Monday, December 31, 2012

11 Ways to be a Better Thinker in 2013

Some people are born smarter than others, but not everyone who has the capacity to think well does so. Moreover, naturally intelligent people may be riddled with intellectual vice (such as sloth, misguided curiosity, etc.), a problem that tempts people at all levels of intellectual gifting. Simply having natural intelligence helps, but this is not sufficient for being a sound and wise thinker. An individual could be a gifted memorizer thus a straight-A student, and yet fail to develop a true love of learning because of hours squandered away every night surfing the internet. Being an intellectually virtuous thinker requires deliberately cultivated habits. As you behave, so you will think. The mind is plastic, not static, and our intellectual habits will shape our minds-- for better or worse. Here are just a few humble suggestions for building a more robust thought-life, in no particular order.

1. Write down new words, ideas that interest you, or things other people say which strike you as interesting. Keep a note pad and pen where you can easily access them, and record these things immediately. When you get the chance, use the notepad to remind yourself of these recent thoughts, then buy a book on the subject, discuss the idea with friends, or determine to use the new word sometime that day.

2. Engage in concentration training. For instance, resolve to read for 30 minutes each day without checking Facebook, your email, or getting up for a snack. When this is no longer a problem (and, in the digital age, it will not be easy), then increase to 45 minutes, then an hour.

3. Be a good listener. You will find that shutting up and letting others do the talking will give you much to think about and will help heighten your sensitivity.

4. Spend the majority of your time around people you find to be wise and articulate. Iron sharpens iron.

5. Read as often as possible, but don't just read anything. Spending the majority of your time in poorly written or poorly reasoned books can easily poison your sensibilities. If you have limited time to read, then stick with books you know will be edifying, such as G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, J. Gresham Machen, Os Guinness, David Wells, etc. If you must read an inferior text, then detoxify as soon as possible with a truly excellent book.

6. Edit your words in your mind before they exit your mouth. Always speak in a manner that would not haunt you if it were transcribed.

7. If you are going to write an email, or post something on a blog, Facebook, Twitter, or the like, think about it, check for errors, and gauge its appropriateness before posting. Adopt a "waiting period" policy for online posting.

8. Be suspicious of anything which purports to be a new idea. Often, it is something that has been already beaten to death and addressed by brilliant people in ages past.

9. Embrace marginalia. Read with a pen, and write down summaries, elaborations, and questions in the margin. It will help more of your reading "stick."

10. Learn to be comfortable with silence, even when talking to other people. The best thinking and deepest conversations occur when there is room for pausing and thinking.

11. Study logic, grammar, and rhetoric. It will help you to be more persuasive, and it will also keep you from being as easily swayed by the words and antics of others.

There are so many more, but this is at least a start.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Two New Apologetics and Ethics Courses At Denver Seminary

Here are two recommended courses for the spring semester, 2013, which are a part of the fledgling Christian Apologetics and Ethics degree at Denver Seminary.

1. Contemporary Apologists. Two credit hours, taught by Dr. Douglas Groothuis. 4:00pm-5:50pm, Wednesdays.

Catalog description: Helps students understand the works of key contemporary apologists so that they are equipped to engage in contemporary world apologetics. Offered spring semesters, odd years.

Become conversant in the works of current key figures in the field of apologetics, and in the process, sharpen your own skills.

2. Social Ethics, Two credit hours, taught by Dr. Larry Burtoft. 12:00pm-1:50pm, Tuesdays.

Catalog description: Constructs a biblically rooted paradigm to apply to contemporary social issues, responding to questions such as: What would a Christian social ethic look like? Has the church anything to offer in the way of public policy? Can the church hold definitive positions on issues such as human rights, politics, economics, poverty, racism, sexism, homosexuality, and bioethics?  

Help us spread the word about this excellent program!

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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Voting for Romney: One Last Stand Before Election Day

I mailed in my ballot about a week ago, which contained a vote for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. Many conservative voters have been hesitant to vote for Romney, and some have decided to support third-party candidates instead. There are many reasons for this, but I am convinced that the Romney-Ryan ticket is the right choice, despite the fact that I do not consider Governor Romney to be a true conservative. While this little essay may be an exercise in futility, I hope it will serve as an explanation of why I believe that conservatives and Christians can and should vote for a politically moderate Mormon (this time around, anyway).

