An Equivocation of Biblical Proportions

I guess we really can’t accuse Bill Nye of mincing words…

A recent Bill Nye video has gone viral, in which he sharply criticizes those who “deny evolution” and charges them with holding society back.

Nye obviously possesses a great amount of expertise in his field. When he talks about mechanical engineering, for example, or how the body works, its probably best to simply take it all in.

However, as it often happens in science, the content of the “Big Think” video referred to above crosses into the domains of philosophy and theology. While the domains don’t totally overlap and not everything in science is of philosophical/theological import—it is hard to see how experiments involving the atomic mass of certain elements carries theological implications, for instance—there is considerable overlap and interaction across disciplines.

The “Big Think” video most certainly does have such import; he makes very broad, sweeping claims about evolution and those that deny (or doubt), and evolution deals with the question of origins. When these disciplines intersect, since they are all legitimate sources of knowledge (I have no reason to think Scientism to be even remotely accurate to the real world), it is appropriate for philosophers and theologians to have their say. Gould’s NOMA notwithstanding, both can speak to the scientist, just as the scientist can speak to both of them.

While I don’t want to just assume Nye is lacking in philosophical or theological training—that would be bad—I often find that scientists are lacking in those areas and hence are unaware of how their views raise problems outside of the limited confines of their expertise.  Whether it be on what qualifies as science in the first place, whether postulating a multiverse makes sense, or questions on the nature of time, philosophy helps immensely.  Neglect it at your own peril.

For example, in his most recent book, Stephen Hawking steps outside his ken and hence opens himself to trenchant philosophical critique. In his explication of a form of anti-realism he shows no awareness of any of the many critiques that have been brought against such a view. Furthermore, he embraces a hard determinism and hence undercuts the rationality of anything written on the page. Quite a few have pointed this out.

Hawking is second to none when it comes to knowledge in his field, but when one’s views within a limited area of expertise raises internal and external conceptual problems, it is time to proceed more cautiously or at least give evidence that you’ve thoughtfully interacted with the other side.

In Nye’s case, underlying his points are two very big philosophical questions: 1) what is science? and 2) what is evolution? Question 1), known as the “demarcation problem,” isn’t a scientific issue per se, as no experiment or observation will tell you the answer to that question (using an experiment or observation actually presumes an answer to the question). It is a second order philosophical question about the nature of a first order discipline.  Even when a scientist herself ventures an answer to the question, she is doing philosophy.

You might think its simple, but it is actually a pretty tough question to answer with any sort of finality, as any set of necessary and sufficient conditions for what counts as science either a) excludes examples that clearly do qualify as science, b) are imprecise qualifications, or c) includes examples that clearly are not scientific.  Most definitions I’ve seen offered, to paraphrase Steven Meyer, die the death of a thousand counter-examples.  Even concepts like falsifiability or observation have problems with them.

That is not to say that anything goes in science and that there are no practices and procedures that are associated with the discipline, nor does it mean that we can’t tell clear-cut instances of science (acid titration experiments) or non-science (palm reading) when we see them without a definition of science. It simply means that dogmatic and certain, yet intellectually satisfying statements about what does and does not qualify as scientific are hard to come by, and these notions ought not be used to arbitrarily disqualify certain controversial cases.

As to question 2), my biggest issue is that he is incredibly imprecise. To repeat, that is an area in which philosophy can be of incredible use to science; it can analytically clarify key concepts and terms. I want to ask Nye: what do you mean by “evolution”? It can be a very slippery term. It can have several different meanings, and the veracity of pretty much everything he says in the video depends upon which definition of evolution he is employing.

There are at least six different definitions, some of them uncontroversial, some not:

1. Change over time; history of nature; any sequence of events in nature

2. Changes in the frequencies of alleles in the gene pool of a population

3. Limited common descent: the idea that particular groups of organisms have descended from a common ancestor.

4. The mechanism responsible for the change required to produce limited descent with modification is chiefly natural selection acting on random variations or mutations

5. Universal common descent: all organisms have descended from a single common ancestor (or a select few ancestors).

6. The Blind watchmaker thesis: the idea that all organisms have descended from common ancestors through unguided, unintelligent, purposeless, material processes such as natural selection acting on random variations or mutations; the idea that the Darwinian mechanism of natural selection acting on random variation, and other similarly naturalistic mechanisms, completely suffice to explain the origin of novel biological forms and the appearance of design in complex organisms.

You’ll find all of these definitions in play when it comes to evolution at one time or another. But Nye never nails down which one he’s talking about, and this allows him to equivocate back and forth. When anyone does this with evolution, it allows them (illegitimately) to use examples from evolution 1-4 (such as the peppered moth experiment, which is featured in many science textbooks) to substantiate evolution 5 and 6. This is exactly what Nye does in the video. The scientific veracity of each definition above is not equal. Some definitely are factual. Seems to me that 1-4 are pretty solid, and even the most ardent fundamentalist Christian shouldn’t have a problem with them on scientific or theological grounds. However, not only are 5 and 6 arguably theologically and philosophically debatable, but they are debatable scientifically as well. Those are not settled by any means.

Scientists have brought well-thought-out doubts about those two kinds of evolution, and their critiques deserve to be heard, not dismissed as religion or straw manned as literal six-day creationist views. Scientists like Nye also should consider the critiques of philosophers as well, as many have pointed out logical and conceptual problems with the materialist program. Since logic maps onto reality, if these guys have a point, their critiques represent serious challenges to the truth of the view and should not be waved away as subjective opinionizing.

