Category Archives: philosophy

my philosophy musings

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.

the atheist and the creationist…

…make the same kind of mistake.

It’s an easy one, but it disturbs me. The mistake is constituted by shutting one eye or the other. Anybody familiar with using a microscope understands this. This may be passé for the moderns, but in the 1960s if you wished to record what you saw through the lens of the microscope, you would have to look into the microscope with one eye and record the observation with the other one. There’s a trick to it that takes some practice. The same kind of skill is required if you wish to fly an Apache helicopter. What is required is that with one eye, the pilot sees the real world, while with the other, they see what is presented to them through an eyepiece that shows the world differently.

It usually takes anywhere between 9 to 12 months for a young pilot to become “safe” enough not to kill himself accidentally during night flights (until then, young pilots fly with instructor pilot or a senior and experienced pilot who can take controls in case of disorientation).1

Though flying a microscope does not risk the life of the pilot, it requires concentration and can be mastered in a few hours or days.

The problem for the atheist and the creationist is that they have closed one eye while they observe their data. The atheist, by presupposition, cannot see the hand of God in the universe, or the Bible that tells about it. The creationist cannot see the real world, or the data that it presents. For both, the world is skewed, by presupposition, to avoid the possibility that data from the other sphere may inform their observation. As a consequence, though the richness of their chosen myopia enthralls them, they are unable to see the world in its living splendor. This is regrettable and sad, but it can be fixed.

A further observation prevents data of the other sort leaking into their chosen world, that is, their opponent presents them with all the arguments against looking into that other world. They see their opponent’s error and rightly reject it as myopic. Their own lack of imagination prevents them from seeing that they make the same mistake. When Jesus pointed out that one’s judgment about the splinter in the other’s eye prevented them from seeing the plank in their own he was encouraging them to do a little self examination. Critique your own failure to see from the other’s point of view.

The golden rule shouts against the splinter judgment. Walk in the other person’s shoes for a mile; see from their perspective; understand their point of view. Both views alone are incomplete and problematic. Both require different skills.

Here’s my suggestion, primarily for the creationist since they do believe that people can change: Try to understand why it is important to include scientific data in your evaluation of the world. Try to understand why the scientist thinks that natural laws, in place from the beginning of time, do not change with every whim of God and lack of foresight. He created the world and called it good. So study the world, and add the lens of empiricism and logic to the tools of biblical interpretation. Try seeing the Book of God called Nature as compelling data for inclusion in your worldview. Open the other eye to the world itself and see the wonders of God unfold in a new fashion, not as the utilitarian groundwork of God’s exaltation of people, but as a living artifact of God’s desire, passion, and grace.


the pensmore conference

September 24th and 25th College of the Ozarks hosted a conference with contemporary Christian luminaries in the sciences. John Lennox, Stephen Meyer, Robert Spitzer, Michael Tenneson, Mark Rapinchuk, Kyle Rapinchuk, and Erin Hayes examined and exposed some of the trenchant issues on the interface between science and faith.

I went to the conference with my friend Steve Krstulovich, a recently retired engineer at Fermilab in Chicago. Unfortunately, he and I napped for some of the sessions, and where we went to different sessions, we recorded them for each other.

I only have the ones I recorded, since I haven’t received any from him yet, but here they are:

Stephen Meyer: Signature in the Cell (partial)

Download 100 MB

Stephen Meyer: Darwin’s Doubt and the Cambrian Explosion

Download 130 MB

Robert Spitzer: Creation and Evolution in My Classroom

Download 108 MB

Robert Spitzer: Evidence for the Supernatural from Human Consciousness

Download 130 MB


The most exciting thing about this conference was the careful philosophical evaluation of materialistic naturalism. With one voice the presenters offered evidenced, nuanced, and valid criticism of the Neo-Darwinian supposition that life and consciousness appeared under the auspices of natural law operating on material reality. That turns out to be insufficient based on the sudden appearance of information in the universe. There was not enough time and material cause and effect is not sufficient to allow the evolutionary leap to complex life forms and then consciousness.

response to an opinion

Why Our Children Don’t Think There Are Moral Facts

Times Opinionator by Justin McBrayer

This is a video of his explanation of the problem presented at Evangel University.

