Thursday, October 25, 2007

So the State Department gave $4 billion of my taxpayer dollars to unaccountable mercenaries in Iraq. Yeah, so.

It's just this way. If I were forced to choose between a societal arrangement--laws and regulations and politics--that resulted in thousands, maybe tens of thousands of single, uneducated, poverty-line, young, mostly minority moms, getting hundreds and maybe thousands of dollars in benefits that they don't deserve, or, on the other hand, a societal arrangement that resulted in a few hundred, or maybe a few thousand, married (a couple times), middle-aged, educated, upper-middle-class or better, guys, mostly white, getting hundreds of thousands and maybe millions--billions--of dollars in benefits that they don't deserve, I know which injustice I'd prefer. Milking the government, to put it nicely, just is that, whether it's a welfare scam or Blackwater. But if I had to be stuck with one or the other...

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Up at Sit

I have been (re-)reading (some of) the Upanishads recently. I am making my way through the "classical" 13 (out of 114 or so total, depending on who's counting). Upanishad derives as something like "(the writings of those who) sit up beneath (the feet of spiritual teachers)," and translates as secret teaching, or gnostic insight, or mysteries for initiates, or something of the sort. It is the documentation, among other things, of the great transition from the more or less typical tribal polytheism of the Arya traditional religion transcribed in the Vedas, to the Vedantic philosophical mysticism and popular story-based Hinduism of today.

I suppose two things strike me immediately. One is the still-very-tactile nature of brahmin (priestly-class) life in India, the other the mysticism facilitated by parallelomania. For instance, on the first, food and hunger recur as themes repeatedly; someone who gets it spiritually is said to be someone who will eat food. Doubtless this has a spiritualized meaning, a la my bread is to do the will of my father. And doubtless too it has, as much of this material does, a specifically ascetic setting: for a person whose spiritual discipline involves frequent and heroic fasting, food must become an issue and a symbol--perhaps something along the lines of, the one who "gets it" won't need food, because he won't feel hungry (like all of us always do), because he'll be satisfied. But I have to think it also comes from a notion of the payoff of all this personal sacrifice: once you get it, you won't need to do all the fasting that enabled you to get it. Then you'll be, once again, an eater of food, this time with no remorse, no fault, and full spiritual satisfaction (which you couldn't have gotten just stuffing your face before you undertook these spiritual disciplines).

As for the parallelomania, I mean that not as a slam but as a description, even though I do think that, along with a grain of truth, it was mostly epistemologically suspect. What I am referring to is the constant pushing of analogy by phrasing it as metaphor and not simile, in the manner of communion. Jesus doesn't say this bread is like my body, he says it is. The West has had fits with this: look, it says "is," say one bunch; it's obviously literal, it means what it says--hence transubstantiation and all that. The other bunch say, oh, it's obviously a metaphor, meaning something like it's a simile but the analogy is not just accidental, or that, it's a literary figure, but it intends to mess with you at a deeper level than 'life is like a basketball game.'

So, in the Brihad-Aranyaka Upanishad (pronounced just like it sounds...), joy is fire, praise is fire, water is fire, earth is fire, death (which is hunger) is the self, death is fire, self is fire, the death-fire-self is an ascetic, he faces east (the sunrise?), so his right side is the south and his right arm the southeast (and, lest we forget, his right buttcheek, I kid you not, is the southwest)--and so on. Perhaps no more, but certainly no less, mind-numbing than some of the census materials in Numbers or the sacrifice regulations in Leviticus. Unlike them, based on seeing parallels where the less-enlightened might not.

Sacrifice here is both literal (they still talk about the royal horse sacrifice of the ancient Arya) and figurative (all their yogas, or spiritual disciplines). Loneliness, hunger, the gods are all part of the brahmin's life.

There are still brahmana-like specifications for how to conduct certain rituals--"well, then, in that circumstance you say..." kind of formulae. Right beside these, though, you get from the first the kind of 'yeah, but this is what things actually are, really' speculation that eventually leads to Shankara and advaita monism, the 'there's only The Big, Thing' sort of philosophically mystical view many associate with intellectual Hinduism.

Along this line, and interesting from the point of view of Habermasian social philosophy that says that "I" come into existence via "us," is that what everything "really" is is Self, not my self, not God in a Western sense, but Self. And that selves come from Self, so that plurality is derived from a monism. We come from I.

