These Are The Voyages...

Thursday, September 8, 1966. Judsonia, Arkansas. 8PM. I was eleven years old and was glued to the front of my grandmother’s color television for the first broadcast episode of Star Trek, “The Man Trap.” I was enraptured from the very start, daring everyone else in the house to even so much as breath and interfere with my concentration.

Fast forward 43 years to May 23, 2009 at 7:10PM EDT. Rachel and I are at the end of the line for the 7:15 showing of the eleventh movie in the Star Trek series. She notes that we’ll be on time for the start of the movie due to all of the commercials before the main feature. I tap the tip of my nose. She asks if I always have to do that and I explain to her why it’s so important. Flash back to 1973 or 74. “That’s hitting the nail on the nose” was one of the favorite expressions of Kathy Y. when I was at the University of Virginia; and the nose tap is a reminder of that. Jim A. and I were walking over the bridge in Charlottesville that goes over Hwy 29. We were playing the “Star Trek” game where one of us would say a line from the show and the other would have to name the episode. For example, “What am I, a doctor or a moon-shuttle conductor” would be “The Corbormite Maneuver”. One of us had said a line but neither of us could remember the episode. A girl who had been walking behind us came up between us, named the episode, and kept on walking. Of course, we couldn’t let her get away and that was how we met Kathy.

The movie was almost spectacular. The interior of the Enterprise was disappointing, and the use of “red matter” as a
MacGuffin was a stretch. But it was good to see old friends made new again. Zachary Quinto was the perfect choice to play young Spock.

I was born three hundred years too soon.

Rachel. My Daughter's Name is Rachel

We visited the Gulfariam in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida this morning. We enjoyed the dolphins, sea lions, and other exhibits. Rachel wanted an airbrushed tee shirt and selected a pattern. I told the artist her name was spelled “Rachael”. She’ll be 17 on Thursday and after all this time I didn’t remember how to spell her name. To my credit, I thought it didn’t look right as it was being drawn. Fortunately the artist, Adam Tatum, proprietor of Airbrush by Emerald Heir, was able to correct my mistake. As you can see, the shirt turned out beautifully. His business card gives the origin of the name of his company: “... and if children, then heirs -- heirs of God and joint heirs of Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.” [Rom 8:17].


Worldview Project: Genesis of an Idea

I just finished reading Naming the Elephant: Wordview as Concept by James W. Sire. His book The Universe Next Door dealt with cataloging different worldviews; Naming the Elephant explores the definition of worldview itself. I’ve started reading Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley. Take the spread of Christianity, combine with a worldview catalog, and season with visualization technology and you have the beginnings of “the Worldview Project”.

Start by watching
the growth of Walmart across America. Instead of stores, show the rise of Christianity. Instead of just Christianity, show the major worldviews. Have people self-identify, keep the data truly anonymous, and track the ebb and flow of worldviews over centuries.


Rachel wanted to go to the beach for her 17th birthday, so here we are in Destin, Fl. Rachel took this picture from our hotel room with the camera we got her.


Battlestar House

We watch House every week even though the show is formulaic. Dr. House, being so predictable, now only appeals in the same way that a train wreck captures one’s attention. One problem is that House doesn’t have a worthy opponent, someone who can beat him at his own game. Now, House has two games: his diagnostic skills and his atheism.

Computers are being increasingly used in diagnostic medicine; my father contributed papers to the Symposium on Computer Applications in Medical Care from ’79-’86; the early computer program
MYCIN dealt with diagnosing and recommending treatment for bacterial infections. Norvig, in Paradigms of Artificial Intelligence Programming, stated that it “performed as well or better than expert doctors”. Technology has certainly progressed in 30 years so a high tech company needs to pay Princeton Plainsboro to allow them to test their new hand-held diagnostic tool against the best doctors in the country. And it needs to start beating House by suggesting avenues to explore and diagnosing conditions faster than he can. Deployment of the technology can still be years away (MYCIN was never used to actually treat patients due to legal and ethical issues) but House needs to see the future; that he has to be able to bring something to medicine that the computer cannot. The computer is relentlessly rational, everything House aspires to be, but better than he could ever hope for.

It wouldn’t hurt that the person running the test be a Christian who could go toe-to-toe with House. They certainly exist, but perhaps that would be too much for American television. Shallow atheism is easily expressible in sound bites; Christianity is not. Deep exposition might turn viewers off.


Good and Evil, Part 1b

In my article, Good and Evil, Part I, I set forth reasons for defining good and evil as the “distance” between what is and what ought to be. In Naming the Elephant: Worldview As A Concept, Sire writes:

The close connection between ontology and epistemology is easy to see: one can know only what is. But there is an equally close connection between ontology and ethics. Ethics deals with the good. But the good must exist in order to be dealt with. So what is the good? Is it what one or more people say it is? Is it an inherent characteristic of external reality? Is it what God is? Is it what he says it is? Whatever it is, it is something.

I suggest that in worldview terms the concept of good is a universal pretheoretical given, that it is a part of everyone’s innate, initial constitution as a human being. As social philosopher James Q. Wilson says, everyone has a moral sense: “Virtually everyone, beginning at a very young age, makes moral judgements that, though they may vary greatly in complexity, sophistication, and wisdom, distinguish between actions on the grounds that some are right and others wrong.”

