From Mark Copeland... "THE BOOK OF ECCLESIASTES" Chapter Two

                       "THE BOOK OF ECCLESIASTES"

                              Chapter Two


1) To note the degree to which the Preacher sought for meaning in life
   under the sun

2) To consider his estimation of mirth, pleasure, wine, wisdom, folly
   and wealth in providing purpose for living

3) To appreciate his conclusion for what is best in life, and the One
   who makes it possible


In this chapter the Preacher describes the extent of his search for the
meaning of life "under the sun."  He explored mirth and pleasure,
finding them to be vanity.  He experimented with wine and folly, while
guiding himself with his wisdom.  Not withholding anything his eyes
desired, he used his great wealth to build and accumulate everything
his heart wanted.  He certainly enjoyed himself while doing it (1-10).

Yet when the Preacher looked back on all he had done, he found it to be
vanity and grasping for the wind.  Reflecting upon the comparative
value of wisdom and folly, he did find wisdom to excel folly.  But he
also observed that death came to both the wise and the fool, and both
soon forgotten.  This prompted him to hate life.  Even his accumulated
wealth provided little respite, for he must leave it to one who may
prove to be a fool.  Thus he found such efforts to be grievous, leading
one to sorrowful days and restless nights (11-23).

He concludes it is best to eat and drink, enjoying what good there is
in one's labor.  He realized, however, that the ability to truly enjoy
life is a gift from God.  He saw that God gives wisdom, knowledge, and
joy to a man who is good in His sight.  To the sinner, God might give 
the ability to gather and collect great wealth, but it eventually winds
up in the hands of him who is good before God.  Thus much labor without
God's blessing is truly vanity and grasping for the wind (24-26).



      1. He tested mirth and pleasure, and found them to be vanity
      2. He found laughter to be madness, and mirth to accomplish

      1. He experimented with wine and folly
         a. While guiding himself with wisdom
         b. Seeking to find what is good for men to do "under heaven
            all the days of their lives"
      2. He made many things
         a. Houses and vineyards
         b. Gardens and orchards
         c. Water pools to water fruit trees
      3. He acquired whatever he wanted
         a. Male and female servants, with more born in his house
         b. Herds and flocks, more than any in Jerusalem before him
         c. Silver, gold, special treasures of kings and provinces
         d. Male and female singers, musical instruments of all kinds
      4. He became great, and seemingly happy
         a. Greater than all in Jerusalem before him
         b. Having all his eyes desired, his heart rejoicing in his


      1. Looking back on all his works and labor
      2. Find them to be vanity, grasping for wind
      3. Concluding there was no profit under the sun
      1. He considered the relative value of wisdom, madness, and folly
      2. He found that wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness
      3. Yet the same end (death) befalls the wise and the fool, and
         both are soon forgotten
      4. Prompting him to hate life for its vanity and grasping for the

      1. He came to hate his labor and toil under the sun
         a. Because he must leave it to one after him
         b. Not knowing whether those who inherit it will be wise or
      2. He came to despair his labor under the sun
         a. For despite one's wisdom, knowledge and skill, one's
            heritage must be left to one who has not labored for it
         b. This he concluded was vanity and a great evil
         c. In the end, all one had as a result of his labor and the
            striving of his heart:
            1) Sorrowful days, restless nights
            2) Grievous works, leading to vanity


      1. There is nothing better
      2. Than to eat, drink, and to enjoy good in one's labor

      1. He saw that this was a gift from God
      2. For no one can truly enjoy life without God (cf. footnote,
         NIV, NASB)
         a. To those good in His sight, God gives wisdom, knowledge,
            and joy
         b. To the sinner, God gives the work of gathering and 
            1) To give to the one who is good before God
            2) For the sinner, his work becomes vanity and grasping for
               the wind


1) What are the main points of this chapter?
   - The Preacher's search for meaning (1-10)
   - The Preacher's reflection upon his search (11-23)
   - The Preacher's conclusion from his search (24-26)

2) In his search, what sort of things did the Preacher explore? (1-3)
   - Mirth and pleasure
   - Wine and folly

3) What guided his heart during the course of his search? (3)
   - Wisdom (perhaps that given the Preacher by God?)

4) What things did he accumulate during his search? (4-8)
   - Houses and vineyards
   - Gardens and orchards
   - Fruit trees and water pools to water them
   - Male and female servants, along with servants born in his house
   - Herds and flocks
   - Silver, gold, special treasures
   - Male and female singers, musical instruments of all kinds

5) How great did he become?  What stayed with him? (9)
   - Greater than all who were in Jerusalem before him
   - His wisdom

6) What did he get? (10)
   - Whatever his eyes desired, any pleasure his heart wanted

7) What was his reaction to this great accumulation of wealth? (10-11)
   - He rejoiced in his labor
   - But looking back on his works, he found them vanity and grasping
     for wind, with no profit under the sun

8) What conclusions were drawn about the value of wisdom and folly?
   - Wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness
   - Yet death comes to them both, and they are soon forgotten

9) What did this reflection lead him to do?  Why? (17)
   - Hate life
   - Because all work under the sun was grievous, vanity, and grasping
     for wind

10) What else caused him to hate his labor? (18)
   - The thought that he must leave it to one who comes after him

11) Why did this trouble him? (19-21)
   - For the one who receives his inheritance gained through wisdom,
     knowledge and skill might prove to be a fool

12) What did he conclude was the result of one's labor, striving, and
    toil for things under the sun? (22-23)
   - Sorrowful days, restless nights
   - Grievous work, leading to vanity

13) What did he say was the best man could achieve? (24)
   - To eat and drink, and enjoy good in his labor

14) But who was capable of achieving this? (24-26)
   - The one who was good in God's sight, to whom God gave wisdom,
     knowledge, and joy

