Saturday, February 2, 2013

Christianity vs. Philosophy (Again)

I was reading one of the regular blogs I follow and the headline piqued my interest.  First, some background information.

Between 2000 and 2004 I studied music at Cedarville University; a private, Christian, baptist (even if not in name), liberal arts university in Cedarville Ohio.  I didn't graduate, so I can't technically call it my "alma mater" but I did enjoy my time there, for the most part, and I've always had at least a small desire to return there some day.  My wife attended high school in Cedarville, but that's totally unrelated.

Anyways, it's a small(ish) private Christian college, and when I saw it mentioned on a random philosophy blog, that they were abolishing their philosophy major I looked into it.  What I found was a bit troublesome.  Apparently, after the resignation of the current president, Dr. Brown, and the recent, unexpected resignation of the vice president of student life, Dr Ruby, the university has decided to cancel not only its philosophy major but the physics major as well.  This is terribly saddening to me.  Not because I care about those particular administrators, they were only there for a couple years while I was there and they made little difference in my life as a student, rather because it is apparently stemming from the University "moving back toward conservative fundamentalism."  (That's a complicated quote, quoted from Christianity Today's article, quoting the Fiat Lux blog about this turn of events.)  Don't get me wrong, I'm a conservative, fundamentalist, committed Christian and I often feel that those in my shoes should do more to curb the liberalization of the faith.  The tough part about this issue is that I really don't know why these two prominent administrators resigned and it might have nothing to do with (re)turning to a more conservative fundamentalist stance in the university.

The problem, to me, is that Cedarville Univ and other conservative Christian groups can't seem to find a balance between faith, philosophy, and science.  Is Cedarville abandoning philosophy and physics in an attempt to return to conservative fundamentalism?  I don't think that's really the case, and if that's the goal then they're doomed to fail as an educational institution.  Philosophy is in no way contrary to the Bible, or conservative/fundamentalism.  Perhaps, by the modern media definition of fundamentalist philosophy would present a problem.  The true fundamentalist shouldn't have any issues with seeking out answers to tough questions in light of his/her beliefs.  Being grounded in an unshakeable faith in God's word doesn't mean I can't question it.  My faith is made stronger by my questioning the Bible.  My faith is made stronger by my studying nature, science, and the universe around me.

I'm hoping that the administrative changes at Cedarville work out for the best, and that they bring back majors in Philosophy and Physics.  If they need professors, I'd love to help, but I'm not even remotely qualified ... yet.  Maybe someday.  That would be cool.  Finish my stint in the military/complete various degrees (already have Associates, working on Bachelors), teach overseas for a few years, move back to Ohio, become a professor of philosophy and Asian studies at Cedarville...  The possibilities are endless.

One of the Okuma resort beaches (where we spent two days on a mini vacation)

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Skipping Rocks

I've mentioned before and it's probably obvious, that I'm no stranger to technology and geekiness in general.  However, today as we were waiting to go to a friend's apartment for their child's fourth birthday party, we were walking along the beach and I was skipping rocks.  For whatever reason, this particular beach across the street from our friend's apartment had several good skippin' rocks.  It was littered with pieces of shale.  I might have mentioned it before but the typical coral rock found on the many beaches we frequent aren't very good for skipping, though they're flat, they're too light and don't have enough heft to get a good throw.  But today I was in (comparative) rock-skipping heaven.

It made me think, even as I reached into my pocket resisting the impulse to pull out my iPhone and check Facebook or while away the time in some other manner, that I sometimes dislike modern conveniences/technology and would like to go back to the way things used to be.  I'm not a hopeless romantic concerning the past, I don't look through rose-colored glasses at my childhood and want everything to go back to those simpler times.  BUT, there's a lot of therapy in contemplation and rock-skipping.  Fishing is another one, I LOVE wading out into waist-deep frigid water to cast into the weeds in search of angry Pike.  My life, wether fortunately or unfortunately, has taken me far away from those, more simple, times.  I miss them sometimes and I relish the times I do get to relax, stop checking the phone, and simply sit (or in this case walk) and think.  That's definitely one thing philosophers seem to do more often than most, sit and think.

