Tucker Carlson: 20 Ideas for 2018

These screen caps are too small, but I suppose you can just search twitter for the thread (that’s how I found it after seeing somebody quote it). Tucker Carlson (whose show I don’t watch, but there are some hilariously edited clips online), gave 20 pieces of advice for the New Year. I found 5 to be obvious but easily forgotten. 7 is straight out of Epictetus (which means it’s probably good advice). He’s wrong about food. My mouth waters for steak and eggs. He’s also right to emphasize personal responsibility for your emotional state and life in general.

 

 

O Love Divine!

O Love Divine! by Oliver Wendell Holmes1

O Love Divine! that stoop’st to share
Our sharpest pang, our bitterest tear,
On Thee we cast each earth-born care,
We smile at pain while Thou art near.
Though long the weary way we tread,
And sorrow crown each lingering year,
No path we shun, no darkness dread,
Our hearts still whispering, Thou art near.
When drooping pleasure turns to grief,
And trembling faith is changed to fear,
The murmuring wind, the quivering leaf,
Shall softly tell us Thou art near.
On Thee we cast our burdening woe,
O Love Divine, for ever dear;
Content to suffer while we know,
Living or dying, Thou art near!

References

1 Tozer, A. W. (1991). The Christian Book of Mystical Verse (p. 64). Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread.

Arthur Whimbey on Intelligence as a skill

Arthur Whimbey’s definition of intelligence:

“Intelligence in an attentional/processing skill used in analyzing and mentally reconstructing relations. The distinguishing feature of this skill is breaking down complex relations (or problems) into small steps that can be dealt with fully. The major components of the skill are extensive search and careful apprehension of all details relevant to the relation; thorough utilization of all available information including prior knowledge; accurate comparisons; and sequential, step-by-step analysis and construction.”Arthur Whimbey, Intelligence can be Taught (New York, NY: E.P. Dutton & Co, 1975), 120.

Whimbey saw intelligence as a generalized skill.

Here are two more insights from the book.

  1. Low-aptitude students have a tendency to approach problems passively. This is a habit, not a permanent state of their brain. He notes two problems: they use “one-shot thinking rather than extended, sequential construction of understanding; and second, there is a willingness to allow gaps of knowledge to exist…” (pp 55).
    This attitude leads to more frustration when they see other students “get it” and they don’t. The problem is that these students do not have a habit of thinking about problems. The solution is, apparently, to give them examples of thinking through problems out loud then ask them to imitate with the same problem and then with similar ones.
  2. Many students who cannot read well (this is back in 1975) simply were not taught using a phonics based approach (73-74). They cannot “decode” symbols into sounds. This is bad. They assume that since they have not seen the word (a sight-words approach) that they do not know how it sounds. This too, is a problem that can be fixed. I have heard otherwise intelligent adults with no reading disabilities struggle to read words with three or four syllables. This, in my estimation, can be traced to either a lack of phonics training or poor enforcement of phonics skills over time. If a young person gets away with parroting and faking at reading for just one year (which is easy to do in a class full of kids) then they could be perpetually behind.

Jesus Christ and Mythology by Rudolf Bultmann: A Review

Rudolf Bultmann, Jesus Christ and Mythology New York, NY: Scribners, 1958

Introduction

Bultmann really needs no introduction. If you do not know much about him there are numerous articles available online. The main purpose here is simply to review this particular book which is a collection of Lectures he gave at Yale and Vanderbilt in 1951. The topic of the book is Bultmann’s radical method of New Testament interpretation: de-mythologizing. I’ve never heard anybody explain what Bultmann meant by this term on Bultmann’s terms. According to this little volume, de-mythologizing is the interpretation of the Bible’s mythological statements (statements which presuppose an ancient and, to the modern man, unbelievable worldview) in a way that makes them immediately relevant to the contemporary person. An example would be, “The understanding of God as creator is genuine only when I understand myself here and now as the creature of God. This existential understanding does not need to express itself in my consciousness as explicit knowledge. In any case the belief in the almighty God is not the conviction given in advance that there exists an almighty Being who is able to do all things. Belief in the almighty God is genuine only when it takes place in my very existence, as I surrender myself to the power of God who overwhelms me here and now” (Bultmann, 63). The rhetorical and theological purpose for Bultmann utilizing this interpretive method is that, “We can believe in God only in spite of experience, just as we can accept justification only in spite of conscience…de-mythologizing is the radical application of the doctrine of justification by faith to the sphere of knowledge and thought” (84). In other words, he feels that we cannot expect people to accept the statements of the Bible as true, conceptually, for that would be works, not faith.

