Thursday, October 27, 2005

In The Blink Of An Eye

Rapid cognition. Split second thinking. Snap judgments. Thinking without thinking. Blink.

At the recommendation of a friend, I read the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, the author of The Tipping Point. Talk about a page turner … I read it in under a day. Gladwell is a terrific story teller and his subject matter is fascinating.

If you want some cliff notes on what the book is about, I recommend you check out Gladwell's web site.

Gladwell does not write from a Christian worldview. The book is about psychology, and he throws an obligatory bone to naturalism and physicalism. That does not mean Gladwell in his research is not on to something. I happen to think he is. It just means his worldview colors his interpretation and the attributions of his observations. E.g. Gladwell views the ability of the mind to rapidly process information, as a byproduct of evolutionary advance. This is an assumption, of course, and gives Gladwell the aura of scientific respectability. It adds nothing to main thrust of his theory, however, and I did not suffer in slightest by swatting away these appeals to authority.

Moving on.

Gladwell makes a compelling case that the mind can rapidly process clues and make snap judgments that in some cases are pretty accurate.

The upside is that we can learn to "thin-slice" with great reliability. Thin-slicing is making inferences on the thinnest of data samples. The advantage is of course speed ... providing your quick read on things is accurate. Why waste time doing due diligence if you can get the right answer in one-tenth the time?

The downside is that our thin-slicing can run amok. We make unconscious judgments that are bogus. We reach the wrong conclusion and sometimes are not even aware of our faulty reasoning. When our unconscious mind gets a brain cramp, it can get deadly and fast. Gladwell tells a story of a shooting in the Bronx where all the wrong decisions were made in the course of seven seconds. The result was four distraught cops and one very bullet riddled, innocent man ... a sad case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The cops emptied two and half clips from their semi-automatic handguns. Forty-one bullets later they discovered their mistake … oops.

Gladwell introduces some sticky terms and expressions that I plan to annex into my vocabulary.
  • Blink : the process of rapid cognition.
  • Thin-slice : drawing inferences on scant data samples
  • The Warren Harding error : drawing a false conclusion based on appearances.
  • Mind-blindness : a temporary autism of the unconscious mind which creates blind spots.
  • White-space : the distance between a target and a potential assailant
The next step in processing this book is to cogitate and integrate. I am going to give Gladwell the benefit of the doubt. Let's assume his research is correct. What would it mean to acknowledge that our mind has the capacity to influence and control our actions in a split second? Where does this leave us vulnerable? How does this integrate with the doctrine of total depravity? Is thin-slicing a euphemism for prejudging? Is blinking something that can be harnessed for use in a redemptive way?

Thinking about it ... consciously ;-)

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Shermer's god of the gaps

Tenzin Gyatso (aka the Dalai Lama) has a new book out. A friend was kind enough to forward me a book review from eSkeptic magazine written by Mr. Skeptic himself, Michael Shermer. Chuck Colson also has a Breakpoint essay which references Gyatso's new book.

Colson points out that Gyatso's assertion that scientific materialism (i.e. matter is all there is, was, and will be) is completely metaphysical in nature, and his conclusion that materialism is “an invitation to nihilism and spiritual poverty" are both spot on. I agree.

Shermer, ever the skeptic of everything but science, disagrees. He calls Gyatso's warning about scientific materialism a straw man. Well, ok. But why? Shermer never says. Moving on.

The most interesting piece of Shermer's critique is his conclusion that the Dalai Lama falls back on a Karma of the gaps position. While complimentary of the Dalai Lama's attempts at humbling himself before the supreme ruler (that being scientific knowledge in Shermer's gestalt) he accuses Gyatso of committing the same mistake as Creationists. Shermer insists that Gyatso uses Karma to fill in what he cannot explain.

Shermer writes, "In my opinion, God/karma does not explain anything; it is just a linguistic place-filler until science can discover the actual cause."

I think this is an interesting case of the pot calling the kettle black. I think Shermer is right that the Dalai Lama's ultimately falls back on a karma of the gaps explanation. But you know what? We all have gaps in our knowledge. We are all limited. We cannot explain everything under the sun. The Dalai Lama has gaps. I have gaps. Shermer has gaps. Sagan had gaps (though some of his gaps have no doubt been filled since his death in 1996).

The key question is, what fills your gaps?

The answer turns out to be the same. For everyone.

Faith fills the gaps.

Since faith sounds so religious, let me substitute an easier word for some to swallow. Trust. Trust fills the gaps.

For the Dalai Lama, it is a trust in Karma and a magical life force called prana. For me, it is trust in the whole counsel of the one true God and in His revelation. For Shermer, it is trust in his metaphysical system which is predicated on the assumption that it is possible for science to eventually explain everything.

