Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The untouchable Waleed Aly and racism

I have been shocked by some of the media this past week- Barrie Cassidy writing for ABC or Jenny Noyes writing for Daily Life are two examples of articles being regularl cited that exemplify the problem. Both contain speculation and lead to confusion, shedding more heat than light, and unfortunatly both are bereft of solid, rational, nuanced arguments or any kind of, you know, evidence to support their strong views. The worst one I personally read was the one on The Conversation by a lecturer in Sports Management from Sydney- it is legitimately jaw droppingly illogical in the sense that it makes huge statements without a shred of supporting evidence. Just big statement after big statement, supposing that Australia’s sporting culture is completely racist. It’s simply a horrendous and blatant example of someone picking up the Goodes issue and using it to jump on their personal soapbox. I find the article offensive- being a long time sporting fan who actually attends sporting matches of various sports and participates in them at community level- to read stuff like that from an ivory tower grandstander.

However, Waleed Aly has taken the cake by virtue of the sheer amount of people jerking off after listening to his comments, and the amount of people making statements like “Waleed has the final word”. Even an ex basketball teammate of mine- who has had a distinguished career in sports journalism and now holds a senior position on one of Australia's premier sporting websites- approvingly quoted Aly, claiming he'd hit the nail on the head. 

But what did the untouchable Waleed actually say? (You can watch the Youtube video but it only went for a minute or two- this is the crux of his view and what everybody has been raving about and quoting). As summarised in an Online Opinion piece: 

Waleed Aly has said that it reveals that Australians are generally tolerant of minorities "until they demonstrate that they don't know their place…the moment a person in a minority position acts as though they're not a mere supplicant then we lose our minds… we say you need to get back in your box."

But, let’s analyse this for a second.

This is a country who had an unmarried female, atheist, childless, prime minister. Those are all things –being childless, being unmarried, self-identifying as an atheist- that are minority positions in Australia.

This is a sporting code which was the first sport in Australia - in the 1990’s- to take the proactive step of enacting race legislation in its own code. A sporting code where over 10% of the players are of indigenous heritage (compared to their 2% representation in the population) and where reported events of actual proven racial discrimination are extremely rare- both on field and from spectators. This is a sport with about two or three times as many people attending matches compared to any other sport in the country. Yet how often is there a player making an official complaint of legitimate racism from another player or a spectator? Very rare. The previous CEO of the AFL- who reigned for 11 years and presided over what has so far been easily the most successful period in the game’s history- is the son of Greek immigrants.

Australia is the third most multi-cultural country in the OECD. Melbourne and Sydney – where Goodes plays 80% of his football- must be two of the most multi cultural cities in the world. The stats show that 80% of second generation Australians marry someone with a different ethnic background. I have experienced this myself! This is an extremely multicultural place, and by and large we live in peace. So in this context, what does “minority” actually mean? There certainly isn’t a clear “Majority” in Australia like there is almost anywhere else around the world.

Melbourne is where Waleed is based. It is the home of footy, and it is a place where we had a female premier nearly 30 years ago, where the most successful leader of this century is of Lebanese heritage, and where our longest ever serving Lord Mayor was an Asian with an accent so strong that at times he was hard to understand- but we loved him anyway. In fact, many of us loved him BECAUSE of that!

So what on earth is Waleed going on about? I’d honestly love to know. And more importantly, why are so many people fawning over his comments? Listening to him you could get the impression that minorities are despised or devoid of opportunity. But that’s not the case- the facts suggest otherwise.

I wonder who is is sowing seeds of division here- the sporting fans getting stuck into Adam Goodes, or our media commentators who are creating a hypothetical world where Australians hate minorities- a world that has little resemblance to the real world I’ve been describing above? Possibly both. The difference is, one of these groups will now stop.   

Friday, July 31, 2015

Adam Goodes

Why is Adam Goodes being booed? Despite the illusions of many, the truth is that nobody really knows.

The majority of people (79% of Herald Sun readers and 41% of Age readers) believe the booing is not racially motivated, while media commentators, journalists and public identities have offered totally differing views on the issue. But I repeat- nobody really knows. Everyone has different opinions on this. Opinions that when you analyse them closely, are actually influenced by factors like: Our personal experiences, various big but unprovable assumptions and/or generalisations that are necessary in order to even have opinions about topics like this, our personal political persuasions, what our friends and favourite media identities think about the issue, etc.

