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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Tuesday, August 08, 2017

That Google Memo and the Glory of Motherhood



Saying that men and women are different is now a very dangerous thing. Notice I didn't say anything about one being inferior or another being better. Just calling out the fact that males and females as broad groups have differences in motivations, desires, and place different values aspects of life is something that can now get you fired, even though these findings are agreed upon by a consensus of scientists who study such issues.

Google employee James Damore wrote that now-famous (infamous?) Google Memo (read it here), asking some poignant questions of the company's diversity push. Damore did his homework and did not stereotype. He didn't say that women were biologically incapable of doing tech jobs, as is being repeated ad nauseam in the press. He simply talked about trends and interest differences between men and women. In fact, he explicitly wrote :
I'm not saying that all men differ from women in the following ways or that these differences are "just." I'm simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don't see equal representation of women in tech and leadership. Many of these differences are small and there' s significant overlap between men and women, so you can't say anything about an individual given these population level distributions.1
Damore cited his sources, too.  Scholar David P. Schmitt confirms there is scholarly evidence for Damore's claims and then observes:
Culturally universal sex differences in personal values and certain cognitive abilities are a bit larger in size (see here), and sex differences in occupational interests are quite large. It seems likely these culturally universal and biologically-linked sex differences play some role in the gendered hiring patterns of Google employees. For instance, in 2013, 18% of bachelor's degrees in computing were earned by women, and about 20% of Google technological jobs are currently held by women. Whatever affirmative action procedures Google is using appear to be working pretty well (at least at the tech job level).2
So 18% of women choose to graduate with a degree in computer science and Google' s hiring rate for jobs that would require this type of degree is 20% female. Why is this controversial?

The Unmentioned Assumption: Women without Powerful Careers are Losers

One has to wonder why there's such a virulent backlash against this memo. I think part of it is simply because many women hear that they are being repressed given the vast majority of tech jobs being held by men and they believe there is some kind of systemic sexism going on. However, they themselves may not personally want to become a computer programmer, they just don't like the way the numbers look.

The Guardian ran an interesting article where one woman was talking to her friend about the pressures placed upon women in today's drive for equality. The friend argued that since all the women now go to work, the country has seen a fairer distribution of jobs than before, but women aren't happier for it. She claimed that women who aspire to have children actually got the short end of the stick because the pressure to not be a stay-at-home mom was great.  The author reflected on this and concluded:
I avoided parenthood for the best part of 40 years, having been led to believe it would feel like a stultifying trap compared to the excitement of wage-earning work. Turns out, at the last minute before the door closed, to be more fulfilling than anything I have ever done!3
That's the unspoken piece in this whole debate. Maybe there are a lot of women who are like the author above, who think  that a successful career is the key defining metric for a woman and then become shockingly surprised to find out how natural and fulfilling it is to nurture and mold the very lives, values,  and sensibilities of the next generation can be.

When women argue about their value coming from their careers, they are really using a man's yardstick. Why should we assume that this is the best way to measure success? I think G.K. Chesterton summed the controversy up best. He wrote:
When domesticity, for instance, is called drudgery, all the difficulty arises from a double meaning in the word. If drudgery only means dreadfully hard work, I admit the woman drudges in the home, as a man might drudge at the Cathedral of Amiens or drudge behind a gun at Trafalgar. But if it means that the hard work is more heavy because it is trifling, colorless and of small import to the soul, then as I say, I give it up; I do not know what the words mean. To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors and holidays; to be Whiteley within a certain area, providing toys, boots, sheets, cakes. and books, to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other people's children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one's own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman's function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.4

References

1. Damore, James. "Google's Ideological Echo Chamber." Letter. July 2017. Google Diversity Memo. N.p., July 2017. Web. 08 Aug. 2017. http://diversitymemo.com/.
2. Schmitt, David P. "On That Google Memo About Sex Differences." Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, 07 Aug. 2017. Web. 08 Aug. 2017. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sexual-personalities/201708/google-memo-about-sex-differences.
3. Mitchell, Victoria Coren. "Women Can Still Have It All. Can't They?" The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 10 June 2017. Web. 08 Aug. 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jun/11/girls-depression-can-women-still-have-it-all.
4. Chesterton, Gilbert Keith. What's Wrong with the World? London: Cassell & Co. Ltd., 1910. Print. 132-133

