Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The West Texas Confession


Much of what is marketed as Christianity, while good and helpful, is actually a substitute that obscures the core power of the Bible and Jesus. Since I have recently moved to West Texas from Wheaton Illinois I want to at this time outline my current beliefs so that I can communicate them clearly and systematically. My intellectual background includes studies in Electrical Engineering (i.e., Physics), Information Technology, Management, Theology, Liberal Arts, Economics and Education Reform. Here is what I think I have learned so far, much of which is at odds with some popular teachings.

0. Summary

Proposed celestial evolution has no viable mechanism (mutation/natural selection doesn't apply and a multiverse doesn't make logical sense), so some form of intelligent designer seems to make more sense.

The earliest written records in history are from Sumer and, though in mythology form, they do seem to include references similar to the earliest historical accounts claimed in the Bible.

A misinterpretation of "Logical Positivism", which equates what we see and what our instruments measure with actual reality, is at the root of misinterpretation of valid formulas in quantum mechanics and relatively and is the cause of some seemingly unsolvable dilemmas. Physicists/scientists have become the modern day priesthood, requiring the quantitatively illiterate mass of people (i.e., people are unable to understand/interpret their formulas directly) to trust their interpretation of how the world works without giving them the ability to interpret the formulas for themselves.

There is no actual difference between "natural" and "supernatural", other than one type of event is observable/repeatable and the other is not.  The goal is to separate truth from fiction/mythology, whether a particular event is repeatable or not.

The main conflict and goal of life, as implied by Genesis and Revelation, seems to be maintaining full individual freedom of choice (required for value, love, motivation, etc.. to exist) while at the same time creating a good society (Garden of Eden, healthy families, good nations, Heaven).  The answer to the dilemma of how to have both seems to be to freely choose to sacrifice ourselves daily to do what is right.  To be "born again" one has to first be willing to die.  To be a "follower of Jesus" is to be willing to sacrifice ourselves as Jesus did.  Both Baptism and Communion symbolize the followers of Jesus' willingness to sacrifice themselves as Jesus was willing to sacrifice himself.  Willingness to sacrifice everything, coupled with a commitment to do what is right, eliminates daily stresses and worry and gives a person the motivation to do great things, to become a hero.

Most Christian teachers have replaced this meaning in favor of the more marketable "Jesus sacrificed himself and we just accept his payment to God for us".  To understand the specific differences at issue, see the Penal Substitutionary Atonement debate and compare to Communal Substitutionary Atonement.  So some have emptied the meaning of baptism and communion to be just "remembering/accepting how Jesus paid our debt to God" and have repurposed the symbolism to focus on group membership rather than a shared commitment to self-sacrifice.  Then some infuse a form of Christian mysticism and ritual in order to substitute for the meaning and power that they perceive is now missing from the center of Christian teaching.  They replace discussion, debate and active learning with monologue and use various forms of social control to maintain the unity of their organization.

The word "antichrist" combines two roots: αντί (anti) + Χριστός (Khristos). "Αντί" can mean not only "against" and "opposite of", but also "in place of".

1. Evidence (What)

Before we can use reason to determine how the world works or communicate information, first we must observe raw information about the world we live in.

1.1 The Natural Record

Observational Science is using our senses and various tools to observe the current state of nature. From those observation and by using some assumptions, through theoretical science we may be able to extrapolate what likely happened in the past and therefore what is likely to happen in the future.

1.2 The Historical Record

People have recorded their perspectives of what has happened in their lifetimes. By trying to determine what the authors were trying to communicate to their intended audiences, if the authors were truthful and accurate and their writings were not altered over time, then we can determine what likely happened in history. From that history then through philosophy/theology we can determine what we should do in the future to avoid past problems and to build upon past lessons learned.

2. Reason

2.1 Inductive and Deductive Logic

By observing the world we inductively derive knowledge and rules that are likely, but not guaranteed, to be true to help determine what is likely to happen in the future. Inductively derived information gives us the assumptions/premises that, if true, we can use with deductive logic to determine additional information that is also true.

2.2 The Role of Faith

Faith is just another name for how we use inductive logic in our everyday lives. Faith is what is needed to treat something we inductively derive to be probably true as if it is definitely true. For example, when we step in an elevator there is a small probability that it will fall, but because we have faith it will work we treat it as if it will definitely work and don't give it a second thought.

3. Communication

3.1 Prayer

Prayer was originally intended to be a two way discussion between God and Man. Since God does not speak back currently, at this time the value of prayer is in thinking through/articulating issues and in helping people give up worrying by reminding them that God values them and He is in control of their situation, even in situations of failure or death.

3.2 Teaching, Preaching and Evangelism

Teaching, preaching and evangelism are all forms of education, which includes both providing information and, perhaps more importantly, providing motivation to the learner. As with all learning we should enable self-directed learning, offer "bite sized chunks" of information and in some way certify/advertise the knowledge learned. We should get away from pastor/teacher-focused (sage on the stage) education and move to self-directed (guide on the side) project-based, non-repetitive, learner-focused education.

4. Philosophy/Theology and Theoretical Science

4.1 The Books of the Bible

The books collated into the Bible in addition to containing history also includes the philosophical/theological concepts to use to interpret how history can be applied to make future decisions. Most of the concepts are qualitative rather than quantitative.

4.2 Observational Science

Most information determined from Observational Science is quantitative, so most of theoretical science is determining quantitative formulas to predict what will happen in the future. Scientists are good at determining what formulas fit historical numerical patterns, but they are sometimes not as good at providing a well-reasoned qualitative interpretation of, at a foundational level, what their valid formulas mean.

