Thursday, September 29, 2005

Blogger Word of the Day for Sept. 29, 2005.

nakhur a Persian term (from The Meaning of Tingo):

a camel that won’t give milk until her nostrils are tickled

I don't know if I picked this one out of desperation or because I just find it funny.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Greetings from the Microsoft MVP Summit

Just registered today and ran into probably the only other Microsoft MVP from my neck o' the woods. The good stuff hasn't started yet, and I skipped the regional party to have dinner with my blushing bride.

She just said that she's not blushing yet. (That will learn her to read over my shoulder.)

Anyhoo, the first speaker tomorrow is none other than Steve Ballmer. I know MS has its detractors, but Steve is just downright entertaining. He's big and boisterous, and is not afraid to say, "I don't know." Frankly, as much as people diss MS, I have to say that my interactions at these summits has been positive, particularly Jim Allchin.

Enough business stuff. This is supposed to be a place for my theology musings (although I'd really love to find a way to mix my love of theology with my interest in markup languages--anyone for tXML?)

Blogger Word for the Day for Sept. 28, 2005

abstainer (from the The Devil's Dictionary).

"A weak person who yields to the temptation of denying himself a pleasure. A total abstainer is one who abstains from everything but abstention, and especially from inactivity in the affairs of others."

I know, I know. It's not really something one would find in the blogosphere, but I had to include it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Blogger's Word of the Day for Sept. 27, 2005

bletcherous (from the New Hacker's Dictonary):

Disgusting in design or function; esthetically unappealing. This word is seldom used of people. "This keyboard is bletcherous!" (Perhaps the keys don't work very well, or are misplaced.) See losing, cretinous, bagbiting, bogus, and random. The term bletcherous applies to the esthetics of the thing so described; similarly for cretinous. By contrast, something that is `losing' or `bagbiting' may be failing to meet objective criteria. See also bogus and random, which have richer and wider shades of meaning than any of the above.

I'm heading off to Seattle for 3 days of wining and dining by Microsoft. Okay, actually, it's more like a chance for me to satiate my inner geek. I get to see the latest with Windows Vista, chat with the product team for my area, and essentially do my best to coerce them into seeing my way about XML-related things.

I'll try to keep on with these entries while I'm away (not that anyone has noticed them).

Monday, September 26, 2005

The Liberal, Hermeneutic Arts of Learning and Communication

These are the questions for Lecture 4. This segment focuses on the liberal arts as defined by Aristotle and the beneficial role they play in the task of the theologian.

Explain why "fundamentalist" interpretations of the Bible or any other text run the danger of misunderstanding the author's real thought?

Fundamentalist interpretations tend to view the text in their own contemporaneous culture as opposed to the culture from which the text comes. They also often ignore aspects such as idiomatic usage, authorial intent, and literary genre. Such readings assume that the received translation rectifies no such ambiguities or has no compromises to the original imagery or meaning of the scriptural text. Hence, such interpretations say more about the subject than they say about the author's intent.

That said, many postmodernist schools of thought would argue that a dead author's intent is irrelevant or at least unknowable (Whimsatt & Beardsley's intentional fallacy). I don't recall their argument for why this rises (or falls) to the level of a fallacy. I'll need to dig out my lit. crit. books before I can make a satisfactory answer. Prior to that investigation, I'll poison the well and say that I find the idea that the author's intent is unknowable without the author's explicit proclamation to be simply a ludicrous attempt to wrest the hermeneutic process away from legitimate scholars. I wonder if proponents of sola scriptura recognize their strange bedfellows.

Why does rhetorical moralizing ruin a novel or drama?

The question itself betrays a bias that the rhetorical and the poetic do not belong in the same sphere (or at least in a single work). This belief assumes that devices used for rhetorical purposes cannot also be used to evoke beauty, or that contemplation of beauty cannot move one to action. I think the problem here is not with the definitions of rhetoric and poetic (which can use various methods for different ends) but with the assumption that an abstraction such as "rhetorical moralizing" has a locus of meaning that excludes the evocation of beauty or enjoyment. In small, subtle doses, it can be quite evocative. In larger quantities (in the form of satire), it can evoke laughter.

So I think the real question is "when does 'rhetorical moralizing ruin a novel or drama'?"

It does so when the passive intention of persuasion supersedes the active intention of entertainment.

What is the difference between a "discussion" and a "demonstration"?

Discussion or dialogue requires a back and forth passing of information, which shouls allow the parties involved to way facts and reformulate ideas to come to a common agreement. Demonstration is used to resolved impasses, to show that an utterance contradicts fact or that a series of statements does or does ot lead one to an inevitable conclusion.

