Sunday, July 23, 2017

On the Question of Peer Review

I’ve often wondered about what actual benefit there is to the peer review process - whether it’s in the study of History, or Medicine, or any of the sciences that overflow with theories, such as Archaeology or Evolution.  My own opinion is that it is often, if not always, forgotten that these are, in fact, theories, and not provable fact.

The reason I question the actual value of the process is because everybody has an axe to grind.  Everybody has their own preconceived ideas of why their particular theory should be accepted as fact, and one’s peers are no exception to this bias.

For example, if one has written an article that they want taken seriously on, say, the subject of evolution vs creation, they have it “peer reviewed”.  However, they only have it peer reviewed by evolutionists (or by scientists who are very familiar and “on board” with the conventionally held assertions of the evolutionist viewpoint).  If the article calls into question some minor detail of the current base of knowledge, but otherwise accepts (and reinforces) the accepted “facts” of evolution, then that article will be critiqued in an allegedly open-minded way.  However, if the article calls into question anything deemed to be the very essence of the theory, then it will not gain any traction and will, in fact, be laughed at and the author will never again be taken seriously.

Also, the question of who are one’s peers bears examination.  Suppose the article was written by a scientist who happens to be a Christian, and who has proposed ideas more consistent with Christian thought than with the prevailing scientific doctrine.  That article may be reviewed and discussed in Christian circles, but those discussions will never be considered to be a review by peers.  Why is that?  The scientist is also a Christian.  So, he has peers in the scientific world and also in the Christian world.  

The same thing happens in the realm of History when someone comes forth with an article that contradicts the conventional wisdom.  And in Medicine when someone investigates alternative medicine or calls into question the safety of the latest approved drug therapy.  

Why are these Christian scientists, or dissident historians, or skeptical doctors invariably marginalized and ridiculed?  Admittedly, these are usually cases of limited evidence - but those cases should not be quashed with impunity and never taken seriously enough to investigate how much validity they hold.  No, on the contrary, they should be rigorously researched to determine just what the truth is.  Anything less is scientifically irresponsible.

On the other hand, there is a legitimate function of peer review.  Namely to debunk bad research methods or outright propaganda.  To the degree that peer review accomplishes this, and I have no doubt that it does, then I salute the system for that.  However, I can’t help but wonder, given how tenaciously people tend to defend their own perspective, just how often views that may be legitimate get relegated to the scrap heap simply because it goes against the most widely held view.

How much of the peer review process is actual open-minded debate over the views presented, and how much of it is more like thought police censorship?

I’m not saying, necessarily, to do away with peer review entirely.  Simply to come up with a better, more intellectually honest alternative.  One way might be to have a point/counterpoint debate of the view being put forth.  I’m sure there are other alternatives also.b

Interestingly, just after I finished this post, I ran across a similar concern by none other than Dr. Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of the Lancet.  That can be found here, which also has additional links to similar articles by respected sources.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Story Development: The Work Behind the Writing

You have a great idea.  You can see it playing out in your head - and after all, you’ve always been a great story teller.  It seems like the natural thing to do; maybe you should write a novel.  

Having a great idea, and knowing how to tell a story are both necessary ingredients to a good novel, but they’re not the only ones.  You also need to know how to get that idea onto paper in a logical, coherent, as well as entertaining, way.  The sad truth is, if you don’t have an understanding of story development, you’ll never be a writer.

What do I mean by story development?  Well, how does the story move along - from point A, to point B, and so on?  Simply being a good story teller doesn’t necessarily get you there.  Just like being a good writer doesn’t make you a good story teller.  As counter-intuitive as it may seem, they are different skills.

A good story teller, for one thing, doesn’t usually tell a novel-length story.  But more importantly, s/he has body language, facial expression, and perhaps natural charisma that captures the rapt attention of the listener.  As a writer, none of those things are on display.  We need to get the readers attention another way.  And that way is story development.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, but what really prompted this was a blog post from one of my writer friends.  The first few points of this are short elaborations on her post.  If you want writing tips on a more regular basis, you should check out her blog, here.

These are some of the things you need to consider when writing a story.