The first step in my argument is to address just what I hold to be the purpose of post-primary voting. Many people, including individuals whom I know and respect, believe that we should vote for the person who most closely aligns with our values. But this is not always so. If voting equals support for the person most closely aligned with our values, then we should not feel confined to voting within the two-party majority. The problem is, why limit your selection to the people listed on the ballot? Is not the person most closely aligned with your values you yourself? It seems that this view would at the very least allow, if not compel, people to write in themselves (or at the very least their best friends) at the voters block. Take care not to misunderstand here, for values is still a vital consideration. However, it is not the only consideration.

In addition to considering the candidates’ values (such as ethical theory, political philosophy, voting record, religion, etc.), the other main quality to consider is electability. In my estimation, this is the most important principle of major voting decisions. The reason for this is simple: if we assume that all candidates are imperfect (a safe assumption, that), I am most concerned that my vote represent one less vote for the candidate whom I believe to have a real chance to do the most damage to the country. In other words, we should vote against the greatest of the evils. After the primaries, according to this view, voters have the responsibility to find out who is the most dangerous of the frontrunners, and do everything in our power to ensure that the worst of the lot does not get elected. This requires a very different approach to the vote. It requires that we not view a vote as an endorsement, as a claim to identify with a certain candidate, nor as even a vote for. Rather, it is a strategic vote against. A vote, in this view, is a strategic move to ensure the preservation of our country.  In the two-party system, the only way to take votes away from the worst candidate is to vote for the other major contender. Thus, to those who hold to this view, a vote for a conservative third-party candidate is, in fact, a vote taken away from the Republican candidate, and therefore, increases the gap between the Republican and the Democrat candidates. This is how voters of this mindset can, in good conscience, say that a vote for a conservative third-party candidate is a vote for the Democrat (in this case, Obama).
The next task becomes to determine who is, in fact, the worst candidate. This season, we have a major candidate (Obama) who poses a direct threat to our Constitutional system as we know it (my purpose is not to convince the reader of this here—the evidence is all around for those who care to responsibly research), and the other major candidate (Romney) represents a religious group-- theologically a cult-- which is fundamentally opposed to historic Christian orthodoxy. However, Romney does still believe (generally) in the founding political principles of this nation. What is a politically conservative Christian to do? Are we not to oppose all perversions of the faith? Yes, the Christian should of course be primarily concerned with preserving and defending historic, biblical Christianity. However, without the religious freedom provided by our Constitutional system, the defense of the faith becomes exponentially more difficult. Moreover, the role of politicians is to protect and uphold the Constitution, not to defend the Christian faith. The uniqueness of the Constitution is that it is a Natural Law document. The candidate who believes that all rights come from God, not from the almighty State, is going to be more predisposed to limit the role of the federal government. When rights are believed to be given by the State, then those rights can also be revoked by the State. Given these considerations, the greatest threat to America is the candidate who believes (at least in practice—deciphered by past speeches and voting record) that rights come from the State, not from God. That candidate is Barack Obama. Yes, Mormonism is heretical, and idolizes America and the Constitution for religious reasons. However, it is better to vote for a non-Christian who makes the mistake of too much reverence for our Country and founding documents than a (possible, but unlikely) Christian who wants to “fundamentally transform America” and believes the Constitution to be outdated.

So, I am not voting against my conscience. My conscience tells me to preserve the American experiment as long as possible, for although ailing, it is America qua America that is the last great stronghold of religious freedom, justice, and economic prosperity. A vote for Romney-Ryan is intended to stop the bleeding, and set us up for greater reform later. A vote for Obama—whether directly or indirectly—is a vote to pull life support, and we may not have the chance to reform later. Therefore, I voted strategically for Romney, even though I do not endorse him politically or religiously. And given the reasons discussed, I am not compromising my values by so doing.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Nine Reasons to Get a Christian Apologetics and Ethics Degree at Denver Seminary

