Saturday, August 30, 2008

Life: Fiji Statistics

Here are the statistics for the work we did in Fiji. I'll be posting up soon about my time there.

Total medical patients served--    469
Total Dental patients served--       143
Total optical patients served--     1300 (number of glasses distributed--both reading glasses and sun glasses)
GRAND TOTAL--                              1912
Prescriptions filled--                          2076
1st time commitments to Christ --     142
Rededications--                                      41
Want to know more--                            128
Healing miracles--                                100+

Life: The Story of My Faith

(This is adapted from a post I made during a discussion over on Thanks to all the intelligent, respectful people involved over there.)

I had no dramatic conversion moment, no time I can point to and say that that was when I switched, but I can tell you my story, do with it what you will.

I was born in Kijabe, Kenya. My parents were over their working as Bible translators for the Endo people. We left when I was three-and-a-half (I remember very little, though I do have some vague memories from when we went back for a summer when I was seven).

My upbringing within Christianity was very strong, though I never felt like my parents were keeping me in any kind of cage. Whenever I had questions they did their best to answer them, or to help me answer them (the later especially as I got older).

I officially accepted Christ in a sinner's-prayer-style way when I was seven (or was it five... I don't remember). Again, I have some vague memories of the moment, and I believe that it was genuine, but also I was still a child then.

Through sixth grade I went to a private Christian school, and then from there went to a school which, though public, was pretty much Christian.

Enter high school. Enter OCHSA. My Freshman year of high school I attended the Orange County High School of the Arts, which was like stepping into the Arctic Ocean after hanging out in the Sahara. Talk about shock. I don't think there could have been a more liberal, agnostic group of know-it-all freshman than I met that year. On top of that I had my first class that presented evolution as being the only valid theory for the origin of life. Needless to say I began to question what I believed. When your old friend from Christian school tells you he's gay and a teacher you respect tells you that your ancestor was an amoeba, you can hardly not ask questions.

From their I went to Huntington Beach High School, which wasn't much easier.

Let me make it clear, I never lost my faith in any sense, or turned my back on God, but I began to wonder. Is God real? What about the Muslim? The Jew? The Hindu? I met insane (and wonderful) liberals. I met a Jew who asked me if I thought he was going to hell upon our first meeting. And I began to see how just plain screwed up my fellow believers could be.

Luckily for me I had my parents who, as I mentioned, could take questions. They understood the difficulty of faith and they didn't try to shove anything down my throat. Sure there were a few rough spots, but on the whole it was great. And they were intelligent, forgiving and compassionate. They may not approve of homosexuality, they may think that Jesus is the only way to God (as do I), but they nevertheless loved everyone.

I still kept running into bumps though, questions that needed answers. I felt like I needed to have them all, to understand everything, because if there was anything in the Bible that I didn't understand, then everything would fall apart.

And I discovered Answers in Genesis, a creationist organization, and it helped a lot, though not how you might think, and not immediately. At first it "helped" in the way you might expect. I read all their articles and became a rabid Creationist, ready to defend my faith with my mighty sword of reason. Then I met Christians who believed in evolution (AiG says this is impossible) and suddenly I was confused again. And I got frustrated. I had my first run in (internally) with epistemological questions. How do we know ANYTHING? What does authority mean? How can I trust that the "experts" are telling me the truth? AiG may, or may not, be completely wrong about evolution, but wrong or right they do an amazing job of apologizing their viewpoint, and taking the exact same evidence the evolutionists use and instead using to support what they believe. And here (and in other similar things) was were I learned my lesson. I've never fully become an apostate from creationism, though neither do I strongly support it anymore (it feels weird saying that about scientific ideas anyway). Honestly, I don't really know and I have some trouble caring because it's not something that directly affects my life either way (I'm agnostic on evolution I suppose).

I'm not saying there's no evidence one way or another on the question of God there are things that I see that point to God, but nothing is ever entirely conclusive because God is spirit and He is unseen.

What I did learn from this was how much I really didn't know, and just how thoroughly any idea could be deconstructed until I found myself floating in some crazy void of empty thought, devoid of meaning. For a time this scared the hell out of me. I suppose it might have led me to agnosticism, but there was something else.

