Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Long Time no Writing

I've been busy so let me give a bit of background before I get into what I've been thinking about lately.

I went to Korea to study Korean at Kyunghee University (경회대학), and I had a great time.  I made new friends, ate good food, and got to practice Korean quite a bit.  My wife and kids came to visit Korea for a week after my class was finished and I got to be their tour-guide/interpreter.  It was tons of fun!  We went to a bunch of places, but where I felt I did the best job as guide/interpreter was at the planetarium/kids museum in Namsan Park (남산공원) I basically translated the entire planetarium show for my boys and I felt like I only missed a few things.  My wife loved the fabric market in Dongdaemun (동대문시장) though that was one of the hardest parts for me as an interpreter, because there are so many specialized terms for various types of fabrics and they're different dependant on what you're using it to make.  Fortunately Michelle can just tell by feel and look which fabrics she wanted, and I just had to help with prices and amounts.

After returning from that month-long trip I get back to work and I'm the busiest I've ever been with work.  As many of you know I work for the US Air Force and I fly on an airplane to do my job.  Well, we have multiple planes here now and we don't have nearly enough people to cover all the positions in all the planes so I've been flying much more than I've ever flown before (with the exception of being deployed to the Middle-east a few years back.  On top of being super busy with work I restarted online classes and I'm taking Theology 202 and Philosophy 201 through Liberty U Online.  It's a bit disappointing so far because Philosophy is one of my favorite topics and while I feel like I have a good grasp of the concepts taught so far (it's only an intro to Philosophy class), I have the lowest grade I've ever had in any of my online courses.  The thing that bothers me about the class (it's also true of my current Theology class) is that they don't seem to be really trying to test whether I understand the material through the quizzes.  Rather they seem to be testing whether or not I read the assigned chapters.  For example, there was a question on a recent quiz that asked very specifically what a particular text says is important in a certain situation.  All the possible selections were logical and would have worked in the particular situation but the answer was specifically what that author said.  One could (in fact my coworker said something to this effect) that the reading is the material to be tested and that's what the quiz is getting at.

To me it's more important to encourage critical thinking, not test to see if students can parrot back what an author has said on such and such a subject.  I'm glad that there's more than just the quizzes in the class (there are a few essays).  I feel that, in both theology and philosophy, as long as one can give reasonable defenses and logical support for one's statements they've learned the material.  The point of theology is to understand the different belief systems surrounding humans trying to understand God as He has revealed Himself.  So if a student can come up with a commonsense, logical and biblical defense for a particular belief then that student has succeeded in theology.  Same with philosophy though one can remove the biblical component.  That's not to say one cannot apply biblical beliefs to the study of philosophy and vice versa, rather that philosophical answers that contain biblical arguments are not considered basic philosophical arguments.  That's the philosophy of religion or theology, depending on what the presenter is arguing.

Which brings me to yesterday.  I had to work and this particular time I was teamed up with a coworker that completely disagrees with me in almost every aspect of life.  After some random(ish) conversation about our recent exploits we started talking about philosophy.  I opened up with attempting to quote this section of one of the texts for my philosophy class, from Hasker's Metaphysics; Constructing a World View and I hope the exact same can be said of me:
". . . [I am] a Christian who loves philosophy and would like to consider himself a philosopher; he is a philosopher who loves Jesus Christ and want to be known as a disciple. A Christian first, a philosopher second—but neither one at the expense of the other. The insights I have gained from my Christain faith and expereince prove to be of immense value as I do my philosophy, even though I cannot appeal to biblical authority as the basis for a philosophical argument. And the results of philosophical study enhance Christian understanding in many different ways—some of them already hinted at, others yet to be shown."
I think every Christian interested in philosophy should be able to say something just like that!  Well, I wasn't able to capture the words of the quote, but I talked about the basic idea that I want to be a philosopher and a Christian and that neither one detracts from the other.  One of the things we touched on was not using biblical authority/quotes to make philosophical arguments.  He basically didn't seem to believe that so we launched into a long conversation about the beginning of the universe, meaning of life, source for morality, and other philosophical interests.

It seemed that he accepts Big Bang cosmology for what it is, and that chains of events cannot cause themselves, but insisted that the universe is actually eternal, we just can't see beyond that beginning.  So, we have an immeasurable, invisible, impersonal properties of physics that led to the Big Bang.  He gave the analogy that time and space is a wave that we're surfing on, we can look back and see the top of the wave but we can't see the other side, but we know it's there.  He claims that theism is irrational because theist postulate that God was the one that started the series of events called the universe at the Big Bang.  Implying that it's more reasonable to assume that there was just something before the Big Bang that caused it, we just cannot see or measure anything that might have happened before the Big Bang.  This is even though I defined the whole of the universe as a closed system encompassing all that actually exists, past present and future.  Basically, the way I understand his argument is pure materialism forcing him to ignore the evidence of the Big Bang and postulate that that must not actually have been the beginning.

