Learn Hebrew the Fun Way with Duolingo

Today is my 200th consecutive day of Hebrew language lessons with Duolingo!

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Duolingo is a free mobile app and website, and it’s the best way to learn a language. I’ve tried in-person lessons, group studies, audio lessons, video lessons, subscriptions,...but I’ve learned more with Duolingo than all of them combined.

Duo gamifies learning; turning learning into a game and friendly weekly competition with a small group of people learning the same language as you. It’s actually fun. And super easy to do lessons: I usually just whip out my phone on my lunch break and do 5 or 10 minutes. Works as an app or just in your browser on the phone, tablet, and desktop. Super easy and even fun.

Interested in learning Hebrew with me? My Hebrew group on Duolingo has a few spots opened:

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Aristotle's Unmoved Mover, Explained

imageLast year I came across 5 Proofs of the Existence of God by Edward Feser. It’s a modern take on classic logical proofs of God.

Though it reads a bit academic, it’s nonetheless enjoyable and a powerful tool for defending the reality of God’s existence.

Yesterday, the author appeared on Ben Shapiro’s Sunday Special. His explanations and discussions of the classical proofs are fascinating and clarifying.

There’s a saying, “If you can’t teach it, you don’t understand it.” So I’d like to write my thoughts one of these classical proofs – teach them to you, fine Kineti reader – so that I better understand them myself. Along the way, maybe you’ll learn them better as well.

In the interview Feser says his favorite of the five classical proofs of God is the Aristotilian proof, also called the Unmoved Mover argument. This is the one we’re tackling today in this post.

Here’s Feser explaining in his own words the Aristotelian argument for God’s existence:

This proof of God goes back at least 2300 years, to the time of Aristotle, though it may be even older as Plato presents an earlier version of it.

The Aristotelian argument is based on the observation that change occurs: my fingers changing from idle to active as I type this, your eyes changing from still to moving as you scan and interpret this sentence.

Aristotle calls this the actualization of a potential. My fingers had potential to move, and when they moved, the change was actualized. Your eyes had the potential to scan this text, now they are actually scanning it. This is change: something going from potential to actual.

And this affects all matter, including inorganic matter. Water changes from cold to warm. Molten lava to solid rock. Potential to actual.

If change involves going from potential to actual, how does it ever happen? What causes the change from potential to actual? Aristotle observes that only actualized objects cause something to go from potential to actual.

For example, my fingers are sitting ready at the keyboard: just look at all that potential. Potential to move downward and strike the keyboard. How are they actualized, what causes them to start typing? An already-actualized thing, my nervous system in action, flexed my muscles and caused them to go from potential movement to actual movement.

In a nutshell, actualized objects are the only thing able to move something from the potential state into actual state. Something can go from potential to actual only if there’s something actual that makes it happen.

This goes all the way down the line: my nervous system has potential to send signals to my fingers. What causes it to send signals, moving it from potential to actual? Well, another actual: my brain.

One thing caused by another, caused by another, caused by another. All the way down the line.

Intuitively, my thought while watching the video was, “Ah, and those series of changers go all the way back in time until we get to God.”

Wrong.

Feser says Aristotle’s fundamental position isn’t that the changes go merely backward in time, but that they are downward in the here-and-now. The fingers are typing here and now because my nervous system is firing here and now. The nervous system is firing here and now because my brain is sending signals to it here and now.

This chain of changers – my fingers, by my nervous system, by my brain, by molecules holding together my body, and so on – where does the chain end? It must have an end – a first domino - Aristotle argues, otherwise we’d have a “vicious regress.” (More on this theoretical vicious regress later.) There must be a root changer – a cause of change that itself was uncaused – responsible for all successive changes.

The first domino

There must be an uncaused cause, an unchanging changer, an unmoving mover; the first domino. Aristotle argues such an unmoved mover is purely actual. While it’s changing other things, itself is unmoved and unchanged.

How do we know the unmoved mover is God?

Consider the properties of the first cause, that first domino. We observe that it must be both unchanging and powerful. Furthermore, it must not be governed by time nor by the material universe.

Unchanging:

We’ve established that change involves going from potential to actual. But this first domino wasn’t any potential, it was purely actual, it wasn’t caused and isn’t susceptible to change. It’s unchanging.

Why is that important? Because everything in the known universe is susceptible to change. Time changes all material things, both organic and inorganic. Thus, the first mover must be not be a material thing; it doesn’t change with time. And since time has no effect on the unchanging changer, we say it isn’t governed by time like everything else in the universe is.

