Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Isaac Asimov on the Relativity of Wrong

Here's the original link

Isaac Asimov - The Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 14 No. 1, Fall 1989


The Relativity of Wrong

pg.. 35-44


I RECEIVED a letter the other day. It was handwritten in crabbed penmanship so that it was very difficult to read. Nevertheless, I tried to make it out just in case it might prove to be important. In the first sentence, the writer told me he was majoring in English literature, but felt he needed to teach me science. (I sighed a bit, for I knew very few English Lit majors who are equipped to teach me science, but I am very aware of the vast state of my ignorance and I am prepared to learn as much as I can from anyone, so I read on.)
It seemed that in one of my innumerable essays, I had expressed a certain gladness at living in a century in which we finally got the basis of the universe straight.
I didn't go into detail in the matter, but what I meant was that we now know the basic rules governing the universe, together with the gravitational interrelationships of its gross components, as shown in the theory of relativity worked out between 1905 and 1916. We also know the basic rules governing the subatomic particles and their interrelationships, since these are very neatly described by the quantum theory worked out between 1900 and 1930. What's more, we have found that the galaxies and clusters of galaxies are the basic units of the physical universe, as discovered between 1920 and 1930.
These are all twentieth-century discoveries, you see.
The young specialist in English Lit, having quoted me, went on to lecture me severely on the fact that in every century people have thought they understood the universe at last, and in every century they were proved to be wrong. It follows that the one thing we can say about our modern "knowledge" is that it is wrong. The young man then quoted with approval what Socrates had said on learning that the Delphic oracle had proclaimed him the wisest man in Greece. "If I am the wisest man," said Socrates, "it is because I alone know that I know nothing." the implication was that I was very foolish because I was under the impression I knew a great deal.
My answer to him was, "John, when people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together."
The basic trouble, you see, is that people think that "right" and "wrong" are absolute; that everything that isn't perfectly and completely right is totally and equally wrong.
However, I don't think that's so. It seems to me that right and wrong are fuzzy concepts, and I will devote this essay to an explanation of why I think so.
...When my friend the English literature expert tells me that in every century scientists think they have worked out the universe and are always wrong, what I want to know is how wrong are they? Are they always wrong to the same degree? Let's take an example.
In the early days of civilization, the general feeling was that the earth was flat. This was not because people were stupid, or because they were intent on believing silly things. They felt it was flat on the basis of sound evidence. It was not just a matter of "That's how it looks," because the earth does not look flat. It looks chaotically bumpy, with hills, valleys, ravines, cliffs, and so on.
Of course there are plains where, over limited areas, the earth's surface does look fairly flat. One of those plains is in the Tigris-Euphrates area, where the first historical civilization (one with writing) developed, that of the Sumerians.
Perhaps it was the appearance of the plain that persuaded the clever Sumerians to accept the generalization that the earth was flat; that if you somehow evened out all the elevations and depressions, you would be left with flatness. Contributing to the notion may have been the fact that stretches of water (ponds and lakes) looked pretty flat on quiet days.
Another way of looking at it is to ask what is the "curvature" of the earth's surface Over a considerable length, how much does the surface deviate (on the average) from perfect flatness. The flat-earth theory would make it seem that the surface doesn't deviate from flatness at all, that its curvature is 0 to the mile.
Nowadays, of course, we are taught that the flat-earth theory is wrong; that it is all wrong, terribly wrong, absolutely. But it isn't. The curvature of the earth is nearly 0 per mile, so that although the flat-earth theory is wrong, it happens to be nearly right. That's why the theory lasted so long.
There were reasons, to be sure, to find the flat-earth theory unsatisfactory and, about 350 B.C., the Greek philosopher Aristotle summarized them. First, certain stars disappeared beyond the Southern Hemisphere as one traveled north, and beyond the Northern Hemisphere as one traveled south. Second, the earth's shadow on the moon during a lunar eclipse was always the arc of a circle. Third, here on the earth itself, ships disappeared beyond the horizon hull-first in whatever direction they were traveling.
All three observations could not be reasonably explained if the earth's surface were flat, but could be explained by assuming the earth to be a sphere.
What's more, Aristotle believed that all solid matter tended to move toward a common center, and if solid matter did this, it would end up as a sphere. A given volume of matter is, on the average, closer to a common center if it is a sphere than if it is any other shape whatever.
About a century after Aristotle, the Greek philosopher Eratosthenes noted that the sun cast a shadow of different lengths at different latitudes (all the shadows would be the same length if the earth's surface were flat). From the difference in shadow length, he calculated the size of the earthly sphere and it turned out to be 25,000 miles in circumference.
The curvature of such a sphere is about 0.000126 per mile, a quantity very close to 0 per mile, as you can see, and one not easily measured by the techniques at the disposal of the ancients. The tiny difference between 0 and 0.000126 accounts for the fact that it took so long to pass from the flat earth to the spherical earth.
Mind you, even a tiny difference, such as that between 0 and 0.000126, can be extremely important. That difference mounts up. The earth cannot be mapped over large areas with any accuracy at all if the difference isn't taken into account and if the earth isn't considered a sphere rather than a flat surface. Long ocean voyages can't be undertaken with any reasonable way of locating one's own position in the ocean unless the earth is considered spherical rather than flat.
Furthermore, the flat earth presupposes the possibility of an infinite earth, or of the existence of an "end" to the surface. The spherical earth, however, postulates an earth that is both endless and yet finite, and it is the latter postulate that is consistent with all later findings.
So, although the flat-earth theory is only slightly wrong and is a credit to its inventors, all things considered, it is wrong enough to be discarded in favor of the spherical-earth theory.
And yet is the earth a sphere?
No, it is not a sphere; not in the strict mathematical sense. A sphere has certain mathematical properties&emdash;for instance, all diameters (that is, all straight lines that pass from one point on its surface, through the center, to another point on its surface) have the same length.
That, however, is not true of the earth. Various diameters of the earth differ in length.
What gave people the notion the earth wasn't a true sphere? To begin with, the sun and the moon have outlines that are perfect circles within the limits of measurement in the early days of the telescope. This is consistent with the supposition that the sun and the moon are perfectly spherical in shape.
However, when Jupiter and Saturn were observed by the first telescopic observers, it became quickly apparent that the outlines of those planets were not circles, but distinct eclipses. That meant that Jupiter and Saturn were not true spheres.
Isaac Newton, toward the end of the seventeenth century, showed that a massive body would form a sphere under the pull of gravitational forces (exactly as Aristotle had argued), but only if it were not rotating. If it were rotating, a centrifugal effect would be set up that would lift the body's substance against gravity, and this effect would be greater the closer to the equator you progressed. The effect would also be greater the more rapidly a spherical object rotated, and Jupiter and Saturn rotated very rapidly indeed.
The earth rotated much more slowly than Jupiter or Saturn so the effect should be smaller, but it should still be there. Actual measurements of the curvature of the earth were carried out in the eighteenth century and Newton was proved correct.
The earth has an equatorial bulge, in other words. It is flattened at the poles. It is an "oblate spheroid" rather than a sphere. This means that the various diameters of the earth differ in length. The longest diameters are any of those that stretch from one point on the equator to an opposite point on the equator. This "equatorial diameter" is 12,755 kilometers (7,927 miles). The shortest diameter is from the North Pole to the South Pole and this "polar diameter" is 12,711 kilometers (7,900 miles).
The difference between the longest and shortest diameters is 44 kilometers (27 miles), and that means that the "oblateness" of the earth (its departure from true sphericity) is 44/12755, or 0.0034. This amounts to l/3 of 1 percent.
To put it another way, on a flat surface, curvature is 0 per mile everywhere. On the earth's spherical surface, curvature is 0.000126 per mile everywhere (or 8 inches per mile). On the earth's oblate spheroidal surface, the curvature varies from 7.973 inches to the mile to 8.027 inches to the mile.
The correction in going from spherical to oblate spheroidal is much smaller than going from flat to spherical. Therefore, although the notion of the earth as a sphere is wrong, strictly speaking, it is not as wrong as the notion of the earth as flat.
Even the oblate-spheroidal notion of the earth is wrong, strictly speaking. In 1958, when the satellite Vanguard I was put into orbit about the earth, it was able to measure the local gravitational pull of the earth--and therefore its shape--with unprecedented precision. It turned out that the equatorial bulge south of the equator was slightly bulgier than the bulge north of the equator, and that the South Pole sea level was slightly nearer the center of the earth than the North Pole sea level was.
There seemed no other way of describing this than by saying the earth was pear-shaped, and at once many people decided that the earth was nothing like a sphere but was shaped like a Bartlett pear dangling in space. Actually, the pearlike deviation from oblate-spheroid perfect was a matter of yards rather than miles, and the adjustment of curvature was in the millionths of an inch per mile.
In short, my English Lit friend, living in a mental world of absolute rights and wrongs, may be imagining that because all theories are wrong, the earth may be thought spherical now, but cubical next century, and a hollow icosahedron the next, and a doughnut shape the one after.
What actually happens is that once scientists get hold of a good concept they gradually refine and extend it with greater and greater subtlety as their instruments of measurement improve. Theories are not so much wrong as incomplete.
This can be pointed out in many cases other than just the shape of the earth. Even when a new theory seems to represent a revolution, it usually arises out of small refinements. If something more than a small refinement were needed, then the old theory would never have endured.
Copernicus switched from an earth-centered planetary system to a sun-centered one. In doing so, he switched from something that was obvious to something that was apparently ridiculous. However, it was a matter of finding better ways of calculating the motion of the planets in the sky, and eventually the geocentric theory was just left behind. It was precisely because the old theory gave results that were fairly good by the measurement standards of the time that kept it in being so long.
Again, it is because the geological formations of the earth change so slowly and the living things upon it evolve so slowly that it seemed reasonable at first to suppose that there was no change and that the earth and life always existed as they do today. If that were so, it would make no difference whether the earth and life were billions of years old or thousands. Thousands were easier to grasp.
But when careful observation showed that the earth and life were changing at a rate that was very tiny but not zero, then it became clear that the earth and life had to be very old. Modern geology came into being, and so did the notion of biological evolution.
If the rate of change were more rapid, geology and evolution would have reached their modern state in ancient times. It is only because the difference between the rate of change in a static universe and the rate of change in an evolutionary one is that between zero and very nearly zero that the creationists can continue propagating their folly.
Since the refinements in theory grow smaller and smaller, even quite ancient theories must have been sufficiently right to allow advances to be made; advances that were not wiped out by subsequent refinements.
The Greeks introduced the notion of latitude and longitude, for instance, and made reasonable maps of the Mediterranean basin even without taking sphericity into account, and we still use latitude and longitude today.
The Sumerians were probably the first to establish the principle that planetary movements in the sky exhibit regularity and can be predicted, and they proceeded to work out ways of doing so even though they assumed the earth to be the center of the universe. Their measurements have been enormously refined but the principle remains.
Naturally, the theories we now have might be considered wrong in the simplistic sense of my English Lit correspondent, but in a much truer and subtler sense, they need only be considered incomplete.

