Category Archives: rants

liberal and conservative

When I hear the words liberal and conservative I am reminded of Jim Edwards’ notion that we don’t use these words except as weapons. But I have a friend who uses one of these as a defense against the opposing view. “I am a conservative” he says, as if that would protect him against the onslaughts of the liberal.

I was reviewing and revising my marijuana web site, and I again watched the video from 1996 that is posted in that page. I heard from William F. Buckley, Jr., an avowed conservative, that in order to be a conservative one must first be a realist. That might not be a startling claim for some, but having always respected Buckley for his careful exposition of the world, I recognized an axiom that, though I am not a conservative (or liberal), I think is fundamental to our engagement with people and the world.

The axiom, in its uncomplicated form, states: There is a real world whether we perceive it or not, whether we understand it or not, whether we acknowledge it or not, and that real world persists irrespective of our association with it.

In contrast with that reality we criticize people for not living in the real world. In this part of the presidential election cycle we know the politicians are mostly not living in the real world, especially if they expect that we will vote them in based on their promises. Politicians are notorious for failing to keep promises to the electorate. There are good reasons for this, of course. The politicians are beholden to powers that prior to election do not express themselves with teeth bared only after the election. We don’t forgive them for this, but they expect us to forget.

Nate Silver in his book, The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail — but Some Don’t, he describes two types of people, metaphorically, hedgehogs and foxes. Hedgehogs are free with their opinions, predicting the future but mostly failing, because they have no sense of the tangled reality of the sandbox in which they play. And they never get any better in their predictions, because they don’t tie real causes and effects together successfully. Contrarily, the foxes are shy about expressing their opinions, because there are really so many factors that determine any outcome. They realize the future is fraught with unknowns and the flux of human interactions. But Silver notes that their predictive success gets better the longer they are at it.

The hedgehog does not live in the real world, even though they contact it every day. Though they may go by the label liberal, or conservative, they are not realists in the important sense. Or if they are, they choose to ignore the tangled web of influence and causal complexity. They live in Wonderland, criticizing Alice even as they remain clueless of their own companionship with her.

The fox, however, lives “circumspectly, as wise,” recognizing that though one can’t have an objective viewpoint, there are more or less objective views. They choose self-consiously the entangled universe that is acknowledged as entangled, accepting the fact of their prejudices as prejudice, being aware that it can mislead them.

So, this led me to think that whatever label we choose for ourselves, or the avoidance of labels, that a realist perspective typified by the fox will always be preferred over that of the hedgehog.

Frankly, I don’t care whether one proclaims oneself a liberal or conservative, a socialist or capitalist, except in the case where they live clueless of the complexity of the world they live in, and expect me to favor them because of their label. Labels have the curious effect of locking out options for thinking. Michel Foucault and many others have suggested that labeling is intrinsically reductionistic. That is, a label prevents one from examining possibilities that are by definition unthinkable. Since we’re talking about presidents, let me remind you that some of the most effective presidents are those who attached their own label to projects of the opposing party and pushed them as their own. That certainly is a realist perspective.

So when Bernie Sanders claims to be a Socialist, he stings the eyes of the capitalist, OK, I meant to say conservative because conservatives in this era are capitalists. Let me play with socialism and capitalism as opposing worldviews. Really, they are not opposing worldviews, they are modes of production, more tied to how we divide ownership than how we rule ourselves. As financial modes they are both unstable, not worthy of the totalizing domains they wish to control. Both of them require a moderating influence, a political structure that both stabilizes and moderates their worst effects. Kai Nielsen, proposing socialism as the more moral of our pair, suggests that the errors of socialism can be lived with more easily than the errors of capitalism.

What are the errors of socialism? As Nielsen says, an all pervasive bureaucracy attempts to control every effort and every possible effect of our lives. The errors of capitalism on the other hand, divide the world into the owners of production, and those who work for them, the peasants, the proletariat, the wage slaves. Nielsen thinks that a democracy can control the pervasive bureaucracy, preventing the intrusion of government into the lives of individuals. And those framers of the Bill of Rights thought that could control the worst depredations of capitalism.

Here we are in the real world today in the United States. We see both the errors of capitalism and the errors of socialism. But what controls these errors is not their opposite. Capitalism is not a solution for socialism, nor vice versa, but a democracy that can vote appropriate people to lead the nation. That is why the travesty of the modern oligarchy is so egregious. It prevents the democracy from actually doing anything more than spin its wheels and justify the status quo. That’s the real world we live in today. Capitalism and socialism are companion parts of the grain of our political system. The socialists engage the bureaucracy to surveil you and the capitalist dispenses with you as an employee when they no longer need you. You are not a person to either one, but an irritation that needs to be controlled. Their methods differ, but the result is the similar. You become a construct to be controlled and manipulated by message and media, by money and meaning. That is why a democracy, or in our case a representative republic, is required. Only it can control the out of control bureaucracy and the one-percenters’ oligarchy.

Classical liberals side with the people against the power of government. Classical conservatives aim at a government for the people by the people. But today’s rubbish heap of political cronies have lost the concept of the people entirely.

