Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Gen Eds P8: How should we live as individuals?

This is my seventh philosophy post in a series called, "General Education in a Nutshell." Philosophy is the first of ten subjects to overview in this series. These are the subjects a person normally takes in college (or high school) as part of a general education (most of them also make up what is sometimes called the "liberal arts").

The first seven philosophy posts were:
1. Ethics, along with metaphysics (what is real) and epistemology (what is truth), is one of the three ancient branches of philosophy. Its core question has to do with living in this world. How should we then live or, perhaps, what constitutes the "good life"?

Ancient philosophers focused more on what virtue itself is than on the question of what makes an individual act right or wrong, "virtue based ethics" rather than "act based ethics." They assumed there was a "highest good," a summum bonum, and that a person should orient his or her life accordingly. So the focus was more on "being" than doing. How I should act is a secondary question. What kind of person I should be is the most important.

Aristotle suggested that happiness (eudaimonia) was the greatest good because every other good was good because it ultimately led to happiness. So pleasure is good, but we like pleasure because it leads to happiness. Participating in society is good, but it is good because it leads to happiness. Contemplation of truth is good, but it is good because it leads to happiness. Of the three paths, though, Aristotle considered contemplation the highest of the paths to happiness. Aristotle also spoke of the Golden Mean, "moderation in all things."

Plato and others spoke of "four cardinal virtues," which were intrinsically good for humans to cultivate. They are wisdom (which pertains to the head), courage (which pertains to the chest), self-discipline (which pertains to the abdomen, aka temperance), and justice (which pertains to all three working in proper balance and relationship.

As good pre-moderns, Aristotle, Plato, and others used reasoning to talk about these virtues and ethics, but they didn't really offer any strong basis for each one. Wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice are values that most cultures have affirmed, and happiness seems intrinsically desirable. In the late twentieth century, Alistair MacIntyre wrote a scathing critique of modern ethical thinking, wanting to go back to the age of virtue. [1] However, he provided no real basis in argument for doing so, in effect rejecting argument as a basis for ethics.

2. Jesus' ethic and New Testament ethics in general are also virtue based. In Mark 7, Jesus says that it is not external action that stands at the center of good and evil. Rather "from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts" (7:21, NASB).

Accordingly, the New Testament summarizes God's expectation for humanity in only two commands: "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Matt. 22:37-40).

It seems difficult for people to leave God's expectations so general. Of course we must ask, "What does it mean specifically to love one's neighbor and enemy?" The New Testament plays out these general principles in a number of different contexts. But it is impossible to anticipate every circumstance before it happens. In every generation, communities of faith must reapply these principles again to new situations. Even then, no set of rules can anticipate every possible situation (which is arguably what the Pharisees tried to do).

3. Nor can we hide behind labels like "absolutism" and "relativism." The Bible frequently points to exceptional situations. Thus while we are to submit to those in authority (Rom. 13), there are clearly instances when we must disobey the government (Acts 4). Therefore, not every moral principle was meant to be "absolute," which by definition means without exception.

Similarly, there are instances where God's will is "relative." In Romans 14 Paul says that what makes eating meat offered to idols wrong is not intrinsic to the eating, but whether an individual's conscience is clear to eat it. Personal convictions are thus instances of God-approved relativism.

In other words, while crying "absolutism" and "relativism" may seem to make Christian ethics simple, it does nothing of the sort. First you must know whether God considers a particular issue absolute or relative in the first place. For this reason, these labels are little more than slogans. They do not answer the real question, which is what the love of God and neighbor looks like in a particular situation.

4. The drive to reduce ethics to do's and don't's seems pervasive. Popular Christian ethics often reduces God's expectations for humanity to whether or not we measure up to some perfectionistic standard. Take the (incorrect) NLT translation of Romans 3:23: "All have sinned and fallen short of God's glorious standard," as if God is concerned about whether we are absolutely perfect or not. [2] In popular thought, mistakes are considered a form of sin, even if they do no harm to anyone.

But the New Testament almost exclusively speaks of sin acts in terms of intentional acts. That is to say, there is almost no mention of unintentional wrongdoing in the New Testament. [3] Theologically, Christians rightly believe that there is such a thing as unintended sin, wrongs done to others unintentionally, but "unintentional sin" plays no role in New Testament theology.

Similarly, the idea that Christ had to suffer the penalty of every last sin in an almost mathematical way, a theory of atonement known as "penal substitution," is more a medieval and modern development than a biblical concept. In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the Father graciously forgives his sinful son without anyone having to pay back his debt at all. The idea that Jesus had to suffer hell for at least a moment to satisfy some legalistic justice equation finds no support in Scripture.

So we see that less mature ethical understandings have made their way even into many Christian conceptions of God and atonement. [4] God's love comes to be something that fits within the overall context of his justice rather than his justice fitting within the overall context of his love. Sin comes to be conceptualized primarily as the violation of a perfect standard than as a matter of intention or one's "heart." [5]

Rather, God is love. His justice is usually redemptive or protective rather than punitive, and final justice is not unloving. Atonement satisfies the order of things, not least our intrinsic human sense of justice. But atonement is a matter of God's choosing, not some higher standard to which he was obligated.

5. The desire to express human ethics in terms that can be specified in detail with certainty has thus often lead to an inferior "act-based" rather than a "heart-based" ethic. There are two basic act-based approaches to ethics: duty-based ethics and consequence-based ethics.

Duty-based or deontological ethics is a right and wrong based ethics. In modern times, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) is the best representative of this approach. His "categorical imperative" was an attempt to set out a rational way to decide whether an action was right or wrong. Choose as absolutely right any course of action that you rationally can argue should be a moral law. If doing the opposite in every situation would lead to disaster or contradiction, then you must not do that action in any situation.

This is embarrassingly ridiculous thinking, as most ethical thinking inevitably involves exceptions. By Kant's reckoning, all "must do" actions are absolute without exception. If something is right or wrong, then it is right or wrong categorically. His sense of how reasoning might work in such cases was so unconvincing that he tried to re-express the idea more than once. But the flaw was not in his communication of the idea. It was in the coherency of the idea.

"It basically is the Golden Rule," he finally said. The Golden Rule is to do to others what you would have them do to you. The Golden Rule is of course biblical (Matt. 7:12) and an excellent expression of God's command to love our neighbors and enemies. However, it does not seem to say anything close to what Kant was trying to say.

6. Consequentialist ethics evaluate action in terms of its consequences. What effect will this action have? We can question whether this approach should be the ultimate approach, but there is no question that a great deal of our ethical thinking does center around the consequences of our actions.

Egoist ethics is arguably a lower form of consequentialist ethics. It basically says that you should take that course of action that will most benefit you as an individual. Ayn Rand (1905-82) raised this approach to the highest level, considering self-centered action to stand at the center of moral thinking. To act altruistically--helping others at personal sacrifice--she considered immoral and evil.

More attractive is ultilitarianism, which asks what action will bring about the greatest good for the greatest number. Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) is often considered the father of modern utilitarianism. In an attempt to change a world where being born into a certain family meant you were more important than others, he proposed that decisions of the state be made in accordance with what would bring the greatest pleasure to the greatest number.

John Stuart Mill (1806-73) would make some modifications to his approach. Some pleasures were more important than others. Further, there were other considerations to be made. Some courses of action should not be taken even if they bring a great deal of happiness to the majority (e.g., genocide).

We are generally taught that "the end doesn't justify the means." From a Christian perspective, that is certainly true in many cases. I cannot murder an innocent person even if they stand in the way of something that is really, really good. However, in everyday life, there is usually more than one way to reach a goal and most of them are equally ethical. This statement only applies to violating genuinely moral values to reach a goal.

And our values exist more in a hierarchy rather than all values being of equal priority. For example, being truthful is a universal moral value, but it is not likely as high a value as saving life. When Corrie Ten Boom's family lied to the Nazis about hiding Jews in their house, they did no wrong. They simply chose to keep a higher value (saving life) over a value that was slightly lower in the hierarchy (telling the truth). Or to put it in terms of virtue--they loved their neighbor rather than harming their neighbor.

7. As the existence of God and special revelation came into question during the Enlightenment, it became increasingly hard to find a natural basis for morality. David Hume (1711-76) suggested that morality was nothing more than sentiment. There was a "fact-value problem." Hume argued that it was impossible to base our values in facts.  In the twentieth century, J. L. Mackie spoke of us "inventing" right and wrong.