So I’m making a call for people to stop bashing those with opposing views, because nobody knows it all. Part of what makes Australia such a great country is that we can disagree and remain friends, so if you betray that ideal then you’re not only creating divisions (which is, ironically, something Goodes stands against) but you’re being unAustralian.

Lastly there is one thing we can all agree on. It is time for the booing to stop, because it has become a blight on the great game of AFL footy. I hope next week’s major news pieces are about the great contests of this weekend, rather than frustrated speculation about the cause of one man’s angst. 

Update: Someone replied to my facebook status with the following. I'll post it in italics, with my response following. Interestingly three of my facebook friends liked this post, and they are intelligent people; not the types of people who form their opinions without thinking. 

That's just as good as brushing the issue under the carpet, Travis. The point is that some - if not a majority - of those boos were racially motivated. Let's not pretend otherwise. I'll give you some excerpts of things people have had to say re: this matter. 

"Steve Price doesn't think the booing is racial either. "People are booing him because he has decided... to parade his indigenous credentials strongly." "

"Alan Jones says people just don't like Goodes, and that's not racial. "They don't like the spear-throwing, the running in and doing a war dance...""

Alan Jones quote taken from this article:

Steve Price quote taken from this article:

This is a man who - when he parades his pride in his ethnicity - is consistently put down and bullied. And we he stands up and points out that people are uncomfortable with him as a result and that it is racially motivated, he is subjected to further bullying and an ENTIRE NATION gangs up against him. 

And if you need further evidence of what I am saying, just listen to this argument put forth by Waleed Aly.

People kill themselves over stuff like this. This is the moment to have an open discussion and try to gain some understanding of what it feels like to be "the other" instead of the privileged who doesn't have to endure this sort of thing. Let's listen to the minorities for once to gain some understanding of what life is like on the other side of the fence.

Yes- I've already seen the Waleed Aly interview, the I've read the comments from Alan Jones and many (most?) of the popular articles from both sides of the debate. 

I'm familiar with all of the arguments. My point is that the time has come for the arg
uing to stop. I'm sick of ppl in my Facebook feed (from both sides) treating others with contempt or ridiculing because they see things differently. 

Racism is absolutely an issue that should be confronted. I'm not sweeping it under the carpet- I'm saying that the way people are dialoguing on the issue is, all too often, anything but productive. 

I also find it odd that non footy fans are getting involved. If people don't follow AFL or even sport, do they understand the mind set of AFL fans? Where did they get these superhuman powers of perception? It's time to get back to footy. And deal with racism in a more productive way than the speculation that is passing for media commentary (from both sides). 

At the very least let's be humble enough to admit that we are all speculating when we offer our views on this issue. Instead of pretending like our views are the only reasonable ones.

/End of facebook response. 

This issue is worth exploring further. At the time, I wanted to focus my response on the issue I was actually trying to raise in my initial post; that is, people are taking their speculations as certainty, and refusing to see the inherent logic in the positions that others hold. The fact that the 9 member AFL commission was reportedly split into 3 camps in their analysis of this issue should be enough on it's own (if we didn't realise it already!) to tell us something: This is a complex issue. It's one thing for the media to take sides in the name of selling newspapers and to keep their word counts down by substituting rhetoric for nuance, but it was disappointing seeing my facebook feed full of those blindly doing the same, and refusing to accept that others might you know, have a point every now and then. My brother neatly summarised just one element of this complexity by simply saying "Everyone boos for different reasons". Yet, plenty of the media and public seem to love generalising, as if those booing Goodes were united in one voice of racism. That's plainly ridiculous. This whole debacle was part of what motivated my next facebook status: 

"Nuance is the currency of sensible debate that sees genuine outcomes, dogmatism is the thing of fundamentalists".
- Chris Rowney, Pastor, Torquay Christian Fellowship.

