Saturday, June 22, 2013

A Long, Puzzling, Starry Night

Building on the discussion of pleasures in my last post, I'll reveal here another of my secret pleasures.  I enjoy doing jigsaw puzzles.  This isn't a "catch and release" type of puzzling, though.  I glue them together and put them on the wall when they're done.  My good wife doesn't think they fit the decorating style of our home, so they adorn the walls of my office at school.  Besides a map of Middle Earth and a picture of Luke Skywalker staring at the setting suns on Tatooine, they are mostly fine art like the Mona Lisa, Renoir's  Country Dance (and his City Dance on the back), and one of Degas's ballerina pictures.  I got started doing those back in graduate school after a visit to the Boston Museum of Fine Art, where the Renoir was displayed.  I guess I like the irony of fine art in the medium of jigsaw puzzle.  And as for the puzzles themselves, I like the analytic exercise of breaking something down into its smallest constituent parts and building it up from there.  In that regard, impressionist puzzles are hard.  When you chop them up into 1000 or 2000 pieces, there aren't many identifying features left on an individual piece.  So, you have to stare at the piece for awhile, then stare at the picture on the box for awhile.  Occasionally you'll find right where that piece belongs.  By the time you're done, you know every brush stroke on the painting.  This latest project is Van Gogh's Starry Night.  It was a 2000 piece monster.  I started it over a year ago, and then rolled it up in my handy puzzle carrier and neglected it for months at a time.  This summer I pulled it back out and put it in the sun room, where most evenings I could be found staring at it and listening to Red Sox baseball games.  I hesitate to guess how many hours I spent in this way (though I probably could have become fluent in Farsi had I spent the time on that).  There were a few others who contributed: thanks to Hannah, Mikayla, Taylor, Casey, Trevor, Connor, and Chris who all found some pieces for me.  Though truth be told, about 1,975 of the 2,000 pieces were mine.  Perhaps the most surprising and pleasing aspect of it was that all of the pieces were accounted for after a year of them lying around.  Time to get out the glue.  If you'd like to see the real thing, stop by the office next fall.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Pleasures of Man of Steel and Inferno

This week I shed my elitist philosopher persona and drank deeply from the well of popular culture.  I bribed my kids to do some work for me around the house by taking them to the new Superman film.  And for Father's Day they got me the new Dan Brown thriller, Inferno, which I read through in a few sittings.  The philosopher in me looks to books and films primarily for profundity, complexity, and subtlety.  And perhaps the best way to measure my estimation of these qualities in such media is how many times I re-read or re-watch them.  I have no plans to re-read Inferno or re-watch Man of Steel.

That's not to say that I didn't enjoy them at some level.  I also enjoy at some level sitting on the couch and eating an entire bag of potato chips while I watch those shows about aliens having visited earth (yes, we signed up for cable again).  But after such experiences I can't help wondering whether there are better pleasures to be had than these.  That's a tough argument to make, but one that has some plausibility to it.  We'll come back to that point.

Both of these stories brought up the theory of utilitarianism.  Should Superman ally with his fellow Kryptonians and take over Earth to repopulate their species?  Yes, it would hurt a bunch of humans, but if it resulted in more good (= life) for the most Kryptonians possible, then wouldn't it be worth the cost to humans?  Wouldn't we feel little pang of conscience to sacrifice a bunch of lower life forms to save our species?  Or switching to Inferno, Dan Brown's conspiracy du jour is that it has been mathematically demonstrated that the current overpopulation of the earth will lead to the extinction of human beings within 100 years if we don't do something drastic.  So utilitarianism would suggest that eliminating 1/3 of humans now is justifiable if it saves more people than that in the future.  This is the straightforward "moral" reasoning of Jack Bauer, et. al. in 24: if torturing a guy's kids gets him to tell us where the bomb is in the shopping mall, then shouldn't we do that so it will save lives?

Unfortunately the calculus of utilitarianism is never quite so simple.  Early on, J.S. Mill realized that we can't just calculate how much good or pleasure some action brings about, because it seems like there are different kinds of pleasures.  And he advocated that some of these pleasures are better than others.  And since was an elitist philosopher guy, the best pleasures ended up being those profound, complex, and subtle experiences that can be appreciated such folks.  So the pleasure of a listening to a Beethoven symphony is better than the pleasure of watching two super heroes duke it out for the last hour of that movie.  Or so the argument went.