How do we exit this political and economic grinder? First and foremost, by becoming realists. Recognize the trouble we’re in and then vote to get us out of it. That means, we’ll have to ignore the press who are in the pocket of the cronies who have been purchased by the special interests to send the messages they think will help us ignore our responsibilities to vote these creeps out. Second, let me defer to politicians who are not afraid to challenge the status quo. And I’m not talking about the newspeak where change means the status quo, but the Libertarians like Gary Johnson, or the Socialists like Bernie Sanders. Will they be able to fix the republic? No, not in one fell swoop, but they will bring a shakeup that can at least throw the drones across the yard. (Bee drones can’t find their way back to the hive if they are taken out of it.) Gary and Bernie are realists. Their mutual outrage at the current state of affairs promises a disruption of the status quo. They are not like Hillary “Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse” Clinton or the drones of the Republican party, as well-meaning and competent in their world as they may be.

We can vote the status quo, following the press recommendations, or we can change the world. It’s up to us I think.

synchronizers

I just got back last week from a 2400 mile trip to Virginia Beach. It was a lovely trip, lovely weather for the most part, and no accidents. I have spotted a bit of bad behavior among drivers that adds to the frustration of driving. This behavior is added on to another behavior that is frustrating as well.

The first behavior that irritates me is driving the freeway without cruise control. Here is how it plays out. The car’s speed is controlled by the driver’s foot. That foot is under stress as long as the cruise control is off. When the car goes uphill, the car naturally slows, unless the driver is attentive. This isn’t true for big trucks. They just don’t have the power to keep on speed. So the inattentive driver slows down going uphill, maybe below the speed limit, maybe not. People following have to be attentive to the changes in the road but also changes in the driver’s attention, speed, lane changing, etc. Some of that is of course necessary, but the speed can be removed from the equation by using cruise control. The following driver can set their own cruise control to mimic the driver in front, keep a safe distance, and one less variable in the risk assessment is taken out of consideration. Drivers who do not use cruise control increase the stress of other drivers on the road.

I understand. Really! Some cars don’t come with cruise control. But I think it should be a necessary addition to all cars, and the car itself should recommend its use. It saves gas, and reduces stress and road weariness, especially on long trips.

The subject of this post has to do with people who do not use cruise but also have a terrible habit. I call these people synchronizers. That is, when they start to pass a slower vehicle, they slow down to the other vehicle’s speed and just stay parallel to them for a while. It’s even worse when they are passing a truck or something and the truck is going variable speeds. The synchronizer, slows down and speeds up to match the truck. Even though they wished to pass the vehicle at first, and were going at a speed that would have done it quite happily, they then block those other vehicles behind them who also wished to pass. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not ready to fly off the handle in road rage, but they aggravate me. Any aggravation on the road causes stress. Some aggravation is part of the territory, like following trucks, but some, like synchronizing can be eliminated.

I’m not saying that we do not all make mistakes. We do, and sometimes more often than would promote general safety and wellbeing. We are all subject to making bad judgments for a variety of reasons. I’m not necessarily a better driver than you.

OK synchronizers, get your act together and become better highway citizens. Don’t snub your nose at me. I am not a snob. I just want you to voluntarily stop being an irritant. Oh, you didn’t know it was aggravating? Now you know. Don’t care about me? That’s OK too. Think about staying home next time. You are one of the causes of road rage, and the increase of blood pressure in the general population. Want world peace? Me too. Do your part.

This can be fixed. Give these people self-driving cars. Take the incompetent out from behind the wheel.

a conversation with ken smith

This began with a birthday greeting Ken gave me on Facebook Monday, 5/5/14. I discovered that he was no longer teaching at Trinity Bible College, but that his vigorous mind was still active. I obtained his permission to include a few of his remarks. The flavor of these remarks is polemical, worrying the glib orthodoxies of the Scientific community and the Young Earth Creationist (YEC) community. I hope you enjoy these remarks as much as I do.

First I’ll post the thread from mucholderthen I found on Tumblr.com, then Ken’s remarks. My part of the conversation seems more like minimal encouragers than substantive so I will not expand on them unnecessarily.

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mucholderthen:

NEW POLL shows that a Surprising Number of Americans Distrust Science
For a change, evolution squeaked by at 55% [including 24% at “sort of confident”]
CBS News

[Many] Americans still question some of the basic concepts of modern science, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll with a representative sample of 1,012 U.S. adults age 18 or older.

Overall, Americans show more skepticism than confidence in the scientific concept that a Big Bang created the universe 13.8 billion years ago.
There was also considerable doubt about the science behind global warming and the age of the Earth.
“It is enormously distressing that science, which is our most powerful means for gaining insight into the world, insight into truth, is so mistrusted by so many people,” Brian Greene, a professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University, told CBS News.

Greene, who co-founded the World Science Festival and World Science U. to help educate and excite the public about science, says understanding scientific ideas is not just academic — it’s essential to a vital democracy. “Issues like climate change or nanoscience or genetically modified foods — I mean all of these issues, and a thousand others, are scientific at their core,” he said.

We chatted for a bit after that. Ken sent an article he wrote to Jim Bradford of the Assemblies of God (AG) about the problems posed by the YEC in the AG. In the article he said that he had seen the Nye/Ham debate and wasn’t impressed with either Nye or Ham. Nothing new there. I agreed with Smith, but suggested that Nye’s rational was not to argue for a proof from science that Ham was wrong, but rather to treat the debate as a conversation. So the substantive issues that the scientific community holds against the YECs were not exposed in a way that would make a slam dunk case against YEC. In response to my remarks, Ken sent the following rejoinder to the science poll from mucholderthen.