After the party I was talking with my wife, Michelle, about our post-military life plans, and I mentioned that I'd like to come back to this island.  We were talking about that idea, and this is something like how it would go...  I'd retire, hopefully as a Master Sergeant (E7) or above, and move back to Okinawa to teach English.  I know Michelle doesn't want to live overseas forever, so I'd like to do that for just 5 years or so, right after retiring from the AF. I'd use my retirement pay to rent an apartment right on the ocean and the money I'd make as an English teacher would pay for everything else.  There are dozens of military bases on the island so we'd always be near a military hospital and be able to use the commissary and other base amenities including the many military-only resort areas.  It seems like a cool idea to me and Michelle seemed onboard with the idea as well.  We'll just have to wait see.

Regardless, one of the main things I'm looking forward to after I'm done with my, relatively short when compared to a civilian job, military career is take more time to skip rocks and go fishing.  I hope that wherever I end up at that stage in my life I live close to a place where I can do just that.

Pretty much as fair as fishing gets!  You have to swim close enough to the fish to spear it with a pole

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Guest Writers

I've sent out this invitation before and I've gotten several good responses.  If you'd be at all interested in writing an article for my blog you're welcome to submit articles via email ( or via this Google spreadsheet.

It's not that I've run out of ideas or anything, just that I enjoy sharing other's writings along with my own.

Colossians 2

I know it may seem counterintuitive but the pastor at church brought up this passage on Sunday and I thought it interesting given my intentions behind this blog.

Colossians 2 specifically verses 8-23. I won't quote the whole passage but here's verse 8 from the NASB "8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ." (emphasis mine)  It seems obvious to me that the passage isn't truly condemning philosophy and those that study it.  God's Word wouldn't really be against the love of learning, it says in Psalms 24 "The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it."  So, philosophy, logic, and all the tools of learning and science are all God's.  We (as Christians) need to use them as such.

It seems to me that the real point of the Colossians 2 passage is more along the same lines as: 1 Corinthians 3:18-21a "18 Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, '[God] is the one who catches the wise in their craftiness;' 20 and again, 'The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise, that they are useless.' 21 So then let no one boast in men..." The point isn't that the love of learning is wrong or bad, rather that so many forget Proverbs 3:5-8 "5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight. 7 Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the Lord and turn away from evil. 8 It will be healing to your body, And refreshment to your bones."

The warning in Colossians 2 doesn't want us to keep away from learning or loving knowledge; it is teaching us that we must never rely on our own knowledge or learning when it comes to the things of God. He offers forgiveness through Jesus and once we accept that we need to remember "...[whatever] you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Corinthians 10:31-33 (NASB))

Not my best photography work but some cool bioluminescent coral

Sunday, January 20, 2013

My Friend's Experience...

My friend and former coworker, Steven Specht, is embarking on an amazing attempt to ride across the US this year.  I'll be occasionally referencing his experiences here.

I've recently returned from my deployment to Afghanistan and I'm thinking of doing some biking in conjunction with training for triathloning.  One of my goals this year is to complete a half-Ironman and I'd like to start riding my bike to work.  I loaned my bike to a friend while I was gone and he told me that one of the pedals of my bike fell apart and that he had temporarily replaced it with his old pedals.  I've been into minimalist and barefoot running for several years now and my goal is to complete the tri barefoot.  When I talked to my friend (that had borrowed the bike) about jury-rigging the pedals with a barefoot strap, he recommended I try clip-less pedals that I could leave the shoes on the pedals easily enough and just strap my bare feet into the shoes.  I don't really have any experience in this area.  Do any of you?  Any advice?

I've looked into it some and it seems like there are some serious advantages to using the stiff shoed clip-less pedals.  According to what I've read there's a mechanical advantage to having a stiff shoe while riding, but I'm not really worried about being fast or competitive so the mechanical advantage isn't really all that important to me.  I'm also budget conscious and I really don't want to spend hundreds of dollars for fancy pedals.  Regardless of how it ends up, I'm looking forward to reading about my friend Steven's adventures and doing my own training.

Not Exactly My Bike (close) *Credit:

Return Home

I've gotten home, and completed my inprocessing work.  I have two weeks of rest/free leave before I have to return to work.  Unfortunately, I have a lot of work to do editing my friend's book and finding the same time to work on it is harder.  There's lot's of distractions, with the beaches and historical ruins and spending time with family and friends.

Already it's been only four days and I've gotten to do all sorts of fun stuff with my family including visiting a small island up on the northern end of the main island of Okinawa.

Swinging on Kouri Island

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Discard the Constitution?

I recently read two different pieces on the New York Times online opinion page, one about the NEED to give up on the Constitution, and then the various responses to that piece.

