Differences between GroupMe and Reddit as a debate platform for a highly active apologetics group

Why Should I Believe is considering switching from GroupMe to Reddit as our primary conversation and internal debate platform. This article aims to give an overview of what kind of change this will entail. It is published publicly so others groups may benefit from this work; however, secondary readers are cautioned to carefully analyze their community’s culture and needs as each group is unique.

Why Should I Believe (WSIB) has a GroupMe of about 20 people, of which maybe half regularly contribute, with the other half either lurking or just like watching an unread message counter go as high as possible. This GroupMe is known for being highly active, with conversations with hundreds of messages happening at least weekly, and a few dozen messages happening daily. Being highly educated and passionate people (i.e. nerds), these conversations are in-depth, detailed, and span a large number of topics. WSIB exists to apply reason and evidence to Christianity, so we have a lot of discussions around theological and philosophical topics, with politics entering occasionally. We also pride ourselves on our ability to share the most dank and apropos memes for the conversation.

Executive summary

WSIB will eventually move to Reddit. Reddit scales to millions of users, while we already see problems with GroupMe at less than a dozen active users. The conversational nature of GroupMe will be largely lost with Reddit and we will need to be careful to still treat every user as an actual person and not a random internet stranger.

The public nature of Reddit will mean serious implications about how we converse. Controversial topics could prove to be difficult to have a completely open discussion about. The Internet is public, searchable, and forever.

Even with these differences and potential issues, I support moving to Reddit as our primary debate platform.

Methodology

A quick note about the methodology of this article. These are my own opinions. As a long-time member of WSIB and long-time user of both Reddit and GroupMe, I am qualified to speak authoritatively on these subjects; however, these still are merely my opinions and should be accepted only upon critical examination.

Many of the differences mentioned below will amount to: Reddit and GroupMe are different in this respect. This is not intended to mean, “We should not move because of this.”, but simply explain how they different so we may make an informed decision.

Why move to a new platform?

We have experienced a significant amount of growth of the GroupMe in the last few months, with more active members than ever. There’s a lot of conversation happening and having to read 100+ messages that are dense, detailed, nuanced, and lengthy (approximately a typical non-fiction book paragraph) is becoming difficult to keep up with. This is a great problem to have, but it is still a problem. Most of us are students at a difficult school and we all have busy schedules, so we each must evaluate how much time we devote to reading and contributing to what often amounts to academic debate on the GroupMe.

The suggestion was made to move to Reddit as a way to organize the conversations and allow everyone to contribute the topics they are most interested in.

It should be noted we have previously addressed this type of scaling problem in the past. We previously only had a single GroupMe where all topics, including announcements and general business items, were discussed. This became a problem because many members would mute notifications (because of the volume of messages from the debates) and miss important messages. We solved this by introducing a second GroupMe group where only items related to the logistics and business decisions of the organization was discussed. We strongly encouraged all debates and general conversation not related to official business to be held in the primary group. This second channel has largely worked. It allows important topics to be discussed without interrupting the debates and conversations.

GroupMe and Reddit solve different problems

We must first and foremost recognize that GroupMe and Reddit solve different problems and are inherently different. We cannot use Reddit the same way we have used GroupMe.

GroupMe is designed for small groups that need to communicate with everybody at the same time. It is, essentially, an improvement of group SMS texting. It is pretty minimalistic.

Reddit is designed for communities, large and small. Most anyone can post content to the community and the community votes and comments on how awesome it is. It has a rich set of moderation tools and lots of customization options (if you are willing to put the time into customizing the look and feel of the subreddit).

GroupMe: Single Threaded. Reddit: Multithreaded.

Just like in software development, this isn’t a value judgment. Each has its own uses and drawbacks.

The biggest for our discussion is that GroupMe basically requires everybody to read all the messages. Ask a question about a particular passage in 1 Corinthians? You may have to wade through a long-running discussion about the merits of paedobaptism over credobaptism.

With Reddit, there would be at least two threads: one for the passage in 1 Corinthians and one (probably more) about the baptism thing. Topics are focused: if you don’t care whether babies get dunked (or sprinkled or whatever), you can simply ignore that thread.

With the single thread, everybody is on the same page. It is like having a IRL discussion between a few friends. This can be a really good thing. Everyone is exposed to topics they may not be too interested in, but are important to discuss. Perhaps someone doesn’t have a large interest in eschatology, but they read how a particular eschatology has significant implications of some other area of theology and become interested. This likely wouldn’t happen in a multithread environment.

However, some people can get overwhelmed with the number of messages, turn off notifications, and only check in periodically. With WSIB’s volume, even a break of a few days can mean a backlog of hundreds of messages. The GroupMe app was never designed with long-running conversations in mind, so reading through a such a large backlog can sometimes be difficult (e.g. easy to lose your place, multiple conversations going on).

