Professors should do better….

Sometimes, if you see something, you just have to say something. Today’s NYT published the following article by a college professor from University of Washington.

This professor gives a talk at the beginning of his evolutionary biology course to his students about why they ought to have a harder time reconciling science and religion.

The three pillars of his argument are:

  1. Just because the world is complex does not mean that it has to have been designed that way
  2. Mankind is not sufficiently different in a qualitative way that he can be placed at the center of the universe as God’s chosen super-being
  3. Bad things happen in the world and how could a loving God permit this to happen?

He starts with conceding that a creator God could have worked his plan through evolution because a creator God could have done anything he wanted to.

The rest of the article seems to be intended to undermine this first point. Unfortunately, the arguments are weak and could be easily answered as follows:

  1. Correct, but this does not address the implications of the Big Bang or prove that the first cause was not God
  2. The fact that mankind is ‘among and part of nature’ (though arguably not part of the food chain) in no way diminishes mankind’s role as a distinct and reasoning part of God’s creation
  3. Bad things happen because we mess things up – the presence of evil. Freewill means we are free to do so. Granting freewill means that, to be consistent, God has to allow us to work through our messes.

Overall, it is disappointing to me that such weak arguments make it to the pages of the NYT and, even more distressing, that these views are imparted as a formative part of the curriculum in a university biology class.

Professors should just be better than this. The intellectual underpinnings of religion are quite far from being as Professor Barash represents them. I suspect also, that the more interesting discussions of faith and science are taking place in the philosophy and physics classes.


How to avoid moving back in with your parents when you have already left….

Becoming independent is something you have been doing for a while now. It’s not a corner that you turn. It approaches quietly. Like wake-surfing: either you throw back the rope or someone suggests you should. Eventually, you need to surf without the rope.

Think of it this way: freedom and accountability as a two circle venn diagram. The overlap is greater as you grow older. Eventually, you own your own mess and author your own success.

Entering the world of work means you are free to seek work or not. However, you are accountable for the cost of the resources you consume. No safety net.

You were evaluated when you entered college: were you worth the spot you filled? As you think about employment – by yourself or by others – you need to grasp something basic. People buy your product or service (or labor) because they believe it will add value to their life, their business, meet a need or satisfy a want. They are not motivated by your need for employment, profit, success, self-improvement, career or personal development. They want to help you purely because they perceive you can help them.

There are some exceptions. Family or friends may employ you or assist your business. Be careful, though, not to mistake this as a validation of your business or worth. They are helping you for non-business reasons generally. Treat them on an arms-length basis. Repay them with the courtesy of making them look good for having made a connection. Assume you are paying back any money they invested with a decent return.

Your aim in all of this is that people see you as a resource they come to depend on. That is job security. Your goal is to trade your time, effort and resources for a profit. The profit is how you cover your cost of living and fund your recreation. And savings…

Savings are a tough thing to think about early in life but a great habit to have. We know bad things happen – unexpected things. Many of these end up in unplanned expenses. That is one use of savings. Another is to fund purchases or make investments you cannot afford from current income. It’s called deferral of gratification. You can’t have it now. You wait, you save. You buy it later after you have accumulated enough to make the purchase or to place a deposit sufficient to persuade someone to lend you the rest. Finances deserves another book. There are many and I am probably not going to write it. I will give you one upper case rant: have no more than two credit cards (American Express and one of Visa or MasterCard) and ALWAYS pay them off at the end of the month. Lease or buy cars – never borrow. It’s fine to borrow against your home. Otherwise, don’t borrow.

Shaping Your Future

Shaping your future is a lifelong project. College is a turning point.

One of the most important things you can learn is that everything that happens to you is your responsibility. It happens to you or you made it happen. In either case, it impacts you. What you do about it shapes your life.

Your goal is make sure that more of the things that shape your life are made to happen by you. Passivity is an invitation to be pushed around by others or by events beyond your control. Control can be illusory if defined as being master of all the outcomes in your life. Better to define it as a state of mind. Things will happen to you, but you can, by your actions and your attitude, widen the area within which you exercise control. You have freewill – you are supposed to use it. The choices you make will accumulate. They will influence the things that happen to you. Branch Rickey, a baseball executive best known for breaking the color barrier when he signed Jackie Robinson in 1945, said the following:

“Things worthwhile generally don’t just happen. Luck is a fact, but should not be a factor. Good luck is what is left over after intelligence and effort have combined at their best. Negligence or indifference are usually reviewed from an unlucky seat. The law of cause and effect and causality both work the same with inexorable exactitudes. Luck is the residue of design.”

Many have said (originally it is supposed to have been Seneca and more recently Oprah Winfrey) that luck is when preparation meets opportunity. You get the message: take charge of your own life or someone or something else may.

Moving Up

Every time you moved up a grade, there were adjustments. Every time you moved school, those adjustments were somehow larger. High School was the best. College is very different.

Boarding school (if that was your experience) may have been a preparation of sorts: school and home rolled into one – but still quite regimented, very supervised. College is a huge adventure. A new home; new friends; new freedoms; new social life; no regular parental supervision.

You have earned your way to great schools with which you are very happy. You had some help from your parents, but – hopefully – the GPA and everything else was yours. In this sense, college will not be a big shock. You are accustomed to working hard. You will probably need to step that up a few notches, but that will not be new.

The level of expectation intellectually might be a surprise. Not in all subjects but in some. Be prepared to accept that you don’t know a lot, but know that you will learn, from your professors and your peers. This is truly exciting.

The bar is raised for every generation and you do get to stand on the shoulders of those who went before you to some degree. Assume your are supposed to be brilliant, to excel. There is no lesser assumption that will do justice to your potential. Seek out others who share that goal.

College – why and to what end?

Your goal is to become a fully functioning member of society, capable of supporting yourself (and whomever else you want or need to support) by adding value at least sufficient to sustain the lifestyle you desire and ideally commensurate with the talents you have been given and have nurtured. This is a journey that ends when you do. It has already begun.

College is an opportunity to launch at full speed. By now you are supposed to have discovered how to work hard and smart, to study to learn not just to pass exams and you may also have some sense of where your talents (and passions) lie. You have the opportunity to acquire knowledge and skills that will change your life.

Discovering knowledge is really standing on the shoulders of humanity’s efforts to explain and document the world and the full range of human experience. You will learn facts that will inform your actions and opinions. Be careful to sift and test. Be discerning in allowing information and the opinions of others to shape your world view. You will learn skills and practice them. All this becomes your personal brand: the sum of everything you are and have learnt and the promise of what that will become. Whether you work for yourself or for someone else, your brand is what will be measured in determining how you add value – to your own business or someone else’s.

College isn’t a destination. It’s a milestone. By all means take a breath. Review the achievement of a goal along the way. And then get moving. Remember, working hard and working smart are the means by which you bring your talents to fruition. There are no speed limits for personal achievement.

College is opportunity on steroids. It offers the courses, the teachers and a learning rich environment. The only bad school is the one where you fail to take advantage of the opportunity it represents.