Archive for the 'Education' Category

Einstein’s Pedagogical Thesis

“Make things as simple as possible, but no simpler”


This is a profound statement . I recently went on a Google exploration to find what others made of it. I discovered a blog post by a zen-buddhist-all-is-calm type that took this to be an instruction for how one should live her life- Keep things simple, don’t overload life with unbearable complexity, and, simultaniously, don’t undervalue life by dropping below the threshold of what life expects of you. This isn’t, I don’t think, what Mr. E-equals-m-c-squared was talking about. He was referring less to a kind of chinese proverb found in a fortune cookie and more to a method for explaining and teaching complex concepts. Let me explain.

Make things as simple as possible…
It might be best to think of this portion of Einstein’s statement as an Occam’s Razor for linguistics. Occam basically said that, when attempting to explain the presence of any given occurrence or fact, the most powerful theory or explanation is the one that employs the fewest steps along the way.

So, say Harry walks in his room and upon doing so discovers his owl, Hedwig, dead in her cage with a bruise on her head and a hammer laying nearby! At this point Harry attempts to understand how this tragic event happened. Here are two possibilities. Option 1: a dark wizard revealed himself sneaking into Harry’s room and Hedwig, being the clever owl that she is, recognised the wizard for who he was and began to sound an alarm of squawks. At that point the wizard summoned a hammer ex nihilo and, through complicated wand waving and magical chanting, caused the hammer-head to meet Hedwig’s cranium with a quiet ‘crack’, causing the owl’s lifeless body to fall to the floor of the cage. Or, option 2: Harry’s evil cousin, Dudley, snuck into Harry’s room and bonked Hedwig on the head.

According to Occam, both options fully explain what happened. However, the insertion of unneeded steps such as intruding wizards and complicated magic aren’t necessary to explain what happened. Therefore, the simpler explanation should be favoured.

Here’s the point- leave out the excess.

when explaining something there are two routes: simple and complex. The latter is often the route of the sophist or pompous rhetorician. The former is the act of removing the vocabulary-waste while retaining the essential message. This is, and I think Einstein would agree, more difficult. It means that the communicator has to so internalise the content that she can regurgitate it without the technical vocabulary while leaving the meaning in tact.

…but no simpler
This short ending is as crucial as the first half of Einstein’s statement. Things can only be so simple. It is possible that in an attempt to simplify the message there comes a point where an attempt to further simplify will only result in diluting the message at best and misrepresenting it at worst.

So, find that balance. Help others understand by simplifying the message, but don’t sacrifice the content in doing so !


Complimentarianism in the SBC

Spending several years in Bible college introduced me to many different theological positions, views on the kingdom, the will, evil, salvation, the millennium, etc. One of the most contentious issues of all was, and is, the complementarian / egalitarian debate. Essentially, at the heart of the debate is the question of what roles are and are not permissible for a woman to hold in the church and family. Complementarianism is the doctrine that there is a hierarchy in the church and family and that man is the head of both. Egalitarianism is the doctrine that there is no such hierarchy and that men and women are equal in their right to fulfill leadership roles. Both of these definitions are very rough, but work well enough for the purpose of this post.

The purpose of this post is to reject a form of complementarianism, not to promote egalitarianism. Some may say that this post is simply attacking a straw-man. It isn’t. I doubt that the content of this post will be affirmed by many (if any) complementarians, but experience tells me that there are times when our actions will do the assenting in the face of our mouth’s dissent. I will call this form ‘Southern Complementarianism’ (SC). From my experience there are unnecessary, but consistent tenets of complimentarianism in the south and particularly in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Those tenets are:

  1. The only suitable roles for women are wife and mother and all other pursuits or talents should bow to these first priorities.
  2. From 1, the proper role of a woman as a wife is to support her husband in his endeavors, goals, etc.
  3. A woman’s opinion is naturally inferior to a man’s since the man was created as leader of the woman.
  4. From 3, a woman should never question her husband’s judgment.
  5. Women (in general) should submit to men (in general)- similar to the way children (in general) should respect their elders (in general).
  6. A woman’s education is generally less important than her husband’s and she should simply be able to trust his opinions and learning.