I find Reddit’s format is a bit unwieldy for long-running conversations where the participants reply to each others’ replies many times over. After about 10 replies, you get a link (“Continue this thread —->”) to more comments. But, replies can be much longer, so each reply can address more.

Conversations on a particular topic can last a lot longer. With GroupMe, there is a natural half-life of a conversation. On Reddit, depending on how often new posts are made, a topic can stay near the top for quite a while.

In GroupMe, you are having a conversation with a group of people. Sometimes different schedules (school, work, sleep, etc.) mean the person you would like input from is not available. However, the GroupMe messages keep coming. The conversation can easily get lost in the infinite scroll. This doesn’t happen with the multiple-threaded nature of Reddit.

Multithreaded is more scalable, but more complex. GroupMe works because it is simple and has very little overhead. Reddit works because it can scale to millions of people, but it has a much higher overhead, for both the admins and the regular users. Is Reddit the eventual solution and it is only a question of when? Probably.

Public nature

GroupMe is an invite-only medium of communication. Other than the members of the group, GroupMe itself, and (possibly) the Internet providers, no one of the general public can see any of the posted messages.

Reddit is very public. Everything is open for the public. Everything is archived. Everything is searchable by Google. This is a double-edged sword: We can be the best resource of thoughtful Christian knowledge. We can also be shown to have opinions and beliefs that are not politically correct. Pseudonyms only help so much and unless you go to extreme lengths, you should assume everything you say can be linked back to the real you.

We discuss some highly controversial topics. Some of us have controversial philosophical, theological, and political opinions and beliefs. We want WSIB to eventually be the best at raising the best Christian apologists in the world. That will eventually draw criticism and certain groups may use anything we say against us. Cogently defending Jesus is controversial enough to draw fire; adding in the rest of the controversial beliefs will only add fuel to the fire.

We could restrict our topics, but I believe this is impractical and counterproductive. For one, well-reasoned arguments for unpopular positions on controversial topics are rare. It would be a serious damper to not discuss, for example, same-sex marriage. So many aspects of theology touch on it; having an out-right ban on the topic would be detrimental to conversation. It is inevitable someone will post: “Is gay marriage wrong?” Even armed with our considerable capability to provide a well-reasoned answer to this question, we must understand that our answer will probably draw criticism from conservatives and progressives—mostly because we won’t agree with either side.

We may see topics we once had no problem talking about in the private confines of GroupMe, we no longer are quite as open talking about. We must recognize that these sensitive topics still need discussing and possibly provide other avenues for free and open debate.

While private subreddits are a thing, it is unusual for a subreddit to be private. Being private doesn’t really help us in the long run as we have previously stated we want to try to use this as a way to interact with others outside the group to encourage them to join us in our quest for truth.

Reddit is more anonymous than GroupMe. This is good because newcomers may feel more comfortable asking questions if they feel like they can’t be personally identified. However, there is another aspect to anonymity: The sense of talking to another person is dulled. GroupMe’s user interface makes it very obvious we are talking to real people. There’s a picture (which we usually have as a real picture of ourselves) and our real name associated with every message. The conversational nature reinforces this as well. Reddit’s user interface is less obvious about this, even though there is a real person behind every username.

I have a few friends who are interested in apologetics, but they live outside of Atlanta and would only be able to attend very special events. The GroupMe has traditionally been only for WSIB members (although we have been experimenting lately), so inviting non-members has been questionable. A subreddit would solve this. Just invite people to the sub.

Culture and etiquette

I’ll quickly mention that we inherit Reddit culture and etiquette. We’re free to make our own rules for the subreddit (and many subs have their own rules), so this isn’t a big issue.

Some subreddits have evolved over the years from very specific communities into more general catch-all subs. Usually this is because the content is high quality. Our organization’s vision could naturally move this subreddit this way. As we grow, we may need to hold discussions on whether this is desirable or not. It is notable that there is no well-established place on the Internet for high-level apologetics discussion. Perhaps /r/WhyShouldIBelieve could become that place.

Different requirements for ‘membership’

Reddit merely requires users to click Subscribe before posting, and no requirement for reading. GroupMe requires a current member invitation for reading or writing.

We will get people who come in for a single question or post and never hear from them again.

Trolls

It’s the Internet. We won’t have much trouble at first because no one knows about the sub. However, if any of our threads gets popular or we get selected as the sub of the day or any other big publicity event happens, we will be swamped with trolls because of our religious nature. We will need to have mods monitoring and keeping the peace.

Format

Reddit has a 10,000 character limit for comments and 40,000 for the original post. Using the app, GroupMe limits every message to 450; using the SMS, it depends on your SMS app, with some limiting you to 160 characters. With such a large increase in character limits, the nature of conversation will change. Likely, our discussions we become more nuanced and posts longer simply because the limits have been lifted.