5. Intelligence (Who)

5.1 Humans

We are not our bodies, but our ways of thinking. Cut off any part of the body other than our brain and we can still be our selves. We can be thought of as one individual, but we can also be defined by the "sets of ways of thinking" that we hold to. Conversely, the different "sets of ways of thinking" can be considered different "individuals" in our mind. This is the way that people can be "filled with the Holy Spirit" or "possessed by demons". We can be thought of in two ways at the same time: We are both whole individuals that persist over time, but we are also subsets of ideas that can change over time.

5.1.1 Races

The characteristics that separate races are superficial. Genetically, to reduce genetic defects it is healthiest to intermarry with people who are the furthest genetically from us. Different cultures can have better or worse social standards, so we should take the best traits of each culture.

5.1.2 Gender Roles

Both genders are equally valuable but each gender is in general designed to be better are different tasks. Just as we should be caring of people with physical struggles, we should be caring for people with gender identity struggles. We should work to maximize freedom even when we believe others are in error. That also means not trying to force people to believe that gender identity or gender attractions that don't match genetics are normative.

5.2 God

God is eternal and the designer of the Universe, which is not eternal. If "something" cannot come from "nothing", then then only other alternative would be for the creation to be eternal. In either case something has to be eternal.

5.3 Holy Spirit

The result of having the Holy Spirit being in our minds is a strong motivation because we are convinced we are doing the right thing. As we change our minds and habits to become more holy, doing what is right can become strongly motivational. So, it is valid to look at the Holy Spirit in two ways: as the person of the Holy Spirit inhabiting a subset of our mind, while at the same time saying that sets of ideas are changing our minds to motivate us to be more Holy, whatever the cost.

5.4 Jesus

Jesus is the example of sacrifice, to the point of being willing to die, that we as followers of Jesus are committed to following. His ways of thinking fully matched God's ways of thinking as well as the Holy Spirits ways of thinking.

5.5 Angels and Demons

Angel means "messenger". These messengers can apparently be given bodies but they don't necessarily need physical bodies. Demon's on the other hand apparently can only be in minds, either human or animal, but cannot exist outside of minds. Demon possession can be thought of in two ways: either as a set of bad ideas that should be rejected as not one's own or as another individual inhabiting a subset of a mind.

5.6 Animals

Animals minds apparently cannot conceive of symbolic language or ideas.

5.7 Plants

While plants can react to their environment they do not have central minds that process, store or communicate information.

6. History (When)

6.1 Time

Time is just our "perception of change". What we call the "past" is our current memories and what we call the "future" is our current mental plans. So God did not create "time" itself but rather He created the regularly recurring changes we use as "clocks" to measure the passage of other changes, which is how we commonly think of "time". So the Relativity theory formulas describe human/device perceptions rather than what is actually happening in space independent of the observing device/person.

6.2 Origins

6.2.1 Freedom of Choice

God didn't have to give Adam and Eve freedom to choose from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. By giving them that choice it shows that God believes maintaining freedom of choice is more important than maintaining an ideal society, though he is working to provide both.

6.2.2 Good Society

The Garden of Eden was the initially intended society, at least for individual families. We should each be able to rely on nature for our necessities rather than solely relying on others in society. Even if we live in cities should be able to, if necessary, move to a location and become self-sufficient in the necessities. Otherwise we effectively become slaves to our society.

6.2.3 Death and Suffering and Forgiveness

Death and suffering motivates us to want a world where there is no death or suffering. Death is not the end but it symbolizes ultimate sacrifice. If Adam and Eve were willing to die rather than eat the fruit, then they would never have eaten, regardless of the amount of time.

6.3 History

6.3.1 Freedom of Choice

The wide variety of societies over history are needed to allow different societies to make varying choices to, in the end, demonstrate that God's way of setting up society is the best.

6.3.2 Good Society

The goal of history is to show how to set up the best society.

6.3.3 Death and Suffering and rebuilding

Societies that try to use force to set up the ideal, Utopian society typically end up causing the most death and suffering. Societies that work to maximize freedom end up creating the best societies.

6.4 Futures

6.4.1 Freedom of Choice

Heaven and Hell is just the separation of people who are willing to sacrifice themselves to follow God from those who are not willing to do that. People who make good choices will create a good society (Heaven) and those who make bad choices will create a very bad society (Hell). Also, God is not required to make the world work just as well for those who do not follow Him. So Hell is a very bad place even without the need for God to eternally torture people in Hell.

6.4.2 Good Society

Heaven is a place where freedom of choice is maintained but those in Heaven have shown that they naturally will choose to do what is right. Good relationships and good societies are both forms of good "trade". "Virtues" are just heuristics that generally promote good "trade", good relationships and good societies.

6.4.3 Death, Suffering and Resurrection

Death and suffering were not originally intended but are useful to motivate us to want a world without death and suffering. Even though death is not the end, it is symbolic of making the ultimate sacrifice as followers of Jesus.

7. Creation, Natural and Supernatural (Where)

7.1 Nature, simplicity/complexity and substitutes

There is no actual difference between "natural" and "supernatural". If something is re-creatable we call it natural and if we can't re-create something we call it supernatural. Natural objects hide complexity and interact with simplicity. Since the designer has a broader view of how things should work, in general doing things naturally is the best method. There are two kinds of substitutes for nature. One kind of substitute is a good substitute for areas where we cannot do something naturally (such as exercise when we can't do hard labor). A bad kind of substitute is where we think we are improving on nature, trying to maximize superficial traits at the cost of more important traits.

7.2 Miracles

We call something a miracle if it isn't repeatable and we don't understand the mechanism. Once we understand the mechanism or can repeat the event we call it natural rather than a miracle. Since we can't repeat or understand everything, by definition some miracles are possible.