From Ken Smith:

I took a look at the confidence in science poll. Thanks for the link. My take on it might be different from yours. I hope you don’t mind a lengthy explanation. Having not been able to stand in front of a class and pontificate for a year or so, I will do so right here.

In one sense our problem with science in America (and maybe the West generally) is far far worse than is understood by the people who devised and conducted the poll and those who tweeted out laments concerning its results. That is because the nature of the poll itself—including every single question, measures nothing more than adherence to the pronouncements of authorities who claim to represent science, and has no real reference to what science actually is, which is a method and not a result. One way of saying it is that the poll reflects a naively fundamentalist conception of science that is not markedly different from the fundamentalist conception of religion. If you check the right boxes, say the right confessions, you’re considered saved.

Maybe this sounds radical but in fact it’s not radical at all. An elementary working understanding of philosophy (which is rare nowadays and alarmingly rare among people who actually work in scientific fields) would reveal deep problems with every single statement in the poll.

Take the first one, for example, “smoking causes cancer.” For anyone adequately familiar with Hume’s inquiry about cause and effect relationship, red flags go up immediately. If the statement read “there is a high correlation between smoking and various forms of cancer” or even “smoking creates physical conditions that are highly conducive to the initiation and growth of cancer” then the poller would be on safer ground. But the three word slogan “smoking causes cancer” is, I believe, quite misleading and unscientific. It may be a socially useful statement but that is not the same as being scientific.

The first five statements all have serious problems with causality and/or ontology and require clarification to be meaningful in any true scientific sense. The one about vaccines is too overbroad to be meaningful. The first red one, the one about rising temperatures, is just plain misleading. Before one can possibly answer it, one must know what time period one is talking about when one says “the average temperature of the world is rising.” If the question were delimited to, say, 1850 to 2014, the empirically accurate answer would be clearly yes, the global temperature did rise (leaving aside, for now, the vital question of whether the concept of “average global temperature” is a scientifically meaningful statement. If delimited to, say, 1930 to 2000, the empirically accurate question would be “not sure.” If one delimited the question to 1998 to 2014, the empirically true answer would be clearly, “no, it is not rising.” If one delimits the question to a period in the future, (say, 2014 to 2050, or even 2000 to 2100, one is then dealing in speculation informed by certain assumptions that may or may not be correct. One who either does not understand that this is speculation, or fails to inform his audience that this is speculation, is simply not dealing scientifically.

So the answer to the question depends first on the definition of the terms, and then one can move to the empirical evidence, which is sometimes fairly plain, sometimes quite complex, and sometimes contradictory. When people claim that the average global temperature “is” rising, but do not explain their terms, they are either deceiving themselves or trying to deceive other people.

This is not really hard to understand. Or it would not be, if people were only educated to think scientifically as opposed to trained to respond in a certain way to slogans that are backed by the force of allegedly scientific cultural authority. The trouble with Bill Nye and unfortunately with most science educators is I think that they lack the background to really go much beyond the level of parroting authorities that happen to be established at one particular time period (and they often they parrot the views established at a time period that has already slipped into the past).

When we get to the last three questions, I have no particular problem with the plausibility of any of the statements. I’m not the slightest bit phased by the reality of deep time or deep space, but the preciseness of these numbers seems to convey a sense of arrogance. But they are the “right” answers and that is apparently enough for the people who made this poll and who take it as a measure of whether people possess adequate respect for [allegedly] scientific authority. If I were examining a person for scientific literacy, I would want them to not tell me the “right” answer, but explain some of the evidence that has led to the understanding that this is, given the current state of knowledge, the most plausible answer available.

The last one, about the big bang, is deeply problematic. I have no particular problem with the big bang theory, and it may well be true as described, but I don’t think it deserves the slavish reverence that it usually gets. There are plenty of empirically solid thinkers (I prefer to use “empirically solid thinkers” instead of “scientists”) who reject it and prefer the “older” steady state theory that Thomas Gold advocated. That doesn’t mean they reject stellar expansion rates, etc., but that they interpret their significance in different ways. In relation to faith, I think it’s a mistake to marry theology with a particular theory like this, although I do think it’s fine for theology and such theories to go out on a casual date once in awhile. When I hear William Lane Craig (for example) rant on about how the big bang proves the creator of the Bible, I think “I like you, Will, I like you, but hey, you are taking this way too literally.”

Ultimately the problem with philosophy, and why it is dangerous, is that by its nature it simply can’t help but undercut the dominant assumptions of any given age or social space that it confronts. And philosophy that does not confront does not to me seem to be real philosophy. I entirely understand that there are many “scientific” circles in which a person who practices any sort of rigorous philosophical thinking–and does so out loud–will be unable to function easily within that circle. Much the same is true in religious circles.

I’m probably as disgusted as you are by the awful science and theology and philosophy that supports the YEC movement. So my criticisms aren’t the same ones that somebody like Ken Ham would launch. At the same time, I have a bit of sympathy for my YEC friends who get ragged on so much by people whose actual understandings are every bit as primitive as those of the YEC’ers themselves.

I take Ken’s point seriously. His critique of the poll is trenchant. His critique of YEC, not included here is also a well considered characterization along parallel lines with my critique. Though I have some acquaintance with the histories of the YEC position, Ken’s is more well developed. My critiques are with the poor rational skills displayed by the YECs. The Ark is too small, the flood’s probably local, literalism is unsupportable in Genesis 1-11 if the Scripture is to be considered true: logical contradictions in a literal interpretation come to the surface, etc. But Ken’s point about the poll is deeper than any supposed support of science or religion. He reminds me of the necessity for critique of the presuppositions of polls like that. His philosophical critique cuts to the issue. The poll assumes certain prejudices.