Illustrate how a theologian uses dialectical and demonstrative modes of discourse in systematic theology?

In discourse, a theologian uses dialectic to gauge the understanding of the other party and to restate the doctrine of faith in a way that takes into account the perspective of the external or dissenting party. The discourse on faith begins with a statement of our belief, followed by either a dispute of that belief or a question that seeks additional information. Both dispute and question can act as a springboard for the theologian, who can then use those ideas to redirect their explanations to address the pertinent issues.

Demonstrative modes are most useful to present a series of premises and show that they lead necessarily to a conclusion. Prior to showing syllogistically that premises lead necessarily to a conclusion, demonstrative modes can reveal assumptions in premises that are false or definitions that are inadequately defined.

Do you think theologians need to know mathematics?



Nothing like a boolean to kill a conversation.

I can't speak to how knowledge of mathematics could assist a theologian because my own knowledge of math is defective. What I can say is that all discussion about physical sciences dwells in reductions unless you understand mathematics. Without the formulas, a nonmathemetician must rely on the distilled understanding of another.

I remember in my senior year of high school when I dropped analytical geometry and calculus to take a creative writing class. My junior English teacher, Mrs. Mims, actually pulled me aside and castigated me for taking a creative writing course. I think Rutha understood the need for liberal arts education far better than the humanities teachers of my senior year (who taught me all about Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle). I love them all, but Rutha Mims was looking far beyond the feel-good moment of my literary awakening.

I would love to understand chemistry or physics at the level of formulae. I might get there someday, but I short-circuited that process on my own. What knowledge of mathematics provides to a theologian is the ability for him or her to understand and discuss science in the language of science.

Blogger word of the day for Sept 26, 2005.

Blinkenlichten: also blinkenlights from the New Hacker's Dictionary.

Front-panel diagnostic lights on a computer, esp. a dinosaur. Derives from the last word of the famous blackletter-Gothic sign in mangled pseudo-German that once graced about half the computer rooms in the English-speaking world. One version ran in its entirety as follows:


Das computermachine ist nicht fuer gefingerpoken und mittengrabben. Ist easy schnappen der springenwerk, blowenfusen und poppencorken mit spitzensparken. Ist icht fuer gewerken bei das dumpkopfen. Das rubbernecken sichtseeren keepen das cotten-pickenen hans in das pockets muss; relaxen und watchen das blinkenlichten.

Me on the Political Spectrum

In the people view, my spot was right over JP II's face.

You are a

Social Conservative
(38% permissive)

and an...

Economic Moderate
(50% permissive)

You are best described as a:


Link: The Politics Test

Thursday, September 22, 2005

It's settled. Big surprise.


You speak eloquently and have seemingly read every
book ever published. You are a fountain of
endless (sometimes useless) knowledge, and
never fail to impress at a party.
What people love: You can answer almost any
question people ask, and have thus been
nicknamed Jeeves. What people hate:
You constantly correct their
grammar and insult their paperbacks.

What Kind of Elitist Are You?

Paper Done and Graded

Yay! Paper's done. I turned it in Tuesday morning and got it back a few hours later. I want to follow up on a few questions, but I can't complain about the grade.

The next lecture covers the liberal arts. Having two liberal-arts degrees, I have to agree wholeheartedly with the value of broad LA education, although I do wish I'd spent a bit more time in math. Mrs. Mims was right!

I know many people with business degrees who can do nothing else but what they do. I know people with English and Philosophy degrees who work in the tech fields during the day and write or perform music in the evenings. No doubt, our world wouldn't be the same without the engineers, but I do get a little irritated when I hear technical writers derided for being English majors.

My own musical endeavors haven't gone anywhere recently. I'm supposed to start a Christian rock band with a friend from back in my professional-musician days. I don't think I'll be doing anything of the sort this semester.

Back to work, me!

The Intellectual Ambiguities of Contemporary Culture

These are the study questions for Lecture 3. This is much more familiar territory for me, or I should say more recent territory. Most of the classical philosophy I learned was in high school. Everything from my junior year through graduate school was modern or postmodern. It's interesting for me now to think how wrongheaded subjective modern philosophy is. Maybe wrongheaded isn't the right term, but it does seem to start from a position of skepticism.

What is "the turn to the subject" in modern thought?

The shift of focus from the object to the subject, the external world to the interior world of thoughts. Descartes was attempting to address the increasing skepticism concerning the capacities of reason and our ability to reconcile experience and faith. He turned his attention away from the world of objects an inward to the thinker, the subject. This turn is immortalized in the words cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am). One could doubt their own understanding, but he or she could not dubt that they were doubting or thing.

