abounding with verbosity

Monthly Archives: September 2010

An Assembly of Resented Fools

I ate an apple today that was named after a typical American male forename: Joey, Dennis, Christopher. Something. In my hand it was bigger and more dense than I expected and I wanted to yell out “APPLE GRENADE” before biting into it, but I generally like staying employed. Now the fruitbomb has been turned into heat and waste just like everything else in the universe.

I have another book idea exploding in my ear like a superheated spore. It’s about a semi-dystopian academic/contractual society, firearms, God, the nature of adulthood, and time travel theory, but it’s not as ridiculous or fun as all of that sounds. But first I have to finish the third re-de-write-edit of the first thorn in my side book.

I’ve been reading a book of Poe’s short stories and all of the death inside of them is starting to make me sleepy. Maybe I will review it.

How to Download a PDF About Buying Your First Bike

My long-time friend and blog boss Seth W wrote a little e-book for which I did a mostly-adequate layout job, and you can download it for free. It’s called How to Buy Your First Bike, where he finally sticks it to Gettier’s paradox. Just kidding. He just advises us on the best way to hand payment to a shop salesman. Nah, really…it deals with all of that and what to do and what not to do when buying your first bike. It doesn’t cover, though, if you’re buying someone else’s first bike. I have thrashed him soundly for this oversight.

Seth kinda knows what he’s talking about since he’s cycling his butt around America, and it matters enough that Ars Technica tweeted about How. He’ll be stopping my way soon, whereupon he will receive another sound thrashing for good measure.

Book Review: Humble Apologetics

Humble Apologetics offers to steer Christians toward a better way of defending (or explaining) their belief system in the general market of religious ideas. As you can guess, like most of other books addressed to the church at large, author and theology professor John Stackhouse says church has been doing it wrong for the last few centuries — or at least not as good as she could be doing. A safe assumption to make, but Stackhouse does offer good advice with a condensed history lesson that some might’ve never heard otherwise.

This was actually a nice followup to the book I read before this, Alvin Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief, because Stackhouse references Plantinga and his contemporaries (Alston, Wolterstorff) often and Plantinga’s theory on theistic belief being properly basic irrigates Stackhouse’s ideas on what effective apologetics would look like.

And what this “correct” form of apologetics looks like, comes as a reformation of a mostly delayed reaction on the side of the church to the West’s secular, intellectual heritage. Though it’s somewhat common knowledge, Stackhouse traces the pedigree of the modern epistemic framework (in other words, the popular way of thinking today), which is basically scientific rationalism drizzled over a bed of pluralism (or the other way around, whichever image serves you best). The standard or most popular form method of what we think of as apologetics, which is almost pure evidentialism, has become outdated. Skeptics, or anyone for that matter, generally don’t come to believe in propositions concerning the supernatural solely on the basis of other propositions — ones that we know certainly. The strange, fumbling process of generating Christian belief in others is not as much in our own hands as we might think:

The fundamental problem of religious allegiance, then, is not about what we think, but what or whom we love. And if we see that, we will see again one of the fundamental affirmations of this book: that Christian apologetics cannot convince anyone to become a Christian. Apologetics cannot do so, in this case, because argument cannot produce affection….No, the question is whether one loves God, and no one does that without conversion — the exclusive activity of the Holy Spirit. (p. 113)

The introduction of the book tells of a youngish professor, Bob, that Stackhouse met in college, who in his earlier years went to hear an apologist’s lecture at university. This apologist gave a pitch-perfect lecture and Q&A session, and nothing could have gone better for “his side”. Upon leaving the hall after the lecture, though, Bob overheard one student say to another: “I don’t care if the son of a bitch is right. I still hate his guts.” (p. xvi).

While Stackhouse rightly claims Christians shouldn’t be so centralized and impersonal when reaching out to non-Christians, and despite this example and other hints here and there that contradict it, I think his outlook is a little too rose-colored in some places: “if we only did or said xyz in this way, people would be more likely to come over to our side”. Some people just do not want anything to do with Christianity, and even after the emotional or terribly fallacious reasons people can give for not believing, no form of pristine apologetics or “being a good example” can change that. The hypothetical stories of Hugh Hefner and Woody Allen on pp. 146-147 is a good demonstration of this. This poses a possible fundamental problem with Stackhouse’s idea: if people are going to assent to the truths of Christianity, no matter how it’s presented to them, how would Christians know if they are really at fault?

Maybe that’s a different book altogether. This is a definite good start as Christians tend to tailor their apologetics to what other Christians would want to hear, which is oftentimes not what regular folk really care about. I’d like to hear Stackhouse, no stranger to publishing, develop this more.

Notebook Bought

Older than many things.

It’s not very big (that’s a mini-pencil beside it), but I didn’t want anything bulky. The edges of some pages are yellowing, and there’s arcane charts and tables of measurements relating to growing and caring for commercial crops, some minimalist advertising for fertilizer, and two calendars of the entire year of 1954.

If I knew what Brylcreem™ smelled like I would say a faint trace surrounds it.

Write It Down

Not my notebooks.

I’ve toyed with the idea of a pocket notebook for a while, after reading somewhere about how Chesterton would stop while crossing the street to write down a thought. This is partly because I like to cause car accidents, but mostly because I can’t remember any thought that strikes me from the ether, which is just about everything. Forcing a thought causes problems.

I had a larger notebook that was too unwieldy. It was also ruled; if I’m going to scratch graphite on my own terms, why not remove as many boundaries as possible? Now, after seeing this post on the notebooks of twenty famous people, I decided to give it another go.