"Douglas Groothuis has established the reputation of being one of the best apologists and Christian philosophers in the Evangelical community. Now he has developed a new and exciting program in Christian apologetics and ethics. This program is very important in light of contemporary culture, and any student who studies with Groothuis and his colleagues will get first-rate training. I highly recommend this program."  JP Moreland

In August, 2012, Denver Seminary launched a new Master of Arts degree in Christian Apologetics and Ethics. The purpose and mission of this degree is to train students to ably defend the faith and wisely engage culture, thus advancing the mission of God through Christian apologetics and ethics. There are many good reasons to study this subject in Denver as opposed to elsewhere similar degrees are offered. Here are nine of those reasons.

(1) The Christian Apologetics and Ethics degree is broad in scope yet focused in mission. Students will be able to immerse themselves deeply in the field of apologetics and ethics, while being taught by a faculty acutely aware of our purpose to go and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19). Moreover, students will have the opportunity to grow in their understanding of philosophy, theology, and cultural criticism in order to deepen apologetics skills and become knowledgeable, discerning ministers of the Gospel.

(2) Students will be able to sit in classes sized appropriately for the development of relationships with each other and with their professors. Douglas Groothuis, a top-notch Christian philosopher, experienced apologist, and the author of a leading apologetics textbook on the market (in addition to ten other books), is the primary professor. Dr. Groothuis is not only a gifted thinker, but he is an outstanding teacher committed to personally attending to his students’ intellectual and spiritual growth.

(3) Students will have the opportunity to take core classes from Craig Blomberg, a world-renowned New Testament scholar and apologist. Dr. Blomberg is a prolific author, who has written, among other books, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, Jesus and the Gospels, and The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel. Blomberg is also a leading and respected authority in the field of New Testament studies and historical Jesus studies. Furthermore, Dr. Blomberg is extremely accessible and loves to meet with and get to know his students.

(4) One of the leading Old Testament and ancient Near East scholars in the world, Richard Hess, is a full-time faculty member, and teaches part of the core curriculum in the Old Testament department. In his classes, he ably addresses important apologetic issues such as violence in the Bible, and the reliability of the Old Testament documents.

(5) Along with Craig Blomberg and Richard Hess, Denver Seminary’s biblical studies and Christian thought faculty will help the Apologetics and Ethics student gain a robust biblical studies and theological education, which will serve to bolster their apologetics skills.

(6) Students in this program will become well-versed in ethics, apologetic methodology, natural theology, arguments for the reliability of the Bible, comparative religion, thus being carefully groomed and equipped for wise cultural engagement and leadership.

(7) While being academically rigorous, this program serves to prepare students for a life of ministry. Having a background in Christian apologetics and ethics is beneficial to campus ministry, youth ministry, or work in para-church organizations. The ethics, philosophy, and critical thinking elements of this degree will help equip those who want to go on to law school, or become involved in politics. The degree will also help pastors to better answer difficult questions of their congregants, as well as to train those in their care to do the same. Furthermore, writing skills are an important component of this degree, and those who go through the program will be well-equipped to write for newspapers and magazines, and to publish articles or even books.

(8) Denver Seminary has cultivated an atmosphere of study and fellowship. The campus boasts an expansive library, with many conference rooms and study areas. Additionally, the seminary recently completed a new student center, complete with comfortable seating, a stone fireplace, and a full-service coffee and snack bar.

(9) Denver Seminary is a short drive from the Rocky Mountains, and students can enjoy the beautiful mountain view and sunny weather most days of the year.

The Christian Apologetics and Ethics program is intellectually deep, personally intimate, and set within a respected educational institution. For those individuals interested in learning how to defend historic Christianity, think more carefully, write more persuasively, speak more clearly, and be mentored by some of the sharpest minds in the field, this new program is worth your attention, and perhaps a visit.