Two questions then arise. First, what accounts for this universal sense of right and wrong? Second, why do people’s notions of right and wrong vary so widely? Wilson attempts to account for the universality of the moral sense by showing how it could have arisen through the long and totally natural evolutionary process of the survival of the fittest. But even if this could account for the development of this sense, it cannot account for the reality behind the sense. The moral sense demands that there really be a difference between right and wrong, not just that one senses a difference.

For there to be a difference in reality, there must be a difference between what is and what ought to be. With naturalism--the notion that everything that exists is only matter in motion--there is only what is. Matter in motion is not a moral category. One cannot derive the moral (ought) from the from the non-moral (the totally natural is). The fact that the moral sense is universal is what Peter Berger would call a “signal of transcendence,” a sign that there is something more to the world than matter in motion. --pg 132.

On the one hand, I’m delighted to have found independent confirmation that ethics relates to
ought and is, and the acknowledgement of Hume’s guillotine. On the other hand, I’m worried because of the association between this definition and the potentially erroneous step from “there is something more to the world than matter in motion” to a “signal of transcendence.” Has the possible leaven of this conclusion leavened even the definition of good?

We know that there is something more than just “matter in motion.” As Russell wrote:

Having now seen that there must be such entities as universals, the next point to be proved is that their being is not merely mental. By this is meant that whatever being belongs to them is independent their being thought of or in any way apprehended by minds. --The Problems of Philosophy, pg. 97.

Russell has to say this, since he denies the existence of Mind, that is, God. The theist can argue that universals exist first and foremost in the mind of God; the naturalist cannot. So what did Berger mean by transcendence? If there is no god, then our thoughts are solely the product of complex biochemical processes: ”matter in motion” gives rise to intelligence. Intelligence gives rise to morality and imagination. No one should argue that the Starship Enterprise is a sign of transcendence. It is simply a mental state which is the result of matter in motion. If imagination is not a “sign of transcendence” then neither is ethics. Berger is assuming that mental states require something more than biochemical reactions which is an assumption that a naturalist need not grant.

Disney Princess

My quiz results...

Which Disney Princess Are You?

You are part Cinderella. You are hard-working and never complain, however, your trust is sometimes misplaced and people sometimes take advantage of you. Still, you are beautiful inside and out, and one day you will realize it and find true love.

You are part Pocahontas. You defy convention and sometimes do what is considered taboo. Unfortunately, others do not always appreciate your differences, so it's good that you are so strong-willed. You are loyal and you believe in fate. Your true love will find you one day.

Find Your Character @

Part of the Cinderella profile is certainly off as I have been known to complain about various things, particularly institutionalized idiocy. As for Pocohontas, I have already found my true love.

Jesse, this is dedicated to you.

Thinking about reform

Several weeks ago a young man of my acquaintance asked for my opinion on gay marriage. My overall response was, “I’m not really sure.” On the one hand, I tend toward a libertarian streak. As a Christian, I expect every kingdom of man, no matter how ordered, to fail. As a (weak) slave of Christ, I prefer having the latitude to follow Him with minimal external encumbrance. So I want to maximize the potential for individual freedom. On the other hand, as an engineer, I am cognizant of the “law of unintended consequences.” And one of the trends I think I’m seeing is that the more vocal the gay community becomes the more attacks there are on freedom of speech, with the attempt to classify the Biblical position on homosexuality as “hate speech”. The Christian position is that human beings are designed for a purpose, contra the naturalistic explanation that we are the product of chance, and that homosexuality is a misuse of design. (It is, however, only one of many -- not one of us is what we ought to be.) Libertarian that I am, I want both positions to have free access to the idea agora, but I’m not sure how best to ensure that.

Along these lines, I came across these two posts today. The first, deals with the
increasing global loss of freedom of speech. The blog author, Tomasso Dorigo, is an experimental particle physicist who is hostile to religion. I wonder if he understands that by undercutting Christianity he is helping to erode one of the bases for the freedom whose loss he laments? A sword may compel someone to submit, but the sword cannot compel someone to believe.

The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? -- Romans 10:11-14 [NRSV]

So Christianity has a built-in motivation for freedom of speech.

The other post, linked by
Irate Nate, concerned gay marriage and the law of unintended consequences. And while it deals with this particular social issue, it is more about issues surrounding cultural revolution.

Hey, Soldier!

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday in New York on company business. On the flight home, there were maybe ten or fifteen very young men and women who were traveling through Atlanta to South Carolina to report to boot camp. I had the pleasure to sit next to one of the young girls who was joining the Army. When the cabin crew was in the front of the plane starting the drink and snack service, I told her that I was going to do something I had always wanted to do; that is, when the cart came by, I was going to lean over and ask, “Hey, soldier, can I buy you a drink?” But by the time the stewardesses finally arrived, she had dozed off. Too, I’m not sure she was even old enough to drink. Old enough to go to war, but not old enough to enjoy an adult beverage.

To everyone who serves in our military: thank you.