So allow me to carry on and explore this further. My facebook interlocutor quoted Alan Jones' views on the war dance as direct evidence of racism. But exactly why is it that criticism of Goodes' war dance should be seen as inherently racist? Can people honestly not see that football fans may dislike Goodes' imaginary spear throwing for legitimate reasons that have nothing to do with him being Indigenous? I've yet to see any coherent, reasonable response to this question. There is one response that has been popularised, and it's along the lines of "We have no issue with the Haka, but we do have an issue with Goodes. Therefore it's racism". But this response misses a crucial difference between the Haka and Goodes: The Haka is directed towards the opposition team, not towards spectators. There are other differences too: The Haka is a team dance completed by all members of the New Zealand Rugby team rather than by one individual, and the Haka happens before the bounce, rather than in the heat of the contest. These three factors all have a bearing on the comparison. I'd guess that if the Haka was done by one player, within a few metres of opposing fans straight after scoring a try, that this player would be on the receiving end of some serious jeering and booing.

AFL great Wayne Carey was commentating on the night that Goodes did his spear dance against Carlton. Carey made an observation during the half time break:

"I guess now, all supporters from other teams are going to think that they can, I guess in a way suck Adam Goodes in". 

Goodes is a soft target for the hardcore fans who will do anything to put the opposition off their game. And it has nothing to do with him being Aboriginal. He gave a reaction; he has on multiple occasions showed how easily he can be provoked. (Goodes has said the war dance was pre planned, but he nonetheless directed the dance straight at a small contingent of fans who were already booing him, and he also admitted that he would have done a different dance had he kicked a goal when surrounded by Swans fans. It's hard not to think there was some level of reactionary element in Goodes' action). Why is it that Carey saw this instantaneously, but so many people can't

This is why I'm not convinced of the explanations given by those who jump to "RACISM!!" Without adequately considering Goodes' actions or the mind set of fanatical sports followers. However I'm speculating, as are those who generalise and claim that a huge number of fans are "uncomfortable" with Goodes' success. It's just a shame that so many people aren't willing to be equally honest and admit that they, too, are speculating about the motivations of those booing Goodes. 
We're entering an age where dissenting opinions are treated with contempt and disgust, instead of debate. That should concern any thoughtful person.  

We can all agree, however, that the booing should now stop. Let the champion get on with his game, because the game is bigger than him and bigger than any of us and our opinions. Our speculations, that is. 

Saturday, July 18, 2015


200 protesters from a variety of small groups have staged a protest in Melbourne today. 3,000 counter protesters showed up, and 800 police were required to settle things down. This is flooding major Melbourne news sources right now. It's interesting to me that a protest I attended last year attracted 500 people as we marched from Fed Square to Parliament before some politicians and others delivered speeches. But there was minimal media coverage, not front and centre. Why? No violent clashes, I assume. Only peaceful people with one message.
In other parts of this world we share, literally one hundred MILLION + Christians are unable to live their lives peacefully without fear. They suffer extreme persecution in countries like North Korea, Somalia, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Iran, Pakistan, etc, etc, etc. ALL religious persecution is bad, but it's a little known fact that Christians are persecuted much more than any other religious group in the world, even on a per head basis. (If you doubt me, look it up). Unfortunatly, most of it happens at the hands of Muslims in Muslim majority countries (again, look it up if interested).
This is a tragedy. So sad.
We rarely hear about this, because the headlines are about handfuls of people screaming obscenities at each other and scuffling while the police spray them with capsicum. Or footy. Or plenty of things- just not the millions upon millions of people struggling to freely go about their lives.
This post was just a little attempt at raising some awareness. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

God Isn't Getting Smaller

Recently I hosted a series called Towards Belief. This was an interesting experience for a whole lot of reasons, but the thing I really liked about it was that people were engaging with big issues. Forget everything else. If I was to summarise my reason for being involved, that would be it. The world we live in is a world of fast paced world, full of distractions (I'm as guilty of this as anyone- I'm often, not consistently but often one of those 1 in 5 people who checks their phone every 10 minutes).

But there we were every Tuesday night at my church talking about BIG issues. Big issues of Faith, God, The Bible, Science and everything else.

One Tuesday night, someone raised the issue of modern medicine and how it interacts with Christian faith. They told a personal story about a prominent church leader they knew. This leader had an unsuccessful course of chemotherapy, after which he started getting prayed for and his condition has since improved. This raised the question of whether it is unfaithful to automatically go to the doctor first and to the prayer healing team second. You might be thinking: Why not just pray anyway- whether in the car on the way to the doctors, beforehand or both? This is really a secondary question and the details on this aren't actually that important. The bigger thrust behind the question - and other surrounding discussion in our group- was best illustrated by that particular question and that particular story, but the bigger thrust was wondering whether we've lost faith in God and let ourselves lose touch with God because of our modern technologies, medicines and amenities. 