I knew God. Not just an emotion, nor an idea, but a relationship. So many things in my life have pulled together in the perfect way. The traveling eye doctors who passed through in rural Kenya when I had an eye infection that might have blinded me, the friendships that had come just when I needed them and just when I prayed for them, the amazing family and church that I was blessed with, and the times I had encountered God in worship and prayer. Beyond me there were the things that happened to people whose accounts I trusted, like the time my dad was there when a man's leg grew out six inches.

No. I could never know everything. Perhaps I could know nothing for certain. For all I knew the world was an illusion of my mind, or a butterfly's dream. Perhaps all the things I encountered were coincidence and chemistry. I discovered faith. I discovered that at some point everyone has to make a choice. They either need to decide to believe nothing and be agnostic, or take a stand. I took my stand.

I also discovered faith in those around me, and in those I admired. I figured that if my dad, who is brilliant, could believe then so could I. If C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien could believe, than so could I.

I love God, and I believe he sent Jesus to die for me. I don't always get him, why He does what He does. I sometimes read something in the Bible that boggles my mind and I could give up, but I won't. I find that the answers tend to eventually come, if I wait with patience. I'm so finite that I can't pretend to know everything. God has been faithful to me.

And while I believe, I'm all certain that I could be wrong. I can't fault or hate someone for believing other than I do. However, because I truly to believe what I believe, which includes the assertion that the Bible is the holy word of God, I follow what I believe to be His words. I do share my faith, and I try every day to become like Christ. I always fall down, I always trip up, but He's there to pick me up and help me grow. As the great apologist C.S. Lewis (himself paraphrasing another author) said in Mere Christianity "As a great Christian writer (George MacDonald) pointed out, every father is pleased at the baby's first attempt to walk: no father would be satisfied with anything less than a firm, free, manly walk in a grown-up son. In the same way, he said, 'God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy".

In the end we are to love God with all our hearts, minds and souls. I don't don't want anyone to think that I'm saying forget the mind, I am a philosopher after all. I know that I will continue to ask questions all of my life. I will always explore the questions of God and reasoning why he might exist is important to me. In the end though, I'll never know everything. In the end it all comes down to faith.

Philosophy: The Gettier Problem

The Gettier Problem

In order for Justified True Belief to be sufficient criteria to be able to claim definitely that knowledge exist, there could be no exception to JTB being knowledge. However, in 1963, Edmund L. Gettier presented two cases which have been generally accepted by philosophers to be cases in which JTB existed but knowledge was not present, thus proving JTB insufficient. I, however, take issue with the significance of Gettier's argument and will attempt to demonstrate that it ultimately show nothing important about the JTB definition of knowledge.

Gettier's Second Scenario

I will first address Gettier's second scenario, since it is the more transparently flawed. In this scenario, the character of Smith believes that Jones owns a Ford on the justification that he's seen Jones driving a Ford every day. If this were all that was involved in the situation the JTB criteria would not be met because, in fact, Jones only rents a Ford. Thus, while justified, Smith's belief would in fact not be true and thus fail as knowledge according to JTB. Gettier further tweaks this scenario, however, to create a situation where all the criteria for JTB are met but Smith still does not possess knowledge. Smith, Gettier explains, does not know where his old friend Brown lives and holds the belief that either Jones owns a ford, or Brown lives in Boston. Unbeknownst to Smith, Brown actually does live in Boston. Since, as was already established, Jones does not own a Ford the belief is actually true on all counts and, according to Gettier, justified on the basis that Smith has seen Jones driving a Ford.
The flaw in this scenario is that Smith's belief is not at all justified. It is true that Smith is justified in believing that Jones owns a Ford (which is in fact false, and thus not knowledge) but he has absolutely no justification for the clause that states "or Brown lives in Boston." First, he has no justification for believing that Brown lives in Boston, he has absolutely no idea where Brown lives at all. Second, he also has no justification for creating a dichotomy between Jones's ownership of a car and Brown's location. For a belief to be justified all parts of it must be justified. For example, if I were to claim the following:

a. I am sitting in a chair
b. All people who sit in chairs are aliens
c. I am an alien because I am sitting in a chair.

I would clearly not have a JTB. While it is in fact true that I am sitting in a chair, it is false that all people who sit in chairs are aliens and thus my belief, while justified in part, is not knowledge because it is not fully justified. Gettier's scenario could be written in a way that demonstrates this.

a. Smith sees Jones driving a Ford regularly
b. Smith doesn't know where Brown is
c. Smith concludes that either Jones owns a Ford or Brown lives in Boston

Cleary, the belief in this scenario is in no way justified simply because a small portion of it is. Thus, Gettier's second scenario fails to prove anything about JTB.