As a Christian, I'm going to agree that we all come from *an* I, namely God. But I myself am not that "I," for we retain our unique identities as individual personal beings, even if we give full force to what being "in" Christ might mean. And God, in Christianity, is one but internally plural--the trinity notion--so that the One does not, as here, start out lonely or aspirational, and create or emanate other beings for that reason. The Christian God creates to enable more creatures to experience love as He does.

One sees different schools of thought vying, even in the same Upanishad. Does everything boil down to breath? Then the guys who say breath-control meditation is central come out winners. Is everything white, from eyes to semen, "really" soma, the perhaps-psychotropic drug that induced spiritually significant trances? Then maybe the priests who use it in connection with both sacrifices and meditation are right. What about followers of procedural karma, the guys who still do the Vedic sacrifices at face value? Or the ethical karmists, trying to earn their way to moksha, release from this world? Both of those, and the yogic ascetics, have their place, but the Ones Who Know (i.e., the authors of the Upanishads and their followers) know that knowing is the key to all the rest.

So everything hangs together, but instead of, as in Christianity, it all relating to and making sense in the context of a personal relationship to God in Christ, it all makes sense in terms of the way everything is everything else, or the way the one divine reality permeates everything.

Well, enough of this. Back to cleaning the yard and house for FallFest...


Thursday, October 18, 2007


So for me it works like this.

"Nooo. Don't bother me. I'm trying to consume delicious things bad for me while watching truly ridiculous, time-wasting television."

Okay. But I think I have a point to make.

It starts like this. If I want to figure out, say, the whole science and religion thing, how do I do that? Well, it seems to me that I can't, unless I can figure out what it's about. Perhaps it's about the nature, working, and meaning of physical stuff, in the light of the strong suspicion I have that physical ways of being aren't the only ones.

Well, then I say, all right, what about the physical? What do I as a Christian think, or how, about it? I use the various sciences to investigate it. Yes, sure. But I'm looking at all this data, how do I make sense of it? Via scientific theories. Sure, yes. But those, too, are data to me: if allopathic medicine makes sense and quantum mechanics makes sense (or something like sense) and evolutionary genetic biology makes sense and metallurgy makes sense, what do all those sense-making theories mean, taken as data points themselves?

To me they point to the orderliness and usefulness (if not purposefulness) of the physical. How does that fit with other things I already know to be true?

I start with resurrection. Resurrection says, we hope for the resurrection of our bodies. This is interesting. If you start with creation, you could always say that bodies are a trick or test to see if we'll stay spiritual, or that the physical is theater in which we enact a morality play, or a phase we must pass through. But resurrection says no, creation was about how we are meant to be. That being bodily, being physical, is inherent in human being, human existing, human nature.

If that's the case, then the physical can't be just neutral, a fact with no value that can be used for good or evil. It must be good, because it is part of the final as well as the initial intention God has for us.

If the bodily or physical is good, at least by intent, creation, and final repair and transformation, then that helps me. It helps me know that our interactions with the physical share something in common.
Our bodies, for one thing, are not prisons of the soul, or cootie-filled bags of temptation to be escaped, or limitations on our spiritual possibilities, but the mode in which we are supposed to be. So taking care of them is a fine thing to do: nutrition, wellness, exercise, diet, all acquire a more-than-pragmatic, more-than-self-centered, and more-than-Darwinian worth.
If bodies are worthwhile, and their care, nurture, and development are worthwhile, then so is their repair. Medicine acquires a foothold on meaning, beyond resistance to death.
If bodies are worthwhile, then we get a first glimmer of what we do about a correct body-image, a notion of self-image with respect to our physical form. There's lots to say here, but there is a meaning- and sense-granting place to start.
If bodies are good, then sexedness, being male or female, is not a crippling or a handicap. If sexedness is not bad, sex isn't likely to be, and sure enough, the commandment to be fruitful and multiply is given before the Fall. Repairing sex is a huge undertaking, but better start on it than not.
It's not at all clear to me that sexuality, or sexual identity, has any solid grounding in either science or Scripture. But whatever substance it has--and certainly it has a psychosocial reality that varies across time, cultures, and individuals--must be related to the notion of the worth of sexed bodily personal / relational beings.