We may use less of the methods from the book Tactics and more formal debate methods in posting because of the format differences.

Reddit supports Markdown, which allows for simple formatting (like bolditalicsunderliningstrikethrough, headers, lists, tables, and horizontal bars; see this link for a primer). For those with plenty of time on their hands, they can make their long posts really well formatted.

Reddit is well supported on the web and with a plethora of apps.

Images are not shown inline with the message and must be clicked to view the dank meme. Meme sharing will be different.

Crystallization

GroupMe requires a conversation to happen for information to be shared. Reddit posts are archived and searchable (via Google). This means conversation will likely become more “crystallized”. Someone ask a question about the existence of God for the 42nd time? We’ll just link to a few good past threads and that will be it.

Voting

Voting changes things. It has been demonstrated (for popular subs) that the highest voted comments are those that are early, not necessarily the best content.

Do upvotes mean people agree or good content? GroupMe has likes and WSIB has been using it as “I agree with this message.” Votes are anonymous, so we can’t use it easily for “I agree”.

Conclusion

I will reiterate that most of these points boil down to “Reddit is different”. This doesn’t mean we should not adopt Reddit, only that we need to consider how we approach it.

I believe that WSIB will ultimately and eventually move to Reddit; I thought it would take another few years before we were forced by scaling issues to it, though. Reddit gives us a whole new way to reach people we could never have before. There are some exciting improvements over GroupMe that will allow us to improve our debating skills in a slightly more formal setting where our words can be seen by others outside WSIB.

We will need to be careful how we approach controversial topics. However, this is true for any public forum. We have to deal with this anytime we host a public debate or field questions from the audience as presenters. Reddit makes this a much more pointed issue because the Internet is forever. We won’t initially see any of these problems, which makes it more dangerous, but allows us to figure it out as we go.

Considering everything, I fully support moving to Reddit as our primary debating platform.

Advertisements

My Plan: Researching Philosophy of Information

When I tell people I wish to pursue a Master’s in philosophy, I get a quizzical look. “I thought you were a computer guy!?”

Well, yes, I am. I also believe my computer science studies will allow me to study philosophy of information with a unique perspective. Computer scientists study information: how to manipulate it, store it, transmit it, extract it, etc. I have “real-world” knowledge of how to do these things. I’ve studied and implemented artificial intelligence algorithms—something I don’t think many philosophy majors can say.

Philosophy of information is a new field that seeks to ask:

  • What is information? Are there different kinds?
  • How can we ethically handle information?
  • Where does information come from?
  • How can information be represented or stored?

Along with many other questions. The second question I listed has probably been the most popular question since how we answer it affects what companies and governments can do with information about us. Yet, all of these questions are important and can affect other disciplines.

Okay, enough overview. Philosophy of information is important and can help us answer questions we haven’t solved yet.

These are a few specific questions I’d like to study:

  • What is the difference between Signals, Data, Information, Knowledge, and Wisdom?
  • Does Information require a Mind?

One more area I’d like to study is, well, I don’t really even know how to ask the question concisely. Let me illustrate it.

I can tell you the process to multiply two numbers. You can then multiply two numbers. Information was exchanged through natural language and sound waves and now two people have the information of how to execute that process to multiply two numbers.

You can write down this same process and many people can read it and obtain this information. Information is stored on a piece of paper.

A computer scientist can read the paper and create a computer algorithm to multiply two numbers. He will probably save this algorithm description in a computer file. Is the algorithm information?

An engineer can implement this algorithm in an electrical circuit or mechanical gears and levers. Now a machine can perform this process. Is information stored in this machine? Is the machine the information?

At each stage, information was transformed and “stored” in some new manner. Sound waves, paper, computer file, physical machinery. We all understand this and will accept this fairly easily. However, the last stage is a bit peculiar. Is it right to say a machine has information inside it? It would be a pile of junk if it didn’t do something; yet, to say it intrinsically has information is a bit odd. Even odder would be to say the machine itself is information. If it is true that machines have, or are, information, then what can we say about other designed physical objects, like a teapot?

To study these questions, I want to acquire a Master’s of Philosophy to gain a proper background in philosophy. My current plan is to attend Georgia State University for this degree because their master’s of philosophy program is ranked #2 in the country and I’m right next to them geographically. Then, pursue a Philosophy Doctorate with one or more of these questions as my primary research. Which school I attend for this step is more hazy. There really isn’t a good Ph.D program in the state of Georgia, so I’ll probably have to move. Oxford, Stanford, Cambridge, Notre Dame, Harvard, Yale, Chicago, and other places are on that list currently (that list was in no particular order). I’m hoping as I work my way through my master’s, I will develop some connections that will guide me in the direction I need to go.

I anticipate this to take roughly 10 years. So, unlike so many of my fellow Millennials, I have some pretty specific long-term goals. Leave a comment if you have any suggestions or thoughts on my plan!

