Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Giant Heart at the Center of the Universe

Reason, isn't so much a truth detector, but a potential falsehood detector. I say *potential*, because a falsehood may be reasonable under certain presuppositions.

You might ask, why can't we measure those presuppositions with reason? Many times you can, but there is a depth beyond reason's reach. This depth, reaches into the metaphysical. A paradigm is very difficult to evaluate if it is built upon metaphysical presuppositions. Sure, you can use reason to determine whether the paradigm is consistent, but you can't validate metaphysical presuppositions with certainty.

Let me give an example. It is probably too simplistic but generally, you can say that there are at least two assumptions that one can build a worldview upon. One says that man's most natural inclination is to do good, while the other says his natural inclination is to do evil.

A worldview built upon the former says that crime and socially malevolent behavior are caused by environmental and sociological factors. This worldview therefore emphasizes rehabilitation over punishment.

A worldview built upon the latter says that crime and socially malevolent behavior are natural to man. He therefore needs a deterrent and incentive system (the popular focus incorrectly tends to be more on deterring then incenting in my view) to 'do the right thing'.

How does one test which view on man's nature is correct? Although I do believe that induction and deduction can be used to give credibility to one over the other (as a Christian, I believe in man's sin nature), ultimately these two assumptions are metaphysical in nature because they can not ultimately be proven via a 'smoking gun' litmus test.

Unfortunately, we can't avoid building paradigms upon metaphysical presuppositions. And by metaphysical, I don't simply mean "religious", I am referring to any belief that is beyond empiricism's reach.

So how do we choose a paradigm when our only choices are metaphysical? Metaphysical choices require nothing less than faith.

Faith is volitional. In other words, we believe what we want to believe.

So why are left in such a predicament? Why are the answers to life's ultimate and most important questions left to the subjectivity of our volition instead of the meticulous scrutiny of empiricism? It seems that there is something in life that
is testing our hearts more than our minds. And since things can't ask questions, that "thing" is a being...

At the center of the universe is a giant heart...

Friday, August 19, 2011

Talk Nerdy To Me

Question: What is the largest number?
Answer: There is no such thing.
Question: How do you know?
Answer: Because no matter what number you can imagine, I can think of a number that is larger
Question: How do you KNOW this? Have you thought of every number?
Answer: Impossible

Do two infinite lines on a plane ever intersect? The answer is no, but I ask, "How do you know without examining every point on such lines?"

There is truth that can only be reached via the mind; truth that is inaccessible to empiricism. We could call this an "empiricism trap".

"Logic traps" also exist. Before the hare can pass the turtle, it must go half-way.
After all, you can't go 100% of the distance until you go half of the distance. So
let's say that the hare needed to travel 1 mile to get to the finish line. Before
traveling 1 mile, it has to go .5 miles. Before arriving at .5 miles, it has to
travel .25 miles. Before arriving at .25 miles, it has to travel .125 miles, Before
.125, it has to go .0625 miles. Before .0625 miles, .03125, etc.... At that rate, it
will never reach 1 mile.

There must be truths outside of the limitations of empiricism. Truths that only reason can touch. And, there must be truths outside of the limitations of reason
which only empiricism can touch.

"The infinite, even if it exists in reality, can only be represented through our
imagination." Marcelo Gleiser -

This is why I say that atheism is the failure of the imagination in bridging the gaps between empiricism and reality.

And notice that this whole posting uses reason. Reason necessitates its limitations. How surprising it might be to many that reason therefore births faith.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Quest For Divine Authority

In George Barna's latest book, "Future Cast", he says that Americans share these views about the Bible:

  • 84% of Americans consider it Sacred.
  • Less than 45% strongly believe that the Bible is totally accurate in all it teaches.
  • 26% believe in a literal interpretation.
  • 60% believe that the Bible is accurate and without error.
  • 18% believe the Bible is Inspired, but that it contains some factual and historical errors.

So what IS the Bible? Is it the very Word of God? Is it merely a book written by men? Is it even historical? Is it somehow a guide for our lives?

I always challenge people who reject the Bible's spiritual authority to give an alternative explanation of its existence. I make this challenge because I find that most skeptics have never even thought about the question.

But much of what skeptics say about religion in general can be tested against the Bible. I've heard them say that religion exists for the following reasons:

  • Wishful thinking
  • Crutch for the weak-minded
  • Social manipulation

Wishful Thinking

This idea is that people believe because they want to believe. Freud espoused this idea that we all had a psychological need for a father figure so we dreamed up the greatest father of all in God.