1)  What is the premise?  Initially, this could be just a vague idea that needs thought to flesh out.  Don’t let the lack of detail deter you.  Write it down and come back to it.  If you don’t write it down, you WILL forget the idea - and it might be a good one.

2)  Creating and developing characters.  The creating part is pretty straightforward.  You simply populate your fictional world with characters you need to propel the story forward.  The hard part - the important part - is to develop them into real people.  Some stories are considered plot driven while others are thought of as character driven, but in my opinion, if you don’t care enough about your characters to make them real, nobody else will care either.

 I write a mini biography for each of my characters so I can get to know them.  I can’t tell other people about them if I don’t even know them.  There are also questionnaires you can fill out which would do the same thing.

3)  Research.  It’s been said that most writers write what they know, and I believe that’s true.  At least for one or two characters and perhaps the very general form of the story.  But there’s always something you don’t know.  For example, if you’re a doctor, you probably don’t know a lot about carpentry or fixing household appliances.  But chances are you know somebody who does, or at least you’ll have had a need to hire someone who does.  You should write what you know - but not only what you know.  You have to learn more.  Even if it’s just enough to get you through one section of the story.  It has to be believable because somebody out there reading your story will know if it’s not.

Items 1 and 2 need to be done at the beginning.  You can continue to develop characters to some degree as the story unfolds (people continue to grow, after all), but you really need to establish their baseline personalities early.  Item 3 is probably an ongoing thing throughout the writing process.

Okay, now it’s time to sit down and write.  Or is it?  Maybe you should outline your story.  Then again, maybe you shouldn’t.  And just what is an outline, anyway?  

To answer the second question first, an outline is pretty much whatever you decide it is.  Some writers wouldn’t even consider beginning a book if it wasn’t thoroughly outlined.  Step-by-step so as to not leave anything to chance.  Others think that’s like writing the book before you write the book.  More importantly, they might feel that a detailed outline inhibits their creativity and ability to be flexible.  They feel the proper approach is to write by discovery.  I know writers for whom their characters are so real that they are sometimes surprised by what the character says or does.  Now THAT’S writing by discovery.  

Most writers will probably fall somewhere in the middle of the two.  Maybe they outline the basic plot of the book, with specific plot-point milestones or other ideas that they want to make sure they don’t forget when the time comes to insert them into the story.  One thing most will probably outline (or at least take notes about while writing) is any loose ends that they need to wrap up by the end of the story.  It’s easy to lose track of these if you’re not careful.

So, how do you know whether or not you, personally, should outline, and to what degree of detail?  Unfortunately, you might only find out by trial and error.

I originally tried to be a seat-of-the-pants writer.  I wanted to write because it was fun, and didn’t want it to seem like work.  I didn’t want to inhibit my creativity.  I found out the hard way that, for me, that doesn’t work.  I have too many ideas that simply might not be good for the story.  I get distracted with these ideas and how I’m going to shoehorn them into the narrative - never really examining whether or not I even should.  

My current method (and this won’t work for everybody) is to write a scene (or maybe a chapter) that defines the premise or idea that I had for what might be a good story.  Then, with that small burst of creative energy spent, I’ll begin my character biographies and very loose outline about the plot development.  Only then do I begin what most people would call the actual writing.  And as I’m writing, I refer frequently to the outline to make sure I’m not being carried down rabbit trails.  

What follows is one procedure that I think is a good basic one to follow (after items 1, 2, and 3, above).  I did not create this, but unfortunately I can’t remember from where I got it to properly credit it.

1)  Introduce main character(s) and supporting characters.  Describe the setting(s) and situation as it initially presents.

2)   Introduce a problem or conflict.
      a)  Identify the problem
      b)  What do the characters think, say, and do to either deal with the problem, or that helped create the problem?
      c)  What are the peripheral effects of the problem?
      d)  Is there external tension exacerbating the problem?

3)  What are the characters doing to remedy the problem or conflict?