For more information:

            Official website:
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            Follow us on Twitter: @DSApologetics

Written by Sarah C. Geis, graduate of Denver Seminary. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

How to Miss the Point: A Guide to Dimwitted Discourse

People have valued reasoned, fair disagreements and good listening skills for far too long. It is high time we dispense with those boring and outdated formalities! After all, why respect the laws of logic when you can enjoy the adventure of following your own passions? When you get the point, you can only either agree or disagree. How boring! On the other hand, when you miss the point, you open up a fallacy-filled wonderland where conversation and emotions are set free to frolic! If you wish to dispense with the authoritarian laws of logic (which care nothing about you!) and transcend the boundaries of social courtesy, then here are some suggestions for you to try on your entirely subjective journey. These primarily apply to written arguments, but can also apply to listening to a spoken argument.

1. Foster the conviction that all with whom you disagree are personally attacking you.
Even if the individual doesn't know you, your ideas are your identity. Never mind the fact that this introduces all sorts of strange problems for understanding personal identity. That stuff is not important. What is important is that your very person, and all you hold dear, are being assaulted.

2. Don't accept the author or speaker's own definitions of his terms.
For instance, if someone is using the term "idealist" to mean a person who has lofty goals, you could show off your philosophical prowess and point out that he has gotten philosophical idealism (something else entirely) all wrong. It would also be fun to attack a Lutheran who believes in Christian orthodoxy  (small "o") for being a closet Orthodox Christian!

3. Embrace category confusion.
Here is a time-tested example: If the argument is about economics, you may wish to respond by claiming that the author is just racist. You get bonus points here, as this tactic also functions as an ad hominem and as a red herring fallacy (look them up if you are curious).

4. Ignore all qualifiers. 
This most often takes the form of responding with a counterexample to an admitted generalization. Example: Your interlocutor is evaluating the drawbacks to social media, and then says "interactions on social media tend to encourage more rudeness than would be likely in person." You can fire back a response like this: "I'm always nice on Facebook! See? You're wrong." Or, "Uncle Joe uses Facebook to befriend invalids connecting to the world via laptop," etc. You don't want your counterexample to actually work. So, avoid using the skill in situations where the author has clearly made a universal statement such as, "There are no black swans." Then, those who are still slaves to logic could refute the universal statement by saying-- truthfully-- that "Uncle Joe has a black swan."

5. Skip to the end. 
By doing this, you don't get the argument at all, and you will miss the author's definition of terms as well as all qualifications.

6. Read halfway through and stop reading. 
Sometimes, an author begins by surveying a given topic, or by introducing an argument with which she will then disagree. If you stop reading halfway through, you can respond as if the survey or the dissenting argument were actually the view of the author!

7. Just read the title and no further. 
This one is catching on all over the world. Make sure to leave a comment if it is a blog or a Facebook post. All of this can be accomplished in under a minute.

8. Partially attend to something else while reading or listening. 
This is a sure way to miss important things to the author or speaker and only catch words and phrases that are important to you.

9. Convince yourself that evaluation of or criticism of something is reducible to hatred.
Assume that if the arguer has negative things to say about a person or thing, then the arguer is actually displaying a deep-seated, concentrated hatred of that person or thing. For instance, all who criticize technology clearly hate technology and are hypocrites for using it at all.

10. Confuse descriptive with prescriptive statements. 
If I read an article reporting that "People who smoke marijuana enjoy the experience," this is describing a state of affairs in the world (a descriptive statement). If I want to miss the point, I can respond as though it was a prescriptive statement. In other words, I can act shocked that the author would dare suggest that we should smoke marijuana (which would have been a prescriptive statement, had the author actually said that).

11. Ignore quotation marks, italics, or indented quotations, and attribute them to the quoting author.
By doing this, one can make the author appear to say all sorts of crazy things. 

12. Remember that no one has the right to criticize things you like. 
Decide right now that all criticisms of anything you like are immediately invalid. After all, we know that things and people that we like are perfect.

13. Misunderstand or fail to detect sarcasm. 
To spin it positively, be rigidly serious all the time, insist on taking yourself very seriously, and you will discover all sorts of wild statements that are ready for your attack.

14. Insist on seeing your pet issue as a fundamental component of every argument you read.
If you are into women's issues, for example, cry foul at anything in the argument that can conceivably (or even inconceivably) be construed as an attack on women's rights (assuming, of course, that the argument itself is not about women's rights-- then you must pick another point-missing tactic). 