In the late 1800s, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) saw morality as something that "supermen" invented and then convinced broader culture to go along with. There really was no actual right or wrong. Christianity, to him, was a "slave morality," invented by the weak to stop the strong from persecuting them. It was like the person who tries to convince someone else not to punch them because you just don't hit someone with glasses.

Nietzsche thought it dangerous that the common person come to realize that "God is dead," even though Nietzsche firmly did not believe in God. But a world without God, he predicted, would be a world where the worst of atrocities would take place, because they would not fear the consequences of their actions. [6] In that regard he is sometimes considered a prophet of Hitler and the Holocaust.

8. Recently, Jonathan Haidt has categorized the moral impulses of people around the world. [7] He comes at the topic from an evolutionary and atheistic perspective, but his categories for human moral thinking nevertheless seem to capture some significant truths.

Let me rephrase the six moral categories he thinks describe human values (not prescribe, but describe):
  • care for others, don't harm
  • act fairly, don't cheat
  • be loyal, don't betray
  • respect authority, don't subvert
  • honor the holy, don't defile
  • fight for freedom, overthrow the tyrant.
The negatives seem to hold more power over us as moral thinkers than the positives. This is why, he would say, conservatives tend to have more political power than progressives. For example, Hillary Clinton's, "stronger together," is a fairly weak motivator next to "take America back."

Westerners today often do not have a well-developed sense of holiness and defilement. Even Christians often have different intuitions on certain moral issues because one person has a stronger sense of the sacred while another does not. Should you dress up for church? Are some sins "defiling" and thus worse than other sins?

Two people can even hold the same moral position and yet arrive at it from a different moral direction. One person believes that gay marriage is not God's plan for marriage but sees his or her presence at a gay wedding as the loving, Christian thing to do. Another person places homosexuality in the category of defilement and would see his or her presence at such a wedding as an endorsement and participation in sin. Even though both have the same position on the morality of gay marriage, they are approaching it from within differing moral categories.

9. Perhaps one of the most important insights of Haidt is that while most of us appear to use reasoning in our moral discussions, the basis for our moral impulses are usually not very rational at all. He likens our moral reasoning to a rider on an elephant, where the elephant represents our moral intuitions and the rider is our rational arguments and explanations.

The elephant generally goes where it wants to go, often in the company of other elephants. The rider can steer it a little, but not much. And the rider generally can only see in the same general direction that the elephant is already headed.

So it is with religion and politics. People pretty much believe what they want to believe. Few people actually change their minds about such things on the basis of argument or reasoning. For most people, it never mattered who the Republican or Democratic nominees for president would be. Their "elephant" was always going to vote for their party's candidate. [8] Their "rider's" job is to come up with any argument it can to support the elephant's foregone conclusion.

There is thus little of reason in religion or politics. We just play a game with ourselves to pretend like there is. [9]

Relationships stand a much better chance of changing the direction of elephants. This is why apologetics as a matter of rational argument mostly just makes the elephants who already believe feel better. Few people come to Christ through rational arguments.

Telling the "riders" of teenagers that they shouldn't have sex or teaching a set of orthodox ideas in a catechism will have little effect on someone faced with elephant-oriented forces. Ideas are the weakest of human motivators. Only the ideas that engage us on an elephant level have true power.

10. As Christians, we believe that the Holy Spirit can transform our elephants. "Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh" (Gal. 5:16, NASB). The law of the Spirit can set us free from the law of Sin and death (Rom. 8:2). "If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!" (2 Cor. 5:17).

Next Week: Philosophy 9: How should we live together?

Classic Reading
  • Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
  • Immanuel Kant, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals
  • John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism
  • David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature
  • Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morality
  • Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness
  • John Rawls, A Theory of Justice
  • Alistair MacIntyre, After Virtue
[1] Alistair MacIntyre, After Virtue

[2] A better paraphrase would be, "All have sinned and are lacking the glory that God intended them to have within the creation."

[3] Only Hebrews 9:7, referring to the old covenant. James 3:2 alludes to the extreme difficulty of being perfect in our use of the tongue, but it does not use the word sin in relation to this wrongdoing.

[4] Lawrence Kohlberg (1927-87) set out stages of moral development, which probably should be seriously critiqued for their overly rational focus. However, as far as the rational side of moral thinking is concerned, there still seems some merit in his proposal. Stage 1 relates to moral thinking that is focused on either punishment or self-interest. This is the lowest kind of moral thinking. Stage 2 relates to a society based thinking--what pleases my group or what is the law. He then considered Stage 3 the most advanced morality--thinking in terms of a rational social contract with broader society and finally, being true to my principles (he assumed there were universal moral principles).

[5] Wesley reflects a more mature moral understanding when he defines sin "properly so called" as an action that intentionally goes against what someone knows God's expectation is. "A willful transgression of a known law of God." Of course this definition is still very "act-based."

[6] Nietzsche thus agreed with Fyodor Dostoevsky's sense that, "If there is no God, then everything is permissible." Nietzsche agreed, but unlike Dostoevsky did not believe in God.

[7] Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind.

[8] Ironically, the Republican "elephant" does vote for an elephant, while the Democratic "elephant" votes for a donkey. :-)

[9] One of the most powerful forces in American politics is media that feeds its elephants what its wants to hear with one sided propaganda. The older approach, which at least aimed at objectivity and a fair presentation of all sides (the "fairness doctrine"), has faced serious financial difficulties in recent times.

One of the more ingenious "rider" rationalizations is to villainize rationality itself. Experts become subversive traitors. Media that presents contrasting points of view becomes the subversive "liberal media" (ignoring that the media decrying the liberal media is usually the far more powerful media).

Monday, June 27, 2016

3.1 What is resistance?

We now move on to Module 3 of the Navy Basic Electricity and Electronics series. The first two modules were:

1. Electrical Current
2. Voltage

Today starts the booklet on resistance.
  • If current (electron movement) and electromotive force (resulting in voltage, a difference in potential throughout a circuit) are two key elements of a circuit, resistance is a third factor always present.
  • "Resistance is the property that opposes current flow" (6).
  • Resistance is symbolized by R and the unit is the ohm, symbolized by Ω.
  • Conductors have low resistance, insulators or non-conductors have high resistance.
  • Some factors that determine resistance include the nature of the material (atomic structure), the area of the cross-section (e.g., of wire), and the length (e.g., of wire). The larger the cross-section, the less the resistance. The longer the wire, the more the resistance. Atomic structure determines how many free electrons are available to move around.
That's the big picture. Here are some additional details.
  • One ohm is the amount of resistance that allows 1 amp to flow through a circuit when one volt is applied. 1 amp per volt.
  • Resistance is sometimes needed to limit the current flow to a safe value through a circuit. Completely unopposed current can lead to a "short circuit," which is damaging. 
  • The resistance of a toaster or iron or bulb is what provides the heat or light. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

ET23: Thou shalt not covet.

This is the twenty-third post on Christian ethics in my ongoing series, theology in bullet points. The first unit in this series had to do with God and Creation (book here), and the second unit was on Christology and Atonement.

We are now in the third and final unit: The Holy Spirit and the Church. The first set of posts in this final unit was on the Holy Spirit. The second set was on the Church. The third set was on sacraments. This final section is on Christian ethics.
_______________________________
Thou shalt not covet.

1. The final commandment has a different character than all but perhaps the first commandment. Almost all the other commands directly address actions: making an idol, taking an oath falsely, violating the sabbath, dishonoring one's parents, killing, committing adultery, stealing, lying under oath.

By contrast, the tenth commandment addresses one's attitude and disposition toward other people. Do not stew or scheme in relation to your neighbor's property. Do not fantasize or plot in relation to his wife or his servants. The ancients were not introspective in the extreme way of post-Romantic Western culture. The tenth commandment was not about passing thoughts. It was about a disposition that, given the right circumstances, would lead to a violation of the other commandments.

2. There is of course a very strong similarity between what the tenth commandment does to the other commandments and Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5, Jesus as it were addresses a view of the commandments that does not take the command not to covet into account.

It is not enough not to go through with a murder, he says in Matthew 5:21-26. You cannot covet the death of your neighbor or enemy. You cannot hate your neighbor such that, given the opportunity, you would do him or her harm.

It is not enough just not to go through with adultery, he says in Matthew 5:27-30. You cannot covet someone else's spouse. You cannot lust and fantasize after someone married to someone else such that, given the opportunity, you would have an affair with them.

Jesus extends this dynamic to the point of divorce. Coveting someone else's spouse can lead you to divorce your own spouse so that you can legally have sex with someone else. But this is simply legalized covetousness.

