Category Archives: Essay
Some Personal Thoughts on Tim Keller’s Exposition of Matthew Chapter 11
My Journey to Timothy Keller
I realized during the waning months of the Covid-19 pandemic lock-downs, that I had lost two significant Bible teachers who in the past had greatly influenced my thinking. Since I missed their teaching and influence very much, I prayed to find someone whose teaching could fill this void in my life. I came across Timothy Keller’s podcasts and they have gone a long way to filling my lack.
Thoughts on the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 11
I had not realized before these messages by Keller (the Spotify links are at the end) how detailed and rich is Matthew Chapter 11 in which Jesus describes who he is, and where he calls for people to come to him individually and unreservedly.
Chapter 11 begins with the imprisoned John the Baptist sending his disciples to Jesus asking:
2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”Matthew 11:2-3 (ESV)
But this is the very question (whether Jesus is the promised Messiah, the anointed one) Jesus’ audience was discussing and debating among themselves. However, they believed the Messiah would rescue them from the Romans, so Jesus answered the question, not by saying a misleading “yes” but rather by citing facts and data about his ministry. In essence he was saying “Yes, I am the Messiah, but not in the way you think.”
4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers[a] are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.Matthew 11:4-5 (ESV)
But Jesus is This Curious Mixture of Attractiveness and Offensiveness
What could be more attractive to Galilean culture than someone who could heal diseases, raise the dead, and give good news to the poor? So Jesus’ next statement is unexpected (or at least it was to me). Indeed, in the next whole section Jesus says things that will offend Galilean ears. Jesus warns them what he will say next is offensive, but urges them to listen and to think about what he’s about to say, and not take offense,
6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.Matthew 11:6 (ESV)
As Keller points out, in Galilean society everyone had to work hard to survive, but there were two seminal events in community life: marriages (where celebrations lasted a week) and funerals (where the mourning and wailing lasted a day). So it’s perfectly natural that children would use these very happy and sad occasions in their play. Jesus uses this childish metaphor to underline the complaining and muttering that accompanies the crowd’s adoration for him and John the Baptist.
16 “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,
17 “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’
And Now Comes the Offense
18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”[a]Matthew 11:18-19
Finally, he says something that would be deeply offensive to the Hebrew mind:
25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.[a]27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.Matthew 11:25-27
When Jesus says extraordinary things about God the Father such as: “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” it seems he’s saying to me:
“Peter, you can’t just make me into a good teacher, an encourager of the poor, or a doctor. I am, of course, all those things too. For us to have a working relationship, a true friendship Peter, you have to remember who’s God in our relationship and its not you. To think of me in any other way, to forget that I am of the triune God, is to make me into a partial or imaginary Jesus.”
Now We come to the Culmination of the Whole Chapter–What Does Jesus Want of His Audience
28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
I imagine Jesus calls me to himself individually, not as a member of a crowd. I stagger up carrying an impossible burden. He places my load into a cart and the two of us, side-by-side pull it using a yoke. All the time he speaks gently and humbly to me and teaches me how to pull the cart, doing more than his fair share. In that companionship I have his full attention, and he has mine and he teaches me how to walk and work.
Links to Dr. Keller’s Spotify Messages
On Tim Keller’s Essay THE FADING OF FORGIVENESS
Tim Keller, is a writer, speaker, and a minister at a New York city Presbyterian church. He is also very ill. Yet, despite his challenges he wrote a profound essay on forgiveness on Comment.org [https://comment.org/the-fading-of-forgiveness/].
In the introduction entitled OFFENDED BY FORGIVENESS, Keller cites many examples where the younger generation has moved from forgiveness to retribution. Indeed forgiveness is seen as an enabler of injustice.
“the emphasis on guilt and justice is ever more on the rise and the concept of forgiveness seems, especially to the younger generation, increasingly problematic“Tim Keller https://comment.org/the-fading-of-forgiveness/
Keller then goes on to show, in a segment entitled OUR THERAPEUTIC CULTURE, that even when “forgiveness” is tolerated, it is only tolerated in a therapeutic sense … if forgiveness is of positive benefit to the victim of the injustice.
