Friday, May 27, 2011

Another physicist performing philosophy without a license: Sean Carroll on life after death

A physicist has trained his scientific instruments on the question of the immortality of the soul and is not getting the right readings and he has therefore concluded that there is no such thing.

Sean Carroll claims that "there is clearly no way for the soul to survive death." Carroll makes this claim in a recent post on his blog Cosmic Variance. There is no reason to believe that Carroll is not a competent scientist, but he has now produced a pretty good reason why we might want to question his competence as a philosopher:
Claims that some form of consciousness persists after our bodies die and decay into their constituent atoms face one huge, insuperable obstacle: the laws of physics underlying everyday life are completely understood, and there’s no way within those laws to allow for the information stored in our brains to persist after we die. If you claim that some form of soul persists beyond death, what particles is that soul made of? What forces are holding it together? How does it interact with ordinary matter?
These kinds of statements make me wonder what I would say if my plumber told me that the interior decoration scheme in my home was all wrong on the basis of his knowledge of pipes, or if my barber tried to explain how he had detected psychological problems with a previous customer based on what he knew about cutting hair.

Carroll is partly responding to Adam Frank, who thinks rightly that science can have nothing to say about the question of the immortality of the soul since there since it is not a scientific question, a position Carroll glibly compares to the position that we can't really know whether the moon is made of green cheese:
Adam claims that “simply is no controlled, experimental[ly] verifiable information” regarding life after death. By these standards, there is no controlled, experimentally verifiable information regarding whether the Moon is made of green cheese ... So maybe agnosticism on the green-cheese issue is warranted.
There's just one minor difference here: the composition of the moon is an actual scientific question with a definite scientific answer--whether you have to tools to determine it now or not. It is exactly the kind of question science is designed to answer. Whether the soul is immortal is not. That Carroll thinks it is is a measure of his lack of understanding of the issue before him.

Once again, we have a scientist performing philosophy without a license, thinking that his scientific qualifications fit him for the task when they don't.

C. S. Lewis once noted that there is very little you could know about what was outside nature by what was inside nature:
"But science has shown that there's no such thing [something that exists outside nature]."
"Really," said I. "Which of the sciences?"
"Oh, well, that's a matter of detail," said my friend. "I can't give you chapter and verse from memory."
"But don't you see," said I, "that science never could show anything of the sort?"
"Why on earth not?"
"Because science studies Nature. And the question is whether anything besides Nature exists--anything 'outside'. How could you find that out by studying simply Nature?"
Carroll's argument seems to run something like this:
No reality can exist that does not abide by the laws of physics
A supernatural reality could not abide by the laws of physics
Therefore a supernatural reality cannot exist.
That first premise is a doozy. No wonder he never states it outright in his argument. It simply lurks there in the background throughout the whole article unargued for, unanalyzed, and unacknowledged. How exactly does he know this? In fact, isn't this precisely one of the points at issue between scientific materialists like Carroll and religious thinkers?

Why would we expect that the soul would retain information after we die? Why would anyone belief that it consists of particles? Why would we think there would be physical laws holding it together?

Why would anyone ask questions like this unless they were simply unaware that the question of the immortality of the soul is not a scientific question. I'm sure accountants have a hard time making accounting sense of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. I imagine economists have some trouble making economic sense of Beethoven's Symphony Number 3 in E-flat Major. And I've got to believe that the Empire State Building is somewhat impervious to the analysis of a professional psychologist.
Among advocates for life after death, nobody even tries to sit down and do the hard work of explaining how the basic physics of atoms and electrons would have to be altered in order for this to be true. If we tried, the fundamental absurdity of the task would quickly become evident.
Well, the absurdity of the task--and of asking these particular scientific questions about a non-scientific issue--has apparently not been brought home with sufficient force to Carroll to prevent him from engaging in it. Maybe the reason believers in life after death don't ask scientific questions about it know something Carroll apparently doesn't: that it isn't a scientific question.