A great theme of this blog is formed in the simple question of "Why?". Why would we have such a need? Freud would appeal to evolutionary survival reasons. In a cruel world that sometimes forces us to our knees in order to survive, we want our "Daddy" to come and save us. It is comforting to think that there might be a Divine father who cares for our best interests and looks out for us.

Although I'm skeptical of evolution (I DO believe in natural selection. You can read about my beliefs on origins in this previous post), one does not have to be an evolutionist to believe in survival. I don't argue against wishful thinking projecting a belief in God. However, there is another way of looking at this truth that flips it on its head.

St. Augustine wrote about a God-shaped hole in our hearts. That hole is so large it can only be filled by God. He suggested that this hole was a longing in our hearts. It is one that can be connected to survival but transcends it. I see it in myself simply in longing to know and love someone greater than myself. I see it when I am enraptured in a love expressed via worship for Him.

What is more is that I have experienced that love as a recipient. Sure, you can try to argue this away as psychological projection.... perhaps it is but even so, it doesn't change what I have experienced and it certainly makes my life better.

In a world where there is no God, I'm not sure truth matters any more. If there is no God, than the chief goal of man is to have a good time, a good experience. After all, in such a world, man would be the highest being, seeking no one higher to serve. So if it feels good, do it. And if a belief yields a good experience, it would no longer matter whether or not it was true or a delusion.

I am NOT suggesting that I believe that I am living in such a delusion and asking skeptics to leave me alone. If there IS a God, this experience is based upon reality and reality is a slave master exacting its own demands...

So does the psychological need to believe prove that theism is a delusion or is the need to believe actually God-given? It is funny how life presents us truths that can always be looked at in two ways by reasonable, educated and wise people on both sides...

Augustine would suggest that this God-shaped hole has been placed in our hearts as a compass... a way that points to God. Make a note of this the next time life leaves you feeling like there has to be more.... Think about this when that last drink, sexual experience, accomplishment, or big ticket item purchase just isn't enough... And suffering is this truth's megaphone...

Crutch for the weak-minded

The crutch argument is wishful thinking extended to suffering and worry. We seek security even in the good times and a refuge in life's storms. What better rock can we look to than a divine one?

Like the wishful thinking argument, I would not deny the logic of this position... I would only question being dogmatic about its reality. Once again we see life presenting us with truth that can be interpreted in two ways. Does the need for a Divine refuge exist because we are self-deceived or is it a way for God to speak to us in the midst of our anxiety and suffering to say, "HERE I am"?

Does the need disqualify theism, or does God give us the need in the first place? I am convinced that such questions can never be answered within the circle of reason. Reason isn't a truth detector. It CAN be a lie detector but only if the lie is inconsistent with its presuppositions.

Reason simply tests the consistency and coherence of a belief. This idea is expressed in science in the form of objective positivism as demonstrated by the physicist Neils Bohr:

There is no quantum world. There is only an abstract physical description. It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature... -

In other words, it is one thing to test whether or not something is logically consistent but it is quite another to say whether or not a logically consistent argument is true.

This does not invalidate reason, it just shows us that reason is not enough. So what lies beyond reason to touch truth?

I have come to learn that profundity can be described as when a complex question surprises us with a simple answer. Love is the answer.

Love rends us objective. It removes the internal biases that taint our interpretations of life, leaving us selfless enough to see the truth even when it makes us uncomfortable. I would suggest that the crutch argument applies to both sides and that truth armed with love only threatens the skeptic's crutch... After all, doesn't the skeptic need the crutch of disbelief in order to sustain a life submissive to no one higher than the worship of self?

I am still trying to unravel all that this means and can write no more about this discovery except to challenge my reader to seek the truth in love...

Social manipulation

This argument says that religion was invented as a means for the tribe, monarchies and governments to manipulate the social behavior of the masses. Since the "arm of the law" is limited by police and military power, a divine power was conjured up who never sleeps, never tires and sees all even that which is done in secret.

I won't deny that many religions might exist because of this need. However, anyone who has read the new testament, will have a hard time reconciling this explanation to its content.

We repeatedly see in the New Testament this idea that man should obey God even over the law when there is a conflict.

27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, 28 saying, “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!” 29 But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men. - Acts 5:27-29
Why would anyone wanting to conjure up Christianity for social manipulation purposes, write such a text?