But if the physical has any sort of inherent goodness, then nature, the environment, does. While prudential motivations to go green--let's not foul our own nest--are better than none, our role as stewards and gardeners may not be a punishment, but something deeply fulfilling. (See Nancy Pearcey's discussion of what she calls the cultural mandate, which begins with agri- and horti- culture.)

Besides the moral status of bodies, and the ontological status of sex, and the nature of nature as such, other areas of human interest connected to the physical include art and work.

To me, and maybe it's just me, all these things stick together: body image, sexuality, work, art, environmentalism. When you try to think of any of these apart from a notion of the spiritual worth of the physical world, you end up, as a Christian, in some sort of cognitive dissonance. But when you think of them together with that, then they tend to stick also to each other and get entangled theoretically, so that Gnosticisms that discount the body's spiritual or moral worth aren't over time going to have very coherent notions of the worth of work or of natural conservation and management. At the same time, it's not really possible over the long haul to believe in the resurrection and not develop a positive theology of sexed bodies or avoid some sense of creation groaning in anticipation of our redemption. It's about integrating your life and your worldview.

"Yeah yeah yeah, integration smintegration. I don't wanna think about all this; gimme my fried twinkie and Pantsoffdanceoff."

Okay. ((But I still think I've got a point.))

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Stone Soup

Believe it or don't, this is the fourteenth annual FallFest coming up, cosponsored by Lower Greenville Baptist Community and the Thameses. For many years now FallFest has occurred as the Stone Soup Storytelling festival. The theme for both children's and adult's nights this year is Sleeping Dreaming Waking. There will be a prize for best bedtime story, the first annual Bedtime Story Invitational.

Kids' Night is Friday, November 2, 2007, 5-9p, with storytelling by and for kids focused 6-8p.

Notkids' Night is Saturday, November 3, from 7p till midnight or whenever. No childcare or child activities this night. We encourage stories told in any medium, including music, whether original or just a favorite of yours you are sharing with us. Email submissions welcome from the brothers and sisters in the internet diaspora.

The festival occurs at 4723 Swiss Avenue, Dallas, TX. We live in the city; please respect our neighbors, and be conscious of protecting your valuables, when parking.


the perfect, wedding

You can tell perfect weddings, because at them, (only) six things go wrong.

Two bridesmaids faint. What to do? Panic? No. Just say, Check; that's two, four more to go.

Three hours before the reception, the groom's cake slips off the backseat and coats a station wagon's floorboards. Not to worry; got one of our six out of the way, with none the wiser: no one else had seen it, so no one will know when we substitute a sheet cake from Kroger.

The special handmade unity candle has been left on someone's mantel. Problem? I don't know; does it count as something going wrong? It does? Check. Figure, well, at least that one's out of the way, as a guy does a mario andretti going to your friend's house to retrieve the candle, and the accompanist plays some more.

The Mayan calendar savants at the rehearsel dinner location *double-book* the only room that will hold your wedding party. On the spot you have to move the rehearsel to a friend's house. Hm. Maybe that counts as two.

Maybe one reason people get confused about weddings is that although they are not performances--"perfection" in execution is--in a meaningful wedding, at any rate--only slightly positively correlated with "perfect" in emotional and spiritual terms--in a real wedding, the couple are "performing" something; that is, they are accomplishing something. Philosophers even use the term "performance speech" for what goes on: namely, that when the couple says, "with this ring I thee wed," they do. Saying it makes it happen; words don't just affect, but in this case also actually effect the reality.

Another confusion comes from the mistaken notion that a (real) wedding is "just a ceremony." It is natural, I suppose, especially in a culture like ours that has few clearly meaningful public acts, that a genuine ritual would be mistaken for a mere ceremony. What I mean is, a ritual is a symbol, specifically an enacted symbol, and not just a formal protocol one "must," to meet regulations, go through. A symbol is a word, an object, or an act associated with a meaning. So symbols are inherently meaningful. Ritual is an acted symbol, so it (should be) is inherently meaningful.

