Saturday, December 10, 2005
What I want to do is find a way to distill as wide a range as possible of behaviours and patterns into some basic elements. What I'm laying out here is purely conceptual; empirical application will come somwhere down the line.
I'm going to continue to dispense with citations. I'm not trying to steal the ideas of others and claim them as my own - I'm simply recognizing that no one reading this blog gives a crap who Jacques Lacan is.
So let's start at the root. Back here, I briefly mentioned the idea of the imago. Why do I use the word "imago" rather than the more obvious "image?" Because I'm not going to be talking about a "self-image," at least not exactly, and by using a different word it is easier to distinguish between the two.
The imago is one way of explaining how we come to view ourselves as subjects - how do we perceive our own desires, how do we explain our actions, etc.
I'm going to be making a series of statements that, in all rigor, require empirical evidence. Alas, I don't have access to any of that material now. So just follow the narrative for now and see how it goes for you.
As infants, we exist in a kind of... enclosed totality. What I mean by that is, the only thing that exists to our minds is our immediate needs. Other people, other objects, these go utterly unnoticed. Even our own extremities remain foreign to our minds. Everything just is. You lack nothing, you want nothing, you don't even know there is anything to lack.
A feeling of hungry appears - you lack something. You have a need. There's a literal hole in you. Suddenly there's a new sensation (the nipple in your mouth), you suck, and the hunger goes away. The hole goes away - everything is whole again. No more absence - there is just your mind. As far as you are concerned, you are connected to everything. Total and utter completeness. Freud called this the "oceanic feeling."
That is the first structural point in our development; no consciousness or anything else. Just the real and your needs that are either fulfilled or not fulfilled.
Eventually, you slowly begin to develop a sense of yourself - and the world as distinct from yourself. This is what is called the mirror stage - either literally or metaphorically, you see an image of yourself in the world. This could be one of your parents, or even yourself in a mirror. You look into the world and say "Ah-ha! That's ME!"
This is a new experience; you are suddenly distinct from the world around you. The wholeness that you experienced in your early infancy also disappears; suddenly there is a new absence that your mother's milk cannot fill.
As an early infant, you had a need for milk; when that was fulfilled, you returned to a sense of utter completion. Once you have a sense of "me-ness," this is no longer possible; you are now a forever isolated individual.
When you look at that image out in the world, it isn't actually you. You aren't your father or mother, and you aren't your image in the mirror. But you believe you are - you imagine you are. Basically, your imago is based upon a mistake; a misrecognition.
That's the second structural point - the imaginary identification with an image outside yourself. This is the spark of your imago.
During this second structural point, you still, of course, have a requirement for food. But this food no longer has the same effect on you that it once did; your demands, even when met, do not fulfill what you really want which is a return to the real, or a sense of total completeness.
Even so, you demand an object. You see an object in the world, and you pursue it. You see your imago in the world, and you attempt to become this image, to take it up. You can't actually do this, anymore than you can become your mirror image - but you pursue it anyways, with hopes of returning to the sense of completeness. You attempt to take up a structural position.
Do you see the progression here?
1) Real - Need structural point: you have a sense of completeness, and no sense of individuality. No subject/object distinction. The simple meeting of your biological needs is all you need. This is the
2) Imaginary - Demand structural point: you develop a sense of individuality through an imaginary identification with an external image. Your demands for objects to return to the sense of completeness ultimately goes unanswered.
The progression is that of increasing abstraction.
There's a third structural point. This is called the symbolic point; it is based on the aquisition of language.
Once you aquire language, and can begin to refer to yourself as "I," you are capable of articulating what you want. Note that language is the tool we use to articular ourselves to both others and ourselves - our self understanding is only ever a re-presentation of something incredibly abstract.
First, you simply want a sense of completeness. Then, you want objects to return you to that sense of completeness. In the third point, you are capable of articulating Desire.
Because mere objects such as food no longer return you to that "oceanic feeling," you seek something else out. You begin to seek out the Desire of other subjects. You want other humans to take you up as an object of desire; you want recognition.
If everything else in this post is boring, confusing and stupid to you, then just read this summary:
We are all chasing an image of ourselves in the world. We look into the world, see roles, beliefs and actions and say "ah-ha! That's ME!" and then attempt to fulfill those roles, accept those beliefs and perform those actions. We are attempting to be our imago in order to aquire recognition from other people; we want to be the object of their desire.
Confusing, confusing confusing. I know. When I was listening to my prof's lectures on this stuff, I was riveted but also confused and annoyed. It only made a tiny bit of sense, and it seemed incredibly complicated. It really wormed its way into my mind, though - when I was studying for the final exam, it all made perfect sense.
And before you roll your eyes at the number of un-argued assertions in this post, and there are many, remember my purpose: to explain myself, not to argue for the truth of this position.
There's more. Stayed tuned, if you wish.
Monday, December 05, 2005
The novelty of Korean food has worn off. Octopus soup is no longer something exotic that I must eat; now it's just spicy soup with some damn rubbery arms in it.
A few weeks back, I made my first trip into Seoul. It was for the birthday party of a former teacher at my school. I don't know the guy, but I was invited anyways. We went to Sinchon (I'm spelling phonetically, I have no idea if that is accurate), a neighborhood in Seoul.
The place we stopped in at, actually called "The Bar," was a little hole in the wall. "Hole in the wall" being more literal than I'd like; the men's bathroom only had three walls. The fourth wall? The street. That was interesting.
Two Sundays ago, I was hiking up a hill I've never been up before. A Korean man began walking along side me; he started telegraphing that he wanted someone to tutor his son. It's illegal, of course, so we just skirted the issue for a while. Koreans love their hiking, and this was midafternoon so we were surrounded by people. Eventually we had some relative privacy and worked out an appointment.
This past Saturday, I went to the National Museum of Korea in Seoul with another teacher. It's a huge, massive building surrounded by the only green park I've seen in Korea. The museum is entirely dedicated to Korean history up to the 19th century; there was nothing from the twentieth century which seemed a bit strange to me.
I came back on my own, and managed to take a wrong turn in the subway. That led to a good bit of stress, backtracking and carefully choosing my train. All the English signs are tiny and difficult to read from the train.
The subway detour gave me a chance to see some of the more rundown parts of Seoul. There are actually people leaving not 50 feet from the above-ground subway tracks; no sound barriers. I think I'm going to have to get off the subway at various points and do some exploring. There are parts of Incheon and Seoul that could be straight out of a western city, but I sometimes catch glimpses of strange and new places.
One of my roommates is headed off to Thailand for two weeks... listening to his plans is making me vibrate with jealousy. That, along with the above mentioned bits of Seoul, are starting to make me think one year here won't be enough...
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
I guess I'll have to make a trip into Seoul to the Canadian embassy.
And now, a joke.
A man enters a bar and orders a drink. The bar has a robot bartender.
The robot serves him a perfectly prepared cocktail, and then asks him, "What's your IQ?"
The man replies "150" and the robot proceeds to make conversation about global warming factors, quantum physics and spirituallity, biomimicry, environmental interconnectedness, string theory, nano-technology, and sexual proclivities.
The customer is very impressed and thinks, "This is really cool." He decides to test the robot. He walks out of the bar, turns around, and comes back in for another drink. Again, the robot serves him the perfectlty prepared drink and asks him, "What's your IQ?"
The man responds, "about a 100."
Immediately the robot starts talking, but this time, about football, NASCAR, baseball, supermodels, favorite fast foods, guns, and women's breasts.
Really impressed, the man leaves the bar and decides to give the robot one more test. He heads out and returns, the robot serves him and asks, "What's your IQ?"
The man replies, "Er, 50, I think."
And the robot says... real slowly... "So............... ya gonna vote for the Liberals again?"
Friday, November 25, 2005
Allow me to restate exactly what I am engaging with here. I am not attempting to refute Calvinist theology. I'm not talking about the existence of God, or the nature of original sin, or any of the TULIP points. I am only talking about one point in the PA philosophical interpretation of Calvinist theology: the presupposition (P) itself.
In the previous post, I did my best to faithfully explain the concept of the P as seen by PAers. This post will be slightly more interpretive; I will be saying things about Ps that I have not necassarily read about in the writings of PAers. However, I still think that PAers will agree with my interpretation.
Ps are propositional statements - the fundamental statements that inform and influence all other statements and beliefs we make and hold. They are, in a sense, mental rules.
I think you can compare them to basic arithmatic; relativistic physics may be ridiculously complicated, but it still rests on 1+1 = 2. Take a child's math textbook, and if you are smart enough, you can develop all sorts of crazy theorems. Whether you are a high school math student or a professor at MIT, everything you know still goes back to 1+1=2. That basic equation is the P of math. If your basic equation is somehow wrong, then everything after it will be wrong as well.
