Friday, August 26, 2011

The Case for an Unbiased Jury

Out of deference to someone I love very much, I've spent part of my last two weeks reading Lee Strobel's "The Case for Christ". I was too young to understand the book when it was first published (1998), but I do remember reading the young adult version in late middle-school/early high school. I read the teen version with the intent to bone up on my biblical knowledge so that I would be more prepared to talk to people "who didn't know Christ"; unfortunately, even at the time I was a little disappointed. The book contained more questions than answers, and I was able to make "well what about X?" or "...then how did Y happen?" observations on my first read-through.

Disappointed that the arguments were either weak or misguided, I shrugged it off, figuring that there would be more Biblical scholars that would one day write their wisdom into a young adult format that would be more convincing than Strobel. And off I went.
This time, I was ready. My brain is fully formed and functional (more or less, amirite?). I know how to research, draft an argument, and gather evidence. I am now more familiar with logical fallacies in order to know where I am being deceived by slippery language. I am more aware of other perspectives and arguments and can therefore see when lies of omission are made. I am in possession of handy argument-building tools like paper, writing instruments, a laptop, the Internet, books, and tea. Lots of hot tea.

I picked up a copy from the downtown library and nonchalantly snuggled down into the couch a few days later to begin reading. I'm excited to see all of the evidence in one place, one handy-dandy package; I'm expecting a quite serious, research-based journey through the evidence for the person of Jesus.

Spoiler: that is not what this book is.

It just isn't.

The reader learns very quickly that Strobel was in no way interested in getting the truth; in fact, the book is entirely one-sided. This reviewer said:

"When I say The Case for Christ is investigative writing at its worst, I mean that it presents a terribly one-sided view of the discussion. Of all the scholars, historians, and experts that could have been interviewed, every single one of the thirteen featured in the book is an Evangelical Christian. Strobel hand picks statements from a few skeptics to present to his conservative scholars, but much of the time the opposing view is given by the author himself, who often throws soft balls and sets up strawman arguments."

Sadly, I found this to be quite true. By the fourth or fifth chapter's worth of doing mental gymnastics trying to justify why Strobel set the book up like he did, I was just too tired to continue. I simply don't understand why Strobel even compelled himself to market the book the way he did: masquerading as investigative journalism when in reality it is as biased as Fox News, pretending to ask "hardball" questions while escaping real contradiction and conflict, and requiring no evidence from his scholars.

Given the organizations that Strobel's scholars are affiliated with (Moody Bible Institute, Liberty University), it is impossible to even suggest that Strobel has thoughtfully presented the evidence for and against the divinity of Jesus in an unbiased manner. His interviewees are fraught with presuppositions and foregone conclusions. Worse still, Strobel abandons any credibility by not interviewing scholars in the appropriate fields. My patience exhausted once I began to read Chapter 8: The Psychological Evidence. Given that Jesus could not be reached for examination, I had to conclude that the chapter had no point at all. Reader Siamang asks Strobel:

"Is your primary audience christians or non-christians? Because I cannot imagine many non-christians would accept a philosophy professor from a bible college to be a better authority on cosmology than an actual cosmologist.

You seem to fancy yourself an expert on Biblical history. Would it be alright for me to interview a professor of economics or law or sports medicine or some other unrelated field who has leaned back in his armchair and puffed on his pipe to determine whether or not the Dead Sea Scrolls are accurately translated? Or should I actually confer with linguists and historians and archaeologists?"

Indeed. Strobel's selection of scholars and method of interrogation is very sloppy journalism. It was hard to slog through.

So, I did my best. I took copious (though not exhaustive) notes through the Introduction, Chapter 1, and Chapter 2. I grew weary of the constant assault to my intelligence and stopped taking notes by Chapter 3. I cycled through frustration, anger, amazement, and disappointment. The arguments were worse than the two- and three-page term papers my 9th graders turned in. I gave it up midway through Chapter just wasn't worth it.

Strobel bases his entire argument and observations on the assumption that the Bible is an accurate and reliable source (which is why he devotes two chapters to it). If that assumption is incorrect, then his interview with the psychologist who analyzed Jesus' words is moot. Unfortunately, Strobel does a horrific job of proving that first point, and without that foundation the rest of the arguments come tumbling down, like a house built on sand. Each argument was riddled with unanswered questions and/or logical fallacies; there was nary a single statement made in the first two chapters that I could confidently agree with.

Although my initial plan was to give an in-depth analysis of the book as a whole, I think the refutation is more powerful as-is: preservation of the notes that I took while reading. I simply made little stars on some of the more interesting or controversial quotes while I was reading, jotted them down in a notebook, and let it percolate for a few days. Then I returned to it, typed up my shorthand alongside the original quotes I had transposed. From there, I simply expanded upon those initial reactions and drafted them into "points". Some are rather light-hearted and not meant to be taken as serious academic arguments; you can tell by the length of my notes that I was getting tired of repeated myself by the end of it, so those thoughts are not as fully developed as some others.