How this equivocation can muddy the waters can be seen in the reaction of many in the media. I’ve read a few reports of the Nye video , and in every instance I’ve seen, the reporter labels Nye’s video as critiquing literal six-day creationism (one from the Huffington Post claimed in the headline that he “debunked” creationism in the video…good grief!). Nye never once, however, mentions that view. He simply mentions those who “deny evolution,” which would no doubt include six-day creationists, but includes many outside of that camp as well, including non-theistic critiques. When it comes to evolution, many just uncritically assume that literal six-day creationism is the only game in town when it comes to views that deny evolution and that therefore any doubt of evolution has to be religiously based.

If someone finds out you doubt evolution, the most common reaction is to first scoff, then ask, incredulously, “so, you believe the universe was created in six days only 6,000 years ago?” Like: “how could you live with yourself?”  Typically they can’t fathom any other view out there.

So really, though I have my suspicions—most of the time, when scientists like Nye make the sort of dogmatic denunciations the he made in the video, they have the latter two definitions of evolution in mind—I don’t know what kind of evolution he’s talking about. If he is talking about #5 and 6 above, then the most egregious error is when he says that those who deny evolution somehow “hold everybody back” and if they spread that to their children, they will not grow up to be scientifically literate and knowledgeable citizens. This implies some sort of scientific deficiency on their part.

What the heck is up with that?

Seems to me that this is just demonstrably false. The world is littered with evolution doubters and deniers who are first rate scholars and experts in every field, scientific or otherwise, and who have doubts precisely because of their expertise. I am familiar with the work of some of them, and their appreciation and knowledge of science is not hampered by their doubts.

Perhaps, for some reason, you reject the views of the Michael Behes, Steven Meyers, Alvin Plantingas, and Thomas Nagels (which is fair), but can you seriously look them in the face and say their scholarship and contribution to humanity is somehow second rate and its “holding everyone back”? There are others—engineers, physicists, teachers of the year, educators, doctors, phds, etc—who might not be in the public eye, but they doubt the Neo-Darwinian synthesis, and they still possess some of the top minds in their field.  Some doubt because of theological reasons, some doubt because of philosophical reasons, some doubt because of scientific reasons, and many aren’t necessarily proponents of intelligent design or creationism.

If he is simply ranting or venting in the video, that is fine and understandable. We all from time to time go on rants, and we need not clearly explicate everything, nor does every hint of hyperbole need to be nixed. Sometimes a generalization is just a generalization and its not meant to be picked apart.

I wonder if Nye would characterize his statements that way, though, and I wonder if we gave him more time, would he qualify his statements considerably (like they need to be if he wants them to be taken as anything other than a venting) or would he continue to defend them in their dogmatic form?

If he wants this video to contribute to the discussion on evolution in a meaningful way and be anything more than a “rah-rah” cheer for his side or a cursory summary of what he believes, he should clarify and deal fairly with his ideological opponents.

Of Milkshakes and Malcontents

So I sat down a few days ago and attempted to actually write something up about the Chick-fil-a controversy. I first tried to write a comprehensive post on the whole thing, including a response to the various sides. What I ended up with was about 15 pages and 5,000 words of pure tediousness, and I wasn’t even halfway done. Shoulda known better.

Then I tried to just focus on a small selection of reactions and still ended up having to circle back and point to those details I put in the comprehensive piece anyway. At this point it was 2:30am and my brain had ground to a halt. G’night!

This whole imbroglio was a big mess. That’s what happens when buzz words reign, a lot of fundamental and important issues get mixed together, emotions run high, and people use insipid Facebook memes and bumper sticker commentary to discuss a situation that has deep meaning and importance for people on both sides of the isle.

There were a few on both sides that had some incredibly insightful things to say, but it was drowned out by the bumper sticker voices.

Whether it was the meme below (which was one of the worst and least thoughtful responses in all of this–yet most popular), the bumper-sticker-ish “Jesus didn’t come to rally people to a cause,” (neither did He come to post sweepingly general Facebook status updates, but that didn’t stop you, did it?), the claim that August 1 was unloving  and divisive, that gays and lesbians felt hated , that standing in line and/or posting pictures on Facebook amounted to “shoving it in their face,” that the conflict represented a naked commercialism, the call from a friend of mine to “unite under King Jesus!” and go to Chick-fil-a, or the ubiquitous chant that Chick-fil-a and its supporters are symbols of bigotry—all of it was incredibly unsatisfying, and with each response like that—and there were plenty–I was left with more questions than answers. Predictable, I guess, but I was hoping for more.

This one is just…plain…bad. You’d never see the number of people who posted this meme go help at a food bank. Instead of wasting your time arguing on Facebook that this is true, why don’t you go serve at a homeless shelter instead? That’s something Jesus actually said to do. *See what I did there*?

If you posted this, you are part of the problem. You…yes you

So rather than saying what’s already been said or attempting to tackle every possible response¸ I’m simply going to link to some of the more thoughtful voices, ones that I think need to be heard. If any of you still care to chat about it, you know where to find me…at Starbucks (where I am right now, writing this).

Ok, I admit, this one’s pretty bad too.

First, here is the single most insightful post I’ve found to date, written by Matthew Lee Anderson. Kind of puts a human face onto each side, while at the same time maintaining the need for rigorous debate.

On the heels of that is Anderson teaming up with philosopher John Corvino, who as a gay man himself argues for same-sex marriage in his writings. They “get it” insofar as healthy dialogue needs to happen where the actual arguments of both sides are heard, and that is exactly what is not happening in our buzz-word charged culture.

Philosopher JP Moreland responds to a Matthew Paul Turner piece. Turner argues that the church “failed” last Wed, while Moreland argues that Turner’s points ignore many key distinctions and thus exhibit “royal confusion” about the support of Chick-fil-a. Note: given that Turner’s critique was aimed at Christians and Moreland’s audience is the same, Moreland assumes much background that secular minded folk might object to. His aim was to rebut Turner’s points given the ground common to the main audience, so a defense of that common ground is a side issue.