Perhaps an even better analogy than the math one - computer programming. Our Ps are the basic rules of our mental "programming." This analogy might fit in fairly well with Calvinist theology, but perhaps I'm wrong.
Ps, in general human knowledge, are our basic mental rules. They establish the patterns of all subsequent belief. They are rules such as "The Bible is God's word." We each hold a handful of these rules/statements, though the unbeliever denies them and covers them over with other Ps.
I would say presuppositionalism offers a particular view of human cognition - that our thought patterns can ultimately be reduced to a set of propositional statements. And, if it isn't obvious by now, I think this view is utterly, utterly wrong. First I'll offer some problems with this conception of Ps, then I'll offer an alternative view.
My first argument: that no finite set of presuppositions can account for the practically uncountable number of human perspectives.
To reiterate the PA narrative: everyone holds the Christian Ps somewhere inside them. Only those that have been regenerated by God will acknowledge them, however.
If all Christians truly share and acknowledge the same basic equations, the same basic programming rules, then why are there so many conflicting theologies even amongst those who hold to Biblical inerrancy?
Maybe there is a theological answer to this - that some people have been perfected more by Christ, and others will simply have more changing to do in heaven (I assume that Titus will object to my phrasing here, because I don't know the proper terms - but I think the idea is sound). In other words, perhaps some people still refuse to acknowledge certain Christian Ps.
So there is a choice to be made here. Either God regenerates all of one's Ps, or only some. Which implies that there is still a core set of Ps that hold primacy over other Ps. You know, the ones that are really important.
That still can't answer the problem, however. Let's say a core P is "The Bible is God's inspired and errant word." This is believed by huge numbers of people... and even among these people there is disagreement. Even ideas about salvation are fragmented - sometimes I don't think Calvinists and Evangelicals realize how radically different their ideas about salvation are.
Even among Calvinists there is disagreement; witness the catfight between Van Til and Clark at Westminster Theological Seminary. Both Calvinists, both PAers... and yet they had such a harsh disagreement that Clark left the school.
Having shared presuppositions does not mean you will elaborate similar theologies or philosophies. It also does not mean you will share behavioural traits.
So what do shared presuppositions amount to? Not a whole lot. For something that is supposed to explain why disagreements between believers and unbelievers take place, it sure is a weak tool.
A second problem with presuppositions - we already know that our cognitive processes cannot be reduced to a finite set of propositional statements. Our minds don't follow a set of rules - whether conscious or unconscious.
In the 1970s, some guy whose name I don't remember wrote about the difficulties the project of AI was having from a Heideggarian point of view. He talked about the assumption behind AI - that intelligence can be broken down into managible pieces and ultimatelty digitized. This has never worked, of course. Finite rules can only ever produce a finite set of patterns, and human behaviour is incredibly diverse and unpredictable.
A third problem. Presuppositionalism is a brand of coherantism, the idea that the truth of a statement can be judged by how well it coheres with a surrounding belief structure. If your system has ten propositions, and all ten cohere together, than they can be considered correct. If one proposition contradicts one of the other nine propositions, then there is something wrong with the system.
The obvious objection: you can have a set of ten non-contradictory, coherant statements that are all incorrect.
I know the PAer will respond that not only is their Christianity coherant, but that it rests upon the only rational foundation - a transcendent God. As I explained in the previous post on this subject, PAers say only a transcendent God can explain a rational, ordered universe such as ours.
However, as I have already pointed out, people who share the same presuppositions can come to radically different conclusions. In other words, there is no one single rational, ordered way to build upon one's Ps. Ps are indeterminate - they fail to account for the phenomonon that PAers are so concerned with.
Why are presuppositional apologetics so popular, if they are so vacuous? Allow me to speculate a little.
If you know anything about the history of the west, you probably know the standard narrative. Increasing secularization. Whether or not this narrative is accurate is a question for another time. That being said, it is very common to believe that the west as a whole is "moving away from God," as if God weren't omnipresent.
Atheism ceased to be a dangerous public position a long, long time ago. The narrative of Evolution has posed a serious challenge to the narrative of traditional Christianity. Government officials use less and less religious rhetoric. Scholars have questioned the authority and historiocity of the Bible.
Now... classical apologetics have been around for a long, long time. Augustine used them. Aquinas was an apologetics ninja. Heck, even John Calvin used them, though he didn't used P style apologetics (source: Baptist college prof).
Classical apologetics have fallen upon hard times, however. The clearest example - Scientific Young Earth Creationism has been repeatedly embarassed in both the public and academic realm over the last few generations. I could easily use the historical accuracy of the Bible here, as well.
Classical apologetics has continously run up against a brick wall when it comes to Evolution. While a cogent argument can be made against metaphysical naturalism, Evolution (understood properly) is as rock solid as any of the more mundane theories. Hence, SYECers finding themselves only on the fringes of science.
And some think... but the Bible is God's word. We know it's right. How could anyone disagree with us?
Ah-ha! They must be biased!
And they look for a way to justify that statement, and for a way to justify their own bias.
PAers often claim to have thought like postmodernists long before postmodernism ever became popular. That's because they have never read this post.
Presuppositional apologetics exist as a set of rhetorical tools that can be used to dismiss entirely adequate interpretations of empirical facts. PA is an empty conceptual game; it isn't so much a philosophy as it is a cheap debate tactic. Which, of course, is enough for many, many people.
By the way, I can't decided if "presuppositional apologetics" should be singular, or plural. PA "is," or PA "are?"
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
You are one of life’s enjoyers, determined to get the most you can out of your brief spell on Earth. Probably what first attracted you to atheism was the prospect of liberation from the Ten Commandments, few of which are compatible with a life of pleasure. You play hard and work quite hard, have a strong sense of loyalty and a relaxed but consistent approach to your philosophy.
You can’t see the point of abstract principles and probably wouldn’t lay down your life for a concept though you might for a friend. Something of a champagne humanist, you admire George Bernard Shaw for his cheerful agnosticism and pursuit of sensual rewards and your Hollywood hero is Marlon Brando, who was beautiful, irascible and aimed for goodness in his own tortured way.
Sometimes you might be tempted to allow your own pleasures to take precedence over your ethics. But everyone is striving for that elusive balance between the good and the happy life. You’d probably open another bottle and say there’s no contest.
What kind of humanist are you? Click here to find out.
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
However, it isn't my purpose to engage with the whole range of PA issues. I will argue two things in this post, and two things only. First, I will argue that when discussing knowledge, our necassary starting point is man. We need to discuss how man gathers and organizes information - this is logically primary. It must even come before a discussion of how we discern true information from false information. Second, I will argue that PA is in fact born of a desire to explain a particular behaviour pattern - that is, people disagreeing with traditional apologetics. I will then argue that PA is hopelessly inadequate to explain that - or pretty much anything else.
First, though, a presentation of PA is in order. Everyone who isn't Titus might as well know what the heck I'm talking about. I should point out that I am not seeking to attack the primary statements of PA, but rather some of its secondary statements about the human thought process. My engagement with the primary arguments of PA will therefore be minimal.
PA is philosophically rooted in a particular stream of Christianity - Orthodox Presbyterians and Reformed Calvinists. Philosophically speaking, it is an attempt to apply the distinctive Calvinist TULIP doctrines to the task of apologetics. Total depravity is, for PA, the most important point. Humans are utterly incapable of choosing for God. Acts of sin are inescapable.
Contra much of Christianity, TULIPers believe man's intellect is also fallen. While we are perfectly capable of using logic and rationality to make particular types of true statements, our minds are incapable of accepting Christ as Lord; it is even impossible to show an unregenerate person the truth of Christianity, because their intellect is so fallen. People only ever come to God through an act of irresistable grace - and then the intellect is renewed, and they are able to understand and accept Christian truth statements.
So how does that apply to apologetics? Cornelius Van Til (here's a stash of essays by him and others) developed PA. I don't mean to suggest he is solely responsible; he was influenced by previous Calvinists and he worked concurrently with men like Gordon Clark. However, as I understand it, it is Van Til's style of PA that has had the most influence in contemporary apologetics. So when I say PA, it is Van Til's work that I am largely refering to.
It matters that I am refering to Van Til, because there is a dispute among Calvinists that is important here. Calvinists are big on the idea that unbelievers surpress the truth about God - but exactly what surpression mechanism do they use? Some Calvinist PAers believe that convincing proof is fully available to mankind, but our fallen minds are unable or unwilling to accept this proof. Unbelievers are, in a sense, ignorant. Other Calvinists - such as Van Til - believe that every human is infact already "aware" of God's truth, but surpress this information deep into our minds. We cover over our knowledge of the truth with other systems of thought and deny our covenant with God.