“forgiveness is either discouraged as imposing a moral burden on the person or, at best, it is offered as a way of helping yourself acquire more peaceful inner feelings, of “healing ourselves of our hate.” “Tim Keller https://comment.org/the-fading-of-forgiveness/
The Amish of Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania
As a counterpoint to our culture’s intolerance toward forgiveness, Keller cited the example of the Amish families whose children were shot and killed by a gunman in October, 2006. The gunman then committed suicide. The families of the wounded and dead children immediately reached out to the family of the deceased gunman, as Keller put it, “expressing sympathy for their loss.”
“Within hours members of the Amish community visited both the killer’s immediate family and his parents, each time expressing sympathy for their loss. The Amish uniformly expressed forgiveness of the murderer and his family.”Tim Keller https://comment.org/the-fading-of-forgiveness/
The Bottom Line for Me
The sacrifice of forgiveness is not optional for me. It may not always work right away, or ever, but it is the only route to healing and reconciliation. The primary purpose of forgiveness is not a way to make me feel better or to combat hate I may feel toward those who have wronged me (although it may well do that as a by-product), it is my minor participation in Christ’s reconciling work on the cross. His forgiveness is offered to all–but not all accept it. Yet the sacrifice and offer has been made regardless of the acceptance.
In Keller’s words …
“Christians in community are to never give up on one another, never give up on a relationship, never “write off” another believer and have nothing to do with them. We must never tire of forgiving (and/or repenting!) and seeking to repair our relationships.“Tim Keller https://comment.org/the-fading-of-forgiveness/
I Urge You to Read Keller’s Essay
In my personal reflection on Tim Keller’s essay, I only spoke to the high points that caught my attention. There is much I did not talk about. For example, Keller has very practical actions around forgiveness and unpacks our cancel culture in an incisive and thoughtful analysis. I urge you to read his essay in detail.
The Rise of Science, Part 2. From Aristotle to Newton
In my previous posts, I discussed two critical questions about the rise of science in Europe in the 1400 to 1700 hundreds:
- Why there?
- Why then?
Let me begin with a older message by The Meeting House in the Greater Toronto Area that I watched on March 1, 2022 on YouTube (see Footnote), After describing the message, I will then show how it relates to the rise of science.
The message was part of a series entitled REASONS TO BELIEVE, and in this case was delivered by a guest speaker from Australia, Jerrod McKenna. It has nothing to do with science per se, but dealt with differences between the Greek view (the New Testament was written in Greek) and the Jewish view (most of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew) in understanding and interpreting the holy writings. Here are two figures adapted from the notes I took as I watched.
Figures 1 and 2
In Figure 1, the circle with the cross-hairs in the middle and the X at the center, represents the Greek view. The Greeks, valuing perfection, were always looking for the one perfect principle that unified. This is also the goal of science. Believing that these unifying principles exist is a major impetus for the search leading to their discovery. However, what happens if the “perfect principle” is not only imperfect, but wrong? The impetus that spawned the search for the perfect principle now becomes an impediment to changing it. When the data point arrives that destroys the beautiful law, one can always say, “Let’s put that data point in the filing cabinet until we know more. I’m sure with more data and more thought, it will eventually fit. After all, all my lectures and my reputations are built on the beautiful principle. If I claimed the principle is disproved, what would I teach?”
In Figure 2, the Jewish or Hebrew view is expressed, according to McKenna. The circle has two X’s on the periphery, representing two teachings or data points which are paradoxical, hard to reconcile, and from some perspectives, contradictory. Inside the circle is an area that could he termed “The Mystery of God.” In other words, one may encounter truths which are both true, but hard to reconcile (perhaps only at the moment). One can live with that because we are not God and cannot expect to understand everything. In other words, the Jewish view allows for uncertainty in the explanations. These are theological statements. How do the apply to science?
From Aristotle to Newton
A thorough description of Aristotle’s laws of motion has been presented:
The key one for our discussion is summarized in the figure above. Aristotle believed that natural state of terrestrial objects was no motion. In other words, to keep an object moving, one had to apply a force. This law is supported by observation a thousand times a day, by anyone who cares to look. You throw a stone, shoot an arrow, or kick a soccer ball, it moves for a while, slows down, and eventually stops.
The data that destroys the perfect theory usually comes before the new explanation comes. One has to live with knowing the theory is wrong and broken before one can describe what will replace it.