15) What did the sinner receive?  For what purpose? (26)
   - The task of gathering and collecting
   - To give to him who was good before God

Executable Outlines, Copyright © Mark A. Copeland, 2015

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From Mark Copeland... "THE BOOK OF ECCLESIASTES" Chapter One

                       "THE BOOK OF ECCLESIASTES"

                              Chapter One


1) To consider the author, theme, and underlying question of this book

2) To note the Preacher's observations about the cycles of life, and
   his conclusion regarding the value of human wisdom


Ecclesiastes opens with a prologue in which the author identifies
himself, declares his theme, and introduces the question addressed in
this book.  He describes himself as "the Preacher, the son of David,
king in Jerusalem" (cf. 1:12).  As he begins his "sermon", he does so
in way that certainly grabs your attention:  declaring all to be vanity
(meaningless).  Having our attention, he asks the question that will be
answered in the course of his sermon:  what profit does a man have from
all his labor in which he toils under the sun (1-3)?

It is a question that is prompted by what he sees in the cycles of
life.  Generations of people come and go.  The sun rises and sets, only
to do the same day after day.  Wind currents and water cycles are 
constantly repeated, and man is never satisfied with what he sees or 
hears.  While we think new things are being done, it is only because we
don't remember the past.  In reality there is nothing new under the sun

With the question introduced, the Preacher describes his own search.
As king over Israel in Jerusalem, he wanted to know what everyone one 
wants to know - what profit is there for all the labor done under the 
sun?  Right up front he tells us what he found:  all is vanity and
grasping for the wind.  Having been blessed with greatness and wisdom
(from God, cf. 1Ki 3:12-13), he began his search exploring wisdom,
madness and folly.  He found that much wisdom and knowledge (i.e.,
human wisdom) was only the source of much grief and sorrow (12-18).



      1. The words of the Preacher
      2. The son of David, king in Jerusalem

      1. "Vanity of vanities...vanity of vanities, all is vanity"
      2. All is futile, useless, meaningless!

      1. "What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils
         under the sun?"
      2. This is the question the "Preacher" sought to answer


      1. Generations come and go, while the earth abides forever
      2. The sun is constant with its rising and setting 
      3. The winds continue their whirling cycle
      4. The water cycle also, as rivers run into the seas, and then
         through evaporation and rain return to the rivers again

      1. Despite all our labors, man is never truly satisfied
      2. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with

      1. What will be done is that which has been done
      2. If thought to be new, it is has been done in ancient times
      3. We simply don't remember the past, nor will the future
         remember the present


      1. He was king over Israel in Jerusalem
      2. He determined to use wisdom to seek and search all that has
         been done "under heaven"
      3. A task that he understood God had given to all men, to
         challenge them
      4. He summarizes what he found, having seen all the works done
         "under the sun"
         a. They are vanity and grasping for the wind
         b. For there is little one can do to make significant changes

      1. He acknowledged the greatness and wisdom he had attained
      2. He therefore sought to apply it to understand wisdom, madness,
         and folly

      1. It was like grasping for wind
      2. More wisdom and knowledge just increases grief and sorrow


1) What are the main points of this chapter?
   - Prologue to the book (1-3)
   - Futility observed in the cycles of life (4-11)
   - Futility of human wisdom (12-18)

2) How does the author describe himself? (1)
   - The Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem

3) What is the theme of this book, as stated in verse 2?
   - "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity"

4) What is the key question that this book seeks to address? (3)
   - "What profit has a man from all in his labor in which he toils
     under the sun?"

5) What illustrations are given to show the futility observed in the
   cycles of life? (4-7)
   - The passing of generations
   - The rising and setting of the sun
   - The whirling cycles of the wind
   - The water cycle, from rain to sea back to rain

6) What is never satisfied? (8)
   - The eye with seeing, the ear with hearing

7) Why is there nothing new under the sun? (9)
   - History simply repeats itself

8) Why do we think something is new? (10-11)
   - We have forgotten what has happened in history

9) What did the Preacher determine to do?  Why? (13)
   - To seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under
   - It was something God has given man to do

10) Having seen the works done under the sun, what did he conclude?
    Why? (14-15)
   - All is vanity and grasping for the wind
   - Because one cannot make any significant changes that are lasting

11) What did he acknowledge he had attained? (16)
   - Great wisdom and understanding

12) What did he set his heart to know? (17)
   - Wisdom, madness, and folly

13) What conclusion did he draw?  Why? (18)
   - It was grasping for the wind
   - For in much wisdom is much grief, and increasing knowledge
     increases sorrow

Executable Outlines, Copyright © Mark A. Copeland, 2015

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From Mark Copeland... "THE BOOK OF ECCLESIASTES" Introduction

                       "THE BOOK OF ECCLESIASTES"


The book of Ecclesiastes has fascinated many people. Some feel it is 
the most puzzling book in the Old Testament. It has been called one of
the most melancholy books of the Bible. It has been used by some to
teach that man ceases to exist after death.

It is not a book that Christians should ignore. As with all Old 
Testament Scripture, it was written for our learning (Ro 15:4) and
admonition (1Co 10:11). It is therefore profitable for doctrine, for
reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness (2Ti 3:

The book has special relevance today in our materialistic society, for
it helps us to see the vanity of many earthly pursuits. It contains
lessons for all, but especially for the young who have so much to lose
should they make the wrong choices early in life.

TITLE:  In the Hebrew Bible, the book is called "Qoheleth" (Koheleth)
which means "preacher" (cf. 1:1). The term suggests one who speaks to
an assembly. The translators of the Septuagint (a Greek version of the
Old Testament) called it "Ekklesiastes", which also means "preacher".
The word is derived from "ekklesia", meaning "assembly".