In all honesty for the first time, in a long time I really have no answer!  "Then why are you writing a blog about it?" you ask.  Well, I don't really know.  I don't like the thought of abolishing the Constitution altogether; I liken it to the foundation of a building.  Especially in an earthquake prone location, foundations are strong but flexible.  It seems that the point of the Constitution was to be a firm foundation but flexible for the times when change is needed.  Was the Constitution written by men (therefore fallible) from a different time period and different issues?  Yes.  Does that mean it doesn't apply today?  No.  They understood that times can change, but in order to have a firm foundation they made it difficult to change.

One of the sections mentioned in the initial piece was Section 7 "All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills."  Funny, that the most important part of flexibility (that Mr. Seidman seems to be neglecting) is mentioned in the selfsame section that he referenced.  Even though the only place revenue measures can originate from is the House, AND the Senate is the only place from which Amendments can originate.  Rather than abolishing our foundation and trying to rebuild from scratch, it would behoove our government to abolish the all the extraneous bills/laws that burden our country.

It's SUPPOSED to be difficult (inefficient) to make laws and change the foundation.  Imagine a government that could make new laws with little to no bureaucracy.  Laws would be passed at the drop of a hat and as knee jerk reactions to everything.  At the first shooting ALL guns would be outlawed.  I'm not saying that would be a bad thing per se, but apply that to car accidents.  At the first negligent speeding accident that kills an innocent bystander, the government would outlaw cars or make the speedlimit 5mph.  Obesity kills, there's no doubt about that.  But, do you want a government that can pass any number of laws regulating what you can and cannot eat.  What about freedom of speech?  Do you want the government to have the ability to litigate what you can and cannot say?

I liked the first response by Lawrence Tribe, while he doesn't use these words I think I agree with his sentiments about the original piece.  Mr. Seidman offers a lot of rhetoric about a broken system and dysfunctional government, but no real solution other than to throw out the foundation of our system of government.  Supposedly, we should all sit around and rationally discuss the future of our nation and stop genuflecting to the desires of the founders, just how does that work Mr. Seidman?  That's what's supposed to happen in Congress, when was the last time that happened?  If it can't happen with rules to govern it, what make you think that it'll happen once the foundational rules have been abolished?

I find myself on the opposite side of the issue, we should abandon most of the extraneous laws that have plagued and made our country's laws so complicated that no one really understand the law.  Consider this book, Three Felonies A Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent, about how federal law obscures it's meaning rather than clarify it and this book Go Directly to Jail: The Criminalization of Almost Everything.  We should abolish this bloated system of laws and go back to the basics of the Constitution.  Abolish everything EXCEPT the foundation and rebuild.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Year in Review (2012)

I know it's a bit late but I'd like to review my favorite posts and the posts with the most pageviews from 2012, technically my first year of blogging, though I really only (re)started in June.

#1 My favorite topic was well two, Grammar and Language Change
#2 The most read (by far, mainly due to my attempt at sharing it on Blog Carnival) was
Morality of Drone Strikes Response. Second place for most read was Plato's Republic Books 1-3.
#3 I've had several guest posts and responses: Eric Flynn, Will Haas, Steven Specht, Sam Ronicker (my dad), and Charles Philip Smith.  Also, I responded to Steven Specht's entry here.  I also wrote a guest entry on Will Haas' blog.  Overall, I liked the coordination and I'd like to continue the trend in 2013.
#4 Not really about blogging but about notable things that happened in my life in general (not in any particular order): I assisted Steven Specht in editing (attempting publishing early this year) his book Notes from Afghanistan.  I started working on my dad's next work Sermons from a Tiny Pulpit, hopefully we can finish it this year and get it published.  I started blogging in Korean.  I moved from Omaha, NE to Okinawa Japan for work; it's the most beautiful place I've EVER lived and I look forward to spending the next few years *there (*writing this while in Afghanistan).  As I just mentioned I spent a little over 3 1/2 months in Afghanistan, not a pleasant time but not too bad, definitely better than 2011 and 2010 when I spent over 6 months in southwest Asia each year.  One funny note I just realized the other day... I've had a total of 6,356 pageviews, HOWEVER, most of those (probably) were me viewing it for editing purposes, and I just found out I can turn off my views so that it doesn't count when I go to the blog for editing!  So, I hope you (if there's anyone reading this) have enjoyed my last year of entries and I look forward to continuing my writing this next year as well.