An aside: Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary proposes a different formulation od Descartes' words: cogito cogito, ergo cogito sum. I'm pretty sure his Latin is really poor, although I find his sense of humor wickedly amusing.

What are the differences and similarities between Cartesianism and Kantianism?

Cartesianism assumes that God would not provide us the capabilities to sense our world and be fooled by our senses. He assumes that what we sense is real and trustworthy. Kant assumes that we project certain preconceived notions on to sense data. His position is more like the Sophists, that we can't truly know the world of the senses. We can only know what we project onto it. Whereas Descartes accepts that we can, through reason, come to have certitude, Kant holds that our scientific construction of the world is limited by the data we have. It never tells us about the world itself, and it cannot arrive at the truth about reality. At best, what we get is a picture that is consistent and compatible with the sense data we have.

How is British Empiricism grounded in Cartesianism?

Like Cartesianism, empiricism starts from the perspective of the subject. However, while Descartes continues to put his trust in reason and in the inner subjective experience as the source of truth, the empiricists trust in fact and observation. We analyze thought and find sense impressions, from which we can know more about our world.

Why have the modern popes favored Thomism as a model for Christian philosophers and

Thomist thought reconciles materialist and idealist thought. In that sense, it brings together and affirms both faith and reason. Most of modern thought approaches from the self. The danger of this approach is that every self becomes a new and different vantage point, one colored by its own development and context. Such a standpoint cannot point to absolute truth, only to a subjective understanding of the self and the world.

Why must Thomism incorporate modern historical and scientific knowledge while preserving its middle-of-the-road epistemology?

Faith and reason cannot be at odds with each other. Only by reconciling the two can we attain the truth. Because of the need to reconcile faith and science, we need an epistemology that treats sense data and the findings of science with due respect. St. Thomas built a strong case for Catholic doctrine starting from the Aristotelian stand point that we learn about our world through sense data. St. Thomas took this point further by demonstrating that we can reasonable conclude the existence of God and the truth of many Catholic beliefs based on on analysis of sense data and the world in which we live.

At the same time, we cannot abandon that which cannot be measured or seen. Much of the truth we accept is revealed truth rather than human thought. We cannot deduce morality without reducing it to a bunch of contingent rules. We have to accept that some truths speak to us from beyond the material (the value of human life, love, honesty). Science cannot prove these ideas to be true or false. We know them only through revelation. Maintaining these spiritual values, however, has a tremendous impact on the quality of material existence.

In a world where the truth of scientific thought can be demonstrated, we must have tools that can reconcile the world of science and the world of spiritual. Thomism provides such tools.

Blogger word of the day for Sept. 22, 2005

Bloviate: To discourse at length in a pompous or boastful manner.

Source: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth EditionCopyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.

I'm going to post a word of the day, with a mind especially toward blog usage. Blogs seem to be an excellent source for evolving slang. When I have time, I'll provide etymologies, particularly when they're funny.

Some of my favorite sources are Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary and the New Hacker's Dictionary. And, of course, I'll use samples from the wild as well.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

First Paper Due Next Week!

I tell you, along with all the happenings at work, my father's illness, and the continuing saga of the great missing book challenge of 2005, I'm a bit anxious. I'm still awaiting the arrival of the Dulles text (which I ordered on 9/1 and for some reason wasn't shipped until this week). The Bonsor text arrived yesterday, along with the alternative text meant to replace it, Elements of Philosophy. So I have some reading to do this weekend. Fortunately, my daughter is with her mother this weekend, so I only have to negelect my blushing bride.

Ok, I don't really plan to neglect her. But I do have to try to resist her. At least for a little while.

Back to work, me!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Philosophers' Song

My readings this week covered modern philosophy, staring with Descartes. This is more familiar territory for me, but it's interesting to recover it now that I've gone from being an agnostic deconstructive idealist to a very theistic realist.

All this rereading of Descartes, Hume, and Locke rang my bell a bit and got me thinking of those times as an adolescent when I would listen to my copy of Matching Tie and Handkerchief. On the second side, there were two separate tracks, so you essentially had a three-sided LP.

Anyhoo, the Philosophers' Song is a classic, although undoubtedly untrue.

Immanuel Kant was a real pissant
Who was very rarely stable.

Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar
Who could think you under
the table.

David Hume could out-consume
Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel,

And Wittgenstein was a beery swine
Who was just as schloshed as

There's nothing Nietzche couldn't teach ya
'Bout the
raising of the wrist.

Socrates, himself, was permanently pissed.