4)  Climax/Resolution. 
     a)   What happened ultimately?
     b)  How were the characters affected?
     c)  Moral (if applicable)
     d)  Epilogue

There are all sorts of variances to this and, ultimately, you’ll have to find what works best for you.  The important thing is that if something’s not working (like my writing on the fly), don’t be afraid to try a different approach.  Eventually you’ll find what works for you.  

Friday, December 25, 2015

"Who's Gloria?"

The title of this post will most likely make my in-laws smile.  Just about every year at this time we all have a chuckle about those two little words.  But I think there actually is an answer to that question.

A Little Background

About thirty-five years ago I started dating the girl who I eventually married.  Although we lived in the same neighborhood, we were pretty different.  I was blond and she was brunette.  My family heritage was English while hers was French.  I went to a technical-vocational high school whereas she attended a traditional high school.  I was fairly smart, but she was smarter.  My family celebrated Christmas on Christmas day, hers celebrated on Christmas eve (that has been a huge blessing over the years - never having to argue over whose family we visited on Christmas day).  And the biggie: I was raised Protestant, but she was Catholic.  One of the more obvious differences in the two traditions is the Protestant’s complete lack of exposure to Latin.

One Christmas season while we were dating I found myself at her house with her family for their annual tree decorating ceremony (another difference in our families).  They were gracious enough to let me join in their tradition.  Each person would take an ornament and add it to the tree and then it was the next person’s turn.  Then we repeated the process until we were done.  I had noticed that there were a lot of home made ornaments, and they all had the name of the person who made them written on them.  

Well, at some point I came across an ornament that was a small nativity.  Emblazoned  across the top was “Gloria”.  It’s important to remember at this point that I had absolutely no knowledge of Latin - and after all, a lot of other ornaments had names on them.  So I innocently and curiously asked, “Who’s Gloria?”

This got a couple of chuckles in the “Oh, that was pretty clever” kind of way until I said, “No, really.  I thought I knew your whole family.  Who’s Gloria?”  This changed the chuckles to all out guffaws!  People were laughing so hard that tears were coming out of their eyes.

I was confused and I wasn’t getting any answers because people couldn’t stop laughing.  Eventually someone told me that “Gloria” was Latin for Glory.  “You know - as in ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo!’”   This was absolutely no help to me, which only brought more laughter.  In the due course of time I learned that Gloria in elcelsis Deo means Glory to God in the highest.  Lesson learned.

Okay.  Now what?

So, how do we go from an ignorance of Latin causing a silly, unanswerable question to my assertion that it’s a real question that has an answer?  By examining the very reason for God to live among us in the first place.  

The answer, of course, is told in John 3:16.  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.  Love is the answer.  Love is the reason for the glory.  Without God’s love, there would never have been a birth of a Savior.  

Love.  That thing that brings family together.  For nearly thirty-five years, now, I have been lucky enough to be present at every Christmas eve family gathering.  And at every one the love to be felt is ever-present.  

I love the family I grew up with very much, and I enjoy spending time with them.  But my “new” family is very different from my birth family.  They taught me about love in different ways than I would have otherwise learned had I never known them.  

So, now that we know who Gloria is, I think we can rest well knowing that she’s very happy that spirit is felt.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 1, 2014

A Christian Nation?

It’s a debate that may not ever go away.  Is America a Christian nation?  Christians tend to say yes, while secularists generally say no.

In previous writing I’ve made clear my position and understanding of the historical separation of church and state, and how in our modern era that idea has been corrupted.  I stand by that opinion.  Separation of church and state was an idea put forth by religious people, not by civil authorities who definitely did not embrace the idea.  Even with that in mind, or perhaps especially with that in mind, I think we need to be careful calling America a Christian nation.  

The phrase “separation of church and state” occurs nowhere in the Constitution.  The First Amendment, to which the phrase alludes, is meant to limit the state, not the church.  Indeed, the Constitution, in its entirety, should be understood as nothing more than a limit on the state.  We are free to worship as our consciences dictate.  With regard to religion, there are two limits enumerated by the First Amendment.  One, that there will be no official religion of the state (or endorsed by the state), and two, that we citizens can not be prohibited from worshipping as we see fit (including where we see fit - including in public or in a government building).  That second part is the part a lot of people forget.

