This online institute is designed to give a brief analysis and discussion of all scientific disciplines through the lens of a biblical world view. +++ SDG +++

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

SMBI # 72

Smoky Mountain Bible Institute
(Est. 2009) Lesson #72
Philosophy: what is it, and why does it matter? More importantly, as this is a Bible institute, why does it or even should it matter to a Christian?  We continue, this month, to look at essential tools for intelligent debate by identifying and avoiding logical fallacies.

Tautology, also called a “circular argument”, involves defining terms or qualifying an argument in such a way that it would be impossible to disprove the argument. Often, the rationale for the argument is merely a restatement of the conclusion, just using different words. Example: “The Bible is the word of God. We know this because the Bible itself tells us so.” While this is a true statement, and Christians can agree that God’s word is a reliable witness to its own authority, we must also admit that this statement does not follow the rules of logic. In order for something to be logically true it must also be falsifiable. That is, it must be possible to present a counter-argument, which, if proven true, would disprove the original argument. In our example concerning the authority of scripture, we can look at the many falsifiable truth claims made in the Bible, which can be challenged and verified. We find that these claims always stand up to objective scrutiny, confirming the trustworthiness of the Biblical record. We must also acknowledge, however, that when scripture makes supernatural claims, it is the Holy Spirit who gives us access to faith in God’s word. Another, simpler example of tautology example would be, “We used the bone in a rock layer to date the rock layer to 10 million years. It is clear that the bones are 10 million years old because we found them in the 10-million-year old rock layer.”

Appeal to Authority is a fallacy which attempts to justify an argument by citing a highly admired or well-known (but not necessarily qualified) figure who supports the conclusion being offered. Example: “If climate change is a concern of our president and all of those well-known Hollywood actors, then it is most certainly true.” In reality, actual scientific data is what should be presented and discussed, rather than the opinions of politicians or actors.

Appeal to Tradition, A.K.A. “don't rock the boat” or “let sleeping dogs lie”, cites precedent or tradition alone. Example: “We should continue to do things as they have been done in the past. We shouldn't challenge time-honored customs or traditions.” “Because we have always done it that way” is not a good or logical reason to do anything, so no matter how old or new a process or tradition is, we should always know why we do what we do so that it does not lose its purpose or meaning, and likewise, so that we don’t inhibit helpful changes without cause.

Appeal to the Crowd is a fallacy which refers to popular opinion or majority sentiment in order to provide support for a claim. Example: “If living together is immoral, then I have plenty of company.” Moral norms and truth are not established by popular opinion, however, but by the Creator. Another example: “That professor’s test was extremely unfair. Just ask anyone who took it.” Fairness, however, is established by facts, not opinions. And finally, “Molecules-to-Man Evolution must be true since most scientists believe it.” Scientific fact is determined using the scientific method, not by polling the beliefs of scientists. (Who, incidentally, are in fact much more divided on the issue than people like Bill Nye would have you believe.)

Slippery Slope, A.K.A. “the domino theory”, suggests that if one step or action is taken, it will invariably lead to similar steps or actions, the end results of which are negative or undesirable. A slippery slope always assumes a chain reaction of cause-effect events which result in some eventual dire outcome. This was often used as a reason for our nation’s involvement in the Vietnam conflict. “If we let them fall, then one country after another will similarly fall to communism.” It is illogical to say that one event causes another, only because they are connected or similar. We can acknowledge their similarity or connectedness while at the same time acknowledging that one did not cause the other.

We will spend one more session on logical fallacies next month.

Have a blessed New Year,

Pastor Portier

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Lesson #71 Logical Fallacies continued

Smoky Mountain Bible Institute
(Est. 2009) Lesson #71
Philosophy: what is it, and why does it matter? More importantly, as this is a Bible institute, why does it or even should it matter to a Christian? In this issue we continue to provide essential tools for intelligent debate by helping you identify and avoid logical fallacies. In essence, a logical fallacy is an error of reasoning. It occurs when someone adopts a position or tries to persuade someone else to adopt a position which is based on reasoning that breaks down due to poor structure. Logical fallacies can be classified as formal or informal, and some are more common than others. The most common ones have been named and defined; here we will take a walk through some and give examples to help you understand them.

Bifurcation, also known as “either-or”, “black or white”, “all or nothing”, or “false dilemma”. This example assumes that two categories are mutually exclusive and exhaustive. That is, that something is either a member of one or the other category, but never both or a member of some third category. Example: to assert, “You are either for me or against me”. There are other possibilities, of course; perhaps I am ambivalent or apathetic towards you, or maybe I have no cause to be either; if you are running for president of never-never-land, my lack of citizenship there means that I cannot vote in that election so the assertion could not even apply.