Gay Patriot” has some good thoughts about the use of “hate” and “bullying” labels. I hesitate to return the favor—as he does—to the liberal left, but he nevertheless makes a good point about how those terms have lost their meaning. He also shows , as does this piece, that diverse voices have spoken in support of Chick-fil-a.

Last link from him: he has video proof  that Chick-fil-a does, indeed, discriminate—with LAZERS AND GUNFIRE!

I’m glad to hear that many, many libertarians and even liberals agree with us conservatives that the various politicians who weighed in greatly overstepped their bounds. They have been appropriately reigned in—for now. Actually, politicians getting away with this sort of thing isn’t new, so I think they will only be reigned in for a short while.

We frequently hear reassurances from the left that they “respect religious practice.” Ross Douthat says “whatever,” and therebye calls for some honesty. Nails it.

I’m not really the biggest Rachel Held Evans fan. However, she does have a few good thoughts in this piece from the other side of the ideological pond. We disagree about same-sex marriage and a whole host of other things…but she gets a few things right in this one…a few things. :)

The fact that she is a) coming from the left and b) leaves some space—however little—for the possibility that some went to Chick-fil-a on Wed out of justified principle makes the column link-worthy.

A friend of a friend writes about how a “Contrived Reciprocity of Conviction”  has led to much of the buzz-word speak.

Denny Burk  cautions us against buying into the overblown media narrative of what started this all. While you might object to the first point (though I still think it’s a good one), the second one is spot on. Both sides of the same sex marriage debate should pay attention to it.

Michael Kruger  gives a response to one prominent critique of CFA appreciation day.

Are Christians standing up to vicious persecution and tyranny? No, says Matthew Lee Anderson. The decision to eat or not eat at Chick-fil-a on Wed was not very morally momentous, and suggesting so cheapens the blood of the true martyrs that have given their lives for Christ all around the world. Still, while the statements of our politicians might not have been hard despotism, they reflected a kind of despotism nonetheless, and that deserves opposition. Anderson writes, “But the rightness or wrongness of a state of affairs isn’t determined comparatively, and to say that the calls by mayors and city councilmen to use the force of law to restrict Chick-Fil-A’s sphere of operations is wrong is not to say it’s the most grave wrong. Soft despotism may be soft, but it is still despotic.”

Lastly, on the topic of marriage itself–which I think is a side issue here with the whole Chick-fil-a kerfuffle, but nevertheless—James Everett  offers an interesting argument. Take special notice of the editor’s note: Everett is not promoting bisexual marriage, but pressing the point, via modus tollens, that many same-sex marriage advocates are inconsistent and discriminatory themselves, if we take their views on what defines unjust discrimination at face value. This is not a slippery slope argument, though that would be just fine. It is modus tollens. Though Everett doesn’t make this next point, a possible solution would be to define discrimination more reasonably, though that might mean one could not wield that accusation against conjugal marriage supporters. This shows the limits of such buzz word arguments.

There you have it. I don’t necessarily buy everything these authors are selling, but I link to them nonetheless because they represent some of the more thoughtful pieces I’ve read. I likewise can find some sympathy with guys like Turner, even though I think they largely miss the mark. We all might be sick and tired of hearing the words “Chick-fil-a” for the time being. Heaven knows I am! The issues the events brought to the forefront are enduring, though, and therefore deserve a sustained look, coupled with robust and rigorous public discourse (rather than the usual fare).

Aurora, CO

What happened in Aurora, CO is yesterday’s news, eclipsed by the latest media firestorm. That is an unfortunate consequence of our fast paced, super-technologically-connected modern life.

This facet of modern life tends to leave me in the dust, for I am not one to blog quickly about something. I do converse in the moment on an individual level, but try to avoid saying something large scale until things have died down a bit and until I’ve had time to sort through things.

So, for what it’s worth, here are some reflections on the shooting that happened in Aurora, CO, during the opening night of The Dark Knight Rises:

First, any response or reaction must start from copious prayer, compassion, and empathy for the victims. Even saying this runs the risk of cheapening it, because I do not know any of the victims personally nor will I be able to travel to Aurora to put boots on this compassion. I am but a distant observer, and I therefore realize a lot of this will sound hollow, so I reflect with a good amount of hesitation. But that makes the beginning point above no less true and necessary to acknowledge.

Second, I’m sure what the victims don’t need is a philosophical treatise on the problem of evil or anything like that. They simply need a silent shoulder to grieve on. I’m not going to offer an intellectual answer anyway. Nevertheless, people in wider society are discussing this event, and folks have questions and thoughts, so a certain amount of reflection is appropriate.

Third, reflecting on the lives of those affected rocks my soul.  Each one of these victims had lives, loves, goals, ambitions, and desires.  Reading of their lives and seeing their pictures brought to my attention their simple humanity.  Heavy stuff.  Thankfully, this event is not the end for those that lost their lives, though the victims left behind will carry this grief for a long, long time.

Fourth, there are a lot of words being used to describe the event, some of which are more accurate than others. Some, for instance, are calling it “senseless.” Why call it “senseless” as if it, well, somehow doesn’t make sense? This was, no doubt, surprising to the victims, for we all tend to assume that the next moment will be like the previous one. Were I to lose a loved one that I assumed would still be there in the morning, I’d feel surprised because I wouldn’t expect it. Afterall, when my daughter goes to sleep at night, I don’t worry at night that someone’s going to snatch her. I just assume she’ll be there when I wake up. Anything out of the ordinary would be an existential shock. But apart from the existential shock of the victims, it makes perfect sense to me. Far from this evil being something the Bible can’t make sense of, the Bible predicts it! Ever since the garden, humans have been deeply fallen. Cain slew Abel, and it was downhill from there. We humans have the divine spark still visible in us and therefore are capable of great things, but since we have chosen to go our own way and set up camp under our own terms, we are also deeply flawed and capable of deep and tragic evil. It’s only “senseless” if we are basically good and our natural inclinations align with True North. Sadly, they do not.