We all have our placeholders. Our gap fillers. Even Shermer, though he cannot see the plank in his own eye, has a god of the gaps. In fact, he names three of them.

In pondering the mystery of the origin of life, sentience and consciousness, Shermer writes: "Yet the solution to these and other problems, in my opinion, is through the new sciences of complexity, emergence, and self-organization."

Pish posh. Complexity, emergence, and self-organization amount to hand-waving. They don't offer explanations. Drill down into them and you will strike air, not answers. Yet Shermer is willing to place his trust in them. The gap in his knowledge has been filled by his faith.

At the end of the day, we all rely on faith and trust. The critical question is not who has gaps and who does not ... it is what reasons do you have to justify your trust in whatever or whoever is filling those gaps. Do your reasons correspond with reality? And, does your system of belief cohere consistently within itself?

Or, does your faith, like Shermer's, amount to wishful thinking?

Monday, August 08, 2005

Has Intelligent Design Reached The Tipping Point?

Everywhere you look you see intelligent design (ID). The lefty blogs, the righty blogs, the MSM ... now the cover of TIME magazine.

Friends, we are watching what happens when an idea reaches the tipping point.

Regardless of where you stand on the debate about whether it should be taught in schools or not, times such as these present a wonderful window of opportunity for Christian apologists. The mind share of the nation is tuning into this discussion.

While most want to spar about whether ID should be taught or not, I want to suggest a different tactic.

Turn the discussion towards the underlying worldview question -- "where do we come from?". Use the Columbo tactic and ask artful questions designed to take the conversation into deeper waters. Here is one way to do that. Ask your friend if they have seen all the coverage in the news about intelligent design. Your friend may want to talk about the controversy surrounding the teaching of ID in the classroom. You can go there a little, but look for an opportunity to ask a more interesting question. Ask something like,

"I am curious. Just suppose for the sake of argument that scientists did empirically discover that life was designed and not random -- how do you think that would affect people's thinking?" This gets to the heart of the worldview issue. Most have not connected the dots at this level. I suspect most will not be able to answer and reply with "I don't know."

If they answer with "I don't know", I would suggest a follow-up question.

"How would it change your thinking if tomorrow's headline was, 'scientists now agree life was designed'?"

They may not be able to answer. Don't sweat it. That is okay. You have dropped a pebble in their shoe for them to hobble around on. Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to use that pebble to open opportunities for more discussion.

Cross posted at : The Dawn Treader.

Friday, October 15, 2004

New Cures, Fresh Hope

Most of my frustration with the stem-cell discussion in this country is the absolute apathy toward stem cell therapy that is already at work delivering cures today.

That is right. I am not talking about research. I am talking about cures. From stem cells. Today. Already.

Why do we not hear about these cures?

Answer: human embryos were not destroyed to produce the cures. Adult stem cells were used. Inexplicably, this invalidates hope in the minds of some.

Instead, they would rather hurl invectives at Laura Bush and her husband for stealing their hope.

Take the puzzling case of Michael Kinsley, the editorial page editor of the Los Angeles Times.

Wesley J. Smith writes:

Kinsley has Parkinson's. One would think he would be extremely interested in the successful experiment involving fellow Parkinson's patient Dennis Turner, who five years ago received an 83 percent reversal of his symptoms after a treatment using his own brain stem cells. Kinsley should also find great hope in the results of another human trial in which five Parkinson's patients, treated with a natural body chemical known as glial cell-line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), improved so significantly that three regained their senses of taste and smell.

But Kinsley is blind to this wonderful news. In a diatribe against Laura Bush and the president, Kinsley claimed that "stem cell research has been drastically slowed" by the president's stem-cell policy (again, apparently, the only real stem-cell research is embryonic-stem-cell research). Working himself into a blind rage, Kinsley accused President Bush of "ensuring there is no hope at all" for people like him who suffer from Parkinson's disease — a statement exhibiting sheer indifference to the very facts that hold out true hope for Kinsley's own health problems.

Here are the facts.

Private investors have poured money into adult stem cell research and shunned embryonic stem cell research. Why? Because embryonic stem cells have been shown to correlate with dangers such as tissue rejection and tumors. Adult stem cells, however, have shown much more success. If you are an investor, where are you going to put your money? Into research that produces tumors, or research that produces cures?

The federal government poured $200 million into adult stem-cell research and $25 million into embryonic stem cell research in 2003. The human-embryo-obsessed crowd would like to see these numbers reversed, and federal money poured into the research that has the least chance of success.