8. Goals (Why)

8.1 Value, Motivation

8.1.1 Honor/Worship

To worship is to ascribe value to something, not just singing or adoring as the term "worship" is commonly understood. Worship is important because when we increase the value we ascribe to God we are also therefore increasing the value ascribed to His creation and to human life. Value is a perception which is only partly based on usefulness. We many times derive our value from the perception of others around us, so it is important to surround ourselves with people who value us and to remind ourselves that God values us and others highly.

8.1.2 Happiness/Enjoyment

True happiness comes from knowing we are doing the right thing, even if that causes short term pain. Short term pleasure can at the same time be causing unhappiness.

8.1.3 Faith, Hope and Love

Faith, Hope and Love all have in common embracing risk. Faith allow us to live is a world of current risks. Hope motivates us to act as if the future will be better even when there is risk of failure, pain and death. Love gives to others even when there is a risk that giving will not be reciprocated.

8.1.4 Rituals Baptism

Baptism is intended to be a physical demonstration of our willingness, as followers of Jesus, to sacrifice our lives, as Jesus did, to do what is right. Communion

Communion is intended to be a reminder of our commitment, as followers of Jesus, to sacrifice our lives as needed to do what is right. As we remember Jesus we also remember that to be a "follower of Jesus" means we are willing to die,, as Jesus did, for what is right.

8.1.5 Mysticism

Mysticism is used in place of reason when people want to deal with certainties rather than probabilities where they don't have enough information. Mysticism should be rejected in favor of reason.

8.2 Freedom (How)

8.2.1 Providence and Free Will

God has full control but we also have full free will. Which one we perceive is just a matter of how much information we have. If God controls all the forces on dice being rolled then he also controls the outcome of the roll, but if we don't see how he is controlling those forces then the outcome looks random to us.

8.2.2 Sin, Repentance, Justification, Virtues and Sanctification

Something isn't virtuous because God commands it but rather by nature he commands what He knows, as the designer, is virtuous. Repentance is a decision rather than a "work". Once we repent we are justified but it may take time to train the habits of the various virtues. That learning/growth process is called sanctification.

8.2.3 Jesus and Atonement, Forgiveness

We are forgiven when we try to turn away from doing wrong and we follow the example of Jesus. Forgiveness should be continually offered (for one reason, holding un-forgiveness hurts the person who was wronged), but forgiveness isn't actually received by the wrongdoer until they turn from doing the wrong.

8.2.4 Excommunication

We should have freedom of association and of disassociation. We need to make it clear what groups believe and disassociate in a friendly way from those who believe differently in key areas so that outsiders can see clear distinctions between groups. But we should always be open to trade with others with opposing beliefs.

8.2.5 Work and Rest

A day of rest is important so that we don't become slaves to our work. Rest is more enjoyable when we feel we have accomplished something valuable from our work. Many times we can do better thinking and planning during times of rest such that even with a time of rest we are more productive than if we worked constantly.

8.3 Good Society (How)

8.3.1 Liberty

Value is determined by the free determination of others around us, so freedom of choice is required for worship and love to be of any value.

8.3.2 Education

To make truly free choices we must have correct and accurate information. So, freedom of education is foundational to freedom of choice. Therefore in a perfect world education should not be provided/regulated by the state through forced taxation.

8.3.3 Leadership and Councils

Following the collective wisdom of leaders and councils is very helpful, but we must not follow leaders/councils blindly and we must retain our freedom of choice without coercion

8.3.4 Laws

Laws, rules, standards, best practices, virtues, ethics, suggestions, are in essence all the same. Each are ways of educating/motivating people concerning practices that maximizes the likelihood of good trade, relationships and society.  Laws differ only in that they have law enforcement attached to coerce people to follow the practices deemed by the state to be laws.  If we have a focus on trying to have good trade, relationships and societies we will naturally do what is in the laws.

8.3.5 Contracts

Trade increases the value to both parties in the trade. Trade over time requires trust in the commitment to deliver the value at a later time. So, to maximize value we must honor our contracts.

8.3.6 Marriage

Marriage is a freely entered into contract to deliver value over time. Therefore marriage should not be regulated by the state, but rather it should be affirmed/dis-affirmed by families, churches and/or other social organizations.

8.3.7 Church

Church was intended to be individuals getting together for a shared purpose, much like home education groups function today. But to maintain unity and to maximize the likelihood of success of the group, churches and denominations over time have naturally put into place organizational leadership, structures, rituals and mysticism that focuses on maintaining the unity of the group. Rather than being centrally lecture-focused and leader-focused, churches should be decentralized, with a project and team focus.

8.3.8 Belief Systems

All belief systems have some form of wisdom, but we still need to decide what is true and what is not true in each belief system

8.3.9 Forms of government Before the flood

Sex and violence seems to have been more prevalent in the society before the flood. Sumer/Egypt

All the key events in the book of Genesis are found in some form in Sumerian mythology/history. Moses rejected the mythology of Egypt in favor of the history that Sumerian myths were based on. The Israelites left the corruption of Egypt to recreate a society more similar to the Garden of Eden, as Abraham had done before them. Israel

Israel was intended as an example of a group of people following God, but the intent was to maintain freedom. High value was placed on not becoming a slave to work. Moses says he never took anyone's donkey, so government infrastructure was minimal. Samuel said God wasn't pleased that Israel asked for a King who would build and army, amass wealth and go to war. Much of Genesis is written to show the problems of society without a law to guide the people and to justify submitting to the laws in the Torah. The temple and the sacrifices were needed as physical symbols, but were not ultimately what God wanted. Roman Empire

Today the West is a descendant of the Roman Empire rather than being a descendant of Israel. We follow the example intended by Israel and their laws but we were not intended to be under the same laws as Israel.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Christian Yoga - The Missing Manual

I first became aware that the Christian college where I work offers a Yoga class back in 2008 so I began researching the topic.  I ended up visiting Yoga classes at the Science of Spirituality, Theosophical Society and the local Hindu Temple to compare their practices and teachings.  The Yoga class at the Hindu temple was the most interesting and that motivated me to learn more about Yoga from the Hindu perspective.  A May 2013 episode (51 minutes) of the Moody Radio show "Up for Debate" on Christian use of Yoga referenced my hands-on research of this topic.