(Sidebar: is this a god-of-the-gaps argument? I’d say this is an observation of the universe; out best evidence shows that all things are governed by time; they change with time. There’s nothing in the universe known to be unchangeable over time. So, the evidence suggests that either there is no first mover – what Aristotle called vicious regress; an impossible, infinite recursion of movers – or there exists something outside of the material universe and outside of time.)

The first mover is unchanging. Because time changes all material things, the first mover is outside of time and outside of the material world.

Powerful:

Power is the stuff required to change anything from potential to actual.

As I type this and as you read it, both of us are expending energy – we’re utilizing power. We consume food to produce energy, which we utilize to actualize something, to turn it from potential to actual.

Feser gives the example that an earthquake has the power to knock a boulder down a hill: the actualization of potential. The rock had the potential to roll down the hill, and the earthquake’s power actualized it.

Working our way back to the first mover, the first domino, because nothing caused it, it’s ultimately the source of all power activity.

It’s power – at the beginning of time and throughout all-time – drives all other power. It’s the first of all the dominos and not caused by any other power.

Every power exerted since then – the formation of the universe, the creation of planets and stars, the beginning of life – everything until the point of you reading this very sentence – all of it started because of the enormous power exerted by the first mover.

Thus we say that the first mover is both exceedingly powerful and the source of all existing power in the universe. The first mover is all-powerful.

(The Hebrew Bible phrases it as אֵל שַׁדַּי, El Shaddai, usually translated as God Almighty; in plain modern English we would say God the All-Powerful.)

These attributes of the first mover – immaterial, unchanging, outside of time, all-powerful, the source of all power – describes divine attributes, something beyond of nature. We call that all-powerful, immaterial mover God.

Are we sure there’s a first mover? Why not a vicious regress?

How do we know there’s a first mover? Why can’t we have an infinite string of movers moved by another mover?

Feser says the problem with having an infinite chain of movers – what Aristotle calls a ‘vicious regress’ – is that it keeps deferring the explanation.

Sidebar: in The Universe Had a Beginning, I noted a similar problem of scientists just kicking the can down the road; deferring the answer. For example, modern cosmology posits the universe had a definite beginning about 13.7 billion years ago. But physicists uncomfortable with the reality of a universe that suddenly came into existence – the instant of creation – have tried to say there are multiple universes (multiverse theory) or the universe expands and contracts infinitely from nothing to something (oscillating universe theory). Both fail to answer the question of what created the universe, and instead merely kick the can down the road. In the case of the multiverse theory, the can is kicked down the road, and the question becomes “what created the thing that creates the universes?”

Feser says the vicious regress fails to answer the question we started out asking: “What caused the first actualization?”

That mover that made the universe appear in an instant, what made it move? Since the universe didn’t exist before then – and since modern cosmology affirms the universe is not eternal – we’re now back to square one: something outside of the universe (since it didn’t exist yet) exerted power on material to cause the universe to come into existence.

Why not just say, “We don’t know what started the universe?”

For some, because science doesn’t currently know what could cause the universe to come into existence, some say, “Who knows? Why posit any explanation at all?”

Feser answers with an analogy. Suppose a school student in chemistry class mixes the wrong chemicals together and causes an explosion. “There’s no explanation, it just happened”, say the investigators.

Would anyone be satisfied with such an answer? Of course not.

We don’t accept such answers in science or in everyday life; this “throw up your hands” answer is only acceptable, it seems, when the answer points to divine origins. And this, says Feser, is cognitive dissonance, a mental blind spot, on the part of proponents of atheism.

“When you push forward consistently this basic idea that things must have explanations, you’re going to be led unavoidably to the existence of an unmoved Mover, an uncaused Cause.”

Religious Hypocrites Shaming God’s Reputation, Case #18,502

Summary: Religious hypocrites turn people off to God. We see it again this week with shocking revelations from the continuing Catholic pedophile scandal.

Warning: language and disturbing content related to the scandal.

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I wrote before how religious hypocrisy continues to heap shame on God’s reputation in the secular world.

It’s happening again: 300 Catholic priests in Pennsylvania were named in court as predators who sexually abused over 1000 children.

Worse, much of the abuse was coordinated among multiple priests and parishes.

Worse still, the hierarchy of the church was aware of the problem, and either did nothing or covered up the crimes.

The court documents details horrific, even demonic, sexual abuse:

In one case, a boy was forced to stand naked, posing like Christ on the cross while priests took pictures and added them to a collection of child pornography that they produced and distributed on the campus of the church.

Priests would mark boys who were being groomed for abuse by giving them gold crosses to wear.

In another case, a priest raped a young girl and arranged for her to get an abortion. His bishop heard about the situation and wrote a letter of condolence — to the priest.