Solar Eclipse 2017

Words, pictures, and video simply do not convey what it was like to be there at the Great American solar eclipse of 2017. I never knew one minute and fifty seconds could go by so quickly. I hope you had the chance to see totality for yourself.

After patiently waiting for the weather forecasts, I carefully weighed the options (Nashville, South of Knoxville, South of Greenville) and selected the Nashville area as the best chance for the least amount of clouds. We were going to drive up really early on Monday morning, but my Dad found some really cheap hotels in Huntsville with his hotel points. While we increased our total driving time, we decreased the amount of traffic we had to deal with and we also split our continuous driving time in half, which made all of the difference for the big day.

Some friends of ours invited us over to their apartment where we camped out on top of the parking garage. It was a very good spot. We were concerned with the amount of clouds above, but we got lucky and the clouds cleared about 10 minutes before totality.

I had purchased a telescope and DSLR adapter for this occasion. Solar glasses were also procured some months in advance. I did not anticipate the supply of solar glasses to be so low right before the eclipse. The fake glasses probably contributed quite a bit towards that; hopefully, no one damaged their eyes because of the fakes.

Having never photographed the Sun (actually, it was my first time using the adapter), it took me a while to figure out the best way to line up everything and get proper focus. The terrible tripod I was using didn’t help matters in the least. I learned my lesson: pay top dollar for the tripod. Also, while parking garages are made of cement, they are not 100% stable. The telescope would move every time someone would walk past. Who knew?

I also committed the silliest mistake a photographer can possibly make: I shot in JPEGs, not RAWs.

8910e381bf9409fb2070f8ee56726b47-pet-peeves-meme-internet

Yep, I’ll be kicking myself for the next seven years over that one.

However, the photos I did get are just about on par with the rest of the world, so I’m quite happy about that. Here are a few shots.

IMG_5477.jpg

IMG_5491.jpg

IMG_5494.jpg

The red at the edges are solar prominences.

IMG_5497.jpg

Oh yeah! The diamond ring in all it’s JPEG glory!

I plan to attempt printing this out and hanging it in my new apartment. It will make a fine first picture on my walls.

Here’s the video I captured. Lots of shaking; sorry.

I will definitely be going to the next eclipse in seven years. I already have a long list of improvements. This eclipse was only 2:41 at the max, the next will have a max of 4:28. I’m sure it will still feel like 15 seconds.

[Book Review] Square One: The Foundations of Knowledge (Steve Patterson)

Patterson doggedly stays on one issue throughout this short book: At the bottom of everything, there are inescapable truths that are discoverable and you can be certain of them. While it could have easily been a confusing mess to read, he works many relatable examples throughout to explain what he means.

414bcsvr7al-_sx326_bo1204203200_

It is a short book: if it were longer, Patterson would have simply repeated himself as the topic is narrow and quite obvious. Patterson points out that restating the self-evident and obvious is necessary when we start denying the undeniable. The entire book deals with such basic ideas that it is hard to believe we need this book. Here’s the entire book summed up:

  1. Things are what they are and aren’t what they are not.
  2. This is implied by simply existing; thus, logic is inescapable.
  3. Contradictions cannot exist.
  4. Truth exists.

Square One is largely a compilation of Patterson’s blog and podcast with edits to make it flow. I found the book useful because it brings together all of these topics in a cohesive mannerthe blog covers many other subjects.

It is also noteworthy the book is under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, meaning anyone can freely use the material as long as they give credit. I like it. More people should do this and escape the endless copyright. I’m considering applying it to all of my work.

Patterson does an excellent job of what he claims to do at the outset:

The reader can rest assured: this book is not a work of academic philosophy. It’s not incomprehensible or irrelevant. It doesn’t try to sound profound by hiding behind opaque language. It is meant to be read and understood. (page i)

Short, concise, and without unnecessarily complicated languagewho can possibly find fault with this? Many topics in philosophy require sophisticated language, but this is not one of them, although it could be obfuscated easily.

I found the discussion about existence implying the Law of Identity (A = A) and Law of Noncontradiction (A != not A) to be enlightening. I had not thought about how if something exists then “it is surely what it is and not what it is not”. Of course, it is obvious once we say it out loud, but such is the nature of self-evident truths.

As a Christian, it was surprising to me to see Patterson claims the Law of Identity and Law of Noncontradiction cannot be created by God. “If a God exists, then he exists, and therefore he too is bound by the laws of logic.” This goes against the usual conception that God created everything.

Patterson wisely doesn’t go any farther than stating this. There are a few ways to understand this while keeping to the orthodox tradition. It most definitely does not mean we get to say, “Aha! We have found something God did not create! Therefore, he is not Almighty and the Bible is not true!”

