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Sabbath School for a New Generation

Among Seventh Day Adventists, Sabbath School is a time for discussion and learning. It is the belief of this site that Sabbath School should be an exciting venue for the discussion of new ideas, instead of rehashing old arguments. So welcome to a virtual Sabbath School, a Sabbath School for a new generation.

My Photo

I am an Electrical Engineer, working at Intel in the Portland area. I received my undergraduate degree from Walla Walla College and graduate degrees from the University of Southern California. The views expressed on this website are my own and do not reflect the viewpoints of anybody else. I reserve the right to change my mind at any point in time.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Peer review is hard

I am working on a paper for an Electrical Engineering journal that covers some of my work in my dissertation. I have experienced peer review for conferences, which is hard enough. The flagship conference in my field is ICASSP, which has about a 50% acceptance rate. Some prestigious journals have acceptance rates lower than 10%. The peer review process is not perfect. Good papers get rejected and bad papers are accepted and just because a paper is accepted doesn't mean it will make an impact on the field. Reviewers are busy and grumpy people and they can be pretty brutal if they don't like your paper.

Receiving rejections are never fun and we have all had at least one paper rejected. I had an interesting discussion during my last conference, with other participants about rejected papers. I realized that I am not alone. One question we ask is why was the paper rejected. In every rejection (I have had five so far), the reason the paper was rejected usually had to do with either the presentation or my idea hadn't been fully developed yet. Most of my rejections occurred early in my work, because I was still unlearning some bad writing habits.

The easy way out is to just blame the reviewer or invoke a conspiracy. This is what Robert Gentry has done. Several years ago I read his book, Creation's Tiny Mystery. He spent most of the book criticizing the scientific establishment, which really turned me off. The truth of the matter is that he was making extraordinary claims that would overthrow 200 years of scientific work. However his evidence was not strong enough for that claim. In fact, there are simple explanations of the phenomena that he observed that don't require overthrowing the current paradigm. In addition there are some problems that have been noted in his research methodology. None of these issues have been adequately addressed on his website. The only exchange he publishes is with Institute for Creation Research, a creationist organization. But rather than explain why his idea is better, he very poetically constructs conspiracy theories.

Change of focus

I changed the description of this blog to better match reality. I would still like to engage in discussion on questions and issues, but I haven't been able to provide many lesson plans or outlines. Additionally, I will be teaching my last Sabbath School class on May 6. Soon after that we will be moving. And I may or may not be teaching at whatever church we end up at, depending on their needs. I highly recommend the following sites for commentary on the Adult Sabbath School lesson.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Drop out nation

My wife was watching Oprah today (we TIVO them). This particular show was on the American School system. The statistics are disturbing. Only 70% of students graduate from High School. I had no idea it was this bad. As Adventists we tend to be stuck in our own world. We have our own schools, so why should we care about the public school system. In fact in areas where the schools are bad, the Adventist schools are full to capacity. So we, as a church, have benefited from this.

When I was a student at WWC, I would volunteer at the elementary school behind the girls dorm. I remember they had some budget cuts and had to lay off needed teacher's aids. They couldn't get any of their bond measures to pass in College Place, a town full of retired Adventists whose kids are all grown up. Nobody cared about the quality of the school system there.

If you want to get involved with this problem, Oprah promoted a website in her program which you should check out. This is a serious problem that needs to be addressed.

Take a look at these pictures

on Pharyngula's website. He has an article about the embryonic development of bats.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Truth and relativism

This morning I found a link on AdventistPulpit.com to the Adventist Theological Society's website. So I spent some time reading some of the articles. Many of the articles seemed to be attacking either post-modernism or science and after awhile they started to get repetitive. There didn't seem to be much diversity of opinion. This was especially true for Perspective Digest. It seemed that many of the attacks on post-modernism were based on a straw man view of the results of post-modernism. The worst example of this was in article by Francis Beckwith and Gregory Koukl. Their summary of the flaws of the relativism in post-modernism, states that

What kind of world would it be if relativism were true? It would be a world in which nothing is wrong, nothing is considered evil or good, nothing worthy of praise or blame. It would be a world in which justice and fairness are meaningless concepts, in which there would be no accountability, no possibility of moral improvement, no moral discourse. And it would be a world in which there is no tolerance.

Moral relativism produces this kind of world. The late Dr. Francis Schaeffer'’s remark could well apply to relativists, who "have both feet firmly planted in mid-air."

In fact, very few relativists are suggesting such a world. A fact that was suggested in a much better essay by Larry Lichtenwalter. He recognizes the common perception of post-modernism by many conservative Christians.
The postmodern approach to morality is all too often associated with the celebration of the supposed emancipation from moral standards and the disavowal of moral responsibility. We are witnessing, some assert, "“the demise of the ethical"” and the transition to an era in which we are placed beyond moral duty.