Looking ahead I mentioned this at the end of this post, but my goals/plans/resolutions for the new year:

Read through the Bible cover-to-cover and post about it on Facebook
Read 50 books throughout the year
Train for and complete at least a half ironman triathlon

Cocoa the Travel Dog Went with Me Everywhere!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

I'm NOT Completely Convinced, but it's Interesting

I'm by no means convinced, as evidenced in the statements I made on my previous entry, that Genesis is a NON-literal description of the creation of the universe. However, I do like what Francis Collins says in the Book Language of God about how accepting Genesis as non-literal does NOT mean that the rest of the Bible is untrue. He uses the term "slippery slope" and I like to combine that with "line in the sand." So, IF he's right and God used evolutionary processes to create life on earth, I'd say to stop the slippery slope of the argument one can draw the line in the sand at the ending Genesis ch 1 as the end of the non-literal story of creation.

Genesis 2, is the details of God making mankind and his first interactions with them. Eden was a real place God setup for mankind to flourish in; the trees mentioned were real things that God setup to keep mankind flourishing and to give him the option to obey. Ch 3, mankind disobeys. All completely literal, story of mankind's first choice to disobey God's one rule. Ch 4, Cain & Abel, again literal story, now the question of "where did Cain get his wife?" comes up. Here's where creation via evolution can give an answer (again, not really saying I believe this, just that it makes sense), Cain married some lower form of humanoid. The, as Collins calls it, "BioLogos" view offers a similar explanation for the 'Nephilim' mentioned in ch 6. They're some other form of humanoid.

From Genesis 2 onward is the more detailed accounting of God's interaction and caring for His very special creation, mankind. One thing I disagree with from Collins is his brushing aside of the central concept that mankind is created in God's image. It is written several times throughout the Bible that mankind is in God's image, perhaps, if BioLogos is true (again I'm not totally convinced), the idea that mankind is created in God's image is that we are the first (and only, at least on earth) creation of God that can think and has a spirit. That's why God made us, to be different, and on a higher level than animals, to think and interact with Him.

IF we draw the line in the sand at Genesis chapter one it still leaves faith and God's special interaction and love for mankind intact. IF we keep going down the slippery slope and say ALL of Genesis is non-literal it makes sin a non-issue, because it's just a story, it didn't really happen. I'm not saying Collins isn't saved or any crazy thing like that. In fact I really like his testimony in the text, it's quite stirring. And, I'm not making the mistake that he mentions that I also DETEST about religions (Christianity included), how *we (*I don't like to call myself religious because of this fact) often ostracize anyone who doesn't believe exactly as we believe. I'm not saying that all roads lead to God/salvation, I'm saying we need to stop the hate and start loving and accepting people as Christ taught.

Francis Collins, the author of Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Genesis 1 Fact or Allegory?

I've been reading The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief and I started my reading through the Bible as a New Year's resolution, I'm on page 197, fairly near the end and I like the book in general, but I have a few reservations.

First of all he started with several references from C.S. Lewis, my favorite apologist.  So, right away I really liked what he had to say and pretty much agreed with everything in the first couple chapters.  Then he went into a deep (deeper than my understanding) analysis of genetic coding and how genetics has very strong evidence for Darwinian evolution.  It was interesting to me that he brought up my primary counter to this evidence.  The way my roommate and best friend put it when he and I were discussing it was well put, the evidence wasn't for a common ancestor but rather a common Creator.  The way he puts it in the book is something like, (Young Earth or literal interpretation) creationist/scientists say the reason we have so much in common genetically with other mammals is God reused similar methods to make multiple creatures.  Collins' response to that was that IF God literally created the earth in seven (six not counting the rest day) days then he must have been trying to trick us or play games with scientific study, because in genetics, life obviously resulted from evolution.

After the first couple chapters of offering evidence and logical proofs for God (using Lewis and others' arguments), and setting up how genetics offers strong evidence for evolution, he starts tearing apart other beliefs concerning creation; first, he tears apart atheism (some more) and shows how it's science trumping faith, then Creationism, how it's faith trumping science, then Intelligent Design, when science needs divine help.  The last chapter in this section, which I haven't read yet is BioLogos, faith and science in harmony.  In the chapter about Creationism he brushes aside all the typical objections, microevolution not macroevolution (which he dismisses as a fallacy, that there's no actual difference between micro/macroevolution), he denies that the flood could cause the stratification and fossilization of animals as we find today, and the lack of "missing links."  He claims that several so called "missing links" have been discovered in fossil records in the "past few years."

