Brief Venture #2: Interesting 2012 Baseball Stats

As with most guys, I enjoy sports. A lot. In fact, I follow just about every major sport that’s out there pretty avidly, with the exception of hockey. But I also enjoy stats. I’m a statistician by trade, so I love looking at the numbers and comparing things, so I was looking at some Major League Baseball stats for the 2012 season thus far, and there are some interesting ones:

1) If the season were to end right now, there would be two Triple Crown winners (Matt Kemp, Josh Hamilton). Considering the last Triple Crown winner was in 1967, that would be a pretty incredible feat if they could keep it up.

2) Albert Pujols, who signed a $240 million contract this year, has the 3rd most at-bats in the majors without a home-run this year. Ahead of him are those huge power-hitters Michael Bourn (Atlanta) and David Murphy (New York Mets). Angels fans crying much?

3) Mark Reynolds has had 63 at-bats this year for Baltimore. 63% of those at-bats have ended without the ball in play, as he has 30 strikeouts and 10 walks. In fact, he has over three times as many strikeouts as hits this year, which accounts for his .143 average. I think he may end the year with 63 at-bats at this rate.

4) Emilio Bonifacio (Miami) leads the league in his own quirky stat. Bonifacio has 21 hits this season (.244 average), but he leads the league in most hits without an extra-base hit. All 21 hits have been singles. Emmanuel Burriss (SF Giants) is 2nd on this list, with 13 hits and no extra-basers, but in his defense, he does have 36 fewer at-bats than does Bonifacio.

5) Of the top 10 pitchers in number of innings pitched, only one has an ERA higher than 4.00. Unfortunately for me as a Yankees fan, that pitcher is C.C. Sabathia. But the tables turn, because Sabathia has yet to lose a game, which only one guy with more innings pitched can also say. That man, Jared Weaver, has gotten out one more batter than Sabathia through 5 games.

6) Clay Buchholz has 3 wins this season, tying him for 9th with a host of other pitchers in the MLB this season. What those other pitchers don’t have, though, is Buchholz’s 8.69 ERA. In fact, only one other pitcher of the top 36 pitchers in wins this year has an ERA over 5.00. That man, Ivan Nova (Yankees, 5.18 ERA), hasn’t lost in 15 regular-season decisions, which hasn’t happened in over 50 years.

7) Ervin Santana is the only pitcher to have lost 5 games in April. Correlated with that is another “only” distinction: he’s the only pitcher to have given up 10 homeruns already.

Anyway, those are just a few of the interesting stats that I stumbled across when looking at it this month, so I hope you enjoyed perusing them briefly too. I’ll be curious to see if any of these trends continue. I wonder if I could make $240 million without hitting a homer. Nah, probably not. 🙂

A Brief Venture Into Politics: Illegal Immigration

This post is a bit different from what I usually post here, as I usually deal with apologetics issues or sort of a “Christian living” approach. But something that happened this week made me want to post a few thoughts on the subject of illegal immigration in the United States.

My wife’s cousin posted a status on his Facebook account that said this: “How does being an illegal immigrant make you inherently more dangerous to society?” What followed initially were a couple of responses like this one: “I think illegal is the operative word in that sentance.(sic)”

WIFE and I had a discussion as she responded with her own opinions and went back-and-forth in a debate with one of the posters. But at the heart of the issue is not the illegality of the immigration, but of the inherent danger it supposedly triggers.

Now we obviously don’t live in a vacuum. Some illegal immigrants do commit serious crimes. But so do legal citizens! According to an article in Time magazine from 2008, illegal immigrants were responsible for 21% of crime in the U.S. in 2005. That means 79% of crime was caused by U.S. citizens. So the statistics show that there isn’t actually more danger inherent to illegal immigrants.

This objection (paraphrased) was thrown out in response to the initial Facebook status: “If they’re willing to commit a crime to be here, they’re willing to commit other crimes once they’re here.” There are two very good refutations to such logic. One is given in the above Time article by Prof. Daniel Mears, a Florida St. criminology professor: “‘If someone is here illegally,’ Mears asks, ‘why would they call attention to themselves by committing a crime?'”

The second one is a very basic turn of the word “illegal.” It means, in its simplest form, “breaking the law.” However, someone going above the speed limit on the road is also breaking the law, or to even it out to the language used of immigrants, “committing a crime.” Does that mean we should imprison or deport everyone who is speeding, since those speeders (of which I am one, sadly) have shown a willingness to commit a crime? Under the same logic, speeders would be willing to commit other crimes if they’re willing to speed. So why do speeders get only a ticket but illegal immigrants get deported or jailed? The argument just doesn’t make logical sense.