Tu Quoque, also known as “look who's talking” or, “two wrongs make a right”, points to a similar wrong or error committed by another. This is used to change the topic or to point out that an argument is hypocritical. Instead of engaging the original argument, it responds to a critique with a different critique. Example: “The church should not condemn gay marriage because many people in the church cohabitate or sleep around.” The fact that Christians are sinners who violate the 6th commandment has no bearing on the truth of God’s word about gay marriage. Physical intimacy belongs in monogamous, heterosexual marriage. All who violate this commandment (in whatever fashion) should seek and receive God’s forgiveness. The same is true for those involved in gay marriage.

Equivocation, also known as “complex question”, allows a key word or term in an argument to shift its meaning during the course of the argument. The result is that the conclusion of the argument is not concerned with the same thing as the premise(s) of the argument. Example: “Only man is rational. No woman is a man. Therefore, no woman is rational.” In this example, “man” has the meaning of “all mankind” the first time it is used, and “male” (gender) the second time it is used.

Begging the Question entails making an argument that contains or is based on an unstated or unproven assumption. Example: “Abortion is murder, since killing a baby is an act of murder.” While this statement is true, it begs the question, “Can the unborn properly be called babies?” A better way to state this would be, “Because it can be proved with simple biology that the unborn are, in every way, physiologically unique lives, it follows logically that abortion is murder, when murder is defined as the taking of an innocent life.” Another example, in the form of a loaded question, would be, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” This of course begs the question, “do you beat your wife?”

Straw Man:  mischaracterizing or misstating your opponent's position or arguing against a weaker, irrelevant portion of that position. Example: “mandatory seat belt laws could never be enforced. You can't issue citations to dead people”. This assumes all people who violate such a law will die because of their actions.

If you would like to read more about this topic, here are some good websites to visit: “” or “” Enough fallacies for now, more next month.

In Christ,
Robert Portier

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Lesson #70 Logical fallicies

Smoky Mountain Bible Institute
(Est. 2009) Lesson #70
Philosophy: what is it, and why does it matter? More importantly, as this is a Bible institute, why does it or even should it matter to a Christian?  The next couple of issues are going to provide essential tools for intelligent debate by helping you identify and avoid logical fallacies. A logical fallacy is, in essence, an error of reasoning. It occurs when someone adopts a position, or tries to persuade someone else to adopt a position, based on reasoning that breaks down due to poor structure. Some logical fallacies are more common than others, and as such, have been named and defined. There are both formal and informal fallacies but we will just take a walk through some logical fallacies and give examples to help you understand them.

Let’s start with some of the more common ones that we deal with as Christians. The one you will experience the most is the ad hominem attack, from the Latin for "to the man" or "to the person", because the fallacy does not respond to the substance of the argument made, it responds by attacking the character of the person making the argument. The ad hominem reasoning is not always fallacious however; for example, when it relates to the credibility of statements of fact. Questioning the trustworthiness of a witness is one valid method for helping to determine the truth of their claims. However many people often use this method to dismiss Biblical truth, and here is my favorite example:
“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” (Richard Dawkins)
Besides being offensive and blasphemous, this statement actually commits a number of fallacies but as an ad hominem attack on God, Dawkins is in essence saying you should not believe in God because He is so mean (I always wonder why he is so angry about a God he argues does not exist or how that non-existent God can be mean?)  We deal with this error all the time as Christians when we speak the truth in love about the truth claims of scripture. For example:
Person 1: “You should not do that sinful thing. It is bad for you and others. Please stop and ask for and receive God’s forgiveness.”
Person 2: “You are a mean judgmental Christian! Do not talk to me anymore!”
Notice that this ad hominem attack also is self-defeating; judgmentally condemning you for being judgmental!

Let’s look at other logical fallacies:

Faulty Cause (post hoc ergo propter hoc) mistakes a correlation or association for causation by assuming that because one thing follows another it was caused by the other. For example: “A black cat crossed your path yesterday and, sure enough, you were involved in an accident later that same afternoon.”

Sweeping Generalization (dicto simpliciter) assumes that what is true of the whole will also be true of every part, or that which is true in most instances will be true in all instances. This is also sometimes known as “stereotyping”. For example: “They must be rich because they are members of the country club, and everybody who belongs to that club is rich.”

Hasty Generalization draws a conclusion by referring to a small or unrepresentative sample. Often, a single example or instance is used as the basis for a broader generalization. This is similar to citing Anecdotal Evidence. For example: “All of those movie stars are really rude. I asked one for an autograph and he told me to get lost.”

Faulty Analogy (either literal or figurative) assumes that because two things, events, or situations are alike in some known respects, that they are alike in other unknown respects. For example: Many Germans today shy away from German patriotism because they feel that… “German patriotism is equal to Nazism.” The underlined part is the faulty analogy.

Appeal to Ignorance (argumentum ad ignorantiam) attempts to use an opponent's inability to disprove a conclusion as proof of the validity of the conclusion, i.e. "You can't prove I'm wrong, so I must be right." For example: “We can safely conclude that there is intelligent life elsewhere in the galaxy, because thus far no one has been able to prove that there is not.” This is also known as one of the weakest forms of argumentation based on the silence of the evidence.
But enough fallacies for now. More next month!