PA is the wellspring of that wonderful term some apologists (professional and lay) are so obsessed with this these days: "worldview." The idea is roughly thus: we all have a worldview, and this governs which statements we catagorize as true and false, and it establishes the bounds of possibility. It also provides our framework for interpreting isolated facts. Persons X and Y witness person A punch person B. X believes A is a gentle person, and so B must have provoked the assault. Y believes A is full of bottled up rage, and so B was probably just unlucky.
Our worldview is a web of presuppositions. As best as I can understand, a PA presupposition is a propositional statement, ie "the Bible is God's word" or "miracles do not happen." According to PAers, presuppositions act as our axioms for thought and we are incapable of questioning them. No one can be convinced their presuppositions are false, because it is those presuppositions that guide all their discernment.
It is the concept of the presupposition that I am primarily going to engage with, so I want to discussion the concept as clearly as possible. This is a quote from this essay:
"Everyone holds to presuppositions. No one does - or can operate from a vacuum. We simply do not think or behave "out of the blue." It is impossible to think and live as if we were aliens having just arrived in this world from a radically different universe, totally devoid of all knowledge of this world, absolutely objective and utterly un-predisposed to ideas about truth: People behave in terms of their basic world-and-life view which best implements their conceptions regarding truth.
Whether we are defending our moral behavior or rationally explaining something, we are working within the context of a particular, concrete way of looking at the world. This is our system of thought and behavior. This is our world-and life view. Our world-and-life view then is an important tool which organizes our way of looking at the world in terms of our specific presuppositions."
Here is the theological bent: our presuppositions reflect our spiritual state. If one is regenerate, then one's presuppositions will reflect God's truth.
As I understand it, the presuppositions of an unbeliever fall into a slightly different catagory. An unbeliever is - on some level - aware of the Christian presuppositions, and in fact makes use of these presuppositions on a constant basis through the very act of rational thought. However, either through rebellion or out of a desire to rebel, these truths are surpressed and other presuppositions are substituted.
(I'm sick of writing presupposition, so from now on, I'll just say "P.")
The consequence for apologetics: because facts are interpreted through our Ps, no amount of historical or scientific evidence will ever convince an unbeliever that the Bible is true. Any facts presented by the apologist will inevitably be interpreted in a different way, or outright dismissed. So, evidence must take a backseat to a discussion of worldviews.
The PAer must critique his opponents' presuppositions. This is perhaps the primary method: asking for an account of rationality and logic. The PAer will typically ask his debate opponent to explain how they account for the existance and nature of logic. How can we make any truthful statements at all? The PAer expects and often receives bafflement, and then offers their own explanation: Logic reflects the thinking of a transcendent God. There are a handful of other similar ideas in the PAer arsenal, but they are not relevant to my purposes here.
The PAer will argue that all human knowledge is necassarily rooted in Christian presuppositions. It is an interesting take on the scripture "the fear of the Lord is the begining of wisdom." This is a theological statement that is taken to have philosophical consequences; PAers take it to mean that all coherant thought, rationality and logic derives only from a transcendant God. The universe is only understandable because it is ordered, and it is only ordered because a transcendant God created it. In order to reason, you must assume the truth of Christian Ps - hence you must already be aware of them on some level.
So, the human through process must begin with God. Our P's must submit to God, because our P's are the foundation of our entire thought process. Only regenerate P's can adequately account for the efficacy of rationality and logic, because they acknowledge the source of rationality and logic.
So knowledge begins with God.
And that's enough for one post. I'll critique the idea of the presupposition in the next post.
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
I think it will help keep me on track if I present a bit of a plan. So here's a summary of some upcoming posts:
1. Explaining my method. I will use particular arguments and follow certain lines of thought that may seem superfluous or strange - unless you understand why I'm writing. I have a primary audience - people that know me. I'm not primarily writing for a general audience.
That matters because it explains my choice of topic for the first post: What is the necassary initial starting point in any discussion of reality? My answer will be man; that leads to an immediate disagreement with at least one of my friends, who is a devotee of presuppositional apologetics. Discussing presupper views will give me a platform for contrasting my own ideas, and nothing brings clarity like contrast. And if there's anything these topics could use a dose of, it is clarity.
2. Expanding my discussion of the personal centre. I'll explain more about the imago, discourses, dividing lines, and the ultimate concern.
3. Expanding my discussion of how we projection our personal centre. This will cover morality, a bit of politics, empathy, control, a proper account of presuppositions, and will have some overlap from the topics of (2).
4. Language and rationality. This would technically be a part of (3), but that post will be long enough anyways. I'll talk about how rationality must introduce divisions and separation , and how language cannot possibly have a 1:1 correlation with anything other than language. In other words, language can only ever describe language.
5. Argument for God as ultimate concern.
6. How (1) - (4) must necessarily shape our theology.
Saturday, October 22, 2005
Monday, October 17, 2005
I've been wondering how to go about explaining my recent reidentification. I've decided the best way is to trace a path through my thinking of the last little while. I thought about citing sources and crediting authors and influences for this, but I don't think anyone will care where exactly my ideas come from. If you want to know, just ask.
A lot of my thinking revolves around theories of subjectivity. Basically, ideas about how we come to know ourselves as subjects rather than objects. How do we form an image of ourselves and then our surrounding worlds? How do we interact with our surroundings?
There's a concept called "rational action theory." The idea is that we make all our choices based on benefit/cost calculations. We all act rationally, insofar as we percieve the potential costs and benefits of particular choices. I think economists tend to like this idea; I personally thing there's something valuable to be had, but you have to wade through some crap to get to it.
I do think that everyone acts rationally in that they have reasons for their choices, but I don't think it is about a benefit/cost calculation. I think our choices - and everything else about us - revolve around the creation of two things.
1) (This is first arbitrarily) We seek to create a personal centre. I think a personal centre breaks down to two things. First, our imago. Our image. We all have an image of ourselves that began developing in late infancy; the problem is that we can never quite achieve this image. People spend incredible amounts of time and money trying to fit into certain images; be it a model or a an academic, we're all chasing an image of what we want to be.
The other aspect of a personal centre is the framework used to justify that image. We all want our imago to be intelligible and justifiable. We jump on studies that show our way of life is especially healthy; we criticize statements that threaten our imago's framework. We develop philosophies that prove that our personal quirks are virtues. Often times, we believe our personal image is the ideal for humanity - "If only everyone thought/worshipped/reared their children/voted like me, then everything would be great."
So we all chase after an image, and we build some kind of intellectual framework to make that image intelligible and justifiable.
2) We seek to recreate the external world in our own image, or in other words, we seek to objectify our personal centre. There are many ways this is done. We create art that expresses either our imago or our framework. Tradesmen do something very similar - when a carpenter finishes a chair, he has objectified a piece of himself. You'll probably recognize that as a Marxist idea, and I think it's an elegant one.
We also seek to impose our imago on others; we want to shape others like we shape clay or paint on a canvas. We want to see ourselves in other people - and sometimes that requires force. Anarchy, as a movement, is geared towards rejecting this kind of imposition. Totalitarianism is this imposition run amok - a full scale annexation of one's personal centre by another. Democracy is about regulating these clashes, and since these attempts are inevitable, democracy is a powerful form of organization.
Of course, we don't need to impose our imagos on others in order to see ourselves in them; this is what empathy is about. When another is present before us, we cannot help but identify with them. We can't help but empathize with their pain, even if only on a shallow level. There's a goldmine of ethical thought here,but that's not my purpose.
And what is our primary tool in performing all these tasks? Power. That's what it comes down to, I guess; power over ourselves, over others, and over our enviroment. It sounds sinister, but power itself is neutral. Power is the way we get things done; we exercise power to create and maintain our personal centre, and it is what we use to remake the world in our own image.
There are two basic flavours of power - weak and strong. One is upfront and direct, the other is sickly and sneaky. That's another topic, though.
And how does any of this relate to Christianity? That is also another topic!
Thursday, October 13, 2005
But now that I sit down to write about it... I realize that in order to properly explain myself, I'll have to list and talk about maybe a dozen examples of wars. Their historical contexts, methods, and related myths. Then I'd have to talk about ethics... individuals and the state... the moral responsibility of individual soldiers... and so on.
And I'm just too lazy to do all that.
