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Miracles and Science

I recently had the privilege of attending a lecture by Alvin Plantinga. Plantinga is known for reviving the presence of religion in philosophy, largely by countering prevailing attitudes that belief in God is not intellectually, philosophically or rationally plausible.

I learned about Plantigna as a college student studying philosophy of religion, so when I heard he would be lecturing in my town, I was extremely excited to engage with one of today’s leading thinkers. The lecture I attended focused on whether or not miracles, such as those recorded in the Bible, are necessarily and inherently untenable given the extent of current scientific knowledge.

Here is my summary of his argument:

Even in modern science (Newtonian) the world is not inherently or necessarily a causally closed system. Even Newton himself did not believe the system was causally closed. This means that something outside of the universe could act causally inside the universe.

We live, however, in a post-Newtonian world of relativity and quantum mechanics. The causal chains linking events are not as determined as we once thought. Everything is probabilistic. There is a probability that my computer could turn into a lamp. Or all the items in the room could bundle up into one small corner. The probability of any of these events is excruciatingly, mind-bogglingly small, yet the possibility exists. It is not impossible. It is not incompatible with science. There is nothing inherent within science that eliminates the possibility that if there is a God, that God could control these improbabilities.

The goal of Plantinga’s lecture was to dispel the myth that science and miracles are incompatible. His inclusion of post-Newtonian physics in his evaluation offers a much more satisfying clarification than C.S. Lewis’, though his treatment is a stimulating read.

Having recently finished Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I immediately thought of the improbability drive on the Heart of Gold. A fictional example, but great for analogy. God is able to participate causally in the universe such that quantumly improbable events occur according to his will.


OK, so OMG is in the OED

Once upon a time a bizarre fad gripped English speakers and caused them to say ridiculous things. It didn’t last long, and not terribly much came of it, but there is a significant remnant lurking among our speech and dictionaries even to this day.

In the late 1830s, in Boston and New York, people deliberately abbreviated phrases to the first letter of each word. But before they did so, they misspelled the words in the phrase, altering the first letters. Thus, KG became a way of saying “No go” (based on the misspelling “Know go”.)

The fad was influential enough that Martin van Buren even used a popular abbreviation in his campaign for re-election in 1840. Yes, the silly habit of abbreviating misspelled words was used by the then president of the United States.

He didn’t use KG. He used the abbreviation for “oll korrect”: OK.

OK is in the dictionary, not unlike OMG or LOL.

Sometimes language changes because people like being silly, or because people like using shorthand ways of saying (or typing) things. But the English language didn’t die in 1838. I’m guessing 2011 isn’t its end, either.

English is brilliantly capable of accepting new forms of words, phrases and grammatical structures, and still chugging right along. It’s still possible to write well, to write beautifully and to write effectively in English. I for one like this funny little language; I can’t wait to see where we take it.

(Oh, and I’m not actually making this up. See?)

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RIP English?

Many people are saying English is dead because adherence to grammar rules is diminishing.

I have a degree in this language that is apparently dying, and I am a writer, who writes in this dying language. I do care about it. But I am incapable of sharing the sentiments of those who insist changing grammatical structures indicate the death of the language. In fact, I’m inclined to posit that the rapid changes occurring within English indicate that it is alive and kicking in a way it never has before.

There are many languages that are completely, legitimately dead. Languages such as Latin, Koine and Attic Greek, Ugaritic, Babylonian and Ancient Hebrew are dead languages. How do we know they are dead? No one learns these languages as their native tongue. You can study them in universities, but there are not people who grow up speaking these languages. And even if you were to study them at university, you would learn to read them, not speak them, because the only place you will find these languages is in ancient writings, simply because no one uses them in speech.

Funny thing about languages that no one speaks: they don’t change. The hallmark of a living language, then, is one that changes. English is not dead. Many people learn it as their native language, and since people are speaking it, it changes.

This is not to say it isn’t on the brink of changing so much as to become a different dialect of itself. Technology has contributed to some of the most rapid linguistic changes English has seen (or any other language for that matter). So perhaps future historians will call 21st C. English ‘Late English’ (after Old and Middle) and reappropriate ‘Modern’ for their own version. (Or perhaps they will be speaking SpangloMandarin by then).

English is, of course, doomed to die eventually, like everything else. Its death, however, is more likely to be a result of globalization than the fact that so few people choose to utilize proper grammar on a regular basis (if they even know it). But I don’t hear people decrying globalization as a great contributor to the death of English the way they do with OMG and split infinitives.

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River Song

The following contains spoilers through Doctor Who, Season 6, Ep. 2: Day of the Moon. Orig. Air date 4/30/11


A list of facts about River Song with some extra goodies thrown in:

River Song has a six shooter.

She shoots the astronaut five times, and misses five times.

What happened to the sixth bullet? She used it to shoot the Stetson off the Doctor’s head.

What I want to know is: how does a woman with the impeccable aim of River Song—who can shoot Stetson’s off of people’s heads without, you know, killing them—miss an astronaut walking slowly in to a lake. Five times. (Even if a spacesuit is bullet-proof—who knows—wouldn’t the astronaut have jolted if it had been hit by something as fast moving as a bullet?)

As General Shan says in The Blind Banker (Sherlock, not Who, but relevant logic): “What does it tell you when an assassin cannot shoot straight?… It tells you that they’re not really trying.”

No, River Song is not technically an assassin (as far as we know). But the Doctor does say: She “has her own gun, and unlike me she really doesn’t mind shooting people…She’ll definitely kill at least the first three of you.”

River Song killed a man. A good man. The best man she ever knew.

Doctor says to the astronaut before the astronaut kills him: “It’s okay. I know it’s you.”

(There are other facts about the astronaut that make this train of thought seem unnecessarily suspicious. But, I’m not ruling it out quite yet. River Song is a clever, tricksy girl.)

(Amy, unskilled with a gun, in a state of emotional distress, without really knowing that she’s shooting someone, manages to hit the astronaut in the helmet. The helmet punctures.)


Why I don’t Blog about Writing

If you follow me on twitter, you probably know that I’m a writer. In fact, that’s probably why you follow me on twitter. I tweet about writing and love the community of writers I have found on twitter.

But if you’ve read my blog, (and here you are, so I’m guessing you’ve had a look), you’ve probably noticed I don’t write much about writing.

There are several reasons for this.

I don’t have much new to say about the writing process. I have tried blogging about my writing in the past, to mild and temporary success. It is not my goal to avoid blogging about writing, but as a central focus, I simply don’t have enough to sustain a blog.

There are about one million blogs out there that talk about writing. They talk about the industry, the effort, the successes, failures, and techniques of other writers. The ones I have come across are brilliant, and I enjoy reading them. They are immensely helpful, and contribute to a conversation I’m glad to participate in. I do not feel a pressing need to carve out my own voice from among them on a topic they cover so well.

I like to write. I have a lot of thoughts racing through my mind, and I like to write them down. I like to organize and process the universe in small chunks. Instead of having a website where I discuss writing, I decided to have a website where I write. Here, I will write about anything that intrigues me. I may even write about writing. But my goal is simply to write.