In Christ,

Robert Portier

Friday, September 25, 2015

SMBI #69 Logic

Smoky Mountain Bible Institute
(Est. 2009) Lesson #69
Philosophy: what is it, and why does it matter? More importantly, as this is a Bible institute, why does it or even should it matter to a Christian?  We looked at specialized branches last time, and now we come to my favorite category: logic. Logic is the study of the principles of correct reasoning. Without getting too deep into a bunch of logic jargon and defining every kind and category of logic, we will address two main methods of drawing conclusions, each with an example. We will then jump into my favorite type of logic and that is, its use as a rhetorical tool in order to logically explain and present the basis for ones conclusions, along with a fun list of logical fallacies that most people use to their own logical demise.

              Arguments use reasoning that is either deductive or inductive. First let’s look at deductive reasoning. Deductive reasoning consists of a list of premises that lead to a deduction based on those premises; for example: 1. all people have hands. 2. You are a person. 3. Therefore, you have hands. Notice that while this is a logical statement made using deductive reasoning, it is not necessarily true in all cases. The first statement is not absolutely true; some people do not have hands for any number of reasons, so, while logic is served, truth may not be. The other type of reasoning is inductive reasoning. This one deals more in the realm of probability, making predictive statements based on what is known. For example: 1. every life form we know of requires water to live, 2. therefore every future life form we discover will probably need water to live, that would be a logical induction.

              I will probably spend the rest of this year addressing logical fallacies, because we run into them every day, and depending on whose list you use and how you categorize them, there are probably about 20 or so main logical fallacies, while some list over a hundred different types. I would like to address a few oddballs this month that fit in this category.

              First, there is a debate among philosophical scholars regarding whether this particular example is a method of reasoning or a logical fallacy. As a reasoning method it is called abductive reasoning and as a logical fallacy it is called “pros hoc ergo propter hoc”. I gave an example of this a few years back when comparing the lives of Lincoln and Kennedy. The two men’s lives, while separated by 100 years had many similarities, but we know that even though they were very similar, they were two real men who lived different lives. But this (reasoning method / logical fallacy) could be used to argue that Lincoln was either the cause of Kennedy, or Kennedy is a fabrication based on Lincoln. This of course seems ridiculous to assert, but liberal biblical scholars use this method regularly in higher criticism to dismiss biblical truths they disagree with. For example Noah’s flood they claim is a compilation of other ancient flood accounts.

“A priori” is reasoning or knowledge that proceeds from theoretical deduction rather than from observation or experience. This is falsely cited as evidence for preconceived notions like: the Resurrection cannot happen, or the evolutionists who explain how simple things over time can become more complex, like genetic information appearing out of a bubbling primordial ooze, (Which has never been observed), to assert that miracles cannot happen. These are all A priori assertions not scientific conclusions.

              The other little thing I wanted to address this month is the self-defeating statement. This is a thought or an idea that by its very expression defeats or cancels itself. For example “this statement is false”. The only way for that statement to be false is for it to be true. This basically is a logical collapse, but in a postmodern world where everybody gets to “choose for themselves” what is true, self-defeating and contradictory statements abound. One of my favorites is “There is no such thing as absolute truth”. (Except of course that absolutely true statement??) That makes about as much logical sense as asserting “I make no absolute statements” (…except of course that one). J

              For the next few months here at the Bible Institute we will discuss logical fallacies, hopefully giving you a nice bag of rhetorical defense tactics to protect you from any ad hominem, strawman or red herring attacks you may suffer.

In Christ,

Pastor Portier

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Lesson # 68 Specialized Branches of philosophy

Smoky Mountain Bible Institute
(Est. 2009) Lesson #68
Philosophy: what is it, and why does it matter? More importantly, as this is a Bible institute, why does it or even should it matter to a Christian?  We looked at Ethics and political philosophy last time, and now we come to a sort of catch-all for multiple specialized branches of philosophy. There are a number of realms of philosophy which some would debate should or should not be on this list, but for the sake of this article we will look briefly at six of these specialized branches.

Philosophy of language explores the nature, origins, and use of language. This is different from linguistics which is the scientific study of language. Philosophy of language is concerned with four questions: the nature of meaning, language use, language cognition (understanding), and the relationship between language and reality. This area of philosophy, combined with linguistics and study of the history of language, is helpful in identifying the origins of all language groups, which of course, is the plain south of the mountains of Ararat where one language was split into many at the Tower of Babel.     

Philosophy of law, also called jurisprudence, studies basic questions about law and legal systems, such as "what is law?", "what are the criteria for legal validity?", "what is the relationship between law and morality?", and similar questions. You can often hear people say that one cannot legislate morality, but the truth is that every law is a legislation of a moral code.

