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Friday, March 12, 2004

The New Pollution

Post-modernists like to assert the death of modernity, that is the like to think that there has been some radical shift that has successfully unseated the reign of so-called foundationalist views of epistemology and science. The failure of modernity now permits an almost "anything goes" approach to culture and science.

I have never been so convinced. It seems to me that it is really modernity rather than any alternative that has its grip on the some of the most significant culture forming institutions of society. I still sense a hankering after positivism and utiltitarianism even is spite of self-defeating and other objections to it. The case for modernism may not be as strong as first thought, but there seems to be a basic conviction in the project of making it work with enough creative energy. Modernity is anything but dead and I think people just need to stop pretending. In fact, most versions of so-called post-modernism strike me as being in no way alternatives to modernity but rather presuppose it.

It does however, seem that there is a shift going on, not from extreme modernism to extreme relativism but rather a realization that we cannot afford to accept modernity. Modernity has taught us about the failure of dogmatism whether that is dogmatism about science or about relativism. Modernity has weakened its own authority. At the same time it has created situations that have forced us to take a stand and accept commitment to certain principles in spite of our lack of explicit justification for them. This has occurred in the rise of new technologies in medicine and publicly involved engineering and communications projects, like the space shuttle. This new causistry has lead to a renewal of the publicness of the moral point of view and a new culture of public policy. We see this is the emerging groups within both American Parties of a new centrism and the emergence of a new electorate that has no stomach for hardliners on either side -- recently exhibited in the election of Gov. Ahnold in California and in the preferred front runners of both parties for president. It seems to take the form of an endorsement of not resisting globalization but assuming more and more responsibility for how it develops.

This also seems to finally be effecting religion in our country, at least evangelicalism. In the early part of the 20th century, conservative evangelical philosophy of religion was most powerfully effected in all its forms by the waning influence of the previous idealism. This can be seen in Stuart Hackett's dependence on Kant and Brand Blanshard, Jonathan Gerstner's dependence of Jonathan Edwards, E.J. Carnell's dependence on the Brightman and the Boston Personalists, Cornelius Van Til's interaction with the whole idealist tradition, C.S. Lewis' dependence on Berkeley and the British Platonists, and even J. Montegomery's reliance on legal hermeneutics. One could summarize that evangelicalism kept the idealist spirit alive long after it was dead everywhere else. But gradually the work of recent Christian philsosophers working more or less in the tradition that displaced idealism have begun to filter into evangelical culture (Plantinga, Alston, Stump, Kretzmann, Zimmerman, Hacker, Basinger, etc.) and with them a chastened sensibility of what can and cannot be done in philosophy. Interestingly, idealism helped evangelicalism transcend the dogmatism of fundamentalism, and now Christian analytic philosophy is helping evangelicalism overcome the dogmatism of its idealism. Currently, this seems to be felt in some quarters as a crisis just as evangelicalism was a crisis for fundamentalism. It seems to impact our long held understanding of things. But it does not necessarily mean that we have given up our idealism entirely, only that we hold on to it as a tentative possibility.

The evangelical "change of voice" (less absolutists, more pluralistic, less foundational, more pragmatic) was bound to happen.. Evangelicals are in an experimental phase, trying on different fashions to see how the fit, being very careful to size each one. Some err by being hardliners of modernity or post-modernity but most are looking for something in between. The rationality of religion turns out to be similar to the causistry of the new applied ethics. The model for religious rationality is based on the analogy of technology as a form of experimentation on humans. The issue is to determine when affirmation of the faith is an instance of informed rational consent.

This new strand of evangelicalism is potentially convergent with the new cultural strand of social centrism. Both evangelicalism and public culture are becoming more "Lutheran" in that both the new church and the new social sensibility are more content to be in tension with science and the progress of knowledge and technology but resisting a radical dissolution into radically incommensurable sub-cultures. In short, there is no reason why the current temper of the evangelicalism is incompatible with the current temper of the world.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Political stuff: Republicans for Kerry

I am a neo-conservative (or Kantian-cum-"virtue theorist" -- more or less) who is not unalloyedly happy with the current administration but not happy with the alternative either. My co-beliigerent from the ABC forum has just made news with his "Republicans For Kerry" site which is very, very impressive and personally helpful. Besides politics seems to drive up the energy in the blogosphere. So I have attached for the election season some websites to percolate over. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

New On-line Personality survey: Which of Ten Randomly Chosen Objects are you most like?

Take the following strictly scientificly structured test:



A. I feel I am most like a tomato.
B. I feel I am most like a paper clip.
C. I feel I am most like a desk printer.
D. I feel I am most like a cloned sheep.
E. I feel I am most like a natural woman.
F. I feel I am most like a hanging chad.
G. I feel I am most like a spam sandwich.
H. I feel I am most like a pokemon card.
I. I feel I am most like a gobbet of meat.
J. I feel I am most like another tomato.


Step 1: Determine which answer you picked.
Step 2: Determine in your answer that which you feel you are most like.
Step 3: Put quote marks around the name of the object to make it into a label.
Step 4: This label is the label of your personality type. The key feature of that personality type is that someone of that type is apt to answer the above question the same way you did under the same circumstances.