Friday, December 24, 2010

New Hawaii Governor Will Work to Disprove "Birther" Controversy, and Some Further Thoughts on the Dangerous Intersection of Conspiratorial Thinking and Extremism

The newly elected Governor of Hawaii, Neil Abercrombie, is planning on doing all he can to counteract the continuing "birther" controversy among anti-Obama conspiracy theorists. He knew the Obama's when Barack was only an infant, so he knows from personal experience that he was born there and not in Kenya (or in Indonesia, Mars, Alpha Centauri). The facts, as the article makes clear, have already proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the President was in fact born here in the U.S. on August 4, 1961 in Hawaii. But as anyone knows when dealing with a conspiracy theorist, "facts" don't really matter. Birthers, like any other conspiracists, are basically gnostic in how they see the world. They, and the few like them, have the "special" knowledge that explains how the world "really" works.

This is a type of Euclidean model of seeing and understanding history. It worked within a very small framework, but as we've grown in our understanding of the larger world, it became more and more distorted because of several basic flaws in its understanding of how the world really works. Eventually, it leads to wildly distorted theories having to constantly adjust "facts" so that the system can stay intact. Eventually as well, the person or group that holds to these basically flawed premises, either go mad or reject this understanding for something that actually coheres with reality more accurately. In other words, these conspiracy theorists need to have their own Copernican Revolution in their thinking. The world doesn't revolve around us, we revolve around it.

