Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

UConn's Maya Moore in action

The perks of being a UConn BB fan...

Monday, December 28, 2009

The most difficult part of being a Christian academic

Christmas is a funny time of year for me because in December I am going full speed with work, finishing finals and for some reason I invariably a research deadline that I'm racing against, and then suddenly, I stop everything to spend whole days with my family.

This points to what I think is the most difficult aspect of being a Christian academic.

It's not the goofy, sometimes mean-spirited, almost always trivial politics in a university. They are annoying, but with time I'm learning to ignore them.

It's not the antagonism toward Christian that permeates interactions regarding religion. Yes, it exists, but we have so many freedoms in this country that it doesn't cause too many problems (though it can be pretty frustrating).

No, for me the most difficult part of academics is the flip side of what I enjoy the most--research. When I am focused on research, I charge off into the land of ideas and data and manuscripts, and, frankly, I usually don't want to be bothered by people-at least most people, some friends and family are always welcome. I keep my door shut, I try to minimize conversations with others, and I'm happy not to be disturbed by others. All too often, I carry this attitude home after work, so that I when I'm with my family, part of me wants to sneak off and read and write.

Here's why I frame this as a problem for me as a Christian--Christianity, as I understand it--is other-focused. That we interact with others, and how we do so, is of vital, even eternal, importance, and so my putting other things before that just doesn't work. In fact, the Bible and church history are full of stories of people doing thing even more important that sociological research and still giving their full attention to others.

With Christmas, I take a week off from my job, and I have more energy and interest for others, and this contrasts with the regular semester.

I'm unsure of how to develop more of an other-focus for the regular semester, but it, perhaps more than squeezing out one more publication, is important for me.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Dilbert and Christmas

This comic strip gets at some of my attitude toward the holidays...

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Finally, a political protest that we can all support

Sociologists often fashion themselves as on the cutting edge of protest (though many of us are tenured state employees). Since there are so many possible causes to join, and you know, signs can get expensive, I think that I'll whip up a sign like this one and keep it around for whatever occasion.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Golden Lamp Church

Earlier this month, a large Christian Church was assaulted and shut down by local police...

"Hundreds of police and hired thugs descended on the mega-church, smashing doors and windows, seizing Bibles and sending dozens of worshippers to hospitals with serious injuries, members and activists say.

Today, the church's co-pastors are in jail. The gates to the church complex in the northern province of Shanxi are locked and a police armored personnel vehicle sits outside."

On Monday I posted about Time Magazine's criticism of Rick Warren for not addressing the human rights situation in Uganda quickly enough. I can only assume that they will likewise criticize prominent atheist figures for not criticizing China's officially atheist government for its actions. Why, I'll bet that Time Magazine will prominently denounce it themselves.

... just kidding

Monday, December 21, 2009

Time Magazine's take on Rick Warren

Last week, well-known Evangelical pastor Rick Warren denounced the new anti-gay law put into place in Uganda. He told pastors in Uganda pastors that the bill was "unjust, extreme and un-Christian toward homosexuals."

Now, if you were to write an article about this for a major media outlet, say Time magazine, how would you frame it? Perhaps applaud him for taking a strong moral stance? Chuckle, chuckle... there's no story in that. Instead, the Time Magazine article focused on criticizing Warren for not having done so soon enough. The article claims, without attribution, "that Warren was castigated for not denouncing the proposed law" when it was first put into place.

Now, I realize that Warren plays a prominent role in American Evangelicalism, but criticize him for not immediately commenting on other countries' domestic policy seems a bit far-fetched. Has he become the State Department? If he in fact started becoming heavily involved in other countries' law-making process, then there would probably be a story about him being too involved.

Remind me not to become a famous Evangelical pastor--too much bad press.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Technology run amok

I don't know if I'm ready for how much technology has entered in our life.

Last week it snowed, and my oldest son, Gus, woke up at 6 am and wanted to know if there was a snow day. He checked Facebook on his iPod Touch, and saw my status, posted 30 minutes earlier, that there was a snow day. So, he rolled over and went back to sleep.

Maybe someday we can parent without actually ever talking to our kids?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Non-overlapping magisteria

Last Thursday I posted some thoughts about science and religion, and several people contacted me saying that there were good ideas there. When this happens, it often means that someone else has already said it and said it better. Nick, in a comment, pointed me to the idea of Non-overlapping magisteria, and rather than try to explain it myself, I'll just give an extract from Wikipedia:

"Non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA) is the view advocated by Stephen Jay Gould that "science and religion do not glower at each other...[but] interdigitate in patterns of complex fingering, and at every fractal scale of self-similarity."[1] He suggests, with examples, that "NOMA enjoys strong and fully explicit support, even from the primary cultural stereotypes of hard-line traditionalism" and that it is "a sound position of general consensus, established by long struggle among people of goodwill in both magisteria.

Gould's separate magisteria

In his book Rocks of Ages (1999), Gould put forward what he described as "a blessedly simple and entirely conventional resolution to ... the supposed conflict between science and religion."[1] He defines the term magisterium as "a domain where one form of teaching holds the appropriate tools for meaningful discourse and resolution"[1] and the NOMA principle is "the magisterium of science covers the empirical realm: what the Universe is made of (fact) and why does it work in this way (theory). The magisterium of religion extends over questions of ultimate meaning and moral value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for example, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty)."[1]

In a speech before the American Institute of Biological Sciences Gould also stressed the political reasons for adopting NOMA as well, stating "the reason why we support that position is that it happens to be right, logically. But we should also be aware that it is very practical as well if we want to prevail." Gould argued that if indeed the polling data was correct—and that 80 to 90% of Americans believe in a supreme being, and such a belief is misunderstood to be at odds with evolution—then "we have to keep stressing that religion is a different matter, and science is not in any sense opposed to it," otherwise "we're not going to get very far.""