In my initial thinking, I used two arguments that Christians should refrain from Yoga (which I think are still valid, but I now think there is a better way to address this question):

1. Paul argued that while eating meat sacrificed to idols was technically O.K. since idols aren't real (similar to how Yoga is technically O.K. because it is just stretching), he said he wouldn't do it because it could confuse others (my paraphrase).  Also, note that at least two other passages (Acts 21:25, Rev 2:14) seem to condemn Christians eating meat sacrificed to idols.

2. The writer of the book of Kings argued against worshiping God at high places, where the other religions were worshiping.  If you think about it, going up a mountain to worship God requires physical labor (like Yoga), the air is a little thinner so possibly making people at little light headed after climbing (somewhat similar to and including an adrenaline high), and the view is awesome.  Those characteristics help motivate people to think about the big picture (the "mountain top experience", or more simply, a "high"). So it would be easy to think you are getting a spiritual experience on top of a mountain, substituting for a focus on Truth. I like this analogy because it says leaders who were wholly devoted to God nevertheless did not take down the high places, leading to a situation a few generations later where most of the society rejected God.

But I ended up deciding that the best method of addressing this question might be to argue that if you are a Christian considering or practicing Yoga, then I would suggest that you should learn more about the Hindu history and philosophy of Yoga directly from Hindus so that you can make good decisions on this topic.  That is what this blog post is intended to help you do.  So, this is my attempt at a "missing manual" for Christians considering Yoga.

Now, six years later, the college is offering "Lenten Yoga: a contemplative practice for the Lenten Season", which has motivated me to make this updated post.  Also, now I see that there are more Hindu discussions of the meaning of Yoga on YouTube which were not available when I did my initial blog post six years ago.  So, now you can get the information directly from Hindu sources.  If you watch the three following videos, you will understand more about Yoga than probably 99% of westerners.

1. Here is a set of videos discussing the possible future merging of Christianity, Hinduism and Atheism, followed by a discussion of atheists and Christians using Yoga for health benefits at first, then graduating to an understanding of the spiritual meanings/benefits of Yoga (17 minutes).  I also added a video clip on the end of Billy Graham discussing his inclusivist beliefs (which says good people of all belief systems are chosen to go to Heaven, which is similar to but a little different than Universalist beliefs), which C.S. Lewis also shared (the two most honored Christians at the college where I work):

2. Here is a video talking about a panel discussion on the topic from Hinduism Today (15 minutes).  I also added on the end a video clip of Father Keating discussing how his Christian beliefs (step 1) are transcended by Hindu/Buddhist concepts of Oneness (steps 2 and 3 of the "spiritual journey"):

3. Here is a link to buy the below video on Yoga philosophy from the Christian perspective.  This one isn't a Hindu source, and I don't necessarily agree with all the assertions, such as the Yoga moves themselves having actual spiritual/mystical/demonic implications.  Also, I always thought that the idea of Kundalini, being the waking of a sleeping snake at the base of our spine, came from the fact that our intestines look like a coiled snake rather than being a reference to the serpent in Genesis and Revelations.  But in any event this Christian author did grow up in India and the video has some very interesting first hand accounts from the Christian perspective (77 minutes):

If you want more information, check out the Wikipedia article on Yoga, and the origins of the Sun Salutation: "Its origins lie in India where they worship Surya, the Hindu solar deity".  Compare that to Ezekiel 8:15-16 where it says:
15 He said to me, “Do you see this, son of man? Yet you will see still greater abominations than these.”
16 Then He brought me into the inner court of the Lord’s house. And behold, at the entrance to the temple of the Lord, between the porch and the altar,were about twenty-five men with their backs to the temple of the Lord and their faces toward the east; and they were prostrating themselves eastward toward the sun.
I know that most westerners aren't intending to worship the Sun when they do a sun salutation, but at the Hindu temple they did say during our sun and moon salutations that we were "honoring the Sun" and "honoring the Moon".  So I would still suggest thinking about that passage the next time you do a Sun or Moon salutation.

I am a Christian libertarian so I believe that the ten commandments were really talking about how to maintain freedom, through right motivations (don't covet), respect for ownership of yourself (don't kill) and your work (don't steal), and respect for free trade/contracts (no adultery, honor parents, honor God). But to make free choices requires that you have all the information. Now that you have more background information on Yoga you are more free, and also more responsible, to make good decisions.

If you aren't a Christian, then perhaps none of this matters. But if you are a Christian who believes the God of the Bible actually exists, then perhaps Pilates or some other categorization of similar stretches might be a way to obtain the same physical benefits without risking disrespecting God. God gives us freedom to do what we believe is best, but choose wisely.

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Road-map to Self-Directed Christian Liberal Education

Monday, January 27, 2014

The "How" of Building an Effective Christian Community

I work at a Christian college.  A committee was tasked with created a document called "Working in Community" that describes what it looks like to build Community in a Christian workplace.  In reading the document, it struck me that the document does a very good job of describing what a successful Christian community looks like, but it doesn't seem to focus on how Biblical concepts actually are the foundation of an effective community.  Also, it doesn't indicate how those Biblical concepts are in actuality the same financial and managerial best practices used in all successful organizations, but in a Christian context using Christian lingo.