The Good

The book helps you to understand exactly what everybody in your conservative seminary classes is talking about with regard to Bultmann’s methods. The book seems to falsify certain prejudices against Bultmann’s work that are often held by people who have not read it. In this respect it could be useful. As an aside, people I know who were actually connected to the man found him to have a warm piety and one friend noted that he really wanted to visit a church in America and witness an evangelistic service. But apart from that aspect of reading the man himself, the book had pleasant moments:

  1. Bultmann insisted that we see God’s Word as consistently demanding response. If the Bible reader is only focused upon finding the historical meaning, then there is no possibility for response. As Bultmann notes, “It is beyond the competence of critical study that I should hear the word of the Bible as a word addressed personally to me and that I should believe in it. This personal understanding…is imparted by the Holy Spirit, who is not at my disposal” (54). I don’t find myself entirely in agreement with this because historically speaking people who have studied the Scripture critically have precisely come to repentance about various issues. Now, of course the Holy Spirit makes that possible and of course that repentance is not the results of the critical study for reportage in journals and text books, but that close study makes the meaning which God inspired in the Scripture available to the student and through preaching, discussion, and writing available to the church in the form of knowledge about the text. Bultmann, though making a good point about a necessary distinction has over-corrected. Nevertheless, the Scripture, if one is claiming to be a Christian, must be seen as demanding a response of faith.

  2. The importance of presuppositions to exegesis is repeated often, especially on pages 47-50. But the point is that the questions we ask and the worldview we hold will often tend to influence the answers we get. This is also true if we expect the text to teach this or that dogma, such a presupposition ends up using the conclusion as a first premise.

  3. Bultmann, though never defining the cognitive or moral content of faith, nevertheless gives a good description of its character, “Faith is the abandonment of man’s own security and the readiness to find security only in the unseen beyond, in God” (40). This notion of faith, though it does not take into account the aspect of loyalty, does capture the nature of trust or entrusting oneself to another that is so crucial to the New Testament usage in most places, especially the gospels, Romans, and Galatians.

  4. Bultmann sides against Barth’s notion that there is no natural knowledge of God, “Man does have in advance a relation to God which has found its classical expression in the words of Augustine, “Thou hast made us for Thyself and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee” (52).

  5. Bultmann cares about whether or not the non-philosopher or non-historian who is thoroughly enmeshed in a modern worldview and finds miracles unbelievable can still believe the gospel. I think he’s wrong-headed in his solution, but he clearly cares about people having an experience of justifying faith in Christ (35-44). The problem with his approach is that it might be difficult for a believer who struggles to think miracles are possible to do things like pray.

  6. Finally, Bultmann has a mystic’s eye for practicing God’s presence in the otherwise closed causal system of the modern world. His interpretation of Scripture, in this respect, is very similar to the allegorical method of old. Scripture is not just a series of dusty fables, no matter how dated certain passages seem, but it is the book through which God speaks to the church. Thus, the word heaven becomes a way of seeing God as transcendent of our world and circumstances (20). Any passage of Scripture is a call to love others in daily experience (43-44). God’s action is something that can be trusted even when we are in circumstances that clearly seem to betray our belief in God (64). It’s good stuff.

  7. Bultmann does note that he believes that the preaching of the church is true and rooted in an historical (and true) event. This event: Jesus Christ. Which for Bultmann is a summary for the life, death, resurrection, ascension, and present reign of Christ (80).

  8. It’s also very short. I read it this afternoon.

The Bad

  1. Bultmann bases a great deal of his book on a now dated conception of Jesus’ eschatology (11-19) [Dated doesn’t mean wrong, though I do disagree with his point of view, but those looking for something academically advanced won’t find it].

  2. He leaves, largely, the content of Christian obedience (enemy love, fidelity to other Christians, care for the poor, etc) and the Christian gospel (resurrection, atonement, etc) out of his explanations. That may be because the audience would know those things, but it would be easy to mistake Bultmann’s theory of faith with existentialist “openness to existence” without concrete referents in Christianity.