One prejudice I would like to needle a bit is the one about global warming. I think Ken made a good point with the temperature averages over time, but only obliquely. He attacks the fuzzy nature of the declaration, not the question about whether global warning is a danger.

First, it is obvious that humans are damaging the ecosystem. But to say on that account as the poll does, that “The average temperature of the world is rising, mostly because of man made heat-trapping greenhouse gasses,” goes beyond the evidence we have. Those who are convinced that humans are primarily responsible for this effect do not happily admit evidence of naturally-occurring cyclical temperature shifts. But to even suggest that temperature rising can also be natural, and that some of the rising temperature today is natural, has become the language of science deniers. Rubbish! We know we are damaging the environment and we also know that private citizens, small business, corporations, and government are all complicit in this. But to say that humans are either solely or mostly responsible for the current global rise in temperature (acknowledging Ken Smith’s critique) is irresponsible rhetorical politically correct crap. It is said in an alarmist way to generate anger against our bad behavior and get us to change. Should we change? Of course! Will we? Maybe not in time to save the planet for future generations. But if we kill ourselves off, the planet will perhaps restore itself. It might not either, but that is too fatalistic for my temper. I’m doing my part to comply with the 4 Rs and ride my bicycle, replace incandescent lights with LEDs and CFLs, maintain and drive my car as long as I can drive, etc.

More from Ken Smith:

I have been reading articles about what seems to be another change in scientific orthodoxy, as the fixation on saturated fats as causes of heart attacks is very rapidly going by the way side. But for decades informed people accepted the direct connection as an indisputable fact, and anyone who challenged the notion was regarded as a crank or a tool.

Of course I am well aware that promoting the idea of challenging orthodoxies has its own pitfalls, because it’s quite easy to challenge orthodoxies from an ignorant, knee-jerk sort of approach that doesn’t involve any real digging or critical thought. This has always bothered me about YEC’ers—sometimes they will make a valid criticism of the dominant paradigm, but it’s almost always opportunitist criticism, and not criticism that is tied to a real rational framework that could itself hold up against basic criticism. They are like a stopped clock that is bound to be right for a short time twice a day. On the other hand, sometimes their opponents come across as constantly adjusting their clocks but doing so in secret, so that nobody notices that their clocks aren’t really running quite as well as they like to claim.

This is probably enough fun for now. I need to go mow the lawn . . . I’m back and editing. I need to work. Bye.

theological posts

I think it is remarkable how divided the Christian world is. So much of what we believe has become important above and beyond any recognizable justifications.

This is less so for philosophy. Though in some places there is hot contention over some issues. In the USA the analytic school feels an obligation to destroy pragmatism. This is irritating to me, not because I am a doctrinaire pragmatist but because the attack is so wrongheaded and uncritical of the limits of its own views.

Religions have some of the same troubles, that is, if Christianity, Islam, Mormonism, Shinto, or Buddhism etc. are true then on some account the others may not be. Some state that exclusive claim outright.

Politicians have the same difficulty. To win against an opponent, or other party, one must often go on the offensive even when the differences between views look like the differences between squabbling children, basically meaningless. If the differences were something between tyranny and anarchy, not that we would aim at either of those, we could tell the difference. Yes, there are differences in how an election will turn out, but nobody knows what will happen in the long run, Nobody knows whether a single bit of legislation will turn out to be valuable or destructive of social bonds. We are guessing with our best sense, but it is still a guess. If nothing else, we must follow Immanuel Kant’s advice not to make rules to bind future generations so that they could not make improvements.

universal flood??

With the Ken Ham and Bill Nye debate thoroughly over, but left with an unsettling taste, I had to say something.

OK I have some questions about the flood that I needed answered. An old student Trevor Cartwright brought up the Genesis account once more. Long ago I dismissed the possibility that Genesis was giving us a literal account of events in ancient history. But lingering questions remain. I am firmly convinced that God does not intend to deceive people by plain observation, and that human senses are generally reliable, especially with so many eyes on the same objects. Science does not give us absolute truth, but it does give us good probability, and human logic, though incomplete, does not deceive us as far as it goes.

So here it goes: The contention is about whether the flood is universal or local. I abandoned the prospect that it was global a long time ago because of the large number of species and the variety of species on different continents that did not seem to have known each other, and certainly not a mere 6000 years ago.

I don’t have a problem with thinking that the flood is local, and that the ancients thought the world to be very small. Here’s a rather recent map of Ptolemy’s from 105 AD, thousands of years after the supposed universal flood.
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Ptolemy’s world was much tinier than ours, and I can imagine the sort of thinking that went into his worldview. I don’t suppose that he would have found universal assent for what he included or what he left out though, the proportions or topology. A universal flood for Ptolemy, a far more educated and knowledgable person than Moses or the scribes who compiled the text of scriptures in 550 BC, would have been possible, since the world was so small.

I got to thinking though, if as Genesis 7:20 says, “The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than fifteen cubits” (NIV) then a universal flood would have covered Mt. Everest by more than 23 feet. A note by the translators suggests that this passage could be translated “rose more than fifteen cubits, and the mountains were covered” does not suggest more than a local phenomena, a common occurrence for the Mesopotamian river basin. Many readers who trust the veracity of the Jewish scriptures breathe a sigh of relief.