Gettier's First Scenario

Gettier's first scenario appears at first to be more solid than his second one because the character involved does in fact seem to possess JTB. The problem involved here is one of the functioning of the human mind, which is entirely relevant to the question of when knowledge exists because the mind is the place where knowledge exists.

In Gettier's example, Smith and Jones are both applying for a job and Smith is told by the president of the company that Jones is going to get the job. Thus he believes that Jones is going to get the job on the justification of the company presidents word. This belief is, however, untrue as Smith actually gets the job. As in the other problem Gettier does not leave the issue at this but complicates things. It turns out that both Smith and Jones have ten coins in their pockets. Smith does not know how many coins he has in his pockets, but he has counted the coins in Jones's pockets and knows the number of them for a fact. Being justified in believing that Jones will get the job, Smith concludes the following "The man who will get the job has ten coins in his pocket". Of course, Smith gets the job and has ten coins in his pocket and thus that statement is true. However, because of the lack of link between the actual truth that verifies the belief and the justification for the belief demonstrates, according to Gettier, that this JTB is not knowledge.

Gettier's scenario is, however, missing an important dimension about how thoughts occur in the mind that is relevant to the problem. All thoughts and beliefs that occur in the mind have associations, both long term and short term. Thus if I think of the word "Father" it might occur in association with feeling and images related to my own father. This can be demonstrated on paper as "Father(mine)". If however I was at my friends house and thought or said something in reference to his father the association would instead be with feelings and images related to his father and could be written as "Father(friend's)". Thus, while on paper the two instances of the world would traditionally appear identical, the word existed in my mind as two separate things because of the associations. These associations are impossible to avoid and are the very reason we have a distinction between the denotation of a word and its conotation.

In the case of the Gettier problem, I would contend, when Smith thinks to himself (believes) that "The man who will get the job has ten coins in his pocket" he is associating "man" with Jones because the statement is made on the justification that Jones has ten coins in his pocket and will apparently get the job. Thus what Gettier made to appear one statement is actually two. The first is "The man(Jones) who has ten coins in his pocket will get the job" and the second "The man(Smith) who has ten coins in his pocklet will get the job". The first belief is entirelly justified but is in fact not true and thus fails as knowledge according the JTB criteria. The second statement, on the other hand, is neither justified nor held as a belief but is in fact true and thus fails as JTB. In other words, when Smith thought that "The man who will get the job has ten coins in his pocket" he was referring to Jones and was thus wrong. It not possible for a thought based on a justification to appear without the referent justification being associated to in the mind. Because there are in fact two separate statements which only appear on paper to be identical, the apparent flaw in JTB that Gettier attempted to demonstrate does not actually exist.

To further demonstrate my point let me create another scenario similar to the one that Gettier made. Smith and Jones are both still applying for the same position and still have ten coins in their pockets and Smith is aware of the money in Jones's pocket but not his own. Smith is also still told that Jones will get the job and concludes "The man who has ten coins in his pocket will get the job." The end of the story is different though, the company looks at their finances and decides they can't afford another employee and they close the position. Neither of the men get the job. Across the country in Boston, however, there is a man named Brown applying for a different job. It turns out that Brown also has ten coins in his pocket and he gets the job. Thus, the man who has ten coins in his pocket does in fact get the job. Except, of course, "the job" being referred to is a different job. The number of possible situations that a stated belief could possibly reference must be limited when the belief is being tested for knowledge.

Essentially, you run into the problem of when something becomes a heap (One grain of sand is not a heap, but how many make a heap? Where is the cut off?). Where do you cut off a scenario as relevant to the belief at hand? Do you say that only Smith and Jones job and ten coins apply? What about the bum down the street trying to get someone to let him wash their windows who also happens to have ten coins in his pocket? Brown in Boston? A little boy with ten coins in his pocket asking his neighbor to let him mow their lawn for money? If any possible situation that could be referenced by a belief is included then no criteria could ever be good enough to determine if a belief was knowledge. Ultimately, for any criteria for determining whether or not a belief is knowledge to be useful, only the situation that the belief is actually applying to can be tested.

Note: Gettier's actual article can be found at