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The Myth of Human Rationality

November 17, 2018


Ed Atkinson was recently interviewed with Austin Fischer by Justin Brierly on his podcast, Unbelievable, on the issue of doubt. (A Tale of Two Doubters) The personal of story of both men involves their public dealings with doubt. One ended up on the unbelieving side of the faith divide, and the other on the believing side of the divide.

The point that intrigued me most about the discussion was when Ed Atkinson brought up Jonathan Haidt, who wrote a book called The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and ReligionOne of the topics Haidt addresses is what he calls “the rationalist delusion”, which Atkinson summarizes as a “wild overestimation of our rationality that was … birthed to us in the Enlightenment”.

Atkinson says, “We like to think of ourselves as very rational beings [who] very rationally work and think our way through the world sorting through the syllogisms and … coming to what is the correct answer.” The work that Haidt and others have done on the subject have debunked that view of ourselves. Atkinson says, “Our decision-making process really isn’t very rational.”

I have often thought about this very thing. When I look back on my own journey, I recall that I went off to college with a passionate desire to discover meaning and truth, believing it was attainable, and having a very naïve confidence in the rationality of the human mind. What I found in college was a very mixed bag. Though my quest for meaning and truth never waned, my confidence in the rationality of the human mind was disappointed.

I came to distrust that confidence in myself and in others, especially in others whose confidence in their own rationality seemed unwavering. Elevated self-confidence often seems more like human will than pure rationality.

Since that time I have been continually disappointed in the rationality (or lack thereof) of the human mind, especially in those who seem to have no doubt about their own rationality. That I am sometimes guilty of the same over-confidence only adds to my disappointment and angst.

As a lawyer whose vocation is getting at the truth through the presentation of the evidence on both sides of a matter to a neutral judge, I have had generous opportunity to test human rationality. What I have found (over and over again) is that human rationality is affected by other things that have nothing to do with reason.

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Top Ten Navigating By Faith Articles in 2017

December 27, 2017

Depositphotos Image ID: 57089233 Copyright: seenaad

As I reflect on the past year and look forward to the coming New Year, I am somewhat surprised by the top ten blog articles on this site based on the numbers. Many of the them are articles written in prior years. Only two of the top ten were written in 2017, and those are at the bottom. Six articles were written in 2015. I am not sure what that says about how I am trending as a writer!

For all of the people who have stopped by, read an article or two and for those who responded by a “like”, a comment or a share of what I have written, thank you! I have enjoyed getting to know some of you through your own writing, and I look forward to reading what you have to say in the coming year.

Top Ten Blog Articles of 2017

1.    The Ebla Tablets Confirm Biblical Accounts (2015)
2.    It is Well with My Soul: The Story (2014)
3.    C.S. Lewis on Individualism, Equality and the Church (2015)
4.    The Message in the Earliest Creeds in the New Testament (2015)
5.    The Story of Norma McCorvey (aka Jane Roe) (2015)
6.    Tuning In To God’s Frequency (2016)
7.    What if God is Cruel (2015)
8.    Timing the Walls of Jericho (2017)
9.    Have Christians Lost the Moral High Ground on Immigration? (2017)
10.   My Journey (2015)

Are People Responsible for the Earth?

January 22, 2017
Photo by Randy Schoof

Photo by Randy Schoof

There is an irony at play today in regard to the way Christians see the world and the prevalent way modern westerners see the world. Modern westerners largely believe that human beings are affecting climate change and are arguing that we must change the way we do things because we are breaking the world.

Christians may or may not believe in climate change and may or may not believe that we can affect climate change, but Christians believe that human beings broke the world because of sin, because we rebelled against God, because we are flawed.

The irony is that modern westerners don’t believe in sin. They don’t believe in God or that we are opposed to God in our nature. They don’t believe that people are fundamentally flawed. They don’t believe that we are responsible for the brokenness of the world.

2013 Year in Review: As I Saw It

January 2, 2014

Down a Fall Road - Copy (2)

I have added a new look to the blog and have made some other changes that I will address at the end. In the meantime, I have done some reflecting on this past year in Navigating by Faith. I began writing because I enjoy it and feel compelled to write. Writing is a way to find meaning and capture it as time slips on day to day, week to week, month to month and year to year. If my reflection can trigger reflection in others, I have accomplished something and helped others to “smell the roses” find perspective and grow.

