Category Archives: News

BBC2 Documentary: “Did Darwin Kill God?”

Hey mate, were not in Ulster anymore!

My superviser Conor Cunningham has written a BBC2 documentary entitled “Did Darwin Kill God?” This will air 31 March 2009 at 7pm (GMT).  The idea of Conor’s documentary is that, from a theological perspective, he hopes to both provide a sharp critique of ultra-Darwinism on the one hand, while also offering a major critique to the Intelligent Design camp on the other.

Conor also has a book on evolution in the INTERVENTIONS series that goes into much more detail.  This is slated to come out this Fall.

UPDATE: There is now a podcast on the University of Nottingham podcast site that is an interview with Conor Cunningham about his forthcoming documentary: “A plague on both houses” (mp3 Friday 13 March 2009; 32.1MB, 34.41mins).

Short Term 12

My friend Daniel just won the best short film award at Sundance 2009 for his film Short Term 12! [via Dave-O]


Life is like a hurricane here in Duckburg

Duck Tales Inflation Lesson. Video was posted over a year ago, for a cartoon episode that first aired in 1989!

(Via Jeff Cannata)

One month

As of two days ago, Tiana and I have now been in Nottingham for one month.  It both feels like we’ve been here for a while yet, almost no time at all.  Depending upon the day, some days zip by while others take a bit longer.  Tiana is still on the hunt for a job.  I begin my orientation for the start of the term next week.

One nice thing about the food over here is that just about nothing has hydrogentated corn syrup, which is usually the #1 or #2 ingredient on most foods in the states.  Real sugar, FTW.

We’ve been trying to walk as much as we can to save on tram and bus fares.  I walked to campus again yesterday (about 3 miles each way) and it was a good walk.  My pants [ehem! that means something different in the UK, Eric!] trousers are starting to get a little looser, but at this stage I could just be dreaming it.  While on campus, I had a good lunch meeting with my adviser who gave me a run-down of what to expect for the coming months regarding my experience, and I’ve already got some more good book suggestions to start me out in my studies.

A few days back I tried to get at least a little gaming in before my studies ramp up full-bore and I beat that most awesome game called Portal (found in the Orange Box, trailer here).  It’s such a rad first-person puzzle game.  It’s almost a year old now but it shouldn’t be missed.

I’m looking forward to my studies beginning next week, although technically next week is mainly orientations and meetings with the department.  I’ve ‘staked’ out a spot in the research room in our new department building called the Highfield House.  Not everybody uses the room on a daily basis but I am going to try and get as much work done there as I can–at least to start out.

Here we go.

Nottingham, England

We’re in Nottingham!  It’s now Sunday and Tiana and I have been here since Tuesday the 19th.  Tiana has already blogged a bit about our adventures here and here.  We’ve had no real hiccups since we’ve arrived.  The only real potential snafu was that we almost missed our flight to Manchester in the O’Hare Chicago airport…but, we made it with minutes to spare.  When we arrived at our apartment that we secured a couple months ago, the place was completely bare when it was supposed to be fully furnished.  Oops!  Said one of the letting agency’s employees, “Right! So we’ll be getting your furniture to you today!” Within a couple hours, though, our beds and couches were delivered, and the next day the rest of our stuff (tables, etc.) showed up as well.  The boxes of books and other stuff we’ve shipped to ourselves have also mostly arrived.

Anthony Paul Smith has been incredibly helpful showing us around the area and helping us move in.  The first evening we were here we met Mike Burns, Jeff & Meghan Biebighauser and all of us had dinner at Sir John’s pub just a short walk away.  Yesterday we had help from Jeff & Meghan in getting to IKEA which was about a 25-minute bus ride away.  At the moment, Tiana & I are waiting for the IKEA delivery people to show up to deliver all of the stuff we got (desk, bookshelf, etc).

Backing up a bit, the second day I was here, I decided to walk to campus.  It’s a 3 mile trek, and I got lost in the first 20 minutes, but I’m glad I decided to make the hike because it really helped in figuring out the lay of the land around here.  We’ve also been quickly figuring out the tram and bus systems which are quite efficient (if only San Diego could take better cues from just about any other city with public transportation).

