January 15, 2010

The bad news: the Synchronicity Podcast has come to an end. The good news: I’m back to blogging on a regular basis.  However, instead of continuing in this space, I’ll be posting on a dedicated domain, where I will have more flexibility in terms of page theme options and cool sidebar gadgets. The new blog will be similar to this one, except that it will focus more on legal and economic issues, and the ways that they interact with Christian theology. Adjust your feed readers and bookmarks to

Hope to see you there.

–          Matt

Evil and the Justice of God Review at Synchronicity

October 26, 2009

If anyone is still out there following this feed, you might be interested to know that I just started a series reviewing NT Wright’s Evil and the Justice of God over on the synchronicity podcast site.

No Death Panel Overlords Here

August 22, 2009

Yesterday, I had a chance to watch John Stewart’s recent interview of Betsy McCaughey, an interview that apparently resulted in Ms. McCaughey’s resignation as director of Cantel Medical Corporation.

Ms. McCaughey’s now infamous interview focused on a section of House Bill 3200, titled “America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009,” which you can read for yourself here. McCaughey claimed that the bill implemented so-called “death panels” which would decide whether a person with a chronic or terminal condition would be afforded federally-funded health care.

I was fascinated by the claim, and by the apparent inability of McCaughey and Stewart to agree on what was in the bill, that I decided to check it out.

Not the whole thing, mind you. Like a lot of Federal legislation, HB 3200 is unimaginably complex. If it is implemented, entire careers will be devoted to trying to understand and implement the bill. Nevertheless, I thought it might be interesting to at least check out the provision that was the focus of the discussion.

The journey through this bill began on page 424, the beginning of the section which McCaughey claimed creates a “death panel.”

This section amends the Social Security Act by adding “advance care planning consultation” to the Social Security Act’s definition of “medical and other health care services.” (You can find the section of the SSA that would be amended here.) 

Why is the SSA’s definition of “medical and other health care services” important? Because it is one of the key phrases that describes the types of treatment that will qualify for Medicare benefits. (The section where the definition is deployed in the Medicare statute can be found here.)

In other words, what HB 3200 does is provide Medicare patients with an opportunity to meet with their physician to discuss “advance health care planning” on the Federal government’s nickel.

Notably, this meeting does NOT appear to be mandatory. No one is forced to participate in this discussion. The bill simply provides that, if a patient elects to discuss this issue with their doctor, Medicare will pay for it.

HB 3200’s definition of “advance health care planning consultation” goes into some detail, but the practical upshot of it is that the phrase refers to a meeting between a doctor and a patient on the subject of advance directives, which are decisions that are made by a patient about how their health care should be handled in the event they become mentally incapacitated.

There are two key components that have long played a role in advance directives, and HB 3200 recognizes them explicitly:

First, there is the living will, which provides guidance to the patient’s family and health care providers about the circumstances, if any, under which life-sustaining treatment should be withdrawn. The decision regarding the contents of a living will, or even whether a living will is created, are completely up to the patient.

Second, there is the “durable power of attorney.” This is a document that a patient can execute which indicates who will make health care decisions for the patient in the event the patient cannot make decisions for themselves.

As Stewart, and a good many folks in the media, have since observed, there is no “death panel” – or anything even remotely like it – in this part of the bill.

However, what fascinated me about this particular provision of the bill was the fact that it appears to do exactly the opposite of what McCaughey was claiming it does. Rather than handing over end-of-life decisions to a Federal panel, this bill reinforces  the patient’s power to make their own choices – by ensuring that they have an opportunity to apprise themselves of their options before they become incapacitated, and by providing them with an opportunity to designate the person who will make their decisions for them.

No shadow overlords here, I’m afraid. Just a fairly innocuous provision that will probably help elderly patients to become more aware of the ways they can continue to exercise a degree of self-determination if or when they become gravely ill.

What is disturbing here, of course, is the way a debate over complex Federal legislation can be hijacked by profoundly misleading accusations. It probably took me an hour to work through this to see for myself what was going on. Most folks won’t have the time or inclination, and may not even have the education – or internet access – to do it. They are stuck relying on their trusted news sources – CNN, Fox News, radio talk show hosts – or even entertainment sources (such as Stewart’s show) to tell them what is going on.

Synchronicity Has Moved

August 1, 2009

I’ve moved the Synchronicity podcast from pod0matic to its own web site. The address is now

I still haven’t decided on the final fate of this blog. I’m going to leave it dormant for a while longer, at least. However, my plan is to post some written entries on the synchronicity site, many of which will be along the lines of things I have posted here before. So… even if you don’t want to listen to the podcasts, you might think about subscribing to the feed.