He did does seem to understand that his position is a position of faith.  But, it doesn't make sense to me that he could consider his position to be the more logical.  We both arrive at the same beginning, and that something had to start the beginning but rather than accept that it must be something outside the something that exists, a timeless limitless being that started all the somethings, he insists that it's not really the beginning that there's an invisible immeasurable something before the beginning that became what we call the initial singularity from which the Big Bang originated.  I tried to use multiple tactics that show that that argument is enough to reach the conclusion that there is something out there that started all this, then when one takes that as an acceptable premise, the other arguments for God point to other characteristics.  That initial premise will only allow that that something is incredibly powerful (at least in the concept of power that we have), and that it must be limitless by all physical essences.  For example this entity must be timeless/eternal, because time is a function of the physical universe and this something is outside the physical universe.  There are other points but he refused to budge on the assertion that before the Big Bang was not really the beginning, that the universe is eternal.

I did "win" one point!  He asked what one had to do to be saved.  I don't know his full religious educational background except that he was once a Mormon.  He seemed genuinely surprised when I told him that one doesn't have to do anything to be saved.  I presented to "ABC" method of describing "attaining" salvation.  That is, Admit you've sinned (makes sense, since if you refuse that you don't need saving and wouldn't be asking these questions in the first place), Believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay the penalty for your sins, and Choose to accept that payment for the penalty of your sins.  I hope this was able to dispel the common notion that Christianity is about doing certain things.

I stitched a bunch of photos together I took of an indoor roller coaster at Lotte World in Seoul

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Short Review of the Book True Reason

True Reason is a great offering of reasoned responses to the "New Atheists." With the popularity of these anti-theist writers, it's good to see them called out on their irrational positions. As a Christian myself it's an insult to read these anti-theists' books and be called irrational, delusional, etc. When, if one really takes a good hard look at the arguments, the converse is actually true. The Christian Apologist has much more reasonable answers than these New Atheists. This book does a great job collating and responding to the many fallacious arguments throughout the New Atheists' writings. I highly recommend this book for the apologist looking for reasonable responses to brash New Atheists' claims. It's also great for any ordinary lay person that has heard these New Atheists spouting off with bold claims of truth or anti-truth etc. and wants to hear more about these extraordinary claims. The entire text is filled with great arguments and powerful blows to poor arguments offered up in New Atheists' writings but to be the best chapter is the eighth chapter, The Explanatory Emptiness of Naturalism. Most of the other chapters respond to specific issues in specific arguments, but this chapter combines several components of theistic arguments and the huge holes throughout naturalism. My favorite simple argument is in chapter eight.
1. If science explains things, then naturalism is false.
2. Science explains things.
3. Therefore, naturalism is false
Secular humanists/atheists/naturalists will try to claim 1. If science explains things, then naturalism is true. However, and the chapter explains this quite thoroughly, Naturalism itself if full of holes for which it will never find answers.

I do have more to say about the text but I haven't the time!  This review is posted on Goodreads as well as Amazon.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Expressing Oneself in a Foreign Language

Some of you may know that I'm currently attending a special Korean language program in Korea.  I'm studying at Kyunghee University (경희대학교) in Seoul.  It's funny, even as I'm trying to type the name of the university in English, I'm having trouble, because I only see it in my mind's eye as 경희.  Well anyways, I LOVE IT!  One of the best things has been the friends that I've made already.  I'll be honest, I could get the same classwork/teaching in Japan (on Okinawa), they occasionally have teachers come and they put on a great class!  But, the real benefit of coming here to Korea is the chance to interact with it everyday and everywhere, especially as I make friends.  If I were going to class on Okinawa, sure it'd be able to go home to my family every night, but my use of the language would be limited outside of class.  While I'm here I have to use Korean all the time!  I use it to do laundry, turn on/off the heater in my room, order coffee at the coffee shop (though they use a lot of English there), order food at every restaurant, at the grocery (that was tough, I don't deal with food that much in English, so it was much harder in Korean), etc. etc.