My response to the written piece in the NYT Opinionator

I have always maintained that the equation between truth and proof is fallacious. We’ve moved on past the simplicity of a logical proof to statistical correlations between facts, truths, and opinions. The nice thing about that is that irrespective of whether you are judging opinion or the real world, a statistical correlation gives corroboration and even warrant to the best of our moral intuitions, even as it does to our measurements of the material properties of the universe.

In this way we have learned to judge the negative value of divorce, except in the case of spousal violence. And divorce is a great example because any blanket proscription against divorce because it is “morally wrong” fails to rescue women (or men) from abusive relationships that may, and too often, result in death. Statistical correlation does give warrant for divorce. It is the moral solution in the case of abuse. It is not an opinion. (Or, if it is an opinion, it is also more than that.)

Yes, this judgment relies on the belief that all people are created equal and deserve equal judgment under the law. But even that belief has statistical warrant. It is a negative warrant, but one that has proved to be true over the many centuries when different values have been held. Other grounds for social values all end by breaking social bonds and result in logical, legal, and moral contradictions, subjecting one group to the will of another, and performing unjust actions upon them. This is not strictly a biblical value either, except by derivation. There was no proscription against slavery in the Bible, something that southern landowners knew very well.

Yes the very concept of justice relies on a belief that equity and fairness must be preserved, and that there must be redress for wrongs done, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

To think that values are simply opinions that can be dismissed because they are opinions is the shallow end of the gene pool, both intellectual and biological. They choose this path because it is deterministically simple, and no more complex thought is required, and whether they would be able to perform that complex thought is in question.

The only disappointing thing about relying on statistical correlations is that they must be worked out through arduous research. Logic is much simpler. But can we require certainty? There are plenty of examples where incomplete reasoning, false certainties, or open-ended absolutes are the cause of much abuse and damage to God’s children and the earth he has placed them on. Under which justification can a king claim divine right, the absolute rule over a subject’s life without appeal?

in response to a remark

A friend of mine said something yesterday that piqued my interest. I paraphrase: “Students in my Modern/Postmodern class will need to pray for help because the writers of the essays in our text do not give any hope of resolving a crisis of faith.” This paraphrase also contains some of what I understood him to mean, I apologize for my failure to grasp the exact thought.

He is correct when he worries for the Christian students in his class. Postmodernism does not try to sew up the cracks in our perception of reality. The reality his students have, and the reality they have constructed is largely deficient in the critical faculties necessary for the raw critique found in postmoderns, post structuralists, and literary critics like Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard, Fish, Gadamer, or even Nietzsche. That is because they have little training in classical philosophy, or the philosophes of the Age of Reason. Most of these believers have been brought up in the certainties of early twentieth-century conservative theologies.

There is nothing in particular wrong with these certainties, except when they face the much longer and more difficult philosophical conversation of the critical schools. The critical schools have little to do with conservative Christianity, and their remarks are aimed at a much broader set of issues in society. Conservative Christianity is the child of a narrow branch of conservatives, perhaps the Scottish plain language school of theology where the sentence in question just means what it says: a form of literalism. Literalism is fine for a small community that doesn’t interact with the wider world. It is too fragile for contact with uninterpreted reality, say, the truths of experience that are only found outside the covenant community. It is part of a closed system that not unlike natural systems, suffer continuing entropy for lack of a persistent source of energy.

Alongside these certainties is the vigor of youth, that turns their certainty into a weapon for defense of their knowledge citadel. This is all, at times, that their elders expect. What their elders do not expect, because they have no acquaintance, is that the knowledge they have imparted, is at best naïve, and subject to the critiques made famous in the postmoderns. In fact, the sidelong attack of the postmoderns on the knowledge of the modern era (from the Enlightenment) is particularly apt at stressing the unexamined presuppositions of the conservative Christian. This is why my friend’s request for prayer is appropriate.

