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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Emotional Immaturity?

As I type this OU's defense just gave up another touchdown to Texas Tech. OU finally had the opportunity to control their own destiny when it comes to being national champions again, but in their first game with this new found status they blow it. Sure they could come back and win the game, but that is highly unlikely. What does that mean? Well, it means we've blown it again.

After much yelling at the t.v. I've calmed down and am beginning to accept the fact that there's zero chance for us to win it all this year. Turning off the t.v. and turning on some classical music has done much to lower my blood pressure and bring me back to something of a clear mind. But now, there's something bigger that is beginning to bother me. Why is it that I have so little control over my emotions when it comes to things of no lasting value?

Sure another National Champions sign would look good at Gaylord Memorial Stadium, but does that really matter when we think about it? Florida won the national championship game last year and no one really cares anymore. That was last year. I think any rational person would recognize the little importance of winning games, and I like to think I'm a rational person, yet I still get entirely too carried away in following my favorite sports teams.

This horrific loss at Tech (like all OU losses) causes me to ask all sorts of question about my own spiritual and emotional life. The first one that often comes up I've already alluded to above. Why do my emotions run out of control when my team loses a game? If I was still 16 or 17 I could just chalk it up to my young age, but at 27 that's no excuse. I'm beginning to think that though I've grown older, I haven't grown in maturity. When I think of the man I'd like to become, I never envision him reacting this way to a football game. Are there deeper issues lying under the surface that I need to deal with?

A second question that has begun to haunt me is closely related to the first. Why is it that I don't get this upset at the sin in my own life or its effects in other people's lives? No matter how angry I get, I can't do anything to make OU football or Dallas Maverick basketball any better. I want to, believe me I want to scream at Stoops to JUST GIVE MURRAY THE BALL, but of course I can't. What if instead of being so angry at our losing a game what if I were angry at the things that anger God? Perhaps I could make use of that energy and do something about it. Perhaps my anger would drive me to pray more, study harder, and engage God with all that I am, all the time. Perhaps it would lead me to do something about those being exploited and oppressed. Perhaps it would motivate me to put to use the gifts and abilities that God gave me.

But instead, I just throw the remote at the couch and yell.

God, please forgive me and give me the strength to look deep within myself and begin to search for the answers to these very questions. Amen.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Reaping what you sow

Last night at my small group we looked at Luke 1, (specifically the passage about Elizabeth being barren). This started a discussion about reaping what you sow and determining which bad events in life are the result of punishment and which are of testing. On the way home I started thinking about this a bit more and realized that there's an easy way to explain Luke's point (and Jesus' in John) using simple laws of logic.

Logic tells us the way we can appropriately think about the world. Logic is rooted in the nature of God, meaning that even God obeys laws of logic. That may surprise some of you, but it's really no different from saying that God couldn't make 2+3 = 97. This isn't a limit on God in any way, just the way any rational being's mind works. For example, imagine I say something like, "If it is raining outside, then the streets are wet." If you look outside and see that it is raining then you'll know that the streets are wet. To make it easier to see the structure of this argument we can put it into what is called standard form.

1. If it is raining outside, then the streets are wet.
2. It is raining outside.
3. Therefore, the streets are wet.

This type of reasoning will always guarantee the conclusion. If premise 1 is true, then any time it is raining the streets will be wet. However, sometimes people reason incorrectly like this:

1. If it is raining outside, then the streets are wet.
2. The streets are wet.
3. Therefore, it is raining outside.

Why is this a case of poor reasoning? Because there is no guarantee that the conclusion is true. The streets might be wet because someone isn't very good at aiming their lawn sprinklers. The conclusion might be true, but there is no guarantee. Okay, now that we've gone over a bit of basic logic, we can see that even Jesus used this type of reasoning. But first, let's revisit what we know about the principle of sowing and reaping. There are many references to this principle throughout Scripture, so I'm going to assume you know what I have in mind. We can present the principle the same way we presented the argument about the streets being wet when it rains.

1. If you sow bad things, you will reap bad things.
2. When you sin, you sow bad things.
3. Therefore, at some point you will reap bad things.

Here again, this will always produce a true conclusion if premise 1 is true. Now, recall that in John chapter 9 the disciples and Jesus come across a man born blind. They asked Jesus whether it was this man's sin or his parents' sin that caused him to be born blind. The disciples understood the principle of sowing and reaping. If you sow bad things, you'll reap bad things. But, they were guilty of fallacious reasoning and Jesus pointed it out to them. We can put this into the same form as we did above.

1. If you sow bad things, you will reap bad things
2. The man's being born blind is a bad thing.
3. Therefore, either the man or his parents sowed bad things.