AUTHOR AND DATE OF WRITING:  Jewish and early Christian tradition
attribute the book to Solomon. The author identifies himself as "the 
son of David, king in Jerusalem" (1:1). He also refers to himself as
"the Preacher" (1:1,2,12; 7:27; 12:8,9,10). Internal evidences point
to Solomon. Note the references to:

   * His wisdom - 1:16; cf. 1Ki 3:12

   * His building activities - 2:4-6; cf. 1Ki 7:1-12

   * His wealth - 2:7-9; cf. 2Ch 9:13-28

   * His activities after writing this book - 12:9-10; cf. 1Ki 4:30-34

Some question whether certain conditions described in the book (cf.
3:16; 4:13-16; 5:8) existed during the reign of Solomon. But these
conditions could have been noted by Solomon in neighboring countries,
or in lower-level positions of his administration.

In my opinion, the evidence is simply not compelling to reject the
traditional view of Solomon as the author. If Solomon is indeed the
author, then the date the book was written would be around 945 B.C.

PURPOSE FOR WRITING:  The Preacher wondered what many have asked: 

   "What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils
   under the sun?" (1:3).
In other words, what value or purpose is there for living? What is the
meaning of life?  Having been blessed with great material resources and
wisdom, the Preacher was able to explore all avenues in his search. He
writes to share with us the results of his own investigation, and to
offer observations and words of counsel gleaned from his search.

MESSAGE:  There are two main messages. The first is stated in the
                         "All is vanity" (1:2)

This theme is repeated by the Preacher time and again:

   * Prior to describing his search for meaning - 1:14

   * Throughout the course of his search:
       The vanity of pleasure - 2:1
       The vanity of industry (labor) - 2:11,22-23; 4:4
       The vanity of human wisdom - 2:15
       The vanity of all life - 2:17
       The vanity of leaving an inheritance - 2:18-21

   * Throughout his words of counsel and wisdom:
       The vanity of earthly existence - 3:19-21
       The vanity of acquiring riches over family - 4:7-8
       The vanity of political popularity - 4:16
       The vanity of many dreams and many words - 5:7
       The vanity of loving abundance - 5:10
       The vanity of wealth without the gift of God to enjoy it - 6:2
       The vanity of wandering desire - 6:9
       The vanity of foolish laughter - 7:6
       The vanity of injustice in this life - 8:14
       The vanity of the days of darkness - 11:8
       The vanity of childhood and youth - 11:10

   * At the conclusion of the book - 12:8

Indeed, the key word in this book is "vanity". It occurs 35 times in 29
verses. It means "futility, uselessness, nothingness." But a key phrase
to be noted is "under the sun". It is found 29 times in 27 verses. It
suggests that this message of vanity is true when one looks at life
purely from an earthly perspective. Leave God and the afterlife out of
the equation, and life is truly vanity!

Therefore another message in this book is the importance of serving God
throughout life. This is the message the Preacher would leave with the
young (cf. 11:9-12:1), and is stated in his final words:

   "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep
   His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man." (12:13)

Throughout the book, we will find what the Preacher later describes as
"goads" and "nails" (cf. 12:11). These are wise sayings that will
"prod" our thinking, and exhortations that will provide stability and
direction for living. Ecclesiastes is certainly a book worthy of 
careful study!








1) What is the book of Ecclesiastes called in the Hebrew Bible? What
   does it mean?
   - Qoheleth (Koheleth)
   - Preacher

2) What does the word "ecclesiasates" mean? What Greek word is it
   derived from?
   - Preacher
   - Ekklesia, meaning "an assembly"

3) According to Jewish and early Christian tradition, who is the
   author, and when was it likely written?
   - Solomon 
   - 945 B.C.

4) What internal evidence is there to identify the author? (1:16; 
   2:4-6,7-9; 12:9-10)
   - His wisdom
   - His building activities
   - His wealth
   - His activities after writing the book

5) What question does the Preacher seek to answer in this book? (1:3)
   - "What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under
     the sun?"

6) What key word is found in this book? What key phrase is repeated
   time and again?
   - Vanity
   - Under the sun

7) What are the two main messages found in this book? (1:14; 12:13)
   - The vanity of life under the sun (life purely from an earthly
   - The importance of fearing God and keeping His commandments

8) According to the brief outline above, what are the three main
   divisions of the book?
   - The Preacher's search for meaning in life (1-2)
   - The Preacher's observations from life (3-6)
   - The Preacher's counsel for life (7-12)

Executable Outlines, Copyright © Mark A. Copeland, 2015

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Ben Carson and Islam by Dave Miller, Ph.D.


Ben Carson and Islam

by Dave Miller, Ph.D.

"Ben Carson at CPAC 2015" by Gage Skidmore. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons-Wikimedia 2015
One of the current presidential candidates, Ben Carson, was recently asked whether he believes Islam is consistent with the U.S. Constitution: “No, I do not. I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation” (Sanders, 2015). As one would expect in the current PC climate of the nation, considerable negative reactions were generated. It seems surreal that so many Americans could be so adamantly ignorant of both history and the teachings of the Quran as they naively defend, support, and even encourage the spread of Islam in America via the construction of mosques and introducing public school students to its tenets.
Yet, the Quran is forthright and unmistakable in its declarations concerning the violent nature of Islam as well as the inferior status of women—two things the left absolutely detest. The reader is urged to secure a reputable English translation of the Quran, and read the verses identified in the following articles on the A.P. Web site:
What’s more, the Founders of the United States of America were very plain about their recognition of the threat that Islam poses to freedom and the principles on which they established the Republic. Please read the following historical documentation:
“Were the Founding Fathers ‘Tolerant’ of Islam? [Part I]”http://apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=7&article=4622&topic=33
“Were the Founding Fathers ‘Tolerant’ of Islam? [Part II]”http://apologeticspress.org/apPubPage.aspx?pub=1&issue=1117&article=2138
“The Treaty of Tripoli and America’s Founders”http://apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=7&article=4520&topic=44


Sanders, Sam (2015), “Ben Carson Wouldn’t Vote For A Muslim President; He’s Not Alone,” NPR, September 21, http://www.npr.org/sections/itsallpolitics/2015/09/21/442308328/republican-rhetoric-highlights-americas-negative-relationship-with-muslims.

