Posts tagged ‘Research’

All The Stuff We Don’t Know

COVID-19 continues to be stubbornly confusing. As researchers push to discover treatments and develop a vaccine, their efforts and preliminary conclusions concerning the virus and its treatments have been plagued by some embarrassing mistakes. Most recently, a study that appeared earlier this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has come under fire. The New York Times reports:

The study claimed that mask-wearing “significantly reduces the number of infections” with the coronavirus and that “other mitigation measures, such as social distancing implemented in the United States, are insufficient by themselves in protecting the public.” It also said that airborne transmission was the primary way the virus spreads.

Experts said the paper’s conclusions were similar to those from others – masks do work – but they objected to the methodology as deeply flawed. The researchers assumed that behaviors changed immediately after policy changes, for example, and the study failed to take into account the seismic changes occurring across societies that may have affected the reported incidence of infection.

It turns out that even when it’s generally agreed that a particular study’s conclusion is broadly correct, the methodology researchers use to arrive at their conclusion can still be suspect, which is part of the reason so many of these types of studies raise more questions than they answer. The more we try to learn, the more our enduring ignorance about this virus becomes apparent.

An article in The Wall Street Journal summarizes the state of our ignorance sharply:

What is the true mortality rate? What is a safe social distance? How contagious is the virus? What percentage of carriers are asymptomatic? We still don’t know any of these facts with certainty.

There was a time when we had a certain bravado about what our scientific studies could solve. The 19th century patron of scientific positivism, Auguste Comte, once confidently proclaimed: “From science comes prediction; from prediction comes action.” But Comte’s aphorism now seems to be a summary of the struggles with our response to COVID-19 rather than a pattern for how to get our response to it right. Predictions are consistently changing. And our actions must be continually revised to keep up with these provisional predictions.

When the apostle Paul writes to the Christian church at Corinth, they, too, like we once were, are quite confident in their knowledge. He says about their confidence:

We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! (1 Corinthians 4:10)

The Corinthians, however, do not know as much as they think they do. The Corinthians are divided over their spiritual leaders, so Paul has to admonish them:

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? (1 Corinthians 3:16)

If the Corinthians are one spiritual temple, they should not be fighting over different spiritual leaders. The Corinthians should know this – but they don’t seem to.

But Paul isn’t done yet. The Corinthians are also ignorant of the proper boundaries for sexual morality as they celebrate a man among them who is sleeping with his mother-in-law. Paul must warn them again:

Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? (1 Corinthians 5:6)

Paul says that the sexual immorality of one man affects the spiritual vitality of the whole Corinthian congregation. The Corinthians should know this – but they don’t seem to.

But Paul still isn’t done. A couple of chapters later, Paul has to remind the Corinthians that they need to support their spiritual leaders so they, in turn, can support their families:

Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. (1 Corinthians 9:13-14)

The Corinthians should not be stingy with their leaders, but generous. And again, the Corinthians should know this – but they don’t seem to.

It turns out that human ignorance is as old as the Scriptures and part and parcel of our finitude. There is so much that we should know – or would like to know – but simply do not. Thus, instead of living with arrogance, we are called to approach the mysteries of life – the spiritual as well as the scientific ones – with a healthy dose of humility. One of the most important things for us to know is that there is so much we don’t know.

None of this is to say that we should end our efforts to combat COVID-19, nor is it to say that we should abandon our search for effective treatments and a vaccine. Science’s value to discovery and progress is not in question. But its limits must still be admitted and respected. The positivism of a prior age simply cannot face all the facets of a pandemic like this one.

So, let’s show grace, patience, and pay appropriate respect to our scientific researchers as they continue to carry out their important work while also holding onto faith as, together, we continue to walk into the unknowns of COVID-19 with the One who knows all things – God Himself.

With Him, we can face what we don’t yet know.

June 29, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

An Honest Hypocrite Is Still a Hypocrite

Last January, four researchers from Yale University published a paper titled, “Why Do We Hate Hypocrites? Evidence for a Theory of False Signaling.”  In it, the researchers note that hypocrisy occupies a special spot of scorn in our society:

Consider the hypocrite – someone who condemns the moral failings of other people but behaves badly him- or herself.  Many commentators have remarked on the “peculiarly repulsive” nature of hypocrisy … What makes hypocrites especially bad is that they both commit a transgression and condemn it. But why is this combination so objectionable?

This final line is the question the researchers attempt to answer in their paper.  They theorize that hypocrites are uniquely despised because:

They dishonestly signal their moral goodness – that is, their condemnation of immoral behavior signals that they are morally upright, but they fail to act in accordance with these signals.

At issue here is what is popularly referred to as “virtue signaling.”  Though this phrase can be defined in different ways, some of which see virtue signaling as inherently and irreducibly hypocritical, the phrase, at least at its most basic level, denotes the public condemnation of a particular practice or position, which is something that most, if not all, people do – at least from time to time.  So, for instance, on this blog, I have publicly written about the dangers of racism.  People would assume, since I have written against racism, that I would expend at least some effort to root out racism in my own life.  If it turned out, however, that I harbored a disdain for a particular race, or if I wantonly turned a deaf ear or a blind eye to the plight of a particular race, people would rightly call me a hypocrite because even though I am publicly promoting one standard of behavior, I am privately living out another.