I have to say I'm sympathetic to this argument at some level.  There was an experiment with mice in which they hooked up some electrodes to the pleasure center of their brains and the mice could learn to active this by pressing a button in their cage.  Once they learned how to do it, they sat there and pressed the button repeatedly until they died (because they didn't stop to eat or drink or sleep).  Is that kind of pleasure good?  Aren't there better kinds?

Reading Dan Brown is kind of fun.  The three page chapters pull you along through the plot at a break-neck speed.  You want to find out where the bag of plague virus is hidden, and you want to find out who is the double-crosser, etc.  There's not much work to reading it.  And I suppose you get out of it what you put into it.  Whenever I've put in the effort to read something harder, though, I find that much more rewarding in the end.  Not everyone has the taste for Anna Karenina, but profundity, complexity, and subtlety are found in much more abundance there.  The same is true for gruyere cheese compared to the nacho cheese dip at the 7-eleven, and for chess matches compared to the NBA, and for reading good blogs compared to watching YouTube.  Should we elitist snob types try to force the good stuff on everyone, or even make the claim that one really is better than the other?

I don't know.  I'm in the mood for a bag of chips.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

DJ J.B. - Batter my Heart

My nearly month-long blogging silence has a reason.  I could appeal to the three-week class I was teaching in May, or the writing I've been doing, or the increase in running mileage.  And while all of those are true, none of them are the real reason.  I find that no matter what else is going on in life, there is usually a bucket of time available for staring at a computer screen (what else are you going to do during those first three quarters of NBA games?!).  It's just that my "staring at a screen" time has been taken up with other things besides blogging.

I mentioned a while ago that I'm now the owner of an iPad.  Perhaps one day I'll reflect and write about how that has changed my life in a more general sense.  Today, though, I'll admit to one very specific change: it has brought me into the world of creating electronic music.

It started fairly innocently, goofing around with Garage Band and the fun little beats you can make with its percussion app.  But that is fairly limited and gets old after a few measures.  So with the help of son #1, I graduated to BeatMaker 2, and then had to add Audiobus to be able to import sounds from other apps like Animoog, Magellan, and AmpliTube.  I'm still scouting vocal processors.

Anyway, I've started into what could be my musical magnum opus by taking old famous prayers and mixing them into my new groove.  I'm finding that making songs is like writing an article in that you're never really done, but at some point you stop working on it.  The first of my songs has reached that point, so I've decided to inflict it upon the readers of this blog (if there are any left).

It turns out that you can't upload an audio file into Blogger, presumably so I can't pirate music to the throngs who follow this site.  So, son #3 (who knows about such things) said he could work around that problem by putting it into a "video".  And that has the added bonus of being able to write the lyrics on screen so you can understand the sometimes difficult to understand vocals with their olde English and heavy filtering (remember I'm still looking for a vocal processor that is compatible with Audiobus).  Son #3 is also responsible for donning John Donne with a pair of Beats to set the tone for what you should expect.

Speaking of Donne, he's the author of the text of this first remixed prayer: one of his Holy Sonnets called, "Batter My Heart Three Person'd God".  My kids first thought the metaphor had to do with what you might do to a fish filet before frying it.  No.  Batter, as in pound.  It is a prayer for God to stop taking it easy on us so that we might really come to know him.  My favorite line is the last: "I'll never be chaste unless you ravish me."

So, here we go.  This song was completely composed on my iPad (with the help of a little gizmo that lets me plug in a guitar and bass (I'm also not happy with the in-app bass amplifiers at my disposal yet)).  It sounds best in headphones.  Let me know if you think I should quit my day job and go on tour with Deadmau5 and Daft Punk.

video

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Good Advice from Aquinas on the Bible

I'm in a phase of sporadic blogging again, mostly due to the facts that I'm teaching a three-week course that meets every day for three hours and that I'm working on the manuscript for the Science and Christianity text I have to have finished in a year or so.  In my research for the latter, I came across some words from Thomas Aquinas that I wish today's Christians would take to heart.  He was discussing how to interpret the Bible when it is obvious that the worldview of the original writers and audience is different than our own.  He gives two points, which he believes to be consistent with what Augustine taught:
First, the truth of Scripture must be held inviolable.  Secondly, when there are different ways of explaining a Scriptural text, no particular explanation should be held so rigidly that, if convincing arguments show it to be false, anyone dare to insist that it is still the definitive sense of the text.  Otherwise, unbelievers will scorn Sacred Scripture, and the way to faith will be closed to them (Summa Theologica, Vol. 10:71-73 of the Blackfriars 1967 edition).
Whether we're talking about the age of the earth, the methods God used to create, or the historicity of Adam of Eve, there is no doubt that there are different ways of explaining the text.  So, following Thomas's advice, let's not hold to a particular explanation so rigidly that when convincing arguments come (and they will probably come) that the way of faith will be closed to people today.  I've seen this too often lately.  People who have said, "If this is what Scripture says, then obviously it is a bunch of a hooey."