In another case, a priest molested a boy over the course of two years, admitted to church officials that he'd been engaged in naked "horseplay" with the child, and yet was allowed to continue in ministry for seven more years.

In another case, a priest forced a boy to give him oral sex and then washed the boy's mouth with holy water.

In another case, a priest molested a 12-year-old boy, admitted his crime to a church official, but the diocese ruled that the abuse wouldn't "necessarily be a horrendous trauma" to the victim.

Dear God, what destruction these people have done. Lifelong damage to these kids. And yet-to-be-realized damage to the reputation of God and faith in the eyes of the world.

Shaming God’s Name in the Nations

This week my Twitter feed has been filled with stuff like this:

Here, Silicon Valley technologist and well-known software developer Paul Betts is so disgusted by these Christians, he’s suggesting the United States ban all churches.

I engaged Paul about this – telling him how churches and synagogues do good consistently and regularly, and that it often goes unnoticed:

But it doesn’t matter.

To secular people like Paul Betts, the damage is so great, all churches should be illegal.

(This has been tried, by the way. Churches were illegal in Mao’s atheist China, and likewise Stalin’s atheist Soviet Union, both of which taught atheism in government schools and persecuted millions of Christians and Jews. These civilizations committed the some of the worst atrocities the world has ever seen. I digress.)

It’s a sad state of affairs when we have to convince secular people why churches and faith are good things. God called Israel to be a light to the nations, and Messiah told his disciples the same.

Instead of being a light, the Catholic Church appears to be a factory for producing gay pedophile priests who turn people off to God, destroy innocent lives, and forfeit their souls in the process. What a darkness.

“It’s a sad state of affairs when we have to convince secular people why churches and faith are good things.”

And we can’t just slough it off on the Catholics. In Torah-observant People Behaving Badly, I documented Israeli Haredim (Ultra-Orthodox Jews) kicking and spitting at a woman in the streets of Jerusalem, shouting slurs and insults and calling her shiksa. Her crime was helping a car navigate safely through Orthodox protestors.

Two years ago, a Protestant youth pastor was sent to prison because he raped a girl in his care, and when she became pregnant, he forced her to get an abortion. And when she felt guilt about the whole thing, she committed suicide.

When my wife was young, a youth pastor at her church impregnated a young girl under his care.

And in the Hebrew Roots and Messianic world, we have cases like the Hebrew Roots pastor Jim Staley defrauding millions of dollars from the elderly.

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I suspect many of us have such stories of abuse in our circles. Maybe you’ve experience or witnessed sexual abuse, violence, financial abuse, emotional manipulation, controlling and judgmental behavior. All these things from religious people.

Ugly, ugly religion.

While I could lament that the media reports only the negative things – certainly reporting on 300 pedophile priests, but never on the millions of homeless fed in Jesus’ name – I can’t really blame people like Paul Betts.

Why? Many people in my circle of faith are in favor of restricting or banning Muslim immigration into the US because of a minority of violent Islamists. How can we blame secular people for wanting to ban churches because of a minority of pedophile priests?

And not only are there 300 pedophile priests who are abusing children, but here you have a hierarchy of bishops and church leadership who either turned a blind eye, failed to report, or even covered up the abuse. Over the span of several decades.

My God.

Atheism isn’t the worst enemy of people of faith. It’s we religious people. Religious hypocrites doing evil in the guise of faith. A faith that commands us to do good, and we pretend to do good, but boy, do we doo bad.

There is no stronger way to take God’s name in vain than to do evil in His name. And this is exactly what these pedophile priests have done.

Religious Hypocrisy From of Old

1,940 years ago, Paul wrote a letter to religious people in Rome, a mix of Jews and non-Jews. He warned them of religious hypocrisy,

If you rely upon the Torah and boast in God and know His will and determine what matters because you are instructed from the Torah— and you are sure that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Torah the embodiment of knowledge and the truth—

You then who teach another, do you not teach yourself?

You who preach not to steal, do you steal?

You who say not to commit adultery, do you commit adultery?

You who detest idols, do you rob temples?

You who take pride in the Torah, through your violation of the Torah, do you dishonor God?

For as it is written, “the name of God is slandered among the nations because of you.”

Paul’s words couldn’t have been more prescient.

God’s name is slandered in the nations because of you, religious hypocrites.

God’s reputation is shamed in the whole world because of you, religious hypocrites.

I’m at a loss of what more to say.

I’m sickened and grieved that people who claim to follow Jesus did something so unspeakably wicked demonic to innocent kids. All under the guise of Christianity.

God help us.