Patterson notes logic and existence are inseparable (page 41). Each implies the other and each is not a property of the other. You cannot have logic without existence (because then logic doesn’t exist) and “existence without logic would be existence without existencei.e. non-existent.”

Understanding that God is a necessary being means logic necessarily exists. One could say since God is necessary and the uncaused cause, he brought logic into existence, even if saying he “created” logic would be somewhat inaccurate. The usual verbiage is that logic is an outflowing of God’s nature. This is still accurate as God exists and existence cannot be separated from logic. (See also Is God Subject to Logic?)

Patterson goes into many more implications of the certainty of the existence of logic and truth. I’ll leave you to pick up the book or read his blog to see what else he draws out.

Overall, I found the book to be edifying and enjoyable. One might wonder if $10 is a bit steep for a book that says Things are most certainly the way they are, but such is the nature of The Foundations of Knowledge.

Truth is discoverable.
It’s not popular to say.
It’s not popular to think.
But you can be certain of it.

 – Steve Patterson

Square One: The Foundations of Knowledge by Steve Patterson (2016) Amazon

Freshmen Not Caring About God

There’s a new group of people Christians and apologists aren’t talking about: apatheists.

Apatheist (apathy + theist): A person apathetic about god(s).

The campus apologetics group I’m a part of participated in freshman orientation. We had a table on a sidewalk beside a large green space and the new freshmen could walk around and talk with the various organizations. We struck conversation with the freshman by asking their religious background. (Side note, while many find the question a bit unusual, no one has found the question offensive. So, ask your friends and neighbors!)

We got the usual bunch: Christian, Catholic, Hindi, Muslim, atheist, agnostic, etc. But we also had several who said they have thought about the question of God’s existence and they don’t care. And they use those exact words: “I don’t really care.

As one who interacts daily with philosophical and theological issues relating to God and Christianity, I can’t fathom not caring about this. For someone to state this and truly mean it brings me to ask: why do I care?

I’m fairly informed on most of the main areas of debate in apologetics. God’s existence, theodicy, the Resurrection, inspiration of the Bible, age of the Earth, soteriology, etc. I have yet to come across a concise argument for caring about God, his character, and the moral duties we have towards him.

Even if an argument can be presented, we must jump from the academic quest of finding a sound reason for caring to the real world of caring daily. It’s one thing to say you care about something, it’s another to shape your life around such a conviction.

We also need to be mindful a full explanation of why we care may not be possible in a single conversation, even if such a conversation is long and detailed. Yet, to talk to a stranger who doesn’t care, you need to capture their attention (make them care) in less than ten seconds. It’s a tall order—one I’m not sure is possible.

This is why it is so important for Christians to reach out to their friends, coworkers, and neighbors. Not “reach out” as in the usual “share the Gospel” meaning—most people have such a twisted view of Christianity they will derisively dismiss traditional quick presentations of the Gospel. We have to forge friendships with unbelievers so we can have enough time with them to show how much we care about our belief in Christ. This is especially true for reaching Millennials who are much more focused on relationships than previous generations.

We can’t stay in our Christian huddles and expect the world to come to us. The world doesn’t care about God or Jesus or heaven or hell. They don’t care. We need to show them why we care and why it matters to us. This takes time and effort. It takes constant vigilance to ensure our lives actually reflect Christ and what we believe about him. It will require being available to talk about your belief at a moment’s notice and being able to respond to the typical criticisms with contextualized explanations of why our worldview makes sense.

Apologist: My Calling?

Being involved with apologetics for several years now, I’ve had several people suggest I should seriously consider making it a career. What truly excites me is when a person whom I respect suggests this.

I’m graduating this December with a Bachelor’s in Computer Science from Georgia Tech, specializing in Information Networks and Artificial Intelligence. With this milestone comes the question: Now what?

I always thought I would get a well-paid position with a cool company and produce high-quality software making the world better in some way. Or, creating my own company and solving problems that are interesting, highly marketable, and make life easier for the world. Most of those product ideas revolve around automating some aspects of regular life. I’m highly influenced by the Minecraft mod scene where the motto is “Automate ALL the things!”66722167 When I see some task a robot could do, I want to create a robot that actually does that task and sell it to the world.

In Minecraft, I create these incredibly complex bases where every material is automatically farmed, mined, created, or what have you. The only problem I have to solve is how to further automate things. Raw materials and survival is quickly not an issue in-game. In fact, one of the largest issues is dealing with the sheer quantity of raw materials that the machines produce. Even the process of creating items is automated, so I only have to concern myself with teaching my machines how to create new items. Think of the replicator from Star Trek: it can replicate anything so long as it knows the design and has the raw materials.

Back in the real world, my question is: why can’t a machine automatically do X? Where X can be anything from mow the lawn, wash clothes and dishes, and make dinner? Now, we have many machines to make these tasks easier for us humans, but I am referring to full automation. I should not have to think about the grass getting too high. I should have a robot that takes care of it and lets me focus on other things. Like making more robots to automate other things, so I can make more robots.