Academia’s Asinine Assault on the Bible by Dave Miller, Ph.D.


Academia’s Asinine Assault on the Bible

by Dave Miller, Ph.D.

The professor, age 50, wearing casual slacks and a sport coat over a sweater, arrived at the lecture auditorium to teach his afternoon class, as some 350 students streamed in for Religion 202—one of the most popular classes on the campus of the large state university. Exuding an energetic, intellectually sophisticated manner, and projecting an endearing personality, the professor proceeded to propound a “problem” pertaining to the Bible. Pacing back and forth across the stage, he launched a ruthless but passionately eloquent tirade against the Bible’s alleged “anomalies,” “contradictions,” and “discrepancies.” It went something like this:
Entire stories have been added that were not in the original gospels. The woman taken in adultery is nothing other than a bit of tradition added by the Catholics 300 years after the New Testament was written. In contrast with Matthew, Mark, and Luke, in the book of John Jesus wasn’t born in Bethlehem, he did not tell any parables, he never cast out a demon, and there’s no last supper. The crucifixion stories differ with each other. In Mark, Jesus was terrified on the cross, while in John, he was perfectly composed. Key dates are different. The resurrection stories are different. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, you find no trace of Jesus being divine, while in John you do. It’s time for you to think for yourself. You need reasons. That applies to religion. That applies to politics. Just because your parents believe something—isn’t good enough.
So it goes, week after week, a relentless, rapid-fire barrage of bombastic barbs intended to overwhelm, intimidate, and bully their young, uninformed, ill-equipped victims. This scenario has been repeated thousands of times over the past half century in universities all across America. The result has been catastrophic. One heartbroken mother’s recent remarks are typical: “My 22-year-old son just graduated from ________ University where he lost his faith in God and His Word. My husband and I did the best we knew how to raise him to love the church and God’s Word. But he has allowed the world to sway his beliefs.” Like toxic waste, sinister propaganda has been dumped on the youth of the nation by biased, dishonest professors who have no interest in allowing the so-called “academic freedom” they tout in the form of equal time for reputable rebuttal. As a result of their decades’ long labor, a liberal, anti-Christian academic atmosphere now thoroughly permeates the university system of America.
Never mind the fact that these guys have nothing new to say that has not already been said by skeptics over the centuries. Their claims are merely a repackaged version quickly seized upon by a complicit liberal media that eagerly creates instant credibility by thrusting the new “prophet” before a larger audience—as if what he is saying is fresh and newly discovered. The fact of the matter is that all their points have been made and answered long ago. For those who have taken the time to examine the evidence, it is readily apparent that their accusations are slanted, overstated, exaggerated, and transparently biased.
Observe that the above professorial tirade issues two charges: (1) the text of the Bible is tenuous and uncertain, and (2) the gospel records contradict each other. The latter claim has been soundly refuted in detail by biblical scholars over the centuries. The Apologetics Press Web site is loaded with articles and books that defeat accusations of alleged discrepancy (see, for example, Eric Lyons’ Anvil Rings 1 & 2). Regarding the former claim, Textual Criticism is a longstanding discipline that long ago yielded abundant evidence for the trustworthiness of the text of the New Testament. Over the last two centuries, the manuscript evidence has been thoroughly examined, resulting in complete exoneration for the integrity, genuineness, and accuracy of the Bible. Prejudiced professors refrain from divulging to their students that the vast majority of textual variants involve minor matters that do not affect salvation nor alter any basic teaching of the New Testament. Even those variants that might be deemed doctrinally significant pertain to matters that are treated elsewhere in the Bible where the question of genuineness is unobscured. No feature of Christian doctrine is at stake. When all of the textual evidence is considered, the vast majority of discordant readings have been resolved (e.g., Metzger, 1978, p. 185). One is brought to the firm conviction that we have in our possession the Bible as God intended.
The world’s foremost textual critics have confirmed this conclusion. Sir Frederic Kenyon, longtime director and principal librarian at the British Museum, whose scholarship and expertise to make pronouncements on textual criticism was second to none, stated: “Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established” (Kenyon, 1940, p. 288). The late F.F. Bruce, longtime Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism at the University of Manchester, England, remarked: “The variant readings about which any doubt remains among textual critics of the New Testament affect no material question of historic fact or of Christian faith and practice” (1960, pp. 19-20). J.W. McGarvey, declared by the London Times to be “the ripest Bible scholar on earth” (Brigance, 1870, p. 4), conjoined: “All the authority and value possessed by these books when they were first written belong to them still” (1956, p. 17). And the eminent textual critics Westcott and Hort put the entire matter into perspective when they said:
Since textual criticism has various readings for its subject, and the discrimination of genuine readings from corruptions for its aim, discussions on textual criticism almost inevitably obscure the simple fact that variations are but secondary incidents of a fundamentally single and identical text. In the New Testament in particular it is difficult to escape an exaggerated impression as to the proportion which the words subject to variation bear to the whole text, and also, in most cases, as to their intrinsic importance. It is not superfluous therefore to state explicitly that the great bulk of the words of the New Testament stand out above all discriminative processes of criticism, because they are free from variation, and need only to be transcribed (1964, p. 564, emp. added).
Noting that the experience of two centuries of investigation and discussion had been achieved, these scholars concluded: “[T]he words in our opinion still subject to doubt can hardly amount to more than a thousandth part of the whole of the New Testament” (p. 565, emp. added).
Think of it. Men who literally spent their lives poring over ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, devoting their lives to meticulous, tedious analysis of the evidence, conversant with the original languages, without peer in their expertise and qualifications, have concluded that the Bible has been transmitted accurately. Then a prejudiced professor of religion has the unmitigated gall to brush aside the facts and pummel students with a slanted, half-baked viewpoint that flies in the face of two centuries of scholarly investigation? It is nothing short of inexcusable and intellectually dishonest. It’s time for parents to rise up and make universities accountable, or else cease sacrificing their children on the altar of pseudo-education. [NOTE: Those who are fearful that the integrity of the text of the Bible is compromised by the reality of textual variants need to be reminded that the world’s foremost textual critics have demonstrated that currently circulating copies of the New Testament do not differ substantially from the original (see Miller, 2005a, “Is Mark...,” 25[12]:89-95; Miller, 2010).]


