Yearly Archives: 2015

Growth of religion

I have pretty much quit reading National Review. Along with the Wall Street Journal, it is (and probably always has been) the propaganda arm of the GOP establishment. That being said, there are still a handful of people who write interesting articles Kathryn Jean Lopez is one of them. Earlier this month she interviewed Rodney Stark in an article titled The Reality of World Religion: God Wins. It is a very interesting article that says some encouraging things and some scary things. The whole article is worth a read. Here is a provocative statement he made toward the end of the article:

The most important things all cluster; the rise of Western civilization was the direct result of Judeo-Christian religion. First is the belief in progress, that our history has an upward slope. In all the other major cultures, including Islam, history is regarded as headed downward. That not only discourages all efforts to improve anything, but justifies the suppression of improvements — both the Chinese and the Ottomans outlawed mechanical clocks.

Betty Blonde #454 – 04/14/2010
Betty Blonde #454
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Mani-pedi 2015

Mani-Pedi Christmas 2015
I had my first mani-pedi ever today along with the rest of the family. Christian had them do his nails for classical guitar playing. It is an experience I think I might be able to endure once per year or so. There was a cute little junior high school age girl there for the first time along with us.

When I found out it was her first time, I said, “Good for you!”

She said, “Good for you, too!” and smiled with great joy.

It was worth the price of admission.

Betty Blonde #453 – 04/08/2010
Betty Blonde #453
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Information theory and content

We had an interesting conversation about Intelligent Design on the way home from church today. Christian’s research is in the area of Information Theory. I tried to explain that the presence of information was only half of the Intelligent Design equation. The content of the information and its contingency are just as fundamental to Intelligent Design as Information Theory which says nothing about content or contingency. I found a great article by William Dembski titled Intelligent Design as a Theory of Information that describes these concepts in terms that laymen can understand. Dembski starts the discussion of what he calls complex, specified information like this:

Given a means of measuring information and determining its complexity, we turn now to the distinction between specified and unspecified information. This is a vast topic whose full elucidation is beyond the scope of this paper (the details can be found in my monograph The Design Inference). Nonetheless, in what follows I shall try to make this distinction intelligible, and offer some hints on how to make it rigorous. For an intuitive grasp of the difference between specified and unspecified information, consider the following example. Suppose an archer stands 50 meters from a large blank wall with bow and arrow in hand. The wall, let us say, is sufficiently large that the archer cannot help but hit it. Consider now two alternative scenarios. In the first scenario the archer simply shoots at the wall. In the second scenario the archer first paints a target on the wall, and then shoots at the wall, squarely hitting the target’s bull’s-eye. Let us suppose that in both scenarios where the arrow lands is identical. In both scenarios the arrow might have landed anywhere on the wall. What’s more, any place where it might land is highly improbable. It follows that in both scenarios highly complex information is actualized. Yet the conclusions we draw from these scenarios are very different. In the first scenario we can conclude absolutely nothing about the archer’s ability as an archer, whereas in the second scenario we have evidence of the archer’s skill.

He goes on to extend the scenario to an archer who shoot an arrow at a blank white wall, then paints a target around it post hoc and why the information content of that scenario does not meet the criteria for complex, specified information. Dembski, who holds a PhD in Mathematics from University of Chicago has spent a good chunk of his career adding rigor (in the mathematical sense) to this proposition. No one has refuted him in any meaningful way although you can not tell that from what it says about Intelligent Design from its Wikipedia article nor other such agenda driven outlets. The article is pretty long but well worth the read for people on both sides of the Intelligent Design divide.

Betty Blonde #452 – 04/11/2010
Betty Blonde #452
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Christian’s (technical) PhD blog

Christan started a blog to record his thoughts on the technical stuff he is doing for his PhD. So far he has one post up titled Thoughts about Extracting Information from Sequences of Noisy Observations. It is one of those inside baseball kind of blogs where I think you have to be in the field to understand what it is all about. I do not understand much, but am going to try to give it a more thorough read when I get a chance. The graphics are great. He did them with Inkscape, a great open source vector graphics tool.

Betty Blonde #448 – 04/05/2010
Betty Blonde #448
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An article on Science vs. Scientism

An article in the Southern Blog of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary titled Science vs. Scientism: A Necessary Distinction describes an often fanatical worldview that has taken over much of our culture. The author uses Bill Nye, one of the worst practitioners of this worldview as an example of what happens when you conflate science with scientism. The whole article is worth the read, but one section describes the problem in a nutshell:

Scientism vs. science

Nye’s appeal to science as the bar of truth is what is known as scientism. According to John Cowburn in Scientism: A Word We Need (Wipf & Stock, 2013), scientism is a worldview where “only scientific knowledge is valid . . . that science can explain and do everything and that nothing else can explain or do anything: it is the belief that science and reason, or scientific and rational, are co-extensive terms.”