Logic has found a lie...

Concluding Thoughts

In conclusion, I'll say that in regards to the Bible, I'm not going to go any farther... I have some deeper beliefs that I have learned to only share with people who are ready. I know when a person is at such a level by their level of questioning. In other words, I have a "if you don't ask, then I don't tell" policy regarding some of my deepest beliefs.

I see Jesus purposefully withholding truths from those who weren't ready. He seemed to determine this by the level of hunger as indicated by the presence or absence of questions from the potential seeker.

Besides, God doesn't reveal all. Instead, He puts Himself just out of reach as to give us a challenge, something to seek. Seek Him with all of your heart and the truth will come.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Delusion of Jargon

As scientific knowledge has increased, so has its verbosity. As its lexicon of explanations grows, our belief in God tends to shrink:

Since the latter part of the 18th century, deism used science to justify its stance. Scientists, like Sir Isaac Newton, were able to elaborate more and more to explain how the universe and everything around us worked. Many of the mysteries that man attributed to God, yielded simple mechanistic explanations. The increase in knowledge spurred the decline in religious faith among the intellectual elite. As a philosopher and mathematician, Descartes reduced God to a “mathematical abstraction.” Reason pushed faith off into the realm of mythology and superstition, while deism quickly deteriorated into atheism (belief in no God at all). Science seemed to engage in a centuries-old battle with religion for the mind of man. Life became a product of blind change -- a cosmic game of chance played throughout time. -

Imagine that you had never ever seen a computer before. One day, you discover one that is still operational. As you examine it, the one question that would dominate your thinking would be regarding its origin. You might start off thinking that some sentient being (a programmer) created it. Over time, you perform experiments on the computer and make discoveries. One discovery you make is that there is an underlying set of rules (software) giving the computer its logical features. Let's say one day, you even discover the binary logic and mathematical algorithms that underlie the ability of this computer.

Would this mean that you could come to the conclusion that there must not be a programmer? Would this mean that you could come to the conclusion that the computer must be the product of a chance set of random processes if given enough time?

So why do we treat the universe this way in light of modern scientific discoveries?

To use another illustration, knowing what is under the hood of an automobile, doesn't make the existence of automobile designers/engineers less believable....

GK Chesterton, in his book Orthodoxy, suggests in the "Maniac" chapter that in fairy tales, we don't think of laws, we think in terms of magic. We accept, as a premise of the story, that if Cinderella doesn't return before midnight, her carriage will turn into a pumpkin.

Yet in life, we seem to think it is some sort of law that the egg will turn into the chicken. But logically speaking, the egg is about as far apart as the carriage is to the pumpkin.

Science has replaced our narrative with propositions and our faith with technology.

I very much believe in science. I'm just not quick to accept the reductionist worldview we most quickly gravitate towards as a result of its influence.

Could it be that we really live in such a fairy land, obscured by illusions of scientific jargon? Yes, faith can fool us, propelling us into an illusory world that doesn't really exist. But could it be that science can do the same? The only distinction between the two is that if science fools us, it takes away wonder.

So, yes I think it is healthy to guard faith against wishful thinking. But it is equally healthy to guard against science's reductionist proclivity.

Words demystify. But SHOULD they? Should they steal our wonder, aging us out of childhood into crotchety old people?

Wise men hear and see as little children do. - Lao Tzu

Wisdom begins in wonder. - Socrates

If you disagree with the points suggested in this article, ask yourself this question: Do you do so because of a gap in logic or a gap in imagination?

How old is your thinking?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Heavy Exercises in Imagination on Bishop Spong

I'm in the midst of reading a book by Bishop John Shelby Spong entitled, "Why Christianity Must Change or Die".

While I don't agree with a lot of the Bishop's conclusions, I appreciate his ability to make me think.

I am only a chapter into the book, but he has already inspired a line of thinking that I felt worthy of blogging about.

In summary, I see Bishop Spong as oversimplifying counter-arguments and lacking the force of imagination in seeking answers.

An example is his argument that Christ couldn't have really ascended in light of modern scientific understandings of the universe post Copernicus. He claims that the word "up" is rendered meaningless since the Chinese on the other side of the earth, when pointing to the sky, are pointing in the opposite direction of an American doing the same.

I see this as simply the word "up" being redefined as moving away from a dominant source of gravity (i.e. the earth). It only takes a little imagination to understand that "up" is now defined as pointing away from the earth and to not "throw out the baby with the bath water."