Plus, it’s not like our modern age is a grand utopia of love and good tidings. We haven’t “evolved” much, and to paraphrase C.S Lewis, education has simply made for a more clever devil. Witness the many mass shootings in the last 20 years or so. We’ve castrated and bid the geldings be fruitful. We raise men without chests and are shocked when they act sans virtue. I realize there’s the possibility that Holmes is genuinely mentally ill (or demon possessed!), but that does little to nothing to blunt this observation. This would have been surprising in another age (an age that would have its own shortcomings, sure), but after so many events of a similar nature, it’s no longer surprising now, at least to me.

Tragic? Yes. Wicked? Yes. Horrible? Yes. Incredibly, gut wrenchingly sad? Yes. That much is true.  Senseless? Not really.

Fifth, this tragedy shows that our world is a little too like Gotham, yes? Moral decadence, corruption, and injustice reigns, yet there is always a glimmer of hope. There is still good in Gotham, and that’s why Batman sticks around to fight the good fight, rather than torching the whole place. Yes, after watching our response to the shooting, the parallel is not lost on me.

Sixth, speaking of that “glimmer,” some who were present at the shooting are reporting that their boyfriends gave their lives to protect their girlfriends. Here is one example, Julia Vojtsek, recounting the actions of her boyfriend, John Larimer: “John immediately and instinctively covered me and brought me to the ground in order to protect me from any danger,” Vojtsek wrote in a statement. “Moments later, John knowingly shielded me from a spray of gunshots. It was then I believe John was hit with a bullet that would have very possibly struck me. I feel very strongly that I was saved by John and his ultimate kindness.”

It is sometimes difficult to verify stories like this. Whenever intense media attention surrounds chaotic events like this, certain things can get exaggerated, some forgotten in the moment, some details changed, etc, by no fault of anyone. Just happens. Nature of the beast. We saw this pan out in the Columbine shootings: some reports turned out to be a little inaccurate, so I confess a certain sense of caution here. Nevertheless for now I’ll give the benefit of the doubt. These reports speak very deeply to me as a man. That instinct in men to shield and protect is not totally dead. When the chips are down, we men are to protect, yes even sometimes at the cost of our lives, and we know it. That is deep in our dna. Would Julia have been killed had John not protected her? We will never know, but it is possible. These four men deserve recognition, for they saved the women in their lives.  Their deaths leave their loved ones in the wake of incredible grief, but I think it’s also appropriate, as these women are doing, to recognize their sacrifice as sacrifice, not stupidity.

This is not to deny that women also seek to protect, especially children. I simply seek to applaud the men here, in this situation, who in a moment of crisis instinctively used their strength to protect women.

Seventh and last, some are asking, understandably, “where was God?” Seems to come up whenever a grand evil like this happens. Answer: closer than you think.

Celebrating Parenthood

Meet my one year old daughter, Amara.

This little girl is absolutely full of joy.  From head to toe, it’s all happiness.  She has her “moments,” for sure–mostly after bathtime and around bedtime; she hates it when we take her out of the bath–but it’s uncanny how she can light up a room.  Has never met a stranger, and always seems to have something to “say.”  She has an incredibly gentle spirit and a crazy intense side, and is 100% a social butterfly.  She has a habit of grabbing facial parts and twisting–hard.  She has a mean fishhook.  Watching her sleep is the cutest thing.

I love it all.

Ever since she came around, life has, of course, been quite different for me and my wife.  Typically what you hear along those lines in our culture is that life is “over” once you have kids.  Trade in the sports car for the minivan.  Trade in late night raging parties with playdates and soccer games.  Trade sleeping in with waking up in the middle of the night to change a soiled diaper.

Like I said, life is over….dread it.

You know, though?  That hasn’t been my experience.  Once Amara came around, my life really took off.  Fatherhood didn’t “end” my life; in a lot of ways, June 7, 2011 is when things really began to get good.

Don’t get me wrong, the particulars I mentioned above are still there–well, minus the minivan part and soccer part, and I never really was a raging partyer to begin with.  All I’m saying is that the hardships are still there, but in a sense, I kinda enjoy them.  Oh, I complain with halfway-witty Facebook status updates too, just like everyone else, in an attempt to make my life seem sooo hard and me sooo heroic, but really, when the chips are down, it ain’t that bad.  The stuff I gave up in exchange for the responsibilities of parenthood didn’t suit me that well in the first place anyway.

Take, for example, the late night feedings and diaper changes.  There was an initial adjustment period where it just sucked, yes.  But now, in a strange sort of way, I look forward to it.  I get to bond with my daughter in the quiet of the night when she actually sits still for a few minutes.  Then I go back to bed.  It’s kind of nice.  Unless she wakes up an hour or half an hour before I’m supposed to get up…then I’m a bit perturbed…but you get my overall point, right?

So sure, I gave up some freedoms, like the freedom to come and go as I please and not be beholden to someone else’s schedule (I actually gave that freedom up when I got married, well before Amara came along).  It can be a chore to balance schedules and all that.  Now, I need to be home at a certain hour, which is much earlier than before, and this has put somewhat of a cramp on my work life and social life.

But I don’t mind the exchange.  I think I actually came out well ahead.  I gave up some “freedoms” in exchange for responsibilities, but the responsibilities have added a texture, depth, and meaning to my life that the freedoms just couldn’t offer.  Fatherhood kills your ability to “do what you want,” but that is actually a good thing.  Responsibilities add depth to your life, they do not take away depth.  Were I to be faced with the choice a million times, a million times I’d make the same exchange.