Much of the confusion in this area seems to come from differing definitions of terms.  I actually view “stewardship” as “delegated ownership” (which includes accountability), whereas most people seem to view stewardship and ownership as opposites.  The practical difference is that many people think the Christian view of management is to give up ownership (and therefore to give up control and responsibility), whereas I would argue that an enlightened understanding of wise, delegated ownership is key to building a good community.  Many times it is when “ownership” is unclear that people try to force others to do what they think is right rather than trying to persuade or trade to get what they want.  Note that the verses in the Bible that seem to argue against “ownership” actually presuppose ownership rights as being valid but then argues that people should trade to obtain greater value.  Also, I would argue that the Ten Commandments actually defines ownership.  For example, “Do not steal” actually presupposes and defines ownership of physical items to be a valid concept, “Do not kill” defines ownership of our own bodies, etc...

Also, I would view the concepts of “community” and “relationships” as actually the same concept as “trade”.  Note that trade is two or more people exchanging things (including exchanging time and information) such that, in the aggregate, they each believe they benefit in some way more than it costs them.  Healthy trade, community and relationships each increases value to all involved otherwise the trade would cease, the community would fall apart and the relationship would end (or at least it would be an “unhealthy” relationship).

The reason I am interested in this topic is that these concepts have been of significant value to my household.  We have eight kids so it is a necessity to maintain a good family community.  What we do when there is conflict is to clarify (delegated) “ownership” of particular areas.  So, when an inappropriate form of attempted control (physical, verbal, tantrums, whining, etc..) takes place we first ask who “owns” that decision, then we have the others involved try to persuade the owner and possibly trade with the owner to get what they want/need.  So, the only methods of control that we use are persuasion/debate and trade based on ownership.  The other methods of control: physical force, punishment, peer pressure, yelling/pouting, tantrums, etc.. are considered to be invalid attempts to control (steal) what other people own.  We teach them that to say “please”, “thank you, “yes ma’am”, etc.. is valuable because that indicates to others that they respect their ownership/choices and will not try to force them to do what they want (which intuitively indicates they will be good trading partners).  Basically, what I am arguing that the non-aggression principle is just a restatement of the golden rule, which is a summary of the Ten Commandments.

We also teach them that grace/forgiveness is very important (assuming they have the right motives), because they can only be motivated to try to do things well if they are assured that there is acceptance when they fail.  Also, emotions are mostly learned “reasoning shortcuts” that motivates us to action of some kind, so emotions should be managed and used for self-motivation.  Note that these ideas work the same universally so our relationships don’t have to change when they get out on their own, there is no need for rebellion (hopefully…) and they are also learning how to interact with others at church and in their careers.

So, I would argue that the Biblical concepts of wise delegated ownership (stewardship) and trade (community, relationships) are actually the power behind building a good community and that these concepts are the best way to resolve conflicts.  Conflicts can also be resolved by “giving up ownership”, but that also removes control and responsibility, leading to less that optimal solutions and many times more conflict in the future.  I sometimes worry that we are good at communicating what godly interactions should look like but that we don’t always communicate well the power of how Biblical concepts promote virtue in the workplace and in communities.

The Liberal Arts and the Ideal Christian Educational Institution

The ideal education system:
The ideal educational system is arguably one where everyone in the world is prepared with the "methods of thinking”, information, and relationships just before they need them in order to create "value", erring on the side of becoming prepared through education sooner rather than later. It would provide an overview and foundational ”ways of thinking”, information and relationships for all areas of knowledge, both the “Liberal Arts” areas and the (broadly defined) “Technology” areas. It would then also train each person to be an expert in at least one specific area such that they can monetize/trade that expertise with other experts to achieve division of labor/economy of scale and maximize value (note: “value” can be qualitative and does not necessarily mean monetized value).

Historical Trade-offs due to limited educational resources:
The problem is that because of limited time and resources we can’t yet reach that ideal. So the question for educational institutions is: what should we leave off? Trade schools and apprenticeships tend to focus on providing a marketable expertise but they tend to minimize training on foundational/broader technology and liberal arts. General undergraduate colleges that focus on technical degrees tend to focus on overview/foundational technology knowledge, but they tend to minimize training in the liberal arts and don’t typically provide a particular area of expertise (unless someone continues to get their Doctorate). The Liberal Arts colleges focus on the liberal arts, but they tend to minimize foundational/overview knowledge of technology and they don’t normally provide a particular area of expertise. And all colleges historically have focused just on the four college years, pre-caching "ways of thinking”, information and relationships for students during those four years that the faculty expect they will likely need in the future (rather than also providing resources the students could access in a just-in-time manner either before or after those four years of college education).

The current day form of Reformation we are living through:
The Reformation was arguably enabled by the information technology of the day, the printing press, which allowed a few leaders to publish directly to the masses. Today we have technology that allows the masses to publish to the masses. So, if the information technology of the Reformation allowed every man to become his own priest (one form of education/motivation), then the information technology of today is allowing everyone to become their own evangelists (another form of education/motivation). As the Reformation had a significant effect on education and community, so too we are living through an era where we need to take these kinds of systemic changes into account.

Opportunity to transcend historical trade-offs:
Today Information Technology is bringing a revolution on the order of the Reformation and the printing press, such that we can now get closer to providing the ideal educational system. So, ideally, liberal arts colleges could offer their students overviews/foundational knowledge in both the Liberal Arts and the Technology areas of knowledge (which in fact I think we actually do in many cases, since in reality the Liberal Arts areas of knowledge create “value” by being the foundational supports to the, broadly defined, “Technology” areas of knowledge), as well as at least giving them a plan for obtaining a particular expertise as well. Also, we can help the learning be more broadly “just in time” and global by offering an asynchronous re-branded subset of our services (including access to training, feedback, a community and credentialing) to prospective students, alumni and the general public, including possibly supporting multiple languages.