Likewise, this mindset is also driven by a deep seated fear and anxiety (often legitimate in unstable times), combined with a narcissistic and egocentric impulse which desperately needs a scapegoat so as to place blame on the "other" whoever that "other" may be. These people also tend to strongly believe the myth of their own innate innocence. This Myth of Innocence, cannot accept that they are ever guilty of wrong doing, whether as individuals or as a group. Therefore they see the world in sharply dichotomous terms, us/them, black/white, good/evil, etc. This Manichean mindset combined with the aforementioned Gnostic impulse makes for a powerful ideological and intellectual witches brew. It both shuts our any competing truth claims as being part of the vast conspiracy and reinforces the most extreme sentiments within the "in" group.

When conspiratorial thinking is combined with extremist thinking (they often do exist together, though not necessarily. There are numerous "mainstream" conspiracy theorists out there) this potentially deadly dance between these two impulses can lead to violence. Of course we've seen far too many examples already of that deadly dynamic at work, whether among radical Islamists, Christian Nationalists, Jewish Ultra-nationalists, or fringe groups/cults. For those who don't buy into these conspiracy theories, but who have friends or family who do, it's important to both share with them the relevant facts and sources, but also to listen to the concerns of the person who does buy into these theories. As mentioned above, the fear and anxiety driving these notions is often legitimate, caused by actual hardship in their lives and the lives of many around them. This combination of gently but firmly confronting them with facts and real knowledge while listening in a respectful way to their real concerns may be what it takes to walk them back from this dualistic and ultimately self destructive mentality.

But if a person or a group does go over the tipping point, the tactic does need to change. Those who are closest can and should continue to persuade them away from this mindset, but when conspiratorial thinking is combined with extremism it's also appropriate to observe more intentionally those who are thinking and acting this way. Just as a person who descends for neurosis into psychosis needs closer oversight and maybe even intervention, so groups of people likewise need to be monitored more closely and if need be, intercepted before violence breaks out. Now admittedly this very act of monitoring and intercepting will only reinforce the conspiratorial thinking of these people and groups. To some degree that's unavoidable and shouldn't deter public officials or even concerned friends/family from doing so.

Again, if a family member or friend comes to believe they're the Prophet Elijah and begins walking into heavy traffic convinced they're invincible, we don't stand by for fear of reinforcing their psychosis. We call the police or an ambulance so that they won't do themselves or anyone else any harm, even if in doing this we incur the wrath of that family member or friend. So likewise we must be diligent in confronting conspiracy theories not founded in reality, but fear and simplistic thinking. And we must do the same when it comes to extremist thinking, especially when it combines with conspiratorial thinking, since this combination has proven to be so dangerous time and time again.

In the New York Times' article above, it ends on the hopeful note of "letting the facts speak for themselves." I wish I could be so hopeful that letting the "facts speak for themselves" will be enough. Facts are obviously important, but we must take into account that humans are also just as driven by their passions as by their intellect. To the degree we don't take this into consideration our analysis and therefore our engagement will be inadequate at best, and may end up reinforcing the very dynamic we want to minimize.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Wonderful Conversation Between Robert George and Cornel West



Can we speak to each other beyond our ideological divide? Here, in this BlogginheadsTV conversation between Robert George, a conservative Catholic, and Cornel West, a progressive Baptist, both professors at Princeton University, we see a wonderful possibility of civility and mutual respect even though they sharply disagree with the means to the end of human flourishing. One of the commonalities between them is their Christian faith, which includes a serious assessment of human brokenness, thus leading to a level of humility regarding all systems, whether public or private. Listening to their dialogue, a rare thing in our contentious and divisive ideological environment, spoke to me and my own convictions as few other dialogues have.

What is the Evolutionary Benefit of Art?



Is art only a more highly developed offshoot of our drive to procreate? In other words, is art a nice accident of our cognitive abilities being a desired feature for mating purposes? And on a more basic level, is art or any other human behavior always and only predicated on propagation of the species? Is everything always about sex?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Rethinking Our Philosophy of Education



An excellent talk given about how modern compulsory public education came into being based upon both enlightenment notions and right at the advent of the industrial revolution, thus resulting in factory education.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Virtual Virtue

The internet is an interesting place. It’s a treasure trove of information and disinformation, fact checking and wild conspiracy theories, reasoned debate and all out flame wars. The technological advances we see before our eyes with its instant information and equally instant gratification offer both great opportunity and great temptation. My ability to research a topic has immeasurably increased since the advent of the online, but I’ve also been assaulted with the trivial at levels beyond imagination.

The internet is the human condition writ large in all its glory, depravity and absurdity.

If we’re to entertain our better angels in our online encounters, I suggest that we should consider a few moral guidelines to help us on the way:

Would you say what you’ve just typed to your own child, your parents, your closest friend?

Ah, but this person isn’t any of these. They’re my ideological, theological, political, etc., opponent. It’s my responsibility to show them what’s right and how wrong they are. I can’t help it if they’re stupid, insane, or evil. That’s their problem, not mine. I just have to tell them what’s true.

Ah. What’s true. Yes. Such an easy concept to come to complete certainty about. But there’s one little problem. What if your interlocutor feels the same way? Which certainty holds sway?

I am a creature of the internet if any person is. I’m officially an addict of facebook (just ask my friends) after having resisted it for some time. I tweet at will. I blog incessantly. I post on political, scientific and theological blogs daily, often on controversial issues. And as I’ve dived into the deep of the internet I’ve seen behavior that has been shocking, to say the least, and not least of all, my own. We live in the age of opinion, the era of arrogance, the pontification of the personal. And I’ve seen my own worst impulses of self affirmation at other’s expense expressed in all its inglorious permutations.

Above I asked if you would be willing to say to a loved one what you type in an online discussion. Now I want to ask one more question:

Can you (I) be wrong?