3. This movement toward the internalization of ethics is key to the New Testament and Christian ethics. Even among secular ethicists, it is recognized that one's motives and one's attitudes are the heart of morality. What we do is important, but our motivations for what we do are far more morally significant. Love of God and neighbor is the fundamental principle of Christian ethics.

It is also interesting that when Paul wished to show that it is impossible to keep the Law without the Holy Spirit, he chose to focus on the commandment not to covet (Rom. 7:7-8). [1] With regard to most of the other commandments, someone might say, "I have perfectly kept that command." I have never murdered anyone. I have never stolen from anyone. I have never slept with someone else's wife. I have never lied as a witness in court.

But Paul uses the command not to covet as his benchmark, a command that effectively internalizes the standard. I may be able not to murder someone but it will be very difficult without the Holy Spirit to love my enemy. I may be able not to have an affair but I need the help of the Holy Spirit to help me not to lust after other women.

The command not to covet is thus a crucial link between the Old and New Testament. It takes the other commandments out of the realm of the external and moves it into the realm of the heart.

Next Sunday: ET24: We must work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

[1] A fact pointed out by E. P. Sanders in Paul (1991).

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Seminary PL12: Leading Change

This is the ninth post on strategic planning in the Pastoral Leadership part of my Seminary in a Nutshell series. See the bottom of this post for the entire leadership series thus far.
1. My colleague Bob Whitesel suggests that there are four basic forces of change in a church. [1] The first is what he calls "life cycle forces." Where is your church in its life cycle? Is it getting older? Is it fairly new? Does it feel alive or is it growing stagnant? If a life cycle force is in play in your church, it probably came up when you did your SWOT analysis as a set of strengths or weaknesses.

The kind of force that strategic planning especially introduces are what Dr. Whitesel calls "goal-oriented forces." You have now set some goals. That is providing your church with an opportunity for momentum in new directions.

A third set of forces are "conflict-oriented forces." We are often content to be mildly dissatisfied or even happy with less than what could be when everyone is somewhat getting along. We can even ride that complacency all the way to our church's grave. Nothing sparks change more than conflict.

Finally, there are "trend-oriented forces." These are forces--opportunities and threats--from your church's environment. As such, they probably showed up in your SWOT analysis.

2. So how do you lead change once you have set goals and thus put some "goal oriented forces" in motion? The standard reference here is John Kotter, who suggests an eight stage process for creating major change (22):
  • Establish a sense of urgency
  • Put together a coalition
  • Develop a vision and strategy
  • Communicate the change vision
  • Empower broad-based action
  • Generate short-term wins
  • Consolidate gains and generate more change
  • Anchor new approaches in the culture
These points are the context in which the entire strategic planning process should take place. Indeed, Kotter suggests that these steps normally need to be accomplished in this order (25-27).

3. Goal-setting can of course be initiated without there being a crisis. When a pastor takes a new church or perhaps nothing has really been happening at the church, these are fair enough reasons to initiate strategic planning. A sense of need for change doesn't have to be church-wide. There just needs to be enough sense of a need for change among the leaders who can initiate change.

Of course crisis or conflict provides momentum for change. We can question the ethics of manufacturing a crisis in order to push change, but a moment of crisis or conflict can provide a kairos moment to seize upon toward change.

You need to have enough support to effect change. If votes are involved, you need to have the votes. There's no point in making a proposal if you don't have the votes. You need the right people on board at the right times.

This entire series of posts is about establishing vision and a strategic plan. Once the mission and vision, the values and goals have been set, if the broader congregation has not been involved in the planning (hopefully they have on some level), the leaders of the church should communicate that vision and strategy. It is easy enough to do so from the pulpit or, perhaps, in a special meeting.

4. Presumably, those who have set goals for the church have the authority and power to move toward those goals. As we mentioned in the goal-setting post, some of those goals should be short term goals, perhaps six months out. These should be goals that are attained fairly easily, to give a sense that progress is being made. They keep momentum going.

Each goal attained should be celebrated and used to energize toward the next goal. We will talk in the next post about making adjustments. If part of the goal-setting is to change the mindset or the culture, then the right words, the right metaphors, the right practices have to be reiterated over and over again. This is where having repeatable slogans (e.g., in the mission or vision statement) can help. "We care about people." "We want to reach everyone." "We are the Gideon church." "We are third."

Over and over and over again.

We can go through the whole process of strategic planning, but if these overall change dynamics are not in place, it probably won't go much of anywhere.

Next Week: Pastor as Leader 13: Evaluating Progress/Resetting Goals

[1] Also see his book, Preparing for Change Reaction. Get it, instead of "chain reaction" it's change reaction. For some reason it took me forever to get that.

The first eleven were:

Leadership in General
Strategic Planning

Friday, June 24, 2016

Friday Science: The Higgs Ocean

Another chapter of Brian Greene's, The Fabric of the Cosmos. My first eight summaries are at the bottom.

1. Another good chapter. This one has to do with early universe and speculation about how particles obtained mass. I thought Greene did a very good job of picturing the issue by talking about how ice melts at 0 degrees Celsius and evaporates at 100. You don't observe much change and then at these crucial points, water changes states.

So he suggests that at 1015 Kelvin, about 10-11 seconds after the beginning of the universe, the Higgs field cooled enough to take on a stable value. The result, according to the current theory, is that particles began to take on mass.

So prior to this point, nothing had any mass. Every particle was like the massless photon, the theoretical basis of light. Electrons had no mass. Quarks had no mass. There was a kind of symmetry because all these particles waiting to happen stood on the same massless ground.

2. So what are these particles? Greene divides these particles into two groups: fundamental particles (like electrons and quarks) and force particles (like gravitons, gluons, the W and the Z). Current theory identifies four basic forces in nature. There is the electromagnetic force (which Maxwell unified in the 1800s). There is the strong nuclear force, which holds the nucleus of atoms together. There is the weak nuclear force, which relates to certain atomic decay processes. Then of course there is gravity, which may not actually be a force at all. It really has to do with the curvature of space.

Current theory sees particles behind these forces. No one has discovered a graviton, but it is a proposed particle as a basis for gravity as a force. There is the gluon, which is thought to be the basis for the strong nuclear force (has been observed). W and Z particles are thought to underlie the weak force (have been observed). And photons (light particles) are the basis for the electromagnetic force (some are helping me read right now).

3. Mass is basically the property of a particle that resists a change in its motion (261). The theory has been for some time that there is a Higgs field permeating the whole universe consisting of Higgs particles. This field as it were obstructs the movement of these other particles on various levels. The ones with lighter mass are those that are not obstructed much by the Higgs. Those with heavier masses are so because the Higgs gets more in the way. Photons are not affected by the Higgs field at all, which is why they are massless.

When Greene wrote this book (2004), the Higgs had not yet been discovered. As of 2012, at least a "Higgs-like" boson has been discovered.

In the fractions of a second after the beginning of the universe but before the Higgs field stabilized into what Greene calls the "Higgs ocean," all these particles were in symmetry. That is, they were not hindered to move in any direction whatsoever. Then when the Higgs stablized, symmetry was broken and all these particles took on mass.

4. In particular, whereas the electromagnetic fields and the weak nuclear fields were identical before that point, now they became distinct because the W and Z particles took on mass. In the late 60s, Steven Weinberg and others developed the "electroweak" theory that demonstrated how these two forces would have been unified prior to the Higgs stabilization at 1015 degrees.

So the theory was expanded by Greene's professor Howard Georgi to propose that at 1028 degrees and 10-35 seconds, the electroweak force (the combined weak and electromagnetic forces) and the strong force may also have been symmetrical and "uncondensed," so to speak. If the Higgs field that locked into place mass is called the "electroweak" Higgs. Georgi proposed a "grand unified Higgs."

However, after 25 years, key evidence for this theory has not appeared.

Reality's Arena
1. Overview
2. Spinning Space Buckets
3. Relativity and the Absolute
4. Particles Separated at Birth

Time and Experience
5. Does time flow?
6. Does time have an arrow?
7. Quantum crazy

Spacetime and Cosmology
8. Universal symmetry

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Gen Eds P7: What is a person?

This is my sixth philosophy post in a series called, "General Education in a Nutshell." Philosophy is the first of ten subjects to overview in this series. These are the subjects a person normally takes in college (or high school) to be considered a generally educated person (most of them also make up what is sometimes called the "liberal arts").