To refute the disciples argument, Jesus gives them a counterexample. He responds that it was neither the man's sin nor his parents' sin, but that he was born blind so God could be glorified. Jesus recognized that their argument does not guarantee the truth of the conclusion and he provided an example showing that it doesn't. Just as it might be true that because we know the streets are wet that it is raining, it might be true that being blind is the result of sowing bad things. But Jesus' point is that there is no guarantee. It could be that I don't know how to use a sprinkler very well and it could be that God had another reason for the man being born blind.

In conclusion, we know from Scripture that we reap what we sow (both good and bad). But that does not mean we can determine why someone is going through what they are. It could be that it is the result of the principle of sowing and reaping or it could be because God desires that he be glorified and revealed to his creation.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Driscoll, the Bible, and Interpretation

I recently read a friend's post concerning a video of Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA. (See the video here and my friend's blog here.) Just for a little context, in the video Driscoll is bemoaning the fact that so many churches are tackily designed, boring, and effeminate, Well, actually he says the reason they are tacky, boring, etc is because they are effeminate.

I think my friend has done a great job responding to such a ridiculous claim, and you should visit her site to read it. I want to focus on one part of that response. She notes that Driscoll is aware of the fact the he often offends people with comments like 'the church in bad shape because of emasculated men' . His response to this fact has been something like, "Dude, this is what Jesus said." So the claim is if Jesus says something then I shouldn't shy away from saying it too. I don't think that is problematic, but what is problematic is figuring out what Jesus meant.

For example, Jesus said "Turn the other cheek." Now if I go around saying that all the time, people are going to want to know what I mean by that. Unfortunately, Jesus didn't leave behind a copy of his systematic theology (and no, it wasn't a first edition Grudem!). If you've listened to even a brief conversation between a pacifist and non-pacifist, you'll realize that there is a huge debate in figuring out what Jesus meant when he said to turn the other cheek. (And given that Driscoll advocates beating up the bully of a playground, I'm sure he'd recognize the tension. See the Christianity Today article here.)

Driscoll's "Dude this is what Jesus said" comment highlights a major problem for the church today. There are many today that are likely to say something very similar. Usually it's conveyed in the evangelical maxim, "the Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it." Unfortunately, that usually won't work. If we take that as our maxim, then there should be very few men with both eyes. Jesus said if your eye brings you to sin, then pluck it out. Well, we also know that if a man looks at a woman with lust in his heart, then he has committed adultery, which is a sin. So, if a man lustfully looks at a woman, then he has sinned. How did he go about looking at that woman? With his eyes. Therefore, he should pluck them out.

Not many would agree that this is the best way to interpret those passages. But notice, you're agreeing for the need of interpretation. That's a lot more than just saying "the Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it." So, the next time you try to prove a point by using scripture, make sure that you've done your homework and have reasons for thinking that was the intended meaning.

I'll end this with a bit of a homework assignment. Luke 6:38 says, "Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." Read that verse in context (the verses before and after it) and then try to convince me that it has anything at all to do with money. If you subscribe to the "the Bible says it" mentality, then you're likely to think it does. But, you would be wrong.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Barry Bonds and Bad Arguments

Just in case you've been under a rock the last couple of years, there's a lot of controversy surrounding Barry Bonds. He recently hit his 755th home run which ties him with Hank Aaron for the all time mark, and will soon hit 756. These last few weeks, listening to sports talk radio has been a virtual smorgasbord of bad reasoning. Since I'm about to start teaching a critical reasoning class in the fall, I thought I'd take a few minutes to highlight a few examples of bad reasoning that have been quite prevalent lately.

On ESPN Radio, I recently heard Amy Lawrence make an argument that went basically like this:

"Barry Bonds has never failed a steroids test. There is no proof that Bonds used steroids, so you can't tell me that he did. In fact, if you say Bonds did use, then you've got to also say that everyone else used. We don't have evidence that Alex Rodriguez didn't use steroids so we can't know that he didn't."

Now I don't want to just sit here and bash on Lawrence because a lot of other people have made similar arguments, but this one is particularly bad because of the second argument about Rodriguez inserted at the end. Here's why her argument is bad on a variety of levels.
  1. Lawrence assumes that the only type of evidence is scientific evidence. If I think you've cheated in some way, then, according to Lawrence, the only way I can prove it is if there is a scientific test I can administer that'll come back with certain results. The problem with this should be obvious. We make judgments all the time without scientific evidence. A couple gets divorced because one has good reason to think the other is cheating. No scientific evidence needed. A parent grounds the oldest child for tormenting the younger one. No scientific evidence needed. In both cases, all that is rationally needed is good reasons to think the spouse is cheating or the older child is being a brat.