Sunday, October 09, 2005
So Stephen J. Gould came up with the idea of punctured equilibrium, the idea that sometimes, Evolution takes a short cut. Sometimes, species just leap into another stage. It explains the gaps in the fossil record, and the Cambrien Explosion. This started a controversy; is evolution always a matter of small steps, or is it spiced with big leaps? Are species that appear seperate taxonomically actually related to each other on the evolutionary chain?
Before your eyes glaze over, let me say one thing: this isn't another post about Evolution. Bear* with me.
Similar things can happen with people. Someone can believe X one day, and the next day, it appears as if they believe non-X. How to explain this apparent disjuncture? Was the person's change in views a barely perceptable, gradution evolution, or did they make a leap from one view to another totally disparate view?
Once you are finished reading this post, you'll have to answer that question for yourself.
Here's the mystery, my Cambrien Explosion. One month ago, if you had asked me if I was a Christian, I would have said no. If you had asked if God exists, I would have said no.
Today, if you ask me if I am a Christian, I will say yes.
Interesting, yes? Is this change a matter of gradual evolution, or is it a leap from one system of thought into another?
Here's a clue: If you should ask me today if I believe God exists, I will say "no."
Ah-ha! Curiouser and curiouser. A self-identified Christian saying that God does not exist? What up with that?
Well, it is about the nature of statements. Positive statements like "God exists" are necassarily made in language. Language is necassarily limited and finite; the finite cannot convey adequate information about the infinite. So positive statements about God are inevitably tinged with ultimate failure. They may express facts about God's acts within our world, but they can never properly express facts about God's nature.
So instead of saying what God is, it is better to say what God isn't. This practice is known as negative theology. Clicky to learn everything I know about it.
Now, rather than discuss the nature of negative theology, I am going to talk about my attraction to it.
Actually, there's an essay on Amazon.ca that explains it well. Apophaticism, Idolotry and the Claims of Reason by Denys Turner. Pay attention to his description of atheism as nothing more than a rejection of a specific theology.
Which is totally true. The atheism I espoused could only ever be a reaction to particular doctrines. I've known this for as long as I can remember; I just never knew about an alternative.
Philosophical atheism (as opposed to the "my mommy died of cancer so therefore God doesn't exist" brand of causal atheism) can only ever be a parasitical position. It is ultimately shallow and half-assed. I knew this; I just didn't know an alternative.
Here's the alternative. Instead of rejecting some positive claims about God, reject them all. Outflank Nietzsche. Head Michael Martin off at the pass. If a philosophical atheist finds nothing to object to... then they can't be a philosophical atheist anymore.
Yeah, I know you're all confused. I would be too. Consider this an incomplete post. But sit tight. I've got some learning to do, and you might as well come with me.
*Thanks to Joel for telling me if this word should be spelled "bare" or "bear."
Thursday, October 06, 2005
A topic was brought up in the previous posts' comments section. Shona said the parents should have more say than "the state."
Sigh. Exactly what the "state" is is a year's worth of blogging in itself. But to cut to the conclusion, I have never thought that this issue was a polar split between parents and the state. I'm not even sure what the state has to do with this question; textbook publishers are private organizations.
Here's the standard chain of events in getting content to the classroom. A private publisher checks the demographics. Which markets are the biggest? Because textbooks are about selling to markets. How many textbooks would a particular district buy, and what material would be of interest to that district? For example, in the US, the publisher checks how many presidents came from the biggest and wealthiest district - and then they discuss those presidents far more in their textbook.
And guess what? Districts with smaller markets get to use the same textbooks. If your area only buys a small number of textbooks, don't expect to see any local content. Textbooks aren't a matter of state indoctrination, they are a matter of business and markets. Hence Of Pandas and People's little stunt.
That reality aside, is there an ideal? If I was a parent, what would I want to see in the public schools? Which textbooks should be bought?
A little story. Several groups of Native Canadians believe that they have inhabited this continent since the beginning of time. They reject the Bering Straits idea, basically. A variation on this is found among the Inuit people; they have their own myths.
Currently, in some schools dominated by Inuit, children are taught Inuit myths in their history classes. They aren't taught about Confederation or WWI or about the Bering land bridge.
The parents are certainly happy. And really now, who's to say that the Inuit haven't been in North America all along? Archeology is is an imprecise science. And the dates for the introduction of humans to North America keep moving farther and farther back!
If you happened to live in an Inuit community, would you be annoyed that your child was learning Inuit myth rather than history?
Or would you prefer that the schools use textbooks developed with the aid of mainstream archeologists?
In Dover, Of Pandas and People is an extremely popular local choice. Readers, raise your hand if you want that textbook used to teach your kids.
Contra all this concern, there is a simple reality here. Whatever is taught in elementary and high schools is almost inconsequential. Usually it is taught in a half assed way and learned in a one quarter ass way. University professors know their incoming students are basically ignorant, in all fields.
Still, if a student spends his early years learning about how Noah's flood could really have happened, he will be even more unequipped than the average student for a university level geology course.
If I was a parent, I would want my children learning material that has filtered down from a mainstream university. I would want to know that my child was being prepared for a university education, as much as is practically possible. I wouldn't want my child's education to be dominated by local eccentricities. Buy textbooks published by a reputable company, developed with the close aid of the relevant experts. Mainstream experts.
And by the way, the reason I started this whole series was President Bush saying that he thinks ID should be taught in schools. Does that make ID state indoctrination?
The primary legal issue here is that of church and state. In the US, this has been the major sticking issue for the Origins debate in schools. In case after case through the 20th century, attempts to censure Evolution have been struck down becuase of their clearly religious nature. At this stage in the theory's development, ID is unmistakably religious - especially since so many SYECers are willing to paint their beliefs with a thin coat of "irreducible complexity."
Teaching SYEC or ID in a science class is equivelent to teaching Inuit myth in a history class. It is also equivilant to teaching about Thor's lightening bolts in a climate class.
And with that.. I close this chapter of Open Texture. Hopefully I'll remember to update the contents page soon.
Sunday, October 02, 2005
Ok, Intelligent Design. Known hereafter as ID.
There are two important aspects to ID. One, the actual idea. Strictly speaking, it is a seperate and distinct idea from SYEC. It makes specific claims about specific characteristics of specific species. All well and good. The problem with this idea is that it insistantly weds metaphysical ideas to the scientific aspect. Which is a no no.
The second important aspect is practical. Political and legal, even. I don't know if I'll get to it in this post, but here's the gist. IDers say they want to be considered apart from religious concerns. They say ID is a purely scientific theory. The problem is, IDers and SYECers are happily in bed together. Organizationally and financially, they have each others back. Both groups are brazenly dishonest about their relationship and mutual intent. So, while ID and SYEC might be different ideas, in practice, a vote for ID is just cracking the door open to SYEC.
Anyways, back to the theory. Here's an excerpt from my brilliant and groundbreaking essay on the subject:
"In 1992, a Berkeley law professor named Philip Johnson helped organize a conference at Southern Methodist University (SMU) that brought together a group of scientists and philosophers to discuss the seeds of what some have called neo-Creationism: Intelligent Design. At the SMU conference, an Associate Professor of Biology at Lehigh University named Michael Behe first presented his idea of irreducible complexity. Irreducible complexity would represent a major effort to divorce Intelligent Design (usually known as ID) from religious concerns, especially Scientific Creationism.
In 1996, Behe published his ideas in the book Darwin’s Black Box. Behe quickly distances his ideas from Creationism; on page five, he says that he finds “the idea of common descent. . . fairly convincing” and that he “has no reason to doubt that the universe is the billions of years old that physicists say it is.” His aversion to Darwin lies in his scientifically oriented objection to the idea that natural selection can account for the diversity of life. Behe argues that scientific study requires a close examination of details; the more detailed our knowledge of biology becomes, the less adequate current theories of Evolution are. The most detailed level of biological study - the molecular level - presents the most difficult problems for Evolution. Behe argues that at this molecular level, systems prove themselves to be irreducibly complex. Behe defines irreducibly complex as “a single system composed of several. . . parts. . . wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to cease functioning.” Irreducible systems could not have evolved piece by piece, since the absence of any one piece would have rendered the system useless and inert."
So there you have it, Michael Behe's ID in a nutshell. There may be other variations on the theory, but as I understand it, Behe is one of the big guns. There are some important points that need to be reiterated. First, ID does not make claims about astronomy. It does not say that "the universe is so complicated, it must have had a designer!" Secondly, Behe's ID accepts an ancient universe. In other words, he agrees with 99% of geologists from the 19th century onwards, both Christian and non-Christian. Behe also accepts common decent.
His claim is very specific. Some animals show signs of irreducible complexity (IC). Now, there have been many rebuttals to Behe's work. It's not my purpose to say who is right; I can't say. But I will say this. Behe's work, to my understanding, is scientific. He seems to follow MethN to his conclusions.