Philosophy of mind studies the nature of the mind; mental events, functions, properties, and consciousness, and the relationship of all of these to the physical body, particularly the brain. This is a large area of study with many different areas of research seeking to understand and define the mind. Dualism, Monism, Mysterianism, Externalism, Internalism, and Naturalism are all “isms” that are used in this area of philosophy. It even has philosophies contained within it, Philosophy of perception and Philosophy of mind and science are considered part this area of philosophy.

Philosophy of science explores the foundations, methods, implications, and purpose of science. The central questions of this area of study are concerned with what qualifies as science, the reliability of scientific theories, and the ultimate purpose of science. The Lutheran scientist Johannes Kepler described science as "thinking God's thoughts after Him”. Christians are not opposed to science; we invented it as a way to clearly read God’s book of creation!

Metaphilosophy, sometimes called the philosophy of philosophy, is 'the investigation of the nature of philosophy.' Its subject matter includes the aims of philosophy, the boundaries of philosophy, and its methods.

Philosophy of religion is the branch of philosophy concerned with questions regarding religion, including the nature and existence of God, the examination of religious experience, analysis of religious vocabulary and texts, and the relationship of religion and science. Other areas of philosophy used to work within this one include metaphysics and logic. This area of philosophy, in discussing the question of the existence of God, is where we get all the “isms” that describe the understanding of God. For example, Theism (the belief in the existence of one or more divinities or deities), Pantheism (the belief that God is immanent, existing as part of all things), Panentheism (the belief that God encompasses all things but is greater than all things; that is to say that he is both immanent and transcendent), Deism (the belief that God does exist but does not interact with the universe), Monotheism (the belief that a single deity exists), Polytheism (the belief that multiple deities exist), Henotheism (the belief that multiple deities may or may not exist, though there is a single supreme deity), Agnosticism (the belief that the existence or non-existence of deities or God is currently unknown or unknowable and cannot be proven), Atheism (the rejection of belief in the existence of deities), and lastly, Apatheism (apathy towards the existence of any supreme being).

I would also add to the above list Scientism (the belief in the universal applicability of the scientific method and approach, and the view that empirical science constitutes the most authoritative worldview), and Humanism (the belief that the collective sum of human learning is the most authoritative worldview). Humanist beliefs hold to the potential value and goodness of human beings. Humanism is also a philosophical and ethical stance that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively. I add these to the list because many who hold to them do so with religious fervor, and these two positions in essence are choosing the collective human mind as God. Those who hold these views would claim to be agnostic, atheist, or apatheist but they are in fact are placing their faith in the human mind. That concludes our discussion of specialized branches; next time we will address my favorite area of philosophy: logic.

In Christ,

Pastor Portier

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

SMBI # 67 Ethics and Political Philosophy

Smoky Mountain Bible Institute
(Est. 2009) Lesson #67

Philosophy: what is it, and why does it matter? More importantly, as this is a Bible institute, why does it or even should it matter to a Christian?  We looked at Metaphysics last time, and considering some of the poor choices recently made by our Supreme Court, now is a very opportune time for us to examine our next topics: ethics and political philosophy.

If you wanted to become a real expert in this topic you could apply to the Political Science department of Manchester University which offers a Master of Arts in Ethics and Political Philosophy. If, however, you are only interested in a cursory overview of the topic, you have come to the right place!

Political philosophy is the study of topics such as politics, liberty, justice, property, rights, law, and the enforcement of a legal code by authority. It also studies what these things are, why (or even if) they are needed, what, if anything, makes a government legitimate, what rights and freedoms it should protect and why, what form it should take and why, what the law is, what duties citizens owe to a legitimate government, if any, and when it may be legitimately overthrown, if ever.

Political philosophy asks the question, “what ought to be a person's relationship to society?” The subject seeks the application of ethical concepts to the social sphere and thus deals with the variety of forms of government and social structures that people could live in – and in so doing, it also provides a standard by which to analyze and judge existing institutions and relationships.

The term "political philosophy" is synonymous with to the term “political ideology”, and often refers to a general view, or specific ethic, political belief, or attitude, about politics. Some consider it to be a sub-discipline of political science. We have in this topic scientific theory and philosophical ideas covering some of the same ground. For example, theoretical fields in the social sciences like economic theory are better handled scientifically, but they are still valid fields for philosophical questions.

The two are intimately linked by a range of philosophical issues and methods, but political philosophy can be distinguished from political science. Political science predominantly deals with existing states of affairs, and insofar as it is possible to be amoral in its descriptions, it seeks a positive analysis of social affairs – for example, constitutional issues, voting behavior, the balance of power, the effect of judicial review, and so forth. Political philosophy generates visions of the good social life: of what ought to be the ruling set of values and institutions that combine men and women together. The subject matter is broad and connects readily with various branches and sub-disciplines of philosophy including philosophy of law and of economics. Political philosophy is where one would seek to define terms like Liberalism, Conservativism, Socialism, Anarchism, and Environmentalism.