I’m living this right now, for both my wife and daughter are out of the country visiting family (due to cost, I could not come along for the ride).  So in a sense, I’m living the single life again, and it ain’t all that grand.  Yes, it is kind of nice to have the freedom of schedule again, and I have plenty of friends and service opportunities to fill up the time, but I’d much, much rather be with my wife and daughter.

Nothing beats coming home after a hard day at work and seeing the look on my daughter’s face as I walk through the door.  Nothing beats coming home after a stressful day to have my wife hug me when I see her.  Nothing beats the comedy of sitting at the dinner table and watching Amara try to throw away the food she doesn’t like, and nothing beats discussing the events of the day with my wife over a meal.

I realize this isn’t everyone’s experience.  Amara is just an easy going kid, and I harbor no illusions that that is because of my fathering skills.  We have just been blessed with a kid that is easier on her parents than most children.  Perhaps things will be different when child #2 comes along.

I also realize that many parents and singles will read this and might feel hurt because this ignites their longing for something different. I urge you to not take it that way because that is definitely not my intention.

I write this post because whether it be out of fear of hurting someone or because focusing on the hard stuff makes us seem so much more heroic, children get a bad rap these days.  This is one guy’s experience, and I put it out there in an attempt to bring a small amount of balance.  Sitcoms, pop mythology, movies, pseudo witty e-card memes, and well meaning parents on Facebook (including yours truly!) seem to focus on the hard parts and perpetuate the “your life is over once you have kids” view.

Example: whenever I post something on Facebook about parenting, whether good or bad, there’s always some shlub–usually several shlubs–who come along and say, “wait til they turn X.  Then it reallllllllly gets difficult!”  The X age is usually an age said parent has already passed with his kids.  It usually comes off as a condescending “ahahahahhh (deep, James Earl Jones laugh)….you know nothing, little one (pat on the head from above).”  Come to think of it, I think I’ve been that shlub a time or two, and I don’t even have a kid in the X age range.

Can we simply put that impulse to the side for a moment and celebrate the little things?

Wrestling’s Unhealthy Habits?

 

Here is my response to the aforementioned post, containing an article in a local high school’s newspaper about cutting weight in wrestling:

While RRRR did bring attention to an issue with some wrestlers, I’d like to bring some balance to the discussion.

First, some wrestlers do choose to “cut weight,” but a majority, at least on the Capo team, do not, and they eat perfectly healthy. 32 out of Capo’s 42 wrestlers don’t have to lose a single pound. Most of our upper weight wrestlers are undersized, so I actually tell them to gain weight, not by eating everything in sight, but by lifting hard and eating healthy. For some of the 10 left, simply eating healthy and working out hard does the trick.

Secondly, for those that do lose weight, realize there is a healthy, productive way to do it, and an unproductive way. I tell the athletes to work out more, not eat less. In addition, the high protein/vegetable/fruit/nuts/fats, few-grains diet that RRR mentioned in the article is a lifestyle that many competitive athletes even outside of wrestling have adopted because they have found it helps them compete at a more elite level of fitness. The basic idea is that processed grains, which tend to be high glycemic, unduly raise the body’s insulin levels and thus contribute to lower quality of performance. The aforementioned foods keep the body’s insulin levels more stable and body fat at manageable levels.

Not only does that lifestyle help athletic performance; it also helps athletes avoid many of the pitfalls of the typical American diet, which has led to record high levels of obesity and other diseases in this country.

Some, admittedly, still choose to cut corners. It is a problem. Anywhere you have competition, some will go to extremes, and though the particulars may be different, it is like this in every sport. Most wrestlers, like many young people and even adults, often don’t see the problem until they actually get in a match, and their performance suffers. Then they “get it.”

Third, there were some things that RRR presented as problematic that actually are common outside of wrestling and are perfectly ok. Many serious Crossfitters and other athletes, for instance, measure their food. This is normal. Likewise with practicing, lifting, then running for “an hour.” One of my assistants, who competes in MMA, jumps rope for an hour, boxes for two hours, spars in jiu jitsu, wrestles in our freshman practice, then wrestles in the varsity practice…and he does all this just about every day, not because he has to make weight, but because he’s in shape.

These habits can become unhealthy, especially when combined with an obsession with weight and appearance. That needs to be showcased. However, those sorts of habits are not shocking or automatically strange. It’s what fit people do!

Fourth, realize that wrestling is not alone when it comes to athletes cutting corners and doing foolish things about their weight. How many sports deal with steroid abuse? Quite a few, and although discussions about those issues sometimes come up and those issues need to be dealt with, they never overshadow the many benefits that athletes in those sports get by competing. It should be the same with wrestling.

There are so many benefits to wrestling that many who are outside the wrestling community easily miss. For one, wrestling skills easily transfer over to other sports. There is a reason why wrestlers make great MMA fighters, Crossfitters, football players, and the like.

Next, the habits forged in the wrestling room and on the mat stick with the wrestlers their whole lives, and that is good. Due to their participation in the sport, they develop the discipline, confidence, and self-knowledge it takes to succeed in anything outside of the mat. Once a wrestler has mastered his own body and mind, the rest of life becomes mere details.

Perhaps the greatest gift wrestling gives is mental toughness! Look at men who have spent their lives wrestling; what you’ll see is a depth of soul, character, and mental toughness that , while it is found in other places, is a rare thing indeed. So much of the success I’ve had in my own life can be attributed to my years on the mat!

There are even benefits for athletes when it comes to managing their weight. Through the process, they master themselves. What’s more, they know how to eat healthy. They know how to stay in shape. They have the self-discipline to avoid all the junk food out there. Along with this comes an incredible amount of confidence.

In conclusion, I applaud RRR for tackling a controversial topic that needs to be discussed. However, there is still every reason in the world to wrestle, even given the existence of weight classes. The way I look at it, while cutting weight should be avoided, managing weight is not a wholly bad thing.

 

Wrestling Unhealthy?