But somehow we're supposed to believe that a physicist, by plying his particular craft, can resolve the question of the immortality of the soul. I wonder how Carroll would react if a theologian began analyzing problems in science according the principles of religious dogma.
In fact, we already know the answer to that question. Just go look at Carroll's response to creationism! But don't ask Carroll to observe the same limitations that he asks others to observe.

Carroll sets forth the formula that "tells us how electrons behave" [genuflect here]:

He then states:
If you believe in an immaterial soul that interacts with our bodies, you need to believe that this equation is not right, even at everyday energies. There needs to be a new term (at minimum) on the right, representing how the soul interacts with electrons. (If that term doesn’t exist, electrons will just go on their way as if there weren’t any soul at all, and then what’s the point?)
Um, well, no you don't. At least no more than you would need such a thing to happen in the process of affirming the above statement. Such an affirmation would involve a free will decision by Carroll in his conscious mind. In fact, this is one of the problems with the philosophical solvent Carroll wants to apply here: it would not only explain the immortality of the soul away, but consciousness, free will, love--and rational validity itself.

If nothing can be accepted as real if it cannot be encompassed in a mathematical equation, and these things cannot be encompassed in mathematical equations, then these things cannot be accepted as real. What is the formula for consciousness? (a subject Carroll mentions later, as if he'll be able to make any more sense of that) What equation explains free will? By what calculus can you prove love?

And what about life itself? Carroll talks on as if science really understood life, but does it? What is the equation for life? What physical thing is absent from a dead body? Can science even create life? If science cannot explain life itself, by what authority does is pretend to speak on the afterlife?

Aristotle, wiser even in physics than his successors, says that the soul is "the form of the body." The form of a thing is not a material aspect of it. In fact, Carroll is just one of the many philosophically ignorant scientists who gets his formal and material causes mixed up. Modern scientists of Carroll's bent accept material causation, but reject formal causation. But instead of going on their merry way and simply interpreting the world without taking formal causation into account, they either try to make material causes do the work of formal causes or they want to keep formal causation and pretend it is material causation--or (more commonly) both.

In demanding that scientific criteria be applied to the question of whether the soul is immortal, Carroll commits the first of these errors. In not applying it to consciousness, free will, and the process of rational justification, he also commits the second. In both cases, he is committing a category error.

The extent of Carroll's confusion is evidenced by the fact that he doesn't even know he is confused.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What is Poetry? Answers on the Apocalypse

My post on the failed predictions of the End of the World (and, no, I'm not talking about the Warmers) has garnered some interesting comments, and, as I anticipated, some misunderstandings. What I said was several things (and I am adding a few things here that were not explicitly in the original post for purposes of clarification):

1. That the Book of Revelation was, like all works in the apocalyptic genre, primarily a poetic work rather than a prose work and that that matters when it comes to how you interpret it;

2. That a poetic work cannot be quantified in the way a prose work can and that therefore any attempt to interpret it as if it were prose is doomed from the beginning; and

3. That dispensationalists (like Harold Camping), because of their modernistic tendency to quantify the unquantifiable by treating poetic works as if they are prose, are particularly prone to this, as evidenced by the failed May 21 prediction.

Now I anticipated some misunderstandings of my statements here in part because most of us now are literary eunuchs, having been poetically castrated by a public education establishment that is not only incapable of simply teaching children to read and write, but which has given up on passing on Western culture, a significant aspect of which is its poetry.

We are the first generation that does not read poetry. All ages prior to our own read and understood poetry and were therefore familiar with poetic idiom. And since we don't read it, we don't understand it. In fact, I have argued elsewhere that poetic understanding is essential to a Christian worldview, since large swaths of Scriptural Revelation employ it and if we do not understand how it works, then we cannot understand large swaths of the Revelation.

I have only begun to realize the tragedy of this over the last 10 or 15 years as I have gone back and gotten the education I never got by reading Dante and Milton, and Eliot, as well as Yeats and Berry, and Wilbur.