Brigance, L.L. (1870), “J.W. McGarvey,” in A Treatise on the Eldership by J.W. McGarvey (Murfreesboro, TN: DeHoff Publications, 1962 reprint).
Bruce, F.F. (1960), The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), revised edition.
Kenyon, Sir Frederic (1940), The Bible and Archaeology (New York, NY: Harper).
McGarvey, J.W. (1956 reprint), Evidences of Christianity (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate).
Metzger, Bruce M. (1978 reprint), The Text of the New Testament (New York, NY: Oxford University Press), second edition.
Westcott, B.A. and F.J.A. Hort (1964 reprint), The New Testament in the Original Greek (New York, NY: MacMillan).

A Christian Response to Descartes’ Radical Doubt by Caleb Colley, Ph.D.


A Christian Response to Descartes’ Radical Doubt

by Caleb Colley, Ph.D.

Modern philosophy is said to begin with René Descartes (1596-1650; Copleston, 1994, 4:1). Many think that “René Descartes is perhaps the single most important thinker of the European Enlightenment” (Hooker, 2009; cf. Copleston, 4:174ff.). Descartes is thought to be “the father of the subjective and idealistic (as was Bacon of the objective and realistic) tradition in modern philosophy,” who “began the great game of epistemology, which in [sic] Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume and Kant waxed into a Three Hundred Years’ War that at once stimulated and devastated modern philosophy” (Durant, 1926, pp. 116,117, parenthetical item in orig.; cf. p. 268). First, I will summarize the historical/philosophical context of Descartes’ work, which will provide two things: (1) An overview of his motivations, and (2) an explanation of why the Christian apologist should be prepared to counter certain of Descartes’ arguments. Second, I will examine the nature of Descartes’ doubt, which is central to his philosophy. Finally, I will offer a critique from the Christian perspective.


Burnham and Fieser observed: “Descartes’ philosophy developed in the context of the key features of Renaissance and early modern philosophy. Like the humanists, he rejected religious authority in the quest for scientific and philosophical knowledge” (see Kenny, 1968, p. 4; cf. Maritain, 1944, p. 55). Descartes was a devout Catholic, but was influenced by the Reformation’s challenge to Church authority and scholastic Aristotelianism (philosophy in the tradition of Aristotle’s thought; “René...,” 2008). Specifically, he was influenced by the scientific ideas of Leonardo da Vinci and Galileo Galilei (see Durant, 1926, p. 117). In 1633, the Catholic church condemned Galileo’s Dialogue because of its heliocentricity, and Descartes thought that his forthcoming work, Le Monde, would offend the church as well, so he postponed its publication (Galilei, 2001; “René...”; Fowler, 1996; Rodis-Lewis, 1992, p. 39; cf. Kenny, pp. 7-8). In fact, Descartes’ first major writing was published anonymously (see Cottingham, 1986, p.13).
In developing his rationalistic philosophy, Descartes positioned himself against scholasticism and Aristotelianism, as he explains in a letter to Voetius:
[T]he philosophy against which you rail with such violence...aims at the knowledge of the truths which are acquired by means of the natural light, and which promise the benefit of the human race; by contrast the dominant philosophy, which is taught in the schools and universities, is merely a muddled collection of opinions which are mostly open to doubts, as is proved by the debates that they occasion day after day, and which are entirely without practical benefit, as centuries of experience have proved only too well (quoted in Cottingham, p. 15; cf. Copleston, p. 174).
Descartes hoped that philosophy could be as certain as mathematics, the principles of which he saw as being exceptionally sound (1952a, 31:ix; 1952b, 31:14,31; cf. Loeb, 1992, p. 219; Rodis-Lewis, 1992, pp. 26ff.; Ree, 1975, pp. 28-34), and that his writings could replace traditional texts based on Aristotle (Ross, n.d.; cf. Cottingham, 16). “[H]e wanted to define an area in which everything could be completely explained by a reductionist, mechanistic physical science” (Ree, p. 91). “[T]he brand of knowledge Descartes seeks requires, at least, unshakably certain conviction,” and such knowledge he considered to be unavailable from authority or sense-perception (Newman, 2005). “Arithmetic, Geometry, and the other sciences of the same class, which regard merely the simplest and most general objects...contain somewhat that is certain and indubitable” (Descartes, 1952b, 31:77). Descartes challenged scholasticism generally because he thought that it had been convoluted by “jargon-manipulation and the juggling of authorities” as “the paramount road to academic advancement” (Cottingham, p. 5). [NOTE: The purpose of this article is not to assess scholasticism or Aristotelianism.]
Banach summarizes Descartes’ starting position: “In order to show that science rested on firm foundations and that these foundations lay in the mind and not the senses, Descartes began by bringing into doubt all the beliefs that come to us from the senses.... The obvious implication is that, since we do know that external objects exist, this knowledge cannot come to us through the senses, but through the mind” (n.d., parenthetical item in orig.). Maritain observed: “Descartes, on the contrary, who with the rest of the moderns makes science consist in invention rather than in judgment, has a hankering for a Science which with one and the same movement proves by discovering, and discovers by proving, established in complete certitude from its inception, rejecting of itself as an attempt against its being, every purely probable element” (1944, p. 55).
His method of acquiring this scientific conviction begins with doubt, which for Descartes took root in his general objection to his instructor’s methods (2007, p. 17). “[W]hen I considered the number of conflicting opinions touching a single matter that may be upheld by learned men, while there can be but one true, I reckoned as well-nigh false all that was only probable” (2007, p. 15). His doubt leads Descartes to the “insistence that philosophy should begin with the self and travel outward” (Durant, 1926, 336).
Whatever Descartes’ specific theological positions, his philosophical starting-point is dangerous to faith. Descartes’ project began by trusting in reason to the exclusion of revelation (both natural and special). This procedure is in contrast with Paul’s prescription: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). It falls to the Christian apologist to reason properly about what God has revealed (see Warren, 1982), and to defend the faith against the attacks of doubt. God expects us to use our senses as we come to a knowledge of Him (1 John 1:1-3), so we must critically analyze any approach to knowledge that attempts an overthrow of empiricism. As Wilson noted, Descartes had “a general metaphysical vision of reality, and commitments to a special conception of what the world is like and how it works” (1978, p. 221). We must ask whether that metaphysical vision is consistent with Christianity.