Mr. Spong thinks that because of modern discoveries in space observation and exploration, the idea of Christ ascending to the heavens is preposterous. He says, that if Christ would have ascended as the Bible describes it, we now know that He would have simply went into orbit.

But I see this as failing to imagine many possibilities on the edges or even outside the boundaries of modern scientific understanding. Christ could have flown beyond the speed of light to a physical place beyond the edge of what we know now as a finite and expanding universe. While Einstein gave us a physics that says that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, his EPR experiments suggest that there is something that might be able to go beyond the speed of light.

And what about the possibility of wormholes in space? Perhaps Christ ascended into one?

Furthermore, modern scientific understanding has not discovered what boundary space is expanding into. Perhaps it is expanding into what we think of as "heaven".

Another possibility is that heaven isn't a material place in the sense that it is not detectable or observable by those of us in our present realm. Scientific thought even postulates such a possibility with the idea of a multiverse.

All of the above requires the exercise of imagination. Imagination, when applied to God, can only be untamed if that God is unbound. Einstein once said:

Imagination is more important than intelligence.

And this is the heart of Mr. Spong's problem. His imagination is limited by his view that perhaps God is NOT omnipotent. He questions God's omnipotence because of the existence of suffering and death.

I believe the reason we struggle with God's infinity is because we fail to see God's self-imposed limitations.

Imagine that you were omnipotent. Your first reaction might be that it would be like winning the lottery. You might say, "if I were omnipotent, I'd give myself a mansion, tons of nice cars, money, I'd never have to work again, and the list goes on and on and on...."

But if you were omnipotent, why would you NEED money or a mansion or a mode of transportation? You see, these initial "answers" are really questions in disguise. If you were omnipotent, you wouldn't need a place to rest because you wouldn't need to rest. You would also not need shelter from the elements, therefore you'd have no need for a house. You wouldn't need money, food or anything else.

So if you needed nothing, what would you do with your life? You certainly wouldn't do anything you HAD to do. You'd only do what you WANTED to do. And going further, you'd not only DO nothing outside of your will, you'd BE nothing outside of your will.

So the omnipotence of God can only be understood if we focus on His will. Everything else is fuzzy to finite minds which can only understand things with boundaries.

BTW, have you ever thought of the fact that we can only understand things with boundaries? Have you ever tried to imagine infinity and eternity?

So if this omnipotent God wants us to know Him, He will limit what He chooses to do and be. Pantheism believes in an omnipotent God. However pantheism believes in an unlimited God that is unknowable because that God EXERCISES that omnipotence.

But I believe that God has limited Himself. His ABILITY is unlimited (what we mean by calling him omnipotent). But he doesn't exercise it. This idea separates the Christian view from pantheism.

God has limited Himself not only so that we can know him, but also as an example. A good leader leads by example. He calls us to limit ourselves by first limiting Himself.

Mr. Spong questions the omnipotence of God because bad things happen to good people. In fact, I've already found more than a few places where the Bishop seems to reject ideas simply based upon their appeal to him.

But only God can decide truth on the basis of their appeal to Him. I don't have to like the existence of death and suffering to believe in them. To reject their existence because of my preferences, is to act as if I am omnipotent. This is self-idolatry.

This would be akin to me rejecting a doctor's prognosis (and perhaps treatment) of an illness because I didn't like it.

So why would God allow suffering and death? I don't have all the answers, but I do believe His chief goal is for us to enter into a loving communion with Him. Love requires volition. This choice comes with consequences. Love without volition is called "rape" and is no real love at all.

There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, "All right, then, have it your way” - C.S. Lewis

This is a heavy posting that probably leaves more questions than answers. But since HOW we think is more important than WHAT we think, I hope I have inspired you to open up your imaginations when pursuing the truth.

As Socrates once said,
Wisdom begins in wonder.

16 But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 17 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter.
- Luke 18:16-17

And at the same time, "anchor" your imagination with wisdom and humility.

Knowledge is knowing it's a one way street. Wisdom is looking both ways anyways.
- anonymous.

Humility is having the boldness to stare weakness in the eye without flinching.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Bad To Be Good

A local Pastor recently got charged with domestic violence. Here is what he told the Court:

“I’m the pastor of a church for almost 30 years teaching people to be good...”