His error is identitical to that of Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins. He jumps from the seemingly scientific statement of "natural selection and genetic drift cannot account for characteristic X" to "so a Designer did it." Behe is a Catholic, by the way. It is not hard to surmise exactly what he means by a designer.
If Behe was rigorously scientific, he would stop with the simple statement "natural selection and genetic drift cannot account for characteristic X." It is Behe's confusion on the line between MethN and metaphysics that creates the current bureaucratic and legal conundrums before the courts in the United States.
As I said, IDers want to be considered seperately from SYEC. Hypothetically, this is possible. It is also possible that a non-metaphysical version of Behe's ideas can be taught in a science class.
In practice, such distinctions do not exist. I'm going to be making contentious claims here, and unfortunately my study notes and citations are 2000 miles away. So take me at my word, or don't, whatever.
In 2004, Barbara Forrest and Paul Gross wrote a scathing examination of the ID movement, entitled Creationism’s Trojan Horse in which they argued that IDers and SYECers are in bed together - politically, financially, organizationally, and scientifically. ID is just SYEC with a new coat of paint. I would dispute the latter claim, but the former seems very solid. Money and support changes hands between IDers and SYECers on a regular basis.
ID's biggest support comes not from the scientific community, but rather laymen - Christians. Christians that also tend to be SYECers, or just plain YECers. IDers like Behe say they want a distinction, but they are happy to cultivate this support.
Who cares if IDers and SYECers work together? It's a free world, right? Well, there are two problems. The first is what I've started to call the "Calculating God" syndrome. Oi, I wish I had that book on hand. Jamie or Joel, if you read this, feel free to quote the relevant portion in the comments section.
Anyways, Calculating God is a novel that discussions the origins debate. At one point, a character faced with overwhelming evidence of a higher power's intervention in Evolution, comments on the garrison mentality of scientists. He says that scientists fear unlocking the way to opponents of Evolution because once that pandora's box is opened, it will never be closed; not only will Johnny not know how to read, he won't know any real science either. So scientists have a knee jerk reaction against open assaults on Evolution - for valid reasons. That is the Calculating God syndrome.
And I think that is accurate. It is also good reason to keep ID far, far away from classrooms. If ID is allowed into science classrooms - especially elementary and high school classrooms - then the floodgates will open and they will never be closed. ID is simply too tied to SYEC to be trusted with the credibility it would recieve from a science classroom.
An excellent example of this comes out of the current Dover trial. The local schoolboard wants to use the textbook Of Pandas and People, a book that claims to be strictly ID. The problem is, it isn't. That's a giant load of horse shit. In the course of the trial, it was revealed that the current published edition is not the original text. The original text spoke of "creationism." When the publishers realized that they couldn't get a "creationist" text into high schools, they cut and paste the words "intelligent design" over every occurance of "creation."
IDers need to distance themselves from SYECers. No more joint conferences. No more testifying at trials. No more money changing hands, no more donations. They need to go cold turkey. And they need to drop the metaphysical claims. Stop saying "designer." Give the scientific community time to get over the Calculating God syndrome. Just say "here are instances where natural selection and genetic drift do not account for the facts."
Of course... there is yet another issue. Exactly who should decide what gets taught in classrooms? Parents? Local school boards? Publishers? Universities? The supreme court? That's a whole other topic... so that's next time.
I'd go for a hike, but I'm kind of sore from yesterday. See, the hiking trail I use runs south to north across three hill tops. I start on the north hill and walk from there. When I get to the southern hiill top, I usually sit a while then retrace my steps.
Yesterday,I walked the trail across all three hilltops, but instead of going back home - north east - I took a trail from the north hill and went south east. I thought I could easily find my way home like that; I asume I would just walk north east along the foot of the hills to get home.
I was wrong. The southern side of the hills don't have roads that run along side the hills. I ended up walking through the city for about an hour and a half, keeping careful track of land marks and exactly where I turned. Eventually, I gave up. I didn't want to get a taxi cab, being short on money. So I retraced my steps, which thankfully weren't too complicated. I eventually found the new path I had taken and started back.
The southern end of the hiking trail is pretty amazing to look at - 3 streams, big jungle trees. You'll like the pictures I send in two weeks' time. And the trees will be turning colour, as well. There are also a handful of strange landmarks along the southern trail; there is a pile of stones maybe a story high, with a plaque in Korean.
I saw a bird I have never seen before. It was maybe crow sized; black, except for the wings which had a white pattern. I can't find a pic of it on the net.
Anyways, by the time I made it back home, I had been walking steadily for five and a half hours. I think I'm just going to sit around today.
Violence, less and less embarrassed by the limits imposed by centuries of lawfulness, is brazenly and victoriously striding across the whole world, unconcerned that its infertility has been demonstrated and proved many times in history. What is more, it is not simply crude power that triumphs abroad, but its exultant justification. The world is being inundated by the brazen conviction that power can do anything, justice nothing. . . .
But let us not forget that violence does not live alone and is not capable of living alone: it is necessarily interwoven with falsehood. Between them lies the most intimate, the deepest of natural bonds. Violence finds its only refuge in falsehood, falsehood its only support in violence. Any man who has once acclaimed violence as his METHOD must inexorably choose falsehood as his PRINCIPLE. At its birth violence acts openly and even with pride. But no sooner does it become strong, firmly established, than it senses the rarefaction of the air around it and it cannot continue to exist without descending into a fog of lies, clothing them in sweet talk. It does not always, not necessarily, openly throttle the throat, more often it demands from its subjects only an oath of allegiance to falsehood, only complicity in falsehood.
Rest in peace, Mr. Solzhenitsyn.
Friday, September 30, 2005
First, I want to re-iterate something I said back here. In our culture, the statement that a particular idea is "unscientific" is fully equated with "untrue." Part of the reason I insist on a distinction between MethN and MetaN is to show that this belief is not necassarily true.
There are two reasons that the phrases unscientific and anti-science cannot fully equate with untrue. First, science can only ever tell us about the mechanistic physical world. It is silent on all other questions; if there are factors that upset the mechanistic workings of nature, then MethN will be incapable of drawing correct conclusions. Secondly, if there are such upsetting factors, MethN will always be incapable of even detecting these factors.
This is my argument for this post is three fold. First, that Scientific Young Earth Creationism (SYEC) is an oxy-moron. SYEC insists that MethN is hopelessly inadequate in telling us about our universes past. SYEC is not scientific; it must deny in principle every possible epistemic standard of MethN. SYEC posits statements about our universe that are non-falsifiable, and attacks the very possibility of falsifiable statements about geology, biology, paleontology, astronomy and archeology.
Secondly, SYEC is not only unscientific, it is also anti-science. It blurs and ultimately destroys the distinction between the undeniable necassity of MethN and an outside metaphysical framework.
Finally, while SYEC is unscientific and anti-science, it may still be true. This leads to the issue that I really want to address with all this blogging: does SYEC deserve a place in science curriculums? My answer is no. Whether or not SYEC is an accurate description of our universe is irrelavent; science classes are for teaching MethN and the current crop of conclusions resulting from MethN.
1) SYEC is unscientific. The discussion of this point must necassarily take place in rigorous scientific language, and I am ill-equipped for the task. I am comparitively ignorant in the various fields this topic touches on; however, there are a few points that seem decisively convincing.
First, the starlight issue. Any layman can understand redshift; light becomes more red or more blue depending on the distance of the source. it is not a complex scientific issue to understand just how far away stars are. It is also not a complex scientific issue to understand the speed of light. And obviously, it is not a complex issue to put these two facts together and to understand that since we can see stars hundreds of thousands of lightyears away, then that light had some serious time to travel.
This is a simple, unavoidable fact. Either light had enough time to travel, or the universe was supernaturally created in its present state. I know most of my readers will be quite happy accepting option #2, and I can't say that you are wrong. I can say this, however: if this is a a young universe, then astronomy is an utterly useless pursuit and we might as well drop it. And since the same epistemic principles underlying astromy underlie the rest of the sciences... we might as well start dismissing them, too. The claim that this is a young universe is both unscientific and anti-science. It has no place in an astronomy classroom.
I know there are SYEC attempts to justify this in a MethN framework. Here is one at Answers in Genesis. And here is a very readable response written by a group of Christians: they dismiss it as bunk.
The second issue is the fossil record. Again, I know most of my readers (if I have any, heh) will jump up and shout "missing links!" Fine, whatever. I don't know. I don't know enough about paleontology to argue the point.
