2015 Ethics Bowl Regional Champs

This past Saturday, November 21, the Taylor University Ethics Bowl team won the Central States regional championship for the 5th time in the history of the program.

Photo by Jim Garringer
Photo by Jim Garringer

Twenty-six teams from fifteen colleges and universities participated in this year’s Central States regional competition, which once again was held at Marian University in Indianapolis. The other schools involved were Belmont University, DePauw University, Illinois Wesleyan University (two teams), Indiana University (two teams), IUPUI-Fort Wayne, Marian University, Millikin University (three teams), Mount St. Joseph University (two teams), Northern Kentucky University, Ohio Northern University, Slippery Rock University, St. Mary of the Woods College, University of Arkansas (two teams), University of Southern Indiana, Xavier University, and Youngstown State University.

As usual Taylor entered two teams, and the rosters were as follows:

Team I:

  • Veronica Toth (Senior, English Writing)
  • Blair Hedges (Junior, Political Science)
  • Jackson Wilcox (Sophomore, Accounting)
  • Sarah Manko (Freshman, Exercise Science)
  • Caleb Holleman (Freshman, Math and Philosophy)
  • Loyal Juraschek (Sophomore, Philosophy)

Team II:

  • Kasey Leander (Senior, History and Political Science, Philosophy, & Economics)
  • Sam Moore (Junior, Philosophy and Biblical Studies)
  • Gabriel Harder (Freshman, Philosophy)
  • Chin Ai Oh (Sophomore, Political Science, Philosophy, & Economics)
  • Bo Thomas (Freshman, History and Philosophy)
  • Gloria Talbot (Sophomore, International Business Systems)

The top finishing teams qualify for the national tournament. At the competition each team competes against three other teams, and our teams had a combined record of six wins and no losses:

  • TU team #1 defeated Marian University (149-131), DePauw University (158-149), and Indiana University II (163-141)
  • TU team #2 defeated Univ. of Arkansas II (160-136), Ohio Northern Univ. (158-136), and Mt. St. Joseph Univ. I (149-139)

Taylor now has a combined 18-match winning streak, dating back to nationals earlier this year and regionals last year.

As is typical of Ethics Bowl competitions, very timely issues were debated in the various matches. These included the following:

  • Do religious freedom laws (protecting, say, a baker’s right not to make a cake for a same-sex wedding) properly balance constitutional rights?
  • Is the “Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights” (providing that law officers can’t be forced to make a statement within ten days of an incident) morally justifiable?
  • Does the American Freedom Defense Initiative (which ran the “Muhammad cartoon contest”) practice appropriate free speech or unacceptable intolerance?
  • Is the composting of human corpses, as advocated by the Urban Death Project (for environmental reasons) an acceptable way of disposing of the dead?
  • Is the Indian Child Welfare Act (mandating that social services place displaced Native American children with tribal relatives) morally appropriate?

These were just five of fifteen cases that all of the teams had to prepare to address. Other cases pertained to issues as wide ranging as the ethics of physicians’ prescribing hard narcotics to their patients, sexism in video games, a New Zealand species conservation case, special taxes on parents who refuse to vaccinate their children, the ethics of human egg freezing to delay motherhood, and the ethics of forcing parents to have their young teenager undergo chemotherapy. You can find a complete list of cases as well the competition rules and guidelines here.

In the regional competitions (unlike nationals) wins and losses do not impact teams’ overall scores. Rankings are determined entirely by scores awarded by judges. The top five at the conclusion of the day were as follows:

  1. Taylor University I
  2. St. Mary of the Woods College
  3. Illinois Wesleyan University I
  4. Indiana University I
  5. Taylor University II

The national Ethics Bowl competition is scheduled for February 21, 2016 and will be held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Reston, Virginia (near Washington, DC).  A total of 36 teams will participate, and Taylor will be striving to defend its national title.

Thoughts on Divine Wrath–Part 3

Another distinction regarding forms of divine wrath is that between what may be called natural and special wrath. By “special” divine wrath I mean any case where the wrathful event is somehow extraordinary, unique, or out of step with the usual course of nature or human events, though not necessarily a violation of the laws of nature. Thus, the cases of the worldwide flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, the Egyptian plagues, Elisha and the bears, and the sudden deaths of Ananias and Sapphira would all qualify as special divine wrath. These are all strikingly special events in that there was nothing routine or predictable about them. Each occurred, as it were, “out of the blue” and, thus, was more easily identified as being divinely orchestrated.

