Brief Insights for Mastering Bible Study (Heiser)

Heiser, Michael. Brief Insights for Mastering Bible Study. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018.

This book is written on the most basic level. It is designed for the brand new Christian, though there are insights that experienced bible readers can take home. The goal is not to learn a method or a series of steps but to learn how to think critically. You must learn to develop insightful questions.

Study Habits

Memorization isn’t bible study. It is good, perhaps even necessary. Bible study involves thinking and thinking is work. It isn’t a ritual event. And if time is a commodity, Heiser recommends, and I think this is quite good, devoting small increments to thinking about what we have studied.

In chapter 5 Heiser admits we can never have pure objectivity to the text. We can still ask whether our precommitments are impeding our knowledge of what the text is saying.

Geography is important, too. If something happened at a place, look it up on a map. For example, it makes a big difference if the Transfiguration happened around Mt. Herman rather than Mt. Tabor.

Read Journal Articles

Journal articles are published several times a year. They are more up-to-date and cutting edge than commentaries. While not objective, they give you access to a wider range of experts in the field. The average lifespan of a critical article is about twenty years. Think of scholarship before the discovery of Ugarit or the Dead Sea Scrolls.

He then covers linguistic issues in the text: there is no Holy Ghost Greek, the Masoretic Text didn’t fall from heaven, and the books in the canon are not necessarily in chronological order. Per the Masoretic text, this means you can entertain alternative textual readings if you have good warrant to do so.

Heiser points out that the cultural milieu of the bible is not that of late Western Europe. This seems like a truism, but it’s not. People get nervous when the term “Second Temple Judaism” is mentioned, if only because of what NT Wright has done with the term. Be that as it may, what is more likely to be understood by a first century Jew: the writings of that time period or 19th century theology?

Also, don’t worry too much about doing word studies. Most people at the beginner level commit more fallacies on this point than anywhere else (scholars, too). For example, is a butterfly a fly that is made out of butter? That’s what doing word-studies looks like. It’s more profitable to trace concepts throughout the bible than word studies.

Bible Study Tools

Strong’s Concordance is good, but online search engines have rendered it somewhat obsolete. If you are going to use an interlinear bible, use a reverse one. If it is in a bible software it can directly link the words.

I do wish Heiser had gone a bit deeper at times, but this makes a perfect graduation gift for the brand new Christian.


Theological Territories (Hart)

Hart, David Bentley. Theological Territories: A David Bentley Hart Digest. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2020.

This collection of essays reveals David Bentley Hart at his extreme best and extreme worst. In other words, it’s like everything else he has written.

Early Notes

Description of phenomenology: it always evokes a prior metaphysical deduction “because it always already assumes a metaphysical premise: that there is a real correlation between the givenness of the phenomena and the intentionality of the perceiver” (28).

Barthian theology sees God as a “Wholly Other,” thus reducing him to an aliud who is now posed “over against” creation. And if God is always “Wholly Other,” then he is always posed against the Other, which means creation is eternal. This is why Barthianism has always been caught in a dialectic of creation either being eternal or fallen.

Nicene metaphysics: abandoned the Middle Platonic hierarchy.  In this case Logos is no longer a lesser manifestation of a God who is beyond all manifestation. “It is in fact the eternal reality of God’s manifestation of his own essence to himself” (37).  The essence is a movement of infinite disclosure. He doesn’t relate to creation through a hierarchy of hypostases, but he is the “infinite act within and beyond every finite act.”

Bulgakov, Metaphysics, and Christology

This is where Hart’s reputation as a classical theist is on full display.  If Hart’s view of capital punishment is him at his worst. This is him at his best.  Of interest to Reformed readers is Hart’s interaction with Barthian scholar Bruce McCormack. While we have a proper distaste for Barth, McCormack is probably the sharpest Reformed thinker on Christology. The fact that McCormack is wrestling with Bulgakov and has appeared on Hart’s radar is something of note.

Sergius Bulgakov was a Russian theologian who was exiled by the Communists. He was easily the most profound thinker of the 20th century regarding God, creation, Christology, etc. Bulgakov realized that arbitrariness in “our understanding of the relation between divine transcendence and creation’s contingency” threatens both (58). This hinges on actuality and passivity.  God is an infinite God of pure act. He cannot be determined by unrealized potentiality.  

