Thursday, June 22, 2006

Words Have Meaning

I was thinking about the illegal immigration problem that we seem to have with Mexico, and it occurred to me that there is one term that is used to great extent in all of the debate and discussion, while another term is only used occasionally.

Let's look at the situation. Nearly 10% of Mexico's population is living in the US, with a majority of those numbers being illegal immigrants. Most of them send money back to Mexico to the tune of $20 billion annually, if I recall correctly. It's the largest source of money in the Mexican economy next to oil revenues. As we saw during the rallies of the last few months, there are many Mexicans in the US who hold tightly to their identity as Mexicans, and there is even a movement, however marginal, to "take back" a portion of the American southwest for Mexico. At one point, the Mexican government even printed maps for the citizens on how to get to the US and where to go once inside. They stopped after it went public in the US. Many Mexicans still vote in Mexican elections, and some of their politicians have even taken to campaigning in the US.

Given all of that, what is the significant difference between calling this "immigration" and calling it "colonization"?

It seems like simply a philosophical question at first, but the implications for the debate are quite strong. A lot of people will look the other way at illegal immigrants because they're "just trying to have a better life." But colonization is looked at almost as an act of war. That, few will put up with.

Of course, many will reject the term outright. But which term is most appropriate? According to
Immigrant: 1. A person who leaves one country to settle permanently in another.
1. a. A group of emigrants or their descendants who settle in a distant territory but remain subject to or closely associated with the parent country.
b. A territory thus settled.
2. A region politically controlled by a distant country; a dependency.
3. a. A group of people with the same interests or ethnic origin concentrated in a particular area: the American colony in Paris.
b. The area occupied by such a group.

So, share your thoughts. Which do you think is the most appropriate term?

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

WMD found in Iraq?

The news world is abuzz: Were WMD's found in Iraq?

Via Fox News:
WASHINGTON — The United States has found 500 chemical weapons in Iraq since 2003, and more weapons of mass destruction are likely to be uncovered, two Republican lawmakers said Wednesday.

"We have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, chemical weapons," Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., said in a quickly called press conference late Wednesday afternoon.

Reading from a declassified portion of a report by the National Ground Intelligence Center, a Defense Department intelligence unit, Santorum said: "Since 2003, coalition forces have recovered approximately 500 weapons munitions which contain degraded mustard or sarin nerve agent. Despite many efforts to locate and destroy Iraq's pre-Gulf War chemical munitions, filled and unfilled pre-Gulf War chemical munitions are assessed to still exist."

Via CNS News:
( - Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.)
announced Wednesday the finding of over 500 munitions or weapons of mass destruction, specifically "sarin- and mustard-filled projectiles," in Iraq.

Reading from unclassified portions of a document developed by the U.S. intelligence community, Santorum said, "Since 2003, coalition forces have recovered approximately 500 weapons munitions which contain degraded mustard or sarin nerve agent. Despite many efforts to locate and destroy Iraq's pre-Gulf War chemical munitions, filled and unfilled pre-Gulf War chemical munitions are assessed to still exist."

According to Santorum, "That means in addition to the 500, there are filled and unfilled munitions still believed to exist within the country."

All very interesting. I can't wait to see how this debate opens back up. Of course, we could find 2 tons of weaponized anthrax there tomorrow, and there are people who would debate until the end of time how Bush was still a liar. But this should be interesting all the same.

Chrish of News Hounds doubts the significance of the report.
Michelle Malkin has a great round-up.
Hat tip: Big Lizards.

May add more as more comes to light.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

On Being a Christian and a Scientist part II

Continuing yesterday's installment, I would like to continue providing material from Oden's systematic theology.

Science is characterized by a method and a spirit. Its method is an orderly presentation of facts, showing their causes and their relationships to general truths or laws. The spirit of scientific inquiry is openminded and unprejudiced; it does not omit relevant facts and is receptive to new evidence. This is the fundamental attitude or spirit that provides common ground for all the various sciences. Within this common spirit there are wide differences between the methods used in various sciences. For example, insofar as psychology is a science, it gathers empirical evidence on the basis of controlled studies, but psychology has found it difficult to rule out intuitive insight and holistic reasoning. Insofar as history is a science, it bases its conclusions on historical evidence and documentary witnesses, and has the same problems with establishing textual authenticity that theology does.