Here is what I do know: there is irrefutible physical evidence of now-extinct Hominini on our planet. These are bipedal, non-ape, non-human, non-monkey genuses that indisputably existed at one point in Earth's history.
If Earth is 6000 years old, then you must believe that there were multiple genuses (or geni... I don't know) that were not-quite human walking around at least up until Noah's day. Remember, these were not humans and they were not dumb apes. Many were also shorter than even ancient homo sapiens - so they weren't the "giants" mentioned in Genesis.
Why don't these other not-quite human peoples show up in the historical record, biblical or otherwise? Because they were long extinct.
I remember back in my second year archeology course. As much as I hated that course, it did provide me with an epiphany. At the time, I was still having a hard time accepting the idea of Evolution. Once I personally handled the skull of a Australopithecus afarensis, I knew it was the stake through the heart of SYEC. Whatever doubts I (even now) have about a MetaN interpretation of this evidence, I know there is no way an SYEC framework can account for these skulls. You, dear reader, can literally stick your fingers in the holes and see for yourself.
Let me state what I have just argued, and what I have not argued. I have argued that MethN tells us that this universe, in terms of its appearence, is far too old for an SYEC framework. I have also argued that the fossil record indicates patterns of life on Earth that are incompatible with a SYEC framework. I have argued that SYEC is unscientific and anti-science, and has no place in a science classroom. I have not argued that SYEC is inevitablyfalse upon these grounds.
Again, this post was terribly unclear. Sorry. I don't have the patience for proper proof-reading; I have to admit that my primary concern is merely getting this stuff down on paper. I might end up polishing some of this stuff for academic matters, maybe not.
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
With definitions of MethN and MetaN in hand, I'm going to argue that only MethN can be rightly called science. MethN is both the foundation and limits of a systematic study of the natural world.
MethN is a particular view of epistemology - a theory of knowledge. Now, I don't think MethN can form an epistemology all by itself. It is too limited; if one uses MethN has the basis of all knowledge, it quickly becomes either MetaN or a half-assed reaction against MetaN.
In the strictest sense, as I said in this post, we have no undoubtably firm foundation for knowledge. MethN, however, does not require such a starting point. Generations ago, David Hume questioned any possibility of science when he said we have no grounds to believe in uniformity. That is, Hume pointed out that we cannot make the unquestionable and dogmatic statement that even though X has always led to Y, it will not necassarily do so again in the future. For example, we cannot be without doubt that the sun will rise tommorow.
That might sound unecassarily silly or anal or trivial, but it's been a serious poin of contention. To my knowledge, Karl Popper - writing in the 1940s - offered the best rejoinder to Hume. Popper offered the standard of falsifiability. That is to say, in order for a statement to be considered as science, it must be falsifiable.
That is bound up in the scientific method itself. Offer a hypothesis, test the hypothesis. Here is the kicker, and the limit of MethN: in the strictest sense, following Hume and Popper, science does not prove anything. Science is incapable of proving that X is true - it can only ever prove that X is untrue.
When we say X is "scientifically true," what we are really saying is that X has been systematically tested, and has not been falsified. A scientific law is is a concept that has been repeatedly and thoroughly tested, and has never been falsified - gravity, for instance. This is also why we trust our technology to work as expected; we get on an airplane, because we know that the principles at work have been tested millions of times over, and never falsified (mechanical failures are a different issue).
Falsifiability is the epistemological core of MethN. It is the line that is crossed when one enters into MetaN or any other metaphysical framework. When one attempts science without this guideline, any possibility of explaining the success of science falls away. We return to a Humian skepticism, and all scientific research will become deaf, dumb and blind. This effect provides a definition for the talismanic phrase "anti-science." To be anti-science is to leave behind MethN, and yet to insist that you are within the bounds of science. To be anti-science is to throw a monkey wrench into the scientific method; it is to be a hypocrite in our technological world, and it is to have a worldview that cannot incorporate centuries of scientific research.
How does this relate to the origins debate? I think many on both sides constantly leave behind MethN, while insisting they have remained within the bounds of science. I believe the MetaNer who does not acknowledge the distinction between MetaN and MethN is anti-science, and I believe the SYECer is anti-science in a similar way.
An example from both sides. Carl Sagan was a committed metaphysical naturalist. He took a dim view of all supernatural concepts; for example, he wrote a book called The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. I haven't read that, but I have read his Cosmos and Broca's Brain. Sagan was probably the greatest popularizer of science of all time; he was charismatic and an excellent educator. He had a tv show, and appeared on The Tonight Show countless times.
He was a scientist of some professional reputation, as well. This means he had a fine grasp on MethN, and used it to all of our benefit.
However, I do not believe he drew a sufficient line between his MethN-guided work, and his MetaN-based beliefs. In practice, Sagan was an excellent scientist. In his philosophy, I believe his lack of interest - or ability to - draw a line between MethN and MetaN resulted in an anti-science contradiction.
It is not that his MetaN beliefs were ungrounded or unjustified. The problem is that Sagan often expressed MetaN views while speaking as a scientist. When one speaks as a scientist, they must limit themselves to what is uncovered by MethN - or engage in a contradiction that threatens the foundation of science.
I repeated myself a few times there; that's because I don't think i was entirely clear. Hopefully quantity will clarify what quality has obscured. I'll talk about SYECers next time.
Monday, September 19, 2005
fter more than an hour of solemn ceremony naming Rep. Marco Rubio, R-West Miami, as the 2007-08 House speaker, Gov. Jeb Bush stepped to the podium in the House chamber last week and told a short story about "unleashing Chang," his "mystical warrior" friend.
Here are Bush's words, spoken before hundreds of lawmakers and politicians:
''Chang is a mystical warrior. Chang is somebody who believes in conservative principles, believes in entrepreneurial capitalism, believes in moral values that underpin a free society.
''I rely on Chang with great regularity in my public life. He has been by my side and sometimes I let him down. But Chang, this mystical warrior, has never let me down.''
Bush then unsheathed a golden sword and gave it to Rubio as a gift.
''I'm going to bestow to you the sword of a great conservative warrior,'' he said, as the crowd roared.
And a little later on:
In a 1989 Washington Post article on the politics of tennis, former President George Bush was quoted as threatening to ''unleash Chang'' as a means of intimidating other players.
Let's assume the facts of this story are basically true. Both George H. Bush and his son, Jeb, claim to have a mystical spirit guide. The first question, unanswerable at this point, is whether or not GWB also makes use of Chang. Maybe we'll find out, maybe we won't. But if both his father and his brother are involved in this, I wouldn't bet money against the idea.
There are going to be three reactions to this story.
First, a lot of people will use this to call the Bush family nuts. Imaginary friends and all that. Just more grist for the mill.
Some people will dismiss this as a non-story; some politicians claim to be guided by Jesus, others by Chinese mystical beings. It's all the same, and basically harmless.
But the third response - and I think this will be the most interesting one - will come from Evangelical Christians, especially those that have supported GWB to this point.
How can an Evangelical Christian interpret "Chang" as anything other than a demonic influence? Assuming the facts of the above story are true, hasn't the Bush family just been implicated in what can only be interpreted as old-school golden calf idolotry? If not something worse, witchcraft or satanism?
If so, how can a Christian continue to support Bush?
Ah, a little bit of search turns up the same report on the Miami Herald's site. So this story is more than likely true.
The governor presented Rubio with a sword that he said came from a mystical Chinese warrior named Chang, whom the governor said helped him stay true to conservative values and warned Republicans not to be complacent in the face of stiff competition from Democrats.
So what say you?
Thursday, September 15, 2005
Once again, I'm going to resist the urge to go into massive detail. This is as brief an overview of the subject as I think is possible. For brevity, I'm going to refer to the whole debate as the "origins debate."
The origins debate (at least, the version we are all familiar with) has been a heated and contentious issue in North America for nearly a century. As with most issues, I think the two sides are just talking past each other; unable to properly understand the concerns and issues on either side. And some of the time, people don't even understand their own side. So I'm going to explain both sides as best I can.
So what is science? By even asking the question, I'm starting to wade out of my depth. But from what little reading I have done, I will offer this definition. Science is the systematic study of the natural world.
Two things must be clarified here: one, science is not a body of knowledge. It is not a group of facts or ideas. It is a method. This method, depending on various factors, will lead to constant changes and revisions in the resultant body of knowledge.
The second point is mostly for emphasis: science studies the natural world. Only the natural world - the mechanistic interactions of matter and energy. This leads to another distinction which must be made: methdological naturalism vs. metaphysical naturalism.