I have my beliefs. Anyone who knows me knows that. Whether it’s about religion, politics, science, or even art and literature or music, I have my strong opinions. But I have also changed my views on several subjects, both political and religious, and even on the truly important stuff like music and sports! If we can change our views on an issue that’s important to us, this ought to remind us that what we know is always moderated and quite often distorted by our cultural environment, whether at the personal level of our own families, or at the larger level of our ethnic or national or religious allegiances. As I said in my previous post about the Politics of Brokenness, if we acknowledge our part in the larger brokenness that exists, then there is some hope that we can speak across the divide that confronts us both politically and religiously, but also even within ourselves.

So it’s not if we can do this. We already know it can be done. Others have paved the way before us: Gandhi, Day, King, etc. The question that confronts us is whether we’re willing to do so.
Are we willing to act in a spirit of generosity even in the face of those who are not generous?
Are we willing to admit that what we believe is tenuous, subject to change, and thus allow that our debater might have something good to say?

Ben Witherington on Jesus and Money

Jesus and Money from CPX on Vimeo.


An excellent interview with theologian Ben Witherington III concerning scripture's view of our relationship to money and economics.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Valley of Dark Shadows

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil.

The Psalmist states this quite clearly. He will walk through the valley of the shadow of death. The promise isn't that we'll be kept from that valley, but that in our journey through that valley we will be comforted by the presence of God. And yet, as I walk through my own valley of dark shadows, I do fear evil. Not the external evil of some demonic force "out there" but of the evil within me. I fear my self sabotage, my self destructive impulses that are consistently more clever than my rationality or even my faith. With one hand I dig trenches under my own foundations and with the other I try to shore them back up. Meanwhile the valley descends and keeps getting darker. I know valleys don't go on forever, but when you're in the middle of one, it can sure feel that way. And feeling can be more powerful than any rational understanding. I will believe against my feelings that God's presence and care are with me. It's my only hope.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Evolutionary Christianity

A series of discussions/interviews will be occurring starting today (in fact, right now) through to Epiphany on the issues related to Christian faith and evolution at the site Evolutionary Christianity. The speakers run the gamut from orthodox evangelicals such as John Polkinghorne and Dennis Lamoureux to theological liberals like John Shelby Spong. Therefore each needs to be considered critically, but I am looking forward to hearing the range of views over the next several weeks. If you're interested in the relationship of faith and science, especially evolutionary science, this should prove to be quite valuable.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Politics of Brokenness

A broken lens, a vision obscured. Political senses sensing that differences will always exist in the political realm. The founders of the American Republic seem to have understood this reality. They knew that we, in our broken human condition, needed to have a political and governmental structure that restrained our more base instincts of seeking power over others. But they also seem to have understood that any structure will fail if the public it's supposed to govern is itself unwilling or unable to abide by any normative standards. As broken as the American public has always been (like every other culture of course), in its early years they seemed to agree at a basic level on a common moral framework that would guide their actions. That seems no longer to be the case. It's every man, woman and child for themselves. We've entered an age of absolute certainty of our own self righteous certitude and of an equally certain sense that anyone we call "other" is our moral opposite, devoid of any sense of humanity if not humanity itself. This mindset, or rather lack of "mind" set, seems to pervade our partisan divide day and night in our political "miscourse" which sees any opposition as treasonous.

If I'm always right, and you disagree with me on any issue, then you're not only wrong, you're hateful, evil, insane, deluded, or any other term of reprobation that comes to mind. That allows me to ignore anything you might have to say or the rationale behind your reasoning to be entertained as legitimate. On the other hand if we operate from a vantage point of brokenness on our own part, acknowledging that we don't know it all, and that others who disagree may actually offer valuable insights, then a valuable cross fertilizing dialog may actually occur.

This Politics of Brokenness, I believe, is our best way forward in finding both common cause and bridging the divide between divisive differences of ideology and religious differences. Is this a Utopian dream devoid of any real world application? It isn't. We need only look back to previous examples of others who have worked from this same broken vantage point to see that it can work in the real world. Gandhi, King, Wilberforce, Day all serve as exemplars of idealists who also understood that we live in a realist world. Yet they affected transformative changes by their idealistic actions.

We must not forget that idealism can transform realism.

What will the Politics of Brokenness look like for our generation? I can promise you that it will NOT look like the old left/right divide that we've seen for several generations now. Back in the day, Jesus was confronted by his own political divide and dualistic choice; the Sadducees and the Pharisees. He rejected both as inadequate. We should do the same. The Kingdom of God transcends any Manichean politics which falsely divides the motives of us versus them.

The Top Ten Racial Conspiracy Theories

A great, if deeply disturbing piece from The Root on The Top Ten Racial Conspiracy Theories. Most of the conspiracy theories are false, a few are true, but as with any conspiracy theory, we must maintain our critical thinking.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Eastern Versus Western Understandings of Anthropological Brokenness

As this blog attests, I'm an Augustinian. Yet I've been challenged in this assertion by an Eastern Orthodox friend and the writings of some EO writers such as Hart, etc. Each has asserted in eloquent and convincing ways for the deep brokenness of humanity, but from very different starting points. What would be some good critical texts available in English that address the division and vision of each side? I know that we (I) are deeply shaped by our cultural confluence, and that affects our perception of every issue, even our basic identity.

I certainly affirm, in my deep uncertainty, my Christian convictions, doubtful as they are. Primarily because I see myself so clearly in the gospel. A Saviour saving those so clearly needing to be saved rings true to me. I seem myself in the Publican and the Sinner. I see myself in the Brother who ran away and in the one who stayed. Every parabolic expression of this spiritual reality tells my story. Scripture is brutally honest. That's what spoke to me even as a child. When I read Job and Ecclesiates I recognized the words.

But how do we understand our brokenness? What was it that "broke" us?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Herding Cats and Conspiracy Theories

An excellent essay about how conspiracy theorists get academia and experts so wrong. I just discovered this blog today, called Muertos's Blog, and I must say I'm impressed so far. I look forward to checking it out more. Even with what I've read today, I know I'll be going back for more. Oh, and a hat tip to James McGrath for the link.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Beck versus Soros: Day Two

Part 1



Part 2



Part 3



Part 4



Part 5



Part 6



Part 7



What's fascinating and obviously scary about Glenn Beck's fanatical conspiratorial rantings is NOT how many times he lies or distorts. That's a long list in its own right. No. What's fascinating and scary is how reminiscent this all is. On night one of the conspirator's wet dream Glenn gave us numerous antisemitic memes (oh, but Glenn's not an antisemite! He LOVES Israel.) such as Soros' Jewish background, referencing antisemitic attacks against him, classic imagery and terms that serve as convenient dog whistles to those who "know" what's "really" going on.