In contrast, what I am calling “natural” wrath does concern events that are in some way ordinary, routine, and predictable, because their natural causes are—at least at this point in scientific history—easily traced and analyzed. However, they may have just as much of a corrective and deterrent effect on those involved as cases of special wrath. They are the sorts of cases to which the biblical proverb applies which says, “there is a way that appears to be right but in the end it leads to death” (Pr. 14:12 and Pr. 16:25) and to which the apostle Paul refers when he declares, “a man reaps what he sows” (Gal. 6:7; see also 2 Cor. 9:6-7). The basic idea is that if you engage in particular kinds of bad behaviors then certain negative consequences will follow. In addition to these general biblical statements we find specific illustrations in Scripture, such as where the deadly effects of adultery are guaranteed in this passage: “For a prostitute can be had for a loaf of bread, but another man’s wife preys on your very life.  Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched?” (Pr. 6:26-28).

This is what we might think of as a divinely ordained moral law of reciprocity, in the sense that certain forms of conduct bring very unpleasant consequences. Some extra-biblical examples might include the negative effects—physical, psychological, and relational—of alcohol abuse and the tendency of sexual promiscuity to result in venereal disease or other STDs as well as emotional and relational distress.

This distinction between natural and special wrath is potentially controversial. This is because, depending upon one’s view of divine providence, one will be more or less inclined to accept the natural moral law of reciprocity as featuring enough specific divine intent for the pain and suffering that follows from bad behaviors to properly qualify as divine wrath. (For more on the providence debate, see my book The Benefits of Providence.) Those who hold a “high” view of providence which affirms God’s meticulous governance of all things will no doubt be more amenable to this distinction.

Thoughts on Divine Wrath (part 2): Direct and Indirect Wrath

In my first post about divine wrath (Sept. 11, 2015) I suggested that God’s chastisement of people, though painful and often even involving death, always serves a redemptive purpose, such as rebuke, discipline, and purification. Such ends are valuable for prodding people to greater virtue. And since to love is to be interested in a person’s growth in virtue, it makes sense to say that divine wrath is consistent with perfect love.

Now there are some distinctions to be made that are potentially helpful in analyzing and categorizing particular instances of chastisement.  Thus, we may distinguish between direct and indirect wrath. By “direct” divine wrath I mean those cases where God immediately causes death or suffering, whereas in cases of “indirect” wrath God uses some other agency, whether human, animal, or angelic. Biblical examples of each of these categories are plentiful. Beginning with instances of indirect wrath, we find plenty of wrathful deployments of human beings, such as God’s use of the Israelite army to bring “vengeance” on the Midianites in Numbers 31. Similar instances are to be found throughout the Old Testament and God explicitly declares as much in such passages as Isaiah 10:5 (“Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath!”) and Ezekiel 25:14 (“’I will take vengeance on Edom by the hand of my people Israel, and they will deal with Edom in accordance with my anger and my wrath; they will know my vengeance,’ declares the Sovereign LORD.”)

As for divine use of animals to execute wrath, here is one memorable example:

From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys. (2 Kings 2:23-24)

Another case is where the Lord struck the Israelites with venomous snakes in response to their grumbling and complaining during their desert wanderings (see Numbers 21:6).

And as for third category of indirect wrath, where God uses angelic beings to execute his wrath, biblical instances include Exodus 33:2 where God  promises to “send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites” and 2 Sam. 24:15-17, where the angel of the Lord strikes the Israelites.

Possibly the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is an instance of divine deputizing of angels, as regarding the city of Sodom the angels declared to Lot, “we are going to destroy this place” (Gen. 19:13). There are also references to God’s use of a “destroying angel” to execute judgment in such passages as 1 Chron. 21:15, Ps. 78:49, and 1 Cor. 10:10.