Once one realizes that this is a ritual, a meaningful action, a symbol, then one sees why as long as the meaning is meant, and as long as what actually lies at the core of that meaning gets enacted one way or another, then the ritual has been a success. Given that humans aren't consistent, and can only attain procedural perfection through drilled repetition, it becomes obvious that a ritual perfect with respect to meaning, to its symbolic function, will most likely not be perfect with regards to its execution, because that's not the important part. The meaning is the important part.

So remember: (at least) six things go wrong at every perfect wedding.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Ups and Downs

I'm pretty sure the guys in creative at the agency that got the Scion account thought the xB was yougly with a great big U, since the ad campaign was things like "pro: ugly, con: ugly," and "pro: wrong for so many; con: wrong for so many." And yet...the mobile little cube has grown on me. So the xBox leads me to today...

On the up side, Vince and Sara get married this weekend. Yay! Should be interesting, all things considered.

On the down side, Dawn has been gone for two weeks, and when she comes home tonight it will just be to work two twelve-hour shifts and turn around and leave again--to go to Louisville to bring Diane back--so gone for several more days.

On the up side, got to visit SCF at the med school and talk with a biology class about evolution this week.

On the down side, I don't know the new SCF leadership, which felt weird, and, as often, there are all sorts of uncertainties and regrets after speaking on a topic like evolution.

On the up side, I've resumed work on the study of the Christian understanding of the atonement. On the down side, I haven't got an academic article in process in philosophy right now.

On the up side, I'm in Book VII of Augustine's "City of God," and it's pretty interesting (although less fun than the Onion's article on changes to Dante's Inferno). On the downside, I couldn't finish Harry Potter's fifth (massive) installment, so that means I can't go on to VI and VII yet.

Did I mention that on the up side, Dawn's coming back tonight?

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Eavesdrop on My Reading

I am trying to catch up on reading. As one friend says, I look like I've done more reading than I really have (something about the dark circles around the eyes and the pasty complexion, maybe).

So I finally read two famous articles.

Luce Irigaray was (is?) a key French feminist postmodernist thinker. Her article "The Sex That Is Not One" takes Freud much more seriously than I think he deserves, but is very blunt in trying to talk about women's sex lives in a philosophical way.

Max Weber was a major German sociologist. His article "Science as a Vocation" sets him alongside Bertrand Russell as a post-Christian thinker who does not pretend that the functionally atheist, functionally functional, secular-modern view of life is anything other than emotionally, spiritually, and communally bleak.

I've also been reading sizable chunks of "God and Nature," "Science and Religion: A History," "Science and Theology: An Introduction," and a few feminist philosophers of science, on my way to taking questions in the biology department at El Centro this week on evolution. It is interesting to see the American feminists finding worthwhile things in Marx, and being very suspicious of Darwin.

In "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" I'm in the chapter called "Dumbledore's Army."

El Centro is starting a Last Lecture Series (if you had one last chance to give a talk to students in your life, what would you say?). I will speak in the next few weeks. I got going on a draft last night, and was up till 2am.

Dawn is having a pretty good time in San Francisco, I think. Beth is retaking the SAT this morning.

Daniel Schorr, may his tribe increase, who is on NPR every morning at like 7am, should be required listening for every adult of sound mind in the country. Does it take having an old guy around for people in a society not to leap enthusiastically into collective amnesia? Schorr reminds us every day of the continuity of what has been happening these past seven years with personnel and issues dating from Nixon's reign, and tendencies dating to Goldwater in the 1960s. There was George I Washington, and George II Bush; should we be surprised at the ongoing assault on our constitution if the current officeholder is George III? That was the guy we revolted against in the first place, right? Boston Tea Party, no taxation without representation, the legislature to hobble the executive's ability to engage in discretionary foreign wars by cutting off funds to the military, the bill of rights--wasn't all that stuff what we realized we needed then, and always need? Schorr is our Yoda, and should be declared a national treasure.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Celebration of Discipline?

I need to muse aloud about the science and religion thing. Don't take it personally, and don't take it as me making my final definitive word. But I'm not kidding, either.

