Archive for January, 2005

recycling is good

Monday, January 31st, 2005

I wrote this like two weeks ago and never posted it, for reasons which will soon be apparent to those of you who choose to read on. It’s like a recycled post, and recycling, as we all know, is indeed good.
Andy asked me yesterday why I preferred Mozilla as a web browser to Safari. Four main reasons: 1. Safari has no drop-down menu of recently visited sites, 2. it doesn’t automatically highlight the url when you click the thing to type something else, 3. when it decides to suggest a url it thinks you want based on what you’re typing, there’s no simple way to reject its selection, and finally 4. google has a separate little thing to type in up there. Not only do you have to think about where to go when you want to search something, but your search term just sits up there for all to read until you erase it. Yesterday, Andy laughed at me when he looked over my shoulder and saw I had been searching “butt portion ham shank.” It was advertised in Meijer, and I wanted to know what on earth it was. I had always thought ham was just ham, but turns out there’s a lot I don’t know. Focus!!!!!

faith and knowledge

Saturday, January 8th, 2005

One can “know” something through faith, and one can “know” something through the rigorous testing of the scientific method, or the amassing and weighing of evidence which is the method of the humanities and social sciences. These are at least three different means of arriving at knowledge; are the types of knowledge they produce also different? Which method is superior, for which purposes? And when the knowledge arrived at by these three are different, how do we judge between them?
For the religious person, there is an obvious answer: knowledge through faith is superior to the others, and if the others contradict what we “know” through faith, they are wrong. In actual practice, however, the relationship is more complex and different people of faith arbitrate between the above in different ways.
What I study is essentially Biblical archaeology. Most of those within my discipline prefer the more PC term Near Eastern archaeology, but since my studies have encompassed a significant amount of Biblical studies as well as archaeology and history, I might as well call it that. The archaeological evidence, as it attests to the period of history treated in the Bible, at certain points stands clearly in conflict with the biblical history; and overall the way the Bible is treated is as a human document. In fact, there really isn’t a way to combine what I know by faith with what I know by scholarship; the two can’t always mix. What I present as knowledge in scholarship must be evidence-based; what I know by faith can’t be evidence-based, or it wouldn’t be faith. As a Christian, how do I deal with this?
There are a few different possible approaches:
(1) Compartmentalization: Don’t allow the two to mix. One part of one’s brain is the faith part, that hears and believes the Bible and what one hears in church; the other evaluates claims based on the evidence and processes accepted by one’s discipline. Don’t give the two any ground on which to fight it out, since in fact there is no common ground on which the two can engage.
(2) Complementarity: Scholarship is a supplement to faith, but if they contradict each other, one of two approaches must be taken: deny the scientific consensus by attempting to use science (as in creation science); or allow that science may have the facts, but the Bible has the spiritual truth behind the facts (a more mainstream interpration of evolution vs. creation).
(3) Humility: The Bible is the Word of God, a gift from our Lord. Our rationality is also a gift from the Lord. They can’t be separated, but our rationality along with the rest of our lives must be put under God’s yoke. Our minds and understanding are too small to understand the whole truth, and they are beset by sin so that both our natural understanding and our understanding of God will be flawed, even though God graciously reveals Himself through both. If there is a conflict between the Bible and science, it doesn’t mean either is wrong; it means that our understanding is imperfect.
So far, my belief by faith and scholarship hasn’t come into direct conflict. I’ve had to parrot off the documentary hypothesis on exams, but nobody demands that I actually believe it.