So, in other words, I am not at all shocked that my comments here are misunderstood.

But let me address one of the comments here. One of my interlocutors, Lee, said the following:
One could read your post, Martin, and come away thinking that you believe poetic content is all that there is in Revelation. But I don't think John was so much a poet as he was the last of the great, fulminating Old Testament prophets. Much of the imagery he employs is in the style of earlier prophets predicting the end of great cities such as Babylon and Ninevah.
First of all, this statement assumes that the Old Testament prophets were not themselves using poetic expression. They clearly were. Ezekiel is probably the most obvious example of this.

Second, poetic expression does not limit the message of the author. To say that "poetic content is all there is" is to betray the belief that poetry is somehow more limited in its ability to communicate a thought than prose. As Chesterton has put it, "The aim of good prose words is to mean what they say. The aim of good poetical words is to mean what they do not say." Well, what does that mean? For one thing, it means that poetic expression can communicate a lot more than prose because there are many more things a word does not mean than things that it does mean.

But let me see if I can articulate what poetic expression consists of to make my point clearer.

What I think Chesterton is saying is that poetic expression is analogical in nature, not univocal. That just means that the words it uses invoke a resemblance which many times cannot be completely captured by rational prose words. Poetic expression also has a different purpose: it is meant to appeal to the imagination and not the intellect. If I say
Love is a rose, but you better not pick it
It only grows when it's on the vine
This is not saying that love actually is a physical flower. It is saying that there is a relationship between the flower and the picking of it in the physical world that is similar to the relationship between the beloved and the act of trying to possess her. That "You'll lose your love when you say the word 'mine'." I have compared love to a flower, which, like love, often seems to wilt when we try to possess it. But saying it in this latter way is somehow insufficient. It does not encompass the full import or effect of the poetic expression because some truths are better apprehended by seeing them through the imagination than by understanding them through the intellect.

The "Love is a rose" example is a fairly direct kind of poetic expression. It is almost telling us what it is doing. "Love is a rose" is just one step away from saying "Love is like a rose," which would turn it from poetry to prose--and which would break the enchantment, because it would no longer be seen in soft light of imagination, but under the rude glare of the intellect.

Most poetry is not that obvious. It doesn't bother to telegraph what it is doing. It just leaps directly into the metaphorical:
And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.
This is about the purest form of poetry you can find. If you try to perform your intellectual surgery on it, you will kill it. It is meant for your imagination and the tool of the imagination is analogy, not analysis. To try to turn it into something univocal is like trying to grasp a bubble: it will disappear the moment you touch it.

This doesn't imply that the passage doesn't mean anything or that it means less than it otherwise would or that it doesn't communicate a truth. It most definitely means something--something more and maybe something less that what a poetically challenged person might want to attribute to it. But the main point is that its meaning will be most fully understood by taking it for what it is: an appeal to the imagination, and its meaning is just as likely to be misunderstood by treating it as an appeal to the intellect.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

In Defense of Myself

So now Jake over at Page One Kentucky has gone and said a vaguely nice thing about me over at his blog, and I can't figure out what to do. This has never happened before. I am trying to figure out what I have done to warrant this and how I should deal with the potential consequences of the idea getting around that I might actually not be the Devil himself.

This could very well ruin my reputation.

The occasion for Jake's comments is apparent criticism he is getting from the Gay Tolerance Police over the fact that he links to my blog.

All you gays constantly complaining that we dare link to Martin Cothran have got to be the biggest bunch of hypocrites we’ve encountered.

Who cares that we link to him? And who cares that we think his outlook on life is rather bogus? What the hell is so wrong with keeping up with the world and having a continued conversation – even with your critics and opponents?