    Now, are there other types of evidence available that gives us good reason to think Barry Bonds cheated? Of course. First, just look at the guy. The old eye test does wonders. Men over 35 don't magically grow larger heads. He doesn't just have a more muscular body, his head has actually gotten bigger (and you just thought it was his ego). That's part of what human growth hormone (HGH) does to you. Secondly, there's a book, The Game of Shadows, that details his usage with transcripts from informants, patterns of usage, dosages, etc. that clearly indicate he was using. Of course, the authors could've made it all up, but I haven't heard one word from someone contradicting the evidence they provide. Finally, and the most damning in my opinion, is the fact that he admitted to using steroids under oath. Even if he didn't know "the cream" and "the clear" were steroids (both of which he admitted to using), that doesn't mean he didn't use them. ("I'm sorry officer, I didn't know this grass I was smoking is marijuana" usually doesn't work.) The question shouldn't be if he was using steroids, it should be if he knew he was using steroids.

    All this doesn't just apply to Lawrence, these are all mistakes many people make when discussing the Barry Bonds and steroids issue. Next we'll see a less common mistake (less common because it's much worse).

  2. Amy Lawrence suggests that if we say Bonds used steroids without "evidence," then there's no way to prevent someone from saying the same thing about Alex Rodriguez (A-Rod). This is a really bad argument because it boils down to nothing more than an argument from ignorance. The argument goes something like this:

    "We don't know that A-Rod didn't use steroids. Therefore, we can't say that he didn't."

    In my critical reasoning class I teach the students that one way of refuting an argument is by logical analogy. Pretty much, you come up with a different argument that has the same structure that leads to an obviously wrong conclusion. So, let's do that with Lawrence's bad argument about A-Rod.

    "We don't know that giant invisible martians don't live on the moon and control everything we do. Therefore, we can't say that giant invisible martians don't live on the moon and control everything we do."

    Same argument structure, crazy conclusion. So, we've seen that each part of her argument is flawed, but there's another problem with the big picture.

  3. In arguing about Bonds, Lawrence sets up a false dichotomy. A false dichotomy is an argument that tries to make a person choose 1 of 2 options when there is really more than those 2 options. Here's how she committed this fallacy.

    Option 1: We don't say Bonds used steroids.
    Option 2: We do say he used steroids & have to say the same thing about A-Rod.

    Lawrence leaves out the fact that we can say Bonds used steroids even though we don't have a positive steroid test because we have other good reasons to say he did use them. The reasons we can say Bonds used steroids do not apply to A-Rod (doesn't look abnormally large or have a growing head, but instead looks like a professional athlete would look given his workout regimen, there's no detailed book giving other reasons to think he used, and he's never admitted to unknowingly using in court).

So, thank you Amy Lawrence for providing me with many great examples of poor reasoning. After first hearing these really bad arguments I thought I'd just put in a CD whenever you fill in for someone, but now I think I'll stay tuned in to see what other examples of poor reasoning you provide.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Governmental Inefficiencies

We've all heard the talk about how inefficient big governments are. Disgust at the amount of money it takes to accomplish even the smallest tasks and horror at the unknown amount of pure waste are common among most people today. Usually these things can only be pointed out by looking through vast amounts of paperwork and interviewing countless people (signs of yet more government inefficiency). Yesterday, however, one could see the wasted money fly right out the window.

As I opened up my first copy of The Economist (and the first of only six copies because continuing on after this free trial period is just to dang expense for a graduate student) I decided to see what was on the television. Somehow the channel ended up on C-SPAN and I was able to witness the most ridiculous government spectacle I've yet to see with my own eyes. In the House of Representatives there was a debate about a controversial piece of legislation that would allow the federal government to purchase contraceptives and send them to poor and underdeveloped countries as part of foreign aid. The controversy arose because many of these countries, which were previously and specifically excluded, also endorse abortion as a means of family planning. The Republicans didn't want the public's tax money to be spent on abortion in any way. The Democrats didn't think this sending contraceptives to these countries would do that because there is specific language specifying that no U.S. money could be used on abortion or abortion promotion.

I'l try my best to capture the essence of this debate:

Democratic party representative: "This bill does not approve spending on abortion overseas. It approves sending contraceptives overseas. We are not exporting abortion. Instead we are allowing these poor women and children a chance for a better life by preventing unplanned pregnancies. The Republicans say that they support family planning, well this is your chance to do just that. Vote yes for this bill."