We sometimes think that if we pray for something and it happens, then God was at work. But if we go to a doctor and the doctor prescribes some medicine and something happens, then the doctor and "medicine" was at work (and by implication God wasn't at work in that situation).

But this all neglects the simple and profound truth that God is God over everything.

The God of Christian faith is a God who both sustains and transcends the entire universe. He is also everywhere- with you as you read this. He's in Los Angeles. He's here with me as I type this out. If he does exist, then he is the God of everything. He's the God of the Bible and he's simultaneously God over the book of nature. He is the God who raised Jesus from the dead almost 2,000 years ago, from the Roman cross to the throne. And he's also the God who gave us science and modern medicine. There can't be any real contradictions in what is true, because all truth is God's truth.

You might respond to this by asking: What about all the people who deny God and justify their denial using science and modern medicine? It is true that many people look at our advancing knowledge and no longer see a need for God. But why, as Christians, should we hold ourselves captive to this faulty false dichotomy and facilitate its continued prominence? According to the Christian view, that view is merely a false understanding of God leading to a denial of his very existence. God isn't getting any smaller.

(Written Oct 2013)

Notes on apologetic approaches and thought life

What is Christian Apologetics? 

Christian Apologetics, in a broad sense, simply means defending Christianity. Thus, all Christians are or should be apologists. But in the literature on scholarly Apologetics, the definition is narrower. There are two broad schools of thought- presuppositionalism and evidentalism/Classical apologetics. A few notes on these schools of thought are below.

I don't personally like the term "Apologetics" as it means different things to different people, and to some it portrays Christianity in a negative light.

Thought Life and Character

I try to be a thinker. That is, I try to think reflectively, rationally and intelligently about all matters of life. When discussing ideas with others, I try to be thoughtful in my approach there as well. Some of my biggest "heroes" in life (for want of a better word) are Christians scholars who I see as humble, reflective, intelligent, whose ideas I think are reasonable and who communicate thoughtfully as well. Good examples: C. Stephen Evans and John Dickson.

Intellectual brilliance is a great thing, but it is not enough- thinking needs to be self reflective. We should be humble in our views, and charitable towards others.

These things could all be teased out through thousands of words.

Notes on Approaches to Apologetics

General thoughts:

- Note problems with all approaches.
- Note good insights to take from each approach.
-  Mixed bag of first order thinking, negative apologetics and evidences.
- First order(Note: I refer to first order in the sense of underlying, big picture, overarching considerations of a foundational nature to do with frameworks) Arguments still provide "evidence" in a broad sense, so you could say that presuppositionalism is still evidentialism at heart, at least to some degree. Secondly, and similarly, Presuppositionalists wouldn't believe in Christianity unless they had Evidence, in a broader still sense of the term.  (Footnote to this; Douglas Wilson claims that assumptions of Christianity are always implicit within evidence arguments etc. So a true presuppositionalist would claim that presuppositionalism is foundational to evidentalism, similar to how I am claiming here that evidence, broadly construed, is necessary foundation for all beliefs, presuppositionalism included).
- Note: Epistemological issues are at the forefront here. C Stephen Evans is the Gold standard.

Presuppositionalist apologetics:

Based theologically on Calvinism.

- Neutrality is an entirely false notion. It doesn't exist. No one is truly neutral.
- Negative apologetics is vital. It's easier to disprove something or argue against something than it is to erect a case for something to the exclusion of all others. Not only that, but psychology tells us that some people simply refuse evidence which is more evidence itself for point below- the will gets in the way? Example see the amount of atheists who think Jesus didn't exist and that all stories about him are totally mythical (eg: R Price in the book 5 Views on The Historical Jesus). You can convince yourself of anything if you really want to. So both due to psychology and as a strategy, apologetics must strike out other worldviews, not simply build a case for our own.
- Presuppositions and preconditions. Point out the assumptions upon which the other view rests. This could be seen as a vital cog of negative apologetics. But it's also a universal notion of it's own. To reject one belief, another belief must be held.
- The importance of first order thinking. Looking at the Big picture. Before looking at the detail contained in evidentialist arguments, consider questions like: How are we even here? What conditions must exist for us to be here, doing this debate. Universe- law and order, science. People- Rational Thoughts.
- Rationality and persuasiveness is complex. At the very least, person relative. Critical rationalism is more at home within a presuppositionalist framework.