And THERE is the problem. Being a Christian isn’t about being good. People can be good without believing in God. They can’t do so logically, but lack of coherence isn’t a show stopper.

Many people go to college to get a job instead of to learn. But the best students really want to learn. They have the curiosity that inspires them to study. As a result, they get good grades and tend to get the best jobs as a side effect.

Many people go into politics for money, power and prestige, but the best politicians aren’t really politicians at all. They are leaders, change agents who wanted to make a difference.

Many, many rich people (arguably most) didn’t set out to be rich. Instead, they pursued their interests, leveraging their skills, to produce a better product or service. The wealth came because they were really good at what they chose and they were in the right place at the right time.

The Government is trying to alleviate poverty with Welfare, however they are actually unintentionally supporting and expanding it. For a Government to be effective in fighting poverty, it has to get out of the way and do everything it can to empower individuals, churches and other organizations to battle it (see "Jesus Was Not A Welfarist",

Sailboats are adequate for transportation, but most people don’t sail merely to get from point A to B. The destination is usually just an excuse for the journey.

When I realize that I can’t be good, I begin to seek God’s grace. In finding that grace, my love for Him grows. Out of that love, goodness flows.

"The only people who get better are people who know that, if they never get better, God will love them anyway."
— Steve Brown (A Scandalous Freedom: The Radical Nature of the Gospel)

And for more great Steve Brown Quotes:

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

An Imaginative Faith For An Imaginative Reality

Could you remind me how the Trinity works? And could you explain to me again this idea of grace?" One diligent student had no problem grasping Islam. She had no problem understanding religions based on a concept of exchange—do something for a god and he'll do something for you. But she was legitimately confused about Christianity: "The Quran is simple. Why is Christianity complicated?"
Christianity is complicated because reality is complicated. Show me a simple religion, and I’ll show you one that is not real.

"Reality, in fact, is always something you couldn't have guessed. That's one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It's a religion you couldn't have guessed."
--The Case for Christianity
Christianity tells us what man-made religions like Islam or Hinduism do not: That at a specific historical moment God experienced intimately torture, abandonment, overwhelming loss, and unjust death.
Factoid: Jesus is asked 183 questions in the Gospels. He answers just three of them—and he asks 307 questions back.

Truth Is Stranger Than Science Fiction

It seems egotistical to believe that we are alone in the entire universe, considering how large it is.
That is one very common opinion that I heard recently while talking to a few friends. I appreciate and agree but can also imagine another perspective:

What if we ARE alone because LIFE is special? What if we are alone because life is precious and to be THAT treasured?

The answer to the question of alien life hasn't been conclusively determined, however we already know that it takes very special conditions for a planet to be able to accommodate life.

Astronomers are just now finding some planets that might be habitable. Scientists have found over 400 exoplanets and can count 54 of them as possibly being in the habitable zone (

Given this sample (admittedly too small to be considered representative), 13% of these planets MIGHT be able to support life. And this is just based upon the distance these planets are from their star and the average temperature needed for these planets to have water to support life as we know it.

This "rare earth" consciousness seems to be a driving force behind the conservationist movement today. The harder it is to find another earth-like planet, the more we appreciate things we take for granted like clean air, clean water and fossil fuels. We are more conscientious of being good stewards of our Earth's natural resources, as we look at life on earth as being the exception within the known universe.

Truth has a habit of defying our imagination.

While it is harder to imagine that we might be alone, this is kind of what I would expect. When men first discovered that the sun rotated around the earth, that the earth was round and that there is this force called gravity, all of these discoveries stretched our imaginations. Einstein's theory of relativity, as it concluded that even time is relative defied our imaginations as we thought about the possibility of flying in space at the speed of light and time slowing down to allow us to virtually travel into the future. Belief in God defies imagination.

Atheism is the failure of the imagination in bridging the gaps between empiricism and reality.

Which statement is easier to prove?

Reason stretches imagination's boundaries.
Imagination stretches reason's boundaries.

From a "God perspective", on one hand it seems very wasteful for Him to have created the entire cosmos and yet only created one little blue dot as the only host for life.

But on the other hand, if He wanted to inspire in us a profound sense of gratitude and thankfulness, what better way could He have done so than by making the Earth the only host of life, in a celestial sea of stars and rocks?

And if the heavens declare His glory, then from a Christian perspective I might ask, "Is the universe large enough?"