Aristotle’s laws of motion were seen to be incorrect, before the correcting explanations became apparent. Observing the four large moons of Jupiter clearly showed objects which did not come to rest. Galileo showed that some falling objects fall at the same rate independent of density. Quantitative estimates on how an object should behave were also not explained by Aristotle. But it took until the brilliance of Newton and his laws of motion, before an explanations emerged that overcame the problems.
Speaking as both a student and a tutor, I think one of the great failings in teaching science has to do with the false perception which leaves the student thinking that every question has been answered, and every science problem solved. It is much better to train the student to live with not knowing, or at least knowing that the principles we teach and talk about is likely fatally flawed, and we don’t yet know what the correct answer.
Summary and Final Comments
The philosophical climate in Europe in the 1400-1700 hundreds was precisely the climate necessary for the emergence of modern science:
- The Greek view of the perfect principle gave the impetus for finding a unifying explanation for data.
- When data came along that destroyed a well-established theory, the idea of The Mystery of God enabled scholars intellectually to realize the theory was wrong well before a better theory came along. Belief in The Mystery of God made it intellectually possible for them to say, “I really don’t know the correct explanation at this time. I know what we believed before was wrong. There are some things we may never know.”
- When a scholar is in a position where a much-beloved theory is discredited, yet no explanation has yet arisen to provide the new principle, one needs a bedrock of philosophic thought that allows this uncertainty to exist.
- The ability to say: “I don’t know” or “I no longer believe I know” is the scholar’s only sure defense against Confirmation Bias which makes it nigh impossible to dethrone a beloved, discredited explanation.
- The vivid imagination of pagan culture, which was carried over was an aid for rethinking explanations.
This discussion began with a book review of Peter Kreeft’s BACK TO VIRTUE. I hope this example was useful in understanding Kreeft’s and Meyer’s points in answering the question about the rise of science in Europe:
Footnote added: The messages in the WE BELIEVE series, at the time of writing, were no longer available on YouTube. If they become available again, I will add a hyperlink for the reader’s convenience.
What I learned from Tim Keller’s Message on Guidance
In these days when, by government edict here in Canada, churches are deemed “non-essential services,” I find myself searching the internet for inspiring and thought-provoking messages. A few weeks ago, I listened to a 2004 message by Timothy Keller on guidance. See the link below:
For a transcription of the talk, check out the link below:
Keller talks about three forms of guidance:
“We’ll find out by answering, by looking at these proverbs and understanding first of the guidance God does, secondly the guidance God gives and thirdly the guidance God purchases for us.”
- Guidance God does
- Guidance God gives
- Guidance God purchases for us
He further subdivides “Guidance God does” into:
- Paradoxical guidance God does
- Non-obvious guidance God does
There is so much in this message that I can only talk today about what spoke to me about “Paradoxical guidance God does.” When I think of guidance I think of help in decision making. Keller points out there are two contradictory views about decisions. One view is a deterministic view that decision making is really an illusion. Our brain chemistry, our hormones, are appetites so completely determine our decisions (if you’re a Materialist) that our decisions don’t matter. There is also a theological version of this: God makes our decisions for us, so again they don’t matter.
The second, free-will view, is that our decisions completely determine everything. Keller astutely points out that both points of view, if thought through to their logical implications, can’t help but lead to despair. Absolute determinism logically leads to complete passivity. My decisions don’t matter, ever. But free will leads to paralysis since I know so many of my decisions will not only be wrong, but devastatingly wrong that second guessing and doubt will paralyze me.
Keller correctly points out that, not only Proverbs, but he New Testament itself asserts both individual Free Will and God’s Sovereignty (Determinism) simultaneously and the two together are essential for hope and confidence in the future.
Since Free Will exists and is operative, my decisions matter a lot, so I cannot be passive. Yet since the God who loves me still is sovereign, he can smooth over my many poor choices, so in the end I will be okay. Keller uses the Genesis historical account of Joseph where many people made terrible decisions with some good ones thrown in, but God, made everything work together to good purpose and save Jacob and his family from a killer famine.
How to Come to Terms with this Paradox
As a scientist, I am no stranger to paradoxes. The one that springs immediately to mind is the wave-particle duality that is particularly pronounced in small particles. One knows this paradox is intrinsic to particles. One also understands the quantum nature of very small particles is so different from what I encounter in the macroscopic world, that I should not be surprised the properties characteristic of the quantum realm appear as paradoxes to me.