Historically speaking, the political philosophies that exist today are a product of thousands of years of trial and error. We can see by looking at the cultures, individuals, and eras of history that they are all foundational to the political philosophies that exist today For example, the ancient Hebrew, Chinese, Greek, and Indian cultures, medieval Christianity, individuals like Saint Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, Islamic culture as it dominated during its golden age, medieval Europe, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, Niccolo Machiavelli, and John Locke, just to name a few.

What the framers of modern day governments have tried to do, is learn from the past in a very utilitarian way seeking to use what works best. However, with respect to the life of a given civilization or government, a roughly 200-year cycle noted by an 18th century Scottish scholar seems to hold true: “bondage, to spiritual faith, to courage, to liberty, to abundance to selfishness, to complacency, to apathy, to dependence, then starting over with bondage.” And because of human sin tempered by the grace of God we can see the perpetual motion of the sociological machine in various stages throughout the modern world’s civilizations.

I feel that our society is somewhere between the abundance and apathy part of the cycle. But we as Christians always have reason to be confident and thankful for God’s gift of provision in our lives. Some say our society suffers from a case of “affluenza”. But even while our high court sacrifices children and families on the altar of personal rights over and against God’s truth, we can and should still strive to be good citizens of the land we call home.

But we must keep in mind that we are citizens of two kingdoms. We thank God for the gift of the kingdom on earth of which we are citizens, and as long as that kingdom functions in line with God and his truth, we gladly submit and obey as good citizens should. However, when our earthly kingdom makes laws that are contrary to God’s, we must obey God rather than men, and be prepared to pay the price of that stand for God’s truth. Enough about politics though, next month let’s look at specialized branches of philosophy. Till then…
In Christ,
Pastor Portier

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

#66 Metaphysics

Smoky Mountain Bible Institute
(Est. 2009) Lesson #66

Philosophy: what is it, and why does it matter? More importantly, as this is a Bible institute, why does it or even should it matter to a Christian?  We looked at aesthetics last time and I don’t know about you, but I liked what I saw! Let’s tackle metaphysics this month. This is the study of the general features of reality, such as existence, time, the relationship between mind and body, objects and their properties, wholes and their parts, events, processes, and causation. Traditional branches of metaphysics include cosmology, the study of the world in its entirety, and ontology, the study of being. The philosopher RenĂ© Descartes (1596–1650), a mathematician and scientist who spent most of his life in the Dutch Republic, is considered the father of modern Philosophy, and much of subsequent Western philosophy for that matter. His famous dictum, “I think therefore I am”, falls under this area of philosophy.

Metaphysics is a traditional branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being. This branch attempts to broadly answer two basic questions: “what is there?” and “what does it consist of?” Ontologically speaking, this is one of the hardest areas of philosophy to define simply because every answer brings about another ontological question of being. For example, the contents of a simple list of the categories of being have been in a state of flux since the first list was penned. Philosophers have many differing views on what the fundamental categories of being are. A broadly accepted list would look something like this: physical objects, minds, classes, properties, relations, space and time, propositions, events. This list is by no means exhaustive, and some items are abstract while others are concrete in nature.

Many philosophers have sought to simplify ontological categories. For instance, David Hume regarded space and time as nothing more than psychological facts about human beings, which would effectively reduce space and time to ideas, which are properties of humans (substances). Nominalists and realists argue over the existence of properties and relations. Finally, events and propositions have been argued to be reducible to sets (classes) of substances and other such categories. If that has your head spinning …welcome to the club.

Aristotle began the discussion on categories with his essay Categories, in which he discussed, among other things, ten categories. Since then, others, like Plotinus, Kant, Hegel, and Pierce, have added, modified, shortened, and lengthened Aristotle’s original list. Whether or not we like or dislike how any philosophers define categories, we all use the tools they have developed to describe what things consist of and how they function or exist. Even though much of this philosophical discussion is theoretical, in whole or in part we use ontological tools to explain things. Ontology deals primarily with the second question, “what does it consist of?”

The first question, “what is there?” is primarily a cosmological question. This is the primary realm of philosophy in which the Creation / Evolution debate exists. Because we cannot prove with observable science that which is in the past the question of how all that is came into existence is primarily a cosmological, metaphysical, philosophical question and as such needs to be discussed in the area of forensic historical evidence, not empirical science. However, before we get too deeply into that debate, we need to discuss the area of philosophy called logic, which I am saving for the end because it may take a few articles to do it justice.          