Republican party representative: "By providing contraceptives to agencies that promote abortion as a method of family planning, we are allowing that agency to free up money previously spent on contraceptives and spend more on abortion and promoting abortion. They no longer need to spend the money on contraceptives because we're giving them to the agency for free. Therefore, they will have more money in their budget to do exactly what the American people don't want them to do, promote and practice abortion."

And then after this brilliant back and forth between parties, another person from the Democratic party comes to the microphone and gives the exact same argument the previous Democrat gave. Of course this infuriates the Republicans so they have to respond. Fortunately for them, another Republican representative comes to the microphone and gives the exact argument the previous Republican gave. Right now the American people have a very low level of confidence in the U.S. Congress and I think this is why. Why can't more legislation be discussed and passed in each session? Because evidently no one in Congress has an attention span longer than 15 minutes. If no one has anything new to say, then why not just move on and vote?

That would be the sensible thing to do, but then all the representatives that didn't get to speak at first wouldn't be able to post their repetitive diatribe on their own little websites for their constituents to see. I know, if you want to report back to your district that you were active, then come up with a new convincing argument that actually advances the discussion!

Economists are always able to (somehow) put a value dollar on time wasted. For example, they'll tell you so many millions of dollars are wasted on employees playing solitaire at work. I wonder how much money was wasted yesterday on high level government employees grandstanding with the same argument a colleague just gave?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Clinton & Other Dems on Terrorism

I'm not sure if I've ever said this before, but I think Senator Clinton is right (well, at least about one thing). In the New York Times there is an article describing the widespread disagreement between Clinton and other Democratic hopefuls about whether or not the United States is safer now than before 9/11. Clinton's position is basically this, we are safer now than we were before, but because of Bush's bumblings in Iraq and other places, we're clearly not safe enough. What appears to be everyone else's position on the issue, because Bush's bumbling in Iraq has created more terrorists, we are now less safe than before 9/11.

Now I'm undecided if the lack of terrorist attacks on the U.S. since 9/11 means we are safer, though I do think our knowledge of foiled attacks does signify something. But what I think is really queer is how many of the Democratic hopefuls jump from the possibility of there being more terrorists to the reality that the U.S. is less safe. I'm convinced it's just a red herring that the Dems hope will give them another chance to blast another Bush policy. I think their argument for us being less safe would go like this:
  1. Terrorists were a threat to the U.S. before 9/11.
  2. Since 9/11 Bush has invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, and in doing so, has created more terrorists.
  3. If there are more terrorists in the world, then there are more people with a desire to harm the U.S.
  4. More people that desire to harm the U.S. means that the U.S. is less safe now than before 9/11.
  5. Therefore, Bush has once again screwed up America and despite all his efforts, we are less safe.
This may not be exactly how their argument goes, but from reading accounts of last night's debate, it sure seems like it's the gist of it. So why do I think appealing to the idea that there are more terrorists now than before is a red herring? Well, notice that in the argument above there is no mention about improved methods for thwarting terrorist attacks. Let's say the rate of inflation continues at about 4-5%. Inflation stinks because if you own a home, if its appreciation rate is not outpacing inflation, then you're losing money (you know, given insurance, maintenance costs, and interest on the mortgage). But, if the appreciation of your home is outpacing inflation, then it's not as bad as it could be. I think you see the analogy. If there are more terrorists today, but the U.S.'s efforts at thwarting attacks has 'outpaced' the growth of terrorists, then we are safer. Notice this doesn't mean having more terrorists is a good thing, it just means that having more terrorists doesn't automatically mean we are less safe. The failure of most of the candidates to even address the fact that most agencies at home and abroad are more effective now is just an attempt to discredit everything Bush does.

I'm not sure if I'll ever say this again, but, Senator Clinton, I think you're right.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

A brief update

Okay, so it's been almost a month since I've posted last...oops. Things have been really crazy for me and the wife, but in a good way. In may we spent one weekend in Chicago, one in Springfield, MO, one in San Francisco and one in Sacramento. Wow! I'm now teaching an intro to philosophy class at OU and it's going to kick my butt. It meets Monday through Friday, so I have to prepare lectures every night! I hope to get a few days of lectures prepared in advance, and then can get back to blogging. Here are some neat pics from our trips.

From Travel

The pic above was taking at a really neat coffee shop on Michigan Ave in Chicago. I tried to convince the owner that he should open one up in Norman, but I'm not sure if he bought the idea.

From Travel

This is, in my opinion, the best used bookstore ever. Green Apple Books has an amazing selection of books, and they are very organized. Within their philosophy section, they had all sorts of sub-sections. It was great, I got to just jump right past all that continental stuff! Click the 'travel' link underneath either picture to go to my album with lots more pics from our trip.