The way a physicist handles these paradoxes is instructive. One knows when to treat an electron as a particle and when to treat it as a wave to solve a particular problem. For diffraction one treats an electron as a wave; for collisions as a particle.
Some years ago I read Roger Penrose’s book The Road to Reality. Much I did not understand but his explanation of the arrow of time always stayed with me. Of the four dimensions (x, y, z, t) only time is unidirectional, that is to say time always moves from the present to the future. Indeed, our world is what it is, because of time. The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that for any process, the entropy of the universe must increase. To go back in time is to return to a lower entropic state of the universe and so contradicts this law. As a human being, I am remorselessly and relentlessly bound in time. At one point in time I am deciding cereal or eggs for breakfast. Twenty minutes later that decision is irrevocably set in the past. Within time I made a decision.
Yet if I believe that God created everything including time, then I have to believe he exists outside of time as well as within it. This to me is the whole explanation why Free Will and Determinism can co-exist. Within time (the only realm I comprehend), real decisions are being made and have consequences. Outside of time, in some way there is some multidimensional present where all of infinity is seen (I want tot say simultaneously, but that would be a symptom of my incurable compulsion to always drag time back into God’s timeless realm).
This brings me to my final point. I can’t understand God’s Sovereignty without dragging time into his timeless realm and so making him responsible for all actions and destroying Free Will. I can’t understand his sovereignty, but at least I know why I can’t understand it.
As Keller points out, having free, meaningful choices and a sovereign God superintending all is the only way of avoiding paralysis on the one hand and passivity on the other. Like the scientist, I apply my imperfect models to the problem at hand. When I am making a decision, I decide knowing that this is my responsibility. When I have second thoughts and wonder if I my decision has been a huge mistake, I am confident that God in his sovereignty will make it work out, despite my flawed choices.
The Father Brown Stories by G. K. Chesterton
I am reading the Father Brown stories for the second time. I believe I now have a complete set and can read them all in chronological order. I particularly want to focus on one story I had not read before:
- Chapter 1 entitled “The Resurrection of Father Brown” in The Incredulity of Father Brown
The Resurrection of Father Brown (caution spoilers)
Father Brown is in an unnamed south american country (it is on the northern coast of the continent) quietly serving as a priest to some of the poorer citizens when his ministerial assignment is discovered by an american reporter named Paul Snaith. Mr. Snaith wrote so many glowing articles of the famous Father Brown serving in South America to readers in America, that Father Brown was invited to go on an american speaking tour (which he declined). At Snaith’s hands, Father Brown’s fame continued to grow. He received a bottle of wine from a Mr. Eckstein, asking him to try it and say what he thought of it. Knowing the lunacy of american advertising, Brown had a glass and went out for an evening walk. He realized he was not alone. But he was a man of courage and even stronger curiosity and walked on.
“All his life he [Father Brown] had been led by an intellectual hunger for the truth, even of trifles.”
He was beset by two men, one with a knife and one with a cudgel. This attack was observed through a window by John Adams Race an american engineer who happened to be an evangelical Christian. Race left his house and rushed to the scene. As he arrived, the cry went up: “Father Brown is dead!” Snaith was there and confirmed it. The death was also confirmed by Dr. Calderon.
The funeral, with Brown in a wooden coffin at the foot of a wooden crucifix, was held a short time afterward, and Mendoza, one of the local politicians gave a long oration, praising Father Brown. His political opponent, an atheist and revolutionary named Alavarez kept his peace until the oration grew to be too much when Mendoza, as part of his speech, began berating his political opponents.
Alvarez, beside himself with rage, berated and blamed God for this and every other tragedy. He ended up defiantly by saying:
“I defy the God who is not there to waken this man who sleeps forever.”
“Stop! Stop!” cried Snaith; “somethings up! I swear I saw him move.”
The wonder at this miracle, as expected, caused the crowd to roar with excitement. Surrounded by the adulation of the crowd and of Snaith, Father Brown sat up and tried to calm everyone down. When he failed he staggered off.
Later on, Race asked Brown where he had gone. Brown explained he had rushed to the telegraph office to tell his bishop to disregard the reports of this “resurrection miracle” since it was a hoax.
My Personal Thoughts
If I put myself in Father Brown’s shoes, wouldn’t I be tempted to use this supposed miracle to strengthen the faith of believers? Wouldn’t I be tempted to use a “noble lie?”
