Thursday, October 27, 2005

Q: Does the Church SUCK? A: Yes, but...


I need to talk to you cause I don't have anyone else
on the matter. I've been having a lot of mental
duress due to religion and I need your advice to shake
it off. I feel tired and sick of being a part of Christianity
as a religion. Even if I feel different and think
different than other people, I'm still considered part
of the group and I still understand the group's
language and I honestly am coming to hate it. I'm
sick of the superstition; the fear of science and the
lack of reason about the simplist things. However, I
feel oppressed because I can't simply leave it. I
can't seem to seperate my emotions from the parts that
are bullshit and the parts that are worth having. I
think it is still partly a fear of religious rules. I
don't know what else to say than I feel trapped.
I'm asking you as my friend to try and tell me
something that might help. I know you know this
situation for me and you have had some of the
experience yourself.


Hello xx:

Naturally, I can understand your frustration with the Christian social structure where superstion is the rule and science is an ever-growing threat. Certainly you are not trapped, as you can choose to live your life anyway you want, and simply remove yourself from the community and exercise that particular "freedom of movement" that we Americans are so fond of.

Even though we know the church is filled with sillyness, from what I can tell it's the only community left that can give us a real polis to participate in. With some slight modification here I can import and use some Aristotle to my advantage: When we come to the final and perfect association, formed from a number of social groups, even religious social groups, we have already reached the polis -- an association which may be said to have reached the height of full self-sufficiency; or rather to speak more exactly we may say that while it grows for the sake of mere life and is so far, and at that stage, still short of full self-sufficiency, it exists when once it is fully grown for the sake of a good life and is therefore fully self-sufficient. Man is by nature an animal intended to live in a polis. He who is without a polis, by reason of his own nature and not of some accident, is either a poor sort of being, or a being higher than man: he is like the man of whom Homer wrote in denunciation: "Clanless and lawless and heartless is he."

I don't think you want to be heartless, and I don't think you are even drawn that way. But I do think you could be tempted by the "Clanless" part. That would be a mistake. At the gates of birth, marriage, aging, and death, only the church can offer something. Associations, consumer unions, they all have a valuable place. But the tradition of the church seems best among them.
Maybe you dont' find all this helpful, but ask youself: just where would you go?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Gilbert Goose, the arrival of a pen pal

One day I was minding my own business, and a person emailed me and said they'd stumbled across a long-dead link of my lectures from the 90s in philosophy. The link worked, apparently restored from a disk reinitialized from our IT department. He said he enjoyed them an wondered if I had other material and if I'd want to enter into some discussion of religious matters. Works as a legal assistant of some sort. Reads widely and seems very intelligent. Too good to pass up, I say! So here I begin, the Gilbert Goose chronicles (not his real name). And thus a letter I've recently sent him:

Gilbert Goose:

0. I'm glad you enjoyed the lectures, and I figured you would move right to the evolution one, as it is a hot topic for Christian intellectuals. You noted correctly that I am well versed in science. This is partially because my Doctoral dissertation was on Split brain patients, and this demanded research in the history of brain development and neural processing. Moreover I teach a class titled, Philosophy of Science on regular rotation with the physics department here. Also I have a background in signal processing and electronics from the military. Finally, I read weekly in general science and do research in what is called 'genetic algorithms' and data mining. So the combination of all of these areas does allow for broad reading in the sciences. I also regularly review for Science and Theology News in the areas of cognitive science and philosophy of mind, so usually I'm up on the more recent developments in the field.

1. As I think I alluded to in the evo. lecture, I am not particularly taken by intelligent design. It too often is a dressed up version the argument from ignorance. Such an argument may assume that since something has not been proven true, it is therefore false. Take for instance this version: it's not been proven (or scientifically supported) that so-n-so complex mechanism could have formed step by step (say in a cell), so it's false that this complexity formed by evolution. There are other versions, but this is the one that get's dressed up most often. We also have no good criteria for detecting design, i.e. we have no mathematical methods for so doing; hence, we are certainly not in a position to detect Grand Design, much less design by You Know Who.

2. As for theology, the whole enterprise is distasteful to me, since it too readily relies on metaphor rather than argument. But I do have positions. Here are a few, which I'm sure you'll find uncontroversial:

2.1. God exists.
2.2. The resurrection, though seemingly crazy relative to our experience, appears the best explanation among contenders for why the Church came into existence early in the first century.
2.3. God created all that is other than God.
2.4. God knows the physical possibilities, indeed ALL the physical possibilities, for what might happen within that creation.
2.5. Freewill is a cooperative effort by humans in the ongoing creation of God.
Those are the things that come immediately to mind. For the sake of inquiry, what would you add to that list concerning yourself, if anything?

3. I'm pretty sure I'm not an advocate of Molinism, as I feel the concept of middle-knowledge is either outright false, or muddled. (middle-knowledge =def. Total knowledge of how any possible free agent would act in any and all circumstances) Note how I alluded to 'physical possibilities' in 2.4. That actually excludes much of what the Molinist position leverages, what I take to be 'counterfactual logical possibilities.' Even so, Molinists differ among themselves regarding the ground for middle knowledge and the doctrines of efficacious grace and predestination. Perhaps this is too much esoteric metaphysics to worry over for the successful living of one's faith.