Part of what has always been the character of the conservatives version of education is indoctrination. That is, flatly, “you should confess what I have told you to believe.” This works perfectly well for doctrinaire scientism as it does for conservative Christianity. Their models of knowledge are similar. Happily the attack of the postmoderns work as well on both crowds. The problem the Christian faces is the failure of their worldview, while the adept at scientism finds a new indoctrination that they naïvely see as truth in the same way as the predecessor scientism. Both reactions are incorrect.

Before we get started, let me suggest as an aside, that the initial mistake many Christians make with postmodernism is that they take it as a replacement for what they call knowledge. This is a failure to recognize the difference between theory and critique, between knowledge and skepticism. When the postmoderns speak they do so not as an authority, but as pointing out flaws in their subject’s perception of knowledge. They are not building an alternative worldview, but suggesting that the current worldview is a cobbled together piece of excrement. Some, like Foucault do this early in their careers, but after tearing down get around to building something later on. Others, like Derrida, never construct anything. They are always and forever deconstructing the precious objects. That is perhaps a bit unfair, but I have found few instances of construction in his writings. His puzzling rhetoric annoys, teases, and rejects the foundationalist certainties of an early twentieth-century worldview.

Problems in the Church with postmodernism (I am most familiar with these) range from outright rejection to reassertion of the fundamentals as a response to the critique. But the range of reactions rises from a lack of acquaintance with the material the postmoderns are critiquing in the first place. Some rail against the postmoderns, not realizing that postmodernism is unhappy with all foundationalist pretensions, not just those evidenced by conservative Christianity. But the Christians I know who reject postmodernism out of hand, don’t realize that they themselves have foundationalist pretensions. They want to say that the Bible is a reliable foundation for Christianity. OK, let them say that. They are wrong. Jesus said himself “You search the scriptures because in them you think you have eternal life, but they are the ones that testify of me.” Christ, and the revelation of Christ is the foundation of the Church and Christianity, not the Bible, (or Peter for that matter,) which by the way, the early believers only had a part of what we call the Old Testament in the Hebrew TENAK and the Greek Septuagint. So Jesus couldn’t have been speaking of the New Testament at all.

So, if Christ is the foundation for the Church, then there is no need to defend the logic of the Bible. (That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t know what it says, or understand history, context, organization, and theology.) These critics of postmodernism rightly believe that postmodernism is an attack on Christianity when Christianity has become an adherent to the text instead of an adherent to Christ. Or these believers think that they are defending Christ when they are defending a culturally inept interpretation of God’s intention, mistaking their theology for reality, they have missed Christ altogether and placed a terrible burden on reality to prove their theology. The postmoderns are correct to critique that miscegenation.

The proper view of the postmodern critique is to treat it as a skeptical instrument to call into question foundationalist assertions, that is, assertions of knowledge that rely on the annunciation and exact correspondence of our knowledge with absolutes. Any study of science or theology will reveal how terribly wrong humans have gotten it at times. The critique of the postmodern is just another instance of calling us to account for some of those errors.

What does the believer have to fear from postmodernism? Well, in my estimation, nothing. All that’s required is the kind of reading and research that is required for any other dense and often inscrutable set of texts: a healthy ego, a wry sense of humor, some fair historical awareness of the subjects of their critique, and an acquaintance with the larger conversation. If somebody mentions a writer, say Foucault mentioning Nietzsche, it would be worth your while to discover what Nietzsche was doing that Foucault critiques. If a writer mentions an essay or a book, as Foucault does when he mentions Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals in “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” you will notice that he also mentions Dr. Paul Rée who is one subject Nietzsche critiques in his book. Rée is known as the subject of Nietzsche’s critique by any who have read the Genealogy, and so wouldn’t necessarily require a citation by Foucault. But for the uninformed reading Foucault’s essay, Rée is a piece of the puzzle unknowable outside of Foucault’s reference to his ideas. But this scholarly concern of mine is meant only to hint at the many ramifications possible in tracing out the meaning of any reference. Any casual dismissal of Foucault because he “attacks” conservative Christianity, has no idea what Foucault has said and so does a disservice to the hearers, in fact performs the office of lying and misleading.