Father Brown’s answer to this question is telling. Brown told Race that he would praise God not for saving him from death but from disgrace.
“And if it had only been my disgrace! But it was the disgrace of all I stand for; the disgrace of the Faith that they went about to encompass.”
Snaith, Mendoza, Eckstein, and Calderon had set the whole thing up. Eckstein drugged Brown. Calderon confirmed his death. Snaith would have published the miracle broadly and then he have “uncovered” the hoax he had orchestrated. Snaith had even duped Brown into writing a few letters, although innocent at the time, later would have made it sound as if Brown had perpetrated the hoax.
For me this underlines that commitment to the truth is paramount. There are no shortcuts. There are no “noble lies” permissible. This, of course, doesn’t mean I don’t believe in miracles, but rather I must, through diligence and a certain degree of skepticism make very sure they are indeed miraculous, much as the gospel writers and Father Brown did.
If you are interested in checking out Peter’s books, look here.
Whither our Universities? Part 2
Here are some additional links to columnists speaking about the sanctioning of Professor Tomas Hudlicky:
Barbara Kay at the National Post … https://bit.ly/2Vtq7Tx-Kay
Jordan Peterson at the National Post … https://bit.ly/3g7HbGK-Peterson
Chapter 9, “The Aberhardt Constant” From The Battle for Halcyon
I did not want to distract from the discussion of the facts around the Tomas Hudlicky sanctioning by talking about the “What If” questions in my writing. In this snippet from The Battle for Halcyon, the faculty are using what they know to gradually move the student body to think a certain way. The fictitious Professor Aberhardt appears before the university senate to complain that they are moving too quickly. As a sociologist he had developed a metric (called by others The Aberhardt Constant) for how fast one can change a subject’s thinking without the subject realizing what is going on. This, of course, is fiction but here is the dialogue:
“What’s all this about Darwin?” asked John Hobbs, wiping his pudgy face with a handkerchief.
Darwin Blackmore considered his colleague for a moment. John Hobbs was short and his extra weight made him look as if he did not have a waist.
Blackmore caught himself stroking his goatee and put his hands down on the conference table in front of him.
“John, I don’t really know what Aberhardt wants to talk to us about. He asked to meet with the Senate Executive Committee on a matter of some urgency. Since he’s a member of the Senate I couldn’t say ‘no.’ I have given him twenty minutes.”
The door opened and Blackmore’s pretty Executive Assistant, Bernice Le Blanc entered and closed the door behind her.
“Professor Aberhardt has arrived for his appointment. Is it convenient for me to bring him in now, or do you need more discussion time?” asked Bernice.
Blackmore looked around the table. “Shall I have him brought in?” Everyone was nodding. Blackmore turned and nodded to Bernice as well.
A few moments later, Bernice ushered Aberhardt into the conference room. Blackmore rose to shake his hand as Bernice left and closed the door behind her. Frederick Aberhardt was an austere man with a long thin face crowned with thin, wild, scraggly hair. His chin was defined by a brown goatee that was as wild as the hair on his head.
“Professor Aberhardt how good it is to see you,” said Blackmore. Blackmore hoped he sounded sincere.
Aberhardt took his hand, but only nodded in acknowledgement.
“Please have a seat at the table,” said Blackmore.
“I’m used to lecturing, so I’ll stand,” said Aberhardt.
Blackmore felt his face getting warm. The pompous swine!
Blackmore turned toward the others and cleared his throat as he tried to regain his composure. With long practice, he made his face impassive.
“Friends, it gives me great pleasure to welcome the distinguished Professor Aberhardt to our council chambers. He is one of the most eminent sociologists of our time. He has written the book The Sociology of Democratic Governance, which received the President’s Award shortly before we were dislocated. Even before the award, the book had become obligatory reading in all serious sociology and political science courses.”
He turned to Professor Aberhardt. “Welcome to our meeting, Frederick. Please tell us about the urgent matter you wanted to talk to us about.” Blackmore sat down and leaned back in his chair.
Aberhardt had a surprisingly loud voice for a thin man and glowered at his audience with piercing eyes.
“As Darwin has said,” began Aberhardt, “I am the pre-eminent sociologist at Halcyon. I’m here to warn you that you are taking a dangerous course. As I listened to our senate deliberations over the last few weeks, it has become clear to me that we are contemplating taking more direct action to bring resisters or rebels into line. WE MUST NOT DO THAT.”