Richard Carrier defends scientism (which he calls metaphysical naturalism) in Sense and Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism (Authorhouse, 2005) and defines it as “an explanation of everything without recourse to anything supernatural, a view that takes reason and science seriously, and expects nothing from you that you cannot judge for yourself.” One’s faith is not in an imagined deity. Instead, one’s faith is grounded and justified “by appeal to the observable evidence.” In short, scientism is a full-fledged worldview that guides one’s actions and informs their beliefs. Thus, Nye’s appeal to science in the abortion issue confuses the discipline of science with the worldview of scientism.

This conflation, in its ignorance, allows for just the kinds of evil described in the article. Science and the scientific method are not the only paths to knowledge of truth. Much or all of other ways of knowing, logic and reason, historical method and revelation get thrown out if one subscribes to scientism. How do you know whether your mother loves you using scientism. How do you measure qualia using scientific method?

Betty Blonde #447 – 04/02/2010
Betty Blonde #447
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What is science?

There is a very vigorous conversation that is occurring right now in the world of “science.” I put the word science in scare quotes because the very thing under discussion is whether much of the research performed in Physics today could actually be called science. A long and very interesting article in Quanta Magazine titled A Fight for the Soul of Science starts out like this:

String theory, the multiverse and other ideas of modern physics are potentially untestable. At a historic meeting in Munich, scientists and philosophers asked: should we trust them anyway?

It has always been my understanding that if something is not testable or falsifiable in Popperian sense, it did not mean that that something could not lead to truth. It did mean, however, that that something could not be defined as science. Now, a group of scientist want to morph the definition of science to include untestable theories such as String Theory. A conference was held to discuss the issue and that is what this article is about. For those interested in this question, it is a very interesting article. I read through it once last night, but plan to read through it more carefully over the holidays. I am not sure what I think about this, but it is an emotional and important issue for people her earn their living in Physics research.

Betty Blonde #446 – 04/01/2010
Betty Blonde #446
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The new furniture WITHOUT the cat protection

Lorena's new furnitureLorena bought new furniture this weekend (see below). For a studio apartment, it is harder than one might thing. She had to find something she liked (not so hard–she likes a LOT of stuff), but that was compact enough to fit in our very finite living space. I think she did a GREAT job. She got two leather swivel chairs–way more comfortable than I had imagined they might be just looking at them. They are RED! Imagine that. They are a deep red that looks great with a lot of stuff. I cannot imagine that we own two red leather chairs AND I like them.

We realized, after we sat in the chairs, we really needed a little table to set our sodas and an ottoman to set our feet. She went out and got that, too. The thing which impressed me most is her ability to get great deals. That takes a very large amount of patience and she is definitely better at that than me. We got them for the holidays when the kids get home, but we are enjoying them now. They would have been a worthy purchase even if the kids were not coming home.

With Kiwi the attack cat in the house, this might be the only time I ever get to see the actual leather. Again, see below.

Betty Blonde #445 – 03/31/2010
Betty Blonde #445
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A hard programming weekend, but I had help

Programming all weekend longThere are opportunities to learn everywhere. I look back at my somewhat misspent youth and realize that all of that time when I was an angry and miserable ingrate, I could have spent learning new stuff. The funny deal is that I enjoyed learning new stuff, even back then. I just did not understand that the confusion and frustration of learning hard stuff eventually translated in joy-filled understanding. And, just as important, it built on the stuff learned previously.

It is never a good thing to look backward and I am truly grateful my mind works well enough to learn some pretty hard stuff. I have lots of good help, too. Since the weather got bad, I have not been walking as much (Shame on me!) so I am getting that shelf just in the right place for Kiwi to sit comfortably while I program. That is not so bad either.

Betty Blonde #444 – 03/30/2010
Betty Blonde #444
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New furniture!

Lorena's new chairs
I am currently consulting with a new startup company out of Wichita, Kansas (an amazingly cool place). So far, I have not taken compensation because the company is just getting started, but they very kindly provided a gift certificate for there appreciation of the work I am doing for them after a recent trip back there a few months ago. I gave the gift certificate to Lorena when I got back to Oregon. She finally pulled the trigger and bought something–two red leather chairs. They are shown in the picture above, but they are covered with throws because Kiwi, the remaining twin cat sister and attack animal might scratch them into worthlessness. Still we REALLY like them. We actually had no decent place to sit in our studio apartment until now. So, since we have these great chairs, the only thing we are missing is a table to go between them and an ottoman or two. New purchases just lead to new purchases. On the other hand, Lorena says she really wants to continue in the apartment now that we have the ottoman. Who am I to argue.

Betty Blonde #443 – 03/29/2010
Betty Blonde #443
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Mani-pedi?

This will be a real test of my security in my manliness–Lorena has signed Kelly, Christian, herself and I up for a mani-pedi over the holidays. She and our friend Gladys usually go about every six weeks or so, but Glad will be out of town. I guess they are pretty hard to get that time of year.  If this is not going above and beyond for familial and matrimonial harmony, I do not know what is.