Beck has been steeped in far right conspiracy thinking for years now. His guiding light, if you will, is none other than Willard Cleon Skousen, a far right Mormon "historian" that even the Mormon church, not to mention mainstream conservatism, rejected as being so beyond the bounds that he laid in well deserved obscurity till Mr Beck decided to resurrect his bizarre notions and propel them to #1 on Amazon. To better understand Beck's conspiratorial milieu, especially with regard to his spouting off on Soros, Klousen is essential. It's a bizarre, if internally consistent, melange of far right anti-communism of the JBS variety combined with some very "peculiar" Mormon beliefs. Mormon beliefs not only about America's founding, but also about end time prognostications.

Anybody who knows me knows I enjoy poking fun at Beck. He is beyond outlandish and has even described himself as being a rodeo clown. But in the last year or two he has morphed into a surpassingly effective demagogue to millions of viewers who listen to his words as though he were a modern day prophet. As an aside, I'm not a fan of George Soros. I'm sure he does good stuff. But it's pretty evident that he's ruthless in his business dealings and has his own mega-maniacal ego that is larger than life. Yet, as powerful as he is, I'm pretty sure he's not the Prince of Darkness. Though I suspect Beck, in his own darker moments, thinks those very thoughts. I suspect that may betray more about Beck than anything he's analyzing.

Glenn Beck versus the "all powerful" George Soros.

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Part seven:

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Raven

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
`'Tis some visitor,' I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door -
Only this, and nothing more.'

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; - vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow - sorrow for the lost Lenore -
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels named Lenore -
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me - filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
`'Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door -
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; -
This it is, and nothing more,'

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
`Sir,' said I, `or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you' - here I opened wide the door; -
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, `Lenore!'
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, `Lenore!'
Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
`Surely,' said I, `surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore -
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; -
'Tis the wind and nothing more!'

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door -
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door -
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
`Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,' I said, `art sure no craven.
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore -
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning - little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door -
Bird or beast above the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as `Nevermore.'

But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only,
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered - not a feather then he fluttered -
Till I scarcely more than muttered `Other friends have flown before -
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.'
Then the bird said, `Nevermore.'

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
`Doubtless,' said I, `what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore -
Till the dirges of his hope that melancholy burden bore
Of "Never-nevermore."'

But the raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore -
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking `Nevermore.'

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o'er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
`Wretch,' I cried, `thy God hath lent thee - by these angels he has sent thee
Respite - respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

`Prophet!' said I, `thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil! -
Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted -
On this home by horror haunted - tell me truly, I implore -
Is there - is there balm in Gilead? - tell me - tell me, I implore!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

`Prophet!' said I, `thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us - by that God we both adore -
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels named Lenore -
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels named Lenore?'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

`Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!' I shrieked upstarting -
`Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! - quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted - nevermore!

Friday, October 29, 2010

THE CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS AND THE REMAKING OF WORLD ORDER: Samuel Huntington Chapter 1 The New Era in World Politics

Sam Huntington opens his Clash of Civilizations in chapter 1 on the heels of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Iron Curtain that had separated Communist East with Capitalist West for over a generation. The old Cold War dichotomy was dead, and it looked like the “free world” had won the final battle and we were headed toward an era of peace and prosperity, that if not quite the millennium, was seen by many Western academics as the “end of History” (Francis Fukuyama).
            Huntington though, ever the realist, saw things differently. He recognized (I agree with him here) that the era of ideological divide was over; the era of intra-Western debate about forms of government or what economic model to follow, but that this wasn’t going to usher in some secular eschaton. In fact, what this collapse/victory did was open up the field to long suppressed senses of identity that had been smothered but never extinguished by the 20th century’s ideological divide.
            This dormant but not dead sense of identity regained prominence almost immediately in places like Yugoslavia, Chechnya, Rwanda, the Sudan, etc. where civil wars broke out often along tribal and religious affiliations. Now certainly there were these kinds of conflicts of “culture” during the Cold War era as well, and many thousands were killed and displaced because of them. But because these conflicts didn’t involve potentially world ending weapons of mass destruction, and the Cold War antagonists did, these “lesser” conflicts were relegated to back burner status.
            Once this “new era” in world affairs occurred after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, there were several ways of viewing the world that Huntington describes next.
Two Worlds: Us and Them. This other dichotomy replaced the Cold War us/them dichotomy along similar lines and has a simple elegance to it that’s very appealing; the modern democratic West versus the rest of the world. And yet its simplicity is also its downfall. The non-West is just not unified in the way the modern West is and so there’s no neat and simple contrast to posit.

184 States, more or less. This reflects the realist perspective that “States” are the main actors in world affairs and history. And while that is still largely true, it ends up being a less than satisfactory explanation for the complexity of world affairs, since we are faced with not just non-state actors, such as al Qaeda, Muslim Brotherhood, and the power of multinational corporations, and more traditional supra-national entities like NATO and the UN, not to mention civilizational identifying.
Shear Chaos. The end of the Cold War leaves a world in a state of geopolitical anarchy. This view, like the states view is close to reality, but also suffers from being too simplistic. It’s accurate in describing a world filled with violence and various states and other entities trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction. But it isn’t just a chaotic world, but one still reined in by competing impulses that restrict the most outlandish behaviors among world actors. Not always of course, but often enough that the world doesn’t descend into some Dante’ like inferno.
Finally in chapter 1, Huntington explains that while each of the paradigms described above have their strengths and weaknesses, his civilizational model better serves not only to describe the current post Cold War reality, but also can serve as a predictive tool in seeing how our near future may go. He follows that up with a list of events just from 1993 to illustrate his point of how the world is reorienting itself along civilizational lines. I was struck at how some of these conflicts described from 1993 were so similar to what we see today, both in Europe and here in the US.