And then this:

So we hope it blows their minds to have to admit he’s more cordial than half the people at KDP and more professional than a solid majority of the state legislature. Maybe they’ll throw up a little in their mouths and complain about something else for a few minutes.
I have made no secret of the fact that, despite his repeated fashion assaults on the quality of my wardrobe, I find Jake terribly amusing and Page One the most informative blog on state politics. And then he goes and does this.

No more Mr. Nice Guy.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Psychology of Apocalypse: How poetry saved the world

Last weekend's abortive Judgment Day just goes to show what happens when you ignore the poets.

I didn't know anything about Harold Camping's theology, but I didn't need to know much to conclude that he was a dispensationalist. The theology of the man who garnered worldwide media attention for what turned out to be a failed prediction about the end of the world comes from a movement that began in the 19th century and has produced what we might charitably call the "Rapture industry."

Dispensationalism is a modernist school of theology within Protestantism that holds that God has ordained different and successive "ages" in the life of the church in each of which God relates to the church in some different way. God uses these dispensations to progressively unfold His revelation to the church. The exact number of these ages or dispensations depends on which dispensationalist you talk to, but they generally number from three to seven. What they agree upon, however, is that we are in the second-to-the-last age--the age that precedes the "Rapture."

The "Rapture" is the label affixed to the event whereby Jesus returns (sort of) and takes the church out of the world before the seven year tribulation because, you know, God would not allow Christians to be persecuted (despite the fact that He has allowed it repeatedly throughout history). It's the First Second Coming as opposed to the Second Second Coming, when He comes for real and kicks butt and takes names. This school of thought was initially popularized by the Schofield Reference Bible.

The dispensationalist view of the end times (what is called "premillenial pretribulationism," meaning that Jesus will return before a thousand year earthly reign after he has first sort of returned to take the church out of the world to spare it from a seven year tribulation period) overflowed its dispensationalist banks first in a book published in the 1970s called The Late Great Planet Earth, by Hal Lindsey. The book was not only a bestseller; it was the biggest selling book of the decade (even though the New York Times somehow managed to prevent it from ever appearing on a bestseller list because it was a religious book), making Lindsey a multi-millionaire.

The view later spilled out into into non-evangelical world with onset of the Left Behind books, authored by Tim LaHaye and ghostwritten by Jerry Jenkins--books which also sold in the millions and were actually allowed to appear on the bestseller lists by the secular literary authorities.

The penchant for setting dates for the end of the world is a peculiarly dispensationalist habit. If you go back, you can find Lindsey doing it, although he did a better job of rhetorically hedging his bets than the more reckless Camping. For Lindsey, the date was 1988, which passed with a similar lack of apocalyptic action and a much smoother exit strategy by the author.

I call dispensationalism "modernist" because, like modernism in general, it is marked by the tendency to quantify the unquantifiable. This is the largest part of its appeal: it gives you definite answers, neat timelines, and simple, literal explanations. In fact, you've got to hand it to them: the dispensationalists produce the best charts. They have charts for the ages of the church, charts for the Rapture, charts for the millenium, charts for the tribulation.

In the early 1980s, the wags at a Christian satire magazine Wittenburg Door published a detailed End Times chart that showed the rapture of the newly rich Hal Lindsey's Porsche. Had it not been published so relatively early in his life, it might also have included the eschatological trajectory of all four of his successive wives.

The failure of dispensationalist End Times claims are due largely to a simple lack of poetic sense among its adherents. Apocalyptic literature is a literary mixture of the real and the visionary, the mundane and the fantasic, and the literal and the metaphorical that has a sort of surreal quality. It presents persons, places, and events that may have both a figurative and a concrete application, and that can have multiple referents. Time plays tricks and even numbers cannot be quantified.

What does the Beast represent? What is the meaning of his seven heads and ten horns? Who is the Anti-Christ? Who or what is Babylon? Under the gaze of a non-literary mind, each of these must have a definite one-on-one allegorical referent. The figurative must be pursued and rendered literal, and no metaphor can escape without being captured, tagged, and totaled.

There is little tolerance for poetic latitude, and there is no patience for the inexact.

