Saturday, June 7, 2008

Dear Viewpoint

Dear Viewpoint,

Our culture seems to be spinning out of control and our politicians appear to be insensible to the plight we're in. I'm a young person who wants my life to make a difference in the lives of others, I want our time on earth to count for something, I want to exert a positive influence on society and make it better, yet I have no idea how to do these things. What advice can you offer?


Need Help


Dear Need Help,

There are lots of things I'd like to say, lots of things that I wish I had learned earlier in life than I did, but I'll limit myself to four:

1. Get all the education you can (especially history, literature, science and philosophy). Learn as much as you can about the issues at stake, even the ones you're not particularly interested in. Read the stuff written by people with whom you disagree so that you better understand them and can respond to them more effectively. Know so much more than anyone else that people recognize and respect your expertise and defer to it even if they don't want to agree with you.

2. Make a conscious effort to educate others, either in your family, church or school. Letters to local papers are helpful, especially in response to controversial matters.

3. Learn to be sensitive, humble and irenic. Don't force your opinions on others or be otherwise pushy and obnoxious. A good listener is often more effective than a good arguer.

4. Whatever career you pursue resolve to make your personal and professional life an example of how a life should be lived. Your life is the best argument you can make. No other argument will have any weight at all if your life does not reflect what you say you believe.

Good luck,



If, like me, you're totally mystified by all the high definition tv jargon, here's a brief article that lays out the basics pretty well and also makes some recommendations if you're considering a purchase. Here's the key graph:

First off, let's tackle what High-Definition means. A television works by painting an image over and over again, usually around 60 times per second. If half the image's lines are repainted every time the screen refreshes, it's called an interlaced scan technique. If the entire picture is repainted every time the screen refreshes, it's a progressive scan technique. A regular television displays a picture that's made of 480 lines from the screen's top to bottom.

The high-definition threshold begins when the number of lines shoots up to 720, packing in more detail for those sharp "I-can-actually-see-the-guy's-skin-pores!" details. Right now, the zenith of high-definition capability you can buy is 1080p-1080 lines, progressive scan. Critical viewers prefer progressive scan for its smoother look when watching content that packs a lot of motion (like sports), mainly due to the fact that you're seeing twice the amount of pictures per second (frame rate) as you'd get with interlaced scan. The only problem is, unless you're playing a game on a PS3 or feeding content through a high-end video card on your PC, there is no actual 1080p content available for your tv. Weird, huh?

High-definition cable is piped in at 1080i and high-definition movies are filmed at less than half the rate your screen is repainted at (24 frames-per-second)...and neither of those standards are likely to change anytime soon. Having said that, if you can still find a 1080i tv (1080 lines, interlaced scan) or you pick up a 720p model (720 lines, progressive scan), you'll be satisfied. As a matter of fact, it can be difficult to discern the additional detail differences between a 1080p unit and a 720p when viewing a screen size less than 50" (in the right viewing ranges).

There's more at the link, including recommendations, if you're interested.


The Olivet Controversy

Here's something for those readers who attend a conservative Christian college. Rick Colling has been prohibited from teaching biology at Olivet because he wrote a book advocating a kind of theistic evolution. Two questions: Did the college do the right thing? If so, did they handle it in the right way?

Read Colling's description of events and let me know what you think.


The God Delusion Ch. 1

I confess that despite all the buzz about it I had not until recently read Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion (TGD). I had read so much about it that I thought it would be redundant to actually spend time on the book itself. Recently, however, a friend of mine was challenged by an atheist acquaintance to read TGD, and I thought it might be useful to read it along with him and discuss it as we go.

I also thought that it might be worthwhile posting my thoughts on the book chapter by chapter to help others who may not be inclined to read it themselves to at least get one person's perspective on what Dawkins says that's good and what he says that's not.

With that in mind, then, here are some thoughts on Chapter 1:

Dawkins says in the preface that "If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down." I don't know how successful he's been in achieving that goal - although I've heard more than one Christian say that the book really shook them - but the effectiveness of Dawkins' polemic, in my opinion, is due more to the emotional impact of his jackhammer indictments of religion than to the rigor of his arguments against the existence of God.

In chapter one he sets out to dispel the myth that Einstein and others were religious believers. In this he is, of course, correct. Einstein used the word "God" as a short hand for the mysteriousness of the cosmos. He did not believe in a transcendent, personal, creator. Dawkins' project in TGD is to destroy the basis for belief in the latter. He's indifferent about conceptions of God which immanentize him.

He then goes on to argue that religion and religious belief do not deserve any more respect than any other beliefs one holds. Religious beliefs should not be deemed out of bounds and beyond challenge and, he argues, we should not hesitate to press people on their religious beliefs even if this causes them to be offended. I happen to agree with him on this point as well. A man's belief in God should not be treated with the deference that we treat his belief that his wife is beautiful. In fact, I think the reason we often do treat a person's religious beliefs respectfully and deferentially is out of a certain politeness. We have learned through long experience that most people cannot give a coherent defense of their beliefs and that to press them to defend them would only embarrass them, like pressing a man to defend his conviction of his wife's beauty. Not wishing to embarrass people, and not seeing the matter as poarticularly significant, we generally don't pursue such questions.

This is fine if we are inclined not to create hard feelings, but I see nothing wrong with someone like Dawkins laying down the gauntlet to religious believers, especially if those believers are themselves evangelical and concerned to encourage others to accept their faith. Christians should always be prepared to give an account for the hope that is within us.

I disagree with him, though, when soon after he defends his right to poke his nose into what Christians most deeply believe he tells us that "the right to be Christian seems ... to mean the right to poke your nose into other people's private lives." He has in mind here Christian opposition to the homosexual political agenda, and Dawkins thinks it's simply intolerable that Christians would publicly declare homosexuality to be wrong. This is pretty funny coming from the man who thinks it's just fine to tell Christians that they're wrong.

In any event, the claim that any behavior is wrong is an odd one coming from a man who is promoting in his book the idea that there is no God and thus no basis for anything being right or wrong. But this discussion will have to wait until chapter 6 and 7.