But, enter the moderns, like Ken Ham, and you have a universal flood, implying that Everest was covered by more than 23 feet of water. Everest is 8,848 meters above sea level. That implies that in 40 days and nights, it rained about 221 meters a day, ~9.21 meters an hour, (for the non-scientific among us ~30.21 feet per hour or an inch every 2 minutes) over the whole earth. I admit, speaking as a modern, that Everest is growing ~4 millimeters a year, but this amounts to only about 24 meters in 6000 years, shortly after the “creation event” for Hammites and Ussherites. This wouldn’t change the calculation much.
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Give space for another passage of Genesis, 7:11 where the “Springs of the deep” burst forth and maybe that figure for daily rain is a little high. Now scientifically speaking, when we look for springs of the deep, underground reservoirs of such magnitude, we do not find them. But according to the US Geological Survey, in a page that answers the question “How much water is in the earth?”, it turns out that there isn’t much at all compared to the 8,848 meters of water deep required to cover Everest. In fact rough calculations of the average volume of the earth a radius of 6371 km = 1.08 x10^12 or 1,080,000,000,000 km^3 and the additional volume of water needed to get the water up to that height, would constitute approximately 10x10^9 or 10 billion km^3 about 7.22 times the amount of water on the earth at this time, 1,386,000,000 km^3. So some terrible questions come up.

(I was so happy to find that note on the alternate reading of that passage in Genesis 7:20. It sort of solves the whole puzzle Ham puts up as a matter of fact. Translations may not be as reliable as Ham wants them to be.)

The greatest difficulties come for the literalists who want a universal flood. It’s too much water, where did it come from? There are no large (4-8 kilometer deep) caverns in the earth, and there never were, if the laws of physics obtained back then, and there was never a dome of water in the sky. After getting all that water here in an impossible downpour, where did it go? All the Bible says is that the waters began to recede until later in the year when the ark set down on the land. In total, about a year’s time had transpired before the inhabitants got off the ark.

What we have in the necessity of a universal flood is a miraculous event, (that means God going against the laws of nature (though I don’t think God does that)) implying God couldn’t see the bad behavior of people beforehand, and had to come up with an ad hoc resolution to the problem. If there is a God, this version of God that the literalists have cooked up is almost laughably puny, certainly not worthy of worship. And if that’s all God is, then the new Athiests are correct to dispose of him.

I think God is wiser than that. To be consistent, the literalists have a terribly contradictory text on their hands. How they have managed to fool themselves into believing their interpretation true is beyond me. I think the Bible is much more human and subtle. The writers were not robots copying down texts dictated to them by an angel, or God himself. They understood the complexities of human nature and even divine providence. We do them a terrible disservice to treat these texts as a logical puzzle without even considering how human these stories are.

Here’s the latest from Reasons.org. Reasons to Believe just published a paper on the universal flood. They have better numbers and research than my speculation above, but conclude generally the same thing I did. Here it is: The Universal Flood.

public space, private space

My discussion of this issue, at least the inner dialogue that takes place whenever my private bubble is breached, is foremost an internal one. I wonder how people think of their spaces when they live in an obviously public space. So this discussion about public and private space revolves around the psychology of living in public with other people.

This churning of my soul may just be a private dialogue, but it comes when people stick their bodies, voices, cars and other things that they have some control over into the space that I should have control over but don’t because of them. So this begins by thinking that my preferences are just pet peeves. It continues when I think that it can’t just be me who has these thoughts. It becomes an obsession when traffic of all sorts gets backed up around their preference, or failure to form one.

I believe that society would be a better place without these transgressions, but I also think negatively that serendipity and chance acquaintance would suffer from the lack of accidental contact brought about by a less strict adherence to Doug’s rules of order, or even a complete ignorance of them altogether. That said, and I do believe my own self criticism, there is much that people could do to make the lives of those around them less arduous. But a good bit of this only resolves itself in negotiation between competing interests. However most of the necessary groundwork has already been done.

The first principle of space, is being aware of other’s needs for space. And this involves use of the golden rule. Let’s start with an example. Our architecture sometimes attempts to mollify the effect of this particular breach of public space.

After a meeting of some kind, people often gather in small groups and talk. This seems perfectly normal and good as far as it goes. But when people stand in the doorway or the only available aisle to do this talking they breach the public space if people want to get by. Heaven forbid that the conversation is broken up, but frequently the only way to get these transgressors out of the way is to say something and interrupt the conversation. If it is rude to breach the conversation, it is far ruder to force the breach of the conversation by inhabiting the public space as if it were private.

What is private space? Even though every culture has its own constraints on private space, private space is defined as the boundary that should not be crossed by another person unless explicitly obtaining consent. The way people keep their private space is various in different cultures but it remains a sphere that cannot be breached casually without offense. Each culture has a combination of rules either formal or informal that determine the circumstances under which one person may touch another. Breaking those conventions between equals is seen as too friendly, pushy, overly familiar, domineering, abusive, assault, or even rape.

For example, in the US, pregnant women almost get used to affectionate (male or female) strangers touching their pregnant belly without eliciting great offense. It may be uncomfortable, and the touch can be resisted without offense, but it is also an introduction into a world where breaches of private space by the child will be the norm for the expectant mother. But for a stranger to touch the belly of a non-pregnant woman is an offensive breach of private space. Why the difference between the two events?