To listen to people like Pat Robertson (another famous dispensationalist) try to explain the meaning of the Book of Revelation is a painful exercise because he is dealing with a form of expression that he simply does not understand. Poetry is a language with its own rules and its own methods of interpretation. It is a language with which these people are simply unfamiliar.

This is why Bob Dylan is a better theologian than Tim LaHaye. He at least understands the poetic. In fact, I've got a test that all interpreters of Revelation should have to pass before they are allowed to make public statements on the Book of Revelation. Here's how it works:

Test #1: The aspiring eschatologist should first be asked to interpret and explain Dante's Divine Comedy. If he cannot, then his prophet's license should be temporarily suspended.

Test #2: Next, he should be asked to explain the following poems: "The Second Coming," by William Butler Yeats; "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell," by William Blake; and "The Hollow Men," by T. S. Eliot. If the candidate cannot perform this procedure either, he should be required to refrain from making public statements on the End Times altogether.

Test #3: If the aspiring prophet has failed the first two tests, he should be asked to make sense of the lyrics to the following songs: "The Earth Died Screaming," by Tom Waits; "When the Ship Comes In," by Bob Dylan; and "When the Man Comes Around," by Johnny Cash. If he stumbles here too, he should simply be put out of the city with a week's worth of provisions and told not to come back.

He's hopeless.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Willliams/Farmer first ad in gubernatorial campaign

David Williams blasts the Jefferson County education establishment

There is still smoke wafting from the barrel of David Williams editorial gun. Just a day after winning the Republican nomination for governor, the candidate opened fire in the Louisville Courier-Journal on the Jefferson County school establishment for its sorry education record. He blasted the editorial board, the teachers union and Gov. Beshear for sacrificing children to their social and political agenda of busing and quotas:
Only Beshear's editorial board masters could judge the last 35 years in the Jefferson County school system successful. The absurdity of the student assignment plan is illustrated by the WAVE-3 television report of a 6-year-old girl forced to spend over two hours on a school bus when there are two schools within a mile of her house. If that is your definition of “35 years of accomplishment” then you need to recalibrate your world view. Supporting two-hour bus rides for 6-year-old kids but failing to see that no child is getting a better education because of it is about as out-of-touch as it gets. Jefferson County has 60 percent of the worst performing schools in the state but only 18 percent of the students. Our kids deserve better.
Williams came in third in the Republican primary vote in Jefferson County, but that was largely because of low voter turnout and the fact that he was facing two Jefferson County natives. But he knows he needs something to fire up his supporters in Louisville and distinguish him from Beshear. This ought to do it. It will also make for an exciting campaign.

The Jefferson County education establishment worships the gods of Diversity and Political Correctness like the Canaanites worshiped Moloch. Child sacrifice is nothing new.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Hawking thinks he is a computer, is unafraid to be turned off

Maybe it is easier for someone like physicist Stephen Hawking, who suffers from Lou Gerhig's Disease and is almost completely dependent on technology for everything--including his ability to speak, to think that he actually is a computer. Hawking has recently announced that he thinks he is little more than a computer and, seemingly because of this, is unafraid to die:
I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.
Those of us who are still under the impression that we are humans can be excused for being a little skeptical of the assertion from someone who thinks his brain is actually a pre-programmed machine that he doesn't believe in a programmer. This is the second time in recent months that Hawking has stepped outside his field of expertise (physics) to make proclamations about issues on which he is a mere amateur (religious and philosophy). And his second attempt at it is little better than the first.

For the creature who created the computer to announce that he actually is the very thing he created seems on the face of it to lack basic plausibility. What if a famous painter suddenly announced that men were merely portraits? How would we react if a prominent sculptor all of a sudden issued a statement saying he thought men were really just statues? And I wonder what we would say if an accountant decided that we were all just entries on a spreadsheet.

