This article has some personal information. Not just in the sense of observations I’ve made, but in the sense of information about myself. For instance, when I wrote about quitting Calvinism, it was about me, but it was mostly about evidence that made a particular view untenable for me. Anyhow:
- I used to believe that people can change or be influenced positively.
I almost gave up on this idea. A particular piece of counter evidence came to me in thought experiment in a book by Nassim Taleb’s book, The Black Swan: The Impact of Highly Improbably Fragility. On pages 105-106 he gives an interesting scenario. I’ll summarize it. Imagine a group of rats which I expose to increasingly higher dosages of dangerous radiation. Over time rats die. By the end, I have the strongest rats left. I then advertise that I found a method for producing the strongest rats. It hit me that as an educator, any school system that carries students to graduation, also had a series of fail safes (radiation dosages) that kept struggling students from making it along. Anything, it seems, that we should advertise as our own doing can be explained away as the result of poor students failing out, making grades too low to get into college, etc. Do students succeed because of good teacher or do good teachers look good because certain students who would have succeeded went through their class rooms? IQ scores are not static, but unless a student can be motivated to take ownership of active learning, IQ often does stay the same throughout traditional education. Thus, as math classes get harder and reasoning gets more abstract, larger class sizes do less and less for those of average or below intelligence. This led me to think of churches. Do some churches seem to “help people change” because they only attract people who have their act together already? If a church is legalistic enough or full of enough people who are ‘with it’ then only people who like legalism or who are already ‘with it’ will stick with the program and thus it appears that discipleship has happened. This is sad because people may just be there for similarity of affinity. So on the level of thought experiment (which is what Galileo did, by the way), there is good reason to be skeptical of the efficacy of institutions meant to help people change. Plus, there are good reasons (on the surface of things) to be determinists based upon Scripture itself (Romans 9:6-33)
- Arthur Whimbey demonstrated that in certain cases young people under appropriate guidance could improve their abstract reasoning and thus their IQ.
- Roy Baumeister has demonstrated that people who believe in free will are more likely to overcome addictions, less likely to give up in challenging circumstances, and more likely to try harder at work.
- Eric Jensen has shown how neuroplasticity is directly relevant to teaching in all subjects.
- Rodney Stark has demonstrated that Christianity lead to numerous ethical, economic, and scientific reforms in Western Civilization upon which we still rely today. The development, in particular, of the scientific method relies upon the rigorous application of Aristotelian logic that was developed during the Scholastic era, whereas Plato thought that math and geometry were so wonderful precisely because they took logic beyond matter to the pure realm of though, Christians applied Aristotle’s logic to, what they presupposed, was an orderly world.
- Jeremiah teaches this:
“Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. Then the word of the LORD came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the LORD, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’ “But they say, ‘That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.’
Even for God (if you take Scripture to have anything useful to say about God), whatever this means for theories of divine predestination, takes it as given that his judgments upon sinners (apparently even whole nations) can change should those people change their behaviour. The very idea that Jeremiah is trying to combat is in verse 12: the idea that evil people cannot repent and seek God’s mercy. The Lord wants Jeremiah to tell them that they can indeed repent. Thus, nobody is, of necessity, beyond hope. This is the same Jeremiah who elsewhere is asked to stop praying for people because they no longer will be heard, yet the Lord wants Jeremiah to give them opportunity to repent anyway.
So, I guess I do still think that people can change, but I guess I think it in a different way. In God’s kingdom nothing comes without a cross and self-denial. In taking loving dominion over the earth, nothing comes without effort. Similarly, in personal change there must be self-denial. In helping other people change, there must be effort. There must, one could say, be open revolt against evil and against a false determinism that says, “It has to be this way, I shall just resign myself to my fate and others to their own.” Whatever else Scripture says about God’s ordination of certain events in the cosmos, it also says that Satan is the ‘god of this present age (2 Corinthians 4:4),’ if some evil seems determined or woven into creation it might be because of the previously mentioned reality, not because it is ‘supposed to be this way…therefore there is no use trying to change it.’ So, people can change, things can get better, but only in the context of open revolt against evil. Besides, people make things worse all the time and lots of things are better than they used to be (though admittedly many things are more brutal and terrible than we once thought possible).
- I used to believe I was smart enough to get past a system of credentialism.
I really thought that I could find a way to get certain things to work out in my academic and career goals without going through proper channels. If only it were the 1700s (when I was in junior high we learned about the ‘phlogiston’ theory of combustion and I refuted it based on my knowledge of the combustibility of metals which gain mass through oxidation…I’d have been a pro-chemist). Due to despair about certain mishaps that made getting into my original undergraduate program very difficult, I decided to get my undergraduate degree in humanities. I do not resent the things I learned, nor the fine people who taught me in that department. But I was convinced that I’d find a way through hard work or IQ points to get into a doctoral program in the future. It does work sometimes. For instance, I was told I needed remedial math classes when I tried to take a Calculus class recently. I told her my GRE scores and promised her I’d find a way to learn the material quickly and make an ‘A.’ That kind of trick does not work often though.Turns out that cleverness is only like 5% of things (I did work hard for my Master’s degree, but ultimately the courses on my transcript just weren’t the kind that certain folks expected me to have). If I were 25, I’d just move wherever I needed to move, live at a subsistence level, and take some classes to fix the problem. As it stands, the sobering realities that would face me in the future with any form of student debt and a PhD in the humanities are something I couldn’t justify rationally. Anyhow, to solve this problem I have come up with several solutions:
- Get an engineering degree.
My GRE score, despite not having taken a math class for nearly 10 years was above the average for top 10 graduate programs in engineering. My verbal was even higher, though not by much. My scores weren’t perfect, but I took the test on an extended break from work to avoid needing to use a whole personal day. If I can do SAT math at the level of an engineering graduate applicant (the Calculus class I took last summer just to see if I could handle it: A+), then I should be able to get a B.S. in it no problem.
- Get A+ certified.
Seems easy enough. I can use that to pay for said engineering degree. No problemo (except for all of the studying).
- Try as hard as I can to get published in mathematics/geophysics/engineering while I am working on my degree.
A friend has offered to help with this already. If it can’t work out, I’ll just come up with my own idea.
- But what about Greek/Hebrew?
I’ve kept up with Greek on a very high level while being a full time math teacher. And my Hebrew is not so good. Who knows how I can deal with this problem in the future?
- Get an engineering degree.
- I used to believe that Thomas Aquinas was not worth reading
I’ve been reading the Summa Contra Gentiles and the Summa Theologica. A Roman Catholic I will not become, but a hater on scholastic theology I will never be again. Aquinas was wrong about a lot, but he was rigorous, Aristotelian, attempted to be Biblical and often nailed it, and he was clear. It is a silly prejudice and disservice that writers like St. Thomas, Richard Baxter, and Maximus the Confessor are not read more often. I’d take any of those three plus some Calvin, Descartes, and Brunner over most of the recent systematic theologians I’ve read (I’m not saying that those who deal with such contemporary issues as do Alan Padgett, Dave Black, Rebecca Groothius, David Bentley Hart, Martha Dawn, C.S. Lewis, Greg Boyd, Tom Wright, Paul Helm, or Michael Horton are never worth reading). Anyhow, read yourself some Aquinas, or at least some Edward Feser’s Aquinas.