If we can learn what that difference is, I believe we can obtain a clue to the character of the difference between public and private space.

barnes & noble

I was browsing the racks in Barnes & Noble for a book I might give to my daughter Eden. I thought there might be a thoughtful and interesting book in the philosophy section. I was right. I got a book called The Hobbit and Philosophy. There are lots of interesting article titles there. But I noticed a disturbing trend, and I don’t know whether this is just the local store (my suspicion), or some edict from corporate headquarters.

I am not one to worry about what people think or express, as long as the tone is even and well crafted. And I am willing to listen to rants when it comes to the abuse of someone’s rights or a breach of morality. But I noticed that many of the books whose covers were facing the audience were of the new atheist persuasion. Don’t get me wrong, I like reading their rants and buy their books just to argue with them. I am a theist, and their thin dismissals of my experience and education (as prodigious as some of theirs) mark a failure of both their imagination and understanding. But from the display, it seems there is a clear intention to promote these works as central to philosophy.

Again, don’t get me wrong, the standard works of Aristotle, Plato, Kant, Nietzsche, and Hegel are there alongside some of the newer lights like Zizek, I’m just grumbling about the promotion of peripheral works as if they were central to philosophy. Maybe this is a passing fancy of a particularly angry store manager, a momentary promotion, and if so, I should just chill. Over the ages, who will ever know.

I understand the need to scream at stupidity. This rant may be an example of that. And the new atheists (NA) often are screaming at the stupidity of lots of incoherent theism. Americans seem pretty dull-witted when it comes to changing their minds, and many branches of Christianity seem dedicated to shooting themselves in the feet, giving the NA plenty of ammunition. It’s laughable, really. But then, I weep, because it really tells how the mighty Christian culture has fallen from its previous dominance. With the curious mix of rationales in the NA rhetoric of bad behavior by Christians, overconfidence, and incomplete science and statistics, they nonetheless have a point. That doesn’t mean that they have achieved the truth, only that as long as the Christian church chooses to live and argue on the old terms, it will leave room for criticism.

Part of that criticism arises just because responsible people in the church are just not interested in carrying on the conversation with those who oppose Christianity. I understand that. The outcome, however, is that the church carries on as if the opponents don’t exist. That is a bad thing. But with the absolute impossibility of keeping up in this era, we often must be content to keep aware. I don’t think this blog is much more than that.

“the problem with pot”

I speak in response to an article in the Pentecostal Evangel dated a few days from now. I get them as a courtesy of AGWM Communications where I work. I am entirely sympathetic with the goals and aims of the Assemblies of God World Missions team and their claim to be founded on the Bible as the Word of God. This denomination is one of the most progressive and vigorous groups aimed in this world at the propagation of the good news of Christ non-prejudicially to the whole world. There is complete and sincere concern for the welfare of people and a flourishing future for individuals. I happily subscribe to their missions philosophy, the leadership, and working people engaged in this ministry.

That said, I do not always subscribe to the less than clear thinking of the magazine they put out, though for the most part it is well researched and carefully produced. The Evangel this time, focussing on Convoy of Hope has a distracting little article near the end called “The Problem With Pot.”

Let me start with a good part of the article. Andrew Carpentieri’s story is that he first became acquainted with illegal drugs through marijuana. This is not an unusual story. The good part of his story is that he found salvation in Christ and was released from the bondage of addiction to much stronger drugs into a life of liberty in Christ. I applaud him and God for this transformation. I do not dispute the facts of this story.

Now, to the bad part… Andrew’s story is woven into a fabric of half truths and misinformation that makes it look like marijuana is at fault for his downfall. Information is offered in the article that blames marijuana for Andrew’s inevitable decline into a criminal underworld, captive to addictive substances and contrary to all good sense. The chief argument used is that marijuana is a gateway drug.

In case you haven’t been listening for the last 43 years since Richard Nixon started the war on drugs, marijuana is a gateway drug that leads into the inevitable decline and further drug abuse of anyone who uses it. Dr. Mitch Earleywine1 asks the question whether marijuana use can be a “cause” of further drug abuse. He concludes that on David Hume’s criteria of causality, marijuana cannot be a cause of further drug abuse because studies do not show that. Instead there is no statistically relevant correlation between marijuana use and, as Earleywine demonstrates, cocaine use. If the gateway theory is to be believed, then there should be a strong correlation between marijuana use and cocaine use. But Earleywine shows good statistical evidence that only about 2% of all marijuana users go on to use powdered cocaine on a monthly basis. (I am condensing the statistical arguments here.) Even fewer have used crack cocaine in the last month.

If then it is statistically improbable that marijuana is the cause of addictive monthly cocaine use, then, what is the reason for calling marijuana a gateway drug? It certainly is a gateway, but not in the way the author John W. Kennedy wants you to think, (as the federal government also wants you to think). Marijuana is a gateway into the criminal underworld of illicit drug use, thievery, robbery, fraud, etc. that permeates the gray areas of modern American life. Once a person uses marijuana, they have entered the underworld economy. Outside the distaste this brings to some of us, and the harm to people it actually causes, what does it mean that marijuana is a gateway to this realm?

