February 27, 2007

How Do We Interpret Data?

Found this in the text I'm reading for my missiology class, called Diffusion of Innovations. It's a theoretical book written by a guy who does research on this particular theory, a theory that attempts to show how new things (ideas, objects, technologies, behaviors, etc) are spread and adopted by the people who didn't invent them. It's an interesting observation ...

"In the case of copycat crimes, network influences on criminal behavior occur via the mass media rather than through face-to-face channels. Aircraft hijacking is a contagious behavior that occurs by means of media news coverage of hijacking incidents. Holden analyzed the diffusion of aircraft hijackings that occurred between 1968 and 1972 in the United States. During this period, 137 hijacking attempts took place, one every two weeks! Many of the hijackings were for purposes of freeing prisoners or extorting money. Each successful extortion hijacking in the United States generated two additional attempts within forty-five days. This contagion effect explained 85% of all U.S. extortion hijackings. Further, many of the unique details of a hijacking were replicated in later hijackings. In this case, hijacking was an innovation that diffused to other criminals." (pg. 335)
Isn't that interesting - by allowing the behavior to continue, lots of other people decided they should try it. I'm trying to decide how this should all apply to Iraq; is the US's perceived "aggression" being copycated by middle-eastern nations such as ... well, all of them ... or is it that by squashing the behavior of the Taliban and Al Quaida, we are eliminating a threat that would otherwise spread across the world? Or even better, is the US copycating the terrorists?


February 26, 2007


Are we free?

I believe that perspective outweighs objective analysis. As a person, I am subject to a history; my cumulative experiences, lessons-learned, my language, relationships, culture, and social systems merge together to form my perspective, the lens through which the unique personality called the “self” observes the absolute nature of the world. In effect, each person speaks a slightly different ‘language’ from every other person. Similar languages tend to group together, though not necessarily. When attempting to communicate one another, no one will for certain understand one another. They may come very close, given that many individuals in a given geographic area are likely to have had many similar experiences.

Given the problem of perspective, each philosophical paradigm becomes self-sustaining and self-contained; it is with great difficulty that they may interact, and even then, the interaction is somewhat superficial. Even words do not retain their original meanings when imported into another paradigm, and so it is with mixed results that we can analyze philosophical situations.

This is not to say that philosophy is only so much blather ... but to say that results may vary, use with caution.

I myself am no less biased as anyone else; likewise, any argument I make may be countered from another person’s perspective, but that person will always hold certain assumptions (most of which they probably don't themselves realize) about the argumentative language that cannot be refuted. As such, logic cannot be used as a means to refute arguments between paradigms, only within a paradigm; we do not now, nor could we ever hold the exact same system of definitions in a given argument.

Having said this, I realize the quandary in which I have put myself; there is no guarantee that you, the reader, may or may not believe what I have to say. This is why I believe that some element of faith is an inescapable component of any philosophical paradigm. One may choose to change their belief system based on experience alone, but in the end, we all accept our own beliefs on an act of faith; faith that our five senses have not deceived us, faith in our memory and its ability to remember, and faith that the logic we’ve used in our language-system is not faulty (or indeed that logic even works at all). Since we view our reference points FOR logic through our perspective-lenses, there is no guarantee we are seeing them in their fixed location, or indeed, that we see them at all.

We are faced with certain other restrictions; the linear nature of time, for example. Time only moves forward - we think; to the best of our knowledge, future events do not dictate past events. Time is a factor which must be considered in any discussion about freedom. We may assume that we are not free with respect to the past; the past has occurred already and we are bound to it. Likewise, we are not free with respect to the future, for it too has not occurred yet. However, if we are able to make choices (mental decisions originating from within an agent that initiate an external event), they will always be forward-focused; our future is dependent upon the choices we make in a present moment. If this is true, then the only time we can truly be free (and indeed, are able to make choices at all) is in a present moment. This is well illustrated in C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. Here, Screwtape, a high-ranking Demon, writes to a ‘tempter’ in the field (his nephew, Wormwood), who is faced with the task of tempting a new Christian to evil:

The humans live in time but our Enemy [God] destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to which our Enemy [God] has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them. He would therefore have them continually concerned either with eternity (which means being concerned with Him) or with the Present – either meditating on their eternal union with, or separation from, Himself, or else obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure.