Hart summarizes the divine moments quite eloquently: “that infinite donation and surrender, that infinite receiving that is also the eternal constitution of the giver, that infinite outpouring in the other that is also the eternal being of God” (59).

Hart wants to avoid any conception of God as having a “gnomic” or deliberative will. If God has to deliberate, then creation constitutes for him a real relation, and therefore “a pathos that modifies his nature.”

God is pure actuality. He is “the source of every act of being” (61). “God does not require the indeterminacy of the possible in order to be free because he is not some particular determination of being, some finite reduction of potency to act.” 

Freedom and Universalism

You would expect me to argue against Hart that universalism is wrong.  That’s not my argument, though.  I’ll grant him the point for the time being.  I won’t even say, “Yeah, but what about Hitler?”  I’ll make it worse: will Hart and his disciples concede that Donald Trump will be in heaven?  I’ll take my leave then.

We should look at his comments on freedom, though.  He’s not entirely wrong and despite his sheer hatred of Calvinism, he sounds very Augustinian at times. Hart’s argument is that someone cannot freely and rationally choose the evil.  A purely libertarian act cannot be one of sheer chance or mechanical impulse (this is also Jonathan Edwards’ argument).  A truly free will, by contrast, is oriented towards the good.

Let’s not dismiss this argument too quickly.  While he hates Calvinism, Hart is not giving the same arguments that your typical free-willer does.  Quite the opposite, actually.

Science and Mind

This section is also quite good.  Even if I am a physical system, I am an intentional physical system, which is problematic for hard naturalists since intentionality is not a physical process.  Even worse, assuming evolution to be true, it cannot be reduced to pure physicality.  Evolution is unintentionally (pun, maybe) hierarchical, with more complex systems superimposing on less complex ones.  In short, I have reasons for being here and those reasons aren’t physical processes (131).

Science as science cannot tell us anything about science.  It engages in what Heidegger calls “ge-stell,” or framing: reducing the world to a collection of objects.  There is no ontological participation between the objects.

Intentionality: the mind knows by being actively disposed toward what lies outside of itself (169).

On Capital Punishment

This is Hart at his worst.  His essay is full of invective.  He comes across sneering.  This is doubly unfortunate since he actually scores some points on Greek vocabulary. His main argument is that the Christian is forbidden from retributive justice per the Sermon on the Mount.    That’s just the plain meaning of the passage, says Hart.  He does not allow similar hermeneutical charity to those who would go to the “plain meaning” of Romans 13.  I just want to focus on a few points:

1) I will grant to him that machairos doesn’t mean “sword of capital punishment,” but more like a police symbol.  Okay, that might be true.  The rest of the passage, though, does not admit Hart’s desire for “rehabilitative justice.”  This “state as police” is to be a “terror to evildoers.”  It cannot do that and rehabilitate them at the same time.

2) I can’t find the exact passage, but somewhere Hart says that Jesus never imagined the death penalty being used.  I can only plead Matthew 13.

3) Hart’s petty childishness comes out when Feser quotes Hart’s more Anabaptist view of state punishment: “Again and again, the New Testament demands of Christians that they exercise limitless forgiveness, no matter how grievous the wrong” (Hart, quoted by Feser).  Feser then gives the rhetorical counter: “We also have to refrain from punishing rapists, bank robbers, embezzlers, etc….The jails should be emptied” (quoted on p. 208).  Feser has correctly cited Hart’s beliefs.  How does Hart respond: “Twaddle…balderdash…I don’t need to explain a d*mned thing” (Hart 209).

Does this sound like an adult in control of his rational faculties?

Academic Freedom

Academic freedom should be more than just the negative freedom to say what I want.  It should be the freedom to orient the will towards the Good and True. There is an intrinsic good to which the mind strives.

Beauty and Being

Whatever else Thomas Aquinas meant by beauty, he was correct that Beauty is pleasing just simply by being seen.  A beautiful object must be complete and not lacking, its parts must be in proportion to each other, and it must be radiant (247).

Hart wants to go beyond this, and borrowing from Heidegger, he suggests a distinction between beauty and the event of beauty. Heidegger assimilates the event of beauty to the event of truth (249).  “This is one of those rare moments in Heidegger when the light momentarily breaks through the clouds and he not only asks the right question but comes close to giving the right answer.” We understand beauty in the same way that we understand how the distinction between being and beings is made manifest. Beauty is the excess of Being as being gives itself to us, like in a Bach concerto.  It is “a nimbus of utter gratuity” (250). This is also the language of “gift.” Beauty “shines out” as the sign and gift of that which transcends discrete beings.