The story is fairly simple. It has to do with whether someone in authority is a plausible witness to the truth. (The government claims that it is a plausible witness to the truth. It claims that it knows the truth about currently illicit drugs and can decide for you how to behave when it makes laws to punish you for using them.) There is a moral sense in all of us, atheist and theist alike, that knows when it is being lied to. When the government and those who agree with it about marijuana tell the public that marijuana has no medically redeeming virtue, it is lying. We have 5000 years of evidence that people have been using marijuana for medical purposes. There was even a large section on marijuana in the medical compendium before the 1940s in the USA that described the medical value of marijuana.

Here’s the modern kicker. When a teen tries marijuana, they often say that the D.A.R.E. program has mislead them. Marijuana is not as harmful as is claimed.

[Is marijuana not harmful as the Evangel article says people claim? No, marijuana, as a psychoactive drug has potentially dangerous effects that make it necessary to avoid exposing undeveloped humans. Every group seeking legalization of marijuana, including N.O.R.M.L., Drug Policy Alliance, and the Marijuana Policy Project insist that any legalization scheme must follow a similar trajectory as lawful alcohol restrictions, preventing underaged persons from purchasing the drug. No considerate adult would recommend allowing the use of marijuana to minors except in cases of medical expediency. The Evangel article states that marijuana may cause the early onset of schizophrenia to minors who use it. That has been attested in statistically relevant ways. But in these cases, schizophrenia would have presented for those individuals before the age restrictions on legalized marijuana would have allowed them to use the drug, usually by the age of 18. But statistically relevant also is the fact that the increased public use of marijuana shows no increase in the incidence of schizophrenia. Here’s a bit I know you will like, most high school students find it easier to acquire marijuana (black market) than cigarettes or alcohol (both regulated by law). I digress…]

The young person who tries marijuana and finds that it is not as harmful as they have been told, will believe that they have been lied to. They will believe that they have also been lied to about heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine, about which they may not have been lied to. You must see the dilemma this places the users of illicit drugs and the authorities in.

Marijuana has been drafted as the gateway drug. It is certainly not the cause of further drug use if we’re to take the statistics seriously, though it has been claimed to be. But the lie of the authorities leaves young people unprepared to encounter stronger and more dangerous drugs and the criminal element they have been introduced to. The legitimacy of the government message has been diluted by a patent lie and further obfuscation. It has disqualified itself from making claims of the sort it does. The fault here lies with the government not with the drug itself.

In the end of the article, Kennedy almost comes clean. He claims that the only authority that suffices to redeem a person is God, and that other authorities are not efficacious. He also moves people toward self-control. I applaud these remarks. They are correct in the best biblical and moral senses. So, I ask why has he bought the terrible story the federal government tells. Why has he woven his story into theirs, when they have done nothing well concerning this drug. He has told truths and half truths, but obscured the real truths that would cause suspicion on the authority of our government. Agreeing with the naughty government, he therefore waffles when it comes to committing to Christ the power of our own resurrection, our healing and security.

Kennedy recommends trusting Christ, but he damages his claim by siding with the fallible and clearly problematic government view about a drug it has lied about for over sixty years. Is Christ and self-control sufficient for living the life of freedom, or do we need the government to control our behavior?

My suggestion is to stick to the message of Christ and avoid the faulty “conservative” bent that seeks to lord it over people. The war on drugs is in reality a war against people who use drugs, people that we as Christians claim to care about. What a terrible hypocrisy. “The greatest among you is the servant of you all.” The federal government, in case you haven’t been paying attention, is in its own service lately, not yours.

Note: If you or anyone you care about is entangled in addictive behaviors, you may find this page or this page helpful. A look at this well documented page of effects of drugs on neonatal development, and attendant complications is useful partly because the scientific papers referenced are also linked. My inclusion of these rehab sites are not endorsements of them, only a place to start for those who are interested. In contrast, some rehab institutions (not necessarily the ones noted here) have been accused of turning addicts into profit. Read this article. (note inserted 5/6/2019, edited 6/5/2019 and 9/4/2019.)

(I added this post on October 6, 2015 to mjmemo.com my blog dealing with marijuana prohibition.)

1 Mitch Earleywine, Understanding Marijuana: A New Look at the Scientific Evidence (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2002), pps. 50-60.

the evils of wikipedia

I keep hearing from my academic colleagues that Wikipedia is problematic, faulty, and unreliable. The last time I checked, Wikipedia was judged to have 5 errors per article while the Encyclopaedia Britannica had only 3 errors per article. So if Wikipedia is so bad, why do we consider the Britannica to be a model?

Frankly, I would like to see student papers with only 5 errors. That would make my grading so much easier. I would also like to see scholarly books with only 5 errors, misstatements, or problematic conclusions.

I think the critique of Wikipedia is problematic. First of all, anyone who does scholarly research processes errors with a grain of salt. The author may have claimed to know something that turns out to be false. Knowledge at the time of the writing may fully support the error. These errors are forgivable, and we forgive them all the time. But, to accuse the author of intentionally deceiving the reader tangles the critic in an endless argument about intentions, which can’t be proven. There is a strong bias in our reading of factual, scholarly material that the author intends to tell the truth. The argument posed by the author may be good even though the evidence cited for it is faulty.

Second, though the material in Wikipedia is crowd sourced, it is nonetheless more than often vetted by multiple viewers. I read many summaries of arguments in Wikipedia and find them to be often useful. There are also summaries of materials I have read that I don’t necessarily agree with, that need modification, that need references and links. I would not know that without my expertise, and yet, the article may be useful even with the errors.