Thus, the only way to understand if we are free is to understand each present moment of our experience; we must know that we are free NOW. Some moments might have elements of both choice and causality; many factors can affect the options from which a person has to choose. Which moments are of import? Which choices are the most significant?

We may consider there to be several sorts of choices: there are “free choices,” in which a subject (or agent, if you like) freely chooses to do something, where the choice is not restricted by prior choices or events; there are “limited choices” in which a choice may still be considered “free” but in which there are a limited number of options (the result of prior choices and events), and there are “determined actions,” events that happen outside of the control of the agent. Free choices often set into motion chains of events in which a series of determined actions occur or the agent is forced to make a number of limited choices.

So are we free?

I believe we are. The only time we are free is the present, but the present is the only time that matters; we are only able to choose in the present. We plan for the future, but only insofar as it is a present duty. Our ability to choose makes us free. With that freedom, however, comes responsibility. No person is isolated; we must realize that our choices affect others. How we make our choices can determine how things happen long after we've made them. How you use your freedom is up to you.

February 22, 2007


When I was in melbourne I spent some time with a bunch of people that spoke with high disfavor about a concept they called "dualism." In their eyes, this dualism has corrupted the church, separating many things that should have never been separated. Mind and body, for example; in the church, they say that the dualist's distinction between mind and body has led to a crusade to "save souls" instead of God's redemption of the entire person. They also say that the dualist corruption was a greek invention that permeated the church, that Jesus' intention was never to allow such distinctions to be made. After all, Hebrew culture was very monistic; daily life and church life, sacred and secular, were all within the realm of spirituality.

Basically, the complaint is that the church neglects the whole person in favor of their soul. The physical is vilified, made to be evil. Beliefs and thoughts/concepts are more important than physical actions. It even leads to "them-and-us" thinking, where Christians are somehow better than the rest of the world (they're not).

Now, I agreed with them at the time. I still do, sort of. But I think, after today's philosophy class, that I'm starting to conceive of things a little less simply. That's what philosophy does to you - it makes your thinking less simple, more complicated. I figure the world is so complicated that we tend to over-simplify everything so that it can fit into our nice little boxes. My melbournian friends took issue with that too, so I figure what I'm doing is simply building on their arguement.

Dualism, as I've spent time understanding it today, is really more about the distinctions that exist between mind and body. The mind/soul/spirit entity we seem to have is distinct from our body/physical nature. It's laced through our language in two different ways: the "I AM my body" and the "I HAVE a body" types. The trouble is, our language is very unclear as to which part we hold to be true; we use both sayings (and many like them) all the time. Since the majority of philosophy is really just about changing definitions so that your premises can then support your conclusions about something, how do we come to the definitions of words? For another time, perhaps.

Anyway, I'm becoming convinced that the "Christian Monists" as they're called in philosophical circles (see, you learned a new word today), are really just dualists with a higher agenda. They've rejected Plato's view of dualism in favor of something more holistic. Perhaps it's just a question of semantics, but as I'm finding, semantics are VERY important in a society where each person defines many different words in many different ways. Perhaps this is the true source of relativism.

Basically, Plato said yeah, there's a mind/soul and there's a body. But the thing is, bodies are bad. Not sure why he thought this, although I'd gather he was probably upset about aging and that his body could get hurt. Mid-life crisis maybe. Ok. So that's Plato in a nutshell.

Thing is, scripture makes it fairly clear that our bodies aren't evil. They're just bodies; God made them and he called them 'good.' When Adam saw Eve, he was obviously impressed, because wouldn't you know it, soon enough we get Cain and Abel. And lots of Christians (myself included) believe that God built within us an appreciation for beauty, for the physical world, that the world of stuff isn't itself inherently bad, it's what we DO with it that can be a problem.

What my australian friends object to is the "Platonification" of Christendom. We (christendom) have started buying into Plato's ideas that bodies are evil because evil things can be done with them, instead of acknowledging the truth that our bodies are simply neutral objects to be used as we see fit - for good OR for evil. It's a matter of choice.