From the foregoing, it is obvious that Descartes became a rationalist. Generally speaking, a rationalist “accepts the supremacy of reason, and aims at establishing a system of philosophy and ethics independent of arbitrary assumptions and authority” (“FAQs,” n.d.). Descartes summarized his rationalist perspective: “[I]t is now manifest to me that bodies themselves are not properly perceived by the senses nor by the faculty of imagination, but by the intellect alone” (2007, p. 88). Descartes sought “an absolute foundation for knowledge by proposing to doubt all things and accept as knowledge (or at least as a foundation for knowledge) only what could not be doubted” (Cannon, 2001, parenthetical item in orig.). For Descartes, this narrowed the field of possible knowledge, leaving only that of which “the light of reason” or “the light of nature” provide assurance (see Markie, 1992, p. 147; cf. Maritain, 1944, pp. 50, 115):
I thought that a procedure exactly the opposite was called for, and that I ought to reject as absolutely false all opinions in regard to which I could suppose the least ground for doubt, in order to ascertain whether after that there remained aught in my belief that was wholly indubitable. Accordingly, seeing that our senses sometimes deceive us, I was willing to suppose that there existed nothing really such as they presented to us; and because some men err in reasoning, and fall into paralogisms (pieces of false reasoning)...I, convinced that I was open to error as any other, rejected as false all the reasonings I had hitherto taken for demonstrations (2007, p. 31, parenthetical item added).
Descartes had been troubled by the recognition that his senses deceived him on occasion. For example, “I considered that the very same thoughts (presentations) which we experience when awake may also be experienced when we are asleep, while there is at that time not one of them true” (2007, p. 31, parenthetical item in orig.; cf. pp. 76-77; cf. Wilson, 1978, pp. 17ff.). Furthermore, “Descartes cannot yet be certain if there are any bodies in existence. Since one cannot ‘sense’ unless there is body present (otherwise it is a dream or a hallucination or a mirage or an illusion)” (Mahon, n.d., parenthetical item in orig.). In examining why his senses deceived him, Descartes proposed the possibility of a deceptive demon. “[S]ome malignant demon, who is at once exceedingly potent and deceitful, has employed all his artifice to deceive me; I will suppose that the sky, the air, the earth, colors, figures, sounds, and all external things, are nothing better than the illusions of dreams, by which this being has laid snares for my credulity” (2007, pp. 78-79).
Descartes had disregarded empirical knowledge entirely (see 2007, p. 79), and settled on the one reality that, he believed, satisfied his radical criterion for truth:
But immediately upon this I observed that, whilst I thus wished to think that all was false, it was absolutely necessary that I, who thus thought, should be somewhat; and as I observed that this truth, I think, therefore I am (COGITO ERGO SUM), was so certain and of such evidence that no ground of doubt, however extravagant, could be alleged by the skeptics capable of shaking it, I concluded that I might, without scruple, accept it as the first principle of the philosophy of which I was in search (p. 31, parenthetical item and emp. in orig.).
Descartes focused on the one thing he believed is certain: that he is a “thinking thing” (2007, p. 84). He explained his rationale further in his Principles: “[W]hile rejecting in this way all those things which we can somehow doubt, and even imagining them to be false, we can indeed easily suppose that there is no God, no heaven, no material bodies; and even that we ourselves have no hands, or feet, in short, no body; yet we do not on that account suppose that we, who are thinking such things, are nothing” (p. 5). Cottingham observed: “The most striking feature about the accounts Descartes himself gives of the Cogito argument is that the certainty involved stems from the fact that the mediator has pushed his doubt to the limit.... [T]he very fact that I am around to entertain the doubt shows that I must exist” (p. 38).
Next, Descartes needed to develop a “permanent system of knowledge” from his theory of doubt (see Cottingham, p. 42). Wilson explained: “The upshot of the argument of the Meditations is that an external physical world can be proved to exist, thus in a sense affirming what everyone ‘knew’ all along; but the proof turns out to be arduous and to require immaterialist premises: people are wrong in thinking the direct evidence of the senses is sufficient” (p. 45). In this process of rebuilding the knowledge he previously deconstructed via radical doubt, Descartes reintroduced God. This move was essential to Descartes’ conviction that material objects exist:
Is there not a God...who causes these thoughts to arise in my mind? But why suppose such a being, for it may be I myself am capable of producing them? ... And in truth, as I have no ground for believing that Deity is deceitful, and as, indeed, I have not even considered the reasons by which the existence of a Deity of any kind is established, the ground of doubt that rests only on this supposition is very slight, and, so to speak, metaphysical (2007, pp. 81,90).
Descartes insisted that of all his perceptions of external objects, including his own body, the notion of God “has certainly in it more objective reality than those ideas by which finite substances are represented,” and that the effects of his perceptions must have correlative causes (2007, pp. 92-93). “And how could the cause communicate to it this reality unless it possessed it in itself? And hence it follows...that the more perfect, in other words, that which contains in itself more reality, cannot be the effect of the less perfect” (p. 93). Since Descartes clearly had an idea of God in his consciousness, and since he believed himself incapable of originating this idea independent of some exterior force on his intellect, then he concluded that that Being caused the idea (see pp. 94-97).
I should not, however, have the idea of an infinite substance, seeing I am a finite being, unless it were given me by some substance in reality infinite.... The idea, I say, of a being supremely perfect, and infinite, is in the highest degree true; for although, perhaps, we may imagine that such a being does not exist, we cannot, nevertheless, suppose that his idea represents nothing real, as I have already said of the idea of cold. It is likewise clear and distinct in the highest degree, since whatever the mind clearly and distinctly conceives as real or true, and as implying any perfection, is contained entire in this idea (pp. 96,97).
Hence Descartes did away with the demon, concluding that it is impossible for God, being perfect, to deceive him (p. 103). “[H]e is no deceiver...” (p. 115).
Having reached a conviction that God is real, Descartes proceeded to claim partial knowledge of material objects by virtue of God’s grace:
I cannot deny that we may have produced many other objects, or at least that he is able to produce them, so that I may occupy a place in the relation of a part to the great whole of his creatures.... And although there are perhaps innumerable objects in the world of which I have no idea in my understanding, it cannot, on that account be said that I am deprived of those ideas as of something that is due to my nature, but simply that I do not possess them, because, in truth, there is no ground to prove that Deity ought to have endowed me with a larger faculty of cognition than he has actually bestowed upon me (p. 105; cf. pp.112-113).
On Descartes’ account, humans can be certain that they possess knowledge only because God exists and can be trusted not to deceive.


