Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Michael Shermer to Critique Intelligent Design

The Metro State Atheists are sponsoring a lecture on February 17, 2010, against Intelligent Design by Michael Shermer, author of the unimpressive book, Why Darwin Matters. I reviewed this and one by Jon Wells, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, in The Denver Post in 2006. I hope to be at the Shermer event and ask a question or make a comment.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

New/Old Book

My book, Confronting the New Age (1988), out of print since 2004, is back in print with Wipf and Stock.

Ultrasound Awakening.

Colson writes of a worker at Planned Parenthood whose conscience awoke to the horror of her actions. This is remarkable and wonderful. In this case, the image of the reality of abortion (the ultrasound) jolted a conscience into truth.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Reckless Mind

Greatness of mind becomes an object of love only when the power at work in it itself has a noble character--Karl Jaspers, commenting on the intellectuals, including Martin Heidegger, who welcomed Hitler in 1933 Taken from Mark Lilla, The Reckless Mind, xiii.

"Lament," by Evangeline Peterson (quoted in The Mark of the Christian by Francis Schaeffer)

Weep, weep for those
Who do the work of the Lord
With a high look
And a proud heart.
Their voice is lifted up
In the streets, and their cry is heard.
The bruised reed they break
By their great strength, and the smoking flax
They trample.

Weep not for the quenched
(For their God will hear their cry
And the Lord will come to save them)
But weep, weep for the quenchers

For when the Day of the Lord
Is come, and the vales sing
And the hills clap their hands
And the light shines

Then their eyes shall be opened
On a waste place,
The smoke of the flax bitter
In their nostrils,
Their feet pierced
By broken reed-stems . . .
Wood, hay, and stubble,
And no grass springing.
And all the birds flown.

Weep, weep for those
Who have made a desert
In the name of the Lord.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Wake up and Smell the Revolt Against Leftism

Read Charles Krauthammer on the meaning of Brown's election in MA. The Democrats are bordering in insanity in their denials of the obvious: Brown's highly improbable and decisive victory in Democrat-heaven was a repudiation of Obama's socialized health care, coddling of terrorists, and massive corruption.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Aborted Documentary of Jackson Pollock

Having seen a film recently about whether a particular painting was a genuine Jackson Pollock (reviewed on this blog), and having some background on Pollock from Francis Schaeffer's critique of his chance work, I have become more interested in his abstract expressionism and life. Given this curiosity I attempted to watch A&E's documentary on the man. I lasted less than seven minutes.

Given that his documentary was done within the past few years, it exhibits all that is bad about television. (There is a spectrum of value in television; typically, the older, the better; but all of it humiliates discourse through the moving image.) Talking head comments are limited to about 10-15 seconds; scenes often last less than a few seconds, and this includes scenes of his paintings; special effects abound, including making his paintings move. This effect is ironic, given that one of the art experts talked about the "life" in his strange paintings. Of course, for TV, no inert object is allowed to be. Everything must move, be transformed through special effects; the human being is not allowed to develop any ideas through discourse or express art through sustained reflection on the painting itself. Moreover, there was some actor doing short scenes as Pollock, who was too heavy to even look like him! Pollock was colorful enough without needing a stunt man!

I lasted less than seven minutes. I will occupy myself with books of his paintings and books and articles about his life. Call it another lesson in "the medium is the message" (McLuhan).

The Real Thing

Philosopher and scientist, Blaise Pascal, is often cited as speaking of "the God-shaped vacuum" in everyone. I have been asked a few times where exactly he wrote that. To my knowledge, he never did; it is a paraphrase of this from Pensées:

What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself (Penguin ed., 148/428).

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Book review: The Church of Facebook

See my review of Jesse Rice, The Church of Facebook, published at Denver Journal.

Philosophy on Television!

Witness ten minutes of concentrated intelligence about Bertrand Russell and G. Frege. It is a discussion between A.J. Ayer and Brian Magee from a British TV program, perhaps in the 1980s. Notice Ayer's comment on Frege's claim that laws of logic have nothing to due with human psychology, but are objective.