In my opinion, there are two big issues with many who are vehemently opposed to illegal immigrants in the United States:

1) Most strong objectors don’t actually know any illegal immigrants
2) An already “too strong” sense of entitlement

Let me speak to these together, because they sort of go hand-in-hand. I know of (for a fact) at least one person who is here illegally. I consider this person a good friend. This person has been here over five years and is married to a U.S. citizen. This person is also one of the nicest and hardest-working people I know. This person is here to try to make a better life for themselves and their family. This person has never committed a crime, contributes to society, is a member of a church and tithes to that church, and pays taxes on their income.

Here’s the kicker: this person has spent the better part of the past two years trying to become a legal citizen. What’s stopping them from achieving this? Initially this person was swindled out of thousands of dollars by a crooked lawyer (who is an American citizen) that had no intention of helping them see their case through. After getting a new lawyer, this friend of mine has been waiting months to hear from the American consulate in their home country for when they might get a hearing on their case. This has since been postponed with new immigration laws pending here. So even if an illegal immigrant wants to try and right the ship, the odds are stacked against them.

In contrast, I know of an American woman who wants her teenage daughter that just had a baby to move in with her so she can be on welfare and not have to get a job. This is a citizen who would like to abuse the system in order to perpetuate a laziness that comes from a sense of entitlement. After all, the government makes these programs, so we might as well use them if we can, right?

The old adage “give them a hand up, not a hand out” seems fitting here. Many illegal immigrants simply want a hand up. Many American citizens simply want a hand out. And yet the perceptions about which is more dangerous seem drastically skewed when you’re not acutely aware of how each side actually behaves. Again, these are generalizations about each group of people, but since the scope of the initial topic was broad, the principles are applicable.

As with many situations on the political landscape, it helps to be informed. My initial thought is this: if you don’t know any illegal immigrants, don’t act like you know what they are or aren’t capable of and therefore have a right to judge.

As a Christian, part of my value system is that everyone is loved by God and equally important, so trying to diminish one’s opportunity at success because it may infringe on your potential is selfish. After all, Jesus said, “Judge not, lest you be judged yourself.” Maybe if we spent more time trying to better ourselves instead of looking at the possible flaws of others, things would be far less dangerous. I’m pretty sure Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” not “love yourself and not your neighbor.” We’d be wise to heed such an ideology.

And now we return to our regularly scheduled programming.

P.S. For those of you wondering, I’m a registered Republican and may be in the minority here. But I’m a Christian first, and so will follow the words of Jesus before the words of my political party. 🙂

As a Christian, On Atheism

This post of mine isn’t actually going to be one I’ve written. It’s simply going to end with a link to someone else’s blog that I would encourage you all to read. So often we (and I am definitely included in this) get lost in the sniping and nit-picking of little details that we often miss the point of why we’re even having this discussion. I’ll admit I’m not entirely sure why atheists continue to come on WordPress and other forums and try to derail Christianity, Islam and any other religions they can get their hands on. I’m not an atheist, so I can’t speak to that. But as a Christian, I can speak to the underlying cause behind even being here with this blog. Much of it is meant to be encouragement to other believers, but given that it has an apologetic tilt to it, the link below describes excellently the motivation for reaching out. I’m glad this gentleman posted it, and I hope I can remember to read it myself from time to time to remind myself that this is a war that is far greater than you or me. Maybe that will give me a little more compassion and a little less condescension for those who don’t agree with me. Thanks for stopping by, and if you have five minutes, check out the link below.

Re: Atheism

The Resurrection of Jesus: A Minimal Facts Argument

An atheist that came on this blog recently “challenged” me to present the case for the resurrection of Jesus based on this post I put up a couple of weeks ago. Luckily, this very topic was also a part of our SWAT Seminar that took place about a month ago, and Craig Hazen presented what we call a “minimal facts” argument that the best explanation of the knowledge we have is that Jesus did, in fact, rise from the dead.

It’s called a “minimal facts” argument because the facts used don’t say very much (in length), but the argument uses only statements that both religious and secular scholars will agree are true. Believing and unbelieving (perhaps also termed “skeptical”) historical scientists will stipulate to the veracity of each of these statements, so we don’t need to debate their merits. When put together, they actually say a great deal. The debate centers around which hypothesis best fits the historical information we all agree on.

Before I give these statements (of which there are 12), it’s important to note the method for discovery and explanation. The scientific method is not the preferred method when discussing history. Rather, the method of inference to the best explanation is more commonly used. To steal from another blog post of mine, let me explain.