Consider three problems with Descartes’ approach to knowledge: First, “Insistence upon a standard of absolute certainty eliminates the middle ground of reasonable evidence. It suggests that if you don’t have complete certainty you have no evidence at all” (Cannon, 2001). Anthony Kenny summarizes this objection: “Few would quarrel with the starting point: it is true that we grow up uncritically accepting many beliefs which may be false. But is it necessary, in order to rectify this, that we should on some occasion call in question all our beliefs? Can we not correct them piecemeal?” (p. 18). If, for example, when I strike my fist against a wall, I have an insufficient level of certainty that the wall is real, then what level of certainty is needed? Human beings necessarily operate on a level of faith in their senses, but that faith is biblical (as we will see), and certainly sufficient for human existence.
Kant points out that the Cogito falls short of proving Descartes’ point, because it also is an empirical notion: “The ‘I think’ is...an empirical proposition, and contains the expression, ‘I exist.’ But I cannot say ‘Everything, which thinks, exists;’ for in this case the property of thought would constitute all beings possessing it, necessary beings. Hence my existence cannot be considered as an inference from the proposition ‘I think,’ as Descartes maintained” (2003, p. 225). Also, Kenny raises the question of identity: “Is not Descartes rash in christening the substance in which the doubts of the Meditations inhere ‘ego’? To be sure, he explains that he is not yet committing himself to any doctrine about the nature of the ego.... But what ‘I’ refers to must at least be distinct from what ‘you’ refers to; otherwise the argument might as well run ‘cogitatur, ergo es’ (“thought exists, therefore, you are”) as ‘cogito ergo sum’ (“I think, therefore I am)” (1968, p. 62, parenthetical items added).
Second, “Insistence upon absolute clarity and distinctness to the skeptical reflecting mind eliminates consideration of any respect in which reality transcends full and determinate representation” (Cannon). Indeed, the very fact that Descartes knew that his senses occasionally “deceived” him, demonstrates that his senses usually (typically) provided him with accurate perceptions. The Bible teaches that we generally can place confidence in our senses, even to the degree of sinning, recognizing the need for salvation, and accessing remission of sins (e.g., Genesis 13:15; Matthew 5:13; Acts 13:44; John 20:24-30; etc.). Descartes’ argument is intelligible only if the illusive nature of dreams, for example, does not inhibit our general understanding of reality. Kant, therefore, emphasizes the need for “sensuous phenomena” in the “empirical world” while recognizing its limitations—even if they are God-given (2003, pp. 42,43,316; 1952, 42:337). In the Fourth Meditation, Descartes would seem to agree: “I have no reason...to think that it was obligatory on [God] to give to each of his works all the perfections he is able to bestow upon some” (2007, p. 105).
In this context, it is remarkable that Descartes moves swiftly from doubting his senses, to relying on them (and problematically placing the seat of empirical knowledge in the pineal gland; see Lockhorst, 2008; cf. Kenny, pp. 225-226):
And as I observed that in the words “I think, therefore I am,” there is nothing at all which gives me assurance of their truth beyond this, that I see very clearly that in order to think it is necessary to exist, I concluded that I might take, as a general rule, the principle, that all things which we very clearly and distinctly conceive are true, only observing, however, that there is some difficulty in rightly determining the objects which we distinctly conceive (2007, p. 32).
Perhaps this occurs because Descartes did not wish to be separated from the reality he knew prior to settling on the Cogito: “Proposing to rebuild one’s knowledge from the ground up because a number of things that once seemed true have become doubtful or false, as Descartes does, is a lot like being in a boat out on the ocean and proposing to abandon ship in order to rebuild the boat from the keel up just because it has developed a few leaks” (Cannon).
Third, Descartes did not provide a convincing reason for his rejection of the possibility that a demon was placing false ideas in his consciousness. Because all of Descartes’ evidence was rational, and none of it was empirical, his basis for thinking that God exists was a “clear and distinct” idea of a Person, “infinite, eternal, immutable, independent, all-knowing, all-powerful” (2007, pp. 96,97). Why could that idea not have been placed in Descartes’ mind by a god who is actually deceitful? Descartes finished where he started, but not prior to attempting an overthrow of empiricism. His pre-existing belief in God rescued Descartes from his own personal skepticism; but what of those readers who find his argument for the existence of God unconvincing? The truth is that God appeals to us by presenting us with biblical and extra-biblical evidence that agrees with our observation and rationality, all of which ultimately are derived from Him (Jeremiah 51:15).


