Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Blinded by Science 

Andrea noticed this study over at the always fabulous Fox News. As she said, we always knew this and now science does too. According to the study, kids are better behaved and adjusted when their parents are religious, as long as their parents are generally agreed on their religion.

The thing that jumped out at me about this study was their examination of causation. The study wasn't designed to identify the causation of the effect, but they were speculating about it:

Bartkowski thinks religion can be good for kids for three reasons. First, religious networks provide social support to parents, he said, and this can improve their parenting skills. Children who are brought into such networks and hear parental messages reinforced by other adults may also “take more to heart the messages that they get in the home,” he said.

Secondly, the types of values and norms that circulate in religious congregations tend to be self-sacrificing and pro-family, Bartkowski told LiveScience. These “could be very, very important in shaping how parents relate to their kids, and then how children develop in response,” he said.

Finally, religious organizations imbue parenting with sacred meaning and significance, he said.

University of Virginia sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox, who was not involved in the study, agrees. At least for the most religious parents, “getting their kids into heaven is more important than getting their kids into Harvard,” Wilcox said.

But as for why religious organizations might provide more of a boost to family life than secular organizations designed to do the same thing, that’s still somewhat of a mystery...

Now here's a study about religion in particular. It notices that religion has an impact, and that this impact is different than secular organizations that have the same purpose. Anyone hearing this will think of the possibility that the reason that religion has a positive impact is that there is a God and that living in terms of this reality has benefits. But the article never even raises that as a possibility. Now I know I'm just reading the article and not the study; perhaps the article has hidden the researchers' thinking on this point.

But this shows how this belief in what science is, that science cannot consider even the possibility of supernatural causes really does end up with less information, not more. We are left not allowing ourselves to consider something that would have the possibility of increasing our understanding of a particular phenomenon. I know this is just one little study without a great deal of importance. But of course the proper relationship between science and religion is huge, and this illustrates it well. Even more huge is the general question of epistemology, and here we see the effects of dividing our thinking into religious knowledge and all other kinds of knowledge, with the two basically having no effect on one another. This leaves us with less information, not more; less understanding of the world, not more.

This is one of the basic premises of the Intelligent Design movement, and I think they're exactly right. I'm not a big fan of ID, but not because I think they're wrong, but because I think that in the approach they're taking, they inadvertently give away more than they can possibly gain.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The world's gospel 

The Aspiring Polymathis has some thoughts on the Virginia Tech Massacre:

The 9mm butchering of 32 students & faculty at Virginia Tech was not an unexplainable happenstance, as one popular conservative talk-show opined. Nor was this macabre act a result of a mind that was “ill,” “irrational,” or “confused,” as many other commentators claimed.


The student was only acting out his atonement; his 9mm Gospel.

It is a gospel that would destroy everyone so as to save itself.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Personality Test 

Take my one-question personality test!

Are you the kind of person who, when cooking a frozen pizza, sets the timer because:

1. If you don't, you will obsessively check the clock until it's done, thus not accomplishing anything for the next seventeen minutes.


2. If you don't, you will forget about the pizza and burn your house down.

This question tells you everything you need to know about someone.

I need Andrea to come home. For lots of reasons, but not least because last Monday I cooked a frozen pizza, and didn't turn the oven off until Wednesday night.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Faith of Neverland 

Andrea and I watched "Finding Neverland" the other night. I thought it was an excellent movie; very touching, very poignant. Johnny Depp was excellent as always, though the role seemed tailor-made for him; the weird, slightly asexual boyish character. Depp plays James Barrie, the playwright who writes "Peter Pan", and traces the encounter he has with a widow with four boys and the connection he forms to this family which provides the inspiration for his play. Barrie is married, but unhappily, and the widow (Kate Winslet) has a mother who doesn't approve of her relationship with Barrie, as it is barring her from seeking out a suitable husband. So there are many barriers to their relationship. People even think the relationship between Barrie and the widow's four boys is unnatural.

The movie connected the ethos of Peter Pan with Barrie's own personal life. He is a great believer in make-believe, and his attitude is that if you believe, you can overcome the obstacles that are in your way in life. As time goes on, it becomes clear that his faith does not truly remove any obstacles, and is not intended to. But it allows him to maintain his playful spirit even in the midst of tragedy.

Belief and faith are essentially the same thing, and this movie is therefore a movie about faith. Faith being one of the core concepts in Christianity, one might think that this movie therefore shares in some manner in the Christian ethos, but one would be very wrong.

The concept of faith in the Christian religion is of faith in something specific; the promises of God. If I believe in what God has told me, despite there being no carnal evidence for the truth of it, that is an act which lays hold of God's promises and makes them my own. Faith is the sole instrument of our salvation, the one thing that we do to make God's promise of salvation our own. It is therefore faith which is directed at reality and at accepting that reality, the reality that God is who He says He is and will do what He says we will do. Nothing untrue is made true by our faith.

Compare this with the faith of Neverland. This faith is a faith which is directed at refusal to acknowledge reality. It refuses to accept that a child must grow up; refuses to accept that societal norms and conventions must be taken into account; refuses to accept that a dead loved one is truly gone. Peter Pan's (and Barrie's) faith is therefore the opposite of true faith, based fundamentally as it is in a lie that we can make reality what we want to be. True faith is accepting reality for what it is, even if it is not apparent to us.

Think about Neverland itself- the name indicates a place which doesn't exist, but which nevertheless has the power to transform our lives, by the act of believing in it. It is a mishmash of chaos, with pirates, Indians, fairies and anything else you want to put in it. It is the opposite of reality.

Neverland faith has been absolutely destructive to Christianity wherever that view of faith is accepted. And it is accepted widely. Someone who could make the statement that doctrine is unimportant and that we just need to have faith has accepted Neverland faith. For you say we are to have faith, but what are we to have faith in? How can I believe if I don't know what God has said? But a great deal of the church has accepted the idea that faith is just an act of will, of transcending the world and reaching out to the eternal. This is essentially the faith of Schleiermacher, who did not believe that what you believed was terribly important, just that you believed in something. Some might even still assert that faith in Jesus is crucial, but still deny the need for accurate doctrine about Jesus. Jesus' name is then some kind of totem, some word of power which grants spiritual blessings just by its invocation. And any who would assert that all religions lead to the same thing likewise have the faith of Neverland.

But if it is merely the act of believing which will bring us these spiritual benefits, then the "what" of the faith is not terribly important. It is simply the act of having faith in one's own dreams. And this is rebellion, it is the faith of vanity, the refusal to accept what is true and the insistence on making one's own truth.

We can't escape the hard realities of life by clicking our heels together and wishing them away. We can only hide for so long from these realities. There are no such thing as fairies, and clapping our hands won't make them appear. There is however a God, and we won't make Him go away by saying we don't believe in Him. The reality of the universe must be dealt with, must be accepted. We will have to deal with that reality sooner or later. Faith in God's promises means dealing with it now, submitting to it and accepting God's promise of salvation. That promise is granted on His terms, not ours, and is likewise accepted on His terms. Believing lies doesn't make them true, no matter how many times we clap our hands. Make-believe is fine for children, but the mature spiritual adult knows that only belief in the truth will save him.

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