Monday, August 30, 2010

Winning Arguments

The instinctive reaction to conflict is a combination of self-defense and attack. One ferrets out the errors in an opposing position in a seek-and-destroy mission that supposedly leaves one more secure. The person genuinely committed to truth does better to seek out the kernel of truth that is part of any point of view. Truth is so precious it must be prized wherever it is found. No system of thought, almost no single influential idea, is totally devoid of truth. By ignoring or distorting that truth for the sake of winning arguments, we diminish our own cause.
Daniel Taylor, The Myth of Certainty, (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 128.
One of my horrible habits in life is the incessant need to be right in any & all arguments. I hate losing arguments. I hate being wrong. I am a stubborn ass which leads me to digging in my heals to prevent losing any ground in different types of conflicts. As a result I tend to view my opponent in an argument not as another person with a different opinion, but as someone who needs to be proven wrong & often humiliated in that process. The worst part of this is that I often will take low blow shots during arguments designed to not only fluster my "opponent" but deeply wound them in the process. Why? Because my experience has been that a deeply wounded person generally cannot argue as well.

As a result of this poor mindset - I often fail to glean the truth & importance of what the person I am arguing with has to say. I fail to look at things from their perspective. I fail to see why they would argue what they argue. I fail to see the truth their viewpoint contains. Mostly I fail to become a better person as a result of the disagreement. Its a sad & shallow existence at that point. The goal needs to be to learn. In every & all situations we MUST be focused on learning. Seeking & finding truth has to be our goal as people. Whether that comes from people who think, talk, and act in accordance to our wishes or from those who don't. Every person, every situation, every idea, and every argument must be valued as a way of improving upon myself. Its less important to be right then it is to gain perspective. I desire growth as a person. Now its time to foster that growth.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Metaphysical Club

I just finished The Metaphysical Club by Louis Menand. It is the best book I have read this year. I thoroughly enjoyed the ideas, history, and thoughts the book contains. I look forward to writing out my thoughts on portions of it, but needless to say - I highly recommend it.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Quotable William James

"A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices."
-William James-

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Scrubs Learning Moment

Every once in a while - I learn something about myself from watching television shows. While watching Scrubs, it doesn't take long before I see myself learning something from J.D. usually through Dr. Cox (on a side-note, this relationship mirrors my relationship with Ryan Russell in real life).

Dr. Cox: It's time. Sit down and listen up, Newbie. I suppose you want me to say you're great...that you've raised the bar for interns everywhere?

J.D.: I'm cool with that!

Dr. Cox: Well, I'm not going to say that. You're doing okay. Someday you might even be better than that. But right now, all I see is a guy who's so preoccupied with wondering what everyone else thinks about him, that he doesn't have anytime to think whether or not he believes in himself. Did you ever wonder why I told you to write your own evaluation?

J.D.: I don't have a safe answer for that. I just figured

Dr. Cox: Clam up, Newbie! I wanted you to think about yourself...and I mean really think! What are you good at? What do you suck at? And write it down. Not so I could read it, or anyone else could read it. But so you could read it! You see in the end, Newbie, you don't have to answer to me, or to Kelso, or even to your patients, for God's sake! The only one you have to answer to, Newbie, is you. There, you are evaluated. Now get out of here, because you truly make me so damn mad I might just hurt myself!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


"The idea of knowing absolutes has a very limited meaning at best when it is human beings who are the supposed knowers. Absolutes, by definition, partake of infinity; they are without boundary. What relationship can a finite knower have with an infinite object of knowledge except a finite, limited one? Can one then be said to know or 'have' an absolute on which to ground one's beliefs when one only knows, at best, a sliver of that absolute?"
"But how would we know unmistakably that anything was infinite or absolute unless we ourselves were infinite?"
Daniel Taylor, The Myth of Certainty, (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 91-92.
Can you know anything absolutely? The question seems pretty simple until one begins to ponder what exactly it means. The older I get, the less sure I am of anything absolutely. This is not to say that faith doesn't play a role in my life, just that I am uncomfortable proclaiming absolutes as much as I did say 5 years ago. So much of my outlook & view of life has been tempered by circumstances that it is hard to say that I have anything but a limited & biased mindset. My reasoning for my beliefs is grounded in the knowledge I have so far acquired as well as the journey I continue to take based upon my own likes and dislikes. In fact, in some ways the further along my own personal path I take - the further away from absolute truth I probably go.