This is similar to a Nicene ontology. As the other persons of the Trinity are coequal with the Father, there is no interval or gap that requires the Logos to be a lesser manifestation of the Father (252). “God’s eternal identity is convertible, without any reduction of degree, with his own manifestation of himself to himself.” As a result, creation becomes a free gift instead of a diminished manifestation.

On another note, while I generally don’t approve of Hart’s translation idiosyncrasies, I think he is quite close to the original context when it comes to the spirit realm.  In any case, he is far more accurate than those who think in the traditional manner of “angels vs. demons.”  There is a “realm of powers pervading this cosmos and mediating between it and the exalted, supercelestial realm of the truly divine, to theion.  The secondary, more proximate divine orders of daimones–genii, longaevi, aerial sprites, the ethereal and spiritual forces pervading nature, the rulers of the planetary spheres, the angelic or daemonic governors of nations….composed a whole unseen hierarchy” (365-366). We, on the other hand, are so numb to it we just call everything “angel” or “demon,” when usually they are neither.

I also like “vale of Abraham” (367). Hart runs into problems elsewhere on exactly where the “rich man” is, if not in torment.  Still, he marshals a number of classical sources that translate kolpos as vale or valley. His comparison with the Greek of 1 Enoch 22 is very interesting.  It is a series of four koiloi separated from each other.

Other notes:
Soul–life principle (374).

Spirit–able to exist outside the body.  Hart rejects a pure incorporeality, if only because soul and spirit are irreducibly local.  They aren’t physical, but we need to avoid later Cartesian readings.  It can be spatially extended without having physical magnitude.


This book gives you a “taste” of almost everything Hart has written, both good and bad, very good and very, very bad. Whenever Hart comes against a Christian tradition he doesn’t like, he dispenses with argument and just starts making fun of them. Ironically, this is a caricature of the very fundamentalists he so disdains.

There are some legitimately funny moments.  In critiquing an author for engaging in psychoanalysis, Hart writes, “Dilworth gratuitously [interjects] the observation that, in regard to this or that aspect of Jones’s life, ‘A Freudian might say…’ That is a sentence that need never be completed” (300).

The “Biola” Turn in Christian Philosophy

Or, a return from relativism.

I have several goals in this paper.  I utilize Dallas Willard’s metaphysical realism to rebut post-Kantian idealism.  I also challenge James K. A. Smith’s quasi-Derridean view of interpretation.

In “How Concepts Relate the Mind to its Objects: The God’s Eye View Vindicated,” Dallas Willard defends a robust realism in the face of various post-Kantian proposals.  While criticisms of Kant are common and always welcome, this paper takes a different turn. It is a response to the various “creational hermeneutics” by men like James K. A. Smith who appear to posit an endless deferral of meaning.  To be fair, Smith doesn’t advocate a strict Derridean view. He assumes meaning is possible. Rather, he advocates that every hermeneutical event is always (already?) situated by our finitude. We never approach the realm of “pure interpretation.”

Further, Smith isn’t a Kantian.  He isn’t saying (as far as I am aware) that our minds create reality.  In this case, many of Willard’s remarks won’t directly apply to him. There are some parallels, though.  Both Kant and Smith function as though there is a “wall” between our minds and reality.

On one level that seems true enough. I don’t even know what a pure interpretation unsullied by presuppositions would look like.  I think there is something more, though. It’s not enough that Smith wants to avoid a Derridean relativism or something like an endless deferral of meaning.  Well and good. I fear, though, that his epistemology is underdeveloped and if pursued consistently, will in fact lead to relativism.

In a new chapter to Fall of Interpretation Smith responds to criticisms of Derrida.  He says Derrida does affirm that communication takes place. However, it only takes place within “communal discernment” (Smith 215-216). Indeed, communities “fix meanings.”  We will come back to this claim later.