15. Don't look up words you don't understand. 
Just react to them upon your first, confused reading.

16. Present your response when maximally angry.
You will be amazed at your own propensity for the creative use of fallacies, misspellings, and overall murky thinking when overcome by emotion. Things can get wild if you take this advice. You may even regret it later, making the fun last as long as possible. 

17. Avoid paragraphed and correctly punctuated responses.
If you are going to respond online, it is fun to see how crazy you can make your chosen target by posting responses that are (to use a term I heard recently) longer than a Dispensationalist chart. The more run-on sentences the better, when you omit careful punctuation and paragraphs, it tends to stun the opponent. If you are lucky, the bewildered adversary may actually try to respond to your mass of verbal chaos. Watch him squirm, and enjoy.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Video of a Lecture Series On the Reliability of Scripture

This in-progress adult education series is put on by my church, Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church, which is why I am one of the speakers. The series also includes Doug Groothuis, Craig Blomberg, and Rick Hess.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Against the Reign of Online Education: Responding to the Rise of the Faceless Classroom (Part 3)

* Disclaimer: Due to likely misunderstanding (which routinely occurs), please note that, as my title carefully dictates, my opponent is "the reign of online education" rather than online education itself. This series combats the idea that online learning "rules" and is nearly as good as or even superior to embodied learning. I use the internet, am thankful for many benefits the internet offers, and I understand that there are times when online education is helpful.

Before reading any further, please read Part I here, and Part II here

The Academic Ethos Under Fire

" is not merely schooling. It is a lifelong discipline of the individual by himself, encouraged by a reasonable opportunity to lead a good life. Education here is synonymous with civilization. A civilized community is better than the jungle, but civilization is a long slow process which cannot be "given" in a short course." - Jacques Barzun, Teacher in America, p. 9.

Ethos; noun: the distinguishing character, sentiment, moral nature, or guiding beliefs of a person, group, or institution -- from Merriam-Webster

What makes a strong, respected academic institution? Perhaps examples come to mind of actual institutions which garner respect, such as Oxford, Cambridge, American Ivy League schools, and so on, but what is it about these places that placed them above the rest in so many minds? Institutions such as these are known for rigor, for a certain climate of academic seriousness, for turning out respected members of society, and for having reliable, longstanding traditions of such. If we walk the grounds of these schools, we find that the campuses contain very old, usually beautiful buildings, which put us immediately in touch with the particular school's past. This physical contact with academic history affects the sensitive person's psyche, often compelling one to read a book, or sit quietly under a tree. Furthermore, professionalism is contagious. If a campus has well-dressed, well-mannered, extremely studious occupants, then any new individual will feel out of place and (positively) pressured to rise to their level. Whether or not the person has the capacity to actually attain this goal is beside the point. In short, a quiet, studious campus, especially one with a beautiful, professional, academic ethos, has a certain amount of power in itself to shape the lives and habits of individuals.

There is no campus in the online classroom besides the computer room. There is no need for professional appearance, for the student only sees his or her computer. There are no other students seen studying, and no one is nearby talking about an interesting lecture or an upcoming academic conference. When only taking classes online, one cannot run into professors in the student center or parking lot, and have an impromptu discussion. Furthermore, online classes do not facilitate training, either implicitly or explicitly, of the students to speak clearly and well. This is because no one ever hears the students speak! When taking an online class, one can take one's time (to a certain extent) in coming up with responses, because type is all that is measured. Yes, one is required to read and write for the faceless, online professor, but reading and writing are hardly the only components of well-rounded education. The fact that one completes reading and writing assignments says little of his or her overall habits as a fully-orbed scholar. To use track as an example, record times are rarely set alone or in practice. This is because, when running a race, competitive instincts are triggered by the intensity of other runners who have been dedicated to training and winning. The point is not necessarily to win the race (although this was precisely the point for me when I ran track), but instead, to run one's personal best. We frequently find that our personal best is accomplished alongside other souls who are working hard and dedicated to their task. A person risks missing out on taking his or her scholarship to even higher levels when he or she is immersed primarily (or only) in the isolated online classroom.