  3. Bultmann is similarly open to charge number two because he wants to say that God’s actions in history cannot be historically known because they cannot be proven to be done by God. But they can be reasonably believed to have happened and thus reasonably believed to be done by God, if one thinks God to be real. The point being that he opened himself to the criticism that he taught that Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t matter because he makes it seem so unknowable. But he doesn’t leave it entirely unknowable. He essentially says, “Try it out” about the truth of the gospel. Which is pretty cool, I guess.

  4. The book is couched in existentialist language that would be mostly lost on readers today.

  5. Bultmann’s perspective is so truncated in these brief lectures that it is too easy to misunderstand.

  6. The average American is more of a supernaturalist than anybody in Germany would have been in Bultmann’s day, so the book is not entirely relevant to many preachers that I know.

Conclusion

The book would only really have value to pastors and teachers who read quickly or to scholars whose job is to study not only the New Testament but the history of its interpretation. A clever seminary professor could apply its best ideas in course lectures with footnotes to give Bultmann his due without requiring this particular book as a text.

Jonathan Edward’s Resolutions

RESOLUTIONS OF JONATHAN EDWARDS[1]

“Being sensible that I am unable to do any thing without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him, by his grace, to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake. Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.

1.   Resolved, That I will do whatsoever I think to be most to the glory of God, and my own good, profit, and pleasure, in the whole of my duration; without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriads of ages hence. Resolved, to do whatever I think to be my duty, and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved, so to do, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many soever, and how great soever.

2.  Resolved, To be continually endeavouring to find out some new contrivance and invention to promote the forementioned things.

3.  Resolved, If ever I shall fall and grow dull, so as to neglect to keep any part of these Resolutions, to repent of all I can remember, when I come to myself again.

4.  Resolved, Never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God, nor be, nor suffer it, if I can possibly avoid it.

5.  Resolved, Never to lose one moment of time, but to improve it in the most profitable way I possibly can.

6.  Resolved, To live with all my might, while I do live.

7.  Resolved, Never to do any thing, which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.

8.  Resolved, To act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings, as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God. Vid. July 30.

9.   Resolved, To think much, on all occasions, of my dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.

10.  Resolved, When I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell.

11.  Resolved, When I think of any theorem in divinity to be solved, immediately to do what I can towards solving it, if circumstances do not hinder.

12.  Resolved, If I take delight in it as a gratification of pride, or vanity, or on any such account, immediately to throw it by.

13.  Resolved, To be endeavouring to find out fit objects of liberality and charity.

14.  Resolved, Never to do any thing out of revenge.

15.  Resolved, Never to suffer the least motions of anger towards irrational beings.

16.  Resolved, Never to speak evil of any one, so that it shall tend to his dishonour, more or less, upon no account except for some real good.

17.  Resolved, That I will live so, as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.

18. Resolved, To live so, at all times, as I think is best in my most devout frames, and when I have the clearest notions of the things of the gospel, and another world.

19. Resolved, Never to do any thing, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected it would not be above an hour before I should hear the last trump.

20. Resolved, To maintain the strictest temperance in eating and drinking.

21.  Resolved, Never to do any thing, which if I should see in another, I should count a just occasion to despise him for, or to think any way the ore meanly of him.

22.  Resolved, To endeavour to obtain for myself as much happiness in the other world as I possibly can, with all the power, might, vigour, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of.

23.  Resolved, Frequently to take some deliberate action, which seems most unlikely to be done, for the glory of God, and trace it back to the original intention, designs, and ends of it; and if I find it not to be for God’s glory, to repute it as a breach of the fourth Resolution.

24.  Resolved, Whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, to trace it back, till I come to the original cause; and then, both carefully endeavour to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all my might against the original of it.

25.  Resolved, To examine carefully and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and so direct all my forces against it.

26.  Resolved, To cast away such things as I find do abate my assurance.

27.  Resolved, Never wilfully to omit any thing, except the omission be for the glory of God; and frequently to examine my omissions.

28.  Resolved, To study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly, and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive, myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.

29.  Resolved, Never to count that a prayer, nor to let that pass as a prayer, nor that as a petition of a prayer, which is so made, that I cannot hope that God will answer it; nor that as a confession which I cannot hope God will accept.