Whenever you bring up wrestling to a non-wrestler, nine times out of ten, what is their response? Is it positive, or negative?

Overwhelmingly negative.  They usually bring up one of two things.  Either a) wrestlers roll around with other guys and touch their butts, or b) “aren’t you the guys who run around school in garbage bags, spitting in cups?”

Regardless of the respect that is actually due the sport, you usually won’t get much of it from an outsider.  Wrestling is widely misunderstood by those who have never directly experienced its discipline.

This week, the school newspaper at the school at which I coach published a negative article about wrestling, focusing on weight cutting, titled “Wrestling Unhealthy Habits.”  While she did bring up a problem in the sport, she got some facts wrong and missed another way of looking at it.

I’m going to quote her article here (editing out parts that would ID certain individuals), and then I will post my response in the next post:

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Imagine weighing your food prior to each meal.  Imagine practicing every day, then lifting weights, and after all of this physical exertion, running for an hour in order to make your weigh-in.  Some of the wrestling boys strictly follow this routine in order to compete.

At the beginning of the school year, each of the boys on the wrestling team choose what they think would be a manageable weight class.  Once they choose this weight, they have to maintain it throughout the season.  There are fourteen weight classes that the boys are allowed to choose from, ranging from 106 to 220 lbs.  These weight classes are made by the National Federation of State High School Associations, a system that creates the rules for most high school sports.  In this system, each weight class may only be occupied by one boy per team.

Wrestler XXXX considers his natural weight to be yyy.  At the beginning of the season he chose the zzz weight class, fourteen pounds below his starting weight, knowing that he’d be able to maintain this weight from previous wrestling years, but also knowing that this weight wasn’t innate.

“I’m never going to weigh zzz naturally,” XXXX said.

When XXXX needs to lose weight, he’ll go on runs.  The amount of time that he runs for depends on the amount of weight he needs to lose.

According to XXXX, when the wrestlers need to maintain their weight they consume fish and chicken, two lean proteins, and veggies and fruit as sides.  Carbs are virtually nonexistent in a wrestler’s diet.  “The food’s not very good taste-wise,” XXXX said.

XXXX explained that in order to make their weigh-in, the wrestlers hardly drink or eat anything the day before their match.

“My first tournament this year I weighed zzz lbs.  an hour before the match.  That night and the following day I just ate.  That next day I weighed twelve pounds heavier,” XXXX said.

While Coach Bordner discourages these, “yo-yo diets,” at times the wrestlers find themselves adhering to these unhealthy habits.  Sometimes a wrestler of a lower weight class will challenge a teammate of a higher weight class in order to  move up a weight class.  While the implications are good for the teammate moving up a weight class, allowing the wrestler to gain weight, they aren’t too healthy for the teammate moving down one, forcing the wrestler to lose weight.

Wrestler AAAA experienced this.  He originally competed in the bbb weight class, but after a challenge had to drop down to ccc, ten pounds lighter, which was a difficult weight to maintain given that he considers his natural weight to be twenty five pounds heavier.  In order to lose weight, he has cut out all bread, potatoes, rice, and mainly munches on proteins, fruits, and veggies, much like his teammate above.

On Friday Jan 6, he weighed bbb lbs.  In order to compete in the match the following Tuesday he had to drop ten pounds.  That’s about two pounds per day.  In order to reach this weight AAAA weighed himself about five times a day.  He finds himself visiting the scale frequently in order to monitor his weight and weigh his food.

Wrestlers’ diets can come with consequences.

One day in December while trying to lose weight for a competition and not drinking enough water, AAAA stood upo too quickly, and as a result fainted.  While he wasn’t bruised or externally hurt, his fainting probably resulted from a detrimental diet and rigorous excercise schedule.

“(Eating less) makes it harder to stay awake in class, but I had a problem with that before,” AAAA said.  He also noted that he gets angrier than he used to.

Wrestler DDDD, has used binge eating as a last resort to losing weight in his years of wrestling.  As a sophomore, he wrestled in the vvv weight class.  This year, he competes two weight classes lower.  Throughout his yeasr in wrestling he has struggled with gaining weight immediately after a match and then having to lose it in order to  make his weigh in a few days later.

“I’ve struggled with after weigh-in binge eating.  When I’m six to nine pounds overweight the day after a match you have to starve yourself or run it out,” he said.

Although he knows that eating five small meals throughout the day is ideal, when he has to lose this weight ina  day or two it’s not realistic.

“It’s been accepted by wrestling society that you have to lose weight in order to get results,” VVVV said.

UUUU considers himself to be a healthy wrestler.

“Basically I just don’t eat anything artificial.  I eat natural foods and watch my sugar intake, but I don’t feel like I’m restricting myself,” UUUU said.

UUUU firmly believes his disciplined eating will help him with the rest of his life; he does however, admit that he sometimes feels pressured to lose weight and perform well.

“It’s all about controlling your food intake and for the most part I’m happy, but sometimes I do feel pressure from my parents to lose weight,” UUUU said.

The wrestling lifestyle can become unhealthy when circumstances demand that competitors maintain unnaturally low body weights.  While Coach Bordner stresses healthy dieting and discusses nutrition frequently, he ultimately can’t alter the competitive system set up by the NFHS that has so many wrestlers striving to maintain unrealistic weights.  A dire consequence of this system can result when wrestlers believe that this way of eating is quotidian.

Real Jesus Vs. Republican Jesus?


The comic above–titled “real Jesus vs. Republican Jesus”–was posted on Facebook recently by one of my friends. In addition to criticizing Christian Republicans (I take it that the “Jeezus” on the right is suposed to be symbolizing that group.  I don’t know who else it would be aiming at.  Plus, that’s the title my friend gave it, so seems like he got the message, at least.) for being out of touch with what the Bible says on certain issues, it advances certain ideas about religion, politics, and the interaction between the two.  Is the challenge it offers and the ideas it puts forth sound?

