a very dark place for people who want to worship as they choose. The idea that churches can freely worship if they are registered with the government is a repressive joke. In spite of this there is a flourishing, growing, underground church happening in China right now as I type this. Pray for these real followers of Jesus who dare to follow him in the midst of a nation that wants to repress them.

Oxford University Re-examines the Shroud of Turin

(Monroe, from Big Lots Parking Lot – 8/15/08)
Every once in a while the “Shroud of Turin” thing raises its head. In today’s Chicago Tribune there’s an article on Oxford University’s agreement to re-examine the ST.

Christopher Ramsey, head of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, says: “There is a lot of other evidence that suggests to many that the shroud is older than the radiocarbon dates allow, and so further research is certainly needed. Only by doing this will people be able to arrive at a coherent history of the shroud which takes into account and explains all of the available scientific and historical information.”

For me, this is interesting, but finally irrelevant to my following of Jesus. If the ST is the real thing, cool. It fits within my paradigm. If not, it makes no difference to me.

The Moral Impulse As a Clue to the Existence of God


I’m preaching tomorrow on Luke 16 and the story Jesus tells of the outrageously rich man and the radically poor-and-outcast man Lazarus. As I’m now sitting down and working more on this message it strikes me that most of us feel offended that this rich man didn’t do one thing to help Lazarus, who lived outside the gate to the rich man’s mansion. I suggest to you that any moral outrage one feels when the poor are ignored and abandoned and overlooked only makes sense if there is a God. Here’s why.

If there were no God, then I think one would not be immoral to be totally self-centered in this life. Why not? Surely there would be nothing “wrong” about using all your money on your own self. Others might not like that you do this, but who cares? Only people, not some “God.” If there’s no God who is the source of all right and wrong and to whom we are accountable, then we’re not really accountable to anyone or anything in this life. If this sounds strange to you I can tell you that there have been and are serious atheists who would agree with me. It’s really hard to develop an ethical system if God does not exist. Personally, I think it’s impossible.

But maybe our sense of moral outrage that happens when the poor are ignored is due to an evolutionary adaptation that helps us survive as a species? Even if that were true, it would not make it “right” to help the poor and “wrong” to ignore them.

Any moral outrage you feel… about anything… only makes real sense if there is a God who made you in his image. The Romans 2:15 way of putting this is to say that God has written the requirement of the moral law on our hearts. You are a creation of God. God has made you in his image. And God is perfectly good and perfectly loving. Thus the moral impulse in you is a sign that God does indeed exist. This is what C.S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, referred to as “the clue to the meaning of the universe.”