30.  Resolved, To strive every week to be brought higher in religion, and to a higher exercise of grace, than I was the week before.

31.  Resolved, Never to say any thing at all against any body, but when it is perfectly agreeable to the highest degree of christian honour, and of love to mankind, agreeable to the lowest humility, and sense of my own faults and failings, and agreeable to the golden rule; often, when I have said any thing against any one, to bring it to, and try it strictly by, the test of this Resolution.

32.  Resolved, To be strictly and firmly faithful to my trust, that that, in Prov. 20:6. ‘A faithful man, who can find?’ may not be partly fulfilled in me.

33.  Resolved, To do always what I can towards making, maintaining, and preserving peace, when it can be done without an overbalancing detriment in other respects. Dec. 26, 1722.

34.  Resolved, In narrations, never to speak any thing but the pure and simple verity.

35.  Resolved, Whenever I so much question whether I have done my duty, as that my quiet and calm is thereby disturbed, to set it down, and also how the question was resolved. Dec. 18, 1722.

36.  Resolved, Never to speak evil of any, except I have some particular good call to it. Dec. 19, 1722.

37.  Resolved, To inquire every night, as I am going to bed, wherein I have been negligent,—what sin I have committed,—and wherein I have denied myself;—also, at the end of every week, month, and year. Dec. 22 and 26, 1722.

38.  Resolved, Never to utter any thing that is sportive, or matter of laughter, on a Lord’s day. Sabbath evening, Dec. 23, 1722.

39.  Resolved, Never to do any thing, of which I so much question the lawfulness, as that I intend, at the same time, to consider and examine afterwards, whether it be lawful or not; unless I as much question the lawfulness of the omission.

40.  Resolved, To inquire every night before I go to bed, whether I have acted in the best way I possibly could, with respect to eating and drinking. Jan. 7, 1723.

41.  Resolved, To ask myself, at the end of every day, week, month, and year, wherein I could possibly, in any respect, have done better. Jan. 11, 1723.

42.  Resolved, Frequently to renew the dedication of myself to God, which was made at my baptism, which I solemnly renewed when I was received into the communion of the church, and which I have solemnly re-made this 12th day of January, 1723.

43.  Resolved, Never, henceforward, till I die, to act as if I were any way my own, but entirely and altogether God’s; agreeably to what is to be found in Saturday, Jan. 12th. Jan. 12, 1723.

44.  Resolved, That no other end but religion shall have any influence at all on any of my actions; and that no action shall be, in the least circumstance, any otherwise than the religious end will carry it. Jan. 12, 1723.

45.  Resolved, Never to allow any pleasure or grief, joy or sorrow, nor any affection at all, nor any degree of affection, nor any circumstance relating to it, but what helps religion. Jan. 12 and 13, 1723.

46.  Resolved, Never to allow the least measure of any fretting or uneasiness at my father or mother. Resolved, to suffer no effects of it, so much as in the least alteration of speech, or motion of my eye; and to be especially careful of it with respect to any of our family.

47.  Resolved, To endeavour, to my utmost, to deny whatever is not most agreeable to a good and universally sweet and benevolent, quiet, peaceable, contented and easy, compassionate and generous, humble and meek, submissive and obliging, diligent and industrious, charitable and even, patient, moderate, forgiving, and sincere, temper; and to do, at all times, what such a temper would lead me to; and to examine strictly, at the end of every week, whether I have so done. Sabbath morning, May 5, 1723.

48.  Resolved, Constantly, with the utmost niceness and diligence, and the strictest scrutiny, to be looking into the state of my soul, that I may know whether I have truly an interest in Christ or not; that when I come to die, I may not have any negligence respecting this to repent of. May 26, 1723.

49.  Resolved, That this never shall be, if I can help it.

50.  Resolved, That I will act so, as I think I shall judge would have been best, and most prudent, when I come into the future world. July 5, 1723.

51.  Resolved, That I will act so, in every respect, as I think I shall wish I had done, if I should at last be damned. July 8, 1723.

52.  I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: Resolved, That I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age. July 8, 1723.

53.  Resolved, To improve every opportunity, when I am in the best and happiest frame of mind, to cast and venture my soul on the Lord Jesus Christ, to trust and confide in him, and consecrate myself wholly to him; that from this I may have assurance of my safety, knowing that I confide in my Redeemer. July 8, 1723.