It seems to me that rule one of all learning and intellectual inquiry is, don't talk yourself out of what you already know for sure is true, since almost any notion can be rationalized and made to seem plausible. Just because something can be made to look possible or reasonable doesn't necessarily at all change what you know you know. The world is as it is, not as it could be.
So, for instance, if you already know that you're a person in relationships with others, including relationships of love and care, and that you are a self with the ability to make decisions, don't let any plausible theory talk you out of that, even if you have to modify it some.
For instance, it may be important to learn that humans do not exhaust the list of possible persons, or that it's possible for you to do harm to others. But neither of these insights, if true, make you no longer a person in relationship. They might indeed force you, even against your preferences, to acknowledge that Martians or androids or angels are people; or it might force you to acknowledge that something is not right just because you do it and think you have good reasons for it. But those acknowledgements still leave you a person, and a person in relationships.
What are ruled out of court are, for instance,
A. impersonalisms, ideas that say the self isn't real, or that you are chemicals and not a soul, and so forth. (I realize that there are religious impersonalisms, especially in advaita hinduism and theravada buddhism. I'm attacking naturalistic materialisms here, and would have to say a lot more about these others.)
B. solipsisms, ideas that say that all that matters is your perspective
C. idealisms and gnosticisms that say that the world is bad or doesn't matter, that bodies are evil, and so on (more to say here, too, of course).
D. determinisms, that say it's all nature or nurture, or that the will is an illusion or a formula, or that it's all brain chemistry or pheromones or whathaveyou. (Again, panentheisms and panpsychisms--the idea that everything that exists is alive and possibly also is either part of God or has a soul--are exceptions about which there's more to say.)

Rule two is, keep an open mind, and a strong sense of your own fallibility,
because the way you know it is probably not the only way it can be known;
because while I'm the privileged narrator of my own life (nobody better than me knows how it looks from the inside of me), I'm not at all the privileged interpreter of my own life (since on the one hand I'm fabulously accomplished at self-justification and evasion and making myself look good, and on the other, I'm finite, a creature of my time and place, with little perspective on myself), and
because you can't learn anything if you already (think you) know everything.

Rule three, I suppose, is that thoughtful living in a seamlessly integrated world benefits from specialized consideration. What do I mean?
I experience one world as one self. I don't live in an abstraction. I live in "the world" that has "us" and "them" and "me" in it. So I don't experience "economics," not even when I'm at work (most people talk about their coworkers at work, not about the money moving around), I experience "the work world." But that's not even right, because I don't have to go through a transporter to go from "work world" to "family / home world" or "fun place"--I can move from one to the other, and I'm consicous of being the same me as I move. Sometimes, the same people move with me from one world to the next, and I certainly can imagine that even if it's not true at the moment. So as Searle says, there is exactly one world. And I am exactly one person in it. And I am not an uninvolved observer of this world, but also inextricably a member of and participant in it.
And yet, it helps me in my work world (and elsewhere) to study and know economics. Inherently, a map is not the world it describes: it's smaller, less detailed, and less living (even in Harry Potter). So economics is one map of the world. Political science is another. Math is (so it would seem) another (although no one can figure out how or why). So all the academic disciplines develop because it is informative and useful to abstract the one, holistic world and my one, holistic life in it, in this way and in that way, in terms of art appreciation and in terms of biology, philosophy and engineering.
The disciplines are valuable, because they are informative (true) and useful (good) about the actual world (which is why they are also often beautiful). But no discipline is the world, nor are all disciplines together. A word is not a thing, so every thing cannot be said--at least, not by us. (God's creative and providential "Word" is important here.)
Moreover, disciplines can be developed to focus on anything real, anything that exists. As Husserl says, they are "regional ontologies"--maps of one state or province, in some cases, maps of one sort of feature in another.
For example, in an atlas there are maps of Texas and England and Zambia. There are also what are called physical maps, population maps, political maps, climate maps, vegetation zone maps, and so on. In this sense, cultural geography (well, cultural cartography) is a good metaphor for all knowledge.
We want to know certain things for certain purposes and given our appreciation for certain things. If we discipline this "wanting to know" we come out with a "discipline," a Wissenschaft as the Germans call it, that focuses on it, or which abstracts from all that is to see the world in this or that way. But the world is always just what it is, and is worth what in fact it is worth. Maps don't usually change that. So there is such a thing as reality checking: maps can be more or less accurate, both with respect to what is really there, and with respect to what what is there means or how much it matters.
This means that disciplines are in relationships to each other which should, over time, be governed by what the actual relationships are in the real world of their object domains--of the things they try to study or highlight. Aristotle comes in handy here, for