The shock of Aberhardt’s shout, made Hobbs, who had begun to doodle on his note pad, drop his pencil on the floor. He frowned at Aberhardt and shifted his position.
“I’m not sure I follow you, Frederick,” said Blackmore in a soft voice.
“In my book, The Sociology of Democratic Governance, I go to great lengths to define what has subsequently been named the Aberhardt Constant.
“Perhaps you should explain, Frederick, since not everyone here has read your magnificent work recently.”
Aberhardt’s eyes bored into Blackmore, as if questioning whether or not he was being mocked.
Blackmore gave him his most reassuring smile.
Apparently satisfied, Aberhardt went on. “Many governments in the past have tried to direct the thinking of their subjects. They have used force and coercion. Although they appeared successful for a time, they ultimately failed. Why?” Here he thrust his index finger into the air.
“They failed because coercion achieves outward compliance, but had no control over what happened in the minds of their citizens. Thus, their thoughts unmodified, the subjects became increasingly rebellious until the opposition gained power to revolt.”
“Through our empirical studies we know better. We encourage people to express their opinions. We welcome them. When they criticize us, the nature of their criticism tells us to what degree our persuasion is working. By using the media, the arts, and education, we can change the prevailing public opinion in the direction we want at a rate given by the effectiveness of these tools. I have measured that effectiveness. That rate is defined by Aberhardt’s Constant. As long as we only make changes at a rate less than this time constant, then the average person, even though he grumbles about some of the things he sees going on, doesn’t become alarmed enough to take action because the change is happening slowly. He doesn’t realize that his opinion is being incrementally being shifted for him by unending repetition in the direction of the next behavior modification step through school, through television and every other thing in his environment he sees or hears. We can study him, poll his attitude and opinions, and if one message doesn’t work, we’ll try another. We can always measure our effectiveness because he’s willing to tell us what he likes and what he doesn’t like.”
Blackmore shifted in his seat uncomfortably. He heard Lydia Pendergast beginning to tap her foot on the floor.
Maybe I shouldn’t have sat down. Now that Aberhardt has the floor he could go on and on.
Aberhardt continued. “This gradual thinking modifcation works splendidly as long as we don’t go too fast. Some changes are so significant and so difficult, we actually have to wait for a new generation to grow up under our tutelage to achieve change. But, here is the critical point.
“If we try to go faster by coercion, then not only will we build up the subject’s resentment, but by its very nature, coercion causes the subject to hide his true feelings from us. When that happens we no longer accurately measure public opinion…” Aberhardt again stabbed the air with his finger for emphasis. “And so we will be governing in a vacuum, being forced to use stronger and stronger measures to maintain compliance until the system collapses in a revolt or an unwelcome opposition party.
“All of this is explained in my book …
“Yes, yes, yes!” muttered Lydia Pendergast. “We know all that.”
Aberhardt glared murderously at Pendergast.
Undaunted Pendergast continued. “Halcyon is a closed, controlled environment. We have broken down many of the institutions that have caused us so much grief. We know that religion poisons everything and so we have been careful to make the practice of religion a private affair, excluded from all public discussion, and so thanks to our excellent management, religion has almost disappeared. We won’t have any Martin Luthers rocking our boat…”
“Undoubtedly that has been an excellent development,” said Aberhardt.
“We have suppressed the family,” continued Pendergast. “Isn’t that important?”
“It’s true, that suppression is very important for sociological evolution. The stable family is a sociologically self-contained unit which means we don’t really know what ideas are taking root there. They don’t need us to care for them. In our new order, we create state dependency by ensuring there are almost no close familial relationships…”
“Exactly my point,” interrupted Pendergast.
“Let me continue,” interrupted Aberhardt in turn, “the subjects now look to Halcyon to raise their offspring. If they are sick they come to our doctors. If they are depressed they talk to our psychologists. At every turn we are able to influence them. These are all excellent steps but with our current actions we are jeopardizing all of our progress…”
“Really Frederick, I’m sure you’re right about the basic facts and your theory is brilliant,” said Trevor Huxley cleaning his glasses. “But it will take twenty or thirty years to make the kind of changes we want if we follow your infinitesimal steps, even given the rather substantial control we have over the Halcyon media, the few artistic endeavors we have left and of course our educational activities. We simply don’t have twenty years. This army of Apemen we have heard about could be here any day now and we need to make sure that everyone is on board. We can’t have any disunity. We can’t have our decisions questioned. Only the strong will survive and we need to govern strongly.”