As for cases of direct divine wrath, apparent examples include the worldwide flood (Gen. 6-9), the Egyptian plagues (Exod. 7-12), the plague on Israel because of their golden calf idol (Exod. 32:35), and the case of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). I say guardedly that these are “apparent” cases of direct divine wrath because it is possible that God deployed some deputy agency as well to bring these chastisements, though the texts do not inform us of this. This possibility seems evident in the fact that many of the aforementioned cases of indirect wrath are referred to elsewhere in Scripture (and among extra-biblical writers) simply as cases of divine chastisement without any mention of the secondary finite agencies involved. If it makes sense to refer to these cases in such terms, then it is conceivable that all divine wrath is similarly executed through secondary causes.

The ELT Statement and Responsible Animal Care–Part 2

Most Christians who would push back on the position expressed in the Every Living Thing statement would resist the idea that animals have real moral standing and that, therefore, we have no real duties toward them. The ELT statement provides good biblical grounds for affirming such duties. I would echo this reasoning and expand upon it in light of two further considerations:

  1. Divine Ownership – We have a duty to respect God in all that we do. God owns everything, so disrespect towards any aspect of nature is disrespect towards God.  Cruel treatment of animals is disrespectful towards them, so we have a duty to treat them humanely. See Psalm 24:1 and Psalm 50:10-11.
  2. The Hierarchy of Being Beings differ in terms of their various perfections and may be hierarchically arranged accordingly. The propriety of our treatment of any being may be assessed according to its place in the hierarchy. Given the sentience and consciousness of animals (and their relatively high place on the hierarchy of being), they should not be treated cruelly.

The upshot is that humans have a two-fold moral duty toward animals, specifically to care for them in a way that is respectful of their divine owner and to do so in a way that is appropriate to their nature as conscious beings with needs and the capacity to suffer.

This has some important practical implications. Generally speaking, we ought to treat animals humanely. Accordingly, we should reconsider our support, directly or indirectly, of:

  1. Factory farms — Animals in huge factory farms are commonly slaughtered carelessly and cruelly.
  2. Circuses – Animals are frequently trained through torturous mistreatment (e.g., Ringling Bros. elephant training).
  3. Trapping Traps used to catch animals for their furs are often very cruel.
  4. Animal research – Animals are often tortured for the sake of questionable research (such as for cosmetics products).

The videos to which I’ve provided links above are hard to watch, but such is necessary to raise awareness about how animals are treated in our society. Hopefully, these will provide further motivation to take seriously our responsibilities regarding animals, even to the point of making significant lifestyle changes.

The “Every Living Thing” Statement on Responsible Animal Care

What duties, if any, do we have toward animals? A new statement on responsible animal care addresses this question in a balanced and biblically informed way. It is being called an “evangelical statement” and appears to be the first such formal document of its kind.  You can read and, if you wish, sign the statement here. (Note that clicking on the “sign the statement” button does not commit you to signing it but merely takes you to the page where you can read the statement and have the option to sign it.)

I signed and strongly endorse the statement because I think it achieves a proper moral-theological balance when it comes to animal welfare. There are two extreme positions regarding this issue. There is the No Moral Status view, which says that animals deserve no moral consideration, and humans have no duties regarding them, except as impacts other humans. Modern philosophers such as Descartes and Kant took such a view, still popular today, which encourages us to see animals as natural resources like any other aspect of nature. On the other hand, there is the Strong Animal Rights position, which affirms that animals and humans have the same inherent value and deserve equal moral consideration. Contemporary moral philosophers such as Peter Singer and Tom Regan take such a view, which is championed by activist animal rights groups like PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). Advocates of this approach maintain that all use of animal products for food, clothing, experimentation, or entertainment is immoral.

Somewhere between these extremes is a moderate position which affirms that animals have significant moral status, but not the same status as human beings. Accordingly, we have a duty to treat animals humanely. We ought not to treat them cruelly.  And by “cruel treatment” I mean the causing of severe and unnecessary suffering. On this view, it is morally appropriate to use animals for food, clothing, experimentation, and entertainment, but only if the animals are not treated cruelly in such contexts. The Every Living Thing statement on responsible animal care effectively achieves such a balance.

Our Grape Harvest

I’m no horticulturalist, but there is one domain of fruit cultivation where I am quite competent: grapes.  In our backyard we have a very large grapevine, which I’ve been lovingly tending for the last 13 years.  And every September its grape harvest time, and this always means lots of grape juice for the whole family.  The process is straightforward but labor intensive.