…We must use the evidentiary method, which is rooted in abductive reasoning. The problem is that in abductive reasoning, the logical fallacy of affirming the consequent is possible. For example, no one doubts the existence of Napoleon. Yet we use abductive reasoning to infer Napoleon’s existence. That is, we must infer his past existence from present effects. But despite our dependence on abductive reasoning to make this inference, no sane or educated person would doubt that Napoleon Bonaparte actually lived. How could this be if the problem of affirming the consequent bedevils our attempts to reason abductively? Philosopher and logician C.S. Peirce: “Though we have not seen the man [Napoleon], yet we cannot explain what we have seen without” the hypothesis of his existence. Peirce’s words imply that a particular abductive hypothesis can be strengthened if it can be shown to explain a result in a way that other hypotheses do not, and that it can be reasonably believed (in practice) if it explains in a way that no other hypotheses do. In other words, an abductive inference can be enhanced if it can be shown that it represents the best or the only adequate explanation of the “manifest effects.”

In modern times, historical scientists have called this the method of inference to the best explanation. That is, when trying to explain the origin of an event in the past, historical scientists compare various hypotheses to see which would, if true, best explain it. They then select the hypothesis that best explains the data as the most likely to be true. But what constitutes the best explanation for the historical scientist? Among historical scientists it’s generally agreed that best doesn’t mean ideologically satisfying or mainstream; instead, best generally has been taken to mean, first and foremost, most causally adequate.

So let me give the 12 statements that historical scholars almost universally agree are true and valid, and then perhaps you can decide for yourself what the best explanation of these truths is. For my money (and soul, consequently) the best explanation is that Jesus rose from the dead.

1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
2. Jesus was buried.
3. Jesus’ death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope, believing that his life was ended.
4. The tomb was discovered to be empty just a few days later.
5. The disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus.
6. The disciples were transformed from doubters who were afraid to identify themselves with Jesus to bold proclaimers of His death and resurrection.
7. This resurrection message was the center of preaching in the early church.
8. This message was especially proclaimed in Jerusalem, where Jesus died and was buried shortly before.
9. As a result of this preaching, the church was born and grew.
10. Sunday became the primary day of worship.
11. James, who had been a skeptic, was converted to the faith when he believed he also saw the resurrected Jesus.
12. A few years later, Paul was also converted by an experience which he likewise believed to be an appearance of the risen Jesus.

You Are Not Your Brain

In going back and reviewing the audio from my church’s SWAT Seminar from a week and a half ago, I have been listening to J.P. Moreland discuss his evidence for the existence of the soul. This was of particular interest to me, because I posted such an argument on my blog last year. I was intrigued to note that my argument was only slightly related to Moreland’s argument, because it means 1) I’m capable of independent thought, and 2) I feel like I might be able to contribute to the overall defense of theistic belief.

However, in listening to Moreland’s talk on the subject, it’s clear to me that his position is on much firmer ground than mine. He gave many different reasons why conscious states differ from brain states, but more importantly why “you are not your brain.” Among these reasons is that a person’s consciousness is not comprised of parts (you can have 80% of a brain, but you can’t have 80% of a person) and that it is possible for self to be disembodied, but not possible for the brain, therefore the person and the brain are not identical.

But the one that struck me as the simplest, yet most powerful, is the idea that if the person and the brain were the same, free will would not be possible. And if free will is not possible, then there is no reasonable concept of responsibility. In essence, if we didn’t have free will, there would be no reason we should logically choose to do good things, because whether or not a good thing is done is directed by the brain, and we as a person have no say in what we choose. In reality, everything would just be an effect of the laws of physics and chemistry, and as a result there would be no moral value or worth placed on any result–it just is what it is.

But because we place moral value on some choices (i.e. some things are really right or really wrong), this means that there is some personal responsibility, and as a result, free will is a real concept. And since free will is a real concept, the resulting conclusion is that a person is not the same as his/her brain. This gives powerful evidence to the existence of something immaterial that is responsible for the movements between conscious states in a person.

I’m sure I’ll have a few more posts from the SWAT stuff, but thought this was worth sharing.

Hanging By a Thread

This past weekend our church hosted our second annual SWAT Seminar. SWAT stands for Spiritual Warfare and Apologetics Training. This year we were fortunate enough to be able to bring out Craig Hazen and JP Moreland to speak to our group. These guys are two heavyweights in the apologetics world. They travel all over the country and the world, going into both hostile and friendly environments giving arguments in favor of the truth of Christianity.

In his introductory talk on Friday night, Hazen laid the foundation for his talk the next day on “Christianity Among the World’s Religions” by making a very interesting point. He said that Christianity is weird. Why? Because it is the only religion that is testable. Think about it. Most religions in the world are about inward experience and a personal journey toward some form of enlightenment. It doesn’t matter about what happens in the external world, because the religion is inward-focused and no one can prove you’re not having the experience you claim to have.