The first six philosophy posts were:
1. From a Christian standpoint, the key answer to the question, "What is a human person?" is that we are the image of God. At the very beginning of the biblical narrative, God creates humanity in his image (Gen. 1:27), male and female. In Genesis, the key feature of God's image is humanity's place as the pinnacle of the creation, the ruler of the earth just as God rules the universe. God instructs humanity to be fruitful and multiply, and to rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves on the land (Gen. 1:28).

The New Testament adds another dimension to humanity as the image of God--a moral responsibility. When we become a part of Christ, we take of our old clothes, clothes of a sinful life, and we clothe ourselves with a new self, which is being "renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator" (Col. 3:10). Similarly, we are not to use our tongues to curse others, since they are also "made in the likeness of God" (Jas. 3:9).

The bottom line is that Christians are to love both neighbors (Matt. 22:39) and our enemies (Matt. 5:43-48) because they are all made in the image of God. All human life is sacred because all human beings are a reflection of God. We treat our enemies with dignity because they are a reflection of God. Even when they are thoroughly evil, there is a sense in which they are a reflection of God. All human life is thus intrinsically valuable and meaningful.

2. Christians also believe that all humanity has an eternal future. Certainly this is the case for those who are reconciled to God through Jesus the Christ. Those who had faith in God in the time before Christ and those who have faith in God through Christ in the time since are "in Christ" and will participate in a resurrection to eternal life. While Christians have some varying senses of those who are not in Christ, the classic Christian belief is that they also will experience an eternity of eternal alienation from God.

The classic way to conceptualize this eternity involves a belief that all human beings possess an immortal soul that will survive death, a kind of detachable escape pod from our body. However, classic Christianity--and more important biblical Christianity--has always believed in a bodily resurrection as well. That is to say, we will not spend eternity as bodiless spirits but with glorified bodies we will take on at an even known as the resurrection, an event which has not yet taken place.

As mentioned in the previous post, there are Christians who would argue that the Bible knows nothing of a spirit or soul that can be separated from an embodied existence of some kind. [1] They would say that we must always have a body of some sort to have individual existence, even in the time between our deaths and our resurrection. Perhaps they might suggest that language of spirit and soul, when it occurs, is a figurative way of talking about aspects of our embodied existence.

3. There are of course other perspectives on human existence. A behaviorist in psychology might see us more or less as only highly evolved animals. A naturalist, who believes that nature is all that exists, might more or less see a human being as road kill waiting to happen. The existentialists of the twentieth century tried to turn this nihilism, this sense of ultimate meaningless to our existence, into something positive--we can make our lives mean whatever we want.

In the first post on the philosophy of religion, I mentioned Albert Camus, who posed the question, "Why not suicide?" [2] The existentialist answer is to choose a meaning for your life, to define who you are by choice. Jean Paul Sartre said that we are condemned to be free--having been thrown in the world we are responsible for who we are. Our physical existence is a given. What our essence might be is up to us (who we are): "Existence precedes essence."

These are of course not Christian perspectives. We have a meaning--we are the creation of God in the image of God. There is a best essence for us to choose--to make a choice for God, to become a new creation in him.

4. The question of human freedom is also one that has been debated both by Christian and non-Christian alike. The ancient Greeks and indeed most people in most times and places have tended to see human life as fated. One might make some choices but they ultimately led to a predetermined destination.

This model of human existence fit a world where the vast majority of people seemed almost completely out of control of their lives and destinies. The ancient Stoics suggested that a person would only be at peace if he or she "loved their fate." The Hindus had a sense of karma, that our circumstances in this life were a direct result of choices we had made in the previous one. While we thus had some freedom to determine our future fate, we were also beholden to what we had fated for ourselves from the past.

In the ancient fated view of human identity, you did not look for formative childhood experiences to explain who a person was today. Our current sense that you can explain who a person is today by what happened to him or her as a child is a paradigm shift that took place as a result of the psychology of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). In ancient times, there was more a sense that a person was born a certain type of person. If a person became great later, we would expect that there were clear signs of that greatness as a child. If a person turned out to be evil, we would expect that there were indications of a latent evilness as a child. People looked for omens that were portents of destiny.

Conceptions of human freedom among thinkers have often been a reflection of cultural trends and movements. It is surely no coincidence that both John Calvin (1509-1564) and Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) lived in the same general period and were strong determinists who believed that everything that happened was destined to happen. For Calvin God was the one who determined everything. But the rise of science in the 1600s also reflected a certain determinism. In a famous quote Pierre-Simon Laplace suggested that the laws of cause and effect dictated not only everything that would happen for all the future but also for all the past.

At the same time, there was a movement toward a sense of human freedom that rose at this time as well. Jacob Arminius (1560-1609) pushed back against Calvin's determinism and claimed that the Bible taught that humans had a choice whether they were saved from hell or not. John Wesley (1703-91) suggested that God's grace empowered humans to make this choice. He thus accepted Calvin's sense that humans could not choose God in their own power but believed that God himself had made a solution possible by way of his Holy Spirit.

We can thus distinguish at least three views of human freedom. Hard determinism suggests that we are not free at all. Everything we do is dictated either by God or by the laws of cause and effect. On the opposite end of the spectrum is libertarianism, which believes that we have some degree of free will, whether innately or empowered by God. In the middle is a position sometimes called soft determinism or compatibilism. This perspective amounts to a sense that, while we are really fully determined, we perceive ourselves to act freely.

So a determinist like John Piper can say that we have free will, because we perceive ourselves to be making choices freely, but really God has dictated every choice we will make. John Wesley, by contrast, would suggest that God's power has actually made it possible for us to make certain free choices, especially those relating to our salvation. You might say that free will, in this sense, becomes a miracle of God's grace. [3]

4. Before we leave this subject, it is worth anticipating a topic we will revisit when we look at sociology. One of the most significant paradigm shifts of the last five hundred years has been the rise of individualism. That is to say, modern Western individuals tend to see themselves as self-directed individuals rather than as people whose identity is more a function of the groups to which they belong.

Human beings are herd animals, so to speak. The human default is for us to identify ourselves by the groups in which we are embedded. We see this dynamic especially in the teen pack mentality, with its accompanying peer pressure. We see it most strongly at the moment in political party affiliation. Especially among older Americans, a Republican votes Republican and a Democrat votes Democrat and to break party lines is to be a traitor.

We see it with religion, where everyone in a different religion is obviously evil or a terrorist. We see it in nationalism, where America is the nation of God's chosen people. We are wired as humans to identify ourselves by group. Men are this way; women are another. Jews are this way, Irish are another.

One of the great strengths of the Enlightenment of the 1700s (which also entails certain weaknesses in excess) is a sense that we stand before the law and before God as individuals. It should not matter whether your father was a Mexican or a Mid-western farmer when you stand before the law. Justice should be blind. I do not have to marry someone my parents arranged me to marry. I do not have to be an insurance adjuster because my father was. You can "be all you can be" without your group setting artificial limits. There is no absolute caste system in the West.

Culture tends to set the paradigm for whether we think more in corporate, "collectivist" terms or in more individualist terms. There are strengths and limitations to each. But you could argue that there was a certain tendency toward individual identity in earliest Christianity in the sense that being in Christ is linked to individual faith in Paul's writings. There was a culturally subversive dimension to this perspective. No longer is there Jew or Greek (ethnicity as determiner of identity), slave or free (social status as a determiner of identity), male or female (gender as a determiner of identity). Rather, faith in Christ and the presence of the Spirit come to define who you are.

Next week: Philosophy 8: How should we live?

Classic Reading
  • Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus
  • Sigmund Freud, On the Interpretation of Dreams
  • John Wesley, "Free Grace"
[1] The idea of an immaterial soul in particular comes from Rene Descartes (1596-1650) and fit with the paradigm shift in his day to a division of existence into natural and supernatural. Whereas before this time the soul might have been thought to be thinly material in some way, he now conceptualized it as "other," non-material or immaterial.

[2] In The Myth of Sisyphus

[3] See the previous post for the current sense of indeterminism in quantum physics. The possibility that God might influence the flow of history on a quantum level opens up the door for both determinism to reassert itself (for Calvinists), as well as for God to empower human freedom in some way (for Arminians).