A Grim and Disgraceful Anniversary: Roe V. Wade (1973)

January 22, 2010, will mark the thirty-seven anniversary of the worst Supreme Court decision in the history of the United States: Roe Vs. Wade. This opened the door to abortion on demand in the United States and perhaps forty-five million legal abortions. Yes, the Dred Scott decision was horrible, but, thank God, it was overturned. Roe has not been. Further, we have the most pro-abortion President in office in the history of the nation, and some of you reading this voted for him. He, and most all Democrats, want nationalized health care to cover abortions. We must not give up the fight for life. Below, I reprint my essay, "Fighting Fetus Fatigue," in honor of the unborn dead.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Recovering from Fetus Fatigue

It appears that millions of evangelicals, especially younger ones, are experiencing fetus fatigue. They are tired of the abortion issue taking center stage; it is time to move on to newer, hipper things--the sort of issues that excite Bono: aid to Africa, the environment, and cool tattoos.

Abortion has been legal since they were born; it is the old guard that gets exercised about millions of abortions over the years. So, let's not worry that Barak Obama and Hillary are pro-choice. That is a secondary issue. After all, neither could do that much damage regarding this issue.Evangelicals (if that word has any meaning), for God's sake, please wake up and remember the acres of tiny corpses you cannot see. Yes, the Christian social vision is holistic. We should endeavor to restore shalom to this beleaguered planet. That includes helping Africa, preserving the environment, and much more. However, the leading domestic moral issue remains the value of helpless human life. Since Roe v. Wade, approximately 50 million unborn humans have been killed through abortion. Stalin said, "One death is a tragedy. A million dead is a statistic." Too many are now Stalinists on abortion. The numbers mean nothing, apparently. The vast majority of these abortions were not done to save the life of the mother, a provision I take to be justified.

Things have reached the point where bumper stickers say, "Don't like abortion, don't have one." It is simply a matter of private, subjective taste. But how about this: "Don't like slavery, don't own slaves"? Two human beings are involved in this matter, inescapably.The biblical argument against abortion is direct and powerful:1. The fetus is a person made in God’s image (Gen. 1:27; Psalm 139:13-16).2. Murder is unjustly killing a person and is sinful (Exodus 20:13).3. Abortion is (all things being equal) the unjust killing of a person. Exception: when life of the mother is directly endangered.4. Therefore: (a) abortion is morally wrong and sinful before God.5. Therefore: (b) abortion should be illegal and stigmatized socially (Romans 13:1-7).One can build a strong pro-life argument apart from the Bible as well, but I will not address that here. See the new book called Embryo by George and Tollefsen on this.The Democratic contenders are both militantly pro-abortion. If one wins, he or she will likely appoint several Supreme Court judges.

If so, you can forget about overturning Roe v. Wade, which would return the legality to the states. This is not as good as a Human Life Amendment (which Huckabee supported), but it is better than the moral and legal abomination that is Roe. v. Wade. Both Democrats would also fund stem cell research on human embryos and provide as much federal funding as possible for abortion. The president can also issue executive order that have tremendous power. William Jefferson Clinton did so a few days after talking office in 1993. Hillary or Obama would do something very similar. Obama even voted against a bill that would save the lives of infants born alive after a botched abortion. One could go on. Please see the blog entry, "Why Pro-Life Presidents Matter," by Joe Carter.

Evangelicals, for God's sake, please wake up. Remember the least, the last, and the lost: the millions of unborn human beings who hang in the balance (Matthew 25:31-46). No, this is not the only issue, but it is a titanic issue that cannot be ignored.

Rouse yourself to recover from fetus fatigue. God is watching.

He Nails It

Dr. Troy Nunley critiques the American Philosophical Association's attempt to discriminate against religious schools.

First posted on Twitter

The mark of wisdom: not too know too much (trivia and gossip); not to know too little (being an ignoramus); and knowing what knowledge is.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Jazz Notes

Go to Jazz Notes for a reflection on Stan Kenton, recording technologies, phenomenology, and ontology.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Title, A Judgment

This is the title of an instrumental piece of music from the 1976 Keith Jarrett release, "Mysteries"--"Everything that lives laments." This stunned me.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Interview with Jaron Lanier on "You are Not a Gadget"

[First published at]

A Q&A with Author Jaron Lanier

Question: As one of the first visionaries in Silicon Valley, you saw the initial promise the internet held. Two decades later, how has the internet transformed our lives for the better?

Jaron Lanier: The answer is different in different parts of the world. In the industrialized world, the rise of the Web has happily demonstrated that vast numbers of people are interested in being expressive to each other and the world at large. This is something that I and my colleagues used to boldly predict, but we were often shouted down, as the mainstream opinion during the age of television’s dominance was that people were mostly passive consumers who could not be expected to express themselves. In the developing world, the Internet, along with mobile phones, has had an even more dramatic effect, empowering vast classes of people in new ways by allowing them to coordinate with each other. That has been a very good thing for the most part, though it has also enabled militants and other bad actors.