Back to writing.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

More about Women

In my post the other day (here), I just kind of snickered at the position John Piper takes on the role of women.  The position is obviously deserving of more careful engagement.  I don't have the inclination to do that myself, but I'll tell a story and then point to two others who have written more seriously about the topic.

The story has played itself out more than once and so I'll speak in generalities to protect the guilty.  I used to be involved in interviewing lots of people for jobs.  And given that hiring at a place like my institution has a faith/doctrinal component, questions would come up about topics that not all Christians agree on.  Sometimes that was the role of women.  Whenever that came up and the interviewee espoused the hierarchical/complementarian position advocated by Piper and his ilk, I'd ask why he or she held to that position.  Invariably the answer was "1 Timothy 3 clearly says that the overseers (or bishops or elders or senior pastors?) must be men."  Leaving aside the numerous counterexamples to the implied premise that "If the Bible clearly says something, we must do it or believe it" (e.g., Deut. 21:18-21, Mathew 5:29, 1 Peter 5:14), it is easy enough to expose the faulty thinking with their selective interpretation of that passage itself.  I ask, "So, can single men be elders?"  Because the passage clearly says that these overseers must be married.  "Can they be married without children?"  Because the passage clearly says that they have children.  "What if they only have one child?"  Because the passage clearly refers to children in the plural.  The most recent time this story played itself out, the interviewee (who was quite theologically sophisticated) responded with a somewhat nonplussed, "I've never thought of that."

Now just like other passages of scripture we ignore in their literal sense, there are reasons that can be given for why we should only take the maleness of 1 Tim. 3 as important.  The question is whether those are good reasons or not.  Here are couple of Baylor graduate students who have recently engaged the issue.

Rachel Pietka is a grad student in English and responds directly to Piper's podcast from a few weeks ago.  She wrote a blog post on the Christianity Today "Her-Meneutics" portal about why Piper's position reduces to his problems with the female body.  You can find it (the blog, not the female body) here.

And a doctoral student in theology at Baylor, and a figure known to many of the readers of this blog, David C. Cramer has just recently had a paper published called "Assessing Hierarchist Logic: Is Egalitarianism Really on a Slippery Slope."  You can find a copy of it here.  It has received significant attention in the blogosphere because of an entry yesterday on Scot McKnight's very popular blog (here), which McKnight concludes with these words: "For those with a mind to listen, this will be a landmark article demolishing the logic of one man’s attempt to right the ship."  I'm particularly proud of this landmark article and its use of careful logical thinking, because I taught the author logic in his undergraduate education!  (though if truth be told, I suspect that logical insight is more a function of nature than the nurture that comes from a couple of undergraduate courses).

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Dallas Willard, 1935-2013

Dallas Willard died today.  He recently revealed that he had very advanced cancer.  Willard was an ordained Baptist minister, a philosophy professor at USC, and the godfather of the contemporary spiritual disciplines movement.  I have been hugely influenced by his work and had the privilege of spending a few days with him.

Back in the year 2000 we had just instituted the philosophy major at Bethel.  We wanted to have an inaugural lecture of some sort to properly christen our new program.  We talked about the people who might best embody what we hoped our program would be like, and after a few names were brought up, everyone settled on Dallas Willard.  So we invited him, and he graciously came.  I picked him up at the airport and was immediately struck by his gentle demeanor and the holiness that seemed to ooze out of him.  For the next few days I accompanied him about everywhere.  Because of the personal impact he made on me, I was determined to read everything of his I could get my hands on.