I’d be rich, I’d have tons of free time, and I’d probably be somewhat famous (due to everyone buying my robots). Not a bad career path/dream, right?

72044358

I’ve always been a big believer in being a Christian as you lived your life. Full-time pastors, evangelists, and church staff usually came off as a bit fake to me. They also usually struggled with having enough time, money, and resources to do whatever they were trying to do. The people I most respected had full-time jobs, were fairly successful in their field or business, and devoted time to learn and teach Christianity and lead their church. If I ever had a question regarding Christianity or life, I went to those people.

I’m also a big proponent of doing things with excellence. Not doing many things decently, but a few things with excellence. It really isn’t worth doing if you aren’t going to do it well. In my experience, doing something to a high standard usually means a spending lot of these things: time, thought, effort, and money.

Now, when was the last time a full-time pastor, church staff member, or evangelist encouraged you to spend a lot of time, thought, effort, or money on an endeavor?

So, why would I ever want to become one?!


While on an internship in Westin, FL, I gave a presentation on creationism to the local church college group I was part of. Creationism is an integral part of my Christian testimony and I had studied on my own extensively for about five years before giving this presentation.

The presentation proper lasted about 50 minutes. It wasn’t the best I’d given, but it was one of my better presentations. Then came the question time. There’s always a few questions in these kinds of presentations. However, I was blown away at the engagement of my audience and how many questions they had. The Q&A session lasted over 40 minutes.

I loved every minute of it.

It was like God was saying, all of that time spent studying Genesis and science is valuable and people have questions they need answered. This can be fun and it is needed more than you know. I wanted to do more! Months after, I still found that presentation filled me with a sense of purpose and meaning.

Fast forward a year or two. I’m back at Georgia Tech, getting ready to graduate in about a year. I’m heavily involved with Why Should I Believe, an apologetics organization on campus. I’m using my technical skills to help promote the group. I’m helping lead as a club officer. I’m giving more presentations. Then the founder of the organization takes me aside and asks, “Have you ever considered doing this full time?”

Why, no, I haven’t, but that sounds interesting. Tell me more!

His vision of full-time apologetics ministry looks something like this: graduate from Georgia Tech, enroll in graduate program in an apologetics-related field (philosophy, biblical studies, etc.), and I basically become the leader for a new chapter of Why Should I Believe at another college campus in Georgia.

This sounds awesome! I get to do what I love and change the world? Sign me up!

57906622

But, I don’t get to make robots. Not professionally, at least. Full time ministry plus graduate school means not a lot of time left over for much else. Certainly not time for a full-time job. A master’s and then a PhD from a good school isn’t cheap—and I have to eat and put a roof over my head—so I’ll have to find donors to fund my ministry, further cutting into my time. Oh, and there aren’t any particularly good philosophy programs in Georgia.

Okay, that’s not what I was expecting. Was this what those spiritual people meant by God asking for his children to give up something for him?

Dear God,

Is this what you meant by becoming a full-time apologist?

  • Not make robots
  • Not have a $100k+ salary with plush benefits
  • Spend ~10 more years in school
  • Move—possibly across the world—to go to graduate school
  • Go from a profession that your family and friends would say, “That’s a great field. You’ll be able to great things and make a lot of money with computers.”
    To a profession that people don’t understand?
  • Rely on family, friends, acquaintances, strangers, and anyone-I-can-convince-to-give-me-money for my income?

Yours Truly,

– Aerom Xundes

Each of those bullet points goes against many things that have been integral to my life so far. It would take several paragraphs each for you to understand the depth of what is being asked here. Suffice it to say, this list represents a radical shift in both the direction I’ve been heading and where I’d ever thought I’d go. It’s more than a career change. This asks me to give up things I’ve dreamed about for my entire life.

Now, I’ve heard plenty of sermons and personal stories how God called them to do something radical and it turned out better than they could have imagined. I’m not dismissing the benefits of doing the work of the Kingdom. I know if this is truly my calling, nothing else will be more fulfilling. Perhaps not the rock-star life of a cool, hip programmer with tons of money, but a fulfilling life with purpose and meaning.

Yet, I don’t know if this is actually what God wants me to do.

Ever the analyzer, optimizer, and questioner, I wonder if it is possible to have the best of both worlds. Can I be the rock-star robot-builder at the same time as an apologist? There’s plenty of examples in the Bible of people having their regular job and also being a prophet or evangelist for the Lord.

Could I build a robot-making business for a year or two then go to graduate school once I have a study income from my business? Perhaps go work for IBM, Google, Microsoft, or some other tech giant and help create an amazing artificial intelligence? It’s every geek’s dream to create an AI like Cortana from Halo, Jarvis from Ironman, or even a (friendly) GLaDOS from Portal. The list of AIs in popular fiction is nearly endless. Just being on the team to create a self-driving car is a highly coveted position among computer scientists. Can I do that for a bit?