"People" are really hybrid beings, a fusion of mind, soul, and body. If you like, they are ways of conceptualizing the different functions of a single person, but that's the same way we conceive of God as a trinity. It's not like we say "Jesus was evil because he was a physical being", we say he was one-third of God!

I worry a bit that Christian Monists are going to do the same thing that Platonian dualists have done, only in reverse: vilification of the spirit, or even denying that we as human beings HAVE such a component, that we are only bodies and that our spirit is really just another part of our bodies. The distinction is actually somewhat important - if our bodies DIE, how then are they redeemed? What we as Christians need to capture is the importance of holistic thinking. PEOPLE are more than just one thing - we are complex. The nature of the relationship between our pieces (mind, soul, body) can reflect God. If we begin to deify the body, we become no better than other monists, the people who say things like "all we have is the physical world we live in, so make the most of it" (the message being, have as much sex and alcohol as you want, there are no limitations).

We need to put it all back in perspective, restore the balance. The mind is important. The body is important. The soul is important. But they all have to be conceived of both as separate identities (each requiring its own disciplines) and as a single identity requiring our attention as a holistic being (the whole requiring its own disciplines). In doing so, we are liberated to experience a more full existence, each perspective contributing to the whole story of our lives. Mind, soul, body = Person. Three in one, one in three. Sound familiar? It should.

February 21, 2007

[Logic Error]

I've been pondering the necessity of "logic" as of late. The trouble at the moment is that logic has begun to seem a bit tiresome; so many people use logic to prove so many things. The end result is that we have a lot of people that can "logically" prove whatever they really want to.

The thing about logic is that first, you have to buy into the system. If you believe logic works, then it works. It is its own language. Mostly, logic works within systems, languages. The so-called "laws" of logic only apply within a certain language. For example, the word "cause" can mean different things in different systems - determinists believe "cause" to mean (and therefore "be") something different than, say, libertarians do.

The trouble that comes from this is when different systems try to use logic to prove their side. I've just been reading about the "free will" debate in a philosophy book, and it seems to me that the two systems have nothing in common. One system claims that we are free because of their definition of the word "cause", and the other system claims that we aren't free out of an argument based on their definition of "cause." Yet another system says that we're only sort-of free because of yet another definition of the word "cause." And all three systems use logic to prove their way, and more logic to disprove everybody else.

In other words, our definitions of words assume certain logical arguments, thereby forming one large circle of logic. Logic is a self-contained system.

Since language is culturally based, it stands to reason (no pun intended) that really, somebody's stance on a particular issue is usually related to the way they have learned their language. It turns out that the eskimos have many different options for the concept of "snow," whereas in Queensland, Australia they only conceive of snow as one sort of thing. How important a concept is relates to how useful it is in practical experience.

We look no further than the game of basketball for an exmaple Professor Walls gave in class. The winning team often attributes their success to their amazing abilities as athletes (free will, as it were - "we just wanted it more"), whereas the losing team often often attributes their failure to "fate" ("I guess it was meant to be, we tried so hard!").

And so while logic is a nice little system of itself, it is necessary that you believe in logic for it to work - it is a self-contained system. Science, religion, and even atheism are all self-contained systems, where the language they use "proves" their beliefs. If something doesn't prove a belief, the language used is modified until the evidence matches the belief.

I, for one, have yet to understand how logic can account for things like paradoxes (of which the Christian faith contains many) or the flow of time. So many logic arguments presuppose a linear flow of time, when this has never actually been proven to exist. We may think that it's linear, but then again, earth looks flat unless you take a look at it from farther away. And who's to say that your five senses (or more or less, since some cultures don't acknowledge certain senses and others claim more than five) are not deceiving you?

No, faith is involved. We cannot be certain that we know something, but we can be certain that we believe something. And I mean everybody.

I submit to you a new definition of religion: "religion is any self-contained lingual system which, by virtue of its culturally-refined definitions of words and use of grammar, may be used by devout adherants to prove itself and disprove other lingual systems."

What say you?

February 19, 2007


Seriously - baptism as it SHOULD be. I know I wish that mine had been like that.

