Another Test Question: Analyzing an Argument

Here is another practice GRE question on Analytical Writing, and my answer follows.  How do you think I did?  

Six months ago the region of Forestville increased the speed limit for vehicles traveling on the region's highways by ten miles per hour.  Since that change took effect, the number of automobile accidents in that region has increased by 15 percent.  But the speed limit in Elmsford, a region neighboring Forestville, remained unchanged, and automobile accidents declined slightly during the same six-month period.  Therefore, if the citizens of Forestville want to reduce the number of automobile accidents on the region's highways, they should campaign to reduce Forestville's speed limit to what it was before the increase. 

Although prima facie, this looks like a reasonable argument, the evidence given in this argument is insufficient to warrant the conclusion.  There are too many unknown factors that may be relevant to weakening the argument.  The argument must assume there are not possible alternative plausible explanations of the data that may lead to identifying a different cause for the increase in automobile accidents.  For example, the evidence does not contain information about whether or not the accidents are taking place in parking lots and backroads or on the actual highways where the speed limit was changed.  What if the 6-month period is during the winter and all the increase in accidents could be traced to a few hot spot areas on steep backroads in Forestville, and Elmsford does not have comparable steep backroads?  What if the amount of accidents increases by 15 percent during the winter in Forestville every year, not just the year in which the speed limit was increased by 10 miles on the highways?  What if the speed limit in Forestville was changed because of an increase in traffic, which increase in traffic might also account for the increase in accidents for the same reasons that crime activity goes up in proportion to the increase in human population?  The argument could be strengthened by ruling out these possible alternatives through demonstrating that this 6-month increase in accidents does not occur every year, and that the backroads and parking lots have not been the key areas where the accidents have occurred.         

A GRE Practice Test Question on Analytical Writing: GRADE ME

Grade me.

Here was the statement I was asked to agree with, qualify, or disagree with, and my response follows.  

"Both the development of technological tools and the uses to which humanity has put them have created modern civilizations in which loneliness is ever increasing." 

The claim in question would be very difficult to demonstrate unless the methods for testing and measuring the extent and intensity of depression were very similar today as they were in the pre-modern periods.  Even then we would need considerable access to the results of such testing from population samples that covered the majority of the human population.  Such research has never been done.  Furthermore, methods used to measure social phenomenon are extremely vulnerable to various weaknesses.  For example, are depressed people going to know they are depressed, claim to be so in a survey, be honest with themselves when asked about their experience, or actively seek a doctor?  Are those who do become diagnosed based on their own testimony of experiencing symptoms telling the truth?   Such methods would also need to show, for example, that when the same tools are used in different ways they do not tend to cause the same level of melancholy risk, otherwise the particular uses per se could not be identified as the cause of such melancholy.  Between the weakness of the logic of statistics and the scope of the subject of research itself, it is difficult to tell whether the claim is even verifiable. 


Perhaps a more modest claim would be easier to agree with.  For example, it would be easier to justify a claim that certain technological tools are used in such a way that they appear to have a causal role, among other causes, in the complex processes that contribute to symptoms associated with depression.  Video games, for example, may be shown to appear to play a causal role when a particular teenager uses them in such a way that keeps him from the personal interaction that would otherwise occur.      




NEW BLOG: T h e o • p h i l o g u e

I have a new blog @ theophilogue.wordpress.com  

T h e o • p h i l o g u e
 is a venue for open theological and philosophical dialogue.  Everything is theological and philosophical in some way.  Therefore, no topics are off limits.

I'm going to keep this blog too, but I haven't exactly figured out what I want to use it for.


Tag .... you're it!

The following questions come from Said at Southern.  I got tagged.