First, I pick the grapes in clusters.

























Next, I pull the grapes off of the stems and rinse them.  Then, its time to mash them into a mush.












After adding some water, I boil them—usually for about 20 minutes.












Next, I strain them using a colander.  About five pounds of grapes yields approximately one gallon of grape juice concentrate.












For the final step, I add water (approximately doubling the volume) and sugar (say, 1.5 cups per gallon).  The result is a rich, still relatively concentrated grape juice that is as loaded with antioxidants as it is full of flavor.















As I said, I’m not really into horticulture, nor am I a culinary artist.   But this annual endeavor gives me a much greater understanding and appreciation for both of these vocations.  It also has enabled me to see the spiritual illustrations in both domains.  Interestingly, Jesus used metaphors from agriculture (e.g., the parable of the sower, the vine and the branches, the wheat and the tares, etc.) as well as the culinary realm (e.g. the wedding banquet, communion, the bread of life, etc.).  The annual Spiegel grape harvest reminds me of these and tunes my mind to many other such metaphors . . . as well as blessing my palate and nourishing my body with garden-fresh juice!


Thoughts on Divine Wrath

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of divine wrath.  As often as it is displayed in the pages of Scripture, it is interesting to note how little it is discussed by Christian scholars these days.  Why is this?  And, more fundamentally, what is divine wrath after all?  Does God still exercise his wrath today?  If so, is it possible to identify instances of this?  And if it is, then what sorts of criteria might one use in order to conclude that a particular event is a case of divine wrath?  This November at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Philosophical Society I will present a paper on this subject where I address such questions.  I thought it would be an interesting exercise to process my thoughts in the form of blog posts as I prepare for this.  So this is the first of what will likely be several installments of my ruminations on the topic.  Naturally, I welcome any comments, criticisms, or suggestions you might have to offer.

For starters, it is important to note that there are many instances of divine wrath described in Scripture, and these include both Old Testament and New Testament narratives.  Here are some examples:

  • The worldwide flood (Gen. 6-9)
  • The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19)
  • The Egyptian plagues (Exod. 7-12)
  • The death of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11)
  • The death and illness of those who abused communion (1 Cor. 11:29-31)

There are many other biblical events that may be regarded as instances of divine wrath, but these all seem to be paradigmatic cases, as they all involve the termination of human lives.  I select these cases for just this reason, as one might object that narratives where God causes suffering or discomfort without killing anyone (e.g., Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” described in 2 Cor. 12:7-10) are too mild to properly be described as wrathful.

Still, despite the consistent theme of death, there is a certain variety in the narrative accounts listed above.  Some involve the killing of thousands of people, while others involve a more surgical strike on one or two people.  Some are preceded by warnings, while others seem sudden and unanticipated.  Yet what they all have in common is divine chastisement for human sin.  Such chastisement appears to serve a number of functions, including retribution, rebuke, discipline, and purification.  And it is here where things get especially interesting, as far as I’m concerned, regarding divine wrath and our usual way of viewing it.  For at least three of these functions may be construed as potentially redemptive.  That is, God’s wrath may be seen as serving a positive or constructive aim, namely to correct, improve, enlighten, or purify people.

Some biblical reinforcement of this idea of a redemptive function of divine wrath can be found in this passage from the book of Jeremiah:

The word of the Lord came to me.  He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord.  “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.  If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned.  And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.  Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘This is what the Lord says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you.  So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.’” (Jeremiah 18:5-11)

Here God’s aim in threatening “disaster” is to prompt Israel’s repentance from the evil in which they currently indulge.  In cases where God actually exercises his wrath rather than merely threatening it, the effect can be even greater.  Jude tells us that God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah served “as a warning of the eternal fire of God’s judgment” (Jude 1:7).  Regarding God’s inflicting sickness and death on those who abused communion, Paul says, “when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.”  And in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, Luke tells us that “great fear seized the whole church” when they heard of the sudden death of these two dishonest people (Acts 5:11), which we may assume resulted in an increase of moral seriousness among the early Christians.