I think we have spent enough time on metaphysics and its questions of “what is there?” and “what does it consist of?” I think we will address ethics and political philosophy next time… that is, if we really do exist in the unforeseen nebulous possibility of a future time and place! J

In Christ,

Pastor Portier

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Lesson #65 Aesthetics

Smoky Mountain Bible Institute
(Est. 2009) Lesson #65

Philosophy: what is it, and why does it matter? More importantly, as this is a Bible institute, why does it or even should it matter to a Christian?  Well, we took apart epistemology last month, so let’s look at aesthetics this month. Aesthetics, you may remember, deals with beauty, art, enjoyment, sensory-emotional values, perception, and matters of taste and sentiment. So, the proverbial disagreement over the color of the church carpet falls under this topic of discussion.

One might consider aesthetics to be a simple matter of personal taste, however while beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, that does not mean that there are not clear measurable scientific reasons why the beholder beholds beauty. You only need to look at cars as an example; we each have in our minds what a great car looks like, but that perception is influenced by many things. First, there are certain shapes and forms that are naturally pleasing to the human eye and brain, and there are certain colors that evoke different emotional responses as well. Those who design cars learn these things as part of their education, and through a relentless analysis of what customers like, are always trying to design something new and fresh while incorporating those trigger elements so that your impulse to purchase is firing on all cylinders, so to speak. And after the design process is complete, the marketing department goes into high gear to help you to covet what they have designed. None of this is a big conspiracy; rather, it’s simple above-board business practice in a free enterprise economy. We know that they are seeking to manipulate our aesthetic sensibilities and we like them to compete for our hard-earned money.

The word aesthetic is derived from the Greek word meaning “sensitive” or “sentient”. At its root, the word means to perceive, feel, or sense. The term "aesthetics" was first coined in German by Alexander Baumgarten in 1735. This branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of art, beauty, and taste, is more scientifically defined as the study of sensory or sensori-emotional values, sometimes called judgments of sentiment and taste. More broadly, scholars in the field define aesthetics as "critical reflection on art, culture and nature."

More specifically, aesthetic theory has practical implications, relating to any specific branch of the arts such as literature, film, music, painting, theater, landscape, sculpture, and any number of broad or narrow categories of art. Each of these areas of art theory have certain principles of aesthetics underlying the analysis of any work of a particular artist or artistic movement. These are agreed-upon principals upon which those who critique in a given area base their analyses. Of course, over time these principals can and do change, just like our taste in what a good car looks like changes or why I think the things we wore in the 1970s should never be worn by any later generation. 

Someone who works in this field might be called an esthetician, that is, a person who is versed in aesthetics, and seeks to establish meaning and validity upon which to base critical judgments concerning works of art, and the principles underlying or justifying such judgments. However, the term tends to be more commonly used to refer to a person trained to administer facials, or to advise customers concerning makeup or the care of skin and hair.

You probably know more now than you ever wanted to about aesthetics, but keep this in mind the next time you find a face or a flower or a sunset particularly beautiful: your creator loves beauty, order, and even symmetry, and he placed in each of us the ability to appreciate and enjoy his beautiful creation. He also gave us different tastes and different preferences, which can be helpful in the sense that we do not all want the same thing. If we did, it might lead to fighting over who should have it. Because God gives us so many various preferences, this is an area in which there is no right or wrong, so it is more important that we get along than it is for everyone to get their favorite carpet color.  So enjoy every gift God gives you: your life, trees, flowers, family, your spouse, music, food, drink, or whatever part of his glorious creation you particularly enjoy. As you enjoy them, thank and praise him for creating it and creating in you the ability to enjoy and appreciate it. (Aesthetically speaking, that is.)

In Christ,
Pastor Portier

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Lesson #64 Epistemology

Smoky Mountain Bible Institute
(Est. 2009) Lesson #64
As we begin our walk through Philosophy, I am going to try to break it up into bite-sized chunks to make it a little more understandable. Let’s start with epistemology. So, in good Lutheran fashion… “What does this mean?”

            The word “epistemology” comes from the Greek “episteme” (knowledge), and “logos” (words/study of). So, epistemology is “the study of knowledge”; more specifically, the nature and scope of knowledge. Epistemology examines what knowledge is, how it can be acquired, and the extent to which it is pertinent to any given subject or entity. Epistemology is about issues having to do with the creation and dissemination of knowledge in particular areas of inquiry. We can thank Scottish philosopher James Frederick Ferrier for coining the term.

            Defining Knowledge is a tricky thing, as we can see in this quote from Donald Rumsfeld from a number of years back. “…there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know.” But defining knowledge epistemologically is actually a little bit easier.

            There is a large list of words associated with any specialized are of study including psychology, but at the risk of oversimplifying it I will break it into four general categories and try to avoid using lot of jargon.
The four categories are:
·       Knowledge that we have, that has been verified or justified.
·       Knowledge which explains how that justified knowledge functions.
·       Knowledge of a person, place or thing.
(These first three are defined by some as Knowledge that, Knowledge how, and Knowledge of)
·       Skepticism. (Which, in essence, calls into question the existence and validity of the process that postulates the above three categories, and is one of the first of many “isms” contained in psychology.)