Particularly important for me was his Spirit of the Disciplines which details the "why" of spiritual disciplines. Willard's disciple Richard Foster (who is more well known by the mainstream of Christian people) has written importantly on the "how", but for me it took the "why" before I understood these things well enough to implement them in my own life.  I'm sure there is some disciplinary bias here, but I think it is because Willard is a philosopher that was able to penetrate so insightfully into the topic.  I remember the first time reading through the book I was taking a retreat at the local monastery and got to chapter seven, "St. Paul's Psychology of Redemption" and I had an epiphany of sorts.  Since then, I've taught through the book and spoken on the topic numerous times.  I tell people that I'm basically a Willard impersonator.  I can't leave this book without quoting from the appendix on the good life.  Lots of people want to talk about the cost of being a disciple, because it takes some work, it means denying yourself and so on.  But Willard asks about the cost of nondiscipleship:
Nondiscipleship costs abiding peace, a life penetrated throughout by love, faith that sees everything in the light of God's overriding governance for good, hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging of circumstances, power to do what is right and withstand the forces of evil.  In short, it costs exactly that abundance of life Jesus said he came to bring (John 10:10).  
I also highly recommend Hearing God, The Divine Conspiracy, and Renovation of the Heart for spiritual formation.  Willard is not the easiest writer to read, but just like the disciplines themselves, if you persevere, they amply reward the effort.  (And remember, as Willard used to say quite often, the grace of God is not opposed to effort on our parts.)

A few years after Willard visited Bethel, I was at a conference where he was one of the speakers.  I was hoping to get a chance to talk to him again, but wasn't very optimistic about this because of the throngs of people that were constantly around him.  Then one afternoon I was skipping some sessions and sitting in the fairly deserted lobby of the conference center, and I saw him walk by himself into the men's room.  I decided then and there that I too had the urge to relieve myself, and tried to time things so I'd be able to "bump into him" in less than awkward circumstances.  I went in and pretended to do my business in the amount of time it took him to finish his so that we would meet at the sink.  It worked like a charm!  I said very casually, "Professor Willard, you meet hundreds of people and I don't expect you to remember me, but you had a big impact on me when we spent a few days together when you were at Bethel College in Indiana a few years ago."  We shook our newly washed hands and he looked at me more carefully and said he did remember that and wondered how things were going for us there.  A bit more chit chat followed, and then I asked a more substantial question and he said, "That might take a little longer to answer.  What are doing now?"  If I would have had an appointment with the queen, I would have said "nothing".  So we went and sat down at a table and talked for an hour.

Willard has said that he thinks the best one word descriptor of Jesus is "relaxed".  Jesus was completely confident that the Kingdom of God was being enacted and that no matter what happened among the affairs of humans, that kingdom would prevail.  Willard himself was relaxed in just this sense.  Would that we might all cultivate the same attitude and approach to life.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

3rd Annual Royalties Reveal

I suspect that I have an inner accountant somewhere that has been repressed.  I don't even know what accountants do beyond balancing a checkbook, but there is something in me that takes great delight in organizing things quantitatively.  Actually "great delight" is probably too strong.  It's more like I can't help but do it.  My running and crossfit workouts are meticulously cataloged (currently on wodstack.com).  I keep a list of the books I've read (reported annually here).  I've been compiling details about my family tree (you can view it here).  Perhaps it's not an inner accountant, but more along the lines of Freud's anal retentiveness.  It's funny, though, because I'm not that way about everything.  There are some things that I'm very laid back and easy going about.  Like...  uh...  well, I'm sure there are some things.

But since entering the publishing market, tracking sales figures is one of the things that I'm compelled to do.  And I'm sure there is a different disorder in the DSM-V that explains my penchant for writing personal blog posts.  It is the conjunction of these two mental maladies that has resulted in my now 3rd annual posting in May that reports on the sales of my books.  (find last year's here, and the prior year's here).  This year it is double the fun, since I now have two books to report on.

The newest book is the Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity which I edited (with Alan Padgett), and was published on Wiley-Blackwell last summer.  There is this game that academic publishers play with the libraries which want the latest research and books that will last, so Blackwell only published it in hardback for now and set the list price at $199.  Of course there are various discounts, and the electronic version is cheaper.  All told, by the end of 2012 they had a net sales (not gross, because there are some vendors that return previously sold copies) of 222 books for an average sale price of 72.5 GBP (all the accounting is done in pounds, since Wiley-Blackwell is based in England).  My co-editor and I split 10% of this.  In addition, though, we got a one-time settlement for the rights to have it published in the Blackwell Reference Online collection.  They pay you once for libraries to allow unlimited access (or something like that).  The hope is that in another year they'll publish the paperback version so that normal people might buy it.

