Yet More Random Stuff

I've been staying home sick with some horrible cough for about 3 weeks now.  One would think that this would be quite conducive to blogging, but when I'm running a fever I find it hard to concentrate enough to produce mental output.  (Mental input, like books and movies, is fine).

Fortuantely—either because of taking antibiotics, or for some other reason—I'm beginning to feel much better, so here's a post, consisting of links which I've found interesting since the last time I did links:

  • Of This and Other Worlds blogs on the Problem of Susan in the Narnia books.  The Superversive adds some interesting personal testimony.
  • A New York Times article on computer software that supposedly grades essays.  Anyone who thinks that computer programs can substitute for human graders is completely misinformed about the point of essays.  Which is always to communicate some sort of meaning through organized thought.  This is something that no computer can do, prior to the development of some actual AI overlords.  The best it could possibly do is check for pretentious vocabulary, correct bad grammar (badly) and enforce meaningless and stupid rules about how many paragraphs there must be.   No machine could possibly check for the presence of an interesting thesis supported by coherent argument based on plausible evidence.  There are probably some things you could measure which are corollated with being a good writer, but even this will cease once students learn how to flatter the machine.
    The sad thing is that there are probably human teachers who grade this superficially.  Although, even they could probably tell if the sentences didn't actually fit together in any way (besides beginning with words like "Moreover").
    Out of curiosity, I just went and checked the webpage of the discern program to see what their alogorithm was.  It's machine learning based on sample essays which are already graded.  Oh my.  That means neither the student nor the classroom instructor will even know what criterion the machine is using.
  • What St. Lewis (in his capacity as a literary scholar) thought of the Puritans.
  • You've probably heard how the first man in space, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, said that didn't enocunter God there.  As if God were literally located in the sky.  Well, it turns out, the whole story was a Soviet lie; St. Yuri was an Orthodox Christian.  More details here.
  • A haunting article, by and about a woman who acts the part of a sick patient for medical students.  This is one of the best written narratives I've read in quite some time.
  • An interesting (and to me inspiring) letter from missionary St. Anthony Norris Groves (1795-1853) to crankish schismatic (St?) John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) on the topic of Christian unity.
    Darby was one of the first people to teach that Christians would be raptured into heaven 7 years prior to the Second Coming of Christ, a belief almost completely unheard of prior to Darby.  This is part of a detailed scheme called Dispensationalism, popular in American Fundamentalist circles, which is based on that idea that apparent contradictions in the Bible should be resolved by assigning different texts to one of seven different covenants or "dispensations" in which God treats people differently.  This way of thinking leads them to construct an elaborate timeline of End Times events (a suprise Rapture, followed by 7 years of Tribulation, followed by the Second Coming, followed by 1000 years of The Milennium [this one at least has a  foundation in a literal reading of the Book of Revelation], and then finally the Final Judgement).  Oddly enough, people think that this elaborate scheme comes from reading the Bible literally as a fundamentalist should, even though no one who read the Bible without influence from Darby would ever come to this elaborate scheme on their own.
    More relevantly to this letter, Darby went on to found a small denomination of his own which excommunicated nearly everybody else.
  • St. Maxime is a Stylite monk with a much better way to isolate himself from the World.  Make sure to click through the slide show.
  • An article about my grand-advisor (i.e. the Ph.D. advisor of Ted Jacobson, my advisor) Cécile DeWitt-Morette.
  • An article on the simplicity of God (hint: it doesn't mean that he is easy to understand).  Consider me firmly in the "classical theism" camp.  I consider the idea that God is just a person like us, but pure spirit and infinitely powerful etc., to be idolatrous.  True, we humans are the image of God.  The converse is not true: God is not to be conceived as being in our image.
  • The New York magazine interviews St. Antonin Scalia.  There was an interesting moment where Scalia brings up that he believes in the Devil.  The interviewer acts a bit incredulous, and asks:

Isn’t it terribly frightening to believe in the Devil?
You’re looking at me as though I’m weird. My God! Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the Devil? I mean, Jesus Christ believed in the Devil! It’s in the Gospels! You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the Devil! Most of mankind has believed in the Devil, for all of history. Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the Devil.

About Aron Wall

I am a Lecturer in Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge. Before that, I read Great Books at St. John's College (Santa Fe), got my physics Ph.D. from U Maryland, and did my postdocs at UC Santa Barbara, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and Stanford. The views expressed on this blog are my own, and should not be attributed to any of these fine institutions.
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3 Responses to Yet More Random Stuff

  1. Jason says:


    I was fortunate enough to stumble upon this very interesting site after reading your comments on Sean Carroll's blog entry regarding his debate with William Lane Craig. I'm not sure if you had a chance to watch their entire exchange, but I would be interested to get your take on how WLC fared if a free moment opens up.

    WLC has always struck me as someone who goes to great lengths to ensure that he is on firm scientific ground when presenting philosophical arguments that -- even if indirectly -- rely on current cosmological research. And so I found the criticism that he badly misunderstood/misrepresented the relevant science to be somewhat jarring. (It was especially surprising considering the fact that Alexander Vilenkin recently noted in an email exchange with WLC that his description of the BGV Theorem was very accurate.) Of course as a layman in these matters, I am not sure what to make of those charges and I'd love to hear from an expert who is not deeply committed to a thoroughgoing naturalistic worldview.


  2. Aron Wall says:

    Although I had conversations with WLC beforehand, and as you saw I read Sean's blog summary afterwards, I haven't yet watched the actual exchange. I should probably look at it before attempting to answer your question. It may be a little while before I can get around to it.

  3. Aron Wall says:

    And now, having found a written transcript of the debate on St. Craig's website, I've finally gotten around to absorbing the debate. I hate video formats since they take so long to get through. Perhaps I will have some comments on this in the next few days.

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