February 18, 2007

Community of Faith

A bunch of us went to go see Rob Bell on thursday, up at UK in Lexington. He was late; apparently, his flight was cancelled, so he had to drive from Michigan. Later, he said "I have seen Ohio." I know what he means.

Anyway, the purpose of his little talk was supposedly to introduce his new book. He gets out on stage (late) and says that he wrote this book so that he wouldn't have to talk about it; if he wanted to talk about it, he'd talk about it, but he wrote it, so we should go read it. Then he said that he was more interested in what we had to say, so he told us to ask him anything. People did, and it was fantastic.

On the way home, Dan asked Liz and me the one question we've been sort of dreading from people. We knew it was coming, eventually, but at least I still hadn't come up with a good way to articulate my answer to the question.

"So guys, have you looked at churches yet?"

There was a short, slightly uncomfortable silence as I, driving, tried to formulate an answer which I thought maybe he'd agree with. I don't like conflict very much, which is a problem because I hold a lot of opinions that aren't very popular. "No," I started, not sure where to go from there. But Liz picked it up and I liked her answer a lot.

She explained that we are "church shy" at the moment. It's not that we think that church or churches are bad, or that people that go to churches are bad. It's just that we're musicians, and especially musicians like us - who have professional training - are the sort in high demand at churches these days. We'd get sucked in and have the life drained from us (mostly because we have a very hard time saying 'no'), no energy left to have a child or learn at seminary or spend time with each other. Worship arts is a stressful department to be in these days, and we're just not sure we want to do that anymore.

That, and we just came from a place where church wasn't a place we had to go. Mimos is a family to us, and we're fairly sure that no church - and believe me, there are plenty - is going to be like that.

He seemd to accept that, which was kind of him, as Liz and I were both nervous trying to explain it. Around here it's very counter-cultural to be Christians who don't go to a church on sunday (or even saturday night). When I did some demographics research for my senior thesis in college, out of my sample of 30 different counties across the US, Jessamine County (where Wilmore resides) was the only one with a zero-atheism rate (and very low populations of non-protestant religions). In other words, there are no self-reported atheists here. This could mean two things:

1) there are no atheists in Wilmore
2) there are no atheists who are willing to admit they are atheists in Wilmore

I find the second more likely, given the seminary, the bible college, and the hundreds of churches around here. In this culture, you're a Christian, you go to church on sunday, and that's just that.

But there's another reason we see no need to start going church-shopping. I'm a seminary student. We aren't eschewing a community of faith by not going to church; our community of faith is already built-in! Asbury seminary is a phenomenal place, full of very devoted Jesus-followers, and frankly what other community do we need? We've already begun making friends here in Broadhurst, people who we'll see on a regular basis. I'm learning a LOT about God and His kingdom through my classes (and Liz is through me).

Frankly, I'd rather use my time NOT at seminary to do something more productive than "go to church" ... again ... something like help refugees, or feed the poor, go to coffee shops and root out the atheists and make friends with them (you can't discuss evolution with a cultural-Christian, it's just boring). There are so many other things to do, things that Liz and I want to be available for, that going to (another) church will simply take time away from. Things like working, and being missionaries at work; dinner and fellowship with other seminary couples; time with each other.

What do you think? Are we nuts?

February 14, 2007


"Heaven is the community of persons who have entered the fellowship of the Trinity by allowing themselves to be transformed by the perfect love made available to us in the incarnation of the son of God and outpouring of the Holy Spirit. ... Our character is shaped by the story of our response to God's grace and our interactions with other people." [Jerry Walls]


February 13, 2007


I guess I'll start off my posts from the good 'ol midwest and seminary by talking about something more or less useless. Many of you might actually say that's what I talk about ALL the time, but that's because you're just being cynical. Anyway, on with it.

My first class of the week is called "Philosophy of the Christian Religion," and I'm not really sure why I'm taking it. The professor is nice enough, did his PhD at Princeton and seems to really like Philosophy. He's certainly the best Philosophy teacher I've ever had; the last guy was awful, he wore the same suit everyday (at 8:30am) and talked in this sort of soothing voice. One time a guy actually started snoring in class. Watts isn't really like that, but then again, I've never heard the somewhat boring subject of philosophy lectured by a guy who might be a baptist preacher before.