A state established religion was what our forefathers (not our founding fathers, but their forefathers) were specifically escaping when they left England to come here.  These facts appear to bring us to an impasse.  I, and people of like minds as I, believe that the “separation of church and state” has become woefully corrupted and that we should be able to worship as we want and not be prohibited at all.  On the other hand, those of a more secular mindset point out the same facts and come to the conclusion that their way is the best way to avoid returning to what our forefathers escaped.  The error they make, though, is asserting that those forefathers were not Christian and did not want a Christian nation.  They were, and they did. They simply did not want the state to dictate that all the citizens are to be Catholic, or Anglican, or Presbyterian, or Congregationalist, or whatever.  They were saying that that’s not the state’s job.  

So, does that mean we should not allow Jews, or Muslims, or Buddhists, or anyone else to be here and worship as they see fit?  Of course not.  

I believe we are a Christian nation in two senses.  First, in the sense that (most of) our founding fathers were either active Christians or, at least, very well versed in Christian thought.  And secondly, our legal system and our system of government are modeled on that thought.  But I think it’s a stretch, and a potentially dangerous one, to say that our government was meant to be an extension of the church, or even of Christianity.  

I’ve said this before, but again, it’s a bit complicated.  Our ancestors were not as compartmentalizing with their religious beliefs as we are.  We tend to keep our religion in its own little box - partly out of a misunderstanding that’s been promulgated about the First Amendment, and partly out of convenience (meaning a lack of ethical fortitude).  They did not do that.  All of life - everything - was viewed through the filter of their religious beliefs.  However, their ability to see distinctions and nuance was far superior to ours.  They knew, in a much different way than we know, where the church and state converged and diverged; and knew from personal experience the danger of improperly mixing them.

If you want to know why there’s a New England, then study history.  Look to old England in the 1620’s and 1630’s.  Look at King James, and especially his son, King Charles I.  Look at William Laud, Alexander Leighton, Edward Coke, and all the vitriol between the Puritans on one side, the Catholics on the other, and the Church of England and the crown right in the middle.

All of the above wanted there to be an official state religion, as in fact every country in Europe had at the time.  Every one of those people and groups considered themselves Christian, and yet there was enormous bloodshed.

William Laud, one of my least favorite characters in that little passion play, actually articulated the thought process quite well.  Although there was great variance in the particulars amongst these men and groups, in general they all believed this.  Laud said that the spirit of God is one, and that whoever divides against the unity of the church practices against the unity of the spirit.  Without unity the church would disintegrate; without the church, the state would disintegrate: “It is impossible in any Christian commonwealth that the church should melt, and the state stand firm.”  

Do we really want to pursue this very same train of thought?  Do we believe that the Christian church(es) should take THAT active a role in the business of government?  Maybe the answer is yes, but we should know the potential dangers if we do answer yes.

Remember: Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Why Don’t We Trust The Process?

Last night I was listening to Dana Loesch and, while I don’t yet fully embrace her style, the content of what she says is usually spot on.

She was on a tear last night about the events in Ferguson, MO.  She’s from St. Louis, of which Ferguson is a suburb, so she has more than simply a passing interest in the goings on there.

She pointed out that in the recent election, in the greater St. Louis area, the polls had a 40% voter turn out.  So, people are supposedly angry enough to have a racially motivated protest (which many fear will turn into a violent riot), but they’re not angry enough to actually vote!

She informed the audience that the politicians in that area are a corrupt old boys network, and have been for quite some time.  If the people don’t like how things are, why didn’t they go out and vote them out of office?  But, no, while the people were out protesting these same politicians were re-elected back into office.

Now, I’ve always maintained that it is the right of Americans to revolt and overthrow the government if it becomes necessary (having the right and being able to carry it out are two entirely different things, obviously).  Dana’s rant made me re-evaluate my position on that, however.  I haven’t changed my basic position, but I have decided that, apparently, I need to add a qualifier for those who take too simplistic a view of it.  And yes, I know there are differences between  a protest, a riot, and a revolt, but one can certainly lead to the next.