However this is not happening in reality.
But the collapse of belief taking place in postmodern society does not, it turns out, result in a collapse of morality. Quite the opposite. According to Anderson: "“The early postmodern years are bringing, instead of collapse of morality, a renaissance of searching for principles of life that we variously call morals, ethics, values."

This is what I have observed as well. Post-modernism recognizes that we are all creatures with pre-conceptions and biases. We recognize the limits on our ability to ascertain "absolute truth." Some would go so far as to say that there is no absolute truth. It does not negate the existence of a culturally-conditioned truth and following that truth is still important for each individual. Post-modernism at its best humbles us as we share our truths with others.

Friday, April 14, 2006


Awhile ago, I saw a video clip that made fun of Myspace users. At the time I had no idea what Myspace was. Well it turns out that Myspace is so big, that even Ellen White has an account (found on Spectrum Magazine's Adventist Blog Roundup).

The War on Easter

I have seen an uptick of online advertisements from this group, which has decided that they will use Easter to promote their view that Jesus is not a real person. It turns out that the Religious Liberal noticed it as well. In addition they are doing some more aggresive forms of advertising.

They've been having folks leaflet churches around the country and when possible hide copies of the movie, The God Who Wasn't There in the pews or on the church grounds. It copies the tactics of many evangelicals in spreading the word, which is why in the end the effort will only serve to alienate people.

As with much of the other efforts by atheists, they concentrate most of their criticism towards fundamentalists.

The film itself is a criticism of fundamentalism, with a mix of some scholars which doubt the existence of Jesus historically. Such a view point, is rare in NT scholarship, though such a debate doesn't have as much bearing on the Christian religion as some might imagine.

Sometimes I wonder if the most vocal atheists are people who grew up in conservative Christian churches. Just like the most vocal opponents of Adventism are those who once were members. It would explain why they have a complete lack of familiarity with other Christian thought. For example much of the arguments on the Skeptics Annotated Bible website assumes that all Christians believe scripture to be inerrant. In reality the percentage of Christians who believe that doctrine are fairly small. I find the arguments presented on the SAB to be unpersuasive, but it is a handy reference in certain cases. Of course the counter arguments are just as unpersuasive, because they also assume that the Bible is inerrant.

Christian Blog Carnival

This is an example of something I would like to set up for the SDA community. This is an example of a very active Christian Blog Carnival. They are already up to 117 issues.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

On the TV

So a chunk of ice from a passing jet just punched a hole in the roof of the Drayson Center at Loma Linda University. Loma Linda is under a major flight path (I am not sure if they were talking about Ontairo or LAX.) It could be either.

This is too cool

For those of you are into Legos and the history of computers, I found this site featured in IEEE Spectrum (the trade journal for electrical engineers.)

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


commenting and trackback have been added to this blog. We shall see if I can finally get this trackback thing figured out.

Interreligious dialog

from the Emergent Church perspective. This covers some of the same ideas in the John Cobb book that I am reading in a summarized and much simplified manner.

Monday, April 10, 2006

How I became a Postmodern

I grew up in an Adventist family and I have attended Adventist schools my whole life except for graduate school. Of course Seventh Day Adventists are extremely concerned about truth. We talk about the "Sabbath truth" for example. Our history is full of ordinary people who spent thousands of hours studying their Bible to find truth. Our church has come up with doctrines that we use to describe and summarize what was found. The SDA church is a thoroughly modern institution and somehow I became a post-modern.

Now some may argue that I tainted by the evil influences of "the world," that dark place of sin and iniquity. And maybe their right in their own way (although I wouldn't characterize the world as a bad place, since I enjoy living here even with its problems.) In looking back over my life, there is one key moment that started my transition away from modernism. It happened the year that I spent in Russia as a student missionary.

One of the key differences between modern and post-modern thinking is how truth is viewed. While the modern believes that their is an absolute truth that is true for everybody. We can find (or approach) this truth through objective reasoning. Meanwhile the post-modern believes that all truth is conditioned on our experiences and biases and culture. So there is no absolute truth.

When I went to Russia, I strongly believed in the structure of doctrine that we as a church had built up. I thought given the same evidence two people who were both objective observers would come to the same conclusion. However talking to my Russian friends made me realize that the conclusions were based on the starting point. And while my starting point was the individualism and rationalism based on scripture, their starting point was based more on the importance of community. Russia has only been lightly touched by the enlightenment, efforts that were largely started by Peter the Great. Also because of the greater contact Russia had with Asia, they are a hybrid of east and west. Now, when I started trying to look at things from their point of view, something interesting happened. The results that I came up with were more similar to the Russian Orthodox Church than my own Adventism. So at one point I said that Adventism and Orthodoxy were the most internally consistent segments of Christianity, but I started to have doubts about the nature of truth.