Friday, August 04, 2017

The New Generation and the Lack of Struggle



There's a very interesting scene in the movie The Matrix where Agent Smith, speaking for the computers, tells Morpheus how early versions of simulated worlds constructed by the Matrix proved to be failures. He explains:
Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from. Which is why the Matrix was redesigned to this...
I don't think Smith got it quite right. Human beings don't define our reality through suffering, but suffering definitely wakes us up to what is truly real, what is valuable, and what is important. During the Great Depression, children would go out and work if they could, perhaps selling newspapers or whatever they could find, in order to bring their earnings home and lay them on the table. They didn't demand to keep “their” money. They did it because it could mean the difference between eating something that night or not. They learned that one cannot expect to have every desire satisfied. That's a luxury, not real life.  It's no wonder that these children went off to fight in WWII and became known as the “great generation” for their continued self-sacrifice.

Of course, after the war, things changed. The Baby Boomers were given advantages their parents had never before seen. The Boomers then reared their children with privileges and technologies that were unthinkable two generations before. It is kids from this generation who demand that no one should ever feel offended and who believe that happiness is a right by virtue of birth. It is this generation that has spawned the Social Justice Warriors, who want to wage a war against any imagined slight or bias they can think of.

The Necessity of Being  Just and Wise and Charitable 

Sir Roger Scruton, speaking at the end of the James Delingpole podcast, made a striking observation.  Delingpole noted “Presumably, we're not living in the darkest times that anyone has lived through…” prompting Scruton to reply:
Absolutely. That is part of the problem. But, em, the new generation and beyond has nothing to confront. They've got an abundance of everything, of food, of clothing, a shelter, and opportunities. And, you know, there are some who are less well off than others, but there's a—the element of struggle has been removed from their lives. And I think that's one reason we've produced a different kind of human type, one that's out of touch with ancestors for whom, who required virtue in order to live properly. They had to be courageous. They had to be just and wise and charitable if they were to make their way in society.

They were… In those days, there was a real difference between human types: those who could attract to themselves friends and a circle of collaborators and those who were on the margins. Now, you know, with social media and all that, it helps people to get by without virtue. You can cultivate the substitute virtue—virtue signaling as it's called—and have friendships which are purely spectral, which exist in cyberspace but not in reality. So, it's easy to get by without furnishing yourself with the real moral attributes that you need.

But I think at a certain stage young people will wake up that they've done this and they rebel against it and they do want what is real.
I hope Sir Roger is right and young people will wake up to the difference between what they perceive as virtuous versus what virtue actually is. If we as a culture can only learn through suffering, the future looks very bleak indeed.

Image courtesy Andrew Ciscel and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 (cc-by-sa-2.0https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en) generic license.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Atheists Dragging God Down to Our Level



The Christian God is a God who expects worship. I don't think that point is controversial. However, many atheists have offered this fact as some kind of flaw or as an example of a contradiction within the Christian view of God. They see God as some kind of egomaniac since he demands his creation worship him.

One good example is this quote from Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. Roddenberry supposedly gave Paramount a script for a Star Trek treatment whereby he sought to tease out the fallibility of the traditional concept of God:
One of the Vulcans on board, in a very logical way, says, 'If this is your God, he's not very impressive. He's got so many psychological problems; he's so insecure. He demands worship every seven days. He goes out and creates faulty humans and then blames them for his own mistakes. He's a pretty poor excuse for a supreme being.1
I've sourced this story back to a 1994 book by Edward Gross, but I cannot find a hard copy to confirm the quote. Still, regardless of whether an actual script was offered, the quote has since turned into a meme promoted by atheists online as one way to show how the biblical God doesn't make sense. But does it show a God who demands worship is insecure? If so, he is hardly worthy to be worshipped as God.

Is God Insecure in Asking for Worship?

I think the objection says a lot more about the objector than it does about God. Firstly, the meme ignores the fact that God is not on the same level as man. Certainly one man demanding worship from another would demonstrate a psychological imbalance, but that's because we recognize the equality of human beings. We also recognize that all human beings are flawed. It is the fact that that other person is not God as to why we their demand for worship as wrong.

On the other hand, God holds certain unique attributes that make it sensible for humans to worship him. One of these is the fact that God is the very essence of goodness. We certainly see the value in acknowledging the good in people. That's why we name streets and celebrate a holiday in Martin Luther King's honor. We don't worship King, but parents will tell their children that it's important to uphold applaud the good that people do. The concept of good should be held in the highest regard. Thus if God is the locus of the good, then he is rightfully exalted for his nature.