My other book is Christian Thought: A Historical Introduction which was co-authored with Chad Meister and published by Routledge in 2010.  So we're up to the third calendar year for reporting on it.  Routledge is basically a textbook publisher, and so the sales of this book are primarily for college and university courses.  Accordingly, the sales of it always jump in August and January, in preparation for the new semester.  It is not easy to find out where it is being used as a textbook.  A Google search turned up a large class at the University of Colorado-Boulder where it is a required text.  And Amazon will now show sales by region, which lets me guess that it has been used at some school in Florida and another in Washington State.  Electronic sales (mostly Kindle, I assume) were up to 56 this year.  Total sales in 2012 were 515, down just slightly from 2011's 523.  It looks like about 1/3 of those were sold through Amazon.  Sales seem to be leveling off here.  We were hoping for more in the crossover market to normal people for this book, but again the pricing of it keeps it out of their reach.  We had negotiated into the contract that our royalty rate would rise from 10 to 14% if there were ever more than 3000 copies sold in a year.  It appears that the publisher agreed to that because they saw no chance of it actually happening.

All told, I was responsible for 737 books being purchased in 2012.  That doesn't exactly put me into upper echelon of published authors, or even of academic authors, or even of academic authors with an arboreal last name. My share of the royalties amounted to a little less than 4% of my income from my real job.  Not exactly a lucrative second job.  I suspect that working on these books is more than 4% of the time that I spend on my real job.  But it is enough to help fund the Stump family vacation this summer.  Much of the rest of my summer will be spent on book #3.  The manuscript isn't due until 2014, but I've already got the column in the spreadsheet where I'll track its sales.  

Monday, May 6, 2013

Piper on Women, Underhill on Prayer

John Piper was recently asked whether it was OK for men to read biblical commentaries that were written by women. (Find the podcast here.) He ruled that it is probably OK to read them as long as the women aren't there physically to assert their leadership or authority over a man directly.  Evidently indirect influence of an absent woman won't stain us men too badly or otherwise overturn the cosmic hierarchy God established, so I felt the freedom to read a book by a woman.  Instead of a commentary, I opted for a devotional classic in the mystical vein, assuming that Mr. Piper would put them into the same category.  The book is Evelyn Underhill's The Spiritual Life, and I feel that I've protected myself adequately from her direct influence since she has been dead for 70 years.

I think her words on the nature of prayer are particularly insightful:
"For prayer is really our whole life towards God: our longing for Him, our 'incurable God-sickness', as Barth calls it, our whole drive towards Him.  It is the humble correspondence of the human spirit with the Sum of all Perfection, the Fountain of Life.  No narrower definition than this is truly satisfactory, or covers all the ground.  Here we are, small half real creatures of sense and spirit, haunted by the sense of a Perfection ever calling to us, and yet ourselves so fundamentally imperfect, so hopelessly involved in an imperfect world; with a passionate desire for beauty, and yet unable here to realize perfect beauty; with a craving for truth and a deep reverence for truth, but only able to receive flashes of truth.  Yet we know that perfect goodness, perfect beauty, and perfect truth exist in God; and that our hearts will never rest in less than these.  This longing, this need for God, however dimly and vaguely we feel it, is the seed from which grows the strong, beautiful and fruitful plant of prayer.  It is the first response of our deepest selves to the attraction of the Perfect; the recognition that He has made us for Himself, that we depend on Him and are meant to depend on Him, and that we shall not know the meaning of peace until our communion with Him is at the centre of our lives."  
Thank you Evelyn.  Too often I sense the half-reality of my own existence and take it for the real thing, dismissing the haunting of the Real as nothing more than wishful thinking or the effects of some bad guacamole.  May my attraction to the Perfect, my communion with the One who made us all for Himself, my life of prayer, be kindled anew this summer.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Summertime

My grades are turned in.  I'm not sure yet how much of a difference that will make in my blogging life, but it will certain make a difference in my real life.  The rhythm of the academic life is one of the great benefits of this line of work as I see it (though certainly second to the opportunity to mold young and impressionable minds).  We professors work pretty hard (or at least we should).  I challenge anyone who thinks that twelve hours of teaching per week is cushy, to see what it's like to prepare to stand up in front of (at least some) bright students and have something meaningful to talk about for a couple of hours each day.  Of course disciplines differ in this regard.  In my discipline (the mother of all disciplines... at least according to us), the situation is compounded by the fact that we don't have ready-made lesson plans, problem sets, or laboratory exercises.  Philosophy is pretty abstract stuff, and it takes a good deal of coaxing (and bribing and threatening) to get students to read some old text and to think carefully about the nuances of it so that the classroom experience will be more than just the sound and fury of my own voice.  Then there is the grading.  Philosophy doesn't lend itself to true or false tests, so it takes some time to assess students' work fairly.  But enough of the pity party for me.  I turned in my last grades yesterday, and my contract says I don't have to report back until the middle of August.