I haven’t told you what Paul Rée actually said, or what Foucault or Nietzsche said. But a student who wishes to be counted, should be able to enter that conversation fairly as an observer, and later, a participant. A reader worth their salt will be able to evaluate what they say without spitting or cursing. Comprehending any writing is partly a skill that requires being able to ground the conversation in some space, taking one side or another (one of many possible sides). The tendency to see any conversation as black and white is one of the unfortunate characteristics of foundationalism. Every statement is judged to be right or wrong, fitting or perverse. One must be willing to try to see an alternative worldview. You should even try swapping out your worldview for somebody else’s. That takes strength of character, so you may have to work out for a while in simpler tasks before trying it.

Does the postmodern critique give us relativism? No, it doesn’t. Remember that postmodernism is not giving us anything but a critique of failed beliefs, systems, and ideas. You might conclude that relativism is an appropriate response to their critique, but it would be your choosing that, instead of their critique resulting in that. According to Hughes LeBlanc, probabilistic logics function as well as binary ones. And Joe Margolis suggests that a robust relativism does not preclude truth. Thinking in black and white terms is probably wrong. Just because Jesus speaks the truth does not preclude Kongzi or Plato from also speaking the truth. Just because Aristotle is wrong about one thing (actually more than that) doesn’t mean he was wrong about all the things he said. Just because you have made mistakes in the past doesn’t mean you always make mistakes, etc.

Cheer up! The postmodern conversation is a fruitful one, when you can flex like a palm tree in the wind. The practice of shoring up your defenses against a possible attack can give you insight into your form of life, and help you to be transformed and not destroyed by this contact.

a journey with ryan bell

A Year Without God by Ryan Bell

My Response:

As a critical realist, I understand the purifications you have gone through, and the difficulties of this transition. I faced the prospect of the same sort of transition early in my life of faith, say, 15 years after my conversion to Christianity. I realized as a philosopher, that the route I was taking would lead me inevitably to the project you have found yourself in. But I also realized with the passage of time, what having grown up in a scientific household made me recognize, that is, the perfect blindness of that path as well.

Thinking that people can’t change, that we are predictable, that we are the subject of deterministic forces we can’t extricate ourselves from is as good a picture as the Calvinist gives us, and is from the same source — an overconfidence in our own logical apprehension of reality.

Gödel’s and Heisenberg’s thinking should have disabused us of notions like that, but in general it is comforting for people to imagine there is a destiny and we are responsible for it only in some peripheral sense. However, the humanist has to realize as the Christian must that our freedom (a surd in any sense) allows us to construct a reality that only partially resembles the reality we are given. And that construction is often at odds with reality though it may be internally consistent. The non- or anti-scientific theist and the non- or anti-religious atheist are not consistent with reality, though their consistent logics tell them they are.

Aristotle’s law of non-contradiction is a tool for the logic of sentences, not a test of reality. Reality is full of (for the moment) unresolved paradoxes, but the mistake many of us make is to ignore the paradox, leave it unexplored. But in those paradoxes lie, like a region of Mandelbrot’s fractal, unexplored depths of knowledge. Some paradoxes can be dissolved, and some can’t. That is a tale for time to tell. But some hold the riches of knowledge we hunger for. The paradoxes of quantum reality were like that. Now we’ve explored some of those regions, but our exploration is not finished. The paradox of reality still calls for resolution. As many like John Donne, the Catholic thinker suggested, we are on a journey.

Don’t let the determinists of the agnostic sort capture you as the determinists in the church did for a time. They may provide some material comfort, but fail to fill the promise of lasting knowledge. Allow this journey to be unrestricted on top as it is on the bottom. Don’t be content to settle for less than the truth, even if that truth disallows the resolution of your dilemma. The libraries are littered with minds that can’t conceive anything greater than their own conception. Let your exploration be freed from the constraints of your own logics, though minding the consistency with reality.

