Science fact of the day: No such thing as healthy obesity

While I have my questions about the BMI scale and its ability to predict health for those with low body-fat percentages, it has proven a remarkable predictor of health in the general population (low body-fat people are rare in the United States, after all).

Anyway, in a study published in 2016, the authors concluded that:

Low aerobic fitness in late adolescence is associated with an increased risk of early death. Furthermore, the risk of early death was higher in fit obese individuals than in unfit normal-weight individuals.

Now, this study doesn’t distinguish between “fit obese” individuals who are obese because of muscle mass above average and individuals with a high body fat percentage who happen to be good at aerobics.

 

 

Quick-Sand Memory: Lecture to the Wall and Beyond

 “The Overnight Student” by Michael Jones which can be found here. The book is wonderful. Read it, it only takes about an hour. Jones recommends doing things this way:[1]

  1. Take a bite – Read a manageable portion of your source material.
  2. Use Your Tongue – Explain what you’ve just read out loud to an imaginary audience without looking at the book or at any notes. Take note of everything that you cannot explain. You do not understand those things.
  3. Reread – Read your source material again asking yourself consciously, “what does this mean, how can I explain this to an audience, to what does it relate?”
  4. Repeat steps two and three until you have mastered the material.

Lecturing to the wall makes you embarrassingly aware of your gaps in knowledge, but with a plus! You’re embarrassed at home with nobody around to hear it but you (or a roommate). This is far better than being embarrassed by not knowing the material on a test, at a job interview, when giving a speech, while defusing a bomb, during a hostage situation, while fighting Godzilla, or during a group project.

Update: In a 2014 study, John F. Nestojko found that “participants who expected to teach learned more from a passage than did participants who expected to take a test.”[2] In the experiments, subjects did not actually teach, but were told to study material as preparation for teaching. So, the expectation of teaching primes learners to learn more, probably because they expect to have to explain things. This goes nicely with the fact that we learn while we teach. So lecture to the wall is not only anecdotally effective, but it has more scientific support than I had initially supposed.[3]

Another technique, which is similar to Lecture to the Wall, but less helpful is PQ4R.  It’s from Richard Restak’s Think Smart:[4]

 

  1. Preview – Skim through a chapter of material, noting the headings, vocabulary words, and concepts.
  2. Formulate Questions – Ask questions about the material you have read.
  3. Read – Read the passage looking for answers to the questions you’ve asked.
  4. Reflect – Think about what you’ve read and how to apply it as well as its relationship to the subject at hand and its relationship to other subjects.
  5. Recite – Repeat the material from memory after you’ve learned it. Do this with the text book closed, and only open it to check your accuracy. Put it in the exact language of the text as well as in your own words.
  6. Review – Try to recall and summarize the same points.

 

Restak’s system is helpful, but it is slightly disorganized. For instance, how can you know what questions to ask about the material until you’ve read it more carefully? I think that Preview, Read, and Formulate Questions should be somehow in the same step. It’s also too many steps to remember. You’d have to study the method to utilize it.

 

 

[1] Michael L Jones, The Overnight Student (Bellingham, Wash.: Louis Pub., 1990), 44-60.

[2] John F. Nestojko et al., “Expecting to Teach Enhances Learning and Organization of Knowledge in Free Recall of Text Passages,” Memory & Cognition 42, no. 7 (October 2014): 1045

[3] K. J. Topping, “The Effectiveness of Peer Tutoring in Further and Higher Education: A Typology and Review of the Literature,” Higher Education 32, no. 3 (October 1, 1996): 321–45

[4] Richard Restak’s Think Smart: A Neuroscientist’s Prescription for Improving Your Brain’s Performance, (Riverhead Books, 2009), 109.

What is this life? or Heterosexuality is an invention not an observation

An article on the BBC posited that heterosexuality is a mythology invented to preserve a way of life which helped us survive, but isn’t really necessary any longer. The author concludes:

The line between heterosexuality and homosexuality isn’t just blurry, as some take Kinsey’s research to imply – it’s an invention, a myth, and an outdated one. Men and women will continue to have different-genital sex with each other until the human species is no more. But heterosexuality – as a social marker, as a way of life, as an identity – may well die out long before then.