I can even provide reasons why doing something like that would be beneficial to my apologetic career. Likely just rationalizations, but they sound good!

  • I can make $100k+ a year as a software developer. I have no debt and no family (yet), so I can save a lot of money for those 10 years of school.
  • At the moment, I want to research the philosophy of information. I believe there a new argument for God’s existence in the form of a generalized design argument based on the properties of information. Experience with real-world artificial intelligence systems and information networks should help me with my research.
  • If my robot business is successful, then that adds to my credibility. Think Elon Musk who goes around talking about information theory and Christianity.

I could continue to add to this list, but I think I’ve made my point. We could also then make counterpoints to each and debate each of its validity and my underlying motivations. The point is that it makes good sense to not give up my computer science career. Yes, you immediately come back with, “God’s plans don’t always make sense to us.” Then why did I spend the last 13 years working with computers? My resume literally has a line that says “10 years programming experience”. Why spend 5 years in college to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the #5 ranked program in the world?

2016-09-29 06_22_40-Start.png
A portion of my skills list on my resume.

Yes, I hear you. Jeremiah 29:11, Proverbs 3:5, and all the others. Is it so bad to ask the question?

Apologetics is all about answering the question “How do you know that?” So, how do I know that this is God’s will for me?

I need an answer quickly. Career fair at Georgia Tech happened last week. I have multiple companies pursuing me. Big companies. Respectable companies. Companies that tell me they will pay me a lot of money to do what I have wanted to do since I was 13. These companies won’t wait for long. I’ll be the rock-star developer. I’ll have more money than I’ll know what to do with. Can I have it all?

Something tells me there will be some kind of sacrifice in all of this. There aren’t many Bible stories where God’s man gets everything he wants here on Earth. I’m (somewhat) okay with that. It’s the not knowing that gets to me. Can you tell I don’t like uncertainty?

It’s not that I don’t want to become an apologist. I really want to. I do believe God has called me to be an apologist. However, I want to be a computer scientist too!


 

Post Script:

In the course of writing this piece, I’ve moved a bit on this subject. However, it still gives a good overview of the different issues that I am dealing with as well as a glimpse into my emotions.

World Dumb

O temporas! O mores! Oh the times! Oh the customs! People just can’t think these days! They skim a Wikipedia article and think they know everything! People can’t tell you why they believe what they believe—they believe something on a whim! Idiot Trump, socialist Bernie, and liar Hillary each have real shots at being president. Christians seem to check their brain at the door when they go to church. Scenarios we used to use in our reductio ad absurdum arguments are now sincerely held positions. What happened to the times when people were more thoughtful, cared more about what they believed, and were sensible?

How many times have we heard this? In particular, how many times have we heard this and not moved any closer to a realistic solution? It is good to mention a problem that has not been mentioned before, but it is not good to continue to bemoan the state of affairs without attempting to do something about it. We cannot remain in our cliques and persist with our complaining about how the world can’t think. To do so is to be complicit in the crime. In our inaction, we allow harm to come to humanity.

Insurmountable

But, World Dumb is an insurmountable problem! No one has come up with a cure!

To this objection, I respond with the word yet. No one has come up with a cure yet. It has not been demonstrated that it is impossible, so we should carry on with the assumption that it is possible. Doing otherwise is to admit defeat and to damn untold millions to ignorance and perhaps even hell.

Even if some clever person were to construct a proof of some sort that World Dumb is incurable, we still must not surrender. There are still a great many ways we can approach the problem. But, since we aren’t there yet, I’m not going to dwell on those. (Prevent spread, reduce symptoms, or change the rules so that the limitations of the disease are irrelevant.)

I do not deny—for it is as obvious as can be—that this is a hard problem. If it were easy, we would not complain about World Dumb, we would simply solve it.

Defining the Dumb

What is the Dumb? When we say someone has the Dumb, how do we arrive at that conclusion? Are there different flavors or colors of the Dumb?

We need to define what it is. Perhaps we don’t know and need to think, research, and survey. There are probably multiple reasons, causes, and contributing factors. I don’t know how to define the Dumb, but here are some thoughts I had. They are almost certainly wrong, but maybe someone else will connect the dots with these jogging their mind.

  • Apathy
  • Lack of knowledge
  • Different approach than we take (think Enlightenment vs Romanticism)
  • Different conclusions than we make

There must be a better definition than, “People can’t think.” Use the Five Whys or other analysis tools to find the real reason people have the Dumb.

Changing Approach

Currently, much of our approach to solving World Dumb is to merely lament about how the world does not think, how little they care, and how they don’t even know any better. This is not good. We are better than the proverbial grumpy old men grumbling about today’s youngsters with no realistic progress made or attempted.