Premises 1 and 2. Part of the problem is thinking that our primary aim is to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ and, after all, the only way to do this is for men and woman to submit to their teleological role of baby-making. Since someone has to take care of the kids, and the man has to be out providing, it falls to the woman to stay in the home and raise the children. Thus, premise 1. This is also propagated by ‘the role’ talk (according to this ‘the role’ of a woman is premise 1) . For instance, reading through this post (by the editor of the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) and the comments might give you an idea of the kind of thing I am speaking of. So that everyone knows (as Bertrand Russell pointed out over a 100 years ago in On Denoting) the word ‘the’ implies at least one and no more, that is, singularity. But does the Bible really point out one such role for a woman, to be a wife and mother? What if she isn’t one or both? Is she a failure to the Kingdom? It is my belief that the command to be fruitful and multiply is not for us. The command is given 12 times in the OT but only three of the times was it given to humans: to Adam, when there was no one else on earth, Noah, when there was no one else on earth, and Jacob- who is Israel- when the nation of Israel was being formed), and it is given no times in the NT. Our command is not to multiply babies, but according to Jesus, disciples. And Paul’s charge that it may be better to remain single seems to fly in the face of all of this ‘the role’ nonsense (despite the title, Mother Theresa was neither a mother nor a wife).

Premises 3, 4, and 5. Back in the garden Eve was deceived, this shows us that women are more likely to make bad decisions and this somehow shows us that men are more likely not to make bad decisions (though the former in no way implies the latter). So, pre and post fall (lapse), the woman was and remains inferior in her decision making abilities. Thus, premise 3 and 4. And, it seems, the principle from these premises has been extrapolated to denote a general relationship between men and women. Thus, premise 5. However, if the complementarian position is right, the submission of the wife to the husband is for the purpose of pointing to the relationship between Christ and his bride, not something that happens as a result of a lack on the woman’s part. And, if this is the case, the wife is submitting to but to a position, not a gender. I believe that 3 – 5 result in a general degrading of women. Though many complementarians in the SBC claim that the ‘forbidden fruit’ for women is the teaching of Christian doctrine, this fleshes itself out by disallowing them to participate in most positions. I can’t remember the last time, in a Baptist church, I saw a woman pray from the front, read a passage of scripture, or even help with the tithe collection. This is a moral catastrophe and failure on the part of churches. “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you…”

Premise 6. In the south, especially in the Christian south, most get married much, much younger than the rest of the western world. As a result, Bible colleges are full of married kids training for the ministry that can only afford for one to attend university. Thus, the result is that since the man is going to be ‘the preacher’ he is the one that needs the education. Four years or more go by, the kids have kids of their own and the woman never gets a shot at being educated. Some women don’t care, some do. The attitude is that a woman’s education is less important than a man’s. In fact, I’ve noticed that some male Bible students have a real aversion to their wives being educated. I can only guess at why this might be.

Before my wife and I moved to England (after we had both finished an undergraduate degree) we were sitting in the office of a man who worked for a Southern Baptist institution and we were discussing our options. We informed him that we were both interested in more education. He asked what we were interested in. I told him philosophy and my wife said she was still considering her options. He looked at my wife and said with a scoff, “Do you really want to get more education? I mean, come on, you’re pretty, you’re taller than a lot of men, and you already have one degree…” I don’t think I really registered what he said until after we left, or perhaps I was just too in the middle of the SC dust cloud to even recognize that he was being a chauvinist. I simply want to note that true Christianity is not chauvinistic and Jesus’ heart and actions toward women was completely different to the one modeled by SC.

Moving to another country has help me view this situation with slightly different eyes and see this to be the problem it is. Pastors and men should help identify SC and do away with it because it is harmful to the gospel, chauvinistic, and altogether shameful.

The New York Times on A Growing interest in Philosophy

See what the New York Times has to say about the increase of students’ interest in philosohpy.

In a New Generation of College Students, Many Opt for the Life Examined

(Thanks to Brian Leiter for posting this on his site)