The Yale researchers continue by explaining that hypocrisy is more dangerous and misleading than what they refer to as “direct lying,” because direct liars do not engage in the moral condemnation of a practice of position.  They simply lie about what they have done, usually to avoid getting into some sort of trouble.  Hypocrites, on the other hand, go out of their way, often without prompting, to condemn the things they secretly do to make themselves look better than they really are.

The researchers found that, broadly speaking, much of our revulsion toward hypocrisy is excised when people are honestly hypocritical – that is, when they “voluntarily [disclose] their transgressions, which offsets the negative evaluation of their hypocrisy.”  Just saying you’re a hypocrite, apparently, is enough to make many people comfortable with your hypocrisy.

Certainly, hypocrisy is roundly condemned in the Scriptures generally and by Jesus specifically.  In Matthew 23, for instance, Jesus offers a series of seven woes.  To whom are His woes directed?  They are directed to hypocrites!  Christians and non-Christians alike agree that hypocrisy is bad.  What is most interesting about this study is not its assertion that hypocrisy is bad, but its revelation about how hypocrisy is addressed and rectified in our society.  Culturally, these researchers note that much of the sting of hypocrisy is salved if one is merely an honest hypocrite.  If a person simply says he doesn’t practice what he preaches, our society turns a sympathetic ear.  The difficulty with this approach, however, is that an honest hypocrite is still a hypocrite.  Hypocrisy needs more than an admission.  It needs a solution.

Christianity says that the admission of a sin like hypocrisy is only the first step in dealing with that sin.  In his Small Catechism, Martin Luther explains that to address sin, one must not only admit, or confess, his sins, he must receive forgiveness from them.  In other words, a hypocrite must see his hypocrisy as an actual sin that needs to be forgiven rather than as a mere embarrassment that only needs to be acknowledged.  In short, a hypocrite must see his hypocrisy as something that is actually bad.  This is why the bridge between confession and forgiveness is repentance, for repentance sees sins not just as embarrassments to be enumerated, but as spiritual dangers to be grieved.

Admitting sin does not solve sin.  Only Jesus’ forgiveness does that.  Our hypocrisy, then, needs more than a confession.  Confession only reveals who we are.  Jesus, however, changes who we are, which means that Jesus can change us hypocrites.

And really, who wants to be a hypocrite?

 

March 6, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Sermon Extra – God’s Call On Men

In 1994, some Swiss researchers conducted a survey on how the worship habits of parents influence their children.  The results were striking.  These researchers found that if both a father and mother attend church regularly, 33% of their children will grow up to attend church regularly, while 41% will grow up to attend irregularly.  Sadly, a quarter of their children will grow up not practicing their Christian faith at all.  These researchers further found that if a father does not attend church while a mother regularly attends church, only 2% of their children will subsequently become regular attenders themselves, while 37% will become irregular attenders.  Over 60% of these children will grow up and not attend church at all.

Now, here comes the shocking statistic.  If a father is a regular churchgoer, but a mother does not attend church, 44% of these children will grow up to attend church regularly.  That’s eleven percentage points higher than if a father and mother attend church regularly together!  All told, between two-thirds and three-fourths of children with faithful fathers will attend church, be that regularly or irregularly.[1]

Clearly, a father’s role as a spiritual leader is vital to the spiritual health of his family.  It is important to note that this does not in any way disparage or diminish the role ladies play in their families.  I know many ladies who, in spite of their husbands’ lack of commitment to things spiritual, labor extensively and faithfully to teach their children about Jesus and His Gospel.  I praise God for such women and trust that the Holy Spirit will use these ladies’ efforts to instill strong and lasting faith in the hearts of their children.  These statistics do, however, reinforce the call and commission of Scripture that a father is called to be a strong, spiritual leader of his family (cf. Ephesians 5:22-6:4).  Sadly, far too many men are derelict in this duty.  And if these statistics are any indication, the results of such dereliction are disastrous.  This blog, then, is meant to be a reminder to men of their God-given role!

As I discussed in my message on Sunday, there are many sirens of sin which entice men away from their role as the spiritual leader of their families.  The apostle Paul discusses some of the temptations that men – and all people, for that matter – struggle against:  “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like” (Galatians 5:19-21).  How many men have fallen and failed as leaders because they have given in to temptations like sexual immorality or drunkenness or selfish ambition?  Far too many.

So how does Paul tell men to war against such sinful temptations so they can lead their families faithfully?  Does he tell them to try harder?  Or work longer?  Or fight fiercer?  No.  Instead, fully aware that no man, no matter how macho, is strong enough to resist the allures of the sinful nature, Paul continues:  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Ephesians 5:22-23).  Paul calls upon God’s Spirit to produce the fruit of righteousness in and through men.  For men cannot produce this fruit themselves.  Instead, they will fall into sin every time.  It is interesting to note that while Paul speaks of the “acts of the sinful nature” in verse 19, he speaks of the “fruit of the Spirit” in verse 22.  Sinful is how we act.  Righteousness is the fruit the Spirit produces in us and through us.

So to the gentlemen, I would say this:  Remember the call God has given you to be the spiritual leaders of your household.  But do not try to carry out God’s call on you through your own efforts and with your own strength.  You will fall and fail every time.  Instead, implore the Spirit to produce in you and through you His fruit of righteousness.  For this fruit will be a blessing to you…and to your family.  And why would you want anything less for those you love most?

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Zach’s
message or Pastor Krueger’s ABC!


[1] Robbie Low, “The Truth About Men and Church,” Touchstone Magazine (June 2003).

June 13, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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