John Stuart Mill, of his own free will,
On half a pint of shandy was
particularly ill.

Plato, they say, could stick it away--
Half a
crate of whisky every day.

Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the
Hobbes was fond of his dram,

And René Descartes was a
drunken fart.
'I drink, therefore I am.'

Yes, Socrates, himself, is
particularly missed,
A lovely little thinker, But a bugger when he's pissed.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Choosing an Epistemological Approach to Human Experience

Here are the study questions for lesson 2. Unfortunately, much of the material I need to study is in Athens and Jerusalem, which is currently en route from the bookseller.

What is meant by the "epistemologies of the special sciences" and "metaphysical epistemology?"

These phrases strike me as specific to Bonsor's book. I did not hear them in the lecture, so I'll have to assume that is the case. I'll try to answer them after I've had a chance to read that book.

Based on the lesson text, I could induce that "epistemologies of the special sciences" refers to the methods each discipline uses to verify the truth or falsity of its own findings. On the other hand, "metaphysical epistemology" would refer to a critique of specific epistemologies to consider their validity in general. While a special epistemology might concern itself with only a small range of criteria, metaphysical epistemology evaluates all of the possible criteria.

What are the extremes of materialist and Platonic epistemologies?

Materialism posits that truth is only that which can be observed by the senses or inferred based on our observations (sense data). Even the individual soul (if one exists at all) is material and impermanent. Epicureanism, Stoicism, and the Carvaka (Lokayata) school are materialist.

Spiritualism (idealism) posits that ultimate reality is spiritual. Some schools deny that the material world exists at all but is an illusion (Hinduism's maya or Buddhism's Samsara). Others (such as Platonism) reduce the world to shadows of the real, spiritual world. The material world to the Platonist is a mere reflection or reminder of the real spiritual existence. In Platonism, we have phenomena (appearances) and noumena (realities) (CE, "Plato and Platonism"). These realities have been forgotten by our souls but are innate and can be recovered through introspection.

What was Aristotle's "middle ground" between these extremes?

Aristotle rejected the innate ideas of the Platonists and neo-Platonists and believed that we come into the world with a blank intellect (the tabula rasa of Locke?). He affirmed what the materialists asserted—that we learn about the world in which we live through sense data (what we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell). However, he agreed with the spiritualists/idealists that some higher faculty allowed us to analyze this sense data and come to understand reality. We come to differentiate between the world of sense data as we experience it when conscious and the world that we experience in dreams and thought that, although derived from sense data, does not accord with reality.

Aristotle recognized that our human responses, our concepts, and our language go far beyond the explanations of the materialists. Something more drives human thought than a mere material existence.

Why was Christian theology Platonic until the rise of the medieval universities?

Aristotle's thought was largely lost to the west for many years (until the 1200s). Given the choice between the materialism of the Epicureans and Stoics and the spiritualism of the Platonists (and neo-Platonists to a lesser degree), it only makes sense that the early Church Fathers and the monastic theologians would veer toward an epistemology that accorded with exiting Church doctrine. Because materialists denied a transcendent reality, materialist thought could not be accepted. Spiritualist thought, with some modification, could align and become a useful tool for theologians. Some beliefs of the Platonists and neo-Platonists hd to be purged to accord with revealed truth, but the basic approach was still spiritualist or Platonist.

How has Platonism serve Christian theology? How has it distorted it?

Platonism has preserved the idea of the transcendant reality and the acceptance of realities outside of the realm of material experience. Without this accommodation, there could be no acceptance of revealed truth apart from material experience. Much of the language of the Platonists helped the early Church Fathers to translate the experience of a small Jewish sect to a larger, more cosmopolitan world. The world of 1st century Greece was a world of pagan sceptics. Only by aligning Christian thought with the wisdom of someone like Plato would Christian doctrine ever get a hearing outside of the diaspora.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Theology needs reasoned reflection on human experience

These are the study questions for lesson 1.

1) What does the study of "philosophy" in its original, broad sense include?

In its original sense, the scope of philosophy is all human knowledge, specifically all knowledge pertaining to the natural world. It included the physical sciences, mathematics, rhetoric—essentially all of the liberal arts and fine arts. No doubt Aristotle understood it in this sense, and his corpus of works includes subjects such as tragedy, biology, and physics.

2) What is the difference of philosophy in this broad sense from theology?

While philosophy's focus is on human knowledge—that is, knowledge gained through the powers of reason—theology focuses on revealed knowledge. Philosophy dwells in the natural realm. Theology dwells in the supernatural realm.

3) Is philosophy only "the clarification of the language of other disciplines?"

