Monday, March 30, 2009

The Internet, Blogging, and the Exchange of Ideas-

I was recently engaged in a few discussions over at Pliny's blog. Though Pliny has a small following, the people are thinkers and Pliny presents some interesting perspectives to explore. I responded to a few blogs, and found my own perspective to be somewhat different from those of Pliny and his other followers. For the most part the exchange was pleasant, and I learned a few things in the process.

One thing I learned is that the years of little intellectual interaction has dulled my capacity to engage other thinkers. I am a bit rusty in presenting my thoughts clearly and challenging ideas different from my own. Hopefully I can correct that by engaging in the exchange of ideas more frequently. Nothing like exercise to regain the tone in the intellectual muscle.

Another thing I observed is the difficulty of exchange in the blogging forum. The blogger presents an idea in the form of a short essay. Guests may respond in a comment section. Pliny has followers who receive his blog entries automatically. Most seem to agree with him in general perspective. In the blog world this leads to generally short comments expressing that agreement.

In challenging the blog, or aspects of the blog, it is necessary to present an argument. Unfortunately, this begins to look like a blog within a blog and deviates from the idea of a comment. While some of my arguments inspired some exchange, it was not quite the same as might occur in a classroom or similar venue intended for such exercises.

So, the blog format is good for expressing ideas, but not quite as effective in exchanging ideas. It serves well as a news and comments forum, but is not sufficient as a serious discussion forum. If my observation here is incorrect, I have yet to find a place where it is better applied.

Another thing I noted was the anonymity of the blog realm. A blogger can adopt a persona, and engage in vindictive exchanges instead of seeking to grow one another in knowledge. Rant style blogs can invite and encourage these types of exchanges, but they can easily leak into what might be intended as a serious blog intended for the exchange of ideas. It is not unheard of for anonymous bloggers to attempt to overcome a blog of a different perspective by loading it with noise.

Granted, there are tools for managing these disruptive practices, and such management must become part of a blogger's toolbox. I value an open exchange, and such openness requires some exposure to minds less inclined toward teaching and learning and more inclined to fighting battles on the Internet. As a consequence of that openness, I will have to master some of those management skills as well.

Due to the nature of the blog as a vehicle of short essays, it will be necessary for me to develop more discipline in my own thinking. From years of rattling around in my own head I find I do not have the proper discipline to form well thought out opinions and cogent arguments. My writing skills are up to the task, but my mind has grown fat and sloppy.

At present my mind tends to be all over the place. I begin thinking along a particular line and my mind races ahead, sniffing at the many trails that lead off from where I am thinking. While that has been adequate for solitary musing, it does not serve for putting ideas together in a way that inspires discussion and real learning.

My experience exploring the realm of the blog indicates that people of particular hobbies do some of the best blogging. Crafters, photographers, and other artists sharing their crafts and their thoughts create some of the finest blogs. Some are very good, indeed. I find visiting many of these blogs to be life-enhancing.

Can I explore my own thoughts and opinions, and create a place that is life-enhancing for visitors?

We shall find out.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Evolution, Creation and Belief-

Many years ago I was quite interested in the Creation/Evolution debate. As a convert to Christianity it appeared fundamental. Evolution represented the "old" way of thinking, my pre-Christian framework. Creationism obviously was a "new" way of thinking and essential to the change in the way of thought my conversion necessitated.

I am less convinced of the necessity and centrality of these concepts to the divergent frames of thinking at this point in my life. I have examined the issue from time to time over the intervening years, and have found problems with a hard-line position on either side of the argument.

Used as models each of these ways of thinking have merit. The creation model can provide a useful foundation for thoughts regarding God and that which He has created. The evolutionary model provides a good framework for scientific thinking about how things might have come to be as they are. Each model is useful.

When evolution is introduced to thoughts about God and His relationship with His creation some challenging questions come about. The conflict is sufficient to cause advocates of one model or the other to perceive problems with the ideas of God, creation, science, and evolution fitting into a complete world view.

It is hard for me to challenge evolution because I do not fully understand the theory and its application. As a generalized model it seems to describe much about the universe, provided I make certain assumptions about the universe. However, I find the same circularity of reasoning in much of evolution (as I have been able to understand it) that the proponents of science throw out as a challenge to biblical systems of thinking.

The anti-entropic nature of evolution is problematic. Things tend to fall apart unless a conscious effort to hold them together is made. Yet evolution is a tendency for unconscious things and stuff to fall into ever more complex relationships. Matter naturally tends toward simple states, not greater complexity. It is hard to describe evolution creating increasing complexity without some inclination to give it a consciousness.

The absence of transitional species is also a challenge in adopting a singularly evolutionary view of reality. Adaptability within types can be representative of good engineering on the part of a creator, without necessitating transitions between types of creatures. Taxonomic rules seem to have been formulated to support the evolutionary model, but my understanding of taxonomy is just inches from complete ignorance. Evolution seems to depend much on taxonomy, but again that impression may be just a shadow in my mind.

Creationism does not always answer well the challenges of observing nature. Unfortunately, it is a biblical doctrine, not a scientific system of thought. Since it is not intended to address the many questions a scientific examination of creation inevitably will bring about, it appears inadequate. For such an application it is inadequate.

By way of illustration I refer to a study I once did. Jesus once proclaimed the mustard seed as the smallest of all seeds. He did this to illustrate a biblical concept regarding faith. Jesus was scientifically inaccurate. My research showed that the orchid has a much smaller seed than the mustard seed. However, nobody in the time and place Jesus was speaking had that knowledge. The common knowledge was that the mustard seed was indeed the smallest of all seeds.

Jesus being who he was (and is) might well be expected to know the scientific truth. However, for his purpose of illustration the popular knowledge was sufficient, and in context his statement was true. Historical, social and physical contexts are important in assessing even the nature of seeds.

By nature the doctrine of creation is deductive. It is drawn from a document proclaimed to have been revealed from God, and discerning the truths and teachings from such a revelation is necessarily deductive in nature.

Evolution is a theory developed inductively. It attempts to explain creation by creating an overall set of rules to explain what is observed. God and His relationship to creation are not relevant to the theory. While the existence of God and His act of creation may be inferred by the evidence, it is not essential from a scientific perspective. As a needless complication it is simplest to leave God out of the evolutionary picture.

I suspect that this is generally done, and the godly perceive the godlessness of evolution as an inherent evil and so cast out the whole theory as ungodly and wrong.

The universe is today perceived as a much larger place than in the times that the creation model was first presented. Indeed, the universe as now perceived is a much larger place than when I was born. In the context of that smaller universe a literal creation story was sufficient for many, many generations. Today it may need just a little explanation to make that context clear.

It is not much different from sermons on the analogous relationship of faith and mustard seeds in a world where orchids are now relatively common.

Neither is the theory of evolution static. It is a piece of inductive reasoning subject to constant reassessment and revision. It is science, and that is the nature of scientific knowledge. Science is useful as a tool, but insufficient as a faith.

For me the human experience is dynamic and existential. The depth of my knowledge is insufficient to be absolute. The evolutionary model is beautiful. The creation model is equally beautiful, but quite different. I can experience each in turn, and recognize that they exist in the universe I inhabit.

Perhaps not a decisive conclusion, but an honest one and one I can live with.