So I struggled with the concept of truth and how do we know truth. I thought I was all alone until I started reading about the Emergent Church and then I realized that I wasn't the only person asking these types of questions. The best answer that I found to explain my experiences was found in post-modernism.

Saturday, April 08, 2006


So I went to the baptism of a friend of a friend today. She has had no support from her church and the pastor refused to give her the baptismal classes. He did end up baptizing her, but you could tell that he wasn't excited about it. Now I don't have the pastor's side of the story, but I find the whole episode a little upsetting. If somebody wants to commit their lives to God, it should be a time of rejoicing and celebration. Even with all of that, she is now a baptized member of the Seventh Day Adventist church. So we can celebrate that!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Big news

I passed my dissertation defense.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Nightmare number 3552

Seen on PhD comics. This actually almost happened at my qualifying exam.

Dissertation Defense

I will be defending my dissertation on Thursday at 10:00 am. So all of my work comes down to this one little hour. I feel confident but a little nervous. My research has looked at how to robustly (few errors) find the locations of acoustical sources (people talking) using a bunch of microphones. The algorithm that I developed can find the locations of two people who are talking at the same time, even if one person is talking softer than the other. The problem is called source localization and the math involved is very similar to the math used for RADAR, SONAR, and medical imaging applications.

Two kinds of relativism

Growing up I remember hearing about the dangers of relativism and if you walk into any Christian bookstore you will see shelves of books that preach on the same danger. However, there are different types of relativism and while one of them does have dangers, I find the other to be useful. I found a passage in John Cobb's book "Transorming Christianity and the World" (you know the one that I am currently reading.) In chapter six of the book he says,

The fundamental divide between the relativism I affirm and the relativism I oppose lies in the conclusions drawn from the conditionedness of all thought. I interpret this to mean that all apprehension of the world is perspectival, fragmentary, and in some measure distorted. To me this means that the first step in the improvement of thinking is awareness of these limitations, the examination of some of the conditions shaping thought, and attention to what others see from different standpoints. This makes possible revision of the initial apprehension. Of course, the revising is also conditioned. There is no overcoming of conditionedness, but there is a movement toward less fragmentary and less distorted perceptions.

So each of us has a partial view of the world that is informed by our own experiences. My experiences of the world are different than yours. I have my own predjudices and biases, which cloud my view of the world. As Paul says "Now we see through a glass darkly." But I can overcome these biases by truely listening to those around me. For example, I had a friend in High School who was Native American. I would not have understood the negative effects of European immigration, if it weren't for her. Of course I will never be able to get to the point where my view of this world is unobstructed.
The other interpretation of this situation emphasizes that not only does each way of apprehending the world express the given conditions, but every reason that can be provided in favor of one or another apprehension presupposes the standpoint of that apprehension. The result can be called "conceptual relativism." For the conceptual relativist, reflection necessarily occurs within a given frame of reference, and there is no way to bridge the chasms that lie between alternative systems of concepts.

This view is very pessimistic and I think the functional difference is one of optimism and pessimism. The second view is very pessimistic about our ability to even talk to others about the world.

Such a view can have positive effects. It works against cultural arrogance and imperialism, encouraging instead mutual tolerance....

Nevertheless, the belief that there is finally no justification for one's ideas tends to weaken the hold of those ideas and to inhibit acting upon them when such action is costly. The belief that those who oppose the direction one favors are equally justified and unjustified in their opposition, that there is no court of appeal beyond the sheer difference, reduces one's incentive to press for public action expressive of one's views.

So the second view leads to apathy and is the view most often demonized in the conservative Christian literature. And while they do have a point, there are other responses that would be more helpful.

Monday, April 03, 2006

It was only a matter of time

before I ran across blogs of people I knew in a past life, but lost track of them. So yesterday I found Walter and Ted. Two people I knew at Walla Walla College and Auburn Adventist Academy. They are both married now. I knew about Ted, but hadn't heard that Walter was hitched.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

So would you let an atheist join your church?

And I am not talking about attending your church. Would you let him become a full voting member? I found an interesting article about an atheist who became a member of a Presbyterian church. Although this article was written on April Fool's day, it is not a joke. I found a link to it on StreetProphets.

While I believe in the importance of dialog (which involves listening and learning on our part), I would have difficulty giving full membership to an atheist. However at the same time I find it disturbing how often Christians demonize the atheist. Frequently atheism is a reaction to an abhorrent or inadequate God. Sometimes that reaction comes about because they were taught about a hateful God, who will strike people dead if they look cross-eyed. Sometimes its because the God they read about in the Bible is evil, condoning slavery, ordering genocide, and slaughtering millions of people. The truth is atheists are not bad or evil people. They are just trying to make sense of their world just like us.