First, I must say that I love that Oden uses the phrase, "insofar as psychology is a science." I participated in several psychology experiments my senior year at ISU, and I must say that they lead me to doubt a lot of what comes from that discipline. Of course, that has to be judged on a study by study basis, but there are quite a few of them that I wonder either why they think their experiment will yield good data or why they think their data supports their conclusions.

Next, Oden makes a very good point in all of this. Christian teaching is highly concerned with truth, both in a general sense and as it's known in Jesus when he says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." For Christians to ignore facts because they are inconvenient is dishonest, and actually can be seen as going against Christian teaching. Inconvenient evidence doesn't go away simply because you don't like it.

For scientists, however, the same standard still applies. Science has had and still has its share of dogmas, the same as any religion. To ignore data for the sake of maintaining the "status quo" is bad science. While peer review has allowed great refinement in the way science is presented and confirmed, it also is open to abuse from the stifling of viewpoints.

This, of course, is not to confused disagreements about evidence with ignoring evidence. Sometimes data is bad and people don't realize it. Sometimes data just doesn't support the conclusion that is reached, or at least not as strongly as one would like to think. Sometimes data must be compared to other data sets, which can either confirm or contradict previous conclusions. The point is, disagreement is not denial. Similarly, rejecting bad science is not stifling a viewpoint.

The forms of evidence differ for physical, historical, and spiritual truth. Truth in the physical realm must be established by empirical data gathering and experiment, and truth in the historical realm by testimony, documentation, and correlation of evidence. Truth in the spiritual realm must be tested in a more complex way, by examination of oneself, of history, of conscience, of one's sense of rational cohesion, and of claims of divine self-disclosure. Each sphere of inquiry must submit evidence appropriate to its subject. Psychological and humanistic inquiries have tried at times to employ the same evidentiary process appropriate for physics or mathematics. In doing so, one kind of evidence (empirical) has been applied to or transposed into a sphere that transcends it or that exceeds empirical competence.

This is a good reminder for those who demand scientific evidence for the existence of God. Evidence for the spiritual just isn't the same as evidence for, say, protein aggregation or the existence of a black hole. How do you physically prove something which isn't physical?

This isn't to say that there can be no objective evidence for spiritual truths. What people often ask for is "hard" evidence when such a thing just isn't appropriate. Imagine asking a historian for hard evidence for the existence of Socrates. The answer you would get might be disappointing.

The forms of evidence that are presented in Christian teaching are highly diverse. They include scientific inquiry and demonstration, but they also include the kinds of evidence found in legal science, namely, the presentation of cases, circumstantial evidence, and testimonies of eyewitnesses. As legal inquiry proceeds from texts, testimony, and precedents, so the study of God deals with consensual precedents that interpret these events. Christian teaching characteristically appeals to many different levels of evidence--historical testimony, moral awareness, life experience, the social history of a people, and the history of revelation--in order to establish a convergence of plausibility along different and complementary lines.

Science is limited in what it can tell us about God. We can study the interactions God has with the natural world, and we can examine the historical evidence to determine its authenticity (with tools such as carbon dating), but the evidence on which Christianity relies is beyond science. That is to say, the evidence does not rely upon the physical sciences, and the physical sciences would be hard-pressed to either prove or disprove the claims of Christianity. Which is not the same as saying that Christianity is beyond doubt, but that the tools of science only provide a limited scope with which to examine it.

As logical reasoning begins from concepts and ideas and proceeds to conclusions, so does much theological reasoning proceed from idea to idea inquiring into how those ideas are related logically. Well-developed and rightly presented evidence tends to elicit in the mind a sense of conviction of truth that resembles what Christianity calls belief or faith. Judgment moves with evidence.

Which is exactly why many people are able to become Christians (or any other faith/"faith") without being scholarly experts in the field. There is evidence available to them which is deemed enough. This isn't good enough for everyone, which is reasonable and expected.

Even though Christian teaching had been called a science for over a millennium before modern science preempted the term--claiming that it excludes nonempirical evidence--and even though Christian teaching has been responsible for nurturing many of the deepest values of modern science, there remains one principal reason why it is probably better not to call Christian teaching a "science": Today an unacceptable odor accompanies this term, especially as it is used by some who are seeking prematurely (and desperately) to preserve theology by forcing a cheap accommodation with empiricist science and reductive naturalism. Christian teaching can do without the name science, especially since science means to so many the ruling out of all forms of evidence that do not submit to naturalistic observation, quantification, and measurement. This sort of science is a restriction of the freedom to learn. To this diminution of science the Christian inquirer can say with Paul: "A man who is unspiritual refuses what belongs to the Spirit of God; it is folly to him; he cannot grasp it, because it needs to be judged in light of the Spirit." The Christian faith is finally built "not upon human wisdom but upon the power of God."

