Screw You, Occam's Razor!

Josh McPaul Encourages PhD Students to have "Confidence in Complexity"

How many of you have been told that “it’s not that deep?” How many times do people tell you that things are simpler than you try to make them out to be? Do you ever wonder what is so wrong with trying to figure it all out? Well, simple might be good enough, but good enough, just isn’t good enough for me.

This past winter, I attended a retreat with graduate students from Stanford, Berkeley, and UCSC. I wrote about the overall experience and promised that I’d write a little bit about the teaching.  I really don’t know who Josh McPaul is or what he does, except that he is a ministry leader at UC Berkeley with ties to First Presbyterian Church (or perhaps he is a ministry leader at First Pres with ties to UC Berkeley). More importantly, his teaching, at the retreat, was intellectually captivating, and, in conversation, this guy is legit.

Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime;
therefore we must be saved by hope.
Nothing true or beautiful makes complete sense
in any immediate context of history;
therefore we must be saved by faith.
Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone;
therefore, we are saved by love.
– Reinhold Niebuhr

He hands out, what could be, a research paper on complexity, the Psalms, accompanied by a number of secondary sources. The overall takeaway is that, in addition to being very simple, Christianity is (especially intellectually) very complex. With complexity in mind, peace that “transcends all understanding” arrives, I believe, when we can accept that complexity is ok (when petitioned to God). McPaul takes it a step further to quote Tolkein:

Tolkien stated in a letter: “Actually, I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’ – though it contains (and in a legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory.

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My Weekend with Christian Graduate Students from Stanford, UC Berkeley, and UC Santa Cruz

Graduate Students listening to a lecture on having "Confidence in Complexity"
Small group discussion

At my age (26), Christian “retreats” seem far less frequent or, maybe, less memorable as they’d been when I was a teenager.  This last weekend, I had one of those “it’s so great to be alive” retreat experiences much like when I was younger.  Those who’ve gone to retreats know what I’m talking about, and if you are a Christian, who’s never gone on a retreat, you should.  For people who aren’t Christian, I really don’t know how I’d explain to you what it’s like.  Maybe I’d say something like this…

Conference Center

Last weekend, we went to a conference-center like location in the Santa Cruz mountains for 3 days with PhD and Masters students from Stanford, Berkeley, and UCSC.  It was a great networking opportunity where we were broken into small groups to discuss issues on faith, spirituality, and our vocation.  All of us, in addition to professing the same faith, are working towards becoming (leading) experts in our respective areas, such as: Computer Science, Chemical Engineering, Physics, Biology, International Relations… etc.  In addition to lectures and discussion, we had a lot of relaxing, reflection time, and casual conversations.  The main speaker, Josh McPaul, had the challenge of speaking to some of the most analytical students in the world and did it so well (There’s going to be at least one more post just on the important points he made that weekend.)  A more formal version of this would be InterVarsity’s Following Christ Conference.

Instead of telling you about the great discussions and lecture content I’ve left with, I wanted to describe the off-schedule and, perhaps, most valuable times I shared with these fellow researchers: the sharing of research, sharing of books, and sharing of music.

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