Question: You argue the web isn’t living up to its initial promise. How has the internet transformed our lives for the worse?

Jaron Lanier: The problem is not inherent in the Internet or the Web. Deterioration only began around the turn of the century with the rise of so-called "Web 2.0" designs. These designs valued the information content of the web over individuals. It became fashionable to aggregate the expressions of people into dehumanized data. There are so many things wrong with this that it takes a whole book to summarize them. Here’s just one problem: It screws the middle class. Only the aggregator (like Google, for instance) gets rich, while the actual producers of content get poor. This is why newspapers are dying. It might sound like it is only a problem for creative people, like musicians or writers, but eventually it will be a problem for everyone. When robots can repair roads someday, will people have jobs programming those robots, or will the human programmers be so aggregated that they essentially work for free, like today’s recording musicians? Web 2.0 is a formula to kill the middle class and undo centuries of social progress.

Question: You say that we’ve devalued intellectual achievement. How?

Jaron Lanier: On one level, the Internet has become anti-intellectual because Web 2.0 collectivism has killed the individual voice. It is increasingly disheartening to write about any topic in depth these days, because people will only read what the first link from a search engine directs them to, and that will typically be the collective expression of the Wikipedia. Or, if the issue is contentious, people will congregate into partisan online bubbles in which their views are reinforced. I don’t think a collective voice can be effective for many topics, such as history--and neither can a partisan mob. Collectives have a power to distort history in a way that damages minority viewpoints and calcifies the art of interpretation. Only the quirkiness of considered individual expression can cut through the nonsense of mob--and that is the reason intellectual activity is important.

On another level, when someone does try to be expressive in a collective, Web 2.0 context, she must prioritize standing out from the crowd. To do anything else is to be invisible. Therefore, people become artificially caustic, flattering, or otherwise manipulative.
Web 2.0 adherents might respond to these objections by claiming that I have confused individual expression with intellectual achievement. This is where we find our greatest point of disagreement. I am amazed by the power of the collective to enthrall people to the point of blindness. Collectivists adore a computer operating system called LINUX, for instance, but it is really only one example of a descendant of a 1970s technology called UNIX. If it weren’t produced by a collective, there would be nothing remarkable about it at all.

Meanwhile, the truly remarkable designs that couldn’t have existed 30 years ago, like the iPhone, all come out of "closed" shops where individuals create something and polish it before it is released to the public. Collectivists confuse ideology with achievement.

Question: Why has the idea that "the content wants to be free" (and the unrelenting embrace of the concept) been such a setback? What dangers do you see this leading to?

Jaron Lanier: The original turn of phrase was "Information wants to be free." And the problem with that is that it anthropomorphizes information. Information doesn’t deserve to be free. It is an abstract tool; a useful fantasy, a nothing. It is nonexistent until and unless a person experiences it in a useful way. What we have done in the last decade is give information more rights than are given to people. If you express yourself on the internet, what you say will be copied, mashed up, anonymized, analyzed, and turned into bricks in someone else’s fortress to support an advertising scheme. However, the information, the abstraction, that represents you is protected within that fortress and is absolutely sacrosanct, the new holy of holies. You never see it and are not allowed to touch it. This is exactly the wrong set of values.

The idea that information is alive in its own right is a metaphysical claim made by people who hope to become immortal by being uploaded into a computer someday. It is part of what should be understood as a new religion. That might sound like an extreme claim, but go visit any computer science lab and you’ll find books about "the Singularity," which is the supposed future event when the blessed uploading is to take place. A weird cult in the world of technology has done damage to culture at large.

Question: In You Are Not a Gadget, you argue that idea that the collective is smarter than the individual is wrong. Why is this?

Jaron Lanier: There are some cases where a group of people can do a better job of solving certain kinds of problems than individuals. One example is setting a price in a marketplace. Another example is an election process to choose a politician. All such examples involve what can be called optimization, where the concerns of many individuals are reconciled. There are other cases that involve creativity and imagination. A crowd process generally fails in these cases. The phrase "Design by Committee" is treated as derogatory for good reason. That is why a collective of programmers can copy UNIX but cannot invent the iPhone.