Dallas Willard’s article provides a summary of how the mental process works. He discusses what a concept is and how the nature of a concept (which always includes intentionality, relations, etc) avoids what he calls the “Midas touch” of post-Kantianism. Followers of Kant see the concept as an activity of the mind.  As Willard explains, “It [the Kantian view] always turns the ‘mediation’ of the relation between the mind and world into a form of making: the object which comes to stand before the mind is in some essential way made by a ‘grasping’ of something other” (Willard 2-3).

The Structure of the Knowing Act

While Willard’s article decisively rebuts Kantianism, it does have a small payout for the “Derridean Christian Philosophers.”  If what Willard says is true on how the mind knows, then it doesn’t matter if we posit that our knowledge is “mediated” or “structured” by communal knowings.

Survey of the Material

Kant: what comes before the mind as objects are products of the action of the mind (Willard 4).  Evidently, there is some amorphous sludge that is present before our mind. Our mind then categorizes it and “out comes the perceived object.”

Beginning of the Case

Willard’s main argument is that all knowing acts involve “intentionality,” which is the “about-ness” or “of-ness” of something.  If I know a dog, this dog, then “there must be something about each of the terms (my thought of my dog, my dog) that my thought of my dog is “together with” or pairs up with my dog” (5).

What is a Concept? 

A concept is acquired, applies to or is “of” something (extension), has intension (inherent properties), is transpersonal.  If there is anything that “mediates” between our minds and the outside objects, it is concepts, not endless linguistic deferrals or “communal” interpretations. 

Further, concepts are properties, not acts or events.  As such, they don’t “do” anything. A concept also has a “nature.”  This means it has properties, relations, and an overall place “in the scheme of things” (8).  Since it is a universal, it is exemplified in time and space but itself is not in time or space.  

With all of this in mind (no pun intended), we can see that intentional properties are concepts which form a bridge between thought and its object.  I do not think of the intentional properties but “of what is before my mind through them” (10). The intentional properties of a concept are not identical with “the properties which things must have to fall under the concept” (11).

We can try to say it another way: there is an intentional affinity (the of-ness or about-ness of a concept) between the concept and the properties of the concept. They are related in such a way that the intensional properties “always come to mind upon the instancing of the property which is the concept, but not by being instanced in the thought along with the concept” (12).  In other words, the concept is before our mind, not simply the inherent structure of the concept. The following diagram might help:

Thought of a dog (exemplifies) concept of a dog (has natural affinity with) properties making up caninity (exemplified in) Dogs (Fido, etc). (Willard 13).

The Pay off

If the above is true then the objects of thought do not take on any character. They aren’t changed in structure from an amorphous sludge to a dog.  Therefore, we are not “locked inside language” (14).

How does this work with the Radical Orthodox type crowd which posits an intermediate communal meaning?  At the most basic level it makes it irrelevant. Let’s take the concept of a dog. I read about a dog in a text.  How does placing “the communal interpretation of the faith-community” between myself and the dog “make” the text correct?  

That might be somewhat trivial.  Let’s take a theological dictum. If all the RO guys are saying is that we must read in conjunction with fellow believers, then there really isn’t a problem. A more hard-line approach would be “the church’s interpretation is our interpretation.”  Only Protestant converts to Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy say anything that silly. It’s common enough, though. Let’s look at it. What mediates the church’s reading of the text and the text itself? It doesn’t work to say the church, for that is no different from their own characterization of Protestantism writ-large.  Further, it’s no different from the very foundationalism they eschew.

But if the church doesn’t mediate between the church’s interpretation and a given fact of experience, then who does?  We are then thrown back to the individual believer’s responsibility to interpret the world, receive data, and make judgments.  These judgments aren’t infallible, but they are still warranted. He can accept many of them as basic beliefs (in the absence of overriding defeaters).  



Finding Truth (Pearcey)

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Pearcey, Nancy. Finding Truth.  Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2015.

Remember James Sire’s The Universe Next Door?  This is an updated version of that. It’s a much better version. It responds to current challenges (materialism) with updated scholarship.  It’s not a stand alone book. While Pearcey gives good suggestions on how to collapse worldviews, you need to spend a lot of time studying the primary sources and leading monographs.  You just do.

Following Roy Clouser, Pearcey argues that “the divine” is at the root of one’s system.  In other words, everyone has a religious commitment. It just might not be a personal deity. This idol or commitment can be something you use to explain the rest of the world (Forms, physics, etc.).

The Greeks: everything began as a chaotic primeval substance.  This is the arche.