54.  Resolved, Whenever I hear anything spoken in commendation of any person, if I think it would be praise-worthy in me, that I will endeavour to imitate it. July 8, 1723.

55.  Resolved, To endeavour, to my utmost, so to act, as I can think I should do, if I had already seen the happiness of heaven and hell torments. July 8, 1723.

56.  Resolved, Never to give over, nor in the least to slacken, my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.

57.  Resolved, When I fear misfortunes and adversity, to examine whether I have done my duty, and resolve to do it, and let the event be just as Providence orders it. I will, as far as I can, be concerned about nothing but my duty and my sin. June 9, and July 13, 1723.

58.  Resolved, Not only to refrain from an air of dislike, fretfulness, and anger in conversation, but to exhibit an air of love, cheerfulness, and benignity. May 27, and July 13, 1723.

59.  Resolved, When I am most conscious of provocations to ill nature and anger, that I will strive most to feel and act good-naturedly; yea, at such times, to manifest good nature, though I think that in other respects it would be disadvantageous, and so as would be imprudent at other times. May 12, July 11, and July 13.

60.  Resolved, Whenever my feelings begin to appear in the least out of order, when I am conscious of the least uneasiness within, or the least irregularity without, I will then subject myself to the strictest examination. July 4 and 13, 1723.

61.  Resolved, That I will not give way to that listlessness which I find unbends and relaxes my mind from being fully and fixedly set on religion, whatever excuse I may have for it—that what my listlessness inclines me to do, is best to be done, &c. May 21, and July 13, 1723.

62.  Resolved, Never to do any thing but my duty, and then, according to Eph. 6:6–8. to do it willingly and cheerfully, as unto the Lord, and not to man: knowing that whatever good thing any man doth, the same shall he receive of the Lord. June 25, and July 13, 1723.

63.  On the supposition, that there never was to be but one individual in the world, at any one time, who was properly a complete Christian, in all respects of a right stamp, having Christianity always shining in its true lustre, and appearing excellent and lovely, from whatever part and under whatever character viewed: Resolved, To act just as I would do, if I strove with all my might to be that one, who should live in my time. Jan. 14, and July 13, 1723.

64.  Resolved, When I find those “groanings which cannot be uttered,” of which the apostle speaks, and those “breathings of soul for the longing it hath,” of which the psalmist speaks, Psalm 119:20. that I will promote them to the utmost of my power; and that I will not be weary of earnestly endeavouring to vent my desires, nor of the repetitions of such earnestness. July 23, and Aug. 10, 1723.

65.  Resolved, Very much to exercise myself in this, all my life long, viz. with the greatest openness of which I am capable, to declare my ways to God, and lay open my soul to him, all my sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires, and every thing, and every circumstance, according to Dr. Manton’s Sermon on the cxix Psalm. July 26, and Aug. 10, 1723.

66.  Resolved, That I will endeavour always to keep a benign aspect, and air of acting and speaking, in all places, and in all companies, except it should so happen that duty requires otherwise.

67.  Resolved, After afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them; what good I have got by them; and, what I might have got by them.

68.  Resolved, To confess frankly to myself, all that which I find in myself, either infirmity or sin; and, if it be what concerns religion, also to confess the whole case to God, and implore needed help. July 23, and August 10, 1723.

69.  Resolved, Always to do that, which I shall wish I had done when I see others do it. Aug. 11, 1723.

70.  Let there be something of benevolence in all that I speak. Aug. 17, 1723.”

 

[1] Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1 (Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), lxii–lxiv.

Taylor Swift: Great American Philosopher

I read a great quote in a meme. So I decided to find its source. It had a philosopher’s touch:

Live your life like you’re 80 looking back on your teenage years. You know if your dad calls you at eight in the morning and asks if you want to go to breakfast? As a teenager you’re like no, I want to sleep. As an 80 year old looking back, you have that breakfast with your dad. It’s just little things like that that helped me when I was a teenager in terms of making the choices you won’t regret later.

Anyway, as it turns out it was Taylor Swift. And while I don’t like her music, it is true that she receives a lot of hate from the political left (the last time I was on Twitter there must have been hundreds of articles about how evil she is). She in fact deserves credit for these remarks. They are, in fact, similar to Jonathan Edwards’ resolution 17:

Resolved, that I will live so, as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.