Moreover, the embodied exchange of and critique of ideas aids in teaching us how to respectfully disagree and defend our own views. When confronted with people who think differently than we do, we are presented with the opportunity to practice professional respect of and appreciation for those with ideas and worldviews other than our own. In the real world, the disagreeing party cannot be made to disappear by opening another tab or closing the laptop. Online, one can easily avoid paying adequate attention to unfavorable ideas in favor of others. It also provides a safe environment for the marginalization and outright rejection of ideas that perhaps should be taken more seriously. A computer cannot respond to or even detect the sigh, skeptically raised eyebrow, or eye-roll of a student as can a professor or another student. These subtle, but important, reactions are part of how we judge the success of a given argument. By contrast, having a disagreement with another embodied human, from whom one cannot easily escape, has the power to prompt changed or deepened ideas.

When the online “classroom” is one’s intellectual training ground, the person is placed into an artificial, unrealistic, socially sterile environment where attention and respect can be selectively given with little to know social or professional consequences. In embodied discussion, a student cannot so easily get away with dismissive reasoning, special pleading, or disrespect for good ideas with which he or she may disagree. The embodied classroom environment provides a community of intellectual checks, balances, and, from there, further refinement. In the online classroom, one only has to turn down the volume of the lecture, skip ahead in the power points, tune out and click onto Facebook, answer the cell phone, check e-mail, break up a dog fight (it has happened to me), and so on. The possibilities for unbridled intellectual minimalism while taking an online class are seemingly endless. One can engage in these inattentive behaviors in a traditional classroom, true, but there exists varying types and degrees of helpful social pressure against such things.

Online learning creates a private, subjective idea environment that offers only grades and perhaps brief comments for feedback. This does nothing to help the development of the whole person who should be testing out ideas in community, thus learning evaluation skills, debate techniques, and other points of view from peers and the professor. Learning is far better when done within a system of other minds. Moreover, online learning does nothing to alleviate the problem of self-centeredness. Instead, when one primarily learns alone, one may become increasingly convinced that he or she has very good points, and thinks and speaks rather well. Only when learning alongside other people consistently can one begin to retrain one's sensibilities away from the self and toward the outside world and other souls. Then, objective evaluation of one's own ideas can lead to growth.

The online marketplace of ideas is now chaotic, without hierarchy, without context, and faceless. Postman calls this "information-glut." In the midst of the information-glut epidemic, we are actively neglecting the remedy-- participating in a world of ideas with other human beings who can weigh, invent, deconstruct, and reconstruct ideas together. A stable academic institution therefore finds its stability and respectability in its people and in their ability to train students to wisely navigate the realm of ideas and our contemporary digital onslaught of information. On the other hand, institutional respectability is not found in its technological achievements, access to and dissemination of mere information. Being encouraged (or forced) to participate in the embodied classroom exposes the student to a complex, interactive thought-world which cannot be sufficiently reproduced by an online version of the same class. Of course, a physical classroom does not guarantee an interactive environment, but at least the format encourages such an environment. None of this is to say learning, even good learning does not happen in the online classroom. It can, and it frequently does. However, there are costs and benefits to all that we do, and we must be honest about what we gain and what are giving up in favor of convenience. I maintain that while there may be a place for online education, it remains inferior to the real thing.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Responding Inappropriately to Tragedy

Yesterday, I was talking with some friends briefly about the horrors of the Aurora shooting. A waitress was nearby, and reacted by saying something along the lines of "That's the hype of the day. There's always something crazy going on in Colorado." This deeply bothered me. A massacre in a movie theater cannot, and should not, be reduced to "the hype of the day." When we find ourselves responding to large-scale catastrophes with insufficient solemnity, then perhaps we have negligently allowed our sensibilities and emotions to become warped--and flattened-- by a culture infatuated with entertaining itself into oblivion. If we, rather, immerse ourselves in the good, the true, and the beautiful, then tragedies like the one in Aurora will affect us as they should: as shocking, devastating evidence of a fallen world. Then, and only then, can we respond appropriately, weeping with those who weep, and caring for the affected souls.