  • What are you reading on Spring reading days?: 1) Alister E. McGrath, The Making of Modern German Christology 1750-1990, 2) Gerald Hiestand, Raising Purity: Nurturing the image of God in the Heart of your Child, 3) Matthew Elliot, Feel: The Power of Listening to Your Heart, 4) Mark C. Mattes, The Role of Justification in Contemporary Theology
  • What do you wish you had time to read?  1) Bruce L. McCormack, ed., Justification in Perspective: Historical Developments and Contemporary Challenges, 2) .David E. Aune, ed. Rereading Paul Together: Protestant and Catholic Perspectives on Justification.
  • What have you decided NOT to read that you were assigned to read.  Nothing. 
  • What is one great quote from your reading?  "The phrase eternal life is as much about life as it is about eternity." - Matthew Elliot 
  • Why are you blogging? (You’re supposed to be reading!)  Because the blogosphere is where I spend most of my study break time (lately anyway).

  • Labels:


    When Experience Intersects Academic Theology, Karl Barth

    Here is a quotation from Karl Barth, as he reflected on the reason why he abandoned liberal theology.  

    For me personally, one day in the beginning of August of that year [1914] stands out as a black day, on which ninety-three German intellectuals, among whom I was horrified to discover almost all of my hitherto revered theological teachers, published a profession of support for the war  policy of Kaiser Wilhelm II and his counsellors.  Amazed by their attitude, I realised [sic] that I could no longer follow their ethics and dogmatics, or their understandings of the Bible and history, and that the theology of the nineteenth century no longer had any future for me.

    Karl Barth, Evangelische Theologie im 19.  Jahrhundert (Zurich: Zollikon, 1957), 6.   

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    Great Scott! Catching up on things EmergenT

    Many will be reading Scott McKnight's new article in the latest edition of Christianity Today.  Here's some background info on McKnight. 

    Scott McKnight is a redactional criticism expert who somehow got involved in the discussions over the emerging movement, and soon after considered himself "emerging."  Actually ... it began like this ... 

    After he started writing about the emerging church on his blog Jesus Creed, his readership hits went through the roof, and his students (he teaches at North Park University in Chicago) became more interested in reading his writings.  He realized that most people were not really that interested in his technical writings on redaction, but whenever he wrote about the Emerging Church, everyone listened, and he could hardly keep up with the comments on his blog (one of the most well read blogs in the entire blogospheric galactic spectrum).
    This led to number of conversations between him and emerging leaders.  Now that he's intimately familiar with the emerging movement, he considers himself emerging (yes ... I know about the recent "abandonment" of the term) and by Doug Pagitt's categories would be considered emergenT (that T is important ... you'll see why if you keep reading).  Not that I've heard Pagitt call McKnight emergenT, but because Pagitt and other emergenT leaders insist that emergenT is not defined by its theology, but rather, is simply a network of friends in conversation (deconstructive conservation mostly). 

    HOWEVER ... Scott McKnight, although an emerging leader who has tried his hardest to be sympathetic with the concerns of emergenT leaders across the board (even emergent village etc.)--we will see more of this in his upcoming book The Blue Parakeet--has not sympathized with the most controversial aspects of the emergenT movement.  

    His recent article, "McLaren Emerging," does several predictable things.  Here are a few ... 

    1) He reminds us of the distinctions between emerging (a broad movement of mostly evangelicals) and emergent (a smaller movement of the emerging movement that leans in a post-evangelical direction).

    2) McKnight depicts Brian McLaren, perhaps the most influential emergenT leader, as having become disillusioned with the "gospel" he was taught growing up in an ultra-conservative church, and sensing a great tension between the "global" message of Jesus about the "kingdom," and the "individualistic" message about "salvation," that he grew up with.  McLaren thinks the church's message is different from the kingdom proclamation of Jesus.  The message of Jesus was peace, reconciliation, and love--"not just with God and not just in the heart, but both and more: the peace Jesus envisions is global. ... through him, God was launching a new world order, a new world, a new creation."  Sounds a lot like N.T. Wright's fresh emphasis on the new creation theme.  Nothing too crazy here.  

    3) More specifically, McKnight tells us that McLaren questions the evangelical theology of the cross.  McLaren does not believe that the Father was "venting" his wrath on the Son so that believers could have salvation (i.e. penal substitution).  Rather, the central message of the cross is the repudiation of violence.