Not that I’m a Luddite (I do make a living off technology), but there’s some kind of premonition creeping over me about technology — something about its increasing complexity becoming more vulnerable to collapse. Books don’t suddenly become inaccessible when you lose your power adapter or if the power grid is compromised by the inevitable army of dolphins that finally figured how to grow legs and opposable thumbs.

A friend of mine in college mentioned the fact that keyboards externalized language, but writing something down has a doubled personality: sentences and meaning that you have formed, overlayed with the character of your own handwriting. This potential notebook wouldn’t be meant for mass consumption like a published book or blog, but that’s exactly where most of its value would live no matter where it ends up: in the trash, buried in my personal library somewhere, or as a pre-Dolphnic Revolution relic in an aquatic museum.

Photo by mocephus

Book Review: Warranted Christian Belief

Book Review: Warranted Christian BeliefAfter reading Why I Am Not A Christian I wanted to balance it out with the other side, though the intent of the books are very different. I had read Warranted a few years ago, but a second pass through helped me retain a whole lot more of Platinga’s idea. As barely an amateur philosopher that I was appreciative of that fact, and this review is more of a summarization than an analysis of Plantinga’s work in this book.

Warranted Christian Belief caps off the Plantinga’s trilogy series on the idea of warrant and is kind of the culmination of his work in epistemology (the study of beliefs and knowledge). Plantinga, a Notre Dame professor, recently retired but is well-known in philosophical circles — so much so that Time did a story in the 80’s on the growing influence of his work.

Plantinga sought to answer the question (rather, the implicit complaint of skeptics) of whether belief in God is irrational or lacking warrant. He cites Freud and Marx as the dual originating sources of this question that is asked . What Plantinga proposes in WBC is a model by which theistic belief, particularly Christian belief, enjoys epistemic (relating to epistemology) warrant because it is properly basic and can qualify as knowledge, like how we come to know things through sense perception or memory and not on the basis of other propositions.

I will explain this a little bit because epistemology sometimes isn’t the most intuitive subject. Memory beliefs are probably the easiest to explain. Let’s say that you remember at what time you woke up this morning, say 7:05. You have strong confidence in this memory because you have a nice bright clock that you always look at the moment you wake up and you know yourself to wake up at around the same time every morning. For you, this belief is incorrigible, meaning that you have knowledge of this based on your memory alone and not on the basis of propositions (facts or evidence that you can present to other as reasons), assuming there are no defeaters (evidence or reasons to the contrary) for your memory belief and you know your memory to be rather reliable. Your memory says you saw the clock at 7:05 and you have no reason to think otherwise, even if someone (very creepily) presented you a photograph of you waking up with the clock at 7:10. You are warranted in maintaining your original belief — Plantinga phrases it as “not flouting your epistemic duty” — and not accepting the photograph as enough of a defeater for that belief.

Plantinga proposes that Christians can hold their beliefs about God in the same way, this “properly basic” way, and he appropriates ideas from Calvin and Aquinas as that basis for this model, called the “A/C model”, wherein our seemingly natural sense of the divine, Aquinas’ sensus divinitatis, can confer this properly basic belief in God. From pg. 175:

According to the A/C model, this natural knowledge of God is not arrived at by inference or argument (for example, the famous theistic proofs of natural theology), but in a much more immediate way. …It isn’t that one beholds the night sky, notes that it is grand, and concludes that there must be such a person as God; an argument like that would be ridiculously weak. It’s rather that, upon the perception of the night sky or the mountain vista or the tiny flower, these beliefs just arise within us. They are occasioned by the circumstances; they are not conclusions from them. …In this regard, the sensus divinitatis resembles perception, memory, and a priori belief.

The basic idea (pardon the pun) is that believers can be justified, in the epistemic sense of the word, in believing in God yet unable to produce the reasons or evidence that skepticism consistently demands. There’s may be no way you can prove to someone that you woke up at 7:05 that morning; indeed, with that pesky photograph there may be all the reason in the world for others to believe that you in fact are wrong. Yet your persistently reliable memory maintains your belief even in the face of external, propositional evidence.

This is certainly a heady claim to make, especially to our post-Enlightenment minds, where we tend to tailor our beliefs, especially important ones as to whether God exists or not, against what we know for sure, via “the facts” and propositional truths. Incorrigible knowledge that we get via the senses and our memory are not received this way and Plantinga places Christian belief in the same realm as these ways of attaining knowledge.

This idea is not without its criticisms and I have nowhere near the working framework of philosophy to affirm or deny the strength of this claim. Here’s a good review contradicting it, for instance, and you can read the entire text here, at Google books. According to the sundry experts in the field that I’ve read, even the ones that disagree with him, Plantinga made a case worth considering.

Totally Useless Update About Fonts and Background Images

I totally made a big change in my life by increasing the font size of the body text and changing the font itself, to trebuchet MS. I like how readable the articles on mises.org are, so I took a cue from their designer.

On a less successful note, I tried using (a very large version of) the jd logo as a sort of texture to break the white monotony of the background, but the results weren’t worth putting another image in your face. You get enough of those on the Internet.

Book review soon!

Making the Call

I may get some business cards printed up. Why? Because there have been a few instances where I wanted to give people my contact info for something writey-related and I had to resort to ye olde fashionede quill and parchment. It feels far less professional than handing over a decently designed business card.

So here are some drafts for your consideration. On the first two I got really insane and used both sides of the card–you may need a breather and some water after seeing those. Cast your vote via comment for your favorite, or offer your own suggestion which I will completely ignore and deride within the comfort and privacy of my home.

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