Rule four is, disciplines must conform to reality over the long run. This means several things.
You must study something in the way it itself "tells you" to study it. "How much does envy weigh in kilograms?" is grammatically correct, but nonsense: you can't develop a disciplined study of envy that way, even if a writer talks metaphorically about "the weight of envy burdening him." Similarly, "what is it genes want?" is very possibly nonsense, too--not a question you can systematically ask. Strands of DNA and RNA will draw nucleotides from about 5 angstroms away, according to my lab friend, but chemicals (very probably) do not "want" anything. Understand, the reason you can't study envy by weight is not because you're limited, or someone (God, the church, the government, the science establishment) won't let you. It's because envy is not a "weight-ish" sort of thing.
Of course, this does not mean to shy off from learning. Telling someone not to study the health benefits of prayer is ideological coercion and censorship from the science establishment, just as much as telling them not to study the history of animals ever would be from the church.
It is reality that imposes the ultimate limits on disciplines.
There are other limits, I think. One is our nature. We do not, as Thomas Nagel says, and cannot understand "what it is like to be a bat," because we cannot fly and do not have sonar as a sense. A bat "sees the shape" of sounds. We not only do not, we *cannot.* When we use sonar, we may see something like what the bat sees on the screen, but we don't experience it as a sense perception as the bat does. Similarly with the detection of magnetic fields in birds, of electrical fields in sharks, and of infrared heat in pit vipers. How much else might there be that we can't sense, even through instruments? Gee, I dunno, but the current estimates on dark energy and dark matter are that they account for something like 90% of the mass and energy we need to make our current best explanations for the way the cosmos works, work.
Another limit is mystery. This is a word with a specific Christian usage. It means something we did not, and could not, know were God not to tell us. These might be things about us, about our world, or about himself and whatever, if anything, there "is" beyond this world. So it seems to Christians very clear, and something we already know before getting into disciplined study of the world, that God is real, and knows things we don't, and is capable of communicating with us in ways we can (at least partially) get, and that he does in fact do so.

So, four rules of thoughtfulness:
1. don't talk yourself out of what you already know to be true
2. be open-minded and humble about your claims to know
3. disciplined focus on parts of reality is perfectly permissible and is helpful, but never can tell us everything
4. our nature and abilities as humans, God's discretion, and the nature of reality put limits on what we can know

So, initially, on evolution:
1. whatever stance I come to take, whatever I learn about evolution, it cannot be correct if it makes me think I'm not a person, that I'm not in interpersonal relationships of love and care, that there's no God encountering me, or that I'm not in a world of some sort. I already know these things, even if there are huge oceans of things I don't know about them. Off the top of my head, though, I see no a priori reason why evolution would require me to give up any of those things. If it does, to the extent that it does, it's wrong. But it might be mostly right, or a bit right, even if there are parts I must reject.
2. Historical knowledge does not have the same epistemic standing as experience: I do not experience the past. To the extent that evolutionary theory is a theory of biological history, as distinct from a description of existing biological phenomena, it's epistemologically compromised, just like any other theory about historical reality.
That is, there being no videotapes of the beginning of all things, I need to be very careful in asserting this or that about it. God has told me some things in the Bible about it; and there are fossils. But both records are slender, and neither comments very much on itself. So the interpretation tends to be ours, and about that we should be very modest. Like...
A. It seems that there have been humanoids around for a while--tens of thousands, if not millions, of years. It is clear that our bodies, at least, are quite similar to other primates, even if there are important differences.
B. It seems that all of us who are alive today are descended from a very small group (10,000 or less; maybe 1,000 or less, according to DNA studies) who came from (east-central?) Africa.
C. It seems that all human beings should be seen as one race, from a biblical point of view, and one species, from an anthropological point of view. So dehumanizations like racism and nationalism should find no support in religion or science. (Evolution's competitiveness is a weak point here, since it can support racism and who knows what other horrors. Evolutionists know or sense this weakness, which might be why there's all these hurried attempts to evolutionarily justify altruism and care.)
D. It is clear that human life, if not natural life also, is not the way it is supposed to be. This is true, even though it is also clear that human life, just as such, is inherently good and worthwhile. We are in the image of God, but also fallen into sin.
E. It is clear that God is responsible for all that exists, including us (and, for our purposes and from our point of view, especially for us). He is "creator."
F. It seems clear that we know very little about the deep past. Once we get beyond where dendrochronology takes us (about 6000 years before the present), we increasingly are making educated guesses that are not checkable by anything more reliable than other educated guesses. We have not much beyond the foggiest notion what God creating by his word means, nor do science or philosophy have even the first sentence of a theory on why there is something rather than nothing.
What this last point means for considerations of evolution is that the historical component, macroevolution, starts off on much shakier epistemic grounds than microevolution (which is observable to some extent). This is before we start applying statistics (Dembski) or biochemistry (Behe) to the data. So assertions about macroevolution's truth should be modest, even if right (which they might not be). As for me, I'm a fairly cheerful agnostic about macroevolution factually, interested to read current discoveries and theories, but not very persuaded by any of them. On the other hand, I am mostly opposed to most of its advocates, because they appear to me to advocate it mostly because they have metaphysical and ethical agendas opposed to Christianity which they think it will help. More about this next time.
G. As creatures ourselves, it seems clear that we cannot climb outside the universe to check on God and see if he really did what he said he did, or to acquire another, clearer, vocabulary in which to explain to ourselves what what he said he did "really" means or what "really" happened. So claims about what creation could and could not mean should also be hedged about with modesty, for we know it is true, but we are on much shakier grounds when we try to say what "it" entails, precisely.