I propose we change our approach. Clearly, trying to solve World Dumb in one fell swoop is nigh impossible. Still, we can make progress by transforming the problem.

As we all learn in our math classes (particularly for me Calculus III, Combinatorics, and Algorithms), changing the form of a problem is often a good way to make progress. There are many integrals that can’t be evaluated without changing the coordinate system or order of integration. Similarly, many mathematical algorithmic proofs rely upon showing an unsolved problem is equivalent to a solved problem by changing the formation of the problem slightly.

Of course, the types of problems mathematics addresses are quite different from the problem we are trying to solve, but the techniques are used in many varied fields. I don’t expect all of these techniques to apply. The expectation is that by changing the approach, we will arrive at new ideas to combat World Dumb.

Solve a Single Case

Perhaps the lowest hanging fruit is to merely show the simplest case of Dumb is solvable. Take a single example of Dumb with a single individual and propose a method to cure the individual. The proposed method doesn’t need to solve every strain of Dumb, merely show that Dumb is curable. With a simple case solved, we can move to more complicated varieties.

If we get no farther than this, we have found a method to save one person from the Dumb. That is one more than would have been saved. With more resources, we can duplicate this and save more. With more time and practice, we may be able to optimize our technique and become more efficient.

Split Into Smaller Problems

A related problem solving technique to solving a single case is splitting a large problem into multiple smaller problems. I personally use this quite often when developing software. For example, building a autonomous automobile is a huge problem, but it can be solved if we break it up into smaller problems. Some of the smaller problems related to building a self-driving car are:

  • Determine which roads to take to arrive at the desired destination (path finding).
  • Detect the road boundaries, other vehicles, and obstacles to avoid (computer vision).
  • Build a control mechanism to control the various automobile systems like the steering wheel, engine, transmission, and lights (robotics).

By solving each of these sub-problems (which each may be split into further sub-problems), the self-driving car project comes closer to a reality. Relating this to our endeavor, by solving the various contributing factors to Dumb, we can reduce or eliminate World Dumb. Perhaps apathy, lack of knowledge, and alternate conclusions—or whatever we identify as sub-problems.

Reduce the Unsolvable to Solvable

Say we have problem A. We don’t know how to solve A. However, we notice we know how to solve problem B. If we can find a way to reduce A to B, we then solve A. The trouble is to find B and the reduction method. This method is used frequently in computer science with advanced algorithms.

As a potential example, we have the problem of Apathy and we don’t know how to make people care. However, we are quite good at giving arguments to (hopefully) change the conclusions of our interlocutors. If we can find a way to reduce the problem of Apathy to the problem of giving arguments, we make progress. Of course, Apathy is a fairly complex problem, so we may need augment our arguments with something else to fully cover Apathy.

Simplify the Problem

What if we don’t need to do everything we think we need to do? We often overestimate what we need to do when faced with an unfamiliar scenario or when the task is large.

A small example is given in Don Norman’s classic Design of Everyday Things. Norman was annoyed with the many different locks in his apartment complex and he never knew which way he needed to turn the key. Instead of trying to change the direction of the lock mechanism, he simply added small stickers on each lock to indicate the direction. Problem solved. Instead of standardizing all the locks, it was sufficient to merely indicate the direction of turning—a much simpler problem.

Turning to the problem we are discussing, what if we only needed to make thinking valuable? (At least the type of thinking we desire for others to exemplify.) Then, regular people would naturally seek to think for themselves. It may be the case that we only need to teach a small population how to think. Perhaps we only need to teach key people—leaders of some sort—who will then go out and do more than we can alone.

In general, “make population x do y” would be a simplification when x is a population less than “the world” or y is something simpler than “think”.

When All Else Fails… Throw More Resources at the Problem

Can’t figure out how to solve a computer problem fast enough? Throw more computers at the problem. Don’t know how to make an efficient pulley to hoist the load? Get a bigger engine. Have an unfavorable tactical position in a key battle? Overwhelm your opponent with a sea of soldiers. Can’t figure out how to balance the budget? Add more money.

Some problems simply require more resources. Other times, we are not clever enough to find an efficient use of our resources to solve the issue. It is perfectly acceptable to add more resources to the mix and solve the problem. After all, the goal is to solve the problem, not do it with some arbitrary number of resources.

In our particular circumstance, we can choose to wait until we have enough resources to solve the problem. World Dumb is not going anywhere and we can use time to our advantage to maneuver into a position where we can effectively accomplish our goal.

Bringing It All Together

World Dumb is hardpervasive, and people seem to actually like it. It won’t go away quickly, cleanly, or cheaply. It is, nonetheless, an important problem that needs bright minds, brave leaders, and steadfast supporters.

Once we move beyond complaining, we can begin to recognize the problem is not impossible. We can then start to define the problem. Finally, changing our approach can yield success.