Part of why I think this "analysis" is interesting is the sheer volume of quotes that I found interesting; I had to restrict myself to two quotes per page, or I would have had a book of my own on my hands. There are some pages that have multiple factual errors or logical fallacies represented; the arguments grew so warped and bloated that it was difficult to discern, specifically, what was wrong with them. As it is, I only took notes through the first 70 pages and have a 14 page Word document, 1.5 spaced with 1" margins. And those are just my notes! Each quote may have been a book or a journal article unto itself.

I've also included a few notes that Bryan made as he read through it; they are the underlined portion.

Find the complete notes at this link.

Monday, August 22, 2011

DIY Sunburst Mirror


I can't believe it's been nearly a month since my last posting. Shame on me! I've done a terrible job keeping up with everything, but I've been awfully busy job searching and living and so and so forth. But! Stay tuned for more updates (I may even update the blog again with another post this afternoon with housekeeping-y info).

So! Remember my shortlist of apartment related to-dos here? Well, I've checked another off the list!

The space above our television has been sad and barren since May; the walls in our last apartment were broken up considerably more by the big floor-to-ceiling french doors, so large wall art wasn't really necessary. Now, less doors = more wall space to fill in. So the challenge was to create or purchase something that was imposing enough to fill the space without overwhelming it....or our bank account.

I snooped around on the internet and found this:

(Image and tutorial courtesy of this post from Twenty-Six to Life.)

It was perfect. And cheap. So I thought I'd share my quick-and-dirty sunburst mirror tutorial here. I essentially followed my instinct in combination with some reassurance from the 262L tutorial - it's not much more complicated than stacking some stuff on some stuff with a crap-ton of glue in between. Like a glue sandwich. Mmm.



18 and 12" floral rings* (in the FLORAL department, not the Everywhere But department)
Craft mirror (depends on the size of the finished product - which is based on the size of the shims - I chose a 10")

*I didn't wind up using the 6" floral ring that the 262L blogger did. I didn't read her tutorial thoroughly and kind of went in headfirst, but since I used a stronger glue I don't think I sacrificed any structural strength.

Home Depot
2 bundles* cedar shims (any size will do - I believe mine were 12". They come in bundles near the building materials section of Home Depot)
Strong glue (in the interest of durability, I bought some Gorilla brand superglue since we didn't have any as well as Gorilla brand wood glue)

*You REALLY only need 2 bundles. I bought three and used 1 and a couple of shims from the other bundle. Totally went overboard with the shims and now I have a bunch of homeless shims. Sad little shims.


Step One: Assemble your materials. I put down a drop cloth to catch any glue drips and set up a box fan to help the glue dry a little faster.

In hindsight, the drop cloth was really stupid and kind of ineffective. There was a couple of small spots where the glue came through the cloth and onto my nice rug (ok, decent rug...but's it's the only rug of any value that I own!). I would recommend doing this over a scrap of cardboard or something instead. Duh.

Also, peppermint tea is a necessary DIY material. As is Joanna Newsom.

Step Two: Arrange a few shims so that they are roughly symmetrical. (My method essentially arranged the shims symmetrically and then filled in the gaps with the second "layer" of shims.)

Step Three: Keep gluing and filling in the gaps. I was generous but not sloppy when I applied the glue.

This is a great opportunity to show off your Heavy Book Collection, which may or may not expand into your Heavy Anything Collection, as it did for me. I simply kept applying shims and then weighing them down with whatever heavy-ish objects I found lying around. I'd wait a few minutes for the glue to set a bit better and then move on to the next segment in the circle.

Step Four: Enlist assistance from the cat.

The benefits are obvious.

Said cat will run around, overturning your gluey shims and then looking perturbed as he sticks to everything, get cat hair all up in yo' business, and just be a general nuisance and attention whore.

But he will refuse to pose for photos.

Step Five: Once the outer layer is glued on, simply stagger the second layer on top of the first, a few inches more towards the center. It doesn't have to be exact, as the end result will be imperfect because of the materials (the cedar shims proved to be rather irregular, with fun knots, holes, and chips). Just don't go TOO crazy, or it will look wonky.

(Also, I didn't get photos of this part. Whoops. Too busy trying to make Buster ignore me by trying to take his photo.)

When the wood glue is set for both layers of your sunburst, apply glue to the back of your mirror, flip the whole thing over, and set it on top (centered as best as possible). Let that dry until set, and then hang with a brad.

I didn't need to add any hanging hardware because of the way that I assembled the mirror; there were spaces in between the shims on the 18" floral rings that worked perfectly.

I think the mirror is pretty sweet in our place. The thing is massive - 49" across! and came in under $20 (once I return the few things that I didn't use, and if you don't count the Gorilla glue that I purchased to use for other things as well). All in all, cheap, awesome project that just about anyone can do.

I approve.