So much for knowledge, for disciplined thoughtfulness about our lives in our world, especially as it pertains to evolutionary biology. More ideological issues next time.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

As I listen to Jonathan and Elizabeth talk about current and future plans or dreams, it brings up long-term plans for Dawn and me as well.

I wonder what it would be like to go back to Africa really. I wonder if going as an expatriate, missionary or otherwise, is what I would want. But what would naturalization be like? Presumably you *can* naturalize anywhere, so there must be procedures for becoming Tanzanian or Zambian or South African or whatever. But of course a white middle-class American does not expect to naturalize as a dishwasher in her new country; the reverse happens here, with some comment but little outrage, of course--but what about the other direction?

Could I get a job in a philosophy department, despite the color of my skin, given the history of colonialism and apartheid there?

Would we be accepted? What becomes of homesickness in such a context? For example, German-Americans kept German-language events and newspapers into the twentieth century.

What about the critical posture toward government I take, and I think important to exist? Artificial countries, like Tanzania and Zambia, need integrative and positive voices, because they have no overweening national pride or xenophobia, because "they" were not ever a "they" historically, but were simply made into countries by the British.

What about shifting away from a hard-currency income, from euros / dollars / pounds to shillings or kwacha?

But one wouldn't want to naturalize "just to see if I could do it." So I'm just musing, at one level. But it is a helpful way to force me to think about global perspective in a more rigorous and yet more personal way.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

batch, natch

Dawn headed out with Diane for Louisville and parts beyond this morning. A good thing. I'll probably toy with my chili recipe while they're gone, and try to do too many--i.e., all--the things hard to do when the house is full up.

Or just read the last 2 1/2 Harry Potter books that I haven't read yet.

It's a cruel trick to make an INTJ a teacher. What is beautiful and complete in my mind, is not visible to anyone else. And when extruded, it tends to excite surprised and alarmed looks and comments like "yikes" and "ur, that's awkward." But trust me, in here, it's thrillingly clear...


Monday, October 01, 2007


I would die mentally and spiritually if I could not encounter God in reading. I can meditate, but I feel accompanied when I read. For me, reading Augustine's City of God is not an academic exercise, but a personal one. My mind is engaged, but I go in believing, I suppose, that God has something for me there. But it does not always feel like he is off somewhere up at the head of the class waiting for me to find Waldo; it feels like he is breathing down my neck, looking over my shoulder, peering hard at Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling or whatever it is, with me.

I think the centering effect of reading for me is not just the stabilization that happens to any INTJ when they go inside, because when I go inside myself *by myself* that is, increasingly, a bad and not innocent thing. It is when I go inside *accompanied* that good things happen. For those of you who pray, pray that I continue to have both the radar and the appetite for what is healthy and lifegiving, and that the desire in me to go "further up and further in," not by myself, but para-kletos, accompanied, will thrive.