Descartes’ radical doubt, which would entail dispensing with all epistemological knowledge, also would place an insurmountable roadblock to biblical faith. However, his doubt has been shown to be invalid. It is telling that rationalists still maintain a certain scientific epistemology (“FAQs,” n.d.). Perhaps we can hypothesize, with Maritain, that pride ultimately led Descartes to his radical doubt (pp. 33-62):
The pride of human knowledge appears thus as the very substance, solid and resistant, of rationalist hopes. Pride, a dense pride without frivolity or distraction, as stable as virtue, as vast a geometric extension, bitter and restless as the ocean, takes possession of Descartes to such an extent that it would seem the universal form of his interior workings and the principle of all his suffering (p. 56).
This is a stark contrast to Christ’s portrait of those who are pleasing to Him: “Whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:15).
In light of Descartes’ major contributions to modern science and mathematics, it is remarkable that his doubt also led him to a radical distinction between mind and body, which we will not detail or critique here (it has been done elsewhere: see Hatfield, 1992, pp. 335-370; Kenny, 1968, pp. 216-226; Wilson, 1978, pp. 50-99). Ree summarized the necessity for this dualism: “[H]is dualism of mental and physical properties implied that since human beings had minds, they were more than mere parts of an all-engulfing physical universe” (p. 100). The connection between Descartes’ epistemology and his physiology, in light of the biblical doctrine of mind and body, would be the next logical step in this inquiry. [NOTE: Special thanks to Michael R. Young, Ph.D., for help with research.]


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Descartes, René (1952a reprint), Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason, trans. Elizabeth S. Haldane and G.R.T. Ross, ed. Robert M. Hutchins (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago).
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“Hell” is Back In the News by Eric Lyons, M.Min.


“Hell” is Back In the News

by Eric Lyons, M.Min.

In their book Surveying the Religious Landscape: Trends in U.S. Beliefs, George Gallup, Jr. and D. Michael Lindsay reported that a Gallup poll taken in May 1997 showed that only 56% of Americans held a firm conviction in the existence of hell (1999, p. 30). One reason that a growing number of Americans disbelieve in the reality of hell is likely due to its virtual disappearance from our vocabulary. Non-Christians basically use it only as a profane expression. Christians rarely address the subject in their discussions. Sermons on the subject of hell have been in decline for years. One denominational “pastor” was quoted in U.S. News & World Report a few years back, saying: “My congregation would be stunned to hear a sermon on hell” (“Revisiting...,” 1991, 110[11]:60). I once heard the late evangelist Wendell Winkler tell about preaching in a meeting in Oklahoma. After preaching a lesson on hell, the local preacher, who had been in that city for 22 years, told Winkler that in those 22 years, the church there had held 44 gospel meetings (two per year). During those meetings, a total of 527 sermons had been preached. Wendell Winkler’s lesson was said to be the first one on the subject of hell that they had ever heard in those meetings.
Preaching about eternal hell appears to be so rare that when a notable religious leader addresses the issue, it draws attention even from many major media outlets. Recently, Pope Benedict XVI, in a speech delivered outside of Rome, stressed that the impenitent risk “eternal damnation.” Hell “really exists,” he said, “and is eternal, even if nobody talks about it much any more” (as quoted in Owen, 2007). FOX News, the Boston HeraldTimes Online, and the Melbourne Herald Sun are only a few of the media elites who carried this story. “The pope really believes in an eternal hell.”
Warning others about the judgment to come is not popular. Teaching in the streets and churches about an eternal hell is as sparse as rain in the Sahara. Although the papacy itself is unscriptural (see Pinedo, 2005), Christians can appreciate the fact that Benedict XVI would address such a politically incorrect subject. Truly, it is high past time for faithful Christians around the world to get back to teaching a truth that Jesus and the Bible writers repeatedly taught: hell is real and eternal (Matthew 5:22; 25:41,46; Mark 9:43; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9).


Gallup, George Jr. and Michael Lindsay (1999), Surveying the Religious Landscape: Trends in U.S.Beliefs (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing).
Owen, Richard (2007), “The Fires of Hell are Real and Eternal, Pope Warns,” TimesOnline, March 27, [On-line], URL: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article1572646.ece.
Pinedo, Moises (2005), “The Pope, the Papacy, and the Bible,” Apologetics Press, [On-line], URL:http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2724.
“Revisiting the Abyss,” (1991), U.S. News & World Report, 110[11]:60, March 25.