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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.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

My General Exam & Defense

Last week I took my general exam and yesterday gave a defense of my answers. Well, I passed and am now an official candidate for the doctoral degree. (That sounds so cool.) When talking with people about this exam, many weren't too sure what the exam was like and what types of answers the exam committee expected. So, I've decided to do a series of posts where I'll present one of the questions I answered and then give my response (in a truncated form). Because I still have to finish a paper for my Kant seminar by tomorrow, this post will only contain the questions that I answered. I'll start posting my responses next week.
  1. Discuss one of the three traditional classes of argument for theism: The Ontological Argument, the Cosmological argument, and the Teleological Argument. In your discussion present at least two forms of the argument-- a classical form and a contemporary form. The latter may be a version of your own invention, but it should be the best version you know of. Evaluate the argument. Discuss the issue of whether the traditional arguments have any use for religion as a practice.
  2. Present the argument that infallible foreknowledge seems to entail the non-existence of human free will. Give at least three traditional compatibilist solutions to the problem and briefly evaluate them. Present your own evaluation of the argument.
  3. What is meant by religious exclusivism? What is meant by religious inclusivism? Distinguish inclusivism/exclusivism about truth and inclusivism/exclusivism about salvation. Explain the theory of religious diversity John Hick calls pluralism. How is it meant to circumvent the unappealing aspects of both exclusivism and inclusivism about the truth of different religions? How well does Hick succeed? Discuss some of the objections raised to Hick’s theory.
  4. Distinguish the logical and evidential problems of evil. Carefully explain the most compelling version of the Free Will defense. Discuss the prospects for a version of this response as a plausible way out of both problems.
Well, I'm now off to start working on that last paper. I'm very excited about the thought of not having any more term papers after this one. I guess you could consider the dissertation as one big term paper, but that takes all the fun out of it.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Problem of Hell?

I was talking with a good friend (his website) last night about the problem of evil and how it relates to Christian theology. I'm starting to think that an adequate answer (solution?) to the problem of evil has to rely on specific Christian resources. For those unfamiliar with the problem, I'll briefly state it. It seems that the following are inconsistent (either logically, or at least probably inconsistent):
  1. God is omnipotent
  2. God is wholly good
  3. Evil exists
If God is wholly good he would want to eliminate evil and if he is omnipotent he could eliminate evil, but yet we experience (or hear of) evil all the time. I think this poses the greatest challenge to Christian theism, but also think there are good responses to the problem.

In the philosophical discussions it is often tempting to try to resolve this problem without appealing to specific Christian doctrines, but I think that is a mistake. There aren't many who believe in a God that is just omnipotent and wholly good and know nothing else of him or his plan for this world. So, it seems that the problem is directed toward Christian theists and so it should be acceptable to appeal to certain Christian understandings of justice and eschatology in giving an answer to the problem.

During our discussion last night my friend pointed out that many people are glad they exist even if they have experienced a great amount of evil. I think that is a really important thing to keep in mind. Sure, person X may have experienced a lot of evil, but if X thinks it is better for him to have existed than not, is the problem of evil still as pressing? I wonder how many people would say they really wish they were never born. (On a side note, it would be interesting to study the psychology of a suicidal person. Do they wish they were never born, or just that they don't want to go on living? I think an answer to that will play a role.) As I was reflecting about last night's conversation I began to wonder how this would fit into the Christian's understanding of hell.

I guess if I'm willing to appeal to Christian theology to respond to the problem of evil I also need to deal with difficult parts of that same Christian theology. I'm not exactly sure what the orthodox understanding of hell is, but I'm pretty sure it's not literally fire & brimstone. Either way, it's not a place that anyone would want to be (regardless of their jokes about it). No matter how much evil a person inflicts on earth, eternal punishment for that temporal evil seems to be a bit of an overkill. At some point, would it actually have been better for the person in hell to not have existed? Even if people experiencing evil on earth still are glad they exist, would the person in hell feel the same way? Is the fact that they are in hell because they rejected God and not because they committed evils relevant? My intuitions lead me to think they would not want to have existed at all instead of spending eternity in hell, but that's just my intuitions talking. This, of course, leads to the discussion about whether a wholly good being could annihilate his creation and still be wholly good. The two questions are closely connected, but I just don't know what to say about either at this point.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Maybe a better understanding of what hell is (and not just what it isn't) would help resolve the problem, but I'm not sure.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Arguments, Truth, and the Church

At some point we all need to learn how to evaluate that which we believe and ascertain whether or not our beliefs are worth holding. In talking with a friend a while back, we decided that many within the Church have a general distrust of reflection and critical evaluation and so never examine their own beliefs. This is quite an unfortunate phenomenon and has especially troubled me the last few months. More recently, I’ve come to believe that one of the major causes for this sad state of affairs is fear. Many people are afraid that they are wrong and that the positions they hold will be exposed as fallacious. Exacerbating the problem is the place of importance these positions typically hold. However, all is not lost. This fear of being wrong (or of argumentation in general) can be removed once people begin to understand that it is a good thing to discover the ways in falsehood has crept into our belief system.