You’ve probably guessed that I wasn’t amused.  I get that in the comic genre, we give writers some leeway when it comes to caricaturing and the like.  However, this comic takes it to extremes.  Going through it all would take all night, but let me catalogue some of the reasons why I wasn’t amused by addressing the overall way the comic author advances his ideas, and by examining a few of the ideas themselves:

For starters, notice the way in which it argues that certain ideas are “Christian:” by simply quoting a Bible verse…emphasis on verse.  This is a tell-tale sign that the author started with a pre-conceived notion of who he thinks Jesus was/is, and he cherry-picked some verses to fit that pre-conceived notion.

With this way of reasoning, you can make any piece of communication say anything you want.  That is not a mark against whatever text you are using; it’s a mark against you.  Were I to use the same methods of this author, I could make Barak Obama sound like Sarah Palin.

With these sorts of methods, its quite easy to make Jesus sound like he eschewed any and all moral judgment (except the judgment of left wing secularists…that’s legit), thought sexual activity outside of man/woman marriage (including homosexual behavior) is completely fine, held single payer health care to be a moral obligation of any democratic society, thought all religions are equally valid, held any and all war to be automatically immoral on its face, that increasing the size and scope of the state is always the way to go when attempting to usher in utopia (and: utopia was what he was shooting for anyway), and similarly, that communism is the rational form of government to bring about human flourishing.

Lest anyone think I’m singling out left-wing views, the same goes for pet projects of some on the other side too: incredibly easy to make Jesus say that all he wants is “your best life now” and that his number one agenda was/is to make you materially prosperous.  Yeah, it bugs me when its done in Christian circles too.  Point is: I’ve heard it all when it comes to Jesus.  That’s not a fault of Jesus or the Bible, it’s the fault of those who forget that meaning in a text flows from the whole to the parts, and the fault of those who look at Jesus as if looking in a mirror.

So no, just by quoting some verse somewhere and insinuating a conclusion, the author’s work is not done.  I am not impressed.

A simple case of the tail wagging the dog here.  I’ve seen time and time again where those on the left and/or secularists do this in regards to Jesus and their pet views, though its also quite common in Christian circles too.  Usually when this happens, most of what follows is junk.

Where else in do we reason like this?  Answer: nowhere.  There are certain rules of communication that we all take for granted when trying to infer what a piece of text–written or otherwise–means.  Context, genre, et al are all important, and we all automatically utilize those rules when it comes to communication, however, for some reason, those rules fly out the window when otherwise intelligent people address the Bible.

I simply remind PI readers that the Bible is no different than other communication, and you do not get a pass from using the rules of inference when determining its meaning.   It is not made of silly putty.

The point here isn’t that the author is wrong for simply supposing to know what Jesus said/thought, etc.  I do that in my own arguments so it would be hypocritical for me to take him to task for that.  Rather, I object to the method used–starting with a Jesus-of-his-own-understanding, and playing fast and loose with the Bible to justify that Jesus and argue against some folks he doesn’t like.

Of course, this observation alone doesn’t mean the author is wrong.  He could have gotten it right despite his sloppy methods.  You know what they say about broken clocks and blind squirrels.  But: its a red flag, and just by glancing at the comic, I’m on alert.

Armed with that as the background, let’s take a look in detail at one of the rows.

“If any one of you is without sin, let him cast the first stone.”  This is a quote from the famous passage in John where Jesus comes to the defense of a woman caught in adultery.  The Pharisees want to stone her, and use her to try to catch Jesus in His words.  Jesus stops their quest by noting they are all standing in hypocritical judgment of her.

The author of the comic contrasts the supposed non-judgmentalism of Jesus with the intolerant attitude of Christian Republicans, who supposedly “hate fags.”  What idea is the author advancing?

It is this: those that are truly loyal to Jesus would not judge, ie, would not pronounce anything–at least in the area of sexuality–as morally wrong. Why? Because everyone–including those loyal to Jesus–are fallen and sin themselves, and by this they relinquish their footing on which to stand and make moral judgments.

Never mind that in the passage, Jesus tells the woman caught in adultery to “leave (her) life of sin,” and never mind that plenty of times elsewhere in the Bible He makes plenty of moral judgments as to sexuality (and other areas) and commands His followers to do the same.  Therefore, using this one verse to suggest Jesus recommended an attitude of non-judgmentalism (defined as, “you should not say anything in X area is wrong”) towards sex or any other area is quite off.

Jesus actually does say plenty about hypocritical judgment, and judgment that is done with an intent of hatred/lack of compassion towards human persons.  He had strong words about that kind of judgment, but that is a far cry from the suggestion implicitly made in this comic.

Let me put it this way: if I were to slam homosexuals on Facebook with my pet Bible verses, but then I left my computer and went cruising, and I found nothing wrong with my crusing, that would be hypocritical and the kind of contradiction Jesus condemmed.  Likewise if I were to speak against homosexuality as a way of showing my own superiority, without regard to the well-being of those who identify as gay and/or live a homosexual lifestyle. That, too would be condemned by Jesus.

Well, there’s plenty of that to go around in Christian Republican circles, right (think: Ted Haggard)?  Sure, but its there aplenty on the left too, so I don’t know where this would get you.  Seems to be a critique against human nature, sure, but cannot be used to argue against a political view.

The author’s got one thing right: at least when it comes to me, I’m fallen.  Actually, he probably doesn’t know the half of it: I’m much worse than he probably thinks.  So any moral judgments I make are made in the context of my own falenness, not because I want to parade any supposed moral superiority around.  I am simply convinced by the arguments that the views I embrace are true and thus conducive to human flourishing.

Though it is possible I’m mistaken, I argue based on principle and conviction, not any supposed hatred, and there are plenty of Christian Republicans out there who are in the same boat.