4. I'm neither liberal nor conservative, and I like what the Libertarians say, though I think that issue of abolishing a personal income tax is absolutely insane. Granted, it could be a whole lot less than what it is, but I have no problem with a personal income tax when the money is spent wisely (e.g. on space exploration and basic research).

5. Here's some off the cuff opinions w/o arguments. Think of these as polite introductory remarks:

  • > William Lane Craig — loves having disciples, and loves being somebody perceived as intellectual and religious.
    > N.T. Wright — hates the things I hate, so that's good. Not so taken by his evidence for certain orthodox doctrines as he is.
    > C.S. Lewis — first author I read upon conversion. nice entry into Christian philosophy.
    > Chesterton — good writer, but overrated as a thinker.
    > Schaeffer — important early influence in my life, but a good program in philosophy soon allows one to outgrow him. I used to like Nancy Drew mysteries when I was a kid, but I've put a way childish things and now watch Law and Order. Same with Schaeffer.
    > Plantinga — smart, respected, looks like Abe Lincoln and might have some version of the epistemology I can live with.
    > Pascal — not overly aware of him, need to reread his biography. Ain't done that since seminary. Used to complain bitterly about his medical ailments to his personal physician, Descartes, the latter of which would kindly and patiently bear the complaints.
    > Peter Kreeft, my wife — don't know these people.
    > Mexican food — when the mood hits.
    > Free audio lectures — I'm a junkie and a user.
    > Good movies — varies with the exact definition of "good".
    > Jesus — whose?
    > Liberal theology — whose?
    > Jesus Seminar guys — very interesting issue here. Much of how one evaluates these guys depends on what the expectation is of the Bible's role in Christian Faith and history.
    > hard Calvinism — Calvinism, like all illegal drugs, is bad in both its 'hard' and 'soft' varieties, both of which I am intimately familiar with.
    > Overly conservative theology — whose?
    > Jesus myth theories — see 'Jesus Seminar guys' above.
    > Acharya S — Had to do a bit of reading here. Something like the dark side of the force which, I take it on your view, has recently started affecting the Jesus Seminar guys.
    > materialism — false on my view.
    > relativism — ditto
    > anti-foundationalism — ditto
    > Word-Faith theology —
    > TBN — the radioactive power source of much Christian stupidity.
    > Lucifer — over-rated, possibly non-existent
    > reality television — see Websters under 'oxymoron'

I'm on fall break until Monday,


Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Love-Struck Behaviorist

[Given to me by another professor some time ago -- a submission by a ministry student commenting on what love is. -- brint]

I draw from personal experience for these thoughts and my own observations of some people whom I have been very close to for some years. I will call them Bill and Joan. Bill met Joan when he was in the first half of his third year of college. Joan was the proverbial ‘best catch’ on campus, with the males lined up to court or woo her. She seemed to have it all, with a figure, facial structure that models would kill for, and a 4.0 pre-med grade point.

Bill ,on the other hand, well, we could say he had a challenge or two. In those days, the label used was considerably less tolerant. He had/has diploid vision, with one eye permanently focused off to the left, one leg was a couple inches shorter than the other and a hunched walk. He did have intelligence, but otherwise this was not a match that looked very probable. Of course, this was immediately confronted with an additional problem. Bill fell head over heels for Joan, from first sight. She, on the other hand, really did not care if he existed.

Bill retreated and dug out some books. He spent hours in the university library, studying Voltaire and Skinner. From Voltaire he took the words, “Love is the product of habit, nothing less, nothing more.” From Skinner (and other behavioralists) he took variable conditioning techniques. He then enrolled into some of the same classes that Joan was taking the following year, so as to have access to her in person.

I will not say his campaign was entirely cold blooded, or without some emotion. But it was planned out to the last degree, literally written out on paper. Bill crafted a variable reinforcement schedule, straight out of B.F.Skinner.. He set to work, beginning with constant reinforcement followed by a progressively varied reinforcement schedule. It had some little hills and bumps in the road, like when Joan went back East for a week to see an old flame. She returned with a deep crush on the old flame, and Bill went back to work. Bill did a few minor adjustment to his patterns and the variable reinforcement schedule kicked in again.

To make a long story short, I will attend their 35 wedding anniversary this year! Through their time together, kids, house purchases, and now grandkids, Bill has kept the lessons of the reinforcement schedule in his eyes and focus. He still looks like something that a particularly mangy dog would have rejected. Joan is a raving beauty, even today. And they share a bond that I would like to bottle and use as an injection for the couples that I marry in an average year.

POEM: Richard Rorty document recovered

Jesus Loves Me

by R. Rorty (2nd grade)

Jesus loves me this I know
For my community tells me so
By definition they are right
from good reason I take flight.

Yes Jesus love me.
Yes Jesus love me.
Yes Jesus love me.
My community tells me so.

Monday, October 10, 2005

AUDIO: Novices, Dissonance, and Religion

Occasionally, students studying for ministry can't reconcile their values with their beliefs. Sometimes a peculiar kind of malfunctioning person is born.


Tuesday, October 04, 2005

AUDIO: impressions of New Mexico

I recently went on a trip to New Mexico. Very beautiful state with lots of colorful landscape. I give some tonal commentary on it all.


AUDIO: What of Poets

I heard a poem on a classical music station. I don't know what to think about poets, so I thought I'd ponder the subject for a moment.