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

2.5-6 Using AC/ DC, and Measuring

This is the fifth week of Module 2 of the Navy Basic Electricity and Electronics series. The last few weeks were:

2.1 Electromotive Force
2.2 Magnetism
2.3 Electromagnetic Induction
2.4 Generating AC Voltage

2.5 Uses of AC and DC
Fig 1: alternator
A generator is a machine that converts mechanical energy to electrical energy. Generators that produce AC are often specifically called alternators. From the previous section, you take the rotating loop in the magnetic field (the armature). Then they can be connected to "slip rings" that rotate with the armature. The slip rings make contact with stationary carbon brushes that are connected to a circuit (see Fig. 1).

If, in place of slip rings, a "commutator" is set up, DC current can be produced. The brushes are placed in such a way that positive or negative voltage is always coming out of a specific brush (see Fig. 2).

Voltage can be increased or decreased by the use of a transformer. Also, the power supplies in devices like radios and televisions convert the AC from the wall plug to DC. AC is more economical to transport over long distances and is more efficient for driving motors. DC needs to be used in electronic equipment where the voltage change might be harmful to the operation of their circuits.

2.6 Measuring Voltage
1. Voltage is measured in volts, with the symbol V. (Remember from the first module that current is measured in amps, with the symbol I. One amp is one coulomb's worth of electrons passing any one point per second, with Q as the symbol for coulombs.) Voltage is a measure of the "difference in potential" between two points in a circuit.

Just as an ammeter measures current (connected in series so that all the current goes through it), a "voltmeter" measures voltage. It needs to be connected in parallel or across two points in a circuit. It should be connected to "observe polarity," that is, the positive jack of the voltmeter (red) connected toward the positive side of the circuit and the negative jack (black) connected toward the negative side.

The symbol for a voltmeter is a circle with a V in it. Make sure you have the voltmeter set to the range of voltage you are measuring.

2. Voltage is not exactly the same as EMF (electromotive force), but you can measure a potential difference where there is an EMF generated (voltage rise), like if you were to place the leads across a battery. You can also measure a potential difference where voltage is being used (voltage drop), such as across a "load" such as a light bulb.

A load is a term for anything in a circuit that uses the energy produced by the circuit's source (e.g., a battery).

Here endeth the second module.

Monday, June 20, 2016

ET22: Truthtelling is almost always the loving thing to do.

This is the twenty-second post on Christian ethics in my ongoing series, theology in bullet points. The first unit in this series had to do with God and Creation (book here), and the second unit was on Christology and Atonement.

We are now in the third and final unit: The Holy Spirit and the Church. The first set of posts in this final unit was on the Holy Spirit. The second set was on the Church. The third set was on sacraments. This final section is on Christian ethics.
_______________________________
Truthtelling is almost always the loving thing to do.

1. The previous article focused on the original nature of the commands not to bear false witness or to take the LORD's name in vain. What then of lying and truthtelling in general?

There are more general statements about lying scattered here and there in the Bible. For example, Leviticus 19:11 briefly told the Israelites not to deal falsely or lie to one another. The idea of "dealing falsely" suggests that trustworthiness in the way neighbors interact with each other was probably in view. Proverbs 12:22 says, "Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight." The context again suggests harmful deception: "Deceit is in the mind of those who plan evil" (Prov. 12:20).

In the New Testament, Satan is called the "father of lies" (John 8:44). Colossians 3:9 tells Christians, "Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices." Finally, Revelation 21:8 says that the final destiny of all liars will be "in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death."

2. So what is it about lying that receives such a negative verdict across the Bible? It is because lying is usually either harmful or selfish. In the Old Testament, to lie as a witness was potentially to cause an innocent person to die or suffer. When a person made an oath, he or she made it to assure someone else of something very important. Lying about such an oath, breaking trust, not only dishonored God (in whose name the oath was likely made) but meant that whatever serious action was taken on the basis of the oath would fail.

From a New Testament perspective, lying usually does not fit either with the love of God or of one's neighbor. It does not fit with love of one's neighbor because of the harmful dimension I mentioned above. Lying usually breaks trust, which is a fundamental human value. Trust frees us from worry. Trust means we do not have to expend our energies protecting ourselves or making alternative plans. Trust eliminates uncertainties.

But lies mean that we cannot trust. They mean that we must expend our energies being prepared for alternative situations. If we believe lies, then we may make choices that lead us to harm. We may damage other relationships because we have faulty information. We may buy goods or services that do not work. We may end up looking foolish or shamed.

A person who is known for lying is not trusted. We tend to ignore what they say or even actively assume that they are giving us skewed information. They hurt themselves because people do not fully enter into relationship with them because they cannot be trusted. They find themselves isolated and alone. When they need others to trust them, they are not trusted. [1]

A person whose word can be trusted is highly valued and honored. Even those who do not believe in Christ will usually respect an honest person.

3. There are various ways to lie, other than an "out and out lie." There is the half-truth, which is partially true but misleads in some key way. There is the "fib," which lies about some trivial matter. One can "act a lie," where one does not speak a lie but one's actions are intended to mislead. In general, any word or act that is intended to deceive or mislead is a form of lying.

By contrast, to unintentionally give misinformation is not a lie. Similarly, to truthfully state your intentions and then fail to reach them is not a lie. As with all ethics, the key is the intention. If one did not intend to lie and gave faulty information, one has not lied. If one intended to be there at 5pm and got stuck in traffic, one has not lied.

A person can also make promises lightly or be half-hearted with truthtelling. They may only half intend to do what they say. They say they will do something, but maybe they will and maybe they won't.

Jesus said to "Let your word be 'Yes, Yes' or 'No, No; anything more than this comes from the evil one" (Matt. 5:37). Being reliable in what you say is a core Christian value, and it is the loving thing to do. Even if a Christian lives in a culture where lying is considered somewhat acceptable, a Christian will stand out as different, as a person of truth.

4. Is there ever a circumstance where deception is the right thing to do? That is to say, is it ever right to lie? Most biblical commands are on the level of universal values, but with exceptions. Although the Bible strongly values truth-telling, there may be highly unusual circumstances where deception is appropriate.

The best known example is of course Rahab in Joshua, who lies to the people of Jericho to protect the Israelite spies. This example falls under the category of war and saving life. The Bible never condemns her lie. Rather, she is consistently affirmed throughout Scripture as a hero of faith. Her lie is never specifically affirmed, but it seems to be implicitly affirmed.

But notice that her lie served to protect life. Notice that her lie served to protect God's people. From one perspective, her lie was not loving toward the people of Jericho. But from another, her lie was loving toward the people of Israel in a time of war. When Corrie Ten Boom's family was hiding Jews, it would have been appropriate to lie to the Nazis because of the higher value of saving life.

Personal conscience and strong discernment, as well as culture may come into play with various situations. There are times when a person means another harm and giving them information can become a tool of harm. The full truth, in such circumstances, becomes harmful and unloving, in effect. The loving thing to do is to prevent such intenders of harm from getting information. Misleading may be the right thing to do.

The truth can be hurtful in trivial personal matters. A spouse can use truth as a weapon in such cases. Being less than forthright, on the other hand, can be the loving thing to do. "How do I look?"

There are times when someone has no business to certain information but you are faced with an outright question. To say, "None of your business" may in itself be an answer. Jesus' brothers tell him in John 7:3 to go to the Feast of Tabernacles. But it is none of their business. He tells them he is not going to the feast, and then goes up anyway secretly (John 7:8-10). [2]

It is probably a matter of conscience as to what one does in such situations. One would not be deceiving in an unloving or selfish way. The intention is not to harm. One might actually be deceiving to protect confidentiality or to protect an important process where information should not get out. Leaders often have to guard information carefully and the line between deception and controlling information can get blurry.

5. Some will always try to emphasize the exceptions to justify their actions. God is not fooled. God knows those whose hearts are disposed to be truthful and loving with the truth. And God knows those whose predisposition is to deceive or to justify lying for the wrong purposes.

Most lies serve selfish purposes. We lie to protect ourselves from guilt or consequences. We lie to make ourselves seem better than we are. We cheat on a test, which is a form of lying, so that our grade does not tell how little we really know. We hide our failures with lies. We hide our sins with lies. But God is not fooled.

Truthtelling is almost always the loving thing to do. There are exceptions when deception is the loving thing to do, but it is the exception. A person after God's own heart is a person of truth and clarity. By contrast, lying is usually either selfish or hateful, neither of which has any place in the kingdom of God.

Next Sunday: ET23: Thou shalt not covet.

[1] Thus the story of the boy who cried, "Wolf!"