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"Hearing the World Through the Sounds of Music" speech to Mensa

I had the privilege of speaking to a Mensa regional gathering on April 2.

Here is an edited audio of my speech entitled, "Hearing the World Through the Sounds of Music".

The speech was focused on deriving a philosophical and spiritual worldview from principles seen in music. I interspersed some improvisational guitar into the lecture for demonstration purposes and to hold attention spans.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Reconciling Faith With Reason

In his book, “Holy Ignorance”, Olivier Roy laments how religion has been privatized, weaned from the public life. The secular worldview, when divorced from faith, leaves us disenchanted, as it treats us like orphans of God, left in a morass of consumerism, every person reduced down to dollars.

Science has replaced our narrative with propositions and our faith with technology.

He describes how religion has become fanatical as it has come to divorce itself from culture. Such a religion, once unhinged from the world, becomes an antagonist to all that is alien to its self-conjured reality. Mr. Roy explains the modern trends within the church as it markets itself in creating church services that are more like productions, and with its emphasis on a “therapeutic” message, as being the symptoms of this cleavage.

We now live in the digital age. The computer screen or smart phone which you are using to view this blog, was produced by digital technology. Such technology was birthed from science. Science is governed by reason. It is from such reason that Einstein discovered E=MC2, giving us the power and threat we now face with Japan’s nuclear reactor meltdowns. Reason has authenticated itself through the power of the technology that envelopes us.

It is out of this same reasoning process that we are left with interpreting the universe as being approximately 13.7 billion years old, governed by a system of processes that produced the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that shook and swallowed so much of Japan. It is because of this reasoning process that we are able to predict lunar eclipses and the most recent super moon.

I see two ways to reconcile reason with faith. One is to separate scientific thought from its metaphysical assumptions, weeding out fact from fiction by discerning between its pragmatism and its philosophical assumptions. Here is an example that I have used before (and will probably use again):

Two men look at the Grand Canyon. One says, “Wow, look what a lot of time and a little water can do to create such a wonder”. The other says, “Wow, look what a lot of water and a little time can do to create such a wonder”.

Both observers have the same facts but different presuppositions. The presuppositions can sometimes be tested, but many times can not. When they can’t, they fall into the metaphysical category. The facts are certain, but the assumptions require faith to accept or reject.

Let me stress that all these models of the development of the universe from nothing ... from some point [like the primordial atom of the Big Bang models]... have to be seen for what they are: models, devoid of compelling experimental verification. The scenarios we develop from them are possible, and they illustrate various features we can follow up on, but none is ultimately persuasive. —Nothingness: The Science of Empty Space p296

The second way that I see to reconcile faith with reason is to hold some of my faith assumptions with less dogma. I see Christ constantly confronting literal interpretations, not allegorical ones. For instance, in John 6, Christ tells His followers that unless they eat of His flesh and drink of His blood, they cannot become His disciples. Many of His disciples deliberately turn away from Him. Why wasn’t Christ more careful about His wording? Was He not purposefully trying to provoke by separating out the literalists from those who could see the allegorical nature of His words?

I could point to other examples like when Christ stood in front of the temple and told His audience that in three days He would build up the temple (talking about His body, and not the literal temple in which He was standing in front of). Or how about when Christ was ministering to the woman at the well in John 4 and told His disciples who were concerned that He had not eaten in a while, that He had food to eat that they knew nothing about (John 4:32), talking not about physical food but about doing His Father’s will? Such allegorical interpretations free the Christian to believe that the world could be billions of years old.

I’m not sure how far to take this allegorical approach. For instance, I certainly do believe that Christ was and is a literal person. And on the subject of the age of the earth and humanity, I suspect that Dr. Russell Humphreys is on the right track by suggesting that if time is relative, we could be living on a young earth in an old universe….

The point is that I believe in a logical faith. Reason necessitates its own limitations. Faith compensates for them. Reason finds that there are limitations to what we can know. It is the reason people ask, “if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around, does it still make a sound?” As soon as we allow for even the possibility of things existing beyond our empirical knowledge, we open the door to faith.

If reason necessitates faith, faith rejects certainty. Show me someone who is certain, and I’ll show you someone that is faithless. Christ would often ask people, “where is your faith?” But if He really wanted to drive people toward the extreme of belief, why did He not ask, “where is your certainty?”

I am certain that I do not know what I think I know. I have faith that at least some of what I am certain about is wrong. Perhaps if scientists were less dogmatic about their reason, and religious people were less dogmatic about their faith, the reconciliation could be clear.