Rather than the concept of the “ideal educational institution” being at odds with the “ideal Liberal Arts college”, instead what I am promoting is to allow the Liberal Arts education to transcend limitations that have been imposed on all three models of education in the past due to lack of available resources and lack of needed information technologies. I would argue that separation of the three types of educational institutions was necessary in the past to provide division of labor/economy of scale to deal with limited educational technologies/resources. But, as educational resources/capabilities increase and limitations are being removed, all three models now have the ability to grow into a combined model that also covers the areas that historically have been provided by the other two.

I am not arguing that liberal arts colleges should replace anything that they are doing as a college, because we are doing many things well. And I am not just arguing for online education, since face to face embodied education is the gold standard for many reasons. The disciples undoubtedly received a better face to face education with Jesus than we can get by studying the Bible (a book, which itself is a form of Information Technology). Rather, I am arguing that we need to supplement and expand the concept of our institutions to be closer to the ideal educational institution or we will likely lose out when other institutions expand their services into our areas of strength.

The Liberal Arts and Technologies - A New Model

Please Note: This is an earlier version of my thinking that I have left up for historical reasons.  Please see the updated model.

This model of education refines the concepts of the trivium, quadrivium and areas of technology education as follows (it is not really new, just refined and expanded): 

Please note the following implications of this model:

  • The Liberal Arts areas are separated by the “quantitative” and “qualitative” areas (as is the trivium and quadrivium)
  • Each area lower on the chart is foundational and prerequisite for each area above it
  • The concept of “technology” is more broadly defined than common usage, as being "the methods of doing something of value", and includes the qualitative areas of technology as well as the traditional quantitative-focused technologies (So with this definition we do actually already teach an overview of the various areas of "technology" because there are economic "technologies", social "technologies", etc..)
  • In this model, the liberal arts areas have inherent value because they are required foundations to creating value in the (broadly defined) "technologies" areas
  • The arts and music are included under the area of “social technologies”. They are special in that they have less restrictions on creative freedom than other technology areas, but they don’t get their own category because all areas of technology should include as much creativity as allowed (such as how architecture/civil engineering doesn't have as much creative freedom as art, for example).
  • Education and Communication are special, but they don't get their own areas because they are integral areas of "Information Technologies", in the broadest sense of that term
  • Each of the qualitative and quantitative liberal arts areas are interchangeable with their partner by a process of quantification or qualification (i.e., characterization). 
  • Theoretical science is separated from observational science. Observational science correlates well with recording of history and differs only in that one is quantitative and the other is qualitative.
  • Language includes logic/reasoning since logic is qualitative, so language includes both communication and reasoning (and logic is as key as communicating)
  • Math includes both quantitative reasoning and communicating, so formula literacy/communication is as key as computation

Note that this model doesn't directly address the concept of becoming expert in at least one particular area to be able to trade/monetize that expertise with other experts, in order to obtain division of labor/economy of scale and therefore maximize "value" (note: value is not the same as "monetized value"). So learning an overview of the areas of technologies is more akin to learning the liberal arts areas than it is in just training for a career/job.

Also, when discussing these “areas of knowledge”, I am actually thinking of the term "knowledge" in the “object oriented” sense (a computing term). So, I am using the term “knowledge” in the broader sense to include “ways of thinking”, information and relationships/connections (“Wisdom” might be a better term, but the term “knowledge” is more commonly used). That correlates well with constructivism, instructivism and connectivism, which correlates well with the human brain (thought, memory, and communication).

Using this broader definition of knowledge, what educational institutions do is "pre-cache" (sorry for the computer term) the "ways of thinking", information and relationships/connections/community, that we believe will be useful to the student sometime in the future.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Vision for Information Technology at Christian Colleges

This is an academic/philosophical and motivational paper I wrote in 2012 relating to IT and education at a Christian college.  I thought I would post it here in case it is of use for others to broaden their view of how IT is strategically related to Christian education. It starts out addressing some of the negative issues that have been associated with IT (rebutting some assertions made in publications from some faculty at my current institution) and then argues that IT is actually integral to education and that IT is enabling a new form of reformation in our generation.  

Please note: Some references are specific to the history of Wheaton College, such as Wheaton's strong stance against slavery, their initial conflict with Secret Societies, the Beltonian literary/debate society, the founders quote about this era being a "martyr-age",  Billy Graham being a prominent Alumnus, and the College Motto being "For Christ and His Kingdom".

Our ancestors were given the ability to eat either from the Tree of Life or from the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil, but not both.  In so doing God held out to them the opportunity of expressing from their hearts either an evil choice or to continue to make good choices.  They chose badly.  Fast forward to today.  In our society we live at a time of both increasing opportunities for doing evil and increasing opportunities for doing good.  As technologies, including Information Technology (IT), increase the power available to mankind, we are able to express what is in our hearts, either evil or good, in more powerful ways.  Just as the new Information Technology of the printing press was used to mass produce indulgences before it was used to mass produce the Bible1, so today we are misusing and neglecting the power of our information technologies to do good. 

