Links from the last week (April 23, 2018)

1. Are Student Evaluations Really Biased by Gender? Nope, They’re Biased by “Hotness.”

Researchers comb through data from RateMyProfessors to see if student evaluations of instructors are really biased by gender – they find a tiny correlation there, with men getting slightly higher rankings, but a HUGE correlation between the rating given and instructor “hotness”, which students can also indicate on the site.  Yes, you could just use this article for jokes, and I… may have mentioned it when reminding students to do their evals (though I did not say how it should affect their evaluation!).  But a lot of good links here too about the problems with students evaluations generally.  Instructors who grade more harshly tend to receive lower ratings, for example, and there is little correlation between student evaluations of an instructor and future student performance.

2. Joshua’s Conquest of Jericho and the Ugaritic Keret Epic

Podcast episode on similarities between the Biblical story of the conquest of Jericho, and the Ugaritic Keret Epic.  Before I listened, I was interested because:

2a. Usually when people want to argue a Bible story is similar to a story from a surrounding culture, the story in question is much earlier – usually Creation or The Flood, maybe something from Exodus, but Jericho is much later.

2b. There is well-acknowledged archaeological evidence that Jericho was conquered suddenly (around 3 hour mark? here), including a collapsed wall and indications from materials left behind that the conquering people had interacted with Egypt – would hardly be surprising if the Israelites were still carrying around a decent amount of Egyptian stuff.

After listening:

2c. Yeah… you know, scholars need to keep finding “new” stuff, otherwise they won’t be able to publish.  You can find a summary of Keret on Wikipedia, and if you read it, your reaction will probably be something like “that sounds absolutely nothing like the story of Jericho”.  And you would be correct.  In the nitty gritty you can find some similarities – arguably, both stories can be divided into two periods of seven days.  Both involve a god-thing halfway through the first period, have a seven-day siege, and have a wall collapse (just one side in Keret) as part of the siege… and that’s about it.  I did find it an interesting suggestion that perhaps it was custom at the time to siege a city for seven days, and then you get some kind of “answer” from the besieged city.  But Heiser (the podcast host) actually uses this example to warn against “internet theologians” who want to casually imply that similarities mean some kind of *dependence* of the Biblical text on another text.  Similar cultures living in similar times will tend to write similar stories.  Even if a Biblical author actually does borrow language to make a polemic point or something, that doesn’t show dependence.  The New Testament authors reference literature outside the Biblical canon on occasion too, because they read it.  Interesting though.

3. Nearly Two Hours on Critical Race Theory, White Privilege, T4G, and More

Won’t try to summarize this, but just for those people also concerned about the sudden implicit endorsement of Critical Race Theory by many leading voices in Reformed Christianity, two hours of good thinking on the topic from James White, who (like the rest of us) would like to now never have to talk about this again, please.

4. Tackling Injustice at Google

Andrew Sullivan on, perhaps, a related note.

What you see here, I suspect, is the effect of the ideology now spreading far beyond left-liberal campuses to the entire corporate world. Crude and negative generalizations about individuals because of their race and gender are becoming quite commonplace – if they are white or cis or male and straight. But because those individuals, regardless of their own history, are the alleged beneficiaries of “structural racism,” this is — according to the ideology — perfectly fine. In fact, judging someone on the basis of their race is vital and moral if we are to overcome these oppressive power-structures. Equally, any system that relies on so-called “objective” criteria for evaluating success with no respect for race is itself racist, because such criteria — like workplace credentials, college or grad school grades or qualifications — are embedded in these white power structures.

I’ve seen a little bit of that even in the world of academic Physics, where objective, colorblind measures are, essentially, treated as racist because they (allegedly) help preserve existing power structures (whatever that generally vague phrase is supposed to mean).  If you don’t see race and treat everyone equally regardless of race, you are part of the problem, because a colorblind individual isn’t fighting the old power structure.

5. Suit: State aid ban for private schools ‘anti-Catholic’

A Roman Catholic school in Grand Rapids, Michigan, files a lawsuit to invalidate a ban on state aid money going to private schools.  They argue that the ban in question was developed during a furor of “anti-Catholic sentiment”, which is possible.  Personally, I would just say there is no such thing as a worldview-independent education anyway, the interest of state neutrality in the treatment of religion itself should allow aid money to private schools (especially to pay for state mandates).

6. Rob Rieman, Joseph Pieper, and the Existential Poverty of the West

Our age reminds one very much of the disintegration of the Greek state; everything continues and yet, there is no one who believes in it. An invisible bond that gives it validity, had vanished, and the whole age is simultaneously comic and tragic, tragic because it is perishing, comic because it continues.

That by Rob Riemen.  Also, speaking of Pieper,

For him, it was more interesting to ask about the meaning of life, the point of work, the experience of music, or the possibility of hope than to lose himself in the hypothetical game model now so endemic (and destructive) to genuine philosophy.

That struck me because, while I don’t have much personal experience, when I hear students describe their philosophy courses, “hypothetical game model” is what it sounds like. “Here are what these three philosophers taught, here is a scenario, how would each of them say we should respond?” Which can be a valuable thing, mind you – the complaint here, by someone with much more right than myself to make it, seems to be that “gaming” has largely supplanted asking more serious and absolute questions about human existence.

This week brought to you by important cargo on bicycles.