Here is the book review that inspired this blog posting:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Questions Lie in Wait

Reason (like death) robs a man of the delusion of His divinity. Throw out reason and man is free to create reality in his own image. Perception is the only reality the non-discerning may know.

We seem to live in a non-discerning world. It seems that hypersensitivity to being judgmental, bigoted, racist, homophobic, and xenophobic, calls us to throw out our minds in the name of a mindless religious faith known as “political correctness”.

Technology is an affront to this disposition. Science births technology by drawing a line delineating truth from falsehood. Many people explain this as a dichotomy. They see the world as being divided. After all, some truth is quantitative and others are qualitative.

Two plus two equals four. There is no room for argument. But we have no such formulas for determining a suspected universal, transcendent morality. Many people don’t even believe such a thing exists, however they will moralize against those of us who do.

In his book, “God Is Not Great”, Christopher Hitchens moralizes against the church, claiming that organized religion is violent, irrational, intolerant, racist, etc… But what is wrong with those things if God doesn’t exist? WHY are these things wrong in an atheist’s world? Says who?

What if reason is transcendent? What if life’s mysteries are only the limitations of our empirical reach or our presuppositions? What if the mysteries of the world are not an excuse for us to throw our brains out the window, but rather a call to explore?

Imagine if Albert Einstein would have never asked himself why the speed of light was observed to violate Newton’s physics. He would have never discovered E=MC2. Imagine if Kepler would have never asked questions about the anomalies in the Ptolemaic cosmological model. He would never have discovered that the orbits of the celestial bodies are elliptical instead of perfect circles.

I am a music teacher. When I teach creativity to students, I teach them that the key is to ask questions. I challenge them to question a scale and ask, “What can I possibly do with those seven notes?” I then challenge them to explore the possibilities. This curiosity and sense of exploration inevitably leads to creativity.

Creativity breathes life into what is otherwise simply meaningless exercises. When I teach scales, intervals, arpeggios, chords and music theory, my students' eyes glaze over. But when I coax them to be creative with these objects by questioning their possibilities, these things come to life in the dynamic we call music. 

Christianity says that the Word became flesh and came to live among us. All the rules and ritual, the sometimes mindless traditionalism, the cleansings, religious ceremonies, sacrifices and duties, came alive in the form of Jesus Christ. Faith, with all of its ambiguity and mystery, breathes life into a dead Word.

Rock beats scissors...

What discoveries in life lie in wait because of questions you are not asking?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Resurrecting Hope

Why does God allow bad things to happen? That’s the question on many of our minds when we see tragedies like this.

You and I are not immune to such tragedies:

"I never imagined we would be in such a situation" Watanabe said. "I had a good life before. Now we have nothing. No gas, no electricity, no water."

The best answer my faith provides is that we broke the world but God identified with our pain when Christ suffered. If this stopped at His suffering, I’d have no hope, but it is in His resurrection where the real power is.

During this lent and Easter season, I encourage you to think about the message in the story of Christ and in the stories developing in the world around us today.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Learning to Live

I received a mailer yesterday from a local church announcing evangelistic meetings. I'm sure they mean well... Their mailer went something like this:

You are a sinner- Romans 3:23 says "All have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God."
Sin leads to death - Romans 6:23 says "The wages of sin is death..."
You need a savior  - The rest of Romans 6:23 "But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
Christ died for you - Romans 5:28 says "God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us!"
 Believe upon Jesus and you too can be saved - Romans 10:17 says "Whoever will call on the name of the Lord  will be saved!"
The above is called the Romans road and is a common evangelism technique. Often this approach will go on to give a formulaic prayer that the person can say in order to get saved.

I'm a Christ follower. I believe in salvation. But I have some serious problems with the above message. So it makes sense that I might quote from an atheist right? :-)

"What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence."- Christopher Hitchens.

And of course Carl Sagan...

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

I would love to reply to such an approach as so:

"Whoever goes aright, for his own soul he goes aright; and whoever goes astray, to his own detriment he goes astray. And no bearer of a burden bears another's burden..." (Koran 53:38)
"Mohammad... is the messenger of God and the Khatam [seal, closure, end, or last] of the prophets..." (Koran 33:40)
"The Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary, was no more than Allah's apostle and His Word which He cast to Mary; a spirit from Him. So believe in Allah and His apostles and do not say: 'Three.' ...Allah is but one God...." (Koran 4:171)
...Allah forbid that He should have a son." (Koran 4:171)
 Those who "believe not in Allah and His Messenger, He has prepared, for those who reject Allah, a Blazing Fire!" (Koran 48:13)

*See for more information.