Betty Blonde #441 – 03/25/2010
Betty Blonde #441
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Smart phones gone in five years?

I just read an article that describes a study that suggests that smartphones will die out in five years or so. The idea is that things will have enhanced capabilities to interact with people so screens will not be necessary any longer to enable the interaction. Sensing systems to recognize gestures, voice commands and software system to infer things about what I user might want to happen will continue to advance. One example they gave was the idea that a user watching a football game could just tell the television they want to change the view of the game from the 50 yard line to the 10 yard line on the other side of the field and the view would change. I am not sure how this will manifest itself, but I believe things like that will become more available. I predict it will take a lot more than five years to displace cell phones if cell phones ever get displaced, but I also believe this idea is coming–I am already seeing it in my work.

Betty Blonde #440 – 03/24/2010
Betty Blonde #440
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Wt programming

I spent most of this last weekend writing a web program with a new (to me) set of C++ libraries named Wt (pronounced witty, they say, but I am going to call it double-u tee–like calling Qt cute, it is just a bridge too far). Wittiness aside, after making my way up a relatively steep learning curve, I am very, very impressed. It is open source software that I am currently helping some friends investigate. I has a commercial license for commercial products so I hope to be able to buy that someday soon–or better yet, get it bought for me. I might try to put a thing or two up on this website as I figure it out.

Betty Blonde #439 – 03/23/2010
Betty Blonde #439
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Losing an old friend

We lost our dear friend Carolyn day before yesterday. When Lorena and I first got married, we lived for three years in Boynton Beach, Florida. Every Sunday morning during our time there we meet for a home church meeting at the home of Courtney and Carolyn. Courtney was an engineer, originally from Barbados who worked at one of the big electronics firms in the area. Carolyn was a highly educated stay-at-home mom originally from Virginia. They were very, very kind to us. We often went to their home for dinner and got together with them outside of church on a regular basis along with several other members of our little church group. Carolyn very kindly gave us great advise every time we saw here up to the very last time just last year in North Carolina.  Not too long after we left Florida to head West to Oregon, Courtney was transferred by his company up to North Carolina to the Triangle area where we eventually moved, so we got to see them on a semi-regular basis in these last few years. The most recent best piece of advice, she gave to Kelly.

“Kelly, boyfriends are like buses. If you miss the bus or leave the bus, another one will come along.”

The way Courtney and Carolyn raised their two children, Corwin and Chevonne, was part of our inspiration to encourage our kids to work hard to achieve academic success. They earned a Masters degree and a PhD (a hard one). Our condolences go out to all of them. We will miss Carolyn a lot. She was a godly influence in our lives.

Betty Blonde #438 – 03/22/2010
Betty Blonde #438
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The world is upside down

I honestly had never heard the term “social justice warrior” until a few months ago when my kids talked about it. It is the perfect sarcastic description for people who exhibit the type of appalling behavior captured so well in this political cartoon. Now that it is on my radar, I am seeing it everywhere. Articles titled The Modern College Experience and Radical Feminists and White Racists, both at TownHall, are examples of some of the push back that is starting to occur. The push back is probably too little, too late, but at least enough of it is happening in places where even old fogies like me can read them. Those two example are really bad, but an article that is even more scary whose title I will not include here describes the entire phenomena as it applies to terrorism and the Jewish community. It surely does seem like something bad is coming.

Betty Blonde #437 – 03/21/2010
Betty Blonde #437
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The institutional church

I just read a very interesting article on the institutional church. It describes some reasons church membership has dropped. The whole article is quite good, but the list of ways the church has moved away from the first century church is really quite amazing. It is mostly about how and where the church meets, but it also discusses church leadership. I hope they take the thinking further to “remember” how the ministry operated in the New Testament, too, but this is a great start. The article goes into a lot more detail, but here is the list:

  1. All the churches in the Bible met in a home and functioned like a small spiritual family. The current institutional church, by contrast, spends a great deal of energy and money getting and maintaining a church building.
  2. The churches in the Bible were simple. We describe “simple church” as a way of being/doing church where any believer could say, “I could do that!”. (“they were astonished that Peter and John were unschooled, ordinary men” (Acts 4:13).) The institutional church, by contrast, requires highly educated, highly school (seminary, etc.) highly creative people to be successful. (Think Rick Warren, for instance.)
  3. In the New Testament (NT) churches, everyone used their gifts. In institutional church, only a few, highly gifted people (worship leaders, preachers, etc.) use their gifts.
  4. In NT church, Jesus brought the agenda for the meetings. In institutional churches, a few, very smart people design the worship experiences.
  5. In the NT, churches were started in a few hours or a few days. Institutional churches require a great deal of planning and resources and take months or years to start.

Betty Blonde #436 – 03/19/2010
Betty Blonde #436
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