Are there those who claim to be Christian who “hate fags”?  Yes.  Are there even Christians who “hate fags,” or who at least have an improper attitude towards gays and lesbians?  Yes.  Are there those who vote Republican who have that attitude?  Yes.  The author of the comic, therefore, should address those groups.  It is completely out of bounds to paint all Christian Republicans (keep in mind the target of the comic, as referred to in the title: the Jesus of the Republicans) with that brush.

This is a problem in addition to the problem earlier mentioned, namely, that the author is just making a plain silly suggestion: that no one should judge at all (at least in the named area) because we’re all fallen.  Such a position is unsustainable.  Afterall, the author himself is fallen, yet has no problem making moral judgments (namely, that guys like me are wrong).  I guess when I, as a Christian Republican, make judgments, I’m intolerant, but when he makes moral judgments, he’s just right?

What’s more, if an action harms people and is not conducive to human well-being, then to pretend its not isn’t tolerant: it’s cowardice.

Perhaps the author could respond by pointing to things that are more commonly held by Republicans.  “You guys are for traditional marriage,” he could say, “you think the only valid marriages are those between one man and one woman.  You are discriminating against gays!  Most of you Christians also think homosexual behavior is wrong.  See!?  You do hate fags!”

This brings up arguments for and against same-sex marriage, and the reasons why many Christians and conservatives hold homosexual behavior–as well as all other sexual behavior outside conjugal marriage (and some inside it!)–to be immoral.  Some reasons are biblically based, some not.  I can’t get into all that here, so I’ll simply refer you to links here and here for those interested I do want to venture a few comments that are directly relevant though.  First, notice that the response equates a moral point of view with hatred.  In other words, if you don’t accept homosexuality as a completely legitimate form of sexual expression, you are a homophobe and you hate gays.

Such an assertion is common enough, but think about it for a minute: just because I’m against a certain lifestyle, or hold something to be wrong, etc etc, does that mean I hate those who do it?  Obviously no.  I’m glad my parents didn’t take that attitude in raising me, for one.  They understood that growing up, certain things I did were wrong, harmful to me and others, or both, and they staunchly stood against such things because they loved me, not because they hated me.

Of course, the author could respond by saying that the difference here is that being glbtqia_ _ _ _ is part of “who one is,” ie, biological, or at least part of one’s makeup akin to skin color.  To question the behavior is then to question one’s very being.

This is very controversial and needs to be argued for, not asserted.  I don’t know how the author would proceed himself, but it’s typically asserted based upon feelings or some notion of “s/he just knew.”  If studies are mentioned, usually they are mentioned without regard to a full scope of the literature on the topic, and those who mention the studies take huge liberties with what the studies actually show and prove.

Sexuality is simply more complicated than that, and more to the point, one’s desires are not his destiny, and is does not mean ought.  One thing that separates us from the animals is that we have the capacity to take stock of our inclinations and say no to them, especially when such inclinations are harmful or wrong in themselves….just ask anyone (like me) who has been a part of a 12 step group at one time or another in their lives.  Doesn’t make it easy, but it’s doable.

So, bottom line: I simply don’t buy the assertion that moral objection to a certain lifestyle means we “hate.”  It’s especially laughable to suggest our moral objections mean we use the derogatory slurs referred to in the comic.

The rest of the comic is just as–if not more–confusing.   Are drug and alcohol consumption justified by mere reference to Matthew 15:11?  What can we conclude about Jesus’ attitude towards them from that verse?  I have no idea.

Here’s the worst of it: the author insinuates that Jesus never spoke of abortion.  Correct.  What should we conclude from that?  What follows?  Certainly not that Jesus had nothing agaisnt abortion, certainly not that Jesus thought it was no big deal, certainly not that its ok in and of itself.  That is a clear non-sequitur.  Need I point out that Jesus also never spoke of incest, sex slavery, or rape?

Next row: what should we conclude about war from the mentioned verse?  What was its context?  What was the situation in which Jesus said it, and what issue was He addressing?  What’s more, how does it fit in with other verses in the gospels and the Bible as a whole that pertains to war and the role of government?  Should we be out and out pacifists?

It doesn’t get any better.  What can we conclude from the verse offered about the separation of church and state?  That phrase is a very loaded one anyway with all sorts of ideology that doesn’t come from the consitution, and who knows what it means, but really: I see how the verse applies to giving taxes per se, and to other things that rightly belong to the government in the first place, but therein lies the rub.   Jesus doesn’t really say in that verse what, exactly, belongs to the government.  The verse has nothing to say about limited vs. big government, what amount of taxation will lead to economic flourishing, or about the role of religious motivations in forming public policy.  It doesn’t even say anything about the role of religious arguments (as opposed to motivations…the two are different) in the public square.

The last row is somewhat intelligible.  I see how it is a critique against some televangelists’ practice of using patron donations to make themselves rich.  What makes it confusing is putting it in the context of an attack against Christian Republicans–in other words, making a political point.  Maybe he intends it as an attack against many Republicans’ friendliness towards capitalism, or the notion that we’re fans of the free market, or even as an attack against policies of de-regulation in the free market.  I have no idea.  If so, it’s a strange juxtaposition, and the verse used falls prey to the same critique all the others do.

In sum, 1) if the author wants to attack the attitude of certain groups or individuals who call themselves Christian Republicans, fine, but he should address those particular groups or individuals, not the whole lot of us.  2) If the author wants to attack certain public policies or views held by Christian Republicans, fine, but use actual arguments, not half-hearted eisegesis.  3) If the author wants to argue that the views held by many Christian Republicans are out of step with what Jesus thought and/or what the Bible teaches, fine, but do so with passages that actually pertain to the issues and with arguments that make sense, rather than utilizing random verses and coupling them with insinuations that only confuse rather than clarify.