Really the best part though, is making Korean friends.  The very first night I was here, I had eaten dinner and was looking for a bar that the waiter had recommended.  I was lost, and as I walked I was looking for someone from which to get directions.  I saw a young(ish) looking man walking my way and we made eye contact and I guess my face said I had a question before my voice did, because he stopped, pulled out his earphones and greeted me in English.  I generally make it a habit to not try to talk to people wearing earphones so after telling him I had a question I appologised for interrupting him.  I told him what I was looking for, and in true Korean style, he said that he would go with me looking for it.  Well, quite easily, we found the bar and he came in with me, sat down and we talked for hours, even though he had been at work since early that morning.  Turns out, he's a writer for a Korean newspaper the "Segye Daily [News]" ("세계일보").  We chatted for a long time, exchange contact information and went our merry ways, though we've gotten together again since at a beautiful little cafe that has more LPs than one could ever hope to finish, at which he introduced me to a friend from high school (or middle school I don't remember).  Since that first chance meeting I've made many other friends, some of which replied (within minutes) to an ad I posted on Craigslist (odd, I know I've never used Craigslist before).

Which brings me to the point of this whole entry:

I was chatting with my newest language exchange partner (언어교환친구) and we started talking about communication.  Let me tell you, this was really difficult with my limited vocabulary!  Try communicating something like this:

Chart Credit: http://www.brighthubpm.com/
In a different language!  Talk about meta!  Talking about communicating whilst communicating and dealing with the worst types of interference.  It's not pictured on this particular diagram, but anyone who's studied communication knows that it's never this simple.  There's so much interference between each step.  The "sender" has interference in translating thoughts into words, or in my case into words in different languages.  Then there's interference in the channel/media, maybe the "receiver" doesn't hear the whole message, maybe the receiver is seeing one visual/non-verbal message but receiving a different message, etc. etc.  Well, I love this kind of thing and the only thing that I don't like about spending time here is the constant reminder/humbling I receive showing me just how much I don't know when it comes to expressing myself in Korean.

Sunset from Seoul Tower

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Just Who is Making Extraordinary Claims?

I just read this great blog entry by +Rob Lundberg and I wanted to put in my thoughts on this interesting challenge.

The idea, as Rob so clearly presents it, comes from the late Carl Sagan and the preface to Peter Boghossian’s book, A Manual for Creating Atheists.  I can't say that I've actually had this challenge levied at me before, but I've seen it in many an online discussion.  Honestly, I don't have nearly as much to say on this matter but I did want to ask a question.  Who is making the truly extraordinary claim?

Take this analogy.  You're watching a magic show and you see the stage magician pull a live rabbit out of an empty hat, you'd think (and you'd be right) that the magician is making an extraordinary claim.  That is, the ability to make something, the rabbit, out of nothing, the air in the hat (which is technically not 'nothing,' but for the sake of this argument let's leave it there).  Now, that is not unlike the claim of theists.  I know, I know, before all the apologists that happen to read this send me nasty grams, let me explain.  Keep the image of the magic show...  Only this time, there is no magician.  There is no hat.  There really is no stage either, but let's stop it there.  And, with no intervention by anyone at any time.  A rabbit appears on the stage.  THAT is the atheist's claim.  Now, without any formal philosophical training or anything, just the regular guy doing regular life.  Which one seems more extraordinary?  Keep in mind, that technically the analogy falls short, it's not a rabbit that is pulled from the hat.  It's the entire universe created ex nihilo (from nothing).

So, I know there are going to be some objections.  Let me approach some now.  Some claim that the universe has always existed.  Let's apply the same analogy.  This time, there is no magician still, and no hat.  Only a rabbit.  That never gets old or when it does get old it suddenly implodes and becomes a baby again, and then continues this cycle of getting older and then popping back into youth and never being born and never dying.  Is that more reasonable than the previous claim?  Is that verifiable?  Okay let's look at another.  There are an infinite number of universes out there.  Now, our stage and the extraordinary claim hasn't gotten any easier or more rational.  If anything we've now multiplied the extraordinary claim by an infinite.  And I don't know what you learned in math, but I'm pretty sure anything times an infinite is an infinite.  So now we have either an infinite number of sequential rabbits popping onto an infinite number of stages one at at time popping into existence living an unknown amount of time and then dying in an unknown way for no reason.  Or, we have no magician and no hat and an infinite number of rabbits all popping into existence at the same time.

So again I ask, Who is really making extraordinary claims and is really required to provide extraordinary evidence?

Seoul Tower near sunset
There's millions (maybe I didn't count them) of these locks with wishes/messages of love by Seoul Tower.