I began this blog as a way to mark my faith journey, tap into a deeper well of meaning on the way and provide, perhaps, helpful perspective for others on a similar journey. Much of what I have written is retrospective, reflecting on milestones in my faith progression dating back to college and before. I have explored passages and themes in the Bible, which I view as the inspired “Word of God”; I have attempted to engage doubters, agnostics and atheists; I have explored perspectives on current events and addressed things that are important to me.

For what it is worth, I have categorized the past year’s blog posts below. These categories are different than the tags and keywords that are attributed to each post and every post collectively. It is my way or wrapping up the year putting the year of writing in perspective. I hope that those of you who have read any of these posts have enjoyed them, have been challenged by some and maybe even have been inspired by some to dig deeper and to break the through hard veneer built up by the busyness of life that pressures us to rush past on the superficial surface of life.

This is the Year in Review in Navigating by Faith:

Faith Milestones in my Life – This topic is, perhaps, the main impetus to the start of this blog.

  • Why the Bible This piece describes my initial reaction to the Bible in college in World Religions class and the ongoing significance of that first impression 30+ years later.
  • Lighting Out for the Wild West Another turning point in my life came in a combined History/American Literature class
  • The Joy of C.S. Lewis These are my reflections on the life of C.S. Lewis on the 50th anniversary of his death and the lasting impression he has made on my life

Bible Passages and Themes – The Bible informs my faith and is the continual point of reference

Christian Music – As someone who is outward looking in my faith, I am intrigued by musicians with a similar view

  • Switchfoot My reflections on an article “Why Switchfoot Will Not Sing Christian Songs”
  • Michael Gungor Reflections on an article by Michael Gungor of what is wrong with the Christian music industry

Outward Looking Articles on Faith – I have a certain ambivalence in my writing motivation. Sometimes I find myself wanting to focus on the Bible and its deeper message for believers, but often I am find myself wanting to address an audience of doubters and unbelievers. These are kind of hybrid pieces

  • What if the Kingdom of God Consideration of life after death addressed to the doubter
  • Perspective A short reflection putting life in perspective
  • The Best and Hardest Things A reflection on getting and taking advice
  • Love Your Enemies Every Day An exploration of biases and personal tendencies in light of Jesus’ instruction to love your neighbors, inspired by a remarkable story of a black man who befriended and changed the views of many former members of the Ku Klux Klan

Bridging Science and Faith/Apologetics – I became a believer in a secular, humanistic, college environment. I am always wanting to address people who are, like I was, outside the faith, to defend Christianity, to show people that intellect does not need to be checked at the door to heaven and to help people past their doubts

Sports/Wrestling – Wrestling is such a part of my life and faith journey, that it always seeps in to my thoughts; but I could not refrain from commenting after the announcement of the IOC committee of its recommendation to drop wrestling from the Olympics

Theater – Theater is a new faith path for me. My 5th son is part of Spotlight Youth Theater, a Christian organization,  which opens up a new canvass for reflections on faith

Current Events

  • The Face of Evil The Boston marathon tragedy was major news in 2013 and provoked widespread response. I take a different view in this piece, inspired by one of those milestones in my college life
  • No Man’s Land These comments were provoked by the cold, inhumanity of the convicted Philadelphia abortion doctor
  • When Words Become Fact It was hard to avoid thinking about the Affordable Care Act in 2013, and these comments were triggered by an article written by someone else
  • Shutdown the Political Game The government shutdown was also hard to ignore. These reflections attempt to put the government shut down in some perspective

The Most Read Article

  • Six Attributes of Success This piece was inspired by Jordan Burroughs winning the world wrestling championships with metal plates and screws in his ankle, six weeks after the devastating injury. It stands on its own and draws from my own experience and my own children. This piece garnered the most comments of any article for the year. It covers almost every category – faith, currents events, sports/wrestling, my own faith journey, even apologetics in the sense that faith inspires, and has inspired, many great people who accomplished great things.

Throughout the year, I began to experience a tension in my writing. The ambivalence in me in regard to the audience I wanted to address came to a head, and I started a new blog – Perspective – to provide a forum for writing to an audience that is not chiefly made up of believers. I still wrestle with that ambivalence. With the apologetic pieces I have written, I feel like I am preaching to the choir. I imagine I will continue to wrestle through what this blog should be and who the audience is (should be). Perhaps, the answer may lie partly in what I feel most compelled to write about; but what people want to read also enters into the equation.