Cheers for the new year!


Our use of language, words, and communication is a very spiritual affair. After all there is little material component to reality. As the physicists are noted for pointing out there really is no stuff at the bottom except fields, forces, and information. Material is so 19th century.

Michel Foucault tried to get us to consider that the practices that are most important for us, including the conversations and letters we share with each other are spiritual practices even as our poetry and prayer is. We have gotten rationality down pat in our computers. But consciousness and self consciousness, not yet. That doesn’t mean we won’t, but we don’t understand it well enough yet to program it. It may be in trying to program it that we begin to understand it better. Morality of whatever kind is for us a very spiritual exercise because its practice is the admission that there is meaning beyond the redness of tooth and claw.

How can poetry not be a spiritual affair. The modern materialists have done so much to make the precious banal. In an effort to keep God out, they have reduced themselves to plankton, all the while acting as if like gods they could banish their spiritual natures with a wave of their hand. (I don’t say “spiritual natures” like there’s a God-sized hole in us that can be filled only by following this or that rubric.) Our spiritual nature is consciousness and self consciousness, a mystery of magnificent scope.

I know Christianity and all the major religions have some take on the afterlife. But I side with Plato who says we shouldn’t be scared of it since we can know nothing about it. Even though in the mouth of Socrates he elaborated a marvelous tale of the afterlife, reincarnation, et al in the Phaedo he denied anything like knowledge about it.

Kant thought that without God, freedom, and immortality, morality couldn’t exist. I don’t know that, but as mysteries they are magnificent in scope. There is no easy answer to them, or categories we can put them in. The modern materialist would banish such language, but it persists, even if there is no resolution to debates about it. Looking for proofs for or against Kant’s foundational principles is a problem that can only be solved by taking a transcendental position (too high for mere humans.) That system in which freedom can be proven is larger than the system we live in. We can assert it. We can’t prove it. We also can’t prove that it doesn’t exist. It remains conditional in a philosophic sense, suspended without resolution, even though we act as though it does exist and hold each other accountable as if it exists.

I let the materialists have their say. It comforts them to eradicate the opposition. Hot air really.

a couple issues

My life is marked by persistent phase shifts.

One day, I can write, the next I can not, then at another time I can read, or not. I have many books left unfinished because I couldn’t tolerate the work required to finish them, they offended my sense of truth, or research, or said nothing new, or I was just too tired to sustain or feign interest. I cannot just will to do what I want without a price being exacted from me. And, I don’t want to leave behind the traces of, and carefully configured annunciated truths that have sustained me since before I can remember, you know, the innate sensibilities that I have always relied on. I know that some of them are not worth retaining. They need an overhaul, but I can only sustain so much change at one time. But then I can’t will to change some of this either without breaking much that I value.

There is a certain gracefulness in life bought with patience, paid by me or others, God, or the universe. I can’t live well without that, and I can’t trace any freedom to its source. That’s frustrating. The quandary I am in forces a certain disappointment I can’t overcome merely by willing its resolution, or striking out in a promising direction. Complicating that are the promises I have made to people I respect in full expectation of fulfilling those promises, yet I am subject to a world where I cannot will to accomplish those same promises by willing their completion.

There is some guidance brought by beauty, by truth, by the Spirit of God, by awe at the majesty of the created universe. Otherwise I’m left alone, and not willing to let others take over the job of getting me in gear for whatever purposes they think I am suitable for. I become frustrated when I have to fend off either the ghosts of my own expectations of myself or the real expectations of myself or others. I do not wish for others to experience with me the disappointment I have in my own predicament.

I have moments of fruitful productivity, but like moments of my genius, they are too few and far between. Like glimpses of heaven we all have in a dream or a vision of perfection, they ruin the hope of actually getting there from here. They perform the task of creating emptiness where a fog resided before; a tension and anxiety exist now where ignorance and the soporific laziness of summer once was. Revelation is a curse in that it promises then takes away, sucking me into the future, a phase change from a simple childhood to a complex and effortful project/process/praxis.