It’s funny how sexual intercourse or just sex is re-expressed as “different-genital sex” as though it weren’t biologically inherent in our species. The author, Ambrosino, makes one good point:

Debates about sexual orientation have tended to focus on a badly defined concept of “nature.” Because different sex intercourse generally results in the propagation of the species, we award it a special moral status. But “nature” doesn’t reveal to us our moral obligations – we are responsible for determining those, even when we aren’t aware we’re doing so. To leap from an observation of how nature is to a prescription of nature ought to be is, as philosopher David Hume noted, to commit a logical fallacy.

Nature, in many arguments of a moral sort, has been badly defined. There are Aristotelian definitions of nature to which we often hold as presuppositions when it comes to scientific investigation but which we abandon when it comes to ethics. Maybe I’ll elaborate on them elsewhere, but it will suffice to say that the author’s own concept of nature is badly defined. Incidentally, Hume’s is-ought problem is overcome by an appeal to nature as something with regularities and functions. But this is beside the point.

The main point is that heterosexuality isn’t an invention, it’s a necessity.

Taking ethics or religion out of the equation (you never really can), non-heterosexual sex of any sort is, by necessity, a deviation entertained by the smallest segment of the human population.

The Christian Hope and Homo Prospectus

The Christian version of the afterlife is unique in two respects. It is so unlike our present existence that the Bible says that it can only be seen dimly and is best expressed in images. But it is very much like our present existence in that our present self will be preserved and will have attributes and levels of flourishing which depend upon our virtue in this life.

In other words, there is the motivation for something far beyond what we presently experience while simultaneously giving meaning to those present experiences. Not only so, but your self is not lost in the Christian afterlife, but enhanced.

The New Testament makes these points frequently, here are two representative examples:

  1. …what we will be has not yet been made known, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him [Christ] for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)
  2. …in the Lord, your labor [good deeds] is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Below are the observations of a professor of medieval literature, a theologian, and a social scientist about the relationship between the Christian view of hope and earthly eu-civic behavior.

C.S. Lewis

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis comments on the nature of Christian hope and how it leads one to word harder in the here and now because of the height of aspiration it offers as well as the role the present life plays in ones enjoyment of the next:

“Hope is one of the Theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither. It seems a strange rule, but something like it can be seen at work in other matters.”[1]

David Bentley Hart

In an essay describing American civic religion and religious sentiment in America generally, David Bentley Hart laments the death of Christendom in Europe. Insodoing, he makes similarly psychological points about the nature of Christian hope it’s motivating power. I recommend the entire essay, not just these portions:

A culture–a civilization–is only as great as the religious ideas that animate it; the magnitude of a people’s cultural achievements is determined by the height of its spiritual aspirations. One need only turn one’s gaze back to the frozen mires and fetid marshes of modern Europe, where once the greatest of human civilizations resided, to grasp how devastating and omnivorous a power metaphysical boredom is. The eye of faith presumes to see something miraculous within the ordinariness of the moment, mysterious hints of an intelligible order calling out for translation into artifacts, institutions, ideas, and great deeds, but boredom’s disenchantment renders the imagination inert and desire torpid.”

And two paragraphs later:

Europe may now be its own mausoleum, but once, under the golden canopy of an infinite aspiration–the God-man–the noblest of human worlds took shape: Hagia Sophia, Chartres, Rouen, and il Duomo; Giotto and Michelangelo; Palestrina and Bach; Dante and Shakespeare; Ronsard and Herbert; institutions that endured, economies that prospered, laws that worked justice, hypocrisies but also a cultural conscience that never forgot to hate them; and the elevation of charity above all other virtues.”[2]

Rodney Stark

Finally, Rodney Stark makes the point that the Christian belief in a God who himself believes in human progress allowed for civilization on a vast scale to envision new vistas of ethics, knowledge, and technology and make them happen by studying the world God had made. The rest of the book is his substantiation of the claims below:

“The Christian image of God is that of a rational being who believes in human progress, more fully revealing himself as humans gain the capacity to better understand. Moreover, because God is a rational being and the universe is his personal creation, it necessarily has a rational, lawful, stable structure, awaiting increased human comprehension. This was the key to many intellectual undertakings, among them the rise of science.”[3]

 

Conclusion

Of course, what would Christian historians, theologians, and literature professors have to say about the workings of the mind on such a broad scale? Well, more than one might imagine.