“Besides,” added Pendergast, “your problem Aberhardt is that you’re working through social influences. Biology is more fundamental than sociology. Give me the right neurotransmitters and I can make our people believe anything you want.”
“Enough,” said Darwin Blackmore. He stroked his unruly goatee. “Thank you Professor Aberhardt for you valuable and insightful discourse. I will weigh your suggestions as well as those of Professor Pendergast and Administrator Huxley carefully.”
Aberhardt scowled. “You’re not going to take my warning seriously, are you?”
“Nonsense,” said Blackmore. “You have given us much food for thought. As I recall, Aberhardt’s Constant is a constant in name only and can be increased; perhaps you and Dr. Pendergast should have more discussions. With the right kind of psychopharmacopeia one could make the changes much sooner and so modify the magnitude of the Aberhardt Constant. Thank you for your time.”
Blackmore’s best smile was wasted on Aberhardt’s back as he stomped out.
As the door slammed, Pendergast muttered, “When I make this work, we’ll have to rename it the Pendergast-Aberhardt constant.”
Blackmore, ignoring Pendergast’s mumblings, went on:
“I have one more item to discuss. Do you remember after the first Halcyon River expedition returned and reported about the City of the Dead? There was a fellow on that expedition, Albert Gleeson. Subsequently because of his bizarre religious ideas, Jonathan Boyd, the psychiatrist at Halcyon Medical Center, decided he was delusional and needed to be protected. Boyd sedated him because of his illness, but then Gleeson mysteriously vanished from Halcyon. He reappeared on the Second Halcyon River expedition, and then after that disaster, joined the rebels in the new colony. Well I have reliable information that he has secretly returned to Halcyon.”
“Is this a problem?” asked Huxley. “After all he is only one person. I presume there is only one, am I right.”
“No, he’s not a problem,” said Blackmore. “Indeed, now that we know he’s here, he’s even less of a problem, but still this colony he and his fellow rebels have set up is an annoyance. Furthermore as Professor Aberhardt has so eloquently pointed out, we persuade people to our way of thinking through the media, the arts, and through education. But this colony is beyond our reach on all three fronts. We want to mold and shape our society by controlling the story that everyone believes. Who knows what peculiar ideas, indeed, what dangerous and inimical ideas they may come up with, in the absence of our guidance. We can’t lose control of our conditioning program because of these uncontrolled upstarts.”
“So what do you propose?” asked Pendergast.
“Propose? I propose we watch him discreetly. That way we can locate all of his contacts. We may not need to do anything, but if he does cause trouble, we’ll pick him up. Now if we have no further business, I still have some excellent wine in my cellar that I think we should try.”
Whither Our Universities? Part 1
Since high school, one way or another, I have been associated with universities. First as a student (undergraduate and graduate), then as a Postdoctoral Fellow, as a research collaborator, and also as an Adjunct Professor. I have also participated in academic pursuits such as writing and refereeing papers. Organic Chemistry was my focus and through that discipline I met many fine people.
A writer of futuristic fiction is concerned about where things are headed
As a writer of futuristic fiction, I am driven by “What if …” questions. Since universities have played such an instrumental role in our culture in molding the sequential generations, naturally enough, some of the “What if” questions deal with trends or potential trends I have observed in higher education.
In my novel, The Halcyon Dislocation, the movement and isolation of a hypothetical University of Halcyon to a parallel world sets up an experimental literary sandbox. One can ask the question, what would the university elites do if they had the opportunity to channel the thinking of their students in any direction they chose? What would they choose? How would they get there?
What would university elites choose if they could mold student thinking in any direction they wanted?
One of the problems that plagues science, indeed culture and politics as well is the question:
If I can do something, how do I determine if I should do that very thing?
The “can” is usually determined by data, experimentation, and collective scholarship, but the “shoulds” remain elusive since they depend on the question of objective right and wrong which is inaccessible to data and experimentation. In the absence of an objective right or wrong, the answer often becomes: “Because I have the power and I want to, I will do it and no one can stop me.”
The danger then, for universities, is the tendency to becoming factories of conditioned students rather than nurturing educated students who have learned to thoughtfully consider opposing points of view in humility and respect.