First, we need to have a better understanding of what an argument is. When I talk of arguments or argumentation, I most certainly don’t mean the screaming and yelling matches that you had with your siblings (hopefully just when you were younger!). What I do mean is the methodical laying out and examination of one’s positions. This alone can resolve tensions between two apparently different positions. If you tell me, “God is omnipotent and so can create square circles” and I say “God is omnipotent and yet cannot create square circles” you are likely to accuse me of not really believing in God’s omnipotence. But, once I present my argument in a more structured way, you will likely see why I affirm God’s omnipotence and yet deny his ability to create square circles.

Now that we’ve seen what I’m not referring to, we can talk about some tips for considering other people’s arguments. First, it is imperative that you listen to the person state his position and remain open to the idea that you are wrong and not him. This humility is likely to create an environment where you are actually trying to understand his position and not just look for a way to squeeze in your thoughts about why he is wrong. Second, learn how to state the other position in a way that is acceptable to the other person. This forces you to ‘get’ their position. Once I understood why someone would be a Calvinist, I stopped thinking they’re just crazy. If you can only restate the position in a ridiculous or question-begging way, then you’re not actually dealing with that position but instead a caricature of something someone holds dear. I think these are simple practices that we should always try to keep in mind no matter who we are dealing with, but I think they are mandatory when discussing issues within the Church. Christ prayed for his Church to be one, and today we are far from that. As we obtain truth about God and his relationship with us, we will see denominational differences begin to fade.

You’ve no doubt noticed a lot of talk about ‘truth’. At this point you might even ask why should we bother with this outdated notion of truth. Why not just keep on marching along in what we already know? Well, because if we deny that there is truth that we can obtain, it seems we also deny that we have the ability to know God and about him. John Polkinghorne has said, “If God is the god of truth, then the more truth we have, the greater understanding we have; the more we are learning about God.” Understanding that knowing truth is knowing God will do wonders to alleviate the fear of being wrong. Why is that? Because being ‘right’ is just simply overrated. Once you know that you’re right (or think you know), you no longer need to learn any more about your own positions or about those of others. If you are humble enough to recognize that you might be wrong, then you’ll continue to seek the deeper understanding that ultimately results in a deeper knowledge of God.

Not only should we be open to the idea of being wrong, if we come to learn that we indeed are wrong, we should rejoice. False beliefs ultimately lead us astray from the God of truth, and so we should be glad when we are able to remove them from our lives. So, if in reading this you find that I’m mistaken about certain things, great! Please, take the time to point out my errors to me so I may seek to remove them and find that which may appropriately take their place. Blessings.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Can I Ever Know?

I seek but do not find that which plagues my mind
Night after night, book after book, I’ve searched it all and have nowhere to look
Most simply say, “close your eyes and walk by faith”,
but my mind won’t stop racing
my mind won’t stop racing

Can I ever know? Or is my search pointless?
Can I ever know? Are my efforts fruitless?
Is it a waste of time? I long for answers so hard to find.
My soul is weary, my soul is weary

Though it can cause tremendous pain, the ability to choose is a beautiful thing
His knowledge and our freedom combine? That understanding so hard to define
Most simply say, “close your eyes and walk by faith”,
but my heart won’t stop bleeding
my heart won’t stop bleeding

Can I ever know? Or is this search in vain?
Can I ever know? Will he stop the pain?
Is it a waste of time? I long for answers so hard to find
My soul is weary, my soul is weary

The final answers I may not discover, but light from dark I can discern
His truth is there to know, when I give of myself and begin to learn
I must respond and say, “use your mind and search for truth”,
And I know he’ll guide me
I know he’ll guide me