    4) McKnight addresses some questions to McLaren in a kind, but challenging, way.  They are predictable questions such as ... 

    a) "What role does the Cross play in the emergent kingdom vision"?  He follows this up with statement like, "The most stable location for the earliest understanding of the Cross, from Jesus all the way through the New Testament writings, is the Last Supper--and not a word is said there about violence and systemic injustice.  Other words are given to explain the event: covenant, forgiveness of sins, and blood 'poured out for many.'  Insight into the Cross must start here."  Great [point] Scott.   

    b) "What is the relationship of kingdom to church?"  He follows this up with statements like, "According to the Newt Testament, the kingdom vision of Jesus is, it seems, only implemented through the church."  

    He closes by saying, "All in All, I am hoping that McLaren's works will lead to a massive conversation on the meaning of one word: gospel," and by quoting Mary's Magnificat from Luke as evidence that "Luke tells of a gospel far greater than most of us are hearing today." 

    Thus ... he is sympathetic with the deconstruction of emergent leaders, agreeing that the church may have missed the full significance of the message of the gospel of the kingdom, yet skeptical of the reconstruction taking place with respect to theories of atonement and ecclesiology.   

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    Boom in Moscow



    Rick Warren Get's Publicly Challenged by a Naturalistic Scientist

    Rick Warren spoke at the well known secular venue TEDTalks.  After he was done, a naturalist scientist challenged him on some of the things in his book "The Purpose Driven Life," which has sold a gigatrillion copies.  *I think PDL is the most popular book in history outside the Bible (or, at least that's what I've heard people say ... not sure how they get stats on that).*

    Anyway ... Poor Rick gets cross examined by Dan Dennett.  I posted a response to Dan Dennett's response below the video's if your itching for cross-examination of the cross-examinaton.  My response was initially posted on the comments section on the website, and spawned an interesting "debate" in the thread.

    Rick Warren's Talk

    Dan Dennett's Response (you have to wait a bit before he starts challenging Rick directly) 

    My Response

    Dan Dennett, like most scientist I have heard who try to speak to religion, doesn't appear to understand religion very well (or philosophy). He doesn't even come close, for example, to addressing the presuppositional differences that underlie his differences with Rick Warren and other religious leaders and the worldviews they tend to espouse. 

    It's incredibly naive to think that religion could be taught unbiasedly--either by secularists or by religious leaders. Who determines the criterion for "facts"? Presuppositions will determine what one accepts as "facts," which means to even approach teaching a course on religion based on "facts only," you already have to use your presuppositions in determining what's legitimate for a class in religion. Thus, there would be no such thing as an objective look at the "facts" about religion. That such is possible is an enlightenment myth.

    Also, he picks on Rick Warren's belief in intelligent design (which is different than creationism, but he doesn't seem to be aware of these sorts of distinctions) rather than engaging, say, the Oxford/Cambridge/Berkley/Harvard Scientist's who have tried to argue for intelligent design. That's not good protocol, and it makes his critique of things weak. Rick isn't a scientist or a philosopher, he's just a pastor. 

    Finally, he took Rick's comment in a way that Rick probably never meant it, and read into it certain motives that may or may not have been present (even IF his interpretation was correct)---namely, the motive of throwing down a "wild card" to trump any "reasonable" inquiry or questioning of religious beliefs. Such an understanding of Rick's comment is not only a misinterpretation of what a statement like that tends to mean to Christians like Rick Warren (again, demonstrating his ignorance of religious philosophy), but it also is guilty of reading motives into the statement, as if such motives could be accessed even if they were present. 

    Sloppy engagement.

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    Choose Your Fallacy

    Choose your fallacy today from the Dictionary of Logical Fallacies composed by Hogeye Bill.  Read through one a day a try them out on your friends!  

    No really ... I just find this list helpful.  You might want to add it to your bookmarks as a reference.

    You Might Be A Blog Troll If ...

    Go here to read Denny Burk's post "Don't Feed the Blog Troll's."  