Except that the philosophy professors have to write an assessment report on the major and get it turned in to the powers that be.  And I'm on two different committees that have regular meetings and side work over the summer.  And since salaries keep slipping further behind the norm, I signed up to teach a May term class in which we do a week's worth of work every day in order to cram a semester into three weeks.  And I'm under contract to write a book by the end of next summer, and so need to make some good progress now to avoid 60 hour work weeks next year.  And I've got a couple of new courses in the fall to prepare for.  Yada yada yada.

Still, summer brings a change of pace.  Just like I'd get pretty tired of living in a climate where the weather is always the same, I'd quickly become burned out in a job where the work is always the same.  And I generally like the stuff I have to do.  It is a blessing to be able to make a living doing something you enjoy.  

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Predicament of Belief - Part 2

This is entry #2 on Philip Clayton and Steven Knapp's The Predicament of Belief (find #1 a few days ago here).  Chapters 2 and 3 aim to show that it is reasonable to believe that Ultimate Reality is in fact personal, and that the problem of evil does not overwhelm us with reasons to the contrary.  But I suspect most readers of this blog would think that they are going to an awful lot of trouble to argue for such minimal claims.  One of the features of this book, however, is that it is born out of significant engagement with those outside of our normal Christian communities.  Far too much of our Christian "apologetics" is done within our bubbles where we suggest what problems those people on the outside might have, and give solutions to those problems, which results in the inside people nodding their heads in agreement--while the outside people are never given the chance to respond.  We've satisfied ourselves that we've responded definitively to the problems.  Isn't it curious, then, that it is fairly rare that the outsiders overhear our conversations and say, "Oh, I see now.  I'll change my mind completely and enter into your bubble."

In my Logic and Critical Thinking class, I've probably said ten times this semester (with more to come), "If you get only one thing out of this class, I want it to be that critical thinkers acknowledge, understand, and respond to the best objections to their positions."  That's what Clayton and Knapp are trying to do in this book.  In responding to the problem of evil, they confront, motivate, and empathize with the version that is sometimes called the "argument from neglect".  The problem here is not that there is evil in the world.  That seems to be the consequence of free will (for instances of people doing evil things) and of the kind of dynamic environment necessary for sustaining life (for instances of natural evils, like hurricanes and earthquakes).  But rather, the argument from neglect says, "an all-powerful God who cares about us has a pretty abysmal record of inaction in the face of these evils."  Maybe God isn't going override Hitler's freewill and prevent him from trying to kill a bunch of Jews; but why doesn't God at least help more Jews escape?  Or maybe God needs to let nature to take its course and allow the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 to occur; but why not warn the 250,000 people hanging out on the beaches who were swept away?

One of the currently fashionable responses to this predicament is to say that God has reasons for allowing such things, and we probably can't figure them out.  Think of a small child whose little world is often frustrated by adults who take away a lollipop or even administer corporal punishment.  Those children probably can't understand why those things happen, even if the adult may be acting in what is ultimately their best interest.  Maybe God is like that, and we're the children who can't understand.

OK, granted, that is a possibility, say Clayton and Knapp.  But it is not convincing in the least to people on the outside.  Because for them, the amount of inaction by God to prevent or lessen evils is too overwhelming.    Sure, we might each have our personal examples of when God has intervened and aided in some situation.  But from the outside, we've not been fair in acknowledging the times when God hasn't done that.  And from their perspective the percentages come out roughly to what what we would expect by coincidences.  So Clayton and Knapp are driven to a principle that they call "not even once".  They think that God doesn't directly intervene in the physical structure of the world (though God does intervene in the mental realm).  If we were to allow that God stepped in and prevented your loved one from dying in the car accident, then we have to ask why God didn't step in and prevent someone else's loved one from dying in their car accident.  If God does it for some, then why doesn't God do it for all?

That's the really tough question to answer.  The conservative Christians won't like the answer Clayton and Knapp give.  But they're OK with that, because they're not trying to answer the objections of the conservative Christians.  They are trying to answer those who think the notion of God is absurd.  Their's is a way to answer them.