The Right Nation

Tuesday, January 4th, 2005

The second book about which I wish to write (point taken, Mr. Rau :), mentioned in the post below, is The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America, by a couple of guys who write for The Economist. It’s a fairly big book, and I’m somewhat impressed with myself for having gotten (most of the way) through it, but the plane trips to and from California over Thanksgiving can be credited with that.
I thought it was quite interesting. The main argument is that America has grown steadily more conservative over the last 40 years (the Clintons notwithstanding), and the book explains why and how this has occurred. It also explains why American conservatism is a unique phenomenon, very different from what conservatism is in other parts of the world: for example, conservatism in America is linked to individualism and desire for independence from government, rather than oligarchy and skepticism about “progress” as it is in Europe. Also, while America is in general much more conservative than Europe, regarding issues such as official separation between church and state it is much more liberal.
I learned quite a bit about the disparate strands which have combined to make conservatism what it is now; for example, the accession to authority of the neo-conservatives, who have developed an interventionist foreign policy contrary to the isolationist classic conservatism. It also described other aspects of changing conservatism; such as the rather dramatic shift to a more socially conservative outlook within three generations of the Bush family. The writers consider the future of American conservatism as well, whether the trend toward conservatism is likely to continue, or whether the tenuous coalition between such factions as the socially conservative Christian Right and anti-government-interference entrepreneurs is bound to eventually rupture.
The book is very readable (it has to be if I managed to get through 400 pages or so of talk about politics), and most pleasantly after the presidential election, is completely devoid of name-calling, muckraking, and loonball ad hominem attacks toward either the right or left. The writers do not hesitate to point out discreditable aspects of conservatism, for example the compromises with racism made by the Republican party in order to win over the formerly Democratic southern whites. On the other hand, the book does not insist on viewing conservative principles such as personal responsibility, individualism, and traditional religious values as merely false consciousness covering up a desire to return to the age of robber barons. The writers offer what seems to me a fairly even-handed description of conservatism, and conclude that, whether for better or worse, conservatism is currently the more dynamic and relevant movement in America, and stands a good chance of continuing to be so.
I think the book would be eye-opening to conservatives in learning about how the movement came to be, potential conflicts within conservatism, and the role conservatism is playing and can play in America. I think that liberals might learn more about the self-understanding of conservatives and also their understanding of liberalism, and hence how the message of liberalism could be brought to red-staters in a way that seems relevant to them. Perhaps the book might even show both liberals and conservatives the uniqueness of America, and how our goals and even underlying attitudes are similar however much we might appear to be divided on the surface.
Next up is What’s the Matter with Kansas?, which I have previously had occasion to mention.

books, winter, and fun with Schopenhauer

Saturday, January 1st, 2005

So I haven’t written anything for a while, and now there’s a few things I feel like writing about, so I guess I’ll begin on one and see where that goes. But before I get started with that, I offer my best wishes for the New Year to all who are, for reasons best known to themselves, reading this.
I’ve read a couple of books recently which I’ve been thinking about blogging about. I think I’ll save one for some other time. You’ll all just have to deal with the suspense.
The other is the book I mentioned in my last post, The Night Country by Loren Eiseley. Eiseley was an anthropologist and writer who was originally from Nebraska. This is a book of essays, and I’ve tried to explain what they are about to a few people, but wound up just recommending that they read the book. It made me feel like re-reading Thoreau’s Walden, though the books are not particularly similar. However, The Night Country, among other things, put me into a “winter” frame of mind: a feeling of longing for that austere, strange, aloneness that one experiences also when reading about that small, solitary person living alone in the woods through the cold dark months.
Winter is really the season for introverts, the others are so associated with bright, smiling, friendly nature and getting together with people outdoors. But in winter, if you are outside at all, you are outside alone. People are inside where it’s warm, birds’ songs are fewer, many animals are hibernating, the appearance of the leafless trees tells you they are sleeping, the snow damps all noise and there is silence. You can hear your own thoughts, there is no danger of being caught by an acquaintance and forced to come up with the correct things to say and do. Gradually your own thoughts fade away though, and you just look, listen, smell, if you stop walking even the sounds of your self are gone and you are standing, watching, waiting, dreaming with the trees and the sleeping animals and the bulbs underground, and that is Winter.
Moving right along, on NPR the other day, some fellow offered a quotation from Arthur “optimism is a bitter mockery of men’s woes” Schopenhauer along the lines of “there is no point in getting upset over any particular aspect of life, since all of life demands tears.”
Yesterday, on I find this. The angst-ridden high school debater who still lurks deep within my psyche is calling out “Go, Art!”, though I recognize the inappropriateness of that response.