In fact, if you look at the kinds of things most people do, they very seldom seem to come to these kinds of conclusions. A farmer seldom decides, based on raising animals his whole life, that men are basically cows or sheep. And funeral directors rarely come to the decision that all people are really just nicely dressed corpses.

Why is it that some scientists, then, are so prone to making these broad reductionist claims? How can the practitioners of such a great discipline go so terribly wrong about the world outside their own field of study? It sometimes seems as if the clarity of the their thought on things outside science varied in inverse proportion to their knowledge of the things that are the subject of science.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Disco Diagnosis: Is Arnold Scharzennegger really suffering from "Love Addiction"?

I would say that now I have heard everything, but, as soon as I say it, I will hear something else from the Men In White Coats that I have not heard before and that I wouldn't have thought that supposedly intelligent people would even have thought of and I will realize once again that I have really not heard everything. They are imaginative people, these people who think everything is analyzable by science.

Today's episode of Let's Apply Science To Something It Has Little To Do With involves Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California who, it turns out, fathered a child by a member of his house staff, which has caused the news programs to look for explanations in all the wrong places.

[And I should probably specify here that the person who bore the child was female for the Women's and Gender Studies folks out there who have convinced themselves that men and women aren't really different after all.]

Whenever a public official is found to have committed a moral indiscretion, the news programs call, not on anyone who is an expert in morality, but on someone who is an expert on disease. Instead of a priest, or perhaps an ethicist (a class of people in whose existence I frankly do not believe) they call on a psychologist.

CNN's Anderson Cooper, following the current custom, called in a "Dr. Drew" (didn't catch his full name), whom he pressed for an explanation. Dr. Drew, who has never actually had Schwarzenegger as a patient, much less ever even talked to the man, was in no doubt as to the diagnosis: it was a "classic case," he said, of "Love Addiction."

Now I don't know how they select the names for diseases in psychology, but I'm thinking that there should probably be some requirement that the name of a psychological malady not sound like it might have been the title of a hit song for K. C. and the Sunshine Band.

We first witnessed the descent of psychology into disco diagnosis last year, when the TV shrinks identified Tiger Woods' problem as "Sex Addiction," a diagnosis which Woods gladly accepted (better to have a disease than commit a moral failure) and for which he announced he would seek "treatment."

But it is not only the increasing triviality of the pop psychological diagnosis of wayward celebrities that is remarkable, but the underlying speciousness of the whole enterprise. I have remarked elsewhere regarding the tendency in our culture to try to explain away human moral behavior through scientific hocus-pocus. Aristotle divided the reasons for human behavior (of which he identified seven) into the voluntary and the involuntary. Our entire culture is trying to shift behavior from the voluntary, where we are responsible moral agents, to the involuntary, where we are merely amoral spectators of our own behavior.

You are not responsible for contracting a "disease."

But the Dr. Drews of the world take this process to an even more absurd level. With Anderson Cooper facilitating, the expert somehow managed at one and the same time to excuse Schwarzenegger for his behavior by diagnosing him with a disease ("Love Addiction"), but kept reminding his audience that this didn't make what he did "okay."

Well, if it was a disease, then why wasn't it "okay"? And what exactly does "okay" mean? Why didn't he say, not that it still wasn't "okay," but that it was still "wrong"? Is there something wrong with the word "wrong"?

I have a solution for all the psychological nonsense we get treated to whenever a public official or a celebrity falls from grace.

CNN needs to hire some old, crotchety, no-nonsense priest to come on whenever this happens. Anderson would say, "Father O'Malley, what went wrong here? How could [insert name of latest wayward celebrity] this have happened?"

Then the priest would look at Cooper, shake his head, and say (and I'm thinking an Irish accent would be helpful here), "Anderson, are ye daft? Or mebbe you've been hittin' the bottle again? Why the man's a sinner: that's what's wrong with 'im." Then the priest, who would have an intimate understanding of sin from having heard confessions and prescribed penance for his entire adult life, could explain the finer points of temptation and moral failure, which involve among other things, Getting Down Tonight, which results from a little to much Shaking of the Booty, because That's the Way you Liked It at the time--only later to realize that even your Boogie Shoes are not going help you run away from it.