In the book, I go into considerably more detail about the differences between the two types of problem solving. Creativity requires periodic, temporary "encapsulation" as opposed to the kind of constant global openness suggested by the slogan "information wants to be free." Biological cells have walls, academics employ temporary secrecy before they publish, and real authors with real voices might want to polish a text before releasing it. In all these cases, encapsulation is what allows for the possibility of testing and feedback that enables a quest for excellence. To be constantly diffused in a global mush is to embrace mundanity.

Hive Mind as Wrong Mind

Jaron Lanier, simultaneously a tech-wizard and a tech-critic, has a new book called, You are Not a Gadget, which is favorably reviewed in The NY Times. Lanier endorsed my 1997 book, The Soul in Cyberspace.

Herman Melville, Moby Dick, chapter XXXII

After Ismael's disquisition on cetology:

Finally: It was stated at the outset, that this system would not be here, and at once, perfected. You cannot but plainly see that I have kept my word. But I now leave my cetological System standing thus unfinished, even as the great Cathedral of Cologne was left, with the cranes still standing upon the top of the uncompleted tower. For small erections may be finished by their first architects; grand ones, true ones, ever leave the copestone to posterity. God keep me from ever completing anything. This whole book is but a draught- nay, but the draught of a draught. Oh, Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Film Review: Who the [Blank] is Jackson Pollock? (2007)

Thinking this was a documentary about Jackson Pollock, I borrowed it from a local library. It turns out to be more of a real-life mystery than a study of Pollock, the man or his work. But along the way, one learns quite a bit about this strange and intriguing figure and his abstract painting (if that is the proper label). The plot-line of this documentary is simple: an uneducated and plucky female truck driver, named Teri Horton, buys a large, odd painting for a friend from a thrift shop for $5. She is later told that it looks like a Jackson Pollock original. She eventually learns who he was (she had no idea, and thought the the painting was essentially junk, since it was nonrepresentational), the tremendous worth of his painting (a new original work would fetch fifty million dollars), and approaches the art world in the hope that it will be authenticated as a genuine Pollock.

The film is about how we know things (epistemology)--in this case, how do we know whether a painting is painted by a particular painter. That is, how to we come to a justified and true belief about this painting? Was it painted by Pollock or not? To answer this, one must consider criteria for authenticity. We find (at least) two cultures in conflict. The culture of the experts in the art world and the culture of forensics. Those in the art world largely rejected the painting as inauthentic. Some rejected it forcefully, others more hesitantly, but no recognized art expert certified the painting as a Pollock for the following reasons. (1) It is unsigned. (2) It has no provenance. Provenance concerns the documented genealogy of the painting, its causal ancestry or pedigree. Mrs. Horton bought it as a thrift shop and was not able to gather information beyond that. That is, it simply appears as a painting without a history. (3) It does not look enough like a Pollock work to the trained eye.

However, there is another angle to pursue--forensic evidence. Mrs. Horton hires a forensic expert who has authenticated several anonymous paintings as legitimate works by well-known artists. He finds a fingerprint on the back of the painting that matches one found in Pollock's studio. He also finds paint like that used by Pollock. The art world cares nothing for this: forensics is not art criticism. They are two different worlds, with two different sets of criteria.

This epistemological debate is what I found fascinating about the film. I did not warm to the crusty, seventy-three-year old who discovered the painting. One may pity her hard life and appreciate her tenacity, but she strikes me as crass and pointlessly stubborn--refusing to sell a painting of at least questionable pedigree for nine million dollars. She says her unwillingness to sell for anything less than the full worth of a Pollock is a matter of "principle." But what principle might that be? Apparently, she is convinced it is a Pollock, and hired a professional art dealer to sell it as such (a rather slick and slimy character, to be sure). But is any moral principle violated if one sells a painting for nine million dollars when, in fact, it may be worth fifty million; however? There is, after all, still good reason to question its authenticity.

What criteria are normative for identifying a work of art? When the experts evaluate the work, they size it up rather intuitively, based on previous knowledge of Pollock's style. But they do not all agree. Moreover, artists do vary their style to some degree. The other side has to do with trying find in the extant painting some forensic (not aesthetic) quality that identifies it as having been painted by Pollack. This involves photography, chemistry, and some speculative history (since documented provenance cannot be established). One large question is whether one can establish a plausible scenario in which Pollack, an established if eccentric painter, somehow lets one of his works lose such that it ends up in a thrift shop in California, as opposed to having it displayed in a New York art museum or as part of an art collector's collection.