Marxism: economic determinism. Humans are defined by how they relate to matter (72).

Pearcey outlines 5 principles in the worldview discussion.

Principle #1: Twilight of the Gods–Identify the Idol

Principle #2: How Nietzsche Wins

Turn reductionisms back upon themselves

* How does consciousness emerge from matter?  Simply saying “emergentism” doesn’t answer the question (108ff).  Mental states are precisely not like physical states. A rose is prickly.  My thought about a rose is not. Mental states, further, are always *about* something.

For the coup de gras, Pearcey quotes the pious and right-thinking Thomas Reid: “we may call this metaphysical lunacy.”

Principle #3: Secular Leaps of Faith

Principle #4: Why Worldviews Commit Suicide

Principle #5: Freeloading Atheists

Pearcey has some good suggestions on dealing with teens and young adults who have “left the faith.”  If they didn’t leave because they are sexually loose or angry at their parents, they probably left because “the Church couldn’t answer their questions.”  At this point start asking them which god they believe in. Press them on epistemology. More often than not, they haven’t thought these things through. If they are now “captain of their souls,” and if “man is the measure of all things,” start measuring.  How do you account for justified, true belief?


John Locke: Essay Concerning Human Understanding

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Locke should have put Book IV first, not because of order of argument but of style.  Books 1-3 are so badly written and tedious, whereas Book IV is interesting and occasionally funny.  Be that as it may.

The how of knowledge

(1) At the risk of oversimplification, ideas for Locke are sense-impressions.  If I see a tree, light waves from the tree reach my eye, go to my brain/mind, and from there form a mental image of a tree in my mind. An idea is the object of understanding when a man thinks.  The power to produce any idea is a quality (II.8.7). Ideas are in the mind, qualities the body.

On the Soul

problem of identity: the soul cannot be reduced to physical causes/objects, otherwise how does one account for personal identity if we are just matter in motion (II.1.12)

  • primary qualities are inseparable from a body: solidity, extension, figure.
  • secondary qualities are that which produce various sensations in us by means of the primary qualities: colors, sounds, tastes.

Substance: combinations of simple ideas representing distinct things subsisting in themselves (II.8.6)

Modes of thinking:  

  • thinking: when the mind contemplates itself (II.19.1)
  • sensation: the entrance of any idea into the understanding by the senses (II.1.24).
  • intention: the mind focusing on an object

Thinking is the action of the soul, not its essence.  Otherwise, when we stop thinking we stop having a soul (implications for pro-life arguments).   

On Free Will

power: the possibility of acting change.

  • The will is a power.
  • we can’t speak of free will.
    • Liberty is a power that belongs to agents (II.21.14).
    • It doesn’t make sense to ask if one power has another power.
  • will is the ability to choose.
    • the mind operates the will.  
    • faculty, ability, and power are names of the same thing.
    • The mind determines the will (II.21.29).
  • Uneasiness: psychological determination of the will (II.21.34-40).  Locke has a very perceptive chapter on the difficulty of “willing ourselves to be better.”  A drunkard knows his decisions are destructive, but he is habituated in them. A direct charge to change won’t do anything for him.  
    • The good cannot determine our wills (practically, psychologically) because we are so overwhelmed with desire and unease.
    • There might be some spiritual import to this.  Fasting and other disciplines “turn down the volume” of the flesh.  
    • Our wills are only truly free when we suspend the desire.  
  • Psychological remarks (very perceptive)
    • We cannot directly change our beliefs (doxastic voluntarism), but we can change the surroundings which condition our beliefs (II.21.62).
    • The pain anyone actually feels is the most intense of any possibly present pains.
    • Future pleasure (absent good) is usually unable to prevent uneasiness/wrongdoing. This is why social justice programs have universally failed to reformed poverty-stricken neighborhoods.


Essence is “the very being of anything, whereby it is, what it is” (III.iii.15).  Locke held to the corpuscular hypothesis: the constitutions of things consists of minute particles of some sort, and that their workings are entirely due to such configurations (IV.iii.25).


The Ethics of Belief (Courtesy of Wolterstorff)

(2) Our assent is regulated by the grounds of probability (IV.16.1).

Doxastic Duty

Book IV. 17.24

“Faith is nothing but a firm assent of the mind…regulated…as is our duty, cannot be afforded to anything but good reason…He that believes without having reason for believing…neither seeks truth as he ought nor pays the obedience due to his Maker.”