And then he could assure Anderson that Schwarzenegger's being a sinner doesn't mean what he did was not wrong. And this remark, unlike Dr. Drew's, would have the advantage of not being rationally inconsistent with everything he had just said.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Attorney General Conway continues to hammer gas companies, ignore tuition increases

Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway is again bearing down on gas companies for raising their prices. Today he filed a temporary injunction against Marathon Petroleum Co.

So far, no word from the AG about anything he plans to do on price-gouging by state universities, who have once again raised tuition in excess of inflation.

C'mon Jack. We're waiting ...

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Presbyterians wave the white flag on moral principles

The Presbyterian Church, USA has approved the ordination of gays to their clergy. You gotta hand it to them: they sure put a lot of effort into trying to keep their own religious moral rules indexed to those of secular culture. And then there's that problem of explaining to their congregations why they keep doing things that are in direct conflict with the Bible they claim to adhere to.

I don't envy them.

Surely this couldn't have anything to do with the membership decline we hear about every year.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Anthony Esolen defends English against bad Bible translations

Every issue of First Things magazine I receive confirms once again that it is simply the best journal of its kind anywhere. In the new June/July issue, the inimitable Anthony Esolen takes on the issue of bad Bible translations in his article "A Bumping Boxcar Language." He addresses the New American Bible (NAB), which has plagued Catholics in a similar way the New International Version (NIV) has Protestants:
The bland, Scripture-muffling, colorless, odorless, gaseous paraphrase American Catholics have had for forty years often was not a translation at all, nor even a paraphrase into English. It was a paraphrase into Nabbish, the secrete official language of the New American Bible.
The principles of "Nabbish," says Esolen, are 1) Prefer the "general to the specific, the abstract to the concrete, the vague to the abstract"; 2) Prefer "the neuter, the indefinite, and the impersonal"; and 3) Prefer "the office memoradum to the poem." His examples suit his argument perfectly. All you have to do is sit through a reading of the 23rd Psalm in a mass to see how these translations have sucked the life out of the language.

Esolen doesn't attempt to isolate what is causing this, but I stand by my hypothesis that because Bible translators are culled almost exclusively from the ranks of "Bible experts" and not people with any exceptional facility with English, as I have observed elsewhere. (Also here)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Wall Street journal: Student debt at record high

According to the Wall Street Journal, student debt continues to rise to mammoth proportions.

Unfortunately, the writer of the story has a rather strange view of why this might be good: because it will cause them to try to make more money. Hmmm. Wouldn't that be the case also if each of them simply had that amount of money stolen from them?


Sex ed course cancelled, human race saved

There may now be some hope that the human race can avert annihilation: one university, anyway, has decided to can its human sexuality course. As I have said before, if modern educators do to sex what they have done to reading, writing, and arithmetic, they could very well bring about the extinction of the race. Fortunately, however,--at least at one university, cooler heads have prevailed.
"Northwestern University’s Department of Psychology will not offer a course in human sexuality during the 2011-12 academic year,” the university said in an official statement.
So says Inside Higher Education.

The course was, apparently, the most popular course at Northwestern. I am shocked. So shocked. More hormone charged college students wanting to take a course on sex as opposed to, say, calculus?

Robert VerBruggen at National Review says that, despite the sometimes "circus-like atmosphere," this was an overreaction, and that school officials should simply come up with new guidelines. I don't know. The current wisdom at our universities is that, among other things, males and females are not fundamentally different at all. If you can't even get that right, you why anyone would think such a course would be anything but preposterous.

Monday, May 02, 2011

The higher ed bubble. When will it burst?

They're continuing to increase the size of the college education bubble, says economist Mark Perry at Carpe Diem. Don't want to be around when it bursts.