- Presupposing something is inevitable but presupposing the entire Bible is a bridge too far. Begs the question. Assumes what it's trying to prove. Some question begging may be inevitable, perhaps (interesting philosophical question to consider) but the entire Bible and/or Christian worldview is a lot to assume!
- Doesn't go far enough. The Resurrection isn't contained within the apologetic. Ironically this is what they are trying to avoid.
- Presuppositionalism claims to provide certainty and that other approaches fail because they only aim for probability. But Certainty is impossible, just like proper neutrality is impossible (especially on the big questions and on existential questions). Although the impossibility of certainty is easier to prove than the impossibility of neutrality. At least with neutrality, people can just claim to be neutral and that leaves a stalemate (even if psychology and/or philosophical argumentation shows that people always have assumptions they come from, and so to truly get neutrality one must dig through a gazillion layers of muck). Whereas with certainty, one can easily come up with a possible objection to almost any argument.

Evidentialism AND Classical apologetics:

- Positive case. Negative leaves us in nowhere land.

- The problem of shifting evidence. Philosophical arguments against this I am very fond of. Similar to Evans. Eg: Wide Accessibility problem. If the best justifications for belief are only available to a select few who are educated enough to understand the best evidence based arguments, what does this say about God? ie: Fine tuning argument didn't exist in it's most persuasive form 100 years ago because fine tuning had not been found. Neither did Kalam Argument. if God is timeless, he will provide various forms. This fits in with the insight that a personal God would provide personal evidence (Moser). Craig wouldn't disagree (1st chap RF, Holy Spirit is warrant on it's own etc) however the evidentialist approach still places too much emphasis on evidence in it's implicit support for simply believing what the current evidence says. It doesn't account for the nature of God very well.
- Much of reverse of "Good" of presupp belongs here. Eg: Neutrality is impossible. Eg: Craig Parton's claim that 98% time devote to positive evidence is ridiculous. Because the will/psychology ensures some remain unpersuaded. And it's easy to find objections to anything. Defense is the best attack sometimes, and too much emphasis on evidence FOR Christianity neglects this point.

Doug Wilson Interview- an example of someone who doesn't stick wholly to one approach:

- Lewis's Apologetic Approach- Mix of Evidentialism and Presuppositionalism?
- Explanation of presuppositional vs evidentialism- Demolition Derby vs leading someone to something unfamiliar. Presuppose Bible and show Impossibility of contrary. But there is room for evidences.

(Written August 2013?)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Media and Faith

People often make claims of media bias. The ABC, it is often said, is left wing, Fox News is right wing. The Herald Sun is right wing, The Age is lefty. And so on. But what of religious faith? Is the media inherently anti religious, as some claim? Or is atheism a dirty word? This topic was broached on last week's episode of Q and A.

Upon reflection, I recalled that there were two recent examples of actors speaking about religious issues in the public sphere. I found it interesting that in the Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Press), there was a sharp contrast in the way the comments were reported. Chris O'Dowd's vitriolic ignorance was given a platform by being reported without comment ("Religion is ruining the world") whilst Matthew McConaughey's expression of faith in his Oscars Speech was used as a springboard for an argument against God and for religious belief to be treated with ridicule.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Some notes on "No Argument for God" by John Wilkinson

I'm halfway through this. 

This book is written in a warm, conversational tone and it covers some important topics for Christians to think about. However, Wilkinson makes some serious errors in thinking, and those errors would be quite damaging to the Christian church if more people took some of the things he says on board. (Although I won’t go into that side of things here, I’ll merely discuss his ideas).  

Wilkinson writes about the limits of reason, and how reason and the senses on their own create a flat world, devoid of any clarity about ideas of meaning and purpose. Meaning and purpose cannot be empirically proven. He uses this discussion as a springboard to talk about the third dimension, ie: revelation.
However I’m not convinced that things are as simple as Wilkinson makes out. Why does “reason” have to only involve the “senses”? On the contrary, reasoning about something is simply thinking about something. We can reason about things that go beyond the mere senses, and in fact there are entire disciplines of philosophy that do just that. Wilkinson himself is offering us “reasons” of sorts to accept Christian revelation in this book, but one assumes he doesn’t think his own “reasoning” falls prey to his own critiques of reason? Perhaps the discussion would’ve been clearer if Wilkinson had referred to the hard sciences here instead. But of course, he wouldn’t do that because he’d be unable to make the same critique of the limits of the entire concept of “reason” without referring to it as reason. It'd be much more obvious to any reader that his discussion needs to get broader if he did that. I agree with much of what he has to say about the limits of science, but science and reason are not coterminous. This is not mere semantics. 