In response to this initial analysis from Huntington concerning the post-Cold War reality, I find myself largely agreeing with him contra Fukuyama and other more idealistic thinkers. I wish I didn’t! I’d love to believe in a world where knowledge trumps passion. Where we see more of what unites us versus what divides us. But like the example he gave from the novel Dead Lagoon, we still live in a world governed to a large degree by sensing our identity by what we’re not as much as by what we are.
In a similar vein, I’ve recently been reading a book by Cass Sunstein called Going to Extremes, which argues along similar lines that extremism is driven by that same us/them dichotomy, a dichotomy which needs an enemy to be better able to define who our friends are and who we are. As Christians, can we surpass this basic human impulse more effectively in the face of international tensions, ethnic tensions, and yes, even religious tensions? As a Christian, I’m forced in a way to be both a hard-nosed realist, but also an eschatological optimist. And as a Reformed leaning Christian, my eschatology doesn’t have to wait for Jesus to come back for things to get better. But we can begin the new creation work now, even if we know it won’t its ultimate fulfillment until the eschaton.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Theological Indeterminacy and the Ultimate

Is there an end to which we are determined? Is there a teleological purpose to our existence? Can we deduce where we came from and where we are headed based on empirical evidence? Can we get "oughts" from all of the "is's" before our eyes? I don't believe we can. So then, from what basis can we determine the ultimate purpose of existence? I accept Christianity as a true statement of reality, both historical and spiritual. And yet I know that the basis of my belief is not provable in a modern sense.

I'm grateful for the scientific revolution. I'm alive because of it. As someone born with several "defects" at birth I know that antibiotics and modern surgical techniques gave me a chance at life that others before me never had. And yet I also know that the same scientific revolution is driven by a sense that the world makes sense, and that sense was driven by a Christian sense of the coherence of God.

My options are:

anti theism

atheism

agnosticism

theisms of various types (Judaism, Islam, Unitarianism, etc)

pantheism

polytheism

Christianity

Why do I choose Christianity over all of these others? I will admit that several of these other options are appealing. I accept that atheism and agnosticism are both legitimate options intellectually. And as an avowed theist, both because of personal experience and philosophical reasons, I believe that the gamut of human experience has made clear that humanity has experienced realities beyond the normally explicable. And I also considered quite seriously Judaism as a teenager, primarily because of the ethical impulse.

I've not been attracted by anti-theism or by pantheism or polytheism since in each of them I'm struck by their lack of ethical centers. In each of them I find a poly-ethical reality that ultimately leaves everyone doing what's right in their own eyes. Maybe that's a bias that's shaped my perspective. I'm sure it has. But I suspect that this spiritual/religious perspective has allowed me to see various ethical systems as competing beliefs vying for a place at the public table.

Acknowledging the good points of philosophical atheists and agnostics moderates my theism quite a bit. I recognize that my convictions are held in light of equally held convictions by those who differ deeply from me. Yet I believe that the Christian message is a better one in the end.

Why?

I didn't grow up going to church. But I did watch the Billy Graham Crusades on TV whenever they were on. That's how I learned the Gospel. I also watched the various specials about the poor, starving children on TV, whether Christian or otherwise. I would cry and break open my piggy bank when watching them. Thankfully I was steeped in compassion by my parents and siblings, even though they were all very deeply broken. That brokenness itself served as a means of healing for me. I saw through them our common brokenness and the grace that could seep through.

When I later read through the New Testament I saw the same broken grace. It was in reading that that God made sense. The cross as God's way of speaking, self emptying love, tears down walls. That makes sense.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

What motivates conspiratorial thinking?

Atheists say it's the religious.

The right says it's the left.

The left says it's the right.

The religious say it's the atheists.

So what is it that motivates conspiratorial thinking and the (sometimes violent) actions that result? It seems that conspiratorial thinking has been a part of our human culture throughout history. We see it in ancient tomes all the way to modern texts that espouse an essentially equal viewpoint. "They" are behind what's happening. "They" whoever (or whatever) "they" may be, move and shape history to their nefarious ends. One commonality in every conspiracy theory is that the offended group is always innocent and the enemy is always evil. In this I see a common psychological defense against anxiety and fear. Whether it's the John Birch Society or radical Marxists, or nutters of any sort, they each betray a Manichean mindset that simply won't allow for anything in between their starkly black and white world. Complexity of reality is verboten to this mindset and like the Athenians in war with the Spartans, simply won't be allowed.

I understand the impulse. When a scenario ensues that threatens comforts and even basic necessities, it's very easy to give into arguments that posit some external enemy as the cause of all our problems. However, the sad truth is, I know myself a little too well. And if you're honest too, you'll admit it too. We're the enemy. We always have been. So if we admit this, what should we do? One thing is to say that we see things in a limited way.

One aspect of conspiratorial thinking that constantly confronts me is how "certain" it is. That alone tells me that it's a gnostic impulse that should be rejected by both the Christian community and any intellectual skeptics. If even the apostle  Paul says we (including himself) see through a glass glass darkly, and post modern philosophers say the same in spades, how can we dare say that we have the "inside key" to how history turns?

So whether you're a skeptic or a Christian, I ask you to put your thinking cap on and consider each moment in history critically, with a mind to our own intellectual and moral limitations.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Being a Chrstian in the midst of a world of Violence and Clashing Civilizations

Working that out will be more than a semester's work. It's a work that will occupy the rest of my life. But I am grateful that this is a passion that has gripped me.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Whither Christian essentials?

What should Christians who accept evolutionary biology declare to be "essential" to an orthodox Christian faith? For me there are several essentials that if they were given up would evacuate the Christian faith of any meaning and substance. First off, that there is one eternal Creator God which created all that is, whether physical or spiritual. I would add that this creation was from nothing, otherwise known as ex nihilo. Yet I understand that other Christians differ on whether this belongs to the essential category. I put it there because of the nature of God being eternal and before all things, thus anything other-than-God must be created, and ultimately that means it came from nothing into being. Unless we hold to a kind of pantheism or panentheism which has the created world being part of God. My understanding of the biblical text is traditionally theistic whch sees a sharp divide between the creator and the creation.