The University of Nottingham campus is astonishingly gorgeous.  Well, most of it anyway.  My first entrance into the campus was through the part of campus with the engineering buildings which were quite boring, but everywhere else I’ve been on campus is stunning, especially the area surrounding the Trent Building and Highfield House.  The Trent Building is where the Department of Theology and Religious Studies is currently situated and the Highfield House is where our department will be moving to in a few weeks.  Here is the Trent Building:

And here is the Highfield House:

The area surrounding the Highfield House is like a garden of sorts.  It at least feels that way–it is quite serene.  Currently the English/Lit department is in this house and they will soon be moving out so that we can move in.

We’ve been having to figure out other things like getting a bank account (still in process) and trying to decipher how the heating in our apartment works.  Speaking of our apartment, I’ve posted a gallery on Flickr which includes some in-progress shots of our apartment.  Also, I took some scenery shots and posted them in a separate gallery:

  • First couple days in Nottingham: arriving, apartment, and University of Nottingham – Gallery || Slideshow
  • Nottingham Scenery: landscapes and buildings – Gallery || Slideshow

Once our stuff from IKEA arrives and we put it all together with the infamous allen wrenches, I’ll take some new pictures.  There’s also some other stuff that I think I was meaning to say, but my mind is a jumble of stress at the moment with having to get things ready for next week’s Rome conference in order as well as write a paper for it.  So, hopefully I’ll remember that stuff as it comes to me. Oh, and classes don’t start until 22 September so we have a bit of time before I have anything to report academically.  I’m sure there will still be plenty to do!

For a concluding picture for this post, this is where we live now, on the second floor:

Big Update: Thesis and News

Last Friday, I passed my MA thesis defense! My thesis title is “Contradiction, Paradox, and Irony: Philosophical and Theological Stances of Hegel and Kierkegaard.” For Geoff and Myles who asked, there it is.

John Wright was my adviser, and my two readers were Dr. Rob Thompson and Chris Simpson (my ‘external’ reader at LCCS). The defense went rather well, and it was oddly a lot of fun. My committee asked some great critical questions, and they tell me I handled them well. Turns out they are passing the thesis “with distinction,” which I’m extremely humbled about, as apparently I didn’t think this was even an option.

I know many have already asked to read the thesis, but I may have forgotten a few names. If you’re still interested, please leave me a comment below and I’ll e-mail it your direction (just put your e-mail address in the e-mail box, no need to put it in the comment itself–I’ll see it). The thesis is around 110 pages double-spaced, ~41,000 words. I’d love to hear your thoughts, further questions and criticism.

The evening after the defense, we had a small, casual graduation reception. The purpose of this particular reception was to allow our parents to meet the professors in the department. I introduced my parents to all the professors and it was a really pleasant time, enjoying finger foods and the like. As time was getting short with my parents needing to help my sister Jenna move out of her dorm, we had just enough time to introduce my parents to one remaining prof, Dr. Rob Thompson — one of my thesis readers. With apologies to Dr. Rob Thompson, Hegel, Schelling, and most of all my parents, the conversation ended with something that very much sounded like this:

My Dad: I have to commute a total of 3 hours every work day. It really puts a strain on my back. Of course Janet here only —

My Mom (Janet): Yeah, I only have to commute about 6 miles to work!

Dr. Thompson: When I was in Nampa, Idaho [at NNU] I would get annoyed if it took me longer than 5 minutes to get to work.

Me: Wow, yeah, it takes me 25-30 minutes to get to work in the mornings.

Dr. Thompson: The delays were almost always caused by a cow in the road. There’s another cow in the road this time–it was always a cow.

Dad: That happens a lot where we live too, and it gets incredibly dangerous. Not too long ago a whole heard of Blank Angus got out and were on the road — and you couldn’t see them!

Me: Whoa! That’s like the “black ice” of cows!

Them: [laughter]

Me again: Even better, it’s like “the night in which all cows are black!!!”