My disagreements...  I'm not going to try to challenge Collins' knowledge of genetics, that'd be stupid, he's a world-class genetic researcher in charge of the Human Genome Project, of course I can't compete with his knowledge.  Most of my objections are from my study of the scriptures.  First off, on Genesis being an allegorical story about evolution and how Moses perceived evolution and wrote about the different stages and types of evolution.  This doesn't fit with the text at all.  One of the methods of Bible study I've learned about over the years starts out with figuring out if a text is allegorical (parables), factual (genealogies), predictive (prophesies), or some combination thereof.

Let's look at the text. Yes, it uses (Strong's Dictionary # h3117) the Hebrew word "יוֹם" [yom] for the word 'day,' which could also be translated as 'age' 'period,' etc. To be honest, after rereading it (again) and considering that the sun/moon/stars weren't created until day four, which begs the question how long is a day if there isn't any sun/moon, I'm more comfortable with a less literal understanding of the first chapter and that it might not have been exactly a twenty-four hour day as we understand days. However, given that plant life was made on day three before the sun, it's obvious God was providing some kind of light source for plants. IF we assume some allegorical reading of the text, why would he (Moses) write it completely out of order? The point was to record how God showed him the creation of the universe, it'd be important to at least get logical organization correct. That lends to a more literal reading of that particular part.

Then on to chapter 2, is this also allegorical? If it is then there's no reason to have grace, law, forgiveness even the basic foundational idea of sin is described in Genesis 2. So, what Bible do you believe? Jesus quoted from Genesis 2 many other New Testament writers referenced Genesis, including these first few chapters. If they treat this as fact why would we assume otherwise? One of Collins' points to say this is allegorical comes from chapter 2 verse 5 "Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground." (NASB) He says that the fact that chapter 2 seems to regress when chapter 1 has already told us that plants were created, indicates that this is an allegorical story to illustrate God's creative work through evolution. The problem with that idea is that it's not looking deep enough into the text. It's not saying there were no plants, it's saying there was no agriculture, that no man had yet plowed or planted a field. The word field is taken from Hebrew, (Str. Dic. # h7704) "שָׂדֶה" [sadeh] translated as: 'field, land, agricultural etc.'

One other major point this reading of Genesis 1, 2 misses completely, is that one of the ways to determine if a text is allegorical or not is the use of proper names. Look at Jesus' teaching using parables, most of them have no names. However, in the story of Lazarus, He specifically uses his name, and of course it's true, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. Genesis 2, proper names: Gihon, Cush, Tigris, Assyria, Euphrates, Eden, and of course Adam and Eve. Why/how could Moses write with such specific detail using names that still are used to refer to these places and expect it to be taken any other way but literal?

Last but not least, no matter how one reads Genesis 1, 2, it's obvious that mankind is special.  Genesis 1 mentions that mankind is made on day 6, but then Genesis 2 goes into specific details about how and why man and woman were different than all the other animals.  IF mankind is just a higher evolutionary level of chimp or other primate, why would God, through Moses, put so much effort into detailing our creation and offering us a chance to disobey and then offering grace and salvation when we fail?  We're just higher on the evolutionary chain so there's nothing special about mankind, but God seems to think so, he makes Adam special and separate, and Eve even more so.  She's the only created being that comes from another created being.  Also, chapter 3 gives specific details on the fall and first sin, this doesn't fit with the idea that Mankind had been around for hundreds maybe thousands of years evolving before this very specific story takes place.

I know I already said "last," but I actually have a couple other things to say about this...  Genesis is an extremely important foundation on which the rest of the Bible is built upon, if we can't trust these accounts of creation, then we cannot trust the rest of the Bible.  One who says so, is deceiving his or herself.  Sorry for the non sequitur but Job mentions Leviathan, and it's described as only a dinosaur could be described, how does that fit with an evolution theory/Genesis interpretation?  It seems that Collins is putting his faith in his own understanding rather than God's power.  Do I understand how Genesis fits with scientific observation and testing?  No.  Do I think I, or anyone else, ever will?  Probably not.  Do I trust that God meant it to be written as it is and understood as a mostly literal description of His power in creating the whole universe ex nihilo?  Yes.  If God can do that, he could easily make things appear old or with characteristics that appear consistent with evolutionary theory, that doesn't mean He used the evolutionary process to create life.