[2] This story is only told in John and so may be told more in John's language than Jesus' own.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Top Ten Things I Admired about Dad

I was thinking today about the top ten things I admired about my Dad. Here's the list I came up with:

10. He was organized.
In the days before computers, his district treasurer book of spreadsheets was about six inches thick. The master of the file cabinet. He got his mother's bookkeeping skills, it seems. He would time our rest stops for fun, to see how quickly we pulled it off.

9. He was good with numbers.
We used to race to see who could add up the cost of the bill at Morrison's cafeteria first. He usually won. I only beat him at chess once, and that was when he was half asleep on a transatlantic flight.

8. He was responsible.
He was someone you could trust with a job. You knew he would come through. If he said he was going to meet someone somewhere, he would be there.

7. He was funny.
I'm pretty sure he got his dry sense of humor from his mom's family, the Millers. He often embarrassed me at restaurants with waitresses who thought he was serious with some joke.

6. He knew everything.
Well, I know now that he didn't. But I sure thought he could solve any problem. And he had a keen sense of direction--wicked with a map. He would love Google maps!

5. He was always there to help.
He was the first port of call on the phone when something happened. Car problem. Money problem. Call Dad.

4. He was reasonable.
He was always willing to consider an opposing point of view, even if he was pretty firm in what he thought. He could usually see the other side. He was also willing to examine himself. He was willing to give way or meet in the middle when appropriate.

3. He was principled.
My Dad had convictions. In my opinion, he wasn't judgmental toward those who disagreed, but he held to his. He would not work on Sunday even when it would have meant extra money. He did not watch TV on Sunday so he wouldn't put football above worship. He paid tithe even when he believed he had backslidden during WW2.

2. He was sacrificial.
He gave everything away, especially to his kids. He'd have starved to death before he'd have let one of his children go without.

1. He was faithful.
He was faithful to church and to his denomination, the Wesleyan Church (he could cite The Discipline). He was faithful to his family, no matter what. He was faithful to my mother, no matter what (he regularly did what she preferred, even when he didn't).

He was faithful to God, no matter what.

Happy Father's Day in heaven, Dad!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Seminary PL 11: Setting Goals

This is the eighth post on strategic planning in the Pastoral Leadership part of my Seminary in a Nutshell series. See the bottom of the page for the entire leadership series thus far.

1. Thus far in strategic planning we have identified a mission and vision for our church/organization. We have uncovered our core values. We have done a SWOT analysis of our church in its context, including a look at our context from a missional perspective. Now we get to the most impactful step yet--we need to set some goals for our church.

Taking the factors above into consideration, your church should be able to identify some objectives that you want to shoot for and reach in the future. In common speech, an objective and a goal mean more or less the same thing. But for strategic planning, we might think of an objective as more general and your goals as more specific and measurable. Your objectives should have an obvious connection to your values, strengths, and opportunities. Your goals will be more specific paths to reach those objectives.

[I might throw another word into the mix here, outcomes. In educational circles, we speak less and less of goals and objectives. An "outcome" is the measurable product in knowledge, skills, and dispositions that we want a student to have by the end of our course or degree.]

In strategic planning, however, an objective might be to increase the number of people from your community who attend your church. In relation to this objective, you might have short, middle, and long term goals toward its achievement.

Your goals can be arranged in a certain kind of hierarchy. What I mean is that there may be a broad objective that has several dimensions to it. So you can have layers of goals and objectives. If your vision is to become a thriving church engaged with your community, what are the objectives that might go along with that? Is community contact an objective?

Lets say you want to create three regular points of contact with your community over the next five years. You want to start a Celebrate Recovery group. You want to start a "pastor swap" event once a year. You want to start a monthly bazaar downtown hosted by your church. Your bigger objective of "to better engage your community" gave birth to three long term goals. But these long term goals will require many sub-goals in the interim.

2. So how do you decide what kinds of objectives you should have? This is especially where discernment and the Holy Spirit are essential. Your leadership team should definitely spend some time in prayer at this step because this is the juncture that really makes a difference. All the planning so far is helpful, but it will only have an impact if it translates into objectives and goals.

Some attempts have been made to quantify this step, to spell out what the most logical goals might be given your SWOT analysis. Bob Whitesel, in a chapter titled, "Strategic Planning: More Than a Process," sets out a mathematical process to clarify what the most likely direction of your church would be.[2]

For example, one tool helps generate possible strategies by looking at the cross-section between strengths and opportunities, strengths and threats, as well as weaknesses and opportunities and weaknesses and threats. He has a church create a nine box chart (called a TOWS matrix) where strengths and weakness are in the top row and opportunities and threats are in the first column. In the boxes where they intersect, you brainstorm possible strategies at the intersection between each factor.

Now to decide which strategy to pursue, he has the church "weight" the importance of each strength, weakness, opportunity, and threat. Then as the church looks at each possible strategy, he has the church rate the strategy in relation to each strength, weakness, opportunity, and threat. Part of the rating should be how much that strategy seems to inspire internally in relation to each SWOT and part should be how well evidence from other churches suggests that strategy might address each SWOT.

Finally, you multiply the weight of each SWOT by the "attractiveness" rating of each SWOT. The strategy with the highest total is a logical strategy to pursue.

This approach may seem a little too mechanical for some, but it captures what we do intuitively. As we have said, a church should probably focus more on its strengths than its weaknesses--utilizing strengths almost always accomplishes more than addressing weaknesses. Looking at what is or is not working elsewhere is always important, although there is a time to set the trend and break the curve, to be a leader and not a follower. Internal inspiration is a key factor, as is the missional importance of your goals. And it all should be bathed in prayer.

In the end, the goals and objectives of a church are a spiritual art. Wisely, there should be an evidentiary, logical element most of the time too. But good leadership will always, in the end, require discernment for a specific context.

3. The bulk of your goals--especially the ones you are most likely to achieve, will be "SMART" goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Bound. By "specific and measurable," we mean you will be able to tell when you have achieved them because they are specific and demonstrable enough that you can clearly say, "Yep, we reached that one."

A goal like, "to become a better person" is vague. How will you decide whether you have achieved it? On the other hand, a goal like, "I will perform one act of random kindness each week" is a specific goal that you can know whether you did it or not. "I will run three times a week for 45 weeks this year" is specific and measurable.

The goals above are also achievable and realistic for many people. It might be unrealistic to do a random act of kindness every day or to run every day this year (also not a good idea). We all have different capacities and hopefully we know something about what is realistic for us. The same goes for our churches and organizations. What are realistic and achievable goals for us? You do not want too many goals, for example.

4. The "time-bound" element means that you have set an expiration date for the goal. In general, you should have short, middle, and long range goals. The purpose of short range goals, say six months or a year out, is to generate what John Kotter calls, "short term wins." We humans often have trouble seeing the far off. So many of us get discouraged or lose motivation when our goal is years away from achievement.

Establishing some achievable and realistic goals for the near future is always a good idea to keep your church or organization (or yourself) motivated to keep going.

The long term goals will usually represent bigger, more audacious, and perhaps more complex objectives. Jim Collins and Jerry Porras suggested that organizations should have at least one "BHAG," a "big, hairy, audacious goal" that will take 10 to 30 years to reach. [1]

We should also be realistic. Most pastors are not going to be at the same church in 10 years that they are now. The average tenure of a college president is something like seven years. The five year goals are probably most realistic as long term goals for any church or organization. You can have your eye on where those five year goals might lead, but to focus further out is probably not going to be as helpful.

So if you have six month goals and five year goals as your bookends, set some intermediate goals in the middle--one year goals, three year goals. The nature of your objectives will help determine what time frame makes sense in the middle.

5. There is more than one way to get from Marion, Indiana where I live to Indianapolis or Chicago. There is a shortest route when there is no traffic or construction. There are circuitous routes. But often times, to get from a to c, you have to pass through b.

For some people it is common sense but others will need to consciously think through the steps necessary to get to a goal. So you might logically start with the five year goals and work backward to the short term wins. A certain personality insists that it must be done this way, but as long as the final chart of short term, mid-range, and long term goals ends up making sense--and doesn't take an inordinate amount of time--they can just spend a little more time with their therapist that week. You could argue that it is just as valid to have a free-flowing brainstorming session where boxes are filled and ideas captured as they flow. Then you can tidy up the chart at the end.

If you have your five year goals in place, what mid-range goals are necessary or appropriate to reach them? And if you have your mid-range goals in place, what shorter term goals will be necessary to reach them? And what are the "short-term wins" you are incorporating to keep enthusiasm and momentum going? In a later post, we will talk about project management, which is a more specific version of this sort of goal setting, one aimed at very specific projects that might be part of a goal.