POWERFUL TESTIMONY: "I never really understood myself until I took the Gnu's ultimate personality test. Thanks, Gnu!" -- Anonymous patient at Belvue

Some Gnu things to do.

I added some activites under "Big Fun" in the left column in case y'all get bored reading this stuff. Enjoy!

On Not Being Ashamed of The Gospel

I want to go on record as saying that I believe Mel Gibson not only did well, but also did good and did right when he made the "Passion of the Christ".

Me too, Mel!

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

My life is a Japanese Cartoon

This weekend, I was visiting some friends who have a boy whose deeply into Yu-Gi-Oh. I have my own background with Yo-Go-Oh, namely, it's on when I get up on Saturday mornings and it was the only other decent anime program on besides Pokemon that I get on regular local TV without cable. (It's substantially better now with Heat Guy J on MTV2 and Astro Boy on tthe WB.) I had stopped collecting cards myself and this kid had some of the latest ones. I wanted him to feel connected with an adult on an activity he felt close to, so I agreed to play with him on a couple of conditions; we would play with his cards only and that we would construct our decks by random distribution. As you know, this cuts out an important element of strategy but if he designed a deck knowing all of his cards, it would lead to unequal decks. So we just divided his cards into two piles.

You have to understand, I already had it in mind that I was going lose to someone who knew the game and cards better than I did. In fact, we played this way before and I had lost to him a couple of times already. We negotiated about some of the rules -- what monsters needed a sacrifice to summon, and how many life points to start with. I was able to get some monsters out early and shave some life points off of him while at the same time protecting mine. I also played some cards to increase my life points later.

But then he put a stop to my attacks and I could not do anything for awhile as he was amassing powerful monsters on the field. He played "Swords of Revealing Light" which kept me hamstrung. I kept placing lamo monsters in defense mode to defend my life points and I didn't have any decent magic or trap cards to use. I used and placed what I could to clear space in my hand for new cards.

Finally, he was able to activate his coup de grais. He had enough monsters to sacrifice to summon his most powerful card -- "The Winged Dragon of Ra", one of the absurdly powerful Egyptian god cards -- whatever it's actual in-game powers are, I had take his word for them, since the card was in Japanese. I played my two life point cards and raised my life points by 2000, with hopes that I might survive one attack. He attacked and took out my defense card and I was wide open for davastation on his next turn. He was smiling, anticipating his glorious victory.

At the begining of my turn, I had cleared enough space to draw a substantial number of cards. What happened next was like a scene right out of the series.

KID: "There's nothing you can do to stop my Eygptian god card."

GNU:"Just wait and see! First, I play Blue Eyes White Dragon in attack mode."

KID: "Ha! It's attack will hardly scratch my Eygptian god card!"

GNU: "Not so fast! I also play this magic card which increases Blue Eyes attack to 4000."

KID: "That is still not going to save you."

GNU: "But the card also allows me to attack your life points directly!"

KID: "OH, NO! Still, I will be able to attack next turn."

GNU: "But I am still not finished. I also play this magic card."

KID: "But that card lowers your monster's attack to 3500."

GNU: "Yes. But it also lets me attack twice in one turn!"


GNU: "YES!! My Blue Eyes attacks your life points directly twice for 3500 points each attack. That's a total of 7000 points, more than enough to lower your life points to zero! YOU LOSE!! BWAHAHAHAHA! For Seto and Mokuba!!"

Afterwards, I felt embarrassed for such an immature display. But it was so much as ad hoc an ending as any on the show that I could barely believe it. And in my favor, for once.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

To: Dick Wolf, Re: Law & Order plot suggestion

The police homicide detectives respond to a call at an executive office of a large financial and investment company to find that a young executive has apparently been bludgeoned to death. Detectives arrive to find the executives body in his office cruelly distorted by the pounding and blood stains everywhere. Secretaries and others recall no significant traffic in the office except for one of the executives regular clients whom they identify to the police.

Later, the police trace the lead but receive no real information to go on from the client. They receive a call to return to the ME's lab. There they are startled to find out that the stains from the office are not from blood but from hydrulic fluid. Even more striking is the discovery that the victem is not dead after all. On the basis of pre-arranged instructions, specialists had arrived to reconstruct the young executive in full working order. The ME tells the police that examining the patient was like examining an extremely sophisticated clockworks coated with fluid in a vinyl polymere skin. It turns out that the young executive was always a Hobbesian automaton, mingling with society and prospering in a successful firm.

The executive reveals to the police that it was indeed that client who came into that office and beat him. But he did not scream or call out for help because he knew he was not truly in danger. The client and he were formally good friends as well as buisness partners for many years. They had just arranged a mutally profitable deal that was begining to pay a huge dividend when the client discovered that his close friend and associate was really an automaton. The client was very upset by this and felt terribly betrayed. His aggravation drove him to destroy him in a rage. The executive is willing to drop the charges for the sake of former friendship but he wants assurance that the client will still honor their deal contract. The client confirms the story but refuses to honor the contract and the case is processed through the DA's office.

The executive is suing the client for breach of contract. The client's defense is that there was no original contract since one of the ostensive parties was not a person and thus not in a position to form contracts. The court must decide the case on the merits of the client's argument. What does the court decide?