I have already described methodological naturalism (MethN) - the systematic study of the mechanistic interactions of matter and energy. This is the root of science; it is what allows us to make a hundred tons of steel fly in the air, and it allows us to fight disease, and it allows us to build a body of knowledge about our planet's natural history. MethN, by definition, can only ever describe matter and energy. It is necessarily silent on all other topics.
Metaphysical naturalism (MetaN) is something else. This is the view that interactions of matter and energy make up the whole of reality (I left out the word "mechanistic," because I am unsure if that characterization would be correct). Only that which can be percieved by the senses exists. This point of view stands opposed to any possibility of the supernatural. I would define "supernatural" as an aspect of reality not based in matter or energy.
Much of the hot air in the origins debate flows from the confusion between MetaN and MethN. What little I have read of Richard Dawkins, for example, suggests to me that he is a commited metaphysical naturalist - and that he confuses this with MethN. On the other side, the folks at Answers in Genesis (AiG) reject the very idea of MethN. They inists that all "true science" will support the supernatural claims of the Bible, especially Genesis.
AiG is an organization of Scientific Young Earth Creationists (SYEC). SYECers are a specific sub-branch of Young Earth Creationists (YEC), who believe that the Earth is roughly 6000 - 10 000 (sometimes 35 000) years old. All of physical reality was created in 6 days, as literally described in Genesis. SYECers ardently believe this can be reconciled with scientific observation. SYECers are a young group, finding their original in the 20th century; as I said in part one, most geologists in the 19th century were Christians ministers, and they were all old Earthers. SYEC only sprang up when Evolution left American acadamia and hit high schools.
Remember what I said about our culture's obsession with science? Both the views of Dawkins and the SYECers are examples of this. Because "science" is seen as being our most powerful tool for describing reality, it is assumed that science is capable of describing all of reality. Science, for Dawkins and other MetaNers, is capable of ruling out the existence of the supernatural. SYECers believe exactly the same thing - that science is capable of commenting on the nature of the supernatural. Only from the other side of the coin.
This confusion is part of the reason YECers reject Evolution so adamantly. Because they share the MetaN's belief that science can adequately engage with all aspects of reality, they see Evolution as a threat to their own metaphysics. Which it is. MetaNers can build a well rounded metaphysics with an ontology, an epistemology, and an ethics. All of which are obviously not Christian.
This is the usefulness of distinguishing between MethN and MetaN. MethN is not divorced from metaphysics - it must have certain epistemological assumptions - but it is indebted to no ideology, no ethics, not even a particular ontology. MethN can - and does so with an unassailable degree of certainty - tell us about our past and our present. But it can not tell us what the good life is, and it can never comment on whether the supernatural exists or does not exist. It can not tell me who I am, and it can not tell you who you are. MethN shows us how to translate the world into one of our many number systems, but some things will always be lost in translation.
A supernatural metaphysics has nothing to fear from methodological naturalism. None of this, of course, explains why MethN is important or why we should attempt to preserve it. That'll be next time.
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
My own thinking on the subject is that the term isn't very useful at all. I'd rather discuss specific authors and their ideas, rather than some vague, ill-defined movement.
There are writers that are lumped together under the term "postmodern," but because of all the (unnecassary) scary, nihilistic, all-text-is-vanity associations that go along with the term, I just prefer to say "continental philosophers."
But, postmodernism is still the popular way to identify these writers. And there is a popular perception that goes along with the term: everything is "relative." There are no correct or incorrect statements.
This perception leads to a common criticism: if nothing is wrong, than nothing can be right. Why bother to express ideas? You can never criticize anything. There is no point in thought, because no conclusion you reach could ever be better than another conclusion.
Yes, thank you. This is obvious. It would be a brilliant and decisive critique of postmodernism - if any postmoderns had actually said anything like this.
Granted, my experience with postmodernism is fairly limited. A handful of books and essays from a handful of writers, stretched from the 19th century to the 21st century. There is a wide variety of ideas and pursuits and questions rising out of these readings, but there is one thing I have never encountered - this boogeyman of "postmodern relativism."
So why do so many people believe postmodernism is about "destroying" "absolute truth," then? It's not just Christians, of course; it seems like a lot of our culture thinks this way. One of the books I skimmed at a friend's house is thankfully online at Amazon.com. Have a look at the provided excerpt; this is exactly what I'm talking about.
The classic example of postmodern thinking is Jacques Derrida, the philosopher that died just last year. It was his practice of "deconstruction" that raised the most hackles; I've been questioned as to why anyone would ever bother reading Derrida, or why Derrida would ever write anything - because it is deconstructable. Apparently, some think Derrida said there is no meaning to anything - say anything you want, and you won't be wrong.
Which leaves me wandering how many people have actually read Derrida. Probably not this blogger, or this hysterical fellow who claims that "deconstructionists" are communists. And I doubt the authors of this above mentioned book have read Derrida either; their description of deconstruction (unavailable on the net) was little more than a practice in ignorance. A simple google search would have brought up any number of accurate discussions.
And of course, a google search brought me to this article, and it explains Derrida the same way he was taught to me. Read it if you are interested. If you aren't interested in reading something even that short, why would you feel equipped to dismiss a huge body of work?
Here is my point. Don't run on common perceptions of postmodernism. It is best not to operate on any preconceptions at all; pick up an author that looks interesting, and read what he has to say. Don't rely on someone else to read for you. Then talk about it with others.
If you can't be bothered to read something for yourself, then you should take Wiggenstein's always elegant advice: "that which we may not speak of, we must pass over in silence." Or, don't take his word for it; read Jude 1:10. Try to understand something before you speak abusively of it.
Saturday, September 10, 2005
WThursday night, one of the student's mother invited all of the teachers out for dinner. This was my first time at an upscale Korean restaurant. We took our shoes off at the entrance, and walked into a private room. Most of the food was already spread out on the table; we sat on the floor and waited for the rest to come out.
There were a few kinds of sushi - like shrimp on sticky rice. There was a kind of coleslaw, and apples in an unfamiliar sauce. We were also given seaweed soup and rice. The main part of the meal was beef; there were actually bbqs built into the tables. The server put a strip of meat onto the cooker, and came back to turn it. When it was cooked, the server used a large pair of scissors to cut it up into small pieces, and we ate directly from the cooker. They kept bringing meat until we stopped eating; I was good and stuffed. At the end of the meal, they brought out glasses of plum juice.
After an hour of sitting on the floor, your knees start to ache something awful. Interestingly, it didn't bother the Koreans at all; I suppose you can train your legs to sit crossed for long periods of time.
One of the foreign teachers has a digital camera, so I had him take pictures of the meal. Once he sends them to me, I'll pass them on.
We took the kindergarteners to the Folk Village today. The kids went nuts in the half-size bus I took - total chaos. The Village itself was interesting; buildings from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. We saw two fascinating performances. One was a horse show; the riders did tricks like hang off the side of the galloping horse, their heads inches from the ground. One rider did some archery work.
The second performance we saw was a marching band; they did a dance that seemed to come out of the martial arts. You've probably seen something like it in a kung fu movie; they jump, their torso goes parallel to the ground, and their legs kick through the air. And they had streamers attached to their hats; their kept their heads moving and the streamers moved in various patterns. It was just short of spectacular.
The kids' parents packed lunches for both them and the teachers. It was interesting; we made a picnic out of it. All Korean meals are very communal; everything just sits in the middle of the table (or in this case, a blanket) and you pick at it with chopsticks. Seaweed sushi wraps, cherry tomatos, chestnuts, small sandwiches, pineapple, grapes, and yams in some kind of sweet coating. It was a really good meal.
School is going well; I finally know all the kindergarteners' names, but I'm still working on the elementary students. The older kids are noticing I don' know all their names yet, and are starting to get annoyed. :)
The traffic here is really something else. There don't seem to be "traffic laws," so much as "traffic suggestions." It's standard to be cut off every few minutes; people fight viciously for their place in a lane. Motorbikes even drive on the sidewalks a lot.
The police occasionally do patrols in groups of ten; they just march down the street. I think it has something to do with North Korea/cold war mentality.
So yes, pictures forthcoming.
The briefest of brief histories*: In the 19th century, American universities were small and mostly religious. Professors were multi-disciplinary; it was not uncommon for the same prof to teach New Testament theology and geology (then known as "natural history.") There is an important fact here: the decisive majority of these geologists were Christians. They also happened to believe in an old earth. These Christians - ministers and professors - considered it an obvious truth that the Earth was simply ancient. Young Earth Creationism (YEC) was, then and now, found only in non-specialists. When I say "YEC," I mean the belief in a literal Genesis, six days of creation, roughly 6000 years ago. So the idea of an ancient (ie, billions of years old) universe was firmly entrenched long before Darwin ever came along.