Then there is resolution 52:

I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: Resolved, That I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age. July 8, 1723.

Abraham’s Virtues

God Blessed Abraham in All Things

Yoram Hazony makes the case that in Genesis, Abraham is painted as a paradigmatically virtuous character. The primary evidence is that while Abraham is not perfect, God has confidence that he will “command his children and his house after him, and they will keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and right.[1]” Also significant is Genesis 24:1, “And the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things.”

Abraham’s Virtues

What are Abraham’s virtues (According to Hazony):

  1. He can be generous to strangers.
  2. He is troubled by injustice to the point of taking great risks to obstruct it (he even argues with God).
  3. He insists on only taking what is his and paying for what he gets.
  4. He is pious.
  5. He is concerned to safeguard his own interests and his family’s.

Many Christians tend to think of self-interest as a vice rather than a virtue. I made my own based on the Abraham story. It nearly matches Hazony’s:

  1. Abraham’s willingness to enter covenants is both altruistic (bless the earth) and self-interested (make a great name, you’ll be blessed, etc)
  2. Abraham rejects human sacrifice (see Genesis 22).[2]
  3. Abraham believes in right and wrong as absolute categories and challenges God’s actions on their basis.
  4. Abraham doesn’t fear conflict, or rather, shows great courage in the face of battle (when it comes to the power of giant cities, he has a harder time, but in his defense fighting tribal kings is a different animal that opposing the might of emperors in their walled megacities).
  5. Abraham insists on hospitality.
  6. Abraham trusts God (Genesis 15:6).

The Good Life in the Bible

Virtues are the mean between extremes and can easily become vices without careful introspection. And in Abraham’s story, we see time and again where his self-interest conflicts with the well-being of his wife (letting her into a royal harem!) and his trust in God (having a child with Hagar).[3]

In academic Biblical studies, the focus is typically on the apparent evils committed by this or that Biblical character that they tend to miss the idea that the authors are painting pictures of the good life. Because of this, they highlight the necessarily difficult task of making wise and just decisions in light of a hierarchy of goods which are often in conflict.

The idea that Abraham was virtuous despite nearly killing his son and that he was deeply concerned with his family’s riches and reputation is intellectually difficult. While I take the story of Isaac as a rejection of human sacrifice, most people I know think Abraham was really going to do it. But despite Abraham’s flaws, anybody could read through the Abraham story (Genesis 12:1-24:1) asking, “what does this say about living a full and good life?” The food for thought would be filling.

References

 [1] This is Hazony’s translation of Genesis 18:19. The Philosophy of the Hebrew Bible, 112.

[2]  In my mind, Genesis 22 makes it clear that Abraham, never for a second, was going to submit to the demand to kill Isaac. The New Testament has readings of the story implying that perhaps God could raise Isaac from the dead if Abraham did it. That may be true, but in the story, Abraham tells Isaac that God would provide an offering for the sacrifice.

 [3] 113

Simplify Complex Problems Like Descartes

Ever Feel Stupid?

Many of us wish we were smarter than we are. Rene Descartes even felt this way:  

“For myself, I have never fancied my mind to be in any respect more perfect than those of the generality; on the contrary, I have often wished that I were equal to some others in promptitude of thought, or in clearness and distinctness of imagination, or in fullness and readiness of memory…I will not hesitate, however, to avow my belief that it has been my singular good fortune to have very early in life fallen in with certain tracks which have conducted me to considerations and maxims, of which I have formed a method that gives me the means, as I think, of gradually augmenting my knowledge, and of raising it by little and little to the highest point which the mediocrity of my talents and the brief duration of my life will permit me to reach.”

So, though he felt less clever than many others, he was able, by his estimation to increase in knowledge and mental ability over time because of a method of thinking which he came upon at a young age. And while we shouldn’t fool ourselves, his IQ has apparently been estimated to be around 162, his methods may yet help us. He made important contributions to philosophy, intellectual method, (for better or for worse) to anthropology with his dualism, and to theological proofs. Even Hume claimed to be convinced by Descartes’ proofs of God’s existence.