            Maybe an example will help us get our minds around this topic. We can have the first kind of knowledge about any simple mathematical formula (like 2+2=4). Understanding how addition works, to provide this verified piece of knowledge would be knowledge of the second type. Knowing how to bake a cake or a build a bookcase or drive a car would also fit into this second category. However knowing a mathematician who taught you how to do this math or the place of education, or for that matter, anyone, or anyplace you are acquainted with is knowledge of the third type. For further example let’s look at driving a vehicle:
·       Knowledge that people can drive vehicles.
·       Knowledge of how to drive a vehicle.
·       Knowledge of a driver and a vehicle, and a road on which to drive it.
The final category is not really an area or type of knowledge as much as it is an assumption or process. Skepticism questions the validity of some or all human knowledge. Skepticism does not apply to one specific type of philosophy, rather it is a thread that runs through many philosophical discussions of epistemology. The first well known skeptic was Socrates who claimed that his only knowledge was that he knew nothing with certainty. Descartes most famous inquiry into mind and body also began as an exercise in skepticism. He began by questioning the validity of all knowledge and looking for some fact that was irrefutable; in so doing, came to his famous dictum: “I think, therefore I am.”

I find it interesting that the Greek word mentioned earlier for knowledge has the same root as the Greek word for faith or belief. When we as Christians speak of salvation, our faith exists only because the Holy Spirit enlightens us. However, there are also many good forms of epistemological knowledge which we can also refer to when presenting that faith to others. For example, while I cannot claim to have first-hand knowledge of my savior I can point to reliable first-hand biblical accounts. I can also point to a half-dozen other reliable historical accounts that confirm Jesus Christ is who He claimed to be and did what He said He would do. While I may not fully know how Christ suffered and died for me I can still know that He did. You do not have to know how to drive to know that people can drive. We can certainly be acquainted with many people, places and things that serve to affirm and strengthen our faith. But finally, we must always be ready to answer the skeptic. As Paul says in His first letter to Peter, “be ready to give an answer for the hope that you have”. See you next month when we will tackle the topic of metaphysics.                    

In Christ,

Pastor Portier

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Smoky Mountain Bible Institute (Est. 2009) Lesson #63

Smoky Mountain Bible Institute
(Est. 2009) Lesson #63

Philosophy, what is it and why does it matter? More importantly, as this is a Bible institute, why does it or even should it matter to a Christian? We must first briefly learn what it is before we can answer these questions. Philosophy is the study of the general and fundamental questions of reality, existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. In more casual speech, "philosophy" can refer to "the basic beliefs, concepts, and attitudes of an individual or group". The word "philosophy" comes from the ancient Greek, which literally means "love of wisdom".

     We could spend many articles on the history of philosophy. Suffice it to say, Eastern philosophy is organized by the chronological periods of each region. Western philosophy on the other hand has been traditionally divided into four eras - the Ancient, Medieval, Modern, and Contemporary. We will address any historical issues as they are pertinent to answering our questions above this year.
        Philosophy is divided into several sub-fields. Major areas of inquiry are; Epistemology, Logic, Metaphysics,
Ethics and Political, Aesthetics and ‘Specialized branches’. In the coming year we will focus on some of these areas as they pertain to our discussion of a Christian worldview.
Epistemology is concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge, such as the relationships between truth, belief, perception and theories of justification.
              Logic is the study of the principles of correct reasoning. Arguments use either deductive reasoning or inductive reasoning. Deductive reasoning is when given certain statements (called premises), other statements (called conclusions) are unavoidably implied. While Inductive reasoning also has a premise and seeks to supply strong evidence for (not absolute proof of) the truth of the conclusion. While the conclusion of a deductive argument is considered certain, the truth of the conclusion of an inductive argument is considered probable.
Metaphysics is the study of the most general features of reality, such as existence, time, the relationship between mind and body, objects and their properties, wholes and their parts, events, processes, and causation. Traditional branches of metaphysics include cosmology, the study of the world in its entirety, and ontology, the study of being.
              Ethics and political philosophy or "moral philosophy," is concerned primarily with the question of the best way to live, and secondarily, concerned with the question of whether this question can be answered. The main branches of ethics are meta-ethics, normative ethics, and applied ethics.
              Aesthetics deals with beauty, art, enjoyment, sensory-emotional values, perception, and matters of taste and sentiment.
Specialized branches Philosophy of language explores the nature, the origins, and the use of language. Philosophy of law (often called jurisprudence), Philosophy of mind explores the nature of the mind, Philosophy of religion explores the questions regarding religion, (We may spend a little time on this one) Philosophy of science explores the foundations, methods, implications, and purpose of science. Metaphilosophy explores the aims of philosophy, its boundaries, and its methods.