For the second part of the equation, please post your thoughts, comments, criticisms, encouragement – whatever feedback you can give me. It is all appreciated! Thank you.

Who is Elle?

September 26, 2013

Spotlight Youth Theater is a great program in the Chicago area that introduces youth to the theater and integrates theater arts with Christian faith. If you have a budding “theater kid”, Spotlight is a very safe, supportive environment for them to learn to sing, dance and act and even how to audition. Spotlight is not available in all areas of the country, but Christian Youth Theater (http://www.cyt.org/) is in many large metropolitan areas. It is the largest youth theater program in the country, and the characteristics are very similar.

Spotlight Youth Theater

Elle Sprague is one of the newest members of the Spotlight team.  Recently Justin Parks sat down with her to learn a little more about her and her new role in Marketing with Spotlight. 

JP: Let’s start with an easy question… Where are you from?
ES: I grew up in Mundelein, IL and I live in Libertyville now.

JP: You’ve been teaching for Spotlight for a couple of years now.  Where did you receive your training?
ES: I started dancing when I was 6 (ballet, tap, and jazz) and started taking classical voice lessons at 11 years old.  My first exposure to Ballroom/Latin was the Havana scene in Guys and Dolls when I was 15.  I totally fell in love with it and haven’t stopped since!  After high school, I majored in Musical Theater with a Dance Minor at Belmont University in Nashville, TN.

JP:  Tell us about your…

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Like a Child

September 14, 2013

We go about our days. They seem like a blur. Days turn into weeks. Weeks turn into months. Months turn into years. Life comes at us faster and faster. As we get older, the pace of time seems to pick up. Life seems like a blur.

Time does not speed up of course. We just settle into routines. We keep busy. We move from one thing to another while we are thinking about the next thing and the next thing.

We have little space in our lives, like those endless summer days as children when we would spend an afternoon watching the clouds play across the blue screen of the sky. We race from one moment to the next. We fill our pauses with the white noise. Preoccupation and busyness, television and radio, noise and activity, the moments of life rush at us. They rush past us.

Our minds even race when we lie down to sleep or rise from the anxious edge of sleep in the middle of night, unsettled by waking, unable to fall back to sleep, unable to abide the quiet, unable to rest, unable to quiet our restless minds, unable to be still.

We throw the occasional payer up to God, like tossing candy at a parade. There is no stopping. Life must move on, and we move with it, carried on the current of the momentum of our lives.

Jesus took time out.

God gave us the Sabbath (rest) (Mark 2:27), but do we take it?

As children we are anxious to become adults. As adults, we long for those endless summer days.

Children play hard and sleep well. Adults hardly play and fitfully sleep.

Jesus said, “[U]nless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 18:3)

We Are All Born That Way

July 3, 2013

Modern science maintains that gays & lesbians are born that way. Biblical are pretty clear that homosexual acts are sin and not what God designed or intended. Indeed, the anatomy of men and women suggest, at least for the sexual act, that God and nature are in agreement on this.

In my own life, having observed two young women who were close to the family at one time, it seems to me that sexual orientation is something ingrained from an early age. It seems very plausible that people are “born that way.” I have a gay cousin. I have also known gay Christians. I had a gay Christian room-mate in college.

It appears quite empirically that people are born or become sexually oriented at a very early age. At the same time, the Bible is quite clear on homosexuality. It is sinful. It is not what God intended. These are difficult realities to reconcile.

I suppose it should not be a surprise that some people are born or develop a gay or lesbian inclination very early on. The Bible is equally clear that we are all born into sin. As Adam sinned, he spawned a legacy of sin that has been passed down in some genetic and most likely spiritual sense to the present time. It is our lot in life.

Some of us develop lying and deceitful ways from an early age. Some of us develop bullying, envious, angry, selfish, or gluttonous ways. Some of us develop lustful ways at a very, very early age. More likely, we are born that way or with those tendencies, and we all stray down those paths from very, very early on.

We are all sinners. We have all strayed from God. There is none righteous, not even one. Romans 3:10

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” 1 John 1:8

The good news is that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us on the cross. Romans 5:8 God clearly loves all of us. He loves us so much that He was willing, and He did, die for us. He loves me, though I am inclined every day of my life to be selfish, gluttonous, lustful, unkind and sinful in a multitude of ways.
He clearly loves our gay and lesbian family members, friends and neighbors. We are all “born that way”.


Malcolm Guite

Blog for poet and singer-songwriter Malcolm Guite

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