I would not trade what I now see for the ignorance of my predecessor self, and since I am a different person than what I was, I cannot return the greater galaxy of my thoughts into the smaller structure of its progenitor’s container. I therefore plod forward, hoping that my stupid mistakes (inevitable) do not stop the onrush of determinate action, action guided by, in cooperation with, all the realities I am associated with. I take some comfort in the Analects of Kongzi (Confucius) Book 2, Ch 4:

  1. The Master Said, ‘At fifteen, I had my mind bent on learning.
  2. ‘At thirty, I stood firm.
  3. ‘At forty, I had no doubts.
  4. ‘At fifty, I knew the decrees of Heaven.
  5. ‘At sixty, my ear was an obedient organ for the reception of truth.
  6. ‘At seventy, I could follow what my heart desired, without transgressing what was right.’

and the oft-(mis)quoted aphorism of Augustine, “Love God and do what you please.”

Some ideas are not yet ready to expose themselves.

In a discussion with my friend Mark McLean, we talked about the effect of reading on one’s thoughts, ideas, the creation of new possibilities where none existed before. We are both SF nerds with a voracious appetite for interesting new worlds and worlds that are different enough from our own to make us challenge and reconsider the world we live in. I like talking with Mark because he provides an interesting mix of experience and insight. He helps me to gel some nascent ideas.

One idea I had last night was that some ideas are so entrenched in human rationality that creating new scenarios for common ways of thinking is exceptionally difficult. Take the problem of the soul, or consciousness. Still, after thousands of years of mucking around with early science and religion, we have only begun to unearth anything like a useful metaphor for talking about this. For age upon age, we treat the problem like a flat file filled with information that is supposed to solve the riddle. But we are always surprised when the data is incomplete, either by bad theory, or bad science and religion. Since we only unhappily tolerate the tension of unresolved issues, and with our ordinary impulse to cap off a theory, it is difficult to keep exploring the issues. It’s almost like cutting oneself with the resulting shame and self loathing.

Theories are often multidimensional, and we like to reduce those theories to a single dimension because a single dimension can be encapsulated in logic. I am not the opponent of logic, but since Gödel, we must leave an object like that incomplete if we are to admit that it is larger than our system can comprehend. The systems are incomplete by nature of their proposers, either fixed in language or experience. Promoting the ethos of anxiety where resolution is not at hand seems like the promise of unhappiness to those who like a neat little package. Which of us can tolerate for long the promise of unhappiness in such a way?

Why is new knowledge so hard? Because it costs so much personally and socially, we spend most of our time figuring out whether we can pay the price or not, or whether the possible gain is worth launching out without the effort spent to know whether we can pay, living desperate lives at the edge of survival. But the trail of knowledge is strewn with the dead bodies of those whose dying breaths announced the next step, the minimalist clue to advance the discussion, a treasure map scrawled in their own blood. Not many of us can afford to live like that. Not many of us have the chutzpah to make that decision. I am one who mistrusts the engine of my rationality enough to hold back from that sacrifice. Anyway, I’m not sure it is required of me.

I will plod along.

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.

will the real adam and eve please stand up?

Adam, Eve, and the Gospel

by Richard Davis, and Paul Franks

Here is the link to the original article in Enrichment, a journal for ministers in the Assemblies of God.

Here are a few notes about “Adam, Eve and the Gospel” and a few assumptions where it falters. One can happily deny the “literal” existence of Adam and Eve, without denying the actual existence of Adam and Eve, just as one can deny, like Augustine did, that the creation story is literal without denying that God created the universe and everything in it according to Genesis one and two.

If the essay above is meant to offer some comfort to those who believe in a literal Adam and Eve, we first have to ask what “literal” means with a bit more precision. I’m not going to do that here but note that when we use the word “literally,” we most often use it metaphorically. See this article in The Economist from November, 2013. I quote, “…if ‘tree’ and ‘rock’ aren’t metaphors, nearly everything else in our vocabulary seems to be.” When we talk of a literal Adam and Eve we mean the people “The Book” says, who are probably not a whole lot like the real people we imagine they are. Literarily, they serve a function that is contested among different groups, and the authority card seems especially inappropriate here.