The Method

Let’s assume, for a moment, that Descartes really did improve his mind with his method. Don’t we sometimes face relationship problems, philosophical questions, difficult assignments, or some other such issue that makes us freeze or look for distractions? Descartes did too, but he used this method:

  1. The first [rule] was never to accept anything for true which I did not clearly know to be such; that is to say, carefully to avoid precipitancy and prejudice, and to comprise nothing more in my judgement than what was presented to my mind so clearly and distinctly as to exclude all ground of doubt.
  2. The second, to divide each of the difficulties under examination into as many parts as possible, and as might be necessary for its adequate solution.
  3. The third, to conduct my thoughts in such order that, by commencing with objects the simplest and easiest to know, I might ascend by little and little, and, as it were, step by step, to the knowledge of the more complex; assigning in thought a certain order even to those objects which in their own nature do not stand in a relation of antecedence and sequence.
  4. And the last, in every case to make enumerations so complete, and reviews so general, that I might be assured that nothing was omitted.1

A Paraphrase

Did you get that?

Here’s my paraphrase:

  1. Start with what you know. Ask these questions, “What do I know? What can I figure out? What is the problem I am facing? What facts are present? What knowledge do I have that is less certain?”
  2. Break the problem down into smaller pieces. For example, when trying to solve a relationship problem find answers to questions like, “How do I feel? Is this feeling based on selfishness or a genuine offense? Do I need to apologize for anything? Who wronged me? What did they do?” In a mathematics problem break the problem down into smaller steps. Try to discover which equations apply through trial and error, find out precisely which unknowns/variables you must discover, look at mathematical expressions in terms of discrete steps like in the classical order of operations (PEMDAS). 
  3. Then start solving it. Answer from the simplest and easiest questions first. Then move toward the hardest and most complex synthesized answers. Just because you do not know the solution to a problem does not mean that it is not available. 
  4. Through the whole process, take notes. Write everything down, the human mind is fallible, forgetful, and is jogged quickly by lists, diagrams, and graphical representations. Write what you know, write the smaller problems and questions, write the solutions to them and the steps, then finally bring it all to a conclusion. 

Good philosophy is the art of asking and answering the biggest and smallest questions of our existence. 

References

1Rene Descartes, Discourse on Method, (Electronic Edition), 2.7

The Ignorant Atheist

Richard Dawkins, never one to be pleasant, made some remarks that hold some truth value and also showcased his inability to research his historical claims. He is criticizing certain Muslim claims about the relationship of their faith to science. 

“Islamic science deserves enormous respect.” There are two versions of this second claim, ranging from the pathetic desperation of “the Qu’ran anticipated modern science” (the embryo develops from a blob, mountains have roots that hold the earth in place, salt and fresh water don’t mix) to what is arguably quite a good historical point: “Muslim scholars kept the flame of Greek learning alight while Christendom wallowed in the Dark Ages.”

Dawkins mentions the Dark Ages as a period in which Christendom wallowed in stupidity, all the while the consensus among medievalists is that the “Dark Ages” were non-existent. Also, Dawkins is probably wrong about the golden age.  In 1929 the Encyclopedia Britannica we read:

[T]he contrast, once so fashionable, between the ages of darkness and the ages of light have no more truth in it than have the idealistic fancies which underlie attempts at mediaeval revivalism.

Or from Rodney Stark:

For the past two or three centuries, every educated person has known that from the fall of Rome until about the fifteenth century that Europe was submerged in the “Dark Ages” -centuries of ignorance, superstition, and misery-from which it was suddenly, almost miraculously rescues, first by the Renaissance and then by the Enlightenment. But it didn’t happen that way. Instead, during the so-called Dark Ages, European technology and science overtook and surpassed the rest of the world! –Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason, 35

Stark goes on to document the use of the waterwheel an other sources of non-human power because of the Christian belief that slavery was the result of the fall and therefore that it was virtuous to end it. The Greeks and Romans saw it as the necessary condition of lesser humans.  

Just because somebody is a scientist (and Dawkins is one that happens to be fairly smart) does not mean they know what they are talking about. Never forget, E.O. Wilson claims that good scientists don’t even need to understand mathematics, and therefore requiring hard math of science students “has created a hemorrhage of brain power we need to stanch.” In other words, “Requiring scientists to think hard has made more people want to quit science.”

Anyhow, Dawkins, like Wilson has trouble with things beyond cataloging bats (or ants). One is bad at math, the other is bad at reading history.