Them: [crickets]

Graduation the day after the defense was really cool. Apparently, graduating makes people forget awful philosophy jokes. To tell you the truth, I didn’t really think much about graduation until I was actually there. I was so focused on just getting the thesis done, and then trying to not focus on much at all in the week and a half of relaxation before the defense, that I kind of forgot that graduation is a big deal. That, and the PLNU campus turns into a crazy zoo. They have split the graduation up in to one graduate graduation and two undergraduate graduations, so it smooths things over a bit regarding the zoo factor. I must admit that it was nice to feel young at graduation: most of the people were slightly older than me, if not twice my age who were graduating. Aside from a friend of mine who is 65 years old in the MA theology program (and he has the energy and heart of a 20-year-old!), most of the students in our program are about 3 years younger than me, at least.

After graduation, Tiana threw a graduation party for me at our good friend Ester’s house. It was a totally awesome time of relaxation and conversation with good friends and family. In addition to my parents and sister, Tiana’s mom, sister Shalina, brother Stephen, and sister-in-law Shannon where all there as well. I was really thankful for being surrounded with good, loving people.

Okay, now rewind a couple days to Thursday morning, the day before my thesis defense. It was already a roller coaster of a week. I wake up, check my e-mail and decide to check out this page (I’d been hitting the refresh button on it all week). My name is printed on that page on the bottom, which means… It’s official: I GOT THE OVERSEAS RESEARCH SCHOLARSHIP!!! This means that the funding for my PhD tuition is basically paid in full! (technically it’s for a year of funding but it ‘renews’ each year upon ‘satisfactory progress’ or something like that). I was pretty emotional and immediately called Tiana who was still on her way to work to let her know the good news. She was super happy and relieved — we were not planning on taking out more loans on top of the undergraduate loans that we are still paying off. And then I called John Wright, who was also incredibly stoked. So, the next day I went into my thesis defense with the semester-long weight of worrying about the ORS lifted off my shoulders.

Tiana and I decided to wait until our parents arrived in San Diego before telling them. Now that they know and are super excited for us, they are all incredibly eager to visit us in Robin Hood country. So now, what remains is trying to figure out all the details on how exactly we can get over there so that they have somebody to visit. We’ve already received some extremely helpful tips from a couple of students already in the program (thanks Anthony and Aaron!). And, Tiana also found this incredible resource which, although that guy attends Durham University, should still apply pretty well to the UK in general.

By September 22, I will begin my PhD studies in theology at the University of Nottingham to study under Conor Cunningham. We hope to move to Nottingham a month ahead of that time to find a place to live and do some job hunting for Tiana. There will not be any employment restrictions placed upon on her from my student visa–the only restrictions will be on me. I will most likely continue doing work for The Centre of Theology and Philosophy, and perhaps some assorted side projects for some extra scratch, but my full-time computer programmer days are coming to an end. There’s a bunch of other details of the move to work out, of course, but this post has gone on long enough, and I’m sure we’ll figure those things out in due time.

Thanks to everybody for all the encouragement and conversations along the way. Special thanks to my wife Tiana for her encouragement, laughter, for reminding me what is really important, and most of all her love. She’s a keeper.

I honestly have no idea how we ended up in this position to be able to move to Nottingham for PhD work, but we are really very thankful for everything.

[Cross-posted to]

Standardized Tests: Start ’em young!

Piggy-backing somewhat off of Dave’s earlier post here, my friend Brian Lewis-Beevers sent the following link to me:

Local Heroes: Seattle Teacher Suspended for Refusing to Give Standardized Test

Carl Chew, a 6th grade science teacher at Nathan Eckstein Middle School in the Seattle School District, last week defied federal, state, and district regulations that require teachers to administer the Washington Assessment of Student Learning to students.

“I have let my administration know that I will no longer give the WASL to my students. I have done this because of the personal moral and ethical conviction that the WASL is harmful to students, teachers, schools, and families,” wrote Chew in an email to national supporters.

School District response to Mr. Chew’s refusal was immediate. After administrative attempts to dissuade his act of civil disobedience had failed, at the start of school on the first day of WASL testing, April 15, Mr. Chew was escorted from the school by the building principal and a district supervisor. Mr. Chew was told to report to the district Science Materials Center where he was put to work preparing student science kits while district administration and attorneys consulted on an appropriate penalty for what was labeled, “gross insubordination.”