Our generation has been provided a powerful gift in the form of Information Technology but, on an individual level, our sinful nature causes us to misuse or neglect the benefits of that gift.  Pride causes many to care too much about their online image, sometimes neglecting the humility needed to build close personal relationships.  Sloth causes many to use IT mostly for recreational reasons rather than being diligent to equip themselves to advance the Kingdom of Christ.  Greed contributes to causing some to take on too many online friends, be on too many email lists, try to multi-task too many items without good prioritization of their time and attention, and to neglect the God given periods of rest from the pressures of our life.  Impatience causes many to learn topics superficially without taking the time to learn a topic in depth.  And impatience may cause us to rush into using a new technology without the proper preparation.  Lack of love for truth and wisdom allows opinion and anger to rule the day in many online conversations.  But notice that the primary cause of all these problems is the human heart, not the Information Technology.  We don’t blame the tree of knowledge of good and evil for the choices of our ancestors.

On a community level, our sinful natures can use Information Technology to cause harm to the community.  We should glean wisdom from the Amish Christians, whose views concerning technology have generally been misunderstood2.  For example, many Amish use genetically modified crops and pesticides because those technologies meet their requirements for easier harvesting and greater yield.  While we may disagree with some of their decisions, the Amish are not against technology in general; rather they focus on different requirements and longer term goals.  In fact, the Amish may have the most experience of any Christian group in critiquing technology to prevent harm and to promote social virtue because they give a higher priority to avoiding risks to their community.  For example, they have a requirement to avoid debt and surety and we would do well to do the same.  They will not leave people who are trained in older technologies behind.  We should learn from their example by not neglecting training, support and time for people to adjust to new technologies.  They do not feel rushed to adopt a new technology until it is thoroughly vetted.  We should not neglect thoroughly evaluating technologies and we should encourage talking with peer institutions that have previous experience using each particular technology.  The technologies they use must be manageable and repairable over the long term.  We should thoroughly consider life-cycle maintenance costs and our degree of dependence on individual vendors.  They do not want to become dependent on choices made by the larger society.  They want to use what meets their requirements the best, whether it be “low tech” or in some cases “high tech”.  They want to be in the world but not of the world3 because sometimes society in general chooses badly.

God has a history of disciplining societies that continue to choose badly.  Perhaps the most likely form of judgment that we may see in our lifetimes is a potential coming economic judgment, a natural result of the greed, impatience and pride of our society.  We have gone well beyond wise capital investment and insurance into the areas of unwise consumption debt and surety.  Proverbs says that the debtor becomes a slave to the lender4.  Our federal government currently is in debt over $140,000 per household.  If you include the present value of future federal obligations that number rises to $640,000 per household.  But if you look at the total debt throughout all of U.S. society, including federal, state, local, commercial and individual debt, the total number come out to be just over $1M per U.S household5.  We believe we are rich as our credit limits grow, but we are actually poor, enslaved debtors to (currently) generous masters.  Proverbs says to flee surety6.  The problems related to surety are today discussed in fancier terms such as “counter party risk” or “moral hazard”.  We have arguably institutionalized the practice of surety in areas such as the FDIC insuring $8.9T in deposits and in the international credit default swap market, currently valued at over $28T7.  By neglecting the Biblical warnings concerning debt and surety we may be setting ourselves up for economic judgment, potentially causing a significant reduction in our purchasing power.  It is unclear whether that may happen tomorrow or after we retire, or whether it will happen suddenly or spread over many years.  But, whatever the case, prudence demands that IT planning prepare for the days when our collective bills start to become due.

IT can help reduce college costs and/or increase productivity through economies of scale, process optimization, better decision support, automation, and greater use of free or low cost information resources.  Also, through providing better mechanisms for marketing, advancement, student recruitment and online sales IT can help increase college revenues.

But the first order of business for effective use of Information Technology is to answer our Creator’s call to repentance and accept His forgiveness for our pride, greed, impatience, sloth, lack of love for truth and wisdom, and other sins and instead replace those motivations with humility, charity, patience, love of diligence, love of truth and wisdom, as well as the other virtues.  But if Information Technologies can be a curse when following sinful desires, Information Technology is a blessing when we work toward truth and the Kingdom of Christ.  Information Technology can help us better determine and communicate truths and it can help break down the information barriers between communities.

Christian colleges need to understand the full nature of information technology, since education itself, in its broadest sense, is a form of Information Technology.  It is no accident that the three major components of information technology, storage, processing and networking, correlate well with three leading educational philosophies: instructivism (transferring stored information from teacher to student), constructivism (students “actively assemble” new information from their existing base of information) and connectivism (building connections to information).   Also, a liberal arts education is the form of education where we motivate students to cache and index a wide variety of information, including various skills and values, that educators predict will be useful for them at a later time.  That is similar to how a computer caches the information and programs that it predicts it will need most in the future.  So, in learning and promoting appropriate uses of information technology we are actually learning and promoting the education process itself.  In fact education theory and Information Technology theory are both derived from the design of humanity.  Cut off any part of the body except for the brain and we can still be alive.  So, humans are information based creatures and our foundational brain functions of memory, thinking and perception/communication are at the root of both education and Information Technology.

An original goal of most Christian colleges was to offer an affordable education so that anyone, regardless of economic class, could attend.  We try to maintain some measure of affordability and accessibility though grants and student work programs, but as with most colleges in today’s society we have lost our ability to offer education to our students without most of them taking on a significant amount of debt.  The same characteristics of Information Technology that can help prepare us for economic downturns can help provide a rebranded subset of a Christian education to a broader constituency at a significantly reduced cost, which would in turn help promote, subsidize and maintain the excellent core liberal arts curriculum without compromising the quality of that core curriculum10.  While maintaining our Liberal Arts distinctives we should follow the lead of Harvard, Yale, Berkley, MIT, Hillsdale and others11 in the area of opening up our course content to a broader audience12.