Another essential to the faith for me is the centrality of Christ in salvation. Whether you hold to a strictly exclusive understanding of salvation (no one can be saved apart from a conscious faith in Christ as savior) or a more inclusive understanding (Christ is still the only way to the Father, but there are hidden Christians, or a second chance to choose Christ after death) is not my main concern. The biblical witness is clear that reconciliation with God is conditioned upon Christ's work on the cross and especially in his resurrection.

Which is a nice segue to another essential that if rejected leaves Christianity being nothing more than another moralistic philosophy that's essentially indistinguishable from other belief systems. Miracles. In particular the miracle of Jesus' virgin birth, his miracles throughout his ministry, and ultimately his resurrection from the dead. Paul, not to mention the other apostles, makes it clear that their faith was predicated on Christ rising from the dead and therefore defeating death itself. If this didn't happen then Christianity is just another ultimately meaningless philosophy, no better, no worse. Actually it would be worse, because it claims to be more and if that's not true, then it would be guilty of knowingly lying about one of the most essential questions in life: What happens after death?

And since I opened this with a reference to those who, like me, accept evolutionary biology as true, is belief in an historical Adam and Eve necessary to an orthodox faith? I happen to believe that they were historical people. But I don't believe they were the only humans around at that time. Thus I have no problem with the necessity of a thousand or more early humans to provide the genetic diversity that we see in the human genome. I see them as representative figures standing as federal heads over all of humanity, just in the same way that Christ is the federal head over all those who are under him. So I would say that Adam was historically real, first of all because the rest of the biblical writers assumed that to be so, especially Paul, but also because there is no reason to reject his historicity for scientific reasons if he's seen as a federal head as mentioned above. It's when he's seen as the sole progenitor of all humans that we run into serious scientific problems. Ironically that same literalistic reading of early Genesis also sees the same genetic bottleneck with Noah as Adam. because if the flood was worldwide (btw, I don't believe the flood was worldwide) and only Noah's family survived, then we're once again stuck with the same genetic problem as we saw with Adam. So Adam makes the cut in my scheme, though I'm not sure how essential he is to an orthodox faith. But at least in my reading, he's really important in light of what the rest of scripture says.

There are of course many other doctrinal issues, some more important than others, involved in the Christian faith, not to mention the myriad practical aspects to being a true Christian such as charity, mercy, purity of heart, etc. Christianity, while it is a cognitive faith, is so much more than that. And it isn't a true Christianity that is only cognitive without the moral life being lived out.

So is this enough? Are there other essentials that need to be included? Is it too much? What might you drop in my list as an unnecessary burden?

New Beginning

A post after a long absence bespeaks a new beginning. The question is, what beginning will be renewed? The desire is peace, since that's my namesake. My hope is that my words will speak of a real peace and not of one which will only salve minor wounds when a gaping hole confronts us/me.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Economic and Moral Microcosm

I am Greece. I am Spain. I am Portugal. I am the U.S. I am Ireland.

I, like each of these countries, have spent years spending like a drunken sailor, living far beyond my means. Peter and Paul aren't speaking with me anymore because I've spent so much time robbing one to pay the other. I've rotated my debt in order to keep on spending, hoping against hope, and any realistic assessment of reality, that somehow it would all work itself out in the end without me having to make drastic changes.

Well, reality does have a nasty habit of eventually catching up with our self imposed fantasies. And with each succeeding step of living in fantasy the cost grows higher and the climb back to level ground is steeper. If we're fortunate enough to have this reality stare us in the face early on, we can adjust our thinking and behavior accordingly and turn things around with a minimal amount of pain.

But if we have a reservoir of support available to us and a system which rewards conspicuous consumption through easy credit than the temptation is very strong to go along for the ride. I bought that lie. I bought the lie that I could buy whatever I wanted based on future earnings which would counteract my current excesses. I, along with my various creditors, believed that the road always rises and never falls. We now both know better.

We live in perilous times of great economic and social uncertainty and upheaval. I can't say what others should do but I know that I have a choice to make in response to my own situation. I have a moral obligation now just as much as I have had at every step of the way in this economic journey to indebtedness. I can either walk away and neglect my responsibility for my part in bringing this about and blame everyone around me for my woes, or I can own up to what I've done and not done and get to the dirty but ultimately noble business of cutting back to bare essentials and work harder to bring myself back up to level ground.

I have spent years being consumed by rampant consumerism and have found myself slowly dying of consumption. I'm therefore faced with very difficult choices brought about by all of my previous choices. But face them I must. The issue isn't whether I will make a choice, it's what choice will I make? Will I continue in this long slumber fed by the ever droning commercial narcotics streaming into my ears and eyes, burrowing deep into my very soul? Or will I awake from this deadly dream to a new day of harsh choices, but which I can at least be content to know that I will have dealt with reality on reality's terms?

A crisis at the right time be a true blessing if it awakens us to what is true and necessary.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Can We (I) Be Offensive for the Right Reasons and Not the Wrong Ones?

I was reminded today at lunch in a conversation with a good friend that if I am a Christian, I must first and foremost be concerned with living out my Christian witness, both in word and deed. To focus on either to the exclusion of either is to short-circuit the gospel's power. Christ has called us to be His hands and feet, but He's also called us to be His mouth to a lost and dying world.

We must be concerned for people's physical well-being of course. But without the gospel understanding we're just helping them to rearrange the chairs on the Titanic. But likewise, if we proclaim the gospel, yet have no concern for people's physical well-being, we betray a cold and shallow understanding of the fullness of Christ's redemption.

Proclaiming the uniqueness of Christ will never be popular to this world, and we shouldn't try to make it so. We must be willing to take the heat for that bold and dangerous claim the He is the only way to the Father. So in this sense we must be willing to be offensive in the way the gospel message is offensive to those not wanting to hear their true condition.

But at the same time we must also beware not to be offensive for all the wrong reasons. Our attitude must reflect the humble servant attitude of Christ and the Apostles. In fact He specifically warned His followers not to act like the surrounding culture that lauds authority over others. Sadly the reality is that many Christian "leaders" have exhibited just that haughty attitude that Christ forbade.

I know, because I've done it.