To me there is no other areas where this issue of absolutes is debated than that of politics & the spiritual realm. In both areas, people are very quick to shout for their beliefs and view the opposing side as idiots. Having worked in a church, it was easy to see the polarization of both issues up close and personal. Our limited range of equality lends us towards being "tolerant" which is simply another way of saying I'm right but I'll allow you to be wrong. Our thinking quickly escalates to absolutes on issues, beliefs, and choices which reality knows there is no answer this side of heaven.

So if we cannot be absolute about anything - what do we do? How do we make choices & step out in faith on anything without the ability to truly & fully know it is correct? In other words, how do finite beings make decisions with infinite implications?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


"We believe what we do about the world, of course, for many different reasons. All ways of explaining the world tend to be self-verifying and self-sustaining. An outlook does not have to be 'right' in order to seem right. It need not be logical (thought most people will consider their position reasonable), nor consistent, nor thorough, nor defendable, nor anything else to fulfill its primary function - providing an explanation of things. Once in operation, a belief system processes all information, all evidence, in its own terms, appropriating that which verifies its outlook and defusing or ignoring anything else."

"We fend off competing world views because by threatening our present understanding of reality they threaten our essential security...When people defend their world view, they are not defending reason, or God, or an abstract system; they are defending their own fragile sense of security and self-respect...No one understood the psychology of this better than Kierkegaard. He recognized how subtly intertwined are our beliefs with our instinct for self-preservation..."
Daniel Taylor, The Myth of Certainty, (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 23, 25.
Security. The one thing, above all else, that people want is security. That is why humans go to great lengths to pursue wealth, relationships, and a myriad of other things which give the human ego a sense of security. In much the same way, we pursue security in our belief systems. Everyone wants to believe that his or her belief system is correct because its "rightness" gives them a feeling of security in a world of uncertainty. In other words, people are constantly on the look out for certainty because their journey in life never seems to give them any. The slightest bit of doubt can create a fissure of unbelief which can radically alter a person's sense of security.

This is why we attack other people's belief systems. Not because they are always inherently "wrong" but because we do not feel comfortable enough in our own. Our "fragile sense of security" cannot withstand the storms of doubt that other belief systems could introduce to us. Instead of learning, growing, and adapating - we become rigid out of fear. This rigidity is what enforces the narrowing of our minds and philosphies to the limited acceptance of facts and figures that reinforce our own personal worldviews. Of course we're always right - because our depth is limited the realm of our own acceptance.

Self-preservation is easy enough to laugh off when it comes to the style of music we like or our favorite football team. The problem though is when it escalates to the level of personal belief about the world and its operations. Violence & tyranny become our only options as we must force our beliefs on as many people as possible in order to give our selves the greatest degree of security. The end result is a world of mistrust, anger, hurt, and revenge. All because of a simple chasing after the wind known as certainty.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


I just finished reading, Polio: An American Story, by David M. Oshinsky. It was my first book I read on my new Amazon Kindle DX. So in reality I have two things to report on, the book's content as well as the medium in which I read it.

1. The book was very good. It is easy to see why it was the winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for history. The book chronicles the story of polio in America, primarily in terms of the fight for a vaccine and the bitter feud that developed between Albert Sabin and Jonas Salk. We do not often think about polio today because of its eradication due to the efforts of those two men, but the reality is the disease consumed the minds of Americans and made a celebrity out of the scientist Salk. Perhaps the most interesting part of the book is the divide in accolades received by both men. Whereas Sabin was highly regarded within the fields of science and medicine, Salk received his regard from the public in need of a hero. Salk was never given much if any credit from his field of study. Which begs the question: if given the choice would you take the recognition of the general public OR the recognition of your paricular avenue of study/work?

2. As far as the Kindle DX goes, I have to say I really enjoyed my reading experience on it. It was easy to use, easy to read off of, and I really enjoyed using the dictionary that was already downloaded onto it. My only concern with the entire thing was/is the inability to skip from chapter to chapter. Perhaps this is something I still need to learn on it usage. Other then that though, I really liked it. Looking forward to more reading...