Thanks Nick!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Fenton river in fall

Here's a picture of the river down the road from us, with fall foliage.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The limitations of science in regards to religion

For whatever reason, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the relationship of religion and science. As you would expect of a social scientist, I’m a big fan of the scientific method. In conducting my own research and in evaluating others, I seek rigorous adherence to scientific principles. Even in my day-to-day life, I seek scientific knowledge available regarding those things important to me. For example, if I take a medicine, I want one tested with double-blind experiments, not one based on testimonies or gut-feelings or someone’s faith.

Nonetheless, science does have its limitations, and it’s worth keeping these in mind when we think about it and religion.

Science works best with empirical matters. If you can alter something and measure it, then you probably have a good topic for science. Religion, obviously, involves much of what isn’t measurable or even directly observable. This doesn’t mean that religious beliefs are less valuable or real, rather it’s difficult to use science to evaluate them.

Also, science tends to have some difficulty when applied to individual people. With groups or populations of people, it can identify trends and tendencies. With a given person, however, it’s hard using even the best measures and methods to know what they’ll do in the future or why they’ve done things in the past. Things get even more complicated with social relationships. Even the most committed scientist will probably not turn solely to science to pick a romantic partner, for example, and there’s no reason to assume that scientists have more successful relationships than others. This matters in discussions of Christianity in that it is premised on a relationship between God and His creation. If Christianity is true, then its essential nature might be better understood through poetry, literature, and analogy rather than a strict scientific method.

Finally, it’s worth noting that throughout history, and even today, there are many people groups who do not fully embrace a scientific approach to life. As such, if there is a God seeking to reveal Himself to humans, doing it through science would be relatively ineffective, and there’s no reason to assume that somehow science gets us closer (or further away) to truth about God. A rational God might be foolish to use science as a primary means of disclosing truth.

Yes, there is overlap between science and aspects of religion, but these aspects tend to be somewhat peripheral to Christianity.

Perhaps an approach of science-and-science-only misses the mark as much as one of no science.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Irv Piliavin's obituary

(From the LA Times)

Irving Morris Piliavin

Piliavin, Irving Morris
April 9, 1928 - November 19, 2009
Irving Morris Piliavin, 81, passed away on the morning of November 19, surrounded by members of his family, at his home in Oxnard, California. He was born to Russian Jewish immigrant parents in Los Angeles. Although not religious, he identified intensely with his Jewish heritage. From his youth, he was involved in athletic activities, first softball and baseball, then football, and later tennis. He was taking tennis lessons until a few weeks before he died, determined that in this as well as all else, he WOULD improve, and by all reports he did.
After graduating from Manual Arts High School, he attended UC Berkeley (Cal), receiving a BS in math and physics and a Masters of Social Work. After working in the field for a few years, he earned his Doctorate in Social Work Columbia University in 1961. He rose from Assistant to Associate Professor at Cal, where he received their highest honor for teaching, the Distinguished Teaching Award, in 1963.
In 1970, after two years at Penn, he moved to the University of Wisconsin, where he was Professor of Social Welfare and Sociology until his retirement in 1996. He was known as a generous mentor and a champion of the critical role of research in guiding social work practice long before it became fashionable. Among his academic research, he was well known for a ride-along study he did of the police, conducting subway studies of altruism, being the first to conduct a longitudinal study of homeless people, and for publishing various articles on control theories and rational choice analysis of crime. He continued to do research and write until very near the end of his life.
After his family, his academic work, and sports, his fourth passion was "games of chance." He took pride in the fact that he learned to count cards in blackjack so well that he was banned from all the casinos in London the year that he and his family lived in Wales. He was an accomplished poker player at all levels, from the "friendly" games he played in Berkeley, Wisconsin and Oxnard to satellite tournaments feeding the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. He went to the racetrack from his teens, when he climbed the fence at Santa Anita to get in, until 2009. He always refused to bet the favorite except when "wheeling" it with other longer shots. For that reason, the majority of the horses he bet came in second.
He is survived by his first wife, Florence, his second wife, Jane, four children, Mark, Neal, Allyn, and Libby, seven grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.
A scholarship fund has been created in his honor at the University of Wisconsin Foundation. Please contact Ann Dingman for donation information at ann.dingman@ or 608-265-9954

Friday, December 04, 2009

Religion and UConn Basketball

One of the joys of working at UConn is following the Women's Basketball team and their coach, Geno Auriemma. Besides being a tremendous coach, he's also a first class smart alec.

In last night's game, which UConn won, guard Carolyn Doty was driving to the basket, got knocked down, and she hit her head really, really hard.

Here's Geno's explanation of why it happened, framed in theological terms:

“I guess she landed on her head, on the side of her head or something, she got hit. I don’t know. They said she landed right on her head. And to me, that’s just God’s way of telling her ‘What the hell you driving in there and five people standing in the lane?’ Maya just threw you the ball in the middle of the floor. Maya’s running the wing on the right side and you’re in the middle of the floor. Maya just threw it to you. All right, that’s two of our players. Where’s the other three? Well, one was running this lane, the other was running that lane, and another one was trailing on this side. So, instead of catching the ball and going, ‘Oh, I just got it from here. Let me fire over here and we get a layup or a jump shot.’ No. ‘I think I’ll go back this way and drive it through three people.’ And I think as God read the play, He said ‘I’ll knock you on your ass.”