Go read the Smith article and help me get the word out. Perhaps bloggers can help correct the blindness of the print and news media to report the wonderful news today of new cures from adult stem cells.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Be A Wise Ambassador

We are all called to be ambassadors of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 5:20) and that includes students who are followers of Jesus Christ.

The ministry of Stand to Reason has helped me become a more effective ambassador for Jesus Christ. Their slogan about effective ambassadors rings true. Effective ambassadors exhibit knowledge through an accurate mind, wisdom through an artful method, and character through an attractive manner.

How do we gain these things?

We gain knowledge as we read scripture regularly and seek to love God with our minds. As for character, it is shaped through the process of radical obedience and submission to Christ, and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

As far as wisdom goes, some of that is gained through personal experience and a lot of that is gained through mentoring.

Permit me to take a small rabbit trail.

Mentoring is an important and often misunderstood area of life. My father has co-authored a book on mentoring that is extremely helpful.


There is a lot of material out there on mentoring, but Dad's book truly has fresh content. It presents two powerful concepts that I have not seen done in other mentoring books: the constellation model of mentoring, and the mentoring continuum. I used to simplistically view mentoring as the same thing as discipling. It is much broader than that. This book opened my eyes so that I can be intentional about setting up mentoring relationships in my life.

Get his book here:

Connecting: The Mentoring Relationships You Need To Succeed In Life

Returning from my rabbit trail.

In the area of tactical apologetics, Greg Koukl of Stand To Reason has mentored me. Mentors do not have to know those whom they are mentoring, btw. Though Greg does not know me, he mentors me through his webcast and his excellent training materials. His series on Tactics in Defending the Faith is superb.

I have talked about one of the tactics he teaches already. It is the Columbo tactic.

See The Dawn Treader: Worldview Case Study 2: Using Columbo

It is an adaptation of the Socratic method of asking good questions. You go on the offensive in a non-offensive way with carefully selected questions.

The Columbo method is what I would recommend to Betsy See The Dawn Treader: Confronting The Professor or any other student facing a professor who is interested in putting down truth, promoting moral relativism, or promoting a false view of the Bible. The basic problem is that the professor is in the power position. He controls your grades. In some cases, you may have a scholarship that is tied to your grades.

However, I don't think you should sit idly by why he and others in the class bash away at truth. We can look to Daniel in the Old Testament for how to respond to false ideas. We need to walk in faith, show integrity and have courage. God is big enough to see you through any challenge. Sometimes you will be put in position and asked to take a stand. But you don't have to be aggressive and pushy about it. This is where wisdom kicks in. An artful method is to learn how to ask a good question. Here are two good questions to tuck away. What do you mean by that? How did you come to that conclusion?

Don't ask those questions in an aggressive mean-spirited way. Show respect, and ask them genuinely. After all, you are the student and she/he is the teacher.

Some professors will stoop to use fallacious tactics like Appeal to Force(argumentum ad baculum). Basically, arguing through threat. Just reply, "I am not trying to be argumentative. I am trying to learn. I was asking a question to help me understand why you came to the conclusion you did."

Other professors simply choose to intimidate students and switch the burden of proof over to the student. Here is a short article from Greg Koukl on how to counter that. "Oh, You Believe in Absolutes? What are They?" Greg's point is that "students should not be afraid to challenge their professors if they do it with grace and respect."

I believe the truth does need to be defended, even in the classroom. If you have a professor that is into bullying Christians, do what Betsy did. Set up a private meeting and it would not hurt to take along some friends who are in the class. Recruit others to pray for you, and go and make your point as humbly and graciously as possible. In the classroom, it requires more guts, but if you use Columbo in a wise and humble way, you will not come across as a rebel rouser. Most teachers love to have students engage the material in a good discussion; they are far more used to students either sleeping through class or being so indoctrinated by postmodernism that their most englightened comments are typically, "...whatever..."

As far as evolution goes, I would follow the advice of my commentators who said to answer test questions, "according to evolutionary theory, blah blah blah." You are not in agreement with it, but the teacher is covering the material he was assigned to cover. I would not be afraid to ask a good question though and get a good discussion going.

Here are 10 questions you can ask the next time you are bored in biology class and would like to get a good discussion going. Ten Questions about Origins Pick one and try it.

Friends, the point is that we in the church cannot retreat onto our Christian reservations any longer. We have been largely doing that for the last 100 years. It is not biblical. We were not called to live divided lives. We are called to integrate our faith into all of life, and engage our culture redemptively. That does not mean going around trying to get people saved (unless God presents an evangelistic opportunity, of course). It means letting your Christian worldview influence others. For those of you who are students, that includes the classroom. For the rest of us, it includes our work. The story of the Christianity does not begin with salvation, btw, it begins with creation and goes forward through the Eschaton (the culmination of history). Christianity is a full worldview. We need to live it 24 x 7 and in all of our spheres.