For instance, in Homo Prospectus, several psychologists attempt to explain the future orientation of human beings and how that orientation makes us what we are. They use the word prospection to refer to any consideration of future possibilities for present action. In the chapter on collective prospection, Roy Baumeister observes that:

Religion has been a powerful cultural construction, and it served vital functions in facilitating large- scale cooperation, long before law enforcement was up to the task. It enabled people to work together for mutual benefit in large social groups and networks. Sharing a god as a common ancestor or parent, indeed a god who watched people constantly and set rules for morally proper behavior, facilitated the trust needed for such cooperation. It would hardly have been possible without prospection, however. Part of the power of religion was that it could explain the entire time span of the universe, from its origins to its end. Big gods made sure that each individual’s role in that universal saga would involve moral judgment, with immense rewards or punishments awaiting each individual on the basis of how morally virtuous his or her actions were.[4]

In other words, one of the functions of a religion which offers a future hope dependent upon present action is that it provides a future orientation that imbues seemingly mundane and boring daily activities with meaning for an infinite future. Not only so, but the rules for the future judgment provide a singular goal for the thousands of competing goals in a civilization and the dozens of competing goals in the life of a single family. Such a vision of the good life, particularly if based on the God revealed in Jesus Christ, helps one to develop even the most difficulty virtues in the face of the most deadening sufferings:

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18 ESV)

 

References

[1] C. S. Lewis. Mere Christianity (HarperCollins, 2007), 134.

 

[2] David Bentley Hart, “Religion in America Ancient and Modern,” in In the Aftermath: Provocations and Laments (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2008), 59-60.

[3] Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success (Random House of Canada, 2005), 11.

 

 

[4] Martin E. P. Seligman, Homo Prospectus (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 152.

 

When the wage gap closes you…

  1.  Rejoice?
  2. Try to solve other apparent problems.
  3. Move on.
  4. Complain

The answer, my friends…#4!

While I find people wielding the wage gap as proof of oppression in the United States tiresome and stupid, this article which indicates a closing of the wage gap is a new species of silly. In it the author observes:

Women want an equal partner, but there are increasingly fewer candidates to choose from. The census reports that “the average adult woman in the US is more likely to be a college graduate than the average adult man.” Moreover, today’s young, childless female city-dwellers with college degrees are out-earning their male counterparts by 8 cents on the dollar. Their higher incomes may be why they are less likely (29 percent) to be living with their parents than single men (35 percent).

And later in the article:

Almost 60 percent of women rate successful parenting as one of the most important parts of life, while only 47 percent of young men do, according to Pew.

But the problem is that despite the negligible wage gap, the author posits that women don’t want to marry men the same age as them who make 92 cents on the dollar. After all of the lobbying for employers, colleges, and governments to end the wage gap, now that it’s over and women aren’t interested in men who make the same amount as them:

The trouble with all this finger pointing [at women] is that it leaves out half of the baby-making equation: men.

Thankfully there are large swaths of society who never hear any of this weirdness.

The Human Side of Spiritual Formation

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians he passes over the intellectual difficulty of human and divine agency in spiritual growth with no effort to resolve the apparent contradiction contained in his statement:

…with fear and trembling, work to acquire your own salvation; for God is the one working in you both to will and to work his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12b-13)

Paul speaks of both elements of salvation in his letters, both God working and us working. My theory is that one cannot claim that God is working in them unless they’re working and that one cannot also claim that their work is effective unless they acknowledge God’s work in them. It’s a back and forth. But all of that aside, what does Paul say about the human side of spiritual growth in Philippians? There is one passage in particular that says a whole lot:

12 Not that I have already received it [the resurrection] or have been made perfect, but I seek to make it [perfection] my own because Christ has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself to have made it [perfection] my own. But I do one thing: forgetting what lies before me I strain forward 14 in accordance with the goal I seek the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Therefore, if anybody has been made perfect, let us think this way; and if anybody differs in thought, God will reveal even this. 16 Only, let us hold firm to what we’ve already attained. (Philippians 3:12-16)

Paul outlines a paradigm for personal growth in Christ-likeness:

  1. Admit your imperfection.
  2. [Implied] Have a vision for your life as perfectly Christlike.
  3. Seek to make that perfection your own.
  4. Leave your imperfections behind you rather than dwelling upon the. (Paul struggled with this, he mentions his persecution of the nascent just earlier in the letter)
  5. Strain for the perfection of Christian character. In 3:11, Paul says “if somehow” or “if by any means.” In other words, do what it takes to be like Christ. And since the metaphor is of running, think of “any means” like the any means of running away from danger and toward safety.*
  6. Not only should the appeal of the good life in Christ motivate us, but also the ‘prize’ or the rewards God offers to Christians should motivate us as well.
  7. Don’t get resentful of people who don’t get it.
  8. Hold fast to what you’ve attained. Don’t go backwards…but with step one in mind, don’t insist that where you are is perfect either. Anybody can be wrong. Sometimes your understanding of life in Christ is what needs to change before you can change.

Paul says more about the human side of things, but the passage above is a good summary of his point of view. If you grab a Bible and read the rest of Philippians, you’ll see that he also recommends meditation on good examples, pursuing assistance from other Christians, avoiding obsession over food, seeing the Christian church as your tribe/nation, and prayer for help.

 

 

*Note: When I was a senior in high school, I went for a job one night after karate practice. In our neighborhood, late jogs weren’t that uncommon. But a rottweiler escaped somebody’s front door and started chasing me and I climbed up on a stranger’s car and jumped onto the other side waiting to climb back over if the dog ran around. I was willing to do whatever it took not to die.

Friend of God? What does that mean?

A favorite song of many evangelical Christians repeats the refrain:

“I am a friend of God, he calls me, ‘Friend.'”

But what does it mean to be friend of God, or more specifically, of Jesus Christ? The answer to the question leads me to hum that song line rather than proclaim it for fear of presumption.

To be Jesus’ friend is something that he decides based upon the state of my soul:

No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.[1]

But on what standard does Jesus call people friends? Just sentences earlier he said:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.[2]

The particular sort of friendship Jesus wants to strike up with us is quite irregular. Very few friendships work this way. Our typical idea of friendship is basically Aristotelian: those who hold things in common. Friends spend time together, help each other, and think about things similarly. I think that Jesus’ understanding of friendship is similar. But in his case, to be his friend is none other than to be his disciple. In other words, in friendship Jesus doesn’t fit himself into your life paradigm as one who shares in your life, but demands that you alter your life to match his paradigm. Why? In John’s gospel, he is presented as the logos or logical structure behind the world. To be friends with Jesus is, in the final analysis, to be realigned with God and with nature. So, Jesus cannot alter the structure of the universe to you when you’re the one who is sinful. But he can offer friendship with us by offering to transform us. This is a difficult pill to swallow, but alas, it is the medicine Jesus offers.

References

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Jn 15:15–16.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Jn 15:12–14.

Workless Society?

A Guardian article speculates on the sense of meaning in the world about a world beyond work:

You don’t need to go all the way to Israel to see the world of post-work. If you have at home a teenage son who likes computer games, you can conduct your own experiment. Provide him with a minimum subsidy of coke and pizza, and then remove all demands for work and all parental supervision. The likely outcome is that he will remain in his room for days, glued to the screen. He won’t do any homework or housework, will skip school, skip meals, and even skip showers and sleep. Yet he is unlikely to suffer from boredom or a sense of purposelessness. At least not in the short-term.

I suggest that as helpful as virtual worlds, like video games, sports, and fiction are for providing human meaning, there is very little evidence that those worlds provide positive biological incentives for flourishing when they replace the material world. Video games, fiction, and sports add an abundance of meaning to our material lives in the context a larger culture of ritual, story, tradition, and transcendent aspirations. But I do not think that those elements of life can substitute for the larger religious and philosophical stories contained in cultures which have evolved over thousands of years. Replacing them with purely simulated realities which have no history of supporting biological needs such as reproduction, creativity, and feelings physically productive seems dangerous.