Now before going down that rabbit hole, of what the “real” Adam and Eve were like, I would like to note a logical gaff that leapt out to me immediately. In the sixth paragraph, “Although not specifically named, anyone with a passing familiarity of the Creation story knows whom Jesus is talking about [in Mark 10:2-9]. The ‘them’ are Adam and Eve (Genesis 1.27).” I would like to give Davis and Franks a pass here, but is that really true? They are the ones making claims to being literal, yet don’t they realize the possibilities of that little statement of Christ? Easily, and most generally, the statement could refer to the first of our kind, but was Christ referring to Adam and Eve? That is a leap of faith, an interpretation, not a literal reading of the Scriptures. Christ was obviously referring to those of our race for whom marriage was based on fidelity. But are those people necessarily Adam and Eve? If as the Scripture allows, Jesus wasn’t speaking specifically about Adam and Eve, then the quandary Davis and Franks cook up disappears.

Davis and Franks then take us to the logic of the “Fall,” a fall, by the way which isn’t a literal reading of the Scripture because the Scripture nowhere states there is a fall. The Fall is, like the Trinity, a second-order theological object. The Trinity has a good history, and solid corroboration in the Scriptures, but the Fall is an object imposed on the Scriptures because of the concept of causation. First let’s look at the passage Davis and Franks give us, then at the problem of causation. They give us Romans 5:12, usually the go-to passage for those who wish to pronounce the blame on Adam. But logically it breaks down differently.

The passage is a conclusion to a previous argument that we’re not going to trace: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—“ ESV. Davis and Franks build the case through this scripture that Adam is the cause for our sin. But they stray in order to make the case for this. The translations are fairly literal, and all revolve around two clauses. The first clause, “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin” states that Adam was the first. Okay, fine. The second clause contradicts Davis and Franks by stating that “so death spread to all men because all sinned.” Rewrite that in better English, and it becomes “so, because all sinned, death spread to all men.” The causal link is broken between Adam’s sin and ours in the very passage Davis and Franks wish to use to prove that there is a causal link. Adam is the first, and when Paul follows in verse 14a with “Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam.” If the transgression was not like that of Adam, did they cook it up on their own? There seems to be a disconnect that prevents any causal link. Adam was first in sin, while Christ is first in redemption. That is the context of the passage in Romans 5. The problem is with defining why we sin.

Paul does make a causal argument in 5:15, and that seems to contradict my conclusion above. But, let’s keep both these suppositions in our mind at once and try to see what comes of it. If we are literalists, we need to read 5:12 through 5:15, but that does damage to 5:12 if we think that it is the sin itself that is transmitted. This brings up the problem of inheritance.

We know more about inheritance, especially genetic inheritance, than our predecessors. Nothing material science tells us allows the transmission of sin. But this is the weakest argument. That doesn’t answer the question for us, but it sets a form of groundwork. With it, and the Scripture, I will argue that transmission of sin by genetic inheritance is unreasonable, a break with God’s intent, and contrary to plain statements of Scripture.

Keeping 5:12 and 5:15 in mind, let’s look at Ezekiel 18. This chapter is the most thorough compendium on the inheritance of sin available in the scriptures. Its conclusion is blisteringly clear. There is no inheritance of sin, or of righteousness either. In support of Rom. 5:12 each man dies for his own sin, not the sin of his father or his son. So according to Ezekiel, sin is not part of the inheritance of Adam.

There is a passage that seems to contradict Ezekiel 18 in Numbers 14:18 “The LORD is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

But he is not punishing the children, children’s children or, grandchildren for their own sins, which if Ezekiel is correct they are not at fault for, but for the sins of the fathers. Even this case would not require any transmission of sin, only residual punishment. This is an easy sociological question to suggest an answer for. The answer is that the destruction to social well being done by the father may take generations to ameliorate. They inherit the consequences of the sin, not the sin itself. Ezekiel is intact. The children’s sin is not the cause of the punishment laid on their father, though the sin of the father is the cause of the punishment of his progeny. Even though they are bearing the punishment of the father’s sin, the children to four generations who sin will also suffer the consequences of their own sin.