    "Blog Troll" is Denny's word for bloggers who make rude comments or get more exercised about the subject matter than they should, and thus overdue the rhetoric.  His post is composed of suggestions for how to respond to such comments.  By reading his post, you may even realize that you have a little blog troll in yourself from time to time.  His suggestions seem fair and just, and you never know when a blog troll might show up on your blog. 

    Someone with more time than me should do a post with the same title as this one that actually lists several humorous things that blog trolls might do.  

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    Calvin meets the Block, things will never be the same ...

    Christian Hip Hop artists are starting to get more attention and appreciation from Reformed leaders because "Reformed theology" is actually making inroads through their ministries.  Lecrae, who is probably my favorite rap artist, was interviewed by Mark Driscoll about the missional aspect of Christian Hip Hop, Lecrae's life, false doctrine, and "Reformed theology."  Listen to it: HERE.  

    Spreading the Gospel in the Inner City of Richmond

    My friend Josh Soto planted and now pastors a church in downtown Richmond.  I haven't had a chance to visit there yet, but my friend Ricky visited once and he says it's thunder (well ... he doesn't actually say thunder, he says "awesome," but you understand).  The church is blowin' up.  

    You can check out the churches website here.  See pictures of the church and the people here.

    Josh and I used to minister together on Vision teams at Liberty University.  Now he's a pastor at an inner-city church and I'm an outreach director at an inner-city church.  We've had talks about me coming down to Richmond to check out what he's doing, but I keep putting it off.

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    Better At Street Preaching Than Debating Intellectuals

    I thought Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron were outdone at the debate they did on National TV with atheists.  Debating intellectuals is not what they do best.  This is ...  

    idiscover: Steve Brown Etc.

    Have you ever heard of Steve Brown Etc?  He's a seminary proff who does a talk radio show that's a mixture of comedy and theology.  I find most Christian comedy corny and unappealing, but this guy rattled my giggle box the whole talk show!  He's hilarious!  Good humor.  Good conversation.

    This is the show I listened to. 

    I discovered sbe through the Audio & Video category on the Feel Blog.

    Prophetic Comedy

    Got this one from the TEDBlog again.  


    The A-word and the BAILOUT

    October 1st's Boston Globe had a thought provoking quotation from Juan Enriqez on the BAILOUT.  I discovered it on the TEDBlog

    WITHIN THE billions of sentences about the financial bailout there is one word notably absent, austerity. All talk is of payments, supports, subsidies, incurring more debt, stimulus packages. The thesis seems to be: If only we spend more, the party can go on. True, only if the financial meltdown is a temporary mismatch and dislocation in housing and credit markets. But suppose there is something fundamentally wrong with the US economy. Then spending more will not fix it. Getting the diagnosis right means getting the treatment right. It may save us a trillion or two.

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    Love is Better Felt Than Defined

    Mark 12:28-34 (NASB) 

    One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, "What commandment is the foremost of all?"  Jesus answered, "The foremost is, 'Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.'  The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."  The scribe said to Him, "Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that He is One, and there is no one else besides Him; and to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as himself, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."  When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God."  After that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions.


    "Let all that you do be done in love." – The Apostle Paul 

    "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy going or a clanging symbol. .... But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love." – The Apostle Paul 

    "Love is the fulfillment of the law." – The Apostle Paul 

    "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. … We love, because he first loved us." – The Apostle John 

    "The law of faith ... is the love of him." - St. Augustine 

    "The Scriptures do represent true religion, as being summarily comprehended in love, the chief of the affections and fountain of all other affections." - Jonathan Edwards 

    "But if the duty of the heart, or all due dispositions of hearts, are all summed up in love, then undoubtedly all grace may be summed up in love." – Jonathan Edwards 

    "[Love is] the essence of all Christianity. … [Love is] the quintessence and soul of all grace." – Jonathan Edwards 

    "The apostle [Paul] doesn't only represent love or charity as the most excellent thing in Christianity, and as the quintessence, life, and soul of all religion, but as that which virtually comprehends all holy virtues and exercises." – Jonathan Edwards 

    "As for a definition of divine love, things of this nature are not properly capable of a definition.  They are better felt than defined." – Jonathan Edwards