So as severe and disturbing as these events must have been to the communities who witnessed them, they do seem to have served the end of prompting repentance and motivating more virtuous living among the people of God.  And, of course, this is very redemptive.  So if, as I suspect, the reticence of the contemporary church regarding the doctrine of divine wrath is due to the perception that the subject is entirely negative, this is serious mistake.  While certainly divine retribution is an uncomfortable idea—as any instance of severe punishment is—we should be encouraged by the notion that God (1) does not tolerate human wickedness indefinitely and (2) he is committed enough to our moral improvement to go to extremes to warn, chide, rebuke, and prod us to greater obedience and virtue.  And this certainly seems consistent with genuine love.

A Face in the Crowd

One of the ways I like to blow off steam when I’ve had my head in the books too long is to watch You Tube videos of old NFL and MLB playoff games.  Recently, while doing so I made an unexpected discovery.

I’m a big fan of all Detroit sports teams, and one of my most vivid childhood memories is of the Tigers nearly making it to the World Series during the 1972 season.  In the American League Championship Series the Tigers pushed the Oakland Athletics to a pivotal game 5, only to be stymied in a 2-1 loss.  The A’s tying run was scored by Reggie Jackson, who stole home in the 2nd inning, which resulted in a severe injury for Jackson, badly tearing his hamstring muscle as he collided with Tigers’ catcher Bill Freehan while sliding into home.

It occurred to me that I have never seen footage of that crucial play at the plate, so I decided to look for it on You Tube.  When looking it up, I discovered short highlight reels of all of the games in that 1972 ALCS.  So I proceeded to watch them in order.  As I began to watch the game 3 highlights, I recalled that I actually attended that game with my 4th grade classmate (at Harlan Elementary in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan) named David Basile and his father.  (David, are you out there?)  Detroit pitcher Joe Coleman hurled a gem in that game, and the Tigers won 3-0.

I also remembered that we had good seats, directly behind the Tigers’ third-base dugout.  It was a weekday afternoon game (all playoff games were played in the afternoon back then), so there were not many kids in attendance, as this meant skipping school (which we were happy to do, though not without our home room teacher’s permission.  Thank you, Mrs. Knight!)

Anyway, as I watched the highlights of the game, I made a mental note to keep a lookout for myself in the crowd in the unlikely event that there were some crowd scans behind the dugout where I was sitting.  Well, as it turns out, there were.  And, sure enough, I found myself in a brief moment during Detroit Bill Freehan’s trot around the bases after hitting a late game home run.  Here is the video, and to the left is a still from around the 3.29 mark.  To the right of me is my friend and his father next to him—both of them are looking up for some reason, while I seem to be looking right at the camera.

While I was exhilarated by the Tigers’ victory that day, their ultimate demise in the series crushed my 9-year-old psyche (especially because the Tigers were robbed by a bad call in the 4th inning of their 2-1 game five loss—check out the bad call in this video starting at the 1.38 mark).  I was far too emotionally invested in all my Detroit sports teams, and I think I’ve carried this into adulthood.  (As Wordsworth said, the child is father to the man.)  So each time the Tigers eliminated the A’s in the playoffs decades later (three times in the last decade), this was therapy for me, after carrying the wound of that ’72 series with me all these years.  And it is further consolation to have found a brief glimpse of myself, a face in the crowd, in that game three highlight reel.

Refusing to Serve: Moral Dimensions of the Masterpiece Cakeshop Case

Recently, a Colorado appeals court ruled that baker Jack Phillips—owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Denver—does not have a right to refuse service for a gay wedding.  The legal reasoning in this case, which affirmed previous rulings, is now the topic of much debate, and many more cases like it are sure to follow, with some perhaps being appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.

Setting the legal issues aside, what are we to say about the moral stance of the baker in this case?  Was Mr. Phillips morally justified in refusing to serve this same-sex couple?  A Christian pastor recently posed this question to me:  Assuming that same-sex marriage is inappropriate for moral-theological reasons, does a Christian baker such as Phillips have a duty to refuse to serve for a same-sex wedding?  The pastor went on to explain that he strongly affirms the traditional view of marriage as the union between one man and one woman and that, therefore, same-sex unions are immoral.  Yet, he was not convinced that Phillips would necessarily be doing anything wrong by serving the couple.  After all, the pastor said, he’s just doing his job.  Why not simply take the approach that he will serve whoever asks.  After all, Jesus says, “give to the one who asks you” (Mt. 5:42; Lk. 6:30).