In any case, the last three classes we've been going through this book called "Metaphysics" by some guy named Hasker. He seems pretty smart; he's really good at logic, making very complicated-sounding arguments take up very little space on the page (by using very large words). So far we've hit up two topics, but both relate to the issue of "determinism."

Determinism is basically a view held by people who say that stuff happens because it happens.
Scott Adams, for example, spends an awful lot of time (and words) telling us why nothing is our fault - we're all moist robots. That's determinism, in a nutshell: everything has a cause, and every cause has a cause, and so on. "Hard Determinists", the nazis of the determinist world, tend to say things like "if you could know the laws of the universe and the position and velocity of every particle in it, you could figure out exactly what would happen for the rest of time." It's an issue of free will, I guess.

Now, I'm not going to spend time here talking about whether or not we have a free will, what that means, or whether or not it means I can actually choose what flavor pizza I want. My beef (not a choice topping, by the way) is with the people who inflicted this view on us.

Essentially, determinism is a view of the world that doesn't matter. Let's say that determinism is true. What that means is that my belief in determinism is just as useful as somebody else's belief in their cat, or another somebody's belief in a theory that's not determinism; we all have our beliefs because that's the way the atoms fell. Any belief is an illusion; choice is an illusion; the evidence supporting determinism is illusive; the idea of "support" is illusive, simply because it's all that way anyway, whether we approve of it or not. You can't be MORE in line with what the universe throws at you, and so your belief in having chosen to believe determinism is more or less irrelevant, just like your strange need to try and convince me that determinism is right.

In short, the whole theory makes no difference; it doesn't matter if I believe in it or not, because that's what happened and there's nothing I can do to change it. If it changes, it wasn't really my fault; I'm just the result of a long chain reaction of events and happenings. If determinism were right, and nobody believed in it, that would make sense too. It's sort of like talking about true randomness - you can't ever be sure if something is or is not really random, even if, say, it's simply the number 9 repeating endlessly. You can't ever know if determinism is true or not - even if it is, the very idea of "evidence" implies our ability to choose to believe or not believe something.

Basically, hard determinism is a self-contained theory. I understand the need to mention "hard determinism" in lectures, but not the need to spend an hour and a half on it. I can't ever get that time back.

February 8, 2007

Back ... Sort Of ...

It's been three weeks of insanity. Seriously, I think I've gone a little loopy since we left Melbourne. The list of random things I've had to take care of in the last month is getting a little long for even my taste. I've had to move twice, choose a new mattress and new bed frame, I've had discussions with friends on every manner of topic (including but not limited to "where does this box go" to "what is the nature of epistemology" to "where does this other box go"), I've had two classes (and a third this afternoon), worked on papers, done dinners out, acquired a new car, been to the NYS DMV four times (for said car), gone to an ultrasound, bought new shoes, driven 600 miles, and loaded a 15-foot Budget truck. Just to name a few.

I'm exhausted.

And this isn't the end. I still have two papers to finish for FORGE in Melbourne, on top of finding a job and maybe settling into our little one-bedroom cave before moving again in June (and I may get to sign the lease on our current place by then), going to CT for my cousin's wedding, preparing to have the baby in July, and maybe, just maybe, doing well in my classes!!

So all this to say that I really want to write about the stuff I'm learning, discussing, and growing in, but I just don't have the time at present. I've had some interesting classes already in which I argued with the professor over postmodernism (which he said is a good thing and that it's ok that I disagree, but we both agree that everybody's position always seems to simplistic), and I want to write about lots of other things too.

BUT! If you have topic ideas, I'd love to have them. I'm in a new season of life and so I forget the stuff I want to write about as quickly as I think of them, but if you leave me thoughts, I'll start putting together a list. The few I've thought to write down are things like homeschooling, how do we know what we know, legos, and the economy of God. But that's like, six posts or something, so ideas are welcome!

Anyway, thanks for your patience. Maybe I'm being naiive, and there's nobody actually reading this and so I'm really talking to myself. But as I said, I've been feeling a bit loopy lately, so that's entirely possible.

I'm going to go write a paper now.

~The Management