2015-2016 Year End Review

Cup of coffee, pen and notepad on wooden background. Top view

The Tyndale University College graduation is this weekend and I thought it would be a good time to post a summary of all the good things that have happened in our department this year. Many philosophy departments have seen a significant reduction in their number of majors, but thanks to God’s faithfulness we actually have seen our numbers grow! Not only are we seeing an increase in majors and minors, but those in our program are proving themselves to be truly outstanding. Here are just some of the highlights of what’s been going on at Tyndale Philosophy and of how God has continued to bless our program and students.

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Geisler, Howe, and the Importance of Formal Logic

This past summer I read through Norman Geisler’s book, If God, Why Evil? and noticed that in it he appears to commit the formal fallacy of denying the antecedent. I won’t bother with rehashing the details of that now; you can read that short post here.

Some time after that post appeared Richard Howe (Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Apologetics at Southern Evangelical Seminary) took the time to comment on my post and we were able to briefly chat about it at the national conference of Evangelical Philosophical Society in Atlanta last November. In his post Professor Howe notes “The critic [that’s me!] pointed out (I think correctly, taken in one way) that Geisler’s argument, when cast into predicate or quantificational logic this way, commits the fallacy of denying the antecedent.” I was glad to read this since I highly respect Geisler’s work and didn’t expect to see such a basic fallacy in one of his books. After publishing the post I half-expected to be informed that it was me that made such a basic mistake. But, it turns out, I was right. Well, kind of. Continue reading

Christian Philosophy and “Lame” Adjectives

President Thornbury“Christianity is the greatest of all nouns but the lamest of all adjectives.”

Is that true? Is ‘Christian’ a lame adjective? Well, according to Gregory Thornbury, President of The Kings College, it is. Is that right? Is it always a “lame” adjective?

President Thornbury is almost certainly right that ‘Christian’ can be a lame adjective. For example, labeling an artist “Christian” can sometimes serve as code for “it’s not very good, but cut him some slack because he’s one of us.” Here there are some striking parallels to how many in Canada use ‘Canadian’ to label their fellow actors, musicians, comedians, etc. Continue reading

How to Do Well at University (and not just get good grades)

Today is the start of the Fall term at Tyndale University College and I wanted to share some of the tips about doing well in university that I’ll discuss with my students during our first few days of the term. One of the first things I tell my students at the beginning of every semester is that there is a difference between doing well in a course and getting a good grade in a course. Most professors try their hardest to make sure that the two correspond with one another, but for various reasons that’s not always the case. For example, if a student only occasionaly comes to class, or comes often but is rarely attentive, then it’s unlikely that such a student will do well in the course. But that doesn’t mean this person won’t get a good grade on his transcript at the end of the term. Some students are good at tricking their professors into thinking they’ve learned the material when in reality all they’ve done is memorize it the night for the exam, regurgitate it on exam day, and then promptly forget everything they “studied.” These students will have received the high grade, but will not have done well.

On the other hand, some students will do their best to truly understand the material (and not simply memorize it), seek clarification from their professor when needed, and even incorporate it into their other studies. These students will likely remember the material long after their exams, even though there is no guarantee that their hard work will translate into a high grade. Maybe a student had a rough morning the same day as the final exam and didn’t perform as well as he would’ve otherwise, or perhaps the demands for some other course were so high he couldn’t put all his energy into completing the essay. Regardless of what the grade is on the transcript, if this student has truly learned the material, then he’ll have done well in the course.

In my experience, the two go hand-in-hand most of the time. When students complain to me about their low grade I ask them about their study habits and often will quickly learn why their grade is what it is. Making this distinction, however, can help keep you focused on what matters most. If you graduate from university and have a few bad grades on your transcript, but actually learned the material in those courses, then you’ll have still achieved what is most important. You don’t attend university to get a piece of a paper that has a lot of A’s on it, you attend university to get an education.

So, with all this in mind, I’d like to offer six tips for doing well in university. These are tips that I’ve been giving to students for years and I’ve yet to hear from a student who has followed each of them and not done well in their courses. Continue reading

Geisler’s Gap

41n+DmrzuIL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_In the last twenty to thirty years there has been an enormous increase in the number of people engaged in various apologetics-focused ministries. Though it would be hard to trace this increase to any one single person, if you were to make a list of the four or five most influential apologists during that time, Norman Geisler would certainly have to be included on it. For me personally, his co-authored (with Paul Feinberg) book Introduction to Philosophy: A Christian Perspective was the first book in philosophy I ever read and I found it quite helpful. In general, I think today’s aspiring apologists would be well served to model their careers after Geisler.