In response, one might note that Jesus’ maxim here is not intended to be unqualified.  Thus, for example, presumably Jesus would not want you to strictly abide by this instruction when an inebriated friend asks you for the keys to his car so he can drive himself home.  Similarly, one might say that a business owner should not refuse anyone service unless doing so would constitute support for an immoral act.

The problem with this general qualification, the pastor pointed out, is that, as American consumers, it is virtually unavoidable to indirectly support immoral systems and policies, such as manufacturing sweat shops or environmentally hazardous practices, via our clothing and food purchases.  So how is this any different?

This is a common response to the situation, but I think it confuses the issue by comparing a clear case of problematic moral complicity with less clear “gray area” cases.  To make my point, I countered with a hypothetical case of my own:  Suppose a Christian baker is approached by members of NAMBLA (the North American Man/Boy Love Association) with a request to bake cakes for one of their meetings.  Since the baker believes, for theological reasons, that pedophilia is immoral, he refuses to serve them.  The pastor thought this would be reasonable.  And he said the same regarding another scenario I presented where a similar request is made by a Skinhead group.

So the question is this:  Is the Denver baker case more like these scenarios or is it more like cases of inadvertent support of sweatshops and other injustices through one’s purchases?

In response, I would note, first, that in many of the latter cases, we should likewise refuse to lend our support through our purchases, because it constitutes moral complicity with an immoral act.  However, it can be difficult to know when such support is significant enough to warrant our refusal to make certain purchases on those grounds.  Thus, we may want to consider two relevant moral criteria:  1) how significant is the immoral conduct in question?  And (2) how direct would be one’s support of the immoral conduct, if one acted on the request?  The reason most of us would grant that a baker is morally justified in refusing service to NAMBLA and the Skinheads is that such service would directly support these organizations, and the immoral aims of these groups are highly significant–pedophilia and ethnic hatred are serious moral crimes.

So let’s apply these questions to the Denver baker case.  Does Phillips have grounds for thinking that same-sex unions are significantly immoral?  As a Christian who takes seriously both Scripture and the unified voice of nearly two millennia of theological history, he certainly seems to.  And would the requested service directly support this conduct?  Again, the answer is yes—at least as directly as the same service would support NAMBLA and the Skinheads in the parallel cases.

So whatever legal fate might befall Mr. Phillips for refusing to serve a gay wedding, his choice is morally appropriate, given the traditional Christian sexual ethic.  However one might want to quibble with that traditional doctrine or shift focus to the political-legal dimensions of the case, Phillips’ actions are morally coherent and warranted.  Active complicity with an immoral act is wrong, and the refusal to be so complicit is morally justified.

My Latest Flatulence Research

One of my scholarly interests is flatulence.  That’s right, farts.  Well, to be precise, not farts simpliciter so much as the humor associated with passing gas.  My latest piece pertaining to the subject, entitled “From the Sumerians to Shakespeare to Twain: Why Fart Jokes Never Get Old,” was published today in The Conversation.

If you’re not familiar with The Conversation, it is a really cool web magazine, essentially the same format as a traditional news magazine (with news reports, commentaries, arts & culture pieces, etc.).  However, all of the content is written by scholars with expertise in the areas they write about, as opposed to having staff journalists with no expertise on a given topic attempting to summarize information they gather from scholars and other experts.  The Conversation has a very rigorous editorial process, too, which is refreshing.

The editors at The Conversation asked me to write this piece after seeing an article of mine in the journal Think, entitled “Why Flatulence is Funny.”  In this article I explore in depth the question that I briefly address toward the end of my Conversation article, namely why it is that farts are funny.

Also, you’ll be interested to know that my precious status as an international authority on the topic was secured with this report last year in the Helsingin Sanomat, which is the largest newspaper in Helsinki, Finland.  (You’ll want to read this one very carefully.)

So if you ever hear anyone call me a crap scholar, please correct them.  I’m actually a fart scholar.  There’s a substantive difference . . . so to speak.