Read the rest here.  Chew gives a helpful list of reasons why that particular standardized test is erroneous.

Yes, my motivation for posting this stems from personal experience.  Mainly, I just don’t do well on standardized test.  I don’t flunk them, but, I do have an inability to do better on them the second time around.  It’s really disconcerting… they mess with my mind, to put it lightly.  I took the SAT twice in high school, and did about 100 points worse the second time around; I recently had a similar experience with the GRE, doing significantly worse the second time around.  But, I get pretty good grades in school, I think.  In high school, I was taught to write essays, not fill in bubbles.

I am aware that not everybody can even be in a financial position to take these tests a first time, let alone a second time.  My concern in posting this isn’t so much on college and graduate school entrance exams, but that around this country, most states start administering standardized tests like this when they are quite young, causing children around the nation to have warped views of their own ability to learn and perform in academic settings.  Kudos to Mr. Chew!

Chiara Lubich passes away at 88

Chiara Lubich, the founder of the Focolare movement, died last night in her home at age 88.  The official Focolare website article reads:

Today, 14 March 2008, at 2 o’clock, Chiara Lubich at 88 years of age, has concluded her earthly journey in a serene and sacred atmosphere. She passed away in her home at Rocca di Papa (Rome), where she had returned after having been discharged from the Gemelli hospital the night before. This had been her desire during the last days of hospitalization.

All day long, in the concluding hours of her life, hundreds of people – relatives, close collaborators and her spiritual sons and daughters – paid their last farewell in her room, and then stopped for a moment of meditation in the adjacent chapel. It was a constant and spontaneous prayerful procession. Afterwards, they lingered on around her house in recollection. Some of these people Chiara was able to recognize despite her extreme weakness.

There is now an incoming flow of messages from all over the world expressing participation and sharing on behalf of religious, political, academic and civil leaders. These messages of love and unity are coming especially from her many spiritual children present in all continents.

It seems like the Focolare website is probably getting hammered with visits right now so traffic might be hit and miss, but the Catholic news agencies have been reporting on this and have included a message from the Pope:

With deep emotion I learned the news of the pious death of Ms Chiara Lubich, which came at the end of a long and fruitful life marked by her tireless love for the abandoned Jesus. At this moment of painful separation I remain affectionately and spiritually close to her relatives and to the entire Work of Mary – the Focolari Movement which began with her – and to those who appreciated her constant commitment for communion in the Church, for ecumenical dialogue and for fraternity among all peoples. I thank the Lord for the witness of her life, spent in listening to the needs of modern man in complete faithfulness to the Church and to the Pope. And, as I commend her soul to divine goodness that she may be welcomed in the bosom of the Father, I hope that those who knew and met her, admiring the wonders that God achieved through her missionary ardour, may follow her footsteps and keep her charism alive. With such sentiments, I invoke the maternal intercession of Mary and willingly impart my apostolic blessing to everyone

This Catholic World News article says:

Suffering from declining health for the past year, Lubich was hospitalized this past weekend when she had difficulty breathing. When she did not respond to medical treatment she chose to return home for her final hours of life.

The funeral for Chiara Lubich will be held at the Roman basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls on March 18. The Focolare movement will now face the choice of a new leader– who, according to the movement’s charter, must be a woman.

Additionally, this Lenten meditation from Chiara a couple years ago is quite appropriate.

I had the blessing of meeting many of the members of the Focolare, having been asked to present at last year’s Mariapolis in San Diego with my wife Tiana on alternative economic practices.  I had the pleasure of meeting many wonderful people who are passionate about the unity of the Church. Chiara’s witness to Christ was a clear inspiration for the people I met in their own witness to Christ and Christ’s prayer for the unity of his people in John 17Open Link in New Window.  Moreover, a very good friend of ours named Ester has been in the movement for a while now and has been profoundly affected by Chiara’s life.  Ester is a constant saintly presence in our lives for whom we are extremely thankful.

[Also, perhaps not everybody knows this, but the official Focolare publishing house is New City Press, which in addition to publishing Chiara’s writings, also publishes the definitive English translations of Augustine’s works]

Chiara will be missed, but the spirit of her Focolare and her witness will definitely live on.  R.I.P., Chiara.