 

Narrative and Theology in Scripture

In the Old Testament there are two ways of speaking about God that cannot be reconciled if both are taken to be literally true.

The Old Testament makes clear that God will not punish the innocent for the sins of the guilty:

The word of the LORD came to me: “What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? As I live, declares the Lord GOD, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.
(Ezekiel 18:1-4 ESV)

The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.
(Ezekiel 18:20 ESV)

And the Old Testament also makes clear that God punishes the innocent for the sins of the guilty:

David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die.”
(2 Samuel 12:13-14 ESV)

So which is it? In this case, I think it’s reasonable to take Ezekiel’s statement as God’s philosophy of punishment, more or less, and 1 Samuel’s narrative as a theological interpretation of the death of David’s child that cannot be accepted as ‘literally true’ theologically. Of course, the question must be asked, “If God doesn’t literally kill the innocent for the sins of others, what lessons should be gleaned from the passage about the death of David’s child? The New Testament says that Scripture is inspired for “training in righteousness.” So, I suggest that we look for meanings/applications like these:

  1. Your sins do affect others negatively, even if you hide them. The Davidic story makes this clear.
  2. Just because you have a special position in life, you don’t have a free pass with respect to sin.
  3. Just because you’re close to God, your family is not exempt from tragedy.
  4. Moral indignation, as David displayed when he heard Nathan’s parable (go refresh if you don’t remember) is not necessarily or ever a sign of moral maturity.

There are several other places in Scripture where such a softening of the text is “necessary.” The big question is, “why would God allow such expressions into Scripture if he was going to say elsewhere that they weren’t precise expressions of his nature or involvement in the events described?”

Loving your enemies does not mean neglecting to love your friends.

This is a repost from my old blog

Jesus put love pretty high up in his list of priorities for human flourishing. The biggest problem for modern romantics who prefer to rhapsodize about love is that he said to actually do it. Look how one of his closest friends summarized his message:

1 John 3:18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

John, is talking about love for other Christians, which is easy to snarkily ignore.* This is super relevant in light of certain habits of talking in Christian circles. A lot of Christians will mock other Christians who disagree with them politically or philosophically in the name of fitting in with the non-Christian group they are closest too in temperament. Btw, I do not merely mean that some Christians clearly bested others in careful argument and through in a rhetorically powerful jab. I mean, they literally make fun of each other.

I could give examples, but for the time being I would rather not draw extra attention to a behavior that makes us look bad.

Mike Cernovich, as far as I know, does not claim to he a Christian. He certainly is not known for being nice to his enemies, but he does shame many Christians in his relationship to his friends:

Your life is the sum total of your activities and the people in your life. Be useful to other people. Find ways to meet market demands. Be good to your friends.

When is the last time you emailed a friend to say, “How can I help you?”

His question points to an important aspect of Jesus’ command to love our enemies. Jesus asks, “If you love those who love you, what reward do you have?”(Matthew 5:37). Many Christians seem to take this as a sign that Christian virtue does not include love for the Christian in-group. But Jesus elsewhere intensifies the love Christians are to have for one another, “…just as I have loved you, so you are to love one another” (John 13:34). So, while Christians are to love even their enemies, Jesus takes the time in John’s gospel to intensify the level of love Christians show to one another. In other words, Jesus isn’t denigrating love for family or other Christians in Matthew, he is instead showing that it is a starting point for becoming like God in his concern for human well being. In fact, our love for enemies is, in a real way, less than, our love for other Christians in Jesus’ moral system.

So, what are you doing for other Christians? Have you emailed somebody just to ask them how you can help them meet a need, become more successful, or overcome a challenge? Have you called your pastor and asked how you can pray for him or her? Have you looked at the budget report for your church and tried to shore up weaknesses? How about cleaning the parking lot? While such gestures are not the sum total of Christian morality, according to Jesus, they are the litmus test, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34).