So after critiquing reason, Wilkinson moves onto revelation. He believes we need the third dimension of revelation to give us meaning and purpose which can’t be attained from the two dimensional world of “reason” alone. Revelation gives us the “why” of life whereas “reason” gives us the “how” of life. (And again, perhaps Wilkinson should have said science, which would have been more accurate). But Wilkinson commits a familiar error here. He introduces a very crucial topic but doesn’t adequately define it. He merely says that “Revelation” is the disclosure of a person and that it answers the why questions.

This quote disappointed me: 

“When someone reveals something, he or she draws back the curtain on it’s purpose. Someone explains why the object is there. The problem with revelation is that there is no proof; we have to accept the person’s word”. (p56).

The Christian message is the message of God becoming flesh. Jesus walked among us. The central Christian claim is that of the resurrection. As the Apostle Paul wrote, without it our faith would well and truly be in vain. The Resurrection was, historically, the beginning of Christianity. It is the cornerstone of Christianity and, further than that, it is therefore the KEY to Christian revelation itself. It was an event that took place in history. It was God’s son literally interacting with the senses of the people who witnessed it.

This is why as a fellow Christian, reading the quote about “Revelation” above was deeply troubling. There is an obvious, serious, concerning problem with Wilkinson’s thesis: It simply does not make sense of the Christian message. Wilkinson is a Christian pastor, but he is wheeling out grand statements about abstract ideas like “revelation” that do not make sense of the Christian teaching itself! Christian revelation is not SIMPLY revealing the “why” of life, and “drawing back the curtain” on the purpose of the universe. Christian revelation is not an ethereal philosophy of life or a list of moral teachings. The key event informing Christian revelation is an event that happened in place and time. Now, the resurrection cannot be “proven” 100% one way or the other. But it can be investigated by the tools of history. It is not something that is completely sheltered from “reasoning” one way or the other as Wilkinson would so clearly and evidently like it to be.

Part way through the book, after Wilkinson’s threads start coming together in major arguments about reason and revelation as I’ve (fairly, hopefully) stated above, something dawned on me that hadn’t hit me earlier. Ironically, Wilkinson is actually doing the opposite of what he wants to achieve with this book.  Wilkinson thinks we are at risk of “robbing Christianity of it’s distinctive flavor” (p35). We’re trying to make it friendlier by robbing it of difficulties. We want to be able to tell people “it fits entirely in your brain!”(p35). But ironically, it is Wilkinson who is trying to fit God into a box. According to Wilkinson, “Christianity does not conform to human logic” (p24). Wilkinson recounts his own faith story, in which he prayed to God “I choose to believe in you, even though I have no reason to”. (p20).  But surely he must realize that this is not everyone’s experience? There are many Christians who have, in fact, come to faith through or partly through reason and arguments. C.S. Lewis was an Oxford Professor in his 30’s when he became a Christian, and he ended up as possibly the most widely read Christian author of the 20th century. Mortimer J Adler was one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century, and he became a Christian in his 80’s.  

Stories like these (and countless others) should teach us that God is BIGGER than we think. God can use experiences like Wilkinson’s to reach people, but he can also use reason, science and arguments to reach people as well. Wilkinson is trying to fit faith into the “absurd” box, whilst telling us how much he despises those who try to fit faith into the “logic” box. God doesn’t fit into Wilkinson’s box anymore than he fits into anyone else’s. The truth is that everyone’s experience of God is different to other people’s, and that is perfectly OK.

Christianity doesn’t confirm entirely to human logic at all points. Wilkinson is right about that. But that’s largely because God is an infinite God and we are finite beings. How could small, rationally limited people like us fully understand and explain an infinite being? If there is an infinite God, it wouldn’t make sense for us to be able to “fully grasp” him/it. On the contrary, you’d have to ask yourself whether anyone who thinks they know it all about this God is in fact kidding themselves. Wilkinson would agree with that much as well.
We see like we’re seeing through glass dimly. Dimly indeed. But that doesn’t mean Christianity is, on the whole, “contrary to reason” or that there are “no reasons” to believe! 