It is difficult to come to a conclusion about the identity of this painting. But working through the questions is fascinating and rewarding. To make a more accurate assessment, one would need much more than simply a film on which to base a judgment.

This is not a film that directly addresses the aesthetic value of Jackson Pollock's paintings or the worldview behind his work. (At some point, Pollock set up mechanical means by which to make paintings which attempted to leave out his own personality and rely on chance. Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984) assesses this philosophically in his book and film series, How Shall We Then Live?) However, the film stimulates significant thought about the art of knowing. Who is a reliable witness? What are the proper criteria for truth assessment. For those reasons, I delighted in the film and may use it for teaching on these subject.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010





Where have you left

Edward Kennedy Ellington

Duke Ellington,

note selection,
sound perfection,
beauty protection.

Concentration. Concertation.

Elegance. Elation. Elevation.



Duke Ellington.

Pascal on Human Happiness

Please read my review of Blaise Pascal, Human Happiness in Denver Journal.

Crazy Love

I review Francis Chan's book, Crazy Love, at Denver Journal.

A Jazz Shaped Faith

I have written rather long review of Robert Gelinas's book, Finding the Grove: Composing a Jazz-Shaped Faith for Denver Journal.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Doug Groothuis on Apologetics at the Secular University

I will be the featured speaker at the Universanity conference in Fort Collins February 5 and 6. I will be giving three talks. Please go to the web page for details.

Book review

Pat Knapp, MA (from Denver Seminary) reviews Losing my Religion at Denver Journal.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


There is a new apologetics ministry for Arizona, co-directed by my friend, Paul Adams, who holds and MA in Philosophy of Religion from Denver Seminary.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Read Your Bible

“Begin reading your Bible this very day. The way to do a thing is to do it, and the way to read the Bible is actually to read it. It is not meaning, or wishing, or resolving, or intending, or thinking about it; that will not advance you one step. You must positively read. There is no royal road in this matter, any more than in the matter of prayer. If you cannot read yourself, you must persuade somebody else to read to you. But one way or another, through eyes or ears, the words of Scripture must actually pass before your mind.”~ J.C. Ryle, Practical Religion, “Bible Reading”, 131.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Introduction to Philosophy Via Doug Groothuis

My Introduction to Philosophy course at Metro State College of Denver needs 12 students to be retained. Thus far, we are 8/12, and need to get to 12 within about 10 days, I think. I am using Ed Miller's excellent text, Questions that Matter, and I love to teach philosophy in this setting. Please consider taking the class or telling others. Thank you/

Saturday, January 02, 2010

From Chapter Nine of "Moby Dick" by Herman Melville

From the preacher's sermon on The Book of Jonah:

Woe to him whom this world charms from Gospel duty! Woe to him who seeks to pour oil upon the waters when God has brewed them into a gale! Woe to him who seeks to please rather than to appal! Woe to him whose good name is more to him than goodness! Woe to him who, in this world, courts not dishonor! Woe to him who would not be true, even though to be false were salvation! Yea, woe to him who as the great Pilot Paul has it, while preaching to others is himself a castaway.

From Chapter VIII of Herman Melville's Moby Dick

...for the pulpit is ever this earth's foremost part; all the rest comes in its rear; the pulpit leads the world. From thence it is the storm of God's quick wrath is first descried, and the bow must bear the earliest brunt. From thence it is the God of breezes fair or foul is first invoked for favorable winds. Yes, the world's a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Predictions: 2010

1. There will be further American decline, economically and in foreign policy. Foreign dictators will extend their evils with no American resistance, besides token measures. Joblessness will continue, as will federal takeovers. Global warming based laws will cripple the economy and criticism of global warming will be put in the category of "hate speech" and "holocaust denial," despite the credible science against it.

2. Terrorist attacks at home and abroad will increase. No effective measures will be taken, since political correctness controls the Obama administration.

3. Abortion will become federally funded. Some pro-life people will pay a high price for their civil disobedience, but not many. Many Christians will make their peace with this evil, as so many already did by voting for the most pro-abortion candidate in history, Barack Obama.

4. Obama will move to silence his public opposition through various means. This will be done in the name of fairness and balance, of course.

5. Iran will continue to develop nuclear weapons, unopposed by any real constraint, since Obama has no will or principle in the matter.

6. Israel will become increasingly opposed by America and will have to stand essentially alone against the hostile nations that surround it.

7. The Kingdom of God will continue to advance, despite it all.


Obama's foreign policy: a disaster.