Both following up what I've written already and introducing a new element, the evidence that Christian faith relies upon is "folly" to those who doubt. Why? Well, in some part it's because they require of Christianity evidence that will never come. If all you will accept is empirical scientific observation, then Christianity will never seem "logical" or "reasonable." But then, most of life won't. Consider the burden of proof placed on Christian faith: In what other areas of life is such a requirement asked? Are there things in life that cannot be boiled down to gross physical processes?

The reason we demand higher certainty for religious assertions than historical assertions is a telling one: They are more important. They have more behavioral consequences if we accept them. When the same level of evidence exists for Caesar and Christ, the testimony concerning Caesar remains largely uncontested, whereas that of Christ is hotly contested. The reason is that inquirers know all too well that they have a stake in the result of the inquiry. It makes little difference to us now what Caesar said or did, but much difference whether God has come and spoken.

The evidence is important. The outcome is important. But what can happen is that the stake someone has in the answer can sway their objectivity in examining the evidence. If there were more concrete evidence (i.e. physical studies) towards Christianity, would that cause the world's skeptics to accept the faith? Or would they simply find other reasons not to believe?

This is not the case, completely, with everyone. There are those who can maintain strong objectivity. But I've known many people who left the faith because they felt hampered by the moral obligations it brought. "I don't want to be chaste, I don't want to worship, I don't want to be forgiving, I don't want to believe in Hell!" It can't be ruled out, one way or the other.

At first, it may seem to be a decided disadvantage to Christian teaching that it cannot establish its facts with the same objective or controlled certainty that physics and chemistry usually can. But there may be a hidden advantage to this seeming limitation. For if religious truth were capable of absolute objective certainty, then faith would become as compulsory for acceptance as the mathematical conclusion that two plus two equals four, or the scientific conclusion that water is constituted by hydrogen and oxygen. If religious conclusions had this compulsory character (because of the absolutely overwhelming character of objective evidence) then would there not be less place for the risk of faith? God would no longer be the incomprehensible, majestic One worthy of our worship and obedience, but merely a rationalized object of empirical data. No longer would, "the just live by faith," with all the character building this involves. Christian faith would cease to be a choice altogether; God would no longer have sons and daughters who voluntarily and with risk choose to love and serve him.

Christian teaching holds that God has placed great emphasis on the freewill of man, allowing him to make decisions rather than forcing him to worship. Would scientific evidence for faith eliminate man's freewill decision to follow God?

Of course, none of this answers the question directly: How can I be both a Christian and a scientist? The simplest answer I can give, based in part on the preceding discussions, that the principles of scientific inquiry and those of theological inquiry are not contradictory and do not exclude one another. I have studied, to some degree, the arguments and evidence for and against the reliability of the Bible, and I am unaware of anything from the realm of empirical science that contradicts the claims of the Bible or shows it to be anything other than what Christian tradition holds it to be.

That is all I have to wite on this matter for now. However, I may post some more on the subject, depending on, well, a variety of events and circumstances. If there is broad interest in the discussion, then perhaps.

Monday, June 19, 2006

On Being a Christian and a Scientist part I

A few weeks ago, "Tom," who is probably also Steve the Troll, made the observation that one could not be both a Christian and a scientist, that the two were irreconcilable. Being both, I find the observation a bit amusing. Is this person either? I don't know, but I would find it quite ironic if someone was neither and was telling me I couldn't be both.

This is not to say that you can't make observations on something of which you are not a part. However, if you're going to do so, you need to bring more to the table than just, "You can't do both because that's stupid!"

I thought I would write a bit about being both a Christian and a scientist, and how there is no real conflict. To do this, I shall provide for you some material from Volume One of Thomas Oden's systematic theology, The Living God. The final chapter is an exploration of systematic theology, and he asks the question of whether or not theology can be considered a science.

A science is a branch of study concerned with the observation and classification of facts (especially with the establishment of verifiable general laws) chiefly through induction and hypothesis. A procedure such as science, widely regarded as useful, can hardly be completely inapplicable (even if inadequate) to Christian inquiry.