Secondly as creator and provider, God should be worshipped. We see this in a smaller way within human relationships, too. Children should honor and respect their loving parents. This is appropriate and children who are defiant of parents who only have their best interests at heart are considered spoiled.

While each of us is indebted to our parents, our indebtedness to God as our creator is of a greater kind. As the author of all life, it was God who not only gave us life, but shaped us into the very individuals we are. He didn't simply stop there, either. He sustains us, blessing us with the ability to breathe moment by moment, gives us the very food we eat, and a rational mind to know Him.

The atheist who claims God is being egomaniacal or insecure by demanding worship has a woefully underdeveloped view of God. God is not simply a bigger, more powerful human. God is different in kind from us, not simply different in degree. Given that even within our own humanity, we see it as logical and right to honor someone for upholding the good and appropriate to give deference to parents and those in authority, then is certainly would be logical to worship a being from whom all goodness derives and by whom we owe every aspect of our existence. If a parent demands such respect from a child (and not demanding such is actually detrimental to the child by spoiling her), then I cannot see the supposed logic of the Vulcan's statement. In fact, it strikes me as illogical to treat a being like God as just another human creature. It's simply one more attempt to drag God down to the atheist's level.

References

1. Gross, Edward, and Mark A. Altman. Great Birds of the Galaxy: Gene Roddenberry & the Creators of Trek. London: Boxtree, 1994. Print. 27.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Identity vs. Use: What Is Religious Prejudice?



Imagine you are part of a church with a preschool and daycare center. You enroll children of any religion, and the townspeople rely upon to make ends meet. The preschool qualifies in every way for a state program to resurface your playground, but its application is denied simply because it is a church. Is that prejudice or simply the separation of church and state?

In the Supreme Court decision handed down for Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, seven of the nine justices agreed that the state of Missouri was discriminating against Trinity Lutheran Church by denying its application to participate in the state's successful Scrap Tire Program, where the school would be reimbursed for using ground up old tires as playground cover. Written by Chief Justice Roberts, the opinion states:
Trinity Lutheran is not claiming any entitlement to a subsidy. It is asserting a right to participate in a government benefit program without having to disavow its religious character. The express discrimination against religious exercise here is not the denial of a grant, but rather the refusal to allow the Church—solely because it is a church—to compete with secular organizations for a grant.1
So far so good. However, three of the concurring justices objected to a single footnote of Chief Justice Roberts's opinion enough to note it in their concurring statements. The footnote read “This case involves express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing. We do not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination.”2 In other words, Roberts narrowed the ruling.

Don't be surprised if people act according to their beliefs.

Justice Gorsuch, in writing his concurring-in-part statement, raises some important points, notably that the opinion is trying to make a distinction between what constitutes religious status and what makes up religious use. He then asks:
Does a religious man say grace before dinner? Or does a man begin his meal in a religious manner? Is it a religious group that built the playground? Or did a group build the playground so it might be used to advance a religious mission? The distinction blurs in much the same way the line between acts and omissions can blur when stared at too long, leaving us to ask (for example) whether the man who drowns by awaiting the incoming tide does so by act (coming upon the sea) or omission (allowing the sea to come upon him).



I don't see why it should matter whether we describe that benefit, say, as closed to Lutherans (status) or closed to people who do Lutheran things (use). It is free exercise either way. 3
Justice Gorsuch's question is a good one. A person's beliefs should and will affect his or her actions. It shouldn't be surprising that Christian will do Christian things as a part of living life. He will hold to Christian beliefs and he may even write about those beliefs, as White House nominee Russell Vought has done. Yet, just two weeks ago, Senator Bernie Sanders redressed Vought for doing just that, blustering “this nominee is really not someone who this country is supposed to be about.”

Sander's statement is a great example of why Gorsuch, Thomas, and even Justice Breyer had a problem with that little footnote. This isn't only about playground resurfacing. Discrimination against religious believers is become more and more common, and we need a strong opinion to halt it in its track or we may lose the very essence of the First Amendment protections for faith. That is truly what this country is not about.