(3) For Locke epistemology is linked with doxastic duty.  

Epistemic justification is deontological justification.  Is this Knowledge as Justified, True Belief? Maybe; however, Locke applies duty to belief, not knowledge.


(~1) Is Locke’s account of belief-formation really how the mind works?  Following the godly and right-thinking Mr Reid, we offer the critique: “idea” is a visual term.  How does Locke’s project work when we take a non-visual sensation like “touch?” How does the mind form an “image” of a non-imagery sensation?

(~2) This seems true and it is probably a wise way to live, but as later thinkers have pointed out (Wm. James, Wolterstorff, Plantinga, Kelly James Clark), what is the evidence for this claim?

David Hume: Concerning Human Understanding

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Agnosticism is bad, but not all agnosticisms are equally bad. Such is the case with David Hume. If one reads Karl Marx or Herbert Marcuse, one has to decode the dialectical system before you can even understand what they are saying. Further, Marx was probably demon-possessed and his economic system caused the deaths of hundreds of millions. Not so with Hume. Like many Anglo philosophers, his writing is fresh and clear. So when he is wrong, it’s easy to see where he is wrong. And in economics, he champions liberty (of a sorts).

Hume’s Argument: (1) all our ideas are copies of our impressions (VII.i.49). (2) There can never be an idea of a cause because there can never be a sense impression of a cause (Ibid sec. 50)

{A} Knower——->——-> Object–>Mind—>Idea—>knower

{A’} Knower——>—–>Object—> Mind —> Impression–>Idea—>knower

Our thought is a faithful mirror that copies objects truly. Perceptions of the Mind:

  • thoughts/ideas (weaker)
  • impressions (strong). Hume also means “sensations.”

Our ideas are always copied from some precedent (II.14). Ideas must follow from impressions. These impressions/sensations are always more vivid than the ideas.

Critique of Hume

Critics of Hume have to resist the temptation to read Berkeley back into Hume. I will assume, in the spirit of charity, that Hume believed in an external world. Further, we must also point out that Hume is not a modern atheist materialist: he believes in the existence of the mind and that the mind is not the brain.

[1] As Owen Barfield and others have pointed out, if all we can know are sense-impressions, then Hume’s three qualities of association fail the test: “resemblance, contiguity, and causation” are not sense-impressions, or did not originate as such (Barfield 25). Of course, this is the same criticism Hume offered of causality. But why stop at causality? Why not apply it to the other two?

[2] It is here that Hume’s nominalism becomes vicious. How are ideas “in the mind” held together? Hume says they are “bundled” together, but doesn’t bundling imply some sort of unity or association? If Hume’s criticism of causality holds, then it must also hold to any form of association. Thus examining the mental process, Hume is left with an array of facts that cannot relate to each other in any possible way. “All is flux.”

[3] This critique is not so much a refutation of Hume but points toward an ambiguity. During the mental act I perceive an object, we will say the sensory impression of touch, to which it comes back to my mind as the idea of touch. When I reflect upon the ideas “in my mind,” I do so in visual categories. But what does the visual category of “touch” even mean? [sidenote: As Wolterstorff pointed out, this is more a criticism of Locke than Hume].

[4] Hume cannot escape the reality of universals, as Bertrand Russell pointed out (Russell 96ff). If we deny, for example, the universals of “whiteness” and “triangularity,” we will still, in order to form an idea of a triangle, imagine a patch of whiteness and a three-sided figure and say that anything meeting these criteria is white and a triangle–we say that the resemblance must hold. We will also say that the resemblance must hold among many white 3-sided things. We will say that the resemblances must resemble each other. We have made “resemblance” a universal.

As Russell pointed out, Hume failed to note that not only are qualities universals, but so are relations.  The relation of “being north of” is also a universal

[5] Much has been made of Hume’s critique of miracles. I’ll give him credit on one point: if you define miracle as a violation of God’s law or nature’s law, then it’s hard to argue with Hume. But why must we accept Hume’s definition of miracle, or of reality in general? I can’t recall a good reason. There is no reason to view reality as as self-enclosed monads.