I am not a Muslim. But I would hope such a reply would garner this response from the well-intended Christian. "But the Koran is just a book and it is not the Word of God." I would hope that this well meaning Christian would see the folly of simply throwing out quotes from a religious text and expecting the reader/listener to accept their authority without reason.

I am a Christian. My faith starts with Christ and the evidence for who He is in the historical records of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. You can say those books aren't inspired by God, but even if you do, you can't say they are the products of some human conspiracy, forgeries or collective delusion, given the historical evidence. What are you left to say about these books and their claims? How else would you explain four independent witnesses of Christ's life and ministry?

I also believe in Christ because I have found that when I obey His teachings, it benefits the Spiritual health of my life. I believe it is actually easier for man to measure health than to discern truth.

" is not enough that the unhappy man should desire truth; he must desire health." - G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, pg 11
And yes, I DO believe in the discernment of truth... But it is easier for me to say that following Christ will bring one blessing than it is for me to say that following Christ is true even though I believe in both and can make a case for both...

Notice how this proselytizing church focuses on "fire insurance". One quote I saw from them made this extraordinary claim:

You can know the truth about eternity!

What an extraordinary claim. Does it not make sense that when Christ taught that probably His first words in His first sermon were probably the most important ones?

Christ's "inaugural speech" is found in Luke 4:18-19:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
   because he has anointed me
   to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
   and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
   19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
I don't see anything explicitly about eternity in His statement. Christ is quoting from Isaiah 61. He establishes His authority, then uses that authority to proclaim the good news. The content of that good news is to set people free and to proclaim the "year of the Lord's favor."

The sermon on the mount is generally believed to be Christ's first public sermon. If you read Matthew 5-6, Christ's emphasis, is on blessing (spiritual health). Here is just an excerpt:

 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
   for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
   for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
   for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
   for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
   for they will see God. "
Notice that Christ doesn't focus on behavior but rather attitude and mindset. He also doesn't focus on escape from hell and having eternal assurance of a heavenly afterlife. I believe in heaven and hell but it is very interesting how Christ doesn't simply reduce the good news down to the afterlife. Notice the FOCUS of His message.

Instead Christ capitalizes on our innate, often unspoken assumptions of "What is in this for me?" He leverages this human predisposition by presenting the good news in a transactional framework.

There are extremes found in reductionism. Christ's message should not be reduced down to simply "You can be blessed if you become a Christian" (the prosperity Gospel). But it should also not be reduced to "You can have a security blanket that helps you deal with death".

I appreciate the evangelistic church that I described because they have a heart for souls. I lament the fact that they have reduced the good news down to something that teaches us how to die but does not teach us how to live.

I am not ashamed of Christ but sometimes ashamed of other Christians. Dear reader, if you are not a Christ follower, I pray that you look at Him and His teachings DESPITE what you might see and hear sometimes from those of us who try to to follow Him. As a favorite preacher of mine, Steve Brown says, "We are just beggars showing people where we have found bread."

Thursday, February 24, 2011

What is the Center of Your Universe?

I’m fascinated with the historical development of astronomy, but not because I’m some “Trekkie”, whose head is in the clouds. Ok, maybe my head is a little in the clouds, but that’s besides the point. This subject fascinates me for less than obvious reasons.

It’s not so much WHAT people believe but WHY we believe it.

This is an epistemological statement. "I think therefore I am" is an epistemological statement uttered by Emmanuel Kant. Epistemology asks why and how we come to believe in anything. How do we know what we know? How do we come to believe our worldview? It is not so much concerned with WHAT we believe (ontology). This is not to say that what we believe isn't extremely important. But if you get the WHY right, the WHAT is pretty simple.

I see this all illustrated in the historical development of astronomy. In the 2nd century, the majority opinion held to the Ptolemaic model to explain the motions of the celestial bodies. Looking at the above picture, you can see that this view held that the Earth was the center of the universe, with the sun and other planets revolving around it. Notice, that each planet had its own separate rotation. This is called an epicycle and it was added by Ptolemy to explain why planets sometimes appear to wander backwards in the sky.

BTW, for the Ptolemaic model to work, it