Insofar as it seeks to make accurate observations, test evidence, provide fit hypotheses, arrange facts in due order, and make reliable generalizations, the study of God may be called a science. It employs both inductive and deductive argument. It relies upon the same primary laws of thought and the same categories of reason upon which all scientific inquiry depends.

To be clear, theology requires many of the same intellectual tools that any science requires. Weight evidence and argument is necessary whether you are discussing philosophy, theology, history, or the latest evidence published in Science. The evidence that each of those fields examines is going to be different, but reason and logic are not tossed out the door when one leaves the Halls of Science.

The methods of inquiry into Christianity are held by many classical Christian writers to be a "science," according to the classical definition of scientia as an orderly knowing or knowledge, or a disciplina, as instruction or teaching or body of knowledge. But the facts into which Christian teaching inquires are brought from an arena that is thought by some to be blocked out from scientific investigation: religious consciousness, moral awareness, the life of the spirit, and the history of revelation.

This is an important distinction. There are some questions that natural science simply cannot answer. Science can tell you much about the growth and development of an unborn child, but it cannot answer the moral question of whether or not killing that child is wrong. For that matter, science cannot answer the question of whether killing anybody is wrong. Morality is not what natural science answers.

So then what of God? There are questions about God that natural science cannot answer. How can the natural examine the supernatural? Biology cannot examine God. He has no anatomy, no taxonomy. Chemistry cannot examine God. God has no magnetic moment, you cannot measure his pH, there is no conceivable way to procure an x-ray structure of the transcendent One. Physics? God has no mass, no dimensions, no measurable quantities. Sociology? Psychology? You can observe those who follow God, but those sciences study men. To try to compare the mind of men to the mind of God would be like trying to compare the mind of a dog to the mind of a man. There might be some minor similarities, but the differences are just too great.

No scientific inquiry proceeds without axioms and postulates that do not admit of empirical demonstration. Geometric inquiry, for instance, depends upon the postulate of parallels, but that postulate is far from being finally demonstrable. The view that scientific inquiry is independent of all authority is itself quite distorted. Theology is that sort of science that proceeds with a specific postulate: historical revelation.

Theology has a definite object to investigate, namely, the understanding of God as known in the Christian community. There is no doubt that such an understanding exists, and that it is capable of being inquired into. It is a historical fact that the modern university since the thirteenth century has been spawned in large part by the inductive and deductive methods developed by Jewish, Muslim, and Christian inquiry concerning God. There is no reason one cannot take as a subject of scientific investigation the modes of awareness of God that recur in Christian communities: the belief in God, that God exists, that God is triune, and that God pardons sin.

Of course, that truly depends on what type of scientific investigation you are referring to. Again, the natural sciences are inadequate to answer such questions.

There is another important observation here, that the modern university owes its existence to Christianity. A great number of scientists, until the time of the Enlightenment, were Christians. Even then, many still were. Many of the oldest universities in America began as seminaries for the training of clergy. To say that science and faith must be enemies is to be ignorant of history.

No botanist claims to provide the basic order by which plant life lives. Rather, the botanist ascertains an order that is already present in the nature of the facts themselves. Similarly the theologian is not the master of the facts, but their servent. The theologian cannot construct a system of Christian teaching to suit his or her fancy, any more than the geologist can rearrange the strata of rocks according to aesthetic whim or personal desire. Christian theology simply wishes to set forth that understanding of God that is known in the Christian community in a way that is fitting to its own proper order, harmonizing that wide body of facts and data so as to preserve their intrinsic relation to one another.

Some might observe that others do attempt to set up their own system of theology. However, there must be contrast between those disputes of theology that come from how to interpret the "evidence," such as history, tradition, and revelation, and those disputes that come from ignoring or fabricating such evidence.

A good analogy would be to compare string theory to, say, phlogiston theory. There are competing ideas of multiple dimensions and how to account for gravity and so on floating around, but they will center on how to interpret the evidence that is available to us and how to acquire new evidence. Phlogiston theory, on the other hand, may offer a way to interpret some of the evidence available, but holding to it requires ignoring great portions of evidence that is also present.

I have much more to say on these matters, but it shall have to wait for another posting. In the meantime, this is enough to consider.

Friday, June 16, 2006

The return of the iLoo

I'd buy it.

It's science!

Sci-Finder, a useful tool for searching databases of scientific literature, often gives results that you didn't even know existed. Today, I found this article:

Accidents related to manure in eastern Switzerland: an epidemiological study.

Best. Title. Ever.

I love science.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Pets or what?