A theist could very well argue, as James K. A. Smith does, for an open ontology that allows the Spirit to move from within nature, rather than a miracle that is “tacked on” to nature from the outside. Miracles are not “add-ons.” They are not anti-nature, since “nature is not a discrete, autonomous entity” (Smith 104).

[6] Per Thomas Reid and N. Wolterstorff, Hume needs to explain how a physical sensation can cause a mental apprehension (Wolterstorff 2004).

[6.1] Hume’s analysis of perception and reflection seems to privilege visual ideas. Perhaps that can work. Such has been the tendency of philosophy since Plato. Yet when we move to the other senses Hume’s analysis breaks down. How does my idea (weakened sensation) of touch bear any resemblance to the apple I just touched? Even worse, doesn’t the phrase “mental idea” connote visuality? Could this possibly work on ideas like “touch”?

[7] As Thomas Reid pointed out, it seems Hume has lumped all mental reflection (sensation/though) under the label of “perception” in the mind. How does Hume make a distinction between the “idea” of sight and the “idea” of touch (Reid 301ff)?

Works Cited

Barfield, Owen. Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, reprint [1973]).

Reid, Thomas. The Works of Thomas Reid, ed. Sir William Hamilton. Edinburgh: McLachlan and Stewart, 1863.

Russell, Bertrand. The Problems of Philosophy. New York: Oxford University Press, reprint [1964]).

Smith, James K. A. Thinking in Tongues. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010.

Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Thomas Reid and the Story of Epistemology. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004

Descartes (Meditations)

We don’t read Descartes so we can find out if we exist, or what the mind is.  His methods in those areas border on bizarre. Descartes, however, did do a fine job in clarifying the issues under discussion.  He mainstreamed several powerful philosophical concepts and tools.

First Meditation: the things that are doubtable

How do I know an evil genius or a demon isn’t deceiving my senses about the external world, my existence, etc.? Or to put it in modern parlance: how do I know I am not a “brain in a vat” with memories that were pre-programmed five minutes ago?

Second Meditation: The Nature of the Human Mind

Descartes’ initial answer to the problem: in order for me to doubt, I have to first exist in order to doubt.

What am I?  I am a thinking thing.  What is a thinking thing?  It is a thing that doubts, understands, affirms, etc.  While my senses may deceive me that I am seeing red et al, it is quite certain that I seem to be seeing red et al.  In other words, I am being appeared to redly.

Third Meditation: Of God, that he exists

Descartes advances Anselm’s ontological argument.  It’s not as profound as Anselm’s nor as powerful as Plantinga’s.  I have ideas imprinted on my mind which are not in the senses (and so Descartes rightly rejects the old scholastic dictum).  Therefore, a greater, yet immaterial, reality must exist.

Meditation Six: Of the existence of material things; mind and body

Bodies are divisible.  Minds aren’t. I can’t cut up the mind into will, faculty, reason, etc.

Mind in a physical world

Kim, Jaegwon, Mind in a Physical World.

This is one of the texts that JP Moreland uses in his Philosophy of Mind class.  Before I review the book and talk about why it is so important, perhaps some introductory remarks on the nature of the debate and terminology is in order.

Why it matters:  Until a few hundred years ago, even skeptics and atheists believed in a soul and a mind that wasn’t the same thing as the brain.  Now, the fashionable thing in academia is to either identify the brain with the mind or say that the mind is in some way “triggered” by physical events.  Neither of these latter two options are acceptable for Christians.

Dualism: in this context dualism simply means that the mind/soul and the body aren’t the same thing.  It doesn’t have the negative Kuyperian connotations that the body is bad.

Hard Physicalism:  This is the view that the mind and brain are the same thing.  Fewer scholars hold this view today since it is very untenable.

Weak Physicalism:  This view hesitates to say that the mind and brain are the same thing.  Rather, it says that all mental events have at their base a physical response.  Weak Physicalism means that the old-school hard scientism views lost the debate.  It also means, unfortunately for presuppositionalists, that the old Bahnsenian canard, “Have you ever stubbed your two on a law of logic?” simply doesn’t work any more.  Weak Physicalists, like Christian dualists, admit the existence of mental properties.

Where the Debate is Now:  There is a problem in philosophy of mind called “supervenience.”  On one level it seems commonsensical and one is hard-pressed to deny it.  On the other hand, it spells a number of insurmountable problems for physicalism.