It should be abundantly obvious, but it seems that may not be the case.  We the people should not even consider revolting if we can’t even be bothered to go out and vote.  I’ll stop short of saying we shouldn’t be allowed to revolt, but in good conscience, we should not.  We have a process in place that, if we all participate, should work.

A revolution should be reserved for when and if the system doesn’t work.  If, say, 75% or 80% of the people vote and their wishes are not carried out, then, perhaps, a revolution is in order.  But when a majority of the voters refuse to take part in the process, then it seems disingenuous at best to incite even a possibility of violence.  At worst it’s reckless and unpatriotic.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

In Defense of Social Media

It seems that lately the new “in” thing is to denounce social media.  It’s argued by some that it’s a distraction from real life (which, for some, is undoubtedly its attraction).  Others go further and say that so-called “social” media is de-socializing people from actually interacting with each other, preferring instead to briefly touch base without actually having any meaningful human interaction.  Still others go so far as to decry it as evil.

For some time now, I’ve wanted to defend social media - not to the extreme that I think it’s the greatest thing man has ever come up with; but that it’s not evil, either.  It does serve a purpose and is good for some people. But I have been unable to adequately articulate my thoughts. 

Sometimes it’s the strangest things that spur thought. I recently took one of those silly tests on Facebook (thereby proving the distracting nature of it). This one was “Which mental disorder do you sort of have?”  Naturally, these things are not the least bit scientific and are meant mostly for entertainment. They are multiple choice and extremely general. Some of the questions seem to be irrelevant, while others just seem to not have any options that accurately express one’s best answer. This being the case, there were a few questions which I could have chosen one or another answer, so I took the quiz twice using the different answers.

The first result showed that I had Social Anxiety, and the second said Misanthropy. As unlikely as it sounds, these results are actually not far from being correct. Probably, some people I know would say that I’m a social person, but I do sometimes have social anxiety. As regards misanthropy . . . I sort of do hate people. Let me clarify: I love persons, but I hate people. I can deal one on one with people, or be part of a small group of people I know, but I’m very uncomfortable around crowds, especially if I don’t know anybody. I don’t like how people behave en masse. It frustrates me and, in extreme cases, it can frighten me. 

But I love the persons I know and interact with. I just don’t have a need to have constant interaction or contact. Even so, I feel that I make a pretty strong effort to not fall out of touch with people (persons). I will frequently reach out proactively with a text message or Facebook message if I haven’t heard from someone in a while. 

This is one of the things that social media is good for. It keeps us, who many people think are anti-social (or at least unsocial), in contact with those who are important to us, and does so in a way that we feel safe and not overwhelmed.

Another valuable use for social media comes into play with regard to family who are distant from one another. They get to share pictures instantly and thereby feel more connected, even though they might be hundreds or thousands of miles away. I was talking to a lady just today that remarked that she was the only person who had not seen her new grandchild and was thankful for Facebook that she could at least see pictures.

So, before you relegate social media to the status of an evil distraction, think about the people whose lives it actually enhances.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Great Commission

One of the ideas you run into a lot in Christian circles is that of The Great Commission - the idea that God commanded all believers to go out and spread the word, so to speak. In churches that maintain this there’s usually a strong support of missionary work. I always had the feeling that the assumption is that everyone should be a missionary - if not on the mission field, then at least in our own neighborhoods. 

We should be knocking on doors and handing out pamphlets. We should be doing everything in our power to convert “the lost”. If we fail to embrace that, we are ashamed of Christ and we should question our own salvation.

I’ve never felt this was right and, frankly, I think it does more to drive people away from Jesus than toward him. I’ve always held that we all have different gifts and different callings. To force somebody into a role (such as evangelizer) for which they are ill suited is inefficient at best, and contrary to God’s will at worst. After all, God has blessed us with our unique gifts. We should pursue them - not what other people think we should pursue.