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Some miscellaneous updates

I don't have a terrible amount of time, but thought I would take a few minutes to give everyone some updates on past postings.
  1. I have previously posted about how difficult doing philosophy can be. Well, I believe that to be true more than ever. I am currently working on what will probably turn out to be the most difficult paper of my philosophical career. Who would've thought it'd take more time to write a 6-7 paper than other papers that were 15-20 pages? In sum, Kant is not a good writer and almost impossible to figure out.
  2. In regards to a post a couple weeks back about the ban of incandescent bulbs, I just thought it was interesting to note that there are a few countries that have taken the same step. Which countries? Cuba and Venezuela. Yes, that's right. Fidel Castro and his buddy Hugo Chavez have banned incandescent bulbs. While I don't think the California ban would be implemented the same way (government ordered teens went into people's homes and removed the bulbs themselves... I don't see a bunch of people ransacking SoCal homes to take out the incandescent bulbs), I do think our continuous progress toward socialism is a bad thing. I don't want to commit the genetic fallacy here, but it is interesting that our public policy is starting to look more and more like certain socialist countries. (Well, maybe it's not the genetic fallacy if we're talking about socialism. I can just argue against that outright.)
  3. My wife is an amazing person. Most of you already know that, but I just thought I'd take the time to say it myself for those that don't know. She has so much on her plate and yet continues to be supportive of me and my goals. I'm often impressed.

That's all for now, my paper is due on Friday and hope to give some more substantive updates once that's over.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Why the Bible Doesn’t Matter (at least sometimes)

I’ve been listening to quite a bit of commentary following Tim Hardaway’s recent comments that he hates gay people. For those of you that haven’t heard, Hardaway was asked on a Miami area sports radio show what his thoughts were about having a teammate that is gay. He made some remarks that seemed a bit bigoted and when asked if he understood those were homophobic, bigoted remarks, he responded by saying “I hate gay people.” Much of the commentary I’ve heard on a local radio station has focused on how the Bible condemns homosexuality and even though the way Hardaway expressed his view is questionable, he is right in saying that homosexuality is wrong. Their basis for why homosexuality is wrong is that the Bible condemns it. Well, I want to argue that, in this situation, what the Bible has to say about homosexuality doesn’t matter.

First, it’s not at all clear that Hardaway based his comments on the Bible. In fact, I think it’s clear that his comments were not based on the Bible. So the biblical passages that refer to homosexuality don’t matter in this context because they were never appealed to in the first place.

Some may respond by saying that even if Hardaway didn’t appeal to the Bible in his comments, he could have made such an appeal. In fact, some have even said that he should have made an appeal to the relevant Biblical passages. This leads naturally to my second point. Even if Hardaway (or anyone for that matter) does have a case that the Bible condemns homosexuality he should not have appealed to that case. Why? Because what the Bible says about homosexuality is completely irrelevant when discussing the issue with people that don’t believe in the Bible. I understand that some may be bothered by this statement so let me explain a bit further.

When making a case for or against some issue, it is important to make that case with premises that all parties find agreeable. Please allow me to illustrate. Imagine you and a friend are playing in a field behind both your houses. You see a tree and decide to climb that tree. Tree climbing is a hobby you developed with your father and would now like to climb that tree. Your friend tells you, “Don’t climb that tree!” to which you ask “Why?” Now if your friend responds by saying “Well, my daddy said to not climb this tree, so you shouldn’t climb the tree” do you have any obligation to comply? Of course not. What reason do you have to comply with the commands given by an authority (her father) that you don’t recognize? Now if your instead friend replied by saying, “All the other children that have climbed this tree have fallen and hurt themselves very badly” then it might make sense to not climb that tree. Does the situation change if instead of a friend in the field with you it is a sibling and your sibling said “Don’t climb that tree because Dad said not to”? Yes that does change things and in a very important way. Why? Because now both people recognize the same person as a common authority.

So how does that apply to debating whether or not homosexuality is a good thing to practice? Well, if you say, “Don’t engage in homosexual activities because the Bible says it is a sin” but the person doesn’t believe in the Bible, then you are no different than the friend that expects you to obey her dad. Now if both parties agree that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and a guide to daily living, then it is perfectly acceptable to appeal to the Bible as your authority on the subject.

Does this mean that the Christian should remain silent about the potential or actual harms of homosexuality? Of course not. There are two things open for the Christian to do. One is to engage the other person about why he or she should accept the Bible as the standard for daily living. This would be like the friend in the example going on to say, “Well, my dad is a fireman and the last time someone got hurt climbing this tree all the firemen decided it was too dangerous for anyone to climb.” This would be an attempt to show why, in this case, you should accept the authority of her dad. The second thing you can do is make your case against homosexuality without referring to the Bible. Why do you think the Bible seems to prohibit homosexuality? (I use ‘seems’ because not everyone reading this will agree it does, but even those people would agree with what follows.) Well, certain behaviors prevent people from living the best life possible. That is true whether or not you believe in God or the Bible. If you show how those behaviors prevent the best life without appealing to the Bible, then whomever you are talking with cannot just say, “Well, I don’t believe in the Bible and so I have no reason to obey its commands.”