Podcast Update

April 26, 2009

For anyone who is interested, the podcast is now twittering @SyncPod.


January 12, 2009

Via Tall Skinny Kiwi, this link to the Rapture Index.

Qoheleth, the Infinite Universe, and New Creation

January 11, 2009

I recently discovered a podcast called Radiolab, which is a series of hour long programs that focus on diverse scientific topics. In exploring some of the past offerings of Radiolab, I discovered this interview of Cambridge cosmologist Brian Greene regarding the implications of an infinite universe.

Here, Greene discusses the theory that nothing – and he does mean nothing – is unique in the universe.

Here is the concept:

1. The best data that is available today is that the universe is not “curved.” This means that, in theory, if you start traveling straight in one direction, and keep going that direction, you will keep going and going and going. You never end up – like you would on a globe – at the same place where you begin.

2. On the other hand, all conceivable patterns of matter are finite. He encourages us to think of Imelda Marcos. She may have many, many dresses and many, many shoes, but there are ultimately only so many combinations of the two that are possible.

3. Thus, while the universe itself is infinite, the potential arrangements of matter are finite. The number that describes all potential arrangements of matter is inconceivably large – but it must exist, and it must be finite, because matter only arranges itself in so many forms.

4. Thus, in an infinite universe, the finite patterns of matter must necessarily repeat themselves again and again and again.

Now…get ready for the weird part.

This means that, if you searched the universe long enough, you would eventually find an exact copy of yourself sitting in a room that is identical to where you are sitting right now, reading this exact blog post.. Except, maybe, the last sentence in the post didn’t include an extra period at the end.

But…if we kept searching, we could find yet ANOTHER person in an IDENTICAL place doing EXACTLY the same things reading EXACTLY the same post with the EXACT same typographical error.

Today, you might have exactly 100,000 hairs in your head. If we looked, we could find someone with the same number – or more, or less – who would otherwise be identical to you: right down to the color and style of your shirt.

You name it, you can find it. And you can find multiple copies of it.

…and why not, Greene argues? The universe has literally all of the space, matter, and energy it needs to randomly reproduce things – like you – again and again and again.

My sophomoric question – which I don’t think was answered in the podcast – is how we can know that the universe contains infinite quantities of matter and energy. It strikes me that this should not be a given, though I’m sure people much smarter than me have asked (and answered) the question already.

This cosmology leaves us with at least two potential configurations:

#1: One creator/One unique universe

#2: One Infinite universe

Option 2 does not eliminate the existence of God, but it does call into question the idea of a “Creator” God in the sense that “creation” brings about something that is unique or one-of-a-kind. Instead, if this cosmological view were to ever become widely accepted, theology would have to conceive of a God who brought about all possibilities at once and in infinite quantities.

Furthermore, Option 2 puts us in a serious existential crisis. I can no longer think of myself, my home, my loved ones, my planet, or my talents as unique. All of these things are, in fact, on a cosmological scale, quite common and thus – mundane.

I am reminded of the poem of Qoheleth – found in the first Chapter of Ecclesiastes:

Is there anything of which one can say,
       “Look! This is something new”?
       It was here already, long ago;
       it was here before our time.

If Greene is right – we can add: “It is also in the universe right now, in infinite quantities, and will exist in the same quantities in the future.”

Now…before we get carried away, lets be clear that this view is NOT, so far as I can tell, universally embraced amongst cosmologists. Even in this podcast, there is some discussion of a multi universe theory that is slightly different from this one, though it also holds the the existence of all possibilities.

Nevertheless, I think this viewpoint could inform the development of Christian theology in two important ways:

First, it provides a promising framework for a discussion on the issue of the existence of evil. If God did, in fact, allow for all possibilities to exist at once, as a part of the act of “creation” – then inevitably evil is going to spring up in that creation. Before creation can become what it was intended, all of the evil possibilities have to be identified and eradicated, in the same way that a novel must be edited or a script must be re-drafted. This explanation, I think, could help to move forward a discussion that has puzzled believers for centuries. [It could also serve as a great plot for a science fiction novel: imagine someone from a “perfect” – but largely identical part of the universe – coming into our own or vice versa…]

Second, it serves as an important reminder that our eschatology must deal with the basic existential crisis that was expressed by Qoheleth. If humans are, in fact, destined for immortality – how, then, can we avoid falling into Qoheleth’s despair? On the one hand, it could be argued that hell is nothing more than immortality in a universe with finite possibilities. On the other hand, it could be argued that God’s project of “new creation” is just that – to bring into existence, for example, infinite combinations of matter, or to introduce new combinations infinitely over time. This would free the universe from finite possibilities and open up something entirely new.