References

1. TRINITY LUTHERAN CHURCH OF COLUMBIA, INC. v. COMER. Supreme Court of The United States. 26 June 2017. SCOTUS Blog. Supreme Court of the United States, 26 June 2017. Web. 26 June 2017. https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/16pdf/15-577_khlp.pdf.
2. Trinity, 2017. 14. Footnote 3.
3. Trinity, 2017. Gorsuch Concurring in Part.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Myth of the Christian "Dark Ages"



In my college history class, I was assigned the book The Discoverers by Daniel J. Boorstin. It was an interesting and eminently readable tome, becoming a best-seller. In what is labeled "a personal note to the reader," Boorstin states that he is a champion of the discoverer and that "the obstacles to discovery—the illusions of knowledge—are also a part of our story. Only against the forgotten backdrop of the received common sense and myths of their time can we begin to sense the courage, the rashness, the heroic and imaginative thrusts of the great discoverers. They had to battle against the current 'facts' and dogmas of the learned.1"

I believe Boorstin is correct in that for us to properly understand the momentous changes that paved human advancement we must look at the truth of historical setting and detail. Unfortunately, one area where Boorstin himself succumbs to the "current facts and dogma" that plague us today is the claim that the medieval period, when Christendom became dominant in Europe, ushered in some kind of dark ages.

 In chapter thirteen of The Discoverers (not so subtly entitled "The Prison of Christian Dogma"), Boorstin writes that Christians in the medieval period abandoned the work of discovery in order to generate simple, theologically appealing frames that were divorced from, fact. He claims "the leaders of Christendom built a grand barrier against the progress of knowledge about the earth, "and that "we observe a Europe-wide phenomenon of scholarly amnesia, which afflicted the continent from A.D. 300 to at least 1300."2

The Explosion of Advancement in Medieval Europe

Boorstin's view is a popular one; the Middle Ages were a dark and regressive period for Europeans. The Church was supposedly a science-stopper and anyone who wishes to look for scientific leaps that would lead to human flourishing must at this point in history turn to the Muslims or the Orient.  But it simply is a false view. Rodney Stark, Distinguished Professor of Social Sciences at Baylor University, clarifies:
Granted, like the Muslim conquerors, the Germanic tribes that conquered Roman Europe had to acquire considerable culture before they measured up to their predecessors. But, in addition to having many Romans to instruct and guide them, they had the Church, which carefully sustained and advanced the culture inherited from Rome. What is even more significant is that the centuries labeled as the "Dark Ages" were "one of the great innovative eras of mankind," as technology was developed and put into use "on a scale no civilization had previously known." In fact, as will be seen, it was during the "Dark Ages" that Europe began the great technological leap forward that put it far ahead of the rest of the world. This has become so well known that rejection of the "Dark Ages" as an unfounded myth is now reported in the respected dictionaries and encyclopedias that only a few years previously had accepted and promulgated that same myth. Thus, while earlier editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica had identified the five or six centuries after the fall of Rome as the "Dark Ages," the fifteenth edition, published in 1981, dismissed that as an "unacceptable" term because it incorrectly claims this to have been "a period of intellectual darkness and barbarity."3
In his book God's Battalions, Stark notes there were tremendous advancements in the technology of the day, such as swivel-axeled wagons, shoes for horses, and better harnesses.  The plow was also redesigned and farming techniques, including the rotation of crops allowing fields to rest and not become nutrient-drained were adopted.

Making Life Better for the Average Man

Putting the ability of horses with their new harnessed together with the more efficient plow had a huge impact on lifespans. Stark notes "land that could not previously be farmed, nor not farmed effectively, suddenly became very productive, and even on thinner soil the use of the heavy moldboard plow nearly doubled crop yields."4

Adding this to the improved farming techniques, Stark concludes:
As a result, starting during the "Dark Ages" most Europeans began to eat far better than had the common people anywhere, ever. Indeed, medieval Europeans may have been the first human group whose genetic potential was not badly stunted by a poor diet, with the result that they were, on average, bigger, healthier, and more energetic than ordinary people elsewhere.5
Stark offers more and more varied examples of how during the Middle Ages that Christian Europe's "technology and science overtook the world" in his book The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success, but this will serve us for now. The idea that Christianity was a science-stopper in the Middle Ages is nonsense. Christianity not only taught that God's word was to be discovered, but it taught that all human beings are inherently valuable and both these key concepts made the Western world the leader it is today.

References

1. Boorstin, Daniel J. The Discoverers: A History of Man's Search to His World and Himself. New York: Vintage, 1985. Xv. Print.
2. Boorstin, 1985. 100.
3. Stark, Rodney. God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades. New York, NY: Harper One, 2009. 66.Print.
4. Stark, 2009. 69.
5. Stark, 2009. 70.

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