I do think such a case can be made. If you’re interested in some books that make a case against homosexuality (among other things) without appealing to Scripture, let me know. There are also some great books that will help you know why people should believe in the Bible’s trustworthiness and reliability. Those types of books may help you with your ability to convince those that don’t trust the Bible that they should.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A Scholar's Prayer

Lord and Savior, true and kind, be the master of my mind;
Bless and guide and strengthen still all my powers
of thought and will. While I ply the scholar’s task,
Jesus be near; I ask; Help the memory,
clear the brain, knowledge still to seek and gain.

Bishop of Durham H.G.C. Moule

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Sooner Sports

Well, I think the transition is finally over. Last week I found myself rooting for the OU Sooners over the OSU Cowboys in round two of this year's Bedlam series. Many of you know that I grew up an OSU fan and have always rooted for them to win. This was especially true in basketball because they were almost always pretty good (at least) in basketball. Football was always an up and down thing. They'd be good for a few years and then bad for a few. So I never got too attached to their football program, but still always rooted for them to be OU each year. Their basketball program, on the other hand, I was much more attached to.

About a year and half ago I started a Ph.D. program at OU and found myself rooting for them more and more. I decided that I had no real reason for rooting for OSU but had plenty of reasons to root for OU. Growing up I pretty much liked to annoy my older brother so I started pulling for OSU. It eventually stuck. Now that I'm getting paid by OU to get my doctoral degree and live a mile from campus, it's hard not to root for them. The first year was difficult to root for OU against OSU in football, but the national implications of the game made it a bit easier to do so. I couldn't bring myself to root against OSU in basketball though, but that all changed this year. I started watching the OU/OSU game and just found myself cheering when OU would hit a shot or make a defensive stand. It was amazing. I really don't know what happened. I guess it's just that Sooner Magic wearing of on me.

I know many of you Cowboy fans are greatly disappointed in me. Well, I'm sorry. I don't know what to say. I didn't really intend to start rooting for the Sooners, it just started happening. Maybe this is an example showing that our beliefs are not under our direct voluntary control.

Go Sooners!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Bye bye to the bulb?

Yesterday I ran across the article Might California ban the old bulb? on Yahoo! and am really ticked off about it. For those that aren't familiar with the story, let me briefly inform you. Assemblyman Lloyd Levine (Dem-CA) is attempting to ban traditional incandescent light bulbs in the state of California. Levine states that incandescent bulbs use more energy and produce less light than new florescent bulbs. The bill would prohibit the sell of incandescent bulbs by the year 2012.

Why does this bother me so much? Well, because I think it's just one more example of the growing influence of the government into not just our personal lives, but into the free market system itself. It may be true that incandescent bulbs are less efficient than florescent bulbs. It may be true that in the long run florescent bulbs cost less than incandescent bulbs. That does mean that the government has the right to tell consumers what they have to buy. Let me show you buy analogy what this amounts to.

No one will question the fact hat a Honda Civic gets better gas mileage than a Chevrolet Silverado. It costs less to operate and will probably outlast the Silverado. Over a span of 10 years, the Civic is better for the environment and costs less for the consumer. Does that mean the government should be able to tell consumers they can only buy Civics? Of course not, and no sane politician would make that claim (though I believe a few have come close to it). Why does a person have the right to choose to buy a Silverado? Because we have a free-market economy that lets people spend their money on products of their choosing. A Civic just won't do the job of a Silverado and many people just think that pickup trucks are more aesthetically pleasing than small sedans.

Back to the bulbs. Florescent bulbs simply don't do the job of incandescent ones in certain situations. Often times the light has a different 'feel' to it and some people genuinely don't like how florescent bulbs light certain areas. Some don't like the fact that it takes awhile for the bulb to 'heat up'. In our kitchen we have a florescent bulb over the sink and the first 5 minutes or so, everything looks yellow. Unless I'm doing dishes, I don't usually spend more than 5 minutes over the sink, and so, the whole time I'm there, everything looks yellow. I don't mind it, but mostly because I'm cheap and want to save money. That's my decision I get to make on my own. If it really bothered me, I want to be able to go buy an incandescent bulb and get 'true' light as soon as I flip the light switch. Some people just don't like the aesthetic of the spiral light and prefer an actual bulb. These are all good reasons why someone should be able to choose to continue buying incandescent bulbs. If they want to spend the extra money and replace bulbs more often, that's their choice.