              This is, of course, a very general overview of philosophy. I got most of this from Wikipedia so if you want to read more that is a good place to start. To answer our original question, you can see just on the surface Christians use many of these things to explain, teach and understand our faith. It is important for us as Christians to be ready to give an answer for the hope we carry through the gospel and philosophy provides some good tools for us to do just that. Till next month keep loving knowledge   

In Christ
Pastor Portier     

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Lessons # 61 & 62 Happy New Year

Smoky Mountain Bible Institute
Lesson #61
Break out your maps and histories as we travel again in our time machine to examine history & geography through a biblical worldview. Let’s finish our discussion of Solomon, who as I mentioned last month, served his first two years as king as a coregent until David’s death in 969 BC. Solomon begins his reign in 971 BC and dies in 932 BC, serving as Israel’s king for just over 40 years.

Solomon, in a dream, made his famous request of God for wisdom. I have, however, always been somewhat puzzled about Solomon, the wisest man of all history (according to 1st Kings). He was promised and received wisdom, riches, and fame, but the Lord made this contingent on Solomon following Him as his father David had. The confusing thing for me is how such a wise man can think that it is a good idea to violate the 6th commandment and take multiple wives. And not just a few wives, but according to 1st Kings 11:1-3, 700 wives, and 300 hundred concubines (formally recognized mistresses). I can understand the politics of that time and how marrying women from many lands makes for good political relationships, but God instructed the Israelites not to marry foreign women, because intermarrying would lead to the worship of false gods. So why did Solomon, the wisest of all, do such a dumb and disobedient thing?

History reveals that Solomon was very aggressive in his foreign policy. In sealing treaties in ancient days, it was customary for the lesser king to give his daughter in marriage to the greater king (in this case, Solomon). Every time a new treaty was sealed, Solomon ended up with yet another wife. These wives were considered tokens of friendship and “sealed” the relationship between the two kings. In the process of doing all this, Solomon was utterly disobedient to the Lord. He was apparently so obsessed with power and wealth that it overshadowed his spiritual life and he ended up falling into apostasy, worshiping some of the false gods of the women who became married to him.

More importantly, in marrying more than one woman, Solomon was violating God’s revealed will regarding monogamy. From the very beginning God created one woman for one man (see Genesis 1:27; 2:21- 25). Deuteronomy 17:17 explicitly instructed the king not to “multiply wives.” Sadly, in his old age, his many wives led the wisest man of all time to commit the greatest of his offenses aginst God; worship and support of false gods. So Solomon was, like his father, a man after God’s own heart who was also guilty of adultery and murder. Like all of us at the same time being both saint and sinner, while it puzzles me, I can still understand and relate to Solomon’s unwise decisions.

Solomon built the largest, richest kingdom in his time, and some would argue, of all time. He builds the temple in just over 6 years from 967 BC to 961 BC, and his palace in 12 years, from 960 BC to 948 BC. This means he spent almost half of his 40 year regin on two massive building projects while conquering and establishing relationships with the surrounding countries. The most prominent of his visitors was of course, the Queen of Sheba, whose visit was around 940 BC, probably at the peak of his life and reign, with all of his wealth and strength on display through architecture, chariots, horses, and a family larger than most American small towns. There are even people in Ethiopia today who claim to be decendants of Sheba and Solomon, and they also claim to have the Ark of the Covenant which was brought there for safe keeping when the first temple was destroyed. At any rate, this powerful and wise man descended into wholesale idolatry in his old age, building temples, altars and giving sacrifices to the pagan gods of all his wives. He came to the end of his days in 932 BC, and soon after came the death of the Israelite united monarchy.

Note: much of this article is based on an article at Christian; if you would like to read it, it can be found at:

Have a blessed Advent & Christmas!

In Christ,

Pastor Portier

Smoky Mountain Bible Institute (Est. Aug 2009)
Lesson #62
            Happy New Year students and lifelong learners. Welcome back to class. I trust your Advent and Christmas celebrations were pleasant, fulfilling and enriching. The Smoky Mountain Bible Institute is just over 5 years old now and in that time we have covered Archeology, Biology, and Geology. In the last two years we’ve studied the combined topics of Geography and History. However, in those two years we covered only about half of the recorded history from Creation to the end of the united kingdom of Israel. With the prospect of another two or more years to cover the next 3000 years of history, I find myself yearning for a change in topic. Here at the Institute I have plans to eventually cover the topics of Philosophy, Social Sciences and finish with the field of Theology, so I thought for 2015 we would take a break from History and Geography and spend this year in Philosophy. That being said, next month we will delve into the topic of Philosophy. I give you the month of January to put away your maps and your histories and get ready to dig into the likes of Aristotle, Socrates, and Descartes.  Beginning in February we will look at fun topics like the ‘logical fallacies’, and other philosophical topics with fun Latin names like “Post Hoc Ergo Proctor Hoc” I know you just can’t wait. See you next month.

In Christ
Pastor Portier