The idea of The Great Commission comes most notably from Matthew 28:18-20. Other places are Mark 16:15-18; Luke 24:44-49; and John 20:19-23. The passage in Matthew reads:

Matthew 28:18-20
“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” (NIV)

This raises two important questions. First (even though the word is never actually used), what is a commission? And second, what is a disciple? Before I answer these, I want to compare the NIV to the King James. The latter does not use the words “make disciples of all nations”, but rather, “teach all nations.” I accept the translations as roughly synonymous - the loosest definition of disciple being “learner”, but others elaborate.

The dictionary definitions for disciple are: a learner; a personal follower; one who accepts and helps spread the teachings of a famous person.

John Starke ( claims a disciple is, by definition, a multiplier. He uses Matt 13:23 to back up his assertion. But Jesus wasn’t speaking of disciples, per se, in that parable. He was speaking more generally about spiritual receptivity. Certainly Jesus expected his disciples to be receptive and to bear fruit - but that is beside the point he was actually making. 

So, while I agree with Mr. Starke’s sentiments, I find his particular argument wanting. For the sake of this posting, I’ll be using the definition of learner; which I think is closer to the King James idea of “teach all nations.”

Regarding the question of what is a commission, I first want to point out that most of the people I’ve heard talk about this have tended to emphasize that The Great Commission was a command(ment). As Mary Fairchild points out (, “As many have said, it’s not ‘The Great Suggestion’. No, the Lord has commanded us to put our faith in action.”

Not exactly. At least not the way I read it. First off, the word commission is not in any of the verses - it’s just what people call it. But assuming it’s an accurate word, a commission is not a command(ment). And it certainly wasn’t given to all of us. It was Jesus’ final instruction to his immediate disciples.

Matt Slick ( calls it “the final instructive word from Jesus to his church.” Again, not exactly. Not “the church” the way we usually define it, but a select group that, I would argue, preceded the church. He goes on to say, “This commission is mainly given to the disciples then present. But it applies to you as well.”

For a third time I say, not exactly. It applies to us only in the sense that the disciples of those disciples will/should teach the same things. But it’s a mistake to say that Jesus was giving this instruction to us. It was a clear delegation of responsibility. Jesus delegated to his disciples, who were then responsible for passing along the instruction. A fine-line distinction? Perhaps. But no more so than it being Adam’s responsibility to pass along the instruction to Eve. God held Adam primarily responsible for the failure, not Eve.

So, it is perfectly appropriate to call it The Great Commission. A specific group of people was commissioned with a task. But it was not a commandment. Jesus never uses a word as strong as “command” in these verses - at least not to describe this instruction. People may get confused because he says, “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you:...” 

Note that he didn’t say, “I command you to teach all nations.” Rather, he instructed them to teach all nations ABOUT the things he commanded! Note also the slight difference here in the King James from the NIV. The NIV, you’ll recall, said “Teaching them to obey...”, but that’s not what the King James says. No, it says “Teaching them to observe...”!  The word translated as observe means to guard from loss; or to keep an eye on - in other words, to remember. That’s a totally different connotation than the word obey. I think this misunderstanding of what was being said is the primary cause for people thinking of The Great Commission as a command. What else would you think from the word obey. Too bad that’s not what he said.

So, the disciples were to teach people to remember all the things he commanded them. What did he command them? Some say he gave them quite a few commands. This website: ( lists 49 of them - but, while I won’t dispute them, they seem to me to have been presented as instruction - like a mentor teaching about life. The commands that were clearly commands - Jesus actually called them commands - are found in Matt 22:35-40: You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, and with your whole soul, and with your whole mind. And the second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. These commandments are so important that Jesus said the whole Law and the Prophets depend on them. Then in John 13:34 he gives them a new command. Love one another. That, in essence, is what he was instructing them to teach. Love God. Love your neighbor. Love one another. These are things we can teach people to observe. Those should be the first things the disciples taught, to be followed, as believers mature, with the others in the list of 49. But it was his immediate disciples to whom he gave this commission.

Before closing I want to return briefly to the issue of what is a disciple - because it’s more than an academic question. A disciple is NOT a convert. Jesus did not say “go make converts.” He said (in the NIV) “go make disciples.” this is even more complicated because an argument can be made that his followers were disciples before they were converted!