Once the cost of purchasing florescent bulbs goes down, I'm sure more people will decide to buy them. We haven't replaced every bulb with florescent ones yet because it's pretty expensive to buy a bunch of florescent bulbs. True, once we do we shouldn't have to replace them again for 10 years or so, but that doesn't change the fact that we don't have the money to spend on replacing every bulb in our house. This leads to something I find quite interesting. At Assemblyman Levine's website, he states that electric companies give away florescent bulbs because it's cheaper for them to give them away than have their plants power incandescent bulbs. (If I lived in California I would probably take the electric company up on their offer.) I'm sure that those without a lot of money are really grateful for the chance to get these bulbs for free. But, does Levine really think that will continue once it's mandated that people buy florescent bulbs? What incentive would the electric companies have to give them away if they know as soon as the incandescent bulbs burn out, people will have to buy new florescent ones?

In sum, I think it's really dangerous for the government to continue making these types of inroads into the personal decisions of the American population. The free market depends on the power of people to choose where and on what they want to spend their money. If saving energy is so vital to the electric companies, let them decide how they want to convince people to switch over. If this law went into effect 3 or 4 years ago, I can guarantee that none of the electric companies would be giving away bulbs for free.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

American Idol: Today's Jerry Springer

It wasn't too long ago that the Jerry Springer Show was at the height of its success. I have only seen a few of the shows in their entirety, but without fail found each one revolting. The cause of my revulsion wasn't so much the actions of the participants (before or during the actual show) or even their willingness to emotionally prostitute themselves in front of a national audience. The main cause of my revulsion was that there was such a large amount of individuals willing to support the show by watching on a regular basis. The more horrific the actions of the participants, the more the crowd (in the audience and at home) enjoyed it. If a man left his wife for another, the audience would be pretty excited; but if he left his wife for her brother, they would be ecstatic. The crowd loved it all the more when tears turned to rage. During its heyday, you would be hard pressed to find a Christian, much less thousands of them, openly talk about how much fun it is to watch the Jerry Springer Show. It's probably true that more Christians watched the show than actually admitted it, but it's telling that most saw it fit to deny that they even watched it. Unfortunately, that may no longer be the case today.

Tonight I became deeply saddened by the state of the Church. I realized that the American Idol auditions aren't that different from the Jerry Springer Show, but scores of Christians see absolutely no problem with them. I've heard more than a few pastors mention from the pulpit that they love the show and are sure to TiVo it each week. I've heard countless Christians specifically say that they only watch it in the beginning to listen to all the really bad singers trying to make it on the show. Making fun and laughing at some of the people auditioning has become so popular in general that Fox often has 'special' shows midway through just to show more of these "awful performances." I wish I could say the Church wasn't part of that, but I know She is. I really don't see how finding humor in the judges' degrading comments much different from finding humor in the Jerry Springer Show. A bad performance gets some chuckles, but a bad performance with biting comments from the judges seems to really get people rolling. How many times have you seen an American Idol contestant's tears turn to rage? Have you noticed that's when the cameras seem most interested in following the person around? I know many won't agree with this, but I just don't see God being pleased with his Church when we not only support, but enjoy, this kind of entertainment.

To make my case more concrete, imagine with me that we went to the local high school to watch their open cheerleading tryouts (or to a local college to watch student-athletes try and walk-on to the football team). If the judges at that high school began to laugh in the faces of individuals trying out and berated them because of their effort, we would be appalled. Furthermore, if I began to laugh at the judges comments you would (or should) be even more appalled at my decidedly un-Christian attitude. I don't see that being any different from what many Christians do during American Idol. Sure, some of the people are just trying to get on TV, but others are obviously not. One of the contests tonight (they called him Red) genuinely seems to have people in his life that thought he had a great singing voice. As Red began his audition he was rudely and shockingly awoken to the fact that he doesn't have such a voice. Sadly, as the judges laughed in his face, a great number of the Church laughed right along with them. I truly believe the last thing that Christ's Church should be doing is joining in on the public humiliation that people like Red faced these last couple of days.

Please understand that I'm not saying a Christian shouldn't watch the show (it may be true that they in fact shouldn't, but that's not the point of this post). I am saying that I don't think a Christian should enjoy watching others get humiliated in front of a national audience.