You will want to capture these goals. When you publicize the strategic plan, you will probably want to do so in words and paragraphs. But behind the scene, you might create a chart something like this:

Next Week: Pastor as Leader 12: Leading Change

[1] James Collins and Jerry Porras, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies (San Francisco: HarperBusiness, 1994), 113.

[2] Bob Whitesel, "Strategic Planning: More Than a Process," The Church Leader's MBA: What Business School Instructors Wish Church Leaders Knew About Management, ed. by Mark Smith and David Wright (Circleville: OCU, 2011), 73-112, esp. 96-97.

Leadership in General
Strategic Planning

Friday, June 17, 2016

Friday Science: Universal Symmetry

One day I'll finish this book: Brian Greene's, The Fabric of the Cosmos. My first seven summaries were:

a. Overview
b. Spinning Space Buckets
c. Relativity and the Absolute
d. Particles Separated at Birth
e. Does time flow?
f. Does time have an arrow?
g. Quantum crazy

1. This chapter was about symmetry in the universe, and I found it much more enjoyable than the last two (maybe because I understood it better). Greene suggests that perhaps the most significant finding of modern science is that "Symmetry underlies the laws of the universe" (219).

You can move from here to there (translational symmetry). You can rotate (rotational symmetry). You can transport across the galaxy. The same laws work everywhere. You can move at a constant velocity and Einstein says the laws will work the same. You can accelerate, and Einstein's general relativity says the laws work the same. "Symmetries are the foundation from which laws spring" (225).

2. Time of course is not currently symmetrical. "The existence of time thus relies on the absence of a particular symmetry" (226).

But the cosmos is fantastically uniform on a large scale. Cosmic background radiation is amazingly uniform everywhere. This bespeaks 1) to the young universe being homogeneous and 2) to the development of the cosmos being nearly identical everywhere. It also suggests that time has generally elapsed the same everywhere in the universe as well.

The universe is expanding. Interestingly, the more distant the galaxy, the faster it is receding--and in every direction. The general consensus is that space itself is swelling. Space is getting bigger. Every point in the universe is moving away from every other point like pennies taped to a balloon you are blowing up. There is no center.

3. So if there were clocks taped to a universal balloon, they are all ticking the same, even though the expansion of space is causing them to move rapidly away from each other. They are not moving through space but space is "moving" between them. So some parts of the universe may seem to be moving faster than the speed of light, but it is rather a consequence of the space expanding between things.

The chapter also looks at the shape of space. It isn't really known, but an infinitely flat space is possible, perhaps even the leading contender according to Greene. Other possibilities are a spherical shape, a saddle shape, and a Pac Man flat screen where you leave one side and come back on the other.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Gen Eds P6: What is real?

This is my fifth philosophy post in a series called, "General Education in a Nutshell." Philosophy is the first of ten subjects to overview in this series. These are the subjects a person normally takes in college (or high school) to be a generally educated person (most of them also make up what is sometimes called the "liberal arts").

The first four philosophy posts were:
1. In the post on "epistemology," we mentioned Immanuel Kant's (1724-1804) sense that the input we receive from our senses gets processed and shaped by our minds. So I cannot really experience some "law of cause and effect." I experience two individual moments, and my mind glues the one to the other as cause to effect.

The bottom line is that I do not exactly know the world as it is. I know the world as my mind processes it. I know the world as it appears to me. I know the world from a finite, inevitably somewhat skewed perspective. [1]

One way that Kant put this conclusion is that I cannot know the "thing-in-itself" (das Ding an sich). I cannot know a tree apart from the way my mind processes the sensory information that comes into my mind through my senses. The work in which he especially develops this situation is called, A Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics.

The title suggests, more or less, that metaphysics is now dead. We have no point of reference to know what the nature of reality is. We know how our minds process it, but we cannot see the world in an unfiltered way.

2. It is not entirely clear then what we should do with earlier debates over whether the universe was made up of ideas, matter, or both. It's not clear how we would ever answer such a question.

So materialists would argue that everything that exists is made up of matter. Epicurus, Lucretius, these are famous ancient materialists. Of course many individuals in the modern era have more or less been materialists in the philosophical sense, believing that nothing but what we see exists, matter.

There have also been idealists, who believe that everything that exists is basically idea. Perhaps the most bizarre, to us moderns, was Bishop George Berkeley (1685-1753). He believed that we are all the thoughts of God, that "to be is to be perceived" by God, to be an idea that God has.

Of course, how would we tell the difference? We look around and see stuff. But we don't see what it is. How would we tell the difference between a "material" atom and an atom that was an idea in the mind of God? So the pure material versus pure idea debate seems impossible to resolve, perhaps even senseless.

3. On a popular level, most Christians are probably dualists, someone who believes that the universe is made up of two types of stuff, matter and say spirit. You might think of a person as a body and a soul. It is true that we cannot observe a soul, at least not from the perspective of our senses. No credible experiment has been able to detect such a part of us. For materialists, that is disproof enough.

However, dualists would not usually think of the soul or spirit as something that could be detected by our senses. Since the scientific revolution of the 1600s, it has been typical to think of the "natural" as that part of reality that we can explore with our senses by discovery. Then the "super" natural was understood to be that part of reality that is "above" or beyond that which we can see with our eyes. [2] Descartes thought of the spirit realm as "immaterial" in a way that was new.

Again, these are scarcely things that we can prove or know at this time, that is, of what "stuff" these things might consist. The Bible presents the nature of reality in the categories of its day. The Old Testament presents reality as the Semites thought of it. The New Testament presents reality at times the way the Greeks did.

These are different ways of picturing reality. They are not separate from what other people thought in the ancient world. They are not some distinct biblical worldview. They are the Greek and Semite worldviews, the truth of the Bible incarnated in the categories of the day.

So, as we have argued of science in general, these are pictures of the world that "work." When we say that we as humans have a body and soul or a body and spirit, we are saying that we will exist after death. The point is that those in Christ will exist forever. The point is that we will be conscious between our death and resurrection. The point is that those who are not in Christ will face a judgment after death. The point is not the literal form we will have when any of these things take place.

So there are Christians who are "non-reductive physicalists." They believe that all human existence is embodied, that no one can exist in a detached, spiritual form. They believe in resurrection. They may believe that we will have some sort of body between death and resurrection. In short, they believe all the essential orthodox things to believe. They do not believe that mere materiality is all there is. They believe in God and (embodied) angels.

And again, we have no way to know one way or another. It is a speculative question. We know the point. We don't know the literal nature of the reality behind the point.

4. The physics of the atom has created great uncertainty even for the materialist as to what material reality is. The world smaller than the atom would seem to be a fuzzy world of probability and uncertainty. Gone is the determinism of the 1600s to the 1800s, where many thought that the future was entirely a matter of following the equations out forever. Determinism means that the future is already determined, simply playing out the laws of cause and effect.

But now it seems that nuclear particles may not actually have fixed locations, speeds, spins, and so forth at all. Not determinism but uncertainty and indeterminism seem to characterize the subatomic world. There are still many questions about this most fundamental part of the material world, so we should not draw any final conclusions. But it would seem that material reality on its most basic level is far from solid.

5. With classical metaphysics more or less dead, there were some philosophers in the twentieth century who spoke of other kinds of "being" or existence. We will talk more about "existentialists" in the next post. They held that we create who we are, as it were, by defining ourselves, choosing a life.

For now we want to mention those we might call phenomenologists. If I am speaking "phenomenologically," then I am speaking as things appear to me. If I say that I saw the "sun rise," you know I am not saying that the sun goes round the earth. I am simply speaking in terms of how the sun appears. I know that, literally, the earth is rotating and has turned such that I can see the sun and it appears that the sun has risen.

This talking of things as they appear has allowed us to speak of "being" in a new way. Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), for example, spoke of "being there" (Dasein), of who and what I am right here and now. He did not mean who I am as atoms or material or ideas. He was building on the existentialist idea that we decide who we are. If we embrace who we are now, then we have an authentic existence. Reality becomes a personal thing rather than an objective, outside of ourselves thing.

6. So we return to the pragmatic realism and critical realism of an earlier post. It would be absurd and completely useless to live as if the world around us did not exist. [3] Belief that the world around us exists "works" (pragmatic realism). By faith we can go further. By faith we believe that the world outside us exists. As Christians we believe that God exists and that he created the world, even if our apprehension of the world is finite and inevitably skewed (critical realism).