The results of sin can be passed on, but I see no reason to think that the cause for sin passes on, except of course the possibility that sin has something to do with being human equivalent to the capacity Adam had when he sinned. For those who wish to break this debate into its tried and worn categories, that is that people are born evil, neutral, or good; I think those categories should be abandoned. Even now we know so little of what it means to be human, those categories have nothing to do with what people are in some essential nature. It is rather a view of human behavior that is looking for an explanation. In other words, those categories are subsequent to the debate at hand serving as conclusions, not data we are looking at that will help us decide why we sin. In a circular fashion, if those conclusions are true, then, at least, people born evil explains why they sin.

But that leaves us in a moral dilemma. Even common human reason recognizes injustice when it sees it. Here’s the proposition that the determinists recognize perfectly well, but ignore. If we inherit the predilection to sin, and we sin because of that inheritance, then we are not at fault for that sin. If we are not at fault then we cannot be justly punished.

So looking for causality for sin harking back to Adam, we are left free of the burden of sinfulness and its subsequent effects, and God can’t justly hold us accountable. But God does hold us accountable for our sin, so there must be an element of free will, pure libertarian choice involved in the sin, so that we can be held accountable for it.

So the causality argument that Davis and Franks appeal to in order to secure the “literal” Adam and Eve, turns out to be a theological debacle that solves no riddles.

Happily, we do have something Adam had that we inherited. We have our humanity. If we sin because we have free will and the imagination to think more of our judgment than we ought to thereby straying from God’s path, then we, like Adam and Eve, will suffer the consequences of that sin. Thank God for Jesus who redeems us and gives us everything necessary for life and godliness.

But I know the determinists, neo-Calvinists and amateur logicians in our ranks will rankle at this argument. They will rehearse the worn out phrases that are supposed to make me happy with God’s injustice which is the result of their broken theology. I am free of that, responsible for my actions freely chosen.

The determinists, and partners to the fatalists of Buddhism, those who wish to cheat the study of human nature by accusing their progenitors for their own sins; those who wish to find a cause for every effect, have become deists. For them there is no God who is doing a new thing in the earth. There is no new life emerging from the ashes, there is no redemption, because God has already predetermined beforehand by a fixed causality, who is to be saved and who is to be lost. Ezekiel kicked them off that wagon, but many have hopped back on because of the feeling that their logic has abandoned them. Uncertainty and unresolved angst are too difficult to bear, and so they retreat to the certainties of their predecessors, remaining orthodox and wrong at the same time.

But like the thinkers in the Age of Reason, many of these folks do not know how to hold in tension the true things they have evidence for, and reduce the world to simple probably wrong formula. In the Age of Reason thinkers like Galileo Galilei aimed to destroy the authority of Aristotle because Aristotle had outlived his usefulness. His theories were no longer instructive, like the debate today between Calvin and Arminius. Why should we stick to the categories so ancient that they bear no resemblance to the modern ones? Are the modern ones better? Certainly, where they take into account data that were unavailable to our predecessors. For example, those who fight Darwinian evolution tooth and nail, are still fighting with tools developed in the nineteenth century and before; they use literalism, pre-atomic, and pre-geological sciences.

To finish my response to Davis and Franks’s waving of their arms, I say that the real Adam and Eve are, even in scientific circles, our progenitors, and that we have good evidence in materialist terms that whenever they lived, they were probably greatly unlike the people we imagine Genesis is telling us about but suffered the same malady we do, and that is, reason, the desire for knowledge, a robust sense of their own importance, and freedom to make mistakes. I would say to Davis and Franks keep puzzling this issue and don’t stop short of the truth. The puzzle of what in the scripture should be read word for word as truth, and what is metaphor is unresolved in your facile attachment to worn out theological objects. Your results should not drive the interpretation of your data.