If philosophy is only "the clarification of the language of other disciplines," it is only such in the minds of modern philosophers. Clearly specialization of disciplines has taken the focus away from philosophy as a multifaceted discipline, but this fracturing does not truly divide the philosophical subject into separate disciplines. Logic is certainly part of philosophy, but its use must extend to other realms of study. Metaphysics exist even if modern philosophers find the fact uncomfortable or daunting.

4) Are "metaphysics" and "philosophy" the same study?

In the sense that it's dealt with here, metaphysics is a branch of philosophy but not all of philosophy focused on the study of being as being. However, Wikipedia defines metaphysics as 'a branch of philosophy concerned with the study of "first principles" and "being" (ontology).' It notes the meaning if the roots meta (after or beyond) and physics (nature). If we take this meaning, then you could see it as a study that overlaps philosophy and theology. So metaphysics is not the same study. It's a specific application for philosophical and possibly even theological thought to first principles and ontology.

5) Why is it a waste of time to study theology without adequate preparation in philosophy in this broad sense?

Theologians often use philosophical methods in their work. However, the methodologies are sometimes flawed. For example, those theologians who tend to view doctrine as fungible have a more relativistic view of truth. Without preparation in philosophy, one might not recognize the ramifications of such a stance (reletavism, indifferentism). For those theologians who claim a more postmodern approach, the tendency to redefine terms can lead to fallacious argumentation (sophistry). In order to recognize the traps that some theologians fall into, we must be prepared to distinguish among rational and nonrational modes of thought.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Philosophy serves theology

These are the questions from the course syllabus. I'll post the questions from lesson 1 shortly.

Do you as a student of theology resent philosophy requirements? If so, why?

I'm going to answer, "If not, why not" instead. No, I don't resent the philosophy requirements for this program. To me, any liberal art program worth its salt should have some "theory of methodology" discussion, and my sense (possibly wildly mistaken) is that the tools of philosophy are the same we use for theology. Philosophy provides a systematic way to approach a subject. Theology is, in part, the application of a system of thought to the reality of God. It's also a study of things revealed by God, which aren't accessible by reason alone, but we don't want to dismiss the usefulness of reason simply because part of the subject matter is beyond reason.

What is you conception of philosophy?

I see philosophy primarily as a method for forming systems of though or belief. It can also be a specific system of thought or belief. Just as we can speak of language as being a mechanism by which specific languages are constructed and a specific instance of language, we can speak of philosophy as having general and specific forms.

What do you think is the relation between "revealed truth" and "human truth"?

"Human truth" is that which we can discern through our senses and right reason by observing the world around us and coming to conclusions based on that experience. We frequently do this indirectly by accepting trusted authorities (for example, in the world of physics). "Revealed truth" is that knowledge that comes from God through His Word. We cannot ascertain this truth on our own but are dependent upon God's grace to hear and accept it. The two together make up the whole of human knowledge. They cannot be in contradiction with each other.

Is philosophy absolutely necessary for theology or only very helpful?

I originally answered, "It depends." I still stand by this response with a qualification. If we use the terms "theology" and "philosophy" in the technical sense, then philosophy (as a method of inquiry), is absolutely required for theology (as a subject matter). Theology is the study of Divine Revelation. Philosophy is the body of techniques we use to study those aspects of theology that we can ascertain through reason. However, if we think of "theology" only as ways of conceptualizing God, then I could envision people doing this quite readily without a systematic approach (which would be a philosophical approach). However, to discuss God in light of Revelation and human thought, we must employ a method for doing so. If we want to have a systematic discussion of God and His Revelation, we need philosophy.

On a separate note, many writers debate whether it's necessary to "know" grammar to write. It's not necessary to be able to discuss the grammatical constructs one uses in composition, but it is necessary for writers to have an intuitive grasp of grammar in order to attain their ends. A writer who only intuitively understands grammar can only write their word. A writer who understands the mechanisms by which they operate (grammar) can also analyze and address their technique.

What does it mean to say that theology "interprets the Gospel to our culture"?

Originally I thought that the Gospel has to be interpreted through the lenses of the culture into which it's read. I had that model reversed. The Gospel is the lense through which we have to read the culture. Only then can we address the flaws that human imperfection has introduced to that culture. Then the Gospel can be delivered as needed to the culture in question. A ham-handed delivery would only result in rejection.

My first blog post

Greetings. I can't promise there will be much worth reading here. I intend to post my thoughts concerning my theology studies in order to get comments back from other Catholic bloggers and theology students. With luck, maybe I'll actually write something humorous. Don't hold your breath, though.

I started readings and videos yesterday. So far so good.