In stark contrast, the apostle Paul hangs Christianity by a thread that, if able to be snipped, would cause all of Christianity to come crashing to the ground. What is that thread? 1 Corinthians 15:12-17 tells us:

“But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”

If Jesus was not resurrected from the dead, Christianity is useless. This makes Christianity testable, because we can look at the evidence to determine whether or not Christ really was raised from the dead. We can create hypotheses that we can weigh against each other. Hazen did so on Saturday, giving 12 minimal facts that even secular historians agree are true by a large majority. We can then pit these hypotheses against each other using the inference to the best explanation and arrive at a reasonable conclusion. Perhaps I’ll post those later, but it’s easy to see why Christianity is so targeted among the world religions: because it can be objectively tested, and therefore Christians have sufficient belief that it can be defended. No wonder Peter told us to always be ready to give an answer (1 Peter 3:15). We need not have an answer if there isn’t a reasonable one available.

So Christians, we’re a bit strange. I think we already know this, but Paul’s distinction makes that more evident than ever. And yet we have strong reasons to believe that Christianity is true, and that we do not hope in vain. Your faith is hanging by a thread, but I have confidence it is one that can and will never be snipped, until Christ returns and makes plain the truth found in His Word.

The Problem of Evil: Just Who Is Responsible?

I recently discussed the problem of evil, which is a popular topic of debate between theists and atheists. For those unfamiliar, the general notion is that if God exists, why is there evil or suffering in the world? Surely God could have created a world without evil, because He is all-powerful and all-loving. The fact that evil exists suggests either that God is not all-powerful or He is not all-loving, and would therefore cease to be God. The atheist then concludes that because there is evil, God almost certainly does not exist.

I’ve posted on this elsewhere, but to me it seems theists often jump to free will and the permission of evil to accomplish a greater good. While this is definitely a component of the theist’s defense, it appears to me that we often miss the initial step: who is responsible for evil?

As a theist, to me it seems like we need to clarify this responsibility before we can discuss further. If an atheist poses to you the problem of evil, the first question ought to be this: “Can evil exist without man?” That is to say, if man did not exist, would there still be evil?

In reply, the atheist can really only go two ways. The initial implied assumption here is that the atheist is a naturalist, and as such believes that nature is amoral and indifferent. Nature doesn’t care about the plight of man, and so it applies no value to man. Since evil is a moral value judgment, and nature has no values, nature is amoral and incapable of evil on its own.

So the atheist can say either of the following:

1) Yes, evil can exist without man, or
2) No, evil cannot exist without man.

If the answer is the first option, then the atheist is stipulating to the existence of the supernatural realm, and the entire framework of the atheist’s worldview is shattered. Why is this true? Because the only realms that could exist are the natural and the supernatural, by definition. If nature is amoral and man doesn’t exist, then the only way a moral value judgment like evil could exist in such a situation is within the supernatural realm. So the atheist has just admitted their own worldview is irrational!

Realistically, this means the only option for the atheist is #2, where the existence of evil is predicated on the existence of man. However, this also poses a problem for the atheist, as we are then able to construct a logical argument based on the premises laid out from the atheist’s worldview:

1) If evil exists, then someone or something is responsible for evil. (P1)
2) If man does not exist, then evil does not exist. (P2)
3) Nature on its own is amoral. (P3)
4) Evil exists. (P4, denying the consequent)
5) Therefore, someone or something is responsible for evil. (C1 –> P1, P4)
6) Also therefore, man exists. (C2 –> P2, P4)
7) Nature existed before man existed. (P5) [This is the naturalist’s assumption based on the theory of evolution.]
8) Therefore, there was a time before man where evil did not exist. (C3 –> P2, P3, C2, P5)
9) But evil exists now. (P6)
10) Therefore, the someone or something responsible for evil didn’t exist before man, but exists now. (C1, C3, P6)

Based on these ten steps, the only reasonable conclusion is that man is responsible for the evil we see in this world. So the atheist is really assuming that the problem of evil begins with man, unless he relinquishes his entire worldview and commits to supernaturalism.

So the issue then becomes the following: couldn’t God have created a world where man didn’t exist? I suppose it’s logically possible, but we as humans are in no position to make any assumptions about such a world where we didn’t exist–namely, that it would be a world that is better than the one we are currently experiencing. Surely it wouldn’t be better for us, because we wouldn’t exist. So we have no basis on which to judge God based on the existence of evil.

Without even discussing free will, any theist can make a reasonable assertion that the problem of evil is a poor and invalid objection to the probability of God’s existence. If you are faced with such a task, don’t worry! You have the answers!