Last night I started rereading the Gospel of Luke and was immediately struck by how he emphasizes how God works through the marginalized over and over again. That's the way of God's Kingdom. It turns the notion of kingdom on its head and has its nobles serving the peasants and laying their lives down for the sake of the peasants, instead of the other way around, which is what our wars are always about. The poor go to the front lines in order to protect the privileges of the wealthy. But in God's war, He goes to the front lines and sacrifices His life so that we, the poor and enslaved, may be liberated and raised up.

Can we emulate this?

Will we emulate this?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Grand Strategy with Charles Hill

This is an absolutely fascinating interview with Charles Hill about his new book, Grand Strategy, where he lays out a huge narrative arc of political thinking, going all the way back to the ancient Greeks and how they conceptualized the world. He touches on Homer, Aeschylus, Thucydides, the Aeneid, the Treaty of Westphalia, and on and on. A wonderful tour de force of Western intellectual history.



This is just the first ten minutes of the interview. If you want to watch the whole interview, just click on the lower right part of the video and that will take you to the main page where you can watch it in its entirety.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Facebook Exchange About Why I Call Myself An Augustinian Democrat

A while back a Thai friend of mine asked me why I call myself an Augustinian Democrat. This is my response to her:

I'm so sorry for taking so long to get back to you about your question. I don't mind answering at all. It's an unusual combination of terms to be sure. Typically if someone is Augustinian then they're more likely to be conservative in their theology and also their politics. I use the term Augustinian to describe my view of our fallen nature as humans and also to describe God's sovereign hand in all of our affairs. Therefore every human institution is broken by sin and in need of reform and restoration, whether private or public.

I use the term Democrat afterward to describe my belief in equality between all people, regardless of race, creed, sex, or culture. I'm pretty strongly egalitarian in my views. So in combining those two terms, Augustinian and Democrat, I'm affirming that every human institution is in need of reforming and oversight. Thus at times I'll end up sounding quite liberal on some (well, many really) issues, and will also be very conservative on others. As I say on a political blog I belong to, I hope I can transcend the left/right divide. And it's my Christian convictions that lead to this point.

I'm so glad you asked, because it helped me to better explain why I use that combination of terms to describe my political beliefs.

Did Neanderthals Possess the imago dei?

I just read a fascinating piece about the relationship between early humans and Neanderthals at the Big Ideas blog. Realizing that early humans and Neanderthals "coexisted" and even interbred, made me wonder if we should consider them to also have the imago dei? This of course strays into a couple of different and tenuous areas of inquiry. One has to do with the fact that any interaction between the two groups would necessarily have to have occurred more than 20,000 years ago, when Neanderthals went extinct. That immediately pushes back at any literal reading of the creation narrative, which among young earth creationists, typically sees the earth as being less than 10,000 years old. It also raises the very basic but also notoriously difficult question of what does it even mean to possess the imago dei or the image of God? So if our ancient DNA was complementary enough so that we could interbreed with our Neanderthal cousins, a DNA difference that would need to be less than 3% for successful breeding to occur, can we legitimately say that we homo sapiens  have the imago dei, but the Neanderthals didn't?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What connection between Glenn Beck and right wing violence?

The Tides Foundation, which prosecutors in California say was among the targets of the anti-government unemployed carpenter Byron Williams before he got into a chaotic shootout with several law enforcement officers Sunday, is also a favorite topic of Fox News host Glenn Beck.
Beginning in 2009 (and as recently as last week), Beck has repeatedly included the group -- along with ACORN, the SEIU and George Soros -- in his cabal of liberals and liberal organizations that are supposedly agents of President Obama's plan to spread Marxist and socialist ideas throughout the United States.
Of course, that doesn't mean that Beck necessarily inspired or influenced Williams' alleged plan to attack the Tides Foundation. But the group has been something of a whipping boy for Beck over the last year.
 Continue reading...

Joel Hunter: Why the Origins Debate Matters for the Church

Friday, July 9, 2010

Big Bang, Big Boom


BIG BANG BIG BOOM - the new wall-painted animation by BLU from blu on Vimeo.

A great stop action short giving an artist portrayal of how life started and may end. Brilliant and troubling.
ht/ Derek Webb, Charles Johnson

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Glenn Beck: Prophet of God?

 Is God speaking directly to Glenn Beck? In this exclusive two part series, Stephen Colbert talks with Beck's secret Vatican insider, Father Guido Sarducci.

Part 1 introduces us to the topic after showing that the Vatican now loves the Blues Brothers:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Yahweh or No Way - The Blues Brothers & Glenn Beck
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorFox News

In part 2, Colbert blows the lid off of who Beck's secret Vatican contact is:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Prophet Glenn Beck - Father Guido Sarducci
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorFox News

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Chris Matthews' Documentary on the Rise of the New Right.

Part 1:




Part 2:



Part 3:



Part 4:



Part 5:



Part 6:



This is Chris Matthews' report about the rise of the modern Right and its roots. Most of what he reports is publicly known to anyone interested. As I've said in other venues, this should not surprise anyone.

This series should only make clear what has been clear to anyone that sees the evidence clearly.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

What if Everyone Were Christian? Would it Make a Difference?

An interesting thought occurred to me yesterday while I was in the shower (that happens a lot by the way), what would the world look like if everyone somehow were Christian? Obviously hypotheticals are always an iffy proposition, and this one is no different. But leaving aside the obviously severe improbability if not total impossibility of that prospect, assuming it were true, what would the world look like? Would it look better? Would people get along better? Would we have less conflict internationally? Or more? Or would it remain pretty much the same as it is now? Would economic inequality improve? Would we take better care of the natural world?

Another part of this hypothetical equation concerns the term "Christian" itself. How is it defined? I'm an evangelical Protestant, should that be the definition? What about Roman Catholics? What about the Orthodox? What about the mainline Protestant denominations? And then there are the various non-denominational Christian groups that have existed for centuries not attached to any liturgical tradition or ecclesial succession such as the aforementioned?

For the sake of argument, let's assume that if everyone were Christian they would exist within the current state of affairs within the larger Christian world, with all its diversity and divisiveness. And especially with that in mind, again, how would the world be different if that were the case? Would it be any different than it is currently? And if the answer comes even close to that conclusion, what does that say about the state of Christianity in the world?

I find this both a fascinating thought experiment and deeply troubling.