In fact, we need to break down any unnecessary barriers to accessing any of our information, whether that be opening up course content to a broader constituency or unlocking our administrative data by providing timely reports, dashboards and alerts to a wide audience.  By definition, secret societies limit access to their information in an attempt to increase their mystery and their majesty, but in contrast institutions of education should promote access to their content as far and as wide as possible.  By unlocking course information, motivated alumni and friends will have a method of self-improvement provided by the college.  Motivated prospective students will have access to the information needed to be better prepared to attend college.  Current students will have a tool to better determine which classes they should sign up for.  Faculty will be better able to integrate and link information between courses and K-12 and graduate institutions will be able to reference course information in their classes.  

Information Technology can enable location independence, providing support for the globalization of a Christian education.  We have the ability to offer our services remotely to students traveling abroad and we can easily bring in guest lecturers remotely, allowing students to see more differing perspectives and promoting a culture of discussion and debate as existed in the early college literary societies.

Using Information Technology we can offer a subset of our services to the world, without regard for race, nationality, gender or economic class. A Christian college’s ultimate goal is not limited to educating and graduating a few hundred seniors per year and launching those individuals to go out and affect society, but rather a summary of the ultimate goal of a Christian college is, as an educational institution, to affect society and the world for Christ and his Kingdom, using any means it has at its disposal.  How can we say that we support social justice if we hide away from outsiders our most valuable resources, the knowledge and experience of the faculty, when it is in our power to make their knowledge widely available to people of all countries around the world? 

Replica of First Printing Press
It was the Information Technology of creating scrolls that has given us the Bible, as well as giving us the counterfeit gnostic gospel scrolls, but ownership of scrolls was limited only to a few.  During the reformation it was the Information Technology of the printing press that enabled both the reformation and the counter-reformation, and both movements were based on a few leaders publishing to the masses.  Today’s Information Technologies of the Internet allow for a new era of evangelism, both for Christianity and for competing belief systems.  Beginning with the reformation anyone could receive publications from competing experts and judge issues for themselves, effectively bypassing the monopoly of a face-to-face education from the priests.  Today anyone can become their own publisher using Facebook, Twitter, blogs and multiple other forms of self-publishing.  If the Information Technology of the reformation allowed every man to become his own priest, then the Information Technology of today allows anyone to become their own evangelist.  A display on the second floor of Blanchard Hall at Wheaton College graphically illustrates the dwindling number of graduates who choose to go into full time missionary service.  By providing our students with not only core knowledge but also with the Information Technology tools and skills they need to open their vendor’s booth in today’s marketplace of ideas, we can turn all of our students into lifetime missionaries/evangelists, equipped to each potentially become their own Billy Graham.  And by leveraging the scalability of Information Technology we have it in our ability to also help equip our alumni, staff and friends to be better prepared to participate in today’s battle of ideas.

95 Theses were Nailed Here
So, renew your zeal for a new era of reformation: based on truth, and overcoming barriers to information, enabling a new era of personal and institutional evangelism.  If our society is to eventually come under judgment then we need to prepare to become even more of a martyr-age13 institution, including effectively using all of the Information Technology tools at our disposal.  So, turn off the TV, stop your frivolous texting, stop reading the latest novel, sell your computer games on eBay, and start using all of your time, talents and technology in the service of truth.  Look at your hands and your feet and take it to heart that those hands and those feet will be rotting in the ground someday, until the resurrection comes.  But your soul lives on and that soul maintains its memory, thinking and perception/communication capabilities and so the concepts underlying Information Technology and education are also of transcendent and eternal value.  So repent, accept His forgiveness and enlarge your vision for what you will do with the fleeting few moments remaining of your fleeting life in this world and in this age.  Significant challenges and opportunities lay before us but could it be that each of us were placed where we are today for such a time as this14.  Remove anything that wastes your time, your focus or your resources and use what little time remains to renew again your commitment to work in this age for Christ and His Kingdom. 

1 Indulgences were printing on the printing press from the earliest days of the printing press
2 A discussion of Amish views towards technology
3 “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.”
4 “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lender’s slave.”
5 for number of households (114M households as of 2010) for current federal debt ($16,026B as of 10/2012) for federal obligations, not including federal debt ($57,000B as of 6/2011) for total U.S. Societal debt, including federal debt and obligations ($58,587B as of 10/2012)
6 son, if you have become surety for your neighbor, Have given a pledge for a stranger, If you have been snared with the words of your mouth, Have been caught with the words of your mouth, Do this then, my son, and deliver yourself;  Since you have come into the hand of your neighbor, Go, humble yourself, and importune your neighbor. Give no sleep to your eyes, Nor slumber to your eyelids; Deliver yourself like a gazelle from the hunter’s hand And like a bird from the hand of the fowler.”
7 ($8.9T in FDIC insured deposits as of 2012)  ($28T in Credit Default Swaps worldwide as of 12/2011)
10 “Higher education in 2012 seems to be on the brink of disruption, given rising costs, emerging technologies, competition from for-profits, global education, and other often-cited forces. Leaders of elite liberal arts colleges express concern that their business model, which typically involves high costs to deliver small, intimate face-to-face classes, may not be sustainable.[1] Open education ranks among those disruptive forces confronting colleges. For example, as Jon Breitenbucher (College of Wooster) argues, MOOCs may threaten liberal arts colleges by offering “extremely low cost options for obtaining skills” and replacing grades with more flexible, open means of assessment.[2] However, Breintenbucher also suggests that liberal arts institutions may be able to adapt to this challenge by adopting a “symbiotic relationship with open education resources,” so that faculty focus more on guiding learning than on delivering content.” Open Yale courses MIT OpenCourseware Hillsdale Open Constitution and History Courses
12 A description of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)
13 The Greatest Story Never Told: Modern Christian Martyrdom “An average of 159,960 Christians worldwide are martyred for their faith per year.” (quoted from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (2010) )
14 "For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?”

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Adam and Eve