The Review

Jaegwon Kim offers a weak physicalist discussion of supervenience and the difficulties it presents for current alternatives to Mind-Body dualism.  There is some technical language but it is kept at a minimum.  Of primary importance is Kim’s remarkably lucid discussion of “supervenience.”  

Supervenience tries to explain how mental properties and physical kinds, not tokens, are related. Mental properties supervene on physical properties: For any property M, if anything has M at time t, then there exists a physical base (subvenient) property P such that it has P at t, and necessarily anything that has P at  a time has M at that time (Kim 9).  This means “every mental property has a physical base that guarantees its instantiation” (10). Thus, mental properties supervene on physical properties.  The takeaway is that mental properties must always have a physical base.  This is an improvement on older materialist models which said mental properties were physical properties.  

Kim’s Larger Argument

P1: Either mind-body supervenience holds, or it fails.
P2: If M-B sup. fails, there is no way of understanding mental causation.
P3: Suppose M causes M* to be instantiated.
P4: M* necessarily has at least a physical base P*.
P5: M* is instantiated b/c M caused M*, but also because P* must be the subvenient base of M*.
P6: M caused M* by causing P*.
P7: Yet M also has a physical supervenient base P.
P8: P caused P*, and M supervenes on P and M* and M* supervenes on P*.
P9: The M-M* and M-P* causal relations are only apparent, and P really, really causes P*.
P10: If M-B sup. fails, then mental causation is incoherent.  If it holds, then it is also incoherent.

Supervenience presents a number of problems for physicalism, however.  What happens if mental property M causes another mental property M* to be instantiated? For example, my having the state “anger” causes me to have the mental state depression/fear/whatever.  This means that, if supervenience holds, M* must also have a physical property P* as its physical base.  Two problems immediately arise:

* It appears that a mental property (M) is causing a physical base (P*) which then launches M*.  Yet reductionists hold that all things have a physical cause.  But this raises the problem:

* So what causes M*?  It seems we have multiple causes, overdetermination.

Kim restates the problem:   if mental properties are physically irreducible and remain outside the physical domain, then, given that the physical domain is causally closed, how can they exercise causal powers (Kim 58)?


In terms of an introductory text, albeit a rigorous one, I highly recommend this book.  Admittedly, Kim doesn’t solve the problem (cf. p. 58), nor does he pretend to.  He introduces the reader to the relevant terminology and explains why certain moves available to physicalists cannot work.  


Searle’s Phil of Mind Course

University of Berkeley, Phil 132. Here is the handout of lectures (Itunes doesn’t list the names of them)

Philosophy of Mind course:

lecture 1 Cartesian Dualism, Mind-Body Problem, Perception
lecture 2 Descartes’s Problems & Solutions, Other Positions
lecture 3 Behaviorism, Identity Theory, Functionalism
lecture 4 Recap, The Computational Theory of the Mind
lecture 5 Eliminativism, Anomalous Monism, Absent Qualia
lecture 6 Rigid Designators, The Chinese Room Argument
lecture 7 Strong AI, Cognitivism, Machines, Panpsychism
lecture 8 Cognitive Science, Vision, Connectionism
lecture 9 Consciousness, Thought Experiments, Objectivity
lecture 10 Observer-relativity, Searle’s Mind-Body Solution
lecture 11 Zombies, Supervenience, Mental Causation
lecture 12 Extended Mind, Mysterians, Causal Reduction
lecture 13 Searle’s Solutions to Descartes’s Problems
lecture 14 Property Dualism, Structure of Intentionality
lecture 15 Intentionality, cont., The Background
lecture 16 Overview, Intentionality of Human Action
lecture 17 Basic Actions, Naive Realism vs Representation
lecture 18 Perception, Twin Earth Argument, Determinacy
lecture 19 Intentionality of Vision, Perception, cont.
lecture 20 Perception, cont., Internalism vs Externalism
lecture 21 Externalism, Mental Causation, Extended Mind
lecture 22 Hume on Causation, The Problem of Induction
lecture 23 Sociobiology, The Connection Principle
lecture 24 Unconscious Rules, Indeterminacy, VOR, LAD
lecture 25 Aspectual Shape, Current CogSci, Free Will
lecture 26 Compatibilism, Quantum Indeterminacy, Self
lecture 27 The Background, Personal Identity, Self
lecture 28 Animal Minds, Review of the Philosophy of Mind