Third, if we are looking to Wikipedia for the whole picture, we are being unfair. Why should we expect more than it is able to provide, even though it provides a great deal? It has many resources not easily available in a library book or journal, and links to internet resources that include books and journals.

Fourth, the articles are uneven in treatment. That may be so, but there are also warnings on the pages to tell you if the arguments proposed need support, or editing to provide additional resources.

It may be a good starting place for research, resources, links, definitions, and catalogs of books and articles to be read. That’s a powerful argument for using it. It is not the only resource, but with our internet presence it is the most readily available one. In addition, it is a trivial procedure to get answers there. Most often, when doing a web search on some arcane subject, or a popular author, et al, the first link that pops up is wikipedia. Trying to get information from online school libraries, or libraries paid for by schools is a multistep process, often guarded by passwords and byzantine web portals. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be used for serious research. But if they should, it would be helpful to take the resistance away from the system, and require a password only when someone wanted to access a particular document after the search and preliminary investigation pointed in that direction.

For those who complain about the quality of the articles in Wikipedia, I have one suggestion: Get involved. It is often the experts who complain. I ask then, why they are not contributing? Yes, that was a rhetorical question.

why did god harden pharaoh’s heart?

Excuse the lowercase g in the title. It’s a stylistic affectation that I have always used in this blog. (I’m putting off my homework tonight to ruminate about this.) I thought that a bit of musing I made about this subject while I was young could be useful. I have read some of Calvin’s Institutes and found them logically problematic while devotionally stimulating. I have no bones to pick with Calvin himself, but his theories have participated in too many holy wars.

Now to the question: Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart. To listen to a TULIP Calvinist, God was revealing in Romans 9 that some people are purposively sent to hell to prove a point, and as Jerry Wallis suggests, the sharp edge of a consistent TULIP Calvinist requires the destruction of some people to prove he is God. Immediately, I reject any characterization of God that smacks of pettiness. God doesn’t need any of us to do anything for his glory to be completely full. The God that would condemn some to hell and choose beforehand to bring some to heaven, is just philosophical determinism in sheep’s clothing. I reject it out of hand. I actually reject the god that Calvinism requires. He doesn’t qualify.

So it seems that Pharaoh, on the TULIP’s account is doomed to hell. But I offer an alternative. Reading the Bible through “in a year” this year, I just passed the account in Exodus where Moses recounts the plague events. Over and over Pharaoh rejects Moses’ plea and keeps the Israelis in Egypt. The Bible says that God is the one who hardens Pharaoh’s heart. Does God therefore have a personal vendetta against Pharaoh? Or, does he count Pharaoh among those who are predetermined to go to hell, and so uses him to resist the Israeli’s? After all, who cares about Pharaoh’s soul?

But I think if we examine the story, we see that the purpose of God in hardening Pharaoh’s heart has nothing to do with Pharaoh himself. He is not a sociopath when he mourns the loss of his firstborn. He is actually human. The arrogance of the TULIPs makes them think they know the eternal destination of Pharaoh. They are certain that God’s hardening was personal and that God was getting glory in the negativity of Pharaoh’s circumstance.

I will argue that God hardening Pharaoh’s heart had everything to do with demonstrating to National Israel that the God who they were only peripherally acquainted with, YHWH, was the real and demonstrably sovereign Lord of Creation, not Ra and his pantheon of subordinate gods. We know, since they tried to return to Egypt and built replica’s of Egypt’s gods, that they were henotheists. They were not loyal to YHWH and needed something of a boost in their faith to make the move. God provided that boost by the miracles he did in Egypt and the desert. The demonstration of the plagues was not Pharaoh centered. It was Israel centered.

So where does that leave Pharaoh? Well, just about the same place we are all in. We have sinned; we have hurt and offended the creation, people, and God himself. But, we are redeemable in Christ. These arrogant determinists write Pharaoh into oblivion because of his bad behavior (yes, motivated by God). But which one of us has not done what Pharaoh did on some small scale. In fact the hardening of the TULIP’s heart against those who are obviously damned, looks an awful lot like Pharaoh’s hardened heart against Israel.

I appeal finally to the thief on the cross beside Jesus. Did Pharaoh have a moment of repentance before he died? We’ll never know. Honestly, we won’t, despite all the howling of the TULIPs who condemn themselves by their haughty absolutes and deterministic god. What a sorry lot, even with the devotional appeal of Calvin, and the wonderful propositional logic of their declarations.

Are they going to be saved. I don’t know. Some of them will be, I’ll wager. But I don’t know who of them will be; God knows. Like Socrates, though, I am smart enough to know that I don’t know. I’m not smart enough to know whether I will persist until the end with Christ, even though I think I’m elect, elect in and because of the Son of God.

Finally, I take a page out of C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. In The Last Battle when the Calormene servant of Tash came to the doorway, Aslan let him in because the servant’s faith was more worthy than Tash, his proclaimed god. With respect to mercy, I believe God is generous. With respect to vengeance, I believe God doesn’t wish things to come to that, though he will exact vengeance on those who positively refuse his proffered gift. And though he exacts vengeance on some, I don’t believe it is with joy, or pleasure. Regret is the emotion that I think most closely resembles the disposition of God in that case.

Don’t take me as mean-spirited, I think it is the TULIPs who are. I reserve further criticisms of Calvinism until later. I’ve exposed my soft underbelly quite enough for tonight.