Overall, I think this rise in apologetics is a good thing. The Christian worldview is being attacked from all sides and the Church needs people who are equipped and able to respond to these attacks. Unfortunately, the quality of some of the arguments by Christian apologists simply doesn’t pass muster. This puts us in an interesting position because we now need to not only respond to those attacking the Christian worldview, but we also need to carefully evaluate the specific arguments of our fellow apologists. Because we agree with their conclusions it’s tempting to ignore fellow Christians’ bad arguments for the existence of God or bad responses to non-believers’ arguments against the existence of God. However, it’s important that we evaluate these arguments too so as to not bring reproach on those arguments that are actually pretty good.

Norman Geisler is not typically one whose arguments stand in need of critique. However, even the best of philosophers can make mistakes from time to time and so, in the spirit of trying to ensure all our defenses of Christianity are the very best, I offer a small critique of an argument Geisler presents in his book If God, Why Evil?
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Why the Best ‘Teaching’ Universities Have Faculty Who Research

researchAt some point during graduate school one comes to discover that within academia there’s a distinction between a “research job” and a “teaching job.” Most research jobs will come with an expectation for their faculty to teach just a few courses per year, and half of those courses could very well be graduate seminars with only a handful of students. Typically, tenure and promotion decisions for these faculty members will be heavily dependent on the amount and quality of their research. Teaching isn’t entirely ignored, but faculty at research jobs certainly wouldn’t earn tenure on the back of their teaching alone.

At the other end is the teaching job where most of the emphasis is on just that, time spent teaching students. Instead of teaching just a few courses a year, faculty at teaching schools are expected to teach significantly more and this is reflected in how they’re evaluated on a yearly basis. Some schools require so much teaching that it’s unrealistic to expect any research from them at all. Continue reading

Are Faculty Replaceable?

Dr. Davis speaking at Myles Leitch`s farewell (Apr 13, 2015)

Dr. Davis speaking at Myles Leitch`s farewell (Apr 13, 2015)

This past Monday Tyndale hosted a farewell party for Dr. Myles Leitch, Assistant Professor of Linguistics, who is leaving us to join the Canadian Bible Society. In addition to helping develop and run the Linguistics Department at Tyndale, he’s also been an Affiliated Member of the Philosophy Department. Though his departure is good for him (and even better for the Canadian Bible Society), it is a blow to our department. Continue reading

A More Serious Approach to Integration

CaptureAt any Christian university you’ll hear a lot about the “integration of faith and learning” (and if you don’t, transfer elsewhere as quickly as possible), but unfortunately there may not be much said about what that actually looks like. Because I’m a graduate of two Christian universities, have taught at one since 2008, and have met scores of Christian academics at various conferences over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to both talk about integration and see the various ways people practice it. In my experience, it seems that many people are operating with a deficient view of integration. What they’re doing is good and right, but it’s not all they could be doing. Continue reading

Always Be Careful When Arguing with Idealists

CaptureI just finished reading Thomas Bartlett’s Memoirs of the Life, Character, and Writings of Joseph Butler (published in 1830 and, so, available for free via Google Books) and ran into an interesting account of Malebranche and Berkeley.

According to Bartlett, sometime during the fall of 1715 Bishop Berkeley went to meet Malebranche in Paris and that “Malebranche had the pleasure of beholding the idea of Berkeley in the Divinity, and Berkeley was presented by the Divinity with the idea of Malebranche” (original emphasis that, if you’re familiar with their respective philosophies, makes the phrasing quite clever). Unfortunately, the wide-ranging differences between their systems had quite the negative impact on Malebranche. Continue reading

The Perils of ‘Pop’ Philosophy

cahnMore than once I’ve heard (or read) people complain that too many popular writings/talks by Christian apologists lack the care and precision their topics require. While it’s important to address difficult issues in ways that non-specialists can understand, one must take care to ensure that simplification does not end up as distortion. (It’s rarely helpful to present ideas that are easy to refute, but not actually believed by anyone.) Unfortunately, I have to agree that this happens far too regularly within apologetics circles. However, this is not simply a problem that arises among ill-equipped Christian apologists. In what follows I aim to show that this is also a problem among those critiquing Christianity (or just critiquing arguments in its favor) and I hope to use a prominent atheistic philosopher as an example of what we Christian philosophers should be doing more regularly.

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