Becoming factories producing conditioned students, rather than educational institutions that enable students to thoughtfully consider different viewpoints with respect, is one of the dangers universities face
The antidote to this tendency to become ever more efficient conditioners of students as our manipulative skills and technology increase, is to make sure opposing voices (including religious voices) are not only allowed to speak, but are heard and considered. Free speech is the best safeguard against conditioned speech.
A Recent Example That Hits Close to Home
I know of Organic Chemistry Professor Tomas Hudlicky by his fine reputation. He wrote, and had accepted a paper in Angewandte Chemie (along with the Journal of the American Chemical Society, Angewandte Chemie is arguably one of the two best journals in chemistry). However, after the Twitterati ignited a Twitter storm (Twitter Gewitter?) everything changed for Professor Hudlicky, According to an article in the National Post by Peter Shawn Taylor, the accepted paper was withdrawn by Angewandte Chemie, the two referees were taken off the referees list (I’m sure as volunteers they have better things to do with their time) and the editor was suspended.
I respectfully suggest you read the whole paper, as I did, or at least read up to page 4, along with Note 2 which seemed to cause all the offense and then think about discussing the points Professor Hudlicky is making.
The text of the paper if it’s still available … Hudlicky Paper
Retraction Watch with resignations
Another Retraction Watch discussion
A blog by Jordan Peterson on this specific topic
In my view, the proper way to proceed is to have everyone, first read the paper, then present their best arguments in respectful discussion. A view or position that is not permitted to be questioned, is likely indefensible. If the case for the other side were compelling, why not make it? Is that not the mission of universities to encourage students to properly discuss opposing points of view with respect and leave the final convictions that come out of the discussion to the students? Apparently not.
A Comment on Sara Flower Kjeldsen’s Excellent Blog: READING AN ENTIRE BLOG BEFORE COMMENTING
Posted by Peter Kazmaier
Link to Sara Flower Kjeldsen’s blog: https://saraflower.ca/2023/02/05/reading-a-persons-entire-post-before-commenting/
Link to a cited reference in Sara’s blog: https://www.sciencealert.com/people-who-read-the-facebook-newsfeed-think-they-know-more-than-they-actually-do
I wholeheartedly agree, that as a blog commenter, I ought first to thoroughly read and understand the thesis of any blog before I respond either in support or in disagreement. For me that is a discipline that I ought to practice in my reading.
However, having conceded that point, I also believe as a blog writer I ought to structure my blog argument in such a way, that the modern reader with all the attention deficits they bring to the written word. cannot help but capture my central argument even if they skim that last few paragraphs of my missive. Note, to be perfectly clear, I am not at all saying that any Sara’s blog posts suffer from this deficiency. I am merely stating that as a complement to thorough reading, I always want to practice best writing practices in my blog posts.
Why the complementary focus on blog structure? In 2011, I read William Powers’ book, Hamlet’s Blackberry. It was either while reading the book itself, or hearing some excellent lectures on Powers’ book by Pastor Bruxy Cavey, that I realized that the age of emails had modified both my own and many other people’s reading habits.
In my case, feeling the pressure of reading and responding to many, many emails a day, I found, as Powers predicted, that I would read the title and first paragraph and then, without thinking, skim the rest of the text. This modern proclivity of skimming, does not at all excuse the blog commenter from reading the blog carefully before responding, but it did signal to me as a blog writer that I should do what I can to mitigate this reading defect. In essence, I resolved to use the title and first paragraph, as much as I am able, to communicate a succinct version of my thesis, so that even those who read no further can grasp my argument.
At least one commenter attributed inappropriate responses to Sara’s blog to trolls who presumably are deliberately misunderstanding her argument since they write using uncharitable criticism to inflame passions and provoke heated responses. No urging for them to “read the whole blog” nor any effort on my part to make the thesis apparent in the first paragraph will curtain their activity, since the whole mechanism of trolling is to miss the point.
However, there are likely many readers who miss the point inadvertently because of time pressure. True they should not comment without a thorough reading, but I think it would be of value to structure my blog in such a way that they get the general idea of my thesis or point despite their rushed perusal.
Posted in Essay, For Authors, Independent (Indie) Authors, Non-Fiction, Personal Reflection, Writing
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Tags: Blog Posts, Commenting, Straw Man Argument, Trolls