More tactical posts to follow.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Paul Hamm

The Paul Hamm gold medal controversy now seems to be behind us. It captured the interest of the world for two reasons. Paul Hamm made one of the greatest comebacks in history in winning the gold medal in the all around competition. Second, the judges made a clear mathematical error against the Korean gymnast Yang Tae Young ... ultimately costing him the gold medal.

Bruno Grandi, international gymnastics federation chief, wrote a letter to Paul Hamm and said if the gymnast were to return the medal “such action would be recognized as the ultimate demonstration of fair play by the whole world.”

What is the fair thing to do? I got into many discussions with family and friends. At first, I thought he should keep it. Then, I reconsidered and thought he should give it back. Then, I flip flopped and thought he should keep it.

As far as moral cases are concerned, this was a tough situation. Imagine the roles were reversed and it was Paul Hamm who accidentally got the bronze due to an oops by the judges. Maybe our feelings would change entirely.

My point in this post is not to work out the particular moral reasoning in this intriguing case. I think that would be a fun exercise, but I observed something more significant going on in this whole affair.

The rightness of fair play is a universal moral truth. Now we may disagree over the particulars of what constitutes fair play. I do not dispute that. But almost everyone agrees that fair play is a good thing and we all ought to practice it. I don’t know of any country or athlete who thinks that fair play is a horrible idea, and the gold medal should go to the best cheater.

It reminds me of how C.S. Lewis opens his classic book Mere Christianity

“Everyone has heard people quarreling … They say things like this: ‘How’d you like it if someone did the same thing to you?’ – ‘That is my seat, I was there first’ – ‘Come on, you promised’ … Now what interests me about all these remarks is that the man who makes them is not merely saying that the other man’s behavior does not happen to please him. And the other man very seldom replies, ‘To hell with your standard.’ Nearly always he tries to make out that what he has been doing does not really go against the standard, or that if it does then there is some special excuse. He pretends that there is some special reason in this particular case why the person who took the seat first should not keep it… it looks very much as if both parties had in mind some kind of law or rule of fair play or decent behavior or morality or whatever you call it, about which they really agree.”

Lewis is right. There is a universal sense of “oughtness” … and the Olympics, despite its controversies, reminded me of one component of that “oughtness” – when we play, we ought to play fairly.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

2005 Centurions Program

FROM THE WILBERFOCE FORUM: Thank you for your interest in the Centurions Program. The application process for our 2005 program has changed from the previous year. Rather than taking open applications from the general public, we are targeting key leadership in 7 major culture-shaping institutions to recruit as applicants to the program. We will select 108 Centurions - 12 applicants from each of the first 6 groups listed below and 36 from the last one:

- Multi-media (film, television, internet and video game industries)
- News media
- Music industry
- Law/Government (Legislators, public policy makers, lobbyists, criminal justice officials)
- Education (particularly professors in higher education institutions)
- Business
- The Church (12 for each of the following groups: pastors and key lay leadership; seminary professors; para-church staff responsible for training other leaders within their organization)

Centurions make a lifelong commitment to take what they have learned and teach others as well as take what they have learned and shape culture by living out a biblical worldview in their sphere of influence. Therefore, Centurions must be experienced teachers or gifted at imparting knowledge and learning to others. This program is not for personal enrichment. It is designed for people who are committed to influencing culture by teaching others how to do so and by changing the inside culture and message output of the industry or sphere in which they work.

If you or someone you know should be considered to apply for the Centurions Program, please submit their name, address, phone number, email, sphere of influence with regard to culture shaping institutions listed above, and a brief explanation of why they should be considered. Send the information to Centurions Program, The Wilberforce Forum, 1856 Old Reston Avenue, Reston, VA 20190 or If we determine that this candidate should be considered for the program, we will send an application in early September.

Let me know if you have any questions about this excellent program.

(hat tip BreakPoint)

Joni Eareckson Tada On FOX

After praying at the close of the first session of the Republican National Convention, Joni Eareckson Tada was taped for Cal Thomas -- After Hours program. This is a debate with Mort Kondracke on stem cell research. It will air on Fox News Network 11:00 pm Eastern (8:00 pm PST) this Saturday. Please watch it and let others know of this opportunity too.

For those who don't know who Joni Eareckson Tada is ... she is a wheel chair bound Christian woman. She was crippled in a spinal cord injury in her youth. She will speak against human embryo stem cell research ... though she clearly would have much to gain if if this technology could rebuild her spinal cord.

Tape it. Watch it. Learn how to make a coherent and articulate defense of the sanctity of human life.

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