We do not need to know what is behind the metaphysical curtain. In the words of Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951), "Whereof we cannot speak, we must be silent."

Next week: Philosophy 7: What is a person?

Classic Reading
  • Plato's Republic
  • Immanuel Kant, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics
[1] Kant's faith that God was trustworthy led him to conclude that we could see the world as it is because we can count on the software of reason, so to speak, that God has given us. After postmodernism, however, we should admit that our human perspectives are inevitably tainted with our own finitude and subjectivity.

[2] This was a paradigm shift in itself. Prior to the scientific revolution, reality was more seen as a continuum, a chain of being from God down to minerals. Angels were material, only much thinner material. But after the scientific revolution, God and spiritual beings are conceived as "immaterial," of a different kind of being altogether.

[3] Solipsism is the hypothetical perspective that only I exist. Only a truly bizarre or unhinged person could hold it.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

ET21: Thou shalt not bear false witness or swear falsely in court.

This is the twenty-first post on Christian ethics in my ongoing series, theology in bullet points. The first unit in this series had to do with God and Creation (book here), and the second unit was on Christology and Atonement.

We are now in the third and final unit: The Holy Spirit and the Church. The first set of posts in this final unit was on the Holy Spirit. The second set was on the Church. The third set was on sacraments. This final section is on Christian ethics.
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Thou shalt not bear false witness or swear falsely in court.

1. We are generally told as children that the ninth commandment is about not lying (Exod. 20:16; Deut. 5:20). We might paraphrase it as, "Thou shalt not lie" instead of "bear false witness."

But the commandment is worded interestingly if that is really what it was saying. If we take a quick look at this word witness, we find other statements in the Law such as the following:
  • "If anyone kills another, the murderer shall be put to death on the evidence of witnesses; but no one shall be put to death on the testimony of a single witness" (Num. 35:30).
  • "You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with the wicked to act as a malicious witness... when you bear witness in a lawsuit, you shall not side with the majority so as to pervert justice" (Exod. 23:1-2).
  • "A single witness shall not suffice to convict a person of any crime or wrongdoing in connection with any offense that may be committed. Only on the evidence of two or three witnesses shall a charge be sustained" (Deut. 19:15).
  • "If the witness is a false witness, having testified falsely against another, then you shall do to the false witness just as the false witness had meant to do to the other" (Deut. 19:18-19).
Notice that the highlighted phrases use the same words as the ninth command, suggesting that the ninth commandment was not primarily about lying in general, but about giving false testimony at a trial. Indeed, when we go back and look at the commandment, it speaks of false witness "against your neighbor," suggesting that the context the command has in mind is a trial.

2. There is an important point of self-reflection here. You might argue that we have many such interpretations of Scripture that we have learned, often at a very young age. When we speak of "the Bible," we often as much mean these traditions about what the Bible teaches as the real Bible, what it really meant. When confronted with what the Bible really taught or perhaps what it really meant in its original context, we are just as likely to keep with the meanings we learned as a child as with the real Bible.

Much Christian rhetoric and defense of the "Bible" is really nothing more than a defense of our own cultural traditions that we associate with the Bible. There are plenty who would fight for the Bible who have little interest in what it really teaches. We can get very angry indeed when someone "tampers" with our inherited "tradition of the elders." In the end, it is God who must stand at the center, the immortal, invisible, God only wise, from whom and through whom and for whom are all things. The Bible is a witness to God and his Christ, and a tool in the Master's hands.

3. There were no video cameras or DNA tests in the ancient world. The evidence of witnesses, as today, was considered of principal importance. It was thus essential that witnesses to a crime speak truthfully. You can see from Deuteronomy 19:18-19 above that false witness could result in you receiving the punishment you were seeking for the other. One witness also was not considered sufficient, but two or three were needed.

4. Another key element in such instances was an oath. Hebrews 6:16 expresses the importance of this common practice of swearing by a god that you were speaking the truth: "Human beings, of course, swear by someone greater than themselves, and an oath given as confirmation puts an end to all dispute." So a person might swear "by God" that they are telling the truth.

A vow is a particular kind of oath, one that looks to future action, and God's name was often invoked when speaking of future action. Jephthah takes such an oath in Judges 11, when he swears by Yahweh that he will sacrifice the first living thing that comes out of his house if he is victorious in battle (11:30-31). It turns out to be his daughter. So he gives her two months to mourn her untimely death and then he sacrifices her (11:39).

Again, while we are often told as children that the third commandment is about cussing--"Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD in vain"--it was originally about keeping one's vows and the truthfulness of one's oaths. If you swear by the LORD and invoke his name as a guarantee of your word, then you had better do what you say. Jesus summarizes this third command in this way: "you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, 'You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.'" (Matt. 5:33).
5. The next article will ask how the principles behind these practices might play out in relation to ordinary truthtelling. In the remainder of this one, we want to look at how these commandments might translate from "that time" to "this time."

With regard to bearing false witness, the Christian standard is truthfulness well beyond a legal context, as we will see in the next article. In that sense, the command to be truthful in court remains as much in force as it was in ancient Israel. When "sworn in" at a trial, a person is often asked to put their hand on a Bible and swear "to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God." We have here an artifact of the ancient practice, involving an oath.

On the other hand, Jesus in Matthew has given us a "fulfilled" perspective on oathkeeping in general. Jesus recounts the third commandment on not swearing falsely and then goes on to say, "But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be 'Yes, Yes' or 'No, No'; anything more than this comes from the evil one" (Matt. 5:34-37).

In other words, if followers of Jesus are truthful in general, they will not need to invoke oaths to convince others of the truthfulness of their words. In Jesus' "fulfilled" interpretation of the Law (cf. Matt. 5:17), there is no need for the third commandment or oaths, because God's people would be known for their truthfulness.

6. So it should not be necessary for Christians to say, "I swear," in order to enhance a sense of truthfulness to what they are saying. And of course modern Western culture is not a particularly oath-taking culture either. That is to say, oaths are not a major feature of our thinking as they were in the ancient biblical context. To say, "I swear," does not have much force today at all. We are not more likely to trust someone if they say, "I swear on my mother's grave."

However, there are three aspects of this question that we should address before we finish this article. Jehovah's Witnesses do not take oaths because of Jesus' words not to swear at all. They thus cannot take an oath in court or take an oath of office or an oath for the military and so forth. A person with a sensitive conscience might thus find this a point of concern.

But Jesus is giving a general principle. He does not say, "make absolutely no exceptions to what I am saying here, even if it means you will have trouble in your social context." He is giving a principle--you should not need to swear because you are a truth-teller. Take the oath in the trial or as a citizen or for the military. You know you are honest enough that the oath is simply an unecessary ceremonial adornment for you. [1]

7. A second concern is for those who might make foolish vows. Are you expected to keep to the same standard as Jephthah? Here we should remember the world in which Jephthah lived, over three thousand years ago. Human sacrifice was practiced in the surrounding environment, and it almost seems as if he vows to commit human sacrifice.

In such cases we have to step back and get a sense of the character of God. Is the God revealed in Jesus Christ a legalistic rule maker? Or is he the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son? Is he defined more by his love for us or his love of rules? In the end, God is more loving toward us than any human father or mother might be toward their children. Would you as a father or mother expect your child to keep a foolish vow, one they made in ignorance or immaturity? God is a more loving father than we are.

8. Finally, there is the matter of cussing. If there is a verse that relates to cussing, it is not the third commandment but Ephesians 5:4: "Entirely out of place is obscene, silly, and vulgar talk." The underlying dynamic here is that of not shaming Christ or his community by how one speaks. Rather, our way of speaking should gain honor for Christ and his community.

The specifics of what "proper speech" looks like will have much to do with your cultural context. No doubt much of the joking today might have been considered "silly" in other times and places. Similarly, the precise boundaries of the obscene do not stay the same from one context to the next.

So we come back to the intention and purity of one's heart and the honor/shame your words bring to Christ and his church. We are to be a good witness for Christ. If our casual words make people think less of Christ, our hearts should make us want to speak more carefully. If our words express hatred or lust, then we must pray for the Spirit to change our hearts and resolve to speak differently.

There will be some variation from culture to culture and from person to person. The bottom line with our words, as with all our actions, is that "whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Col. 3:17).

Next week: ET22: Truthtelling is almost always the loving thing to do.

[1] Hebrews 6 and 10 also do not have a negative view toward oaths, which suggests that Jesus' statement is not an absolute prohibition without exceptions. Hebrews 6:17 speaks of God taking an oath in Psalm 110:4.