As the American population grew, so did universities. Professors had to begin to specialize; with this specialization, came a loyalty to one's field rather than one's institution. The revered and authoritative institutions of Europe were cutting edge at the time, and so American universities were heavily influenced by them. This influence included Darwin's work.
The same Christian professors and academics who accepted an old Earth also accepted Darwin's work - in part. They simply rejected a naturalistic metaphysics, and became what we would call Theistic Evolutionists. Remember that term, it is important.
For the next few decades, Evolution was entirely an ivory tower matter. The average American could live his life without coming into signifigant contact with the subject. In the first quarter of the 20th century, public schools started popping up everywhere. The curriculums were guided by universities; suddenly, every little straw-hat, denim over-all wearing kid in rural America was coming home to tell mommy and daddy that they were all descended from monkeys.
An old universe and Evolution were firmly planted in acadamia long before these ideas entered the public realm in any sigifigant way. But once children started being taught these subjects, the battle was joined.
The fight occured on two levels. First, the scientific level. "Scientific" YECers began to multiply. Anyone reading my blog is probably already aware of their arguments, so I won't go into detail. Suffice to say, all through the 20th and into the 21st centuries, there have been louded and insistant voices for scientific YEC.
The second and more important level, at least in my opinion, was in the legislatures and the school boards. In the early 1920s, various states began to ban the teaching of Evolution. You've all heard of the Scopes trial, but there have been several more, right up to 1987.
In the 1990s, something called "Intelligent Design" (ID) cropped up. Briefly, it is the idea that certain living organisms are irreducibly complex - that no known natural force could possibly have produced certain organs. Its chief proponants are Michael Behe and William Dembski. ID has added more grist for the mill; it is no longer Scientific YEC that opponents of Evolution want taught in school, it is ID. Because it is "scientific."
So that's the brief history. I wrote a paper on this in my last year of undergrad; it ran about 30 pages. Be glad you read the condensation. But hey, if you want more detail, just ask.
I'll give my opinions on this whole topic in the next post in this little series.
Sunday, September 04, 2005
Next weekend, I'll make a day of it - see how many hills I can walk.
And yes, photos of these views will be forthcoming.
Saturday, September 03, 2005
Thursday was a full day of teaching, and it was about as chaotic as anything I've ever seen. The kindergarteners, especially. Very difficult to control them. The elementary students were better; a bit quieter, a bit more attentive.
The big problem I've encountered - the prepared curriculum only stretches to fill half the time. If the class is 40 minutes, I run out of material about 20 or 25 minutes in. That was pretty hard to cope with; I had a hard time coming up with ways to fill the time. I'm going to need to add to the curriculum myself; that is going to take a lot of work. Can't say I'm too pleased with that.
The second day of teaching was better. I remember to bring the stickers and the alphabet bingo game. Those two things made the kindergarteners putty in my hands; those kids would jump off a cliff for a sticker. So those classes went fine.
I still ran out of material for the older kids, though. One class wanted to play the bingo game, but that can only be a one time thing; they are too old for it. They did it once because it was more fun than work, but they will be bored and contemptuous if I pull it out again. I'll have to find other games for them. There is going to be a lot of prep work involved, at least for a little while.
The smallest Korean bill is 1000 Won - which is about one Canadian dollar, give or take ten cents. There are a lot of Canadians teaching here, so we just refer to 1000 won as a dollar. So 10 000 won translates into $10, at least in our minds.
And about that - there are a lot of Canadians here. I met a pile last night; my roommates and I went to a pub called the Goose Goose. The Goose is a standard hang out for foreigners. Lots of English teachers, and US military types. The teachers I've met are mostly Canadians, Irish, and Austrailians.
The food I've been eating at the school is pretty good. It's obviously a lot healthier than most Canadian fare; it is mostly vegatable based. I'm getting the hang of chopsticks pretty quickly.
The neighbourhood the Goose is in is filled with neon. Signs and lights everywhere; remember Lost in Translation? Like that. Paper fliers everywhere on the ground; you could walk down the street jumped from piece of piece to piece of paper. Almost a carnival type atmosphere. Once I get a camera - I'll buy one in Seoul - I'll post pictures of it.
There are a handful of street vendors in the Goose neighborhood, and my roommates introduced me to a type of bbq chicken on a stick. It costs 1000 won - roughly $1. It's incredibly delicious; we downed a good five each. I have to find out what type of sauce they use; you could easily sell these things for $2 in Canada.
So things are going well right now. I'm over jetlag and settling into my apartment nicely. I'll write more later.
Thursday, September 01, 2005
Over the last few days, my first impressions of the city itself have not been great. It's actually similar to the situation I had when I left Wawa for London. Wawa was a small northern Ontario town, surrounded by deep green forests and dark blue water. A walk along a thickly pine scented trail or a swim in a fresh, clean lake was only ever minutes away. London was a downgrade, in this area; only natural for a city. London is better than most, of course; it comes by the moniker Forest City honestly enough. There are parks scattered through the city, and you can almost pretend to be in a forest on occasion. So I adjusted. I went from having a huge Canadian Shield forest in my backyard to having a Shopper's Drugmart, but I adjusted.
Incheon... Incheon is a whole different story. Granted, I haven't seen much of the city yet. But it seems as cold and industrial as any human dwelling could possibly be. The buildings are large, rectangular, and have a dirty grey colour. The smog is so dense, visibility can't be more than a kilometre or two. The smog apparently comes from China; doesn't make it any less stifling.
Why does this matter to me? I suppose this is where my vaguely theoretical enviromentalist streak appears. I think a clean, spacious, natural enviroment is one of the most fundamental human pleasures. Those are the circumstances that the vast majority of humanity has spent it's history in, and with every new apartment block, we move further and further from this.
This is not a matter of suggesting that life was better 200 years ago; I think that on a historical scale, the quality of human life across the globe only changes incrementally, I believe. Sure, we have better health care, more egalitarian governments, and have a achieved a terrible mastery over nature, but many of us still escape into narcotics or alcohol. Human life is human life, either for a Buddist monk living serenely in a mountain temple or a 21st century city dweller.
With this qualification in mind, I wish nations like China and Korea were not in such a rush to become world powers. China's forced abortion population limits is one aspect of this, but I also sigh for the loss of the Three Gorges. The Chinese government, in building The Three Gorges Dam, is destroying ancient archeological sites, the ancestrial homes of thousands of people, and a handful of species will be devasted because of the resultant flooding. It is terrible - and it is irreversable.
I wonder if it is possible to slow urban sprawl. I wonder if a future U.S. President will open up national parklands to oil drilling. I wonder if meaningful atmospheric regulations will ever be implemented. If humanity continues down this path, our descendants - however many generations from now - will be spitting on our grave.
Is it all irreversable or inevitable? I don't know.
So I look around me, and I see people living in oversized filing cabinets. The economy makes its demands, and we bow to it. I suppose it is the same everywhere. However, after a few days in Incheon, I'll be making a beeline for the greenest city available. London has never looked better.
Saturday, August 27, 2005
I'm sitting here in my brother's Brampton house just killing time. Boredom is going to set in very soon. But just temporarily. Two days. Two days.
This is going to be an interesting year. Yesterday, I had a little preview of what it is going to be like. I had three stops to make: get my flight ticket from a Sears store in Brampton, declare an extended absence from Ontario at the OHIP office in Etobicoke, and pick up my work visa from the Korean Consulate in downtown Toronto.
It very quickly dawned on me that I know nothing about Toronto. A friend graciously drove me to the Sears store and the OHIP office; if she hadn't been available, finding bus and subway routes would have been a bit frustrating. Getting to the Consulate myself wasn't difficult; there was a subway stop right beside the OHIP office. It was getting back to Brampton that was tedious; finding the right Go-Train, and then deciding which bus would bring me closest to my brother's house. Without knowing any of the routes and only a handful of street names, it took some figuring.
Which is all to illustrate that getting around in a new place isn't easy. Finding my way about Incheon and Soeul will take a lot of getting used to. Hopefully it'll be old hat a month in.
I'm not sure exactly what my teaching schedule will be; it looks like I'll mostly be doing afternoon shifts. Which means a little bit of kindergarten, and a lot of elementary. Fine by me. I've packed stickers and an alphabet bingo game; seems like they'll be useful.
I'm going to have to live like a monk, at least for the first little while. I'll have a credit card and a laptop I need to payoff.
It occurs to me I don't know anything about Korean food. I'm going to have to learn cheap and easy recipies. Chocolate Lab flambe, perhaps.
Photos will come when I get a digital camera - that's a month or two away.
That's about all for now. I'll post an update in a week or so.