Monday, October 14, 2013

The T World, The iworld and the R World

A fascinating discussion by Professor Dale Kuehne on "where the world is heading". Very abstract and theoretical in it's descriptions of the world, and no doubt some will object at his generalisations. But there's something valuable if you're willing to look underneath.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Reflection on Suffering

At the moment I'm hosting a series at our church called Towards Belief. Last Tuesday we commenced the series by watching the episode on suffering. 

A member of the discussion group I'm facilitating shared a thought with the group. His thought ran along these lines: 

We are all joined together by 6 degrees of separation. Therefore, there are a multitude of connections I have with other people that I don't even know, through the various degrees of separation. People can often be influenced or even transformed by things that they see and hear. Given this, how could I confidently say that there's no point to my suffering? We can't say things are definitively pointless when we don't know what influence it may have. 

I found this to be profound. 

To be sure, this is more a response to the intellectual questions around suffering than it is a comfort to those who are questioning or experiencing suffering first hand. If someone is experiencing pain, in most cases it'd be highly inappropriate and insensitive to say to them "Well you never know who might hear about your story or who might be influenced in some small way by what you're going through!". 

But nonetheless, this is a valuable comment in terms of thinking about this. I recently read a book called Connected, where the authors detailed how our behaviours influence those around us and how we are influenced by others in ways that we don't even realise. This influence can be quite strong to the third degree. In other words, we influence friends of friends of friends in a variety of ways. Thousands of people we don't even know. Now of course, the authors were studying things like the transmission of stds, political attitudes and things like that. It might be a lot harder, if not impossible, to scientifically study the effect that our personal pain might have on others compared to studying other more concrete things. Nonetheless, I think the fact that we do impact people through various degrees of separation does lend support to this idea that we simply can't know what impact we have on others. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Burden of Proof: Everyday Usage

The Burden of Proof is a concept which has caused much controversy! It has many meanings. Here are some brief thoughts on it's everyday usage.

Everyday Usage

For most of us, I'd guess that when we hear "Burden of Proof", we'd think of our legal system and the concepts that apply in criminal law. As I understand it, in that area there's two main guiding principles. Firstly, one is "Innocent until proven guilty" and secondly, they must be proven guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt".


This raises all kinds of issues. Here are two: Firstly, the presumption of innocence (the first principle) means that the evidence for guilt must be shown and tested. Without being able to prove guilt, the defendant remains innocent. Being charged doesn't mean that the person being charged is guilty unless they can prove their innocence. No! It means the prosecutors must find enough evidence and then show they are guilty. Secondly, not only must evidence be found but that evidence must get to a certain level. It's effectively about proof, not probability. Some amount of evidence could perhaps show probability, but that wouldn't be enough. Sometimes it might seem very probable that the defendant is guilty, based on the evidence we do have, but unless the evidence is strong enough to put any possible reasonable doubts to bed they must remain innocent under the law.

A Current Example

A recent example (albeit, not in criminal law) might be the Essendon Bombers supplements case. This is an ongoing investigation and no players have yet been issued with any infraction notices. It has been speculated in both major Melbourne newspapers that part of the reason why players have not been charged is because Essendon's record keeping and governance was so poor. This line of thought is suggesting that ASADA just couldn't prove which players took what because of a lack of paperwork and lack of knowledge from the players about what they were taking. Nonetheless, it is possible that ASADA investigators consider it probable that Essendon players took illegal substances but that they simply don't have enough evidence.

The Big Picture Application/Analysis

As a side note and a thought experiment, consider this: If that were the case and it seems probable that the players were guilty but that the evidence wasn't strong enough to convict any individual Essendon player, would it be reasonable for them (or us, if we had the evidence too) to believe that the Essendon players took illegal substances (putting aside the issue that them personally believing it has nothing to do with whether they charge them)? In other words, looking at the big picture: If we have some evidence but we are lacking other evidence, it is reasonable to hold a belief based on an interpretation of probability about where the current evidence points? If so, how much evidence do you need? Does it depend on what kind of situation or example you're considering? These are interesting things to consider.