Shrinking Government

Yesterday I was conversing with my friend Barry, and he was telling me stories from work. He works for one of the suburbs up here in the Chicago-area, answering phones for City Hall. Now, he usually gets strange phone calls and irate people. New fines on utilities usually provoke such things. However, during he related some of the more bizarre phone calls he receives. A few examples I can recall:

"I'm having my driveway re-topped, and the contractor is charging me $600. Is that a good price? Could I get better?"

"I just killed 15 bees in my house. What should I do?"

I had a great many laughs over these stories. Barry commented that if government, even just locally, was actually as big as people thought it ought to be, it would be an all-consuming juggernaught.

And in that, I find great wisdom. I guess some people never become tired of having their hand held.

Is it even food?

So, apparently 7-11 came out with a new food item in their stores a while back. It's a combination of a sandwhich and a pizza. No, it's not a hot pocket. That would make sense. This is their "P'EatZZa" sandwhich.


Seriously, who thought this was a good idea?

(Hat tip: Brian at 8-Bit Theater)

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Relevant and Irrelevent

Ace, taking a leave of absence, has some guest-bloggers filling in at the moment. There are two posts I would like to point out to you.

The first, by Mrs. Peel, highlights questions that good scientists should ask about the HPV vaccine that is getting a lot of media attention right now. Really, anybody should ask these questions, but for scientists to take anything the media says about science at face value is just inexcusable.

The second post, well, if you ever hated driving in front of Princess Peach because it could result in your being squashed into last place, you'll appreciate this post.

Chronicles of Life

My sincerest apologies for my lack of posting as of late. I've had some rather thorny issues crop up in my personal life. As much fun as it would be to turn this into something like every other livejournal or xanga blog and write about my intimate feelings from day to day, that's not why I started this blog. Quite frankly, I find that as boring as radio broadcasts of golf, so I surely wouldn't subject my few remaining readers to that.

I do have some blogging "projects" planned, though, so I hope you'll be patient with me. In the meantime, we'll revisit one of my favorite projects: Creepy sitemeter entries.

You see, the sitemeter counter in the sidebar allows me to track how many people visit the site. It also allows me to see the website that brought a person in, including what the search function was if they used Google or Yahoo! or the like. As we all know, the internet is, well, disturbingly creepy. The latest example is someone who came to my site using the search function, "man's nipple picture in a white tank top wet."

Um . . .

. . .

Wow. I can truly say that nothing beats that yet. Not even the pervasive, "japanese women lifting their skirts" search that shows up.

So the next time you're in a chat room, remember: You might just be talking to the person who was looking for that.

Do What Now?

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Zarqawi Dead; Coalition Forces Do Happy Dance

Well, at least I'm doing it.

Yahoo! News:
BAGHDAD (AFP) - Al-Qaeda's chief in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has been killed in an air strike, with US and Iraqi officials hailing the news as a major blow against the network's bid to destabilise the country.

The US military said Zarqawi was killed in an air strike on a safe house north of Baghdad where he was holding a meeting with fellow militants, ending years of hunting for the country's most wanted -- and elusive -- fugitive.

This is excellent news. Truly fantastic. Of course, there are plenty of nay-sayers out there who will say that the administration sat on this until they needed it, but this is good news nonetheless. This will certainly take some steam out of the insurgency.

But for now, I've little time for advanced analysis. Captain Ed and Michelle Malkin have great roundups (with my hat-tip to the Captain).

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Latest on Hyuk Jin Choi

The Daily Northwestern:
The death of a Northwestern graduate student whose body was found in Lake Michigan near North Campus Friday has been ruled a suicide, said a spokeswoman for the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office.

The body of Hyuk Jin Choi was found floating facedown in the lake north of the soccer and hockey fields May 26 at about 11 a.m. Medical examiners pronounced Choi dead Friday at 1:40 p.m. They ruled the cause of death to be drowning.

The Student Affairs office has contacted Choi's family to make memorial plans, said Alan Cubbage, vice president of university relations. Northwestern would defer to the family's wishes before any plans are finalized, Cubbage said.

"When the death of a student occurs it's truly a sad occasion for the university," he said.

A man kayaking noticed Choi's body floating facedown in the lake, and he told bystanders who called 911 at about 11 a.m., officials with Evanston Fire Department told the DAILY last week. The EFD dive team recovered his body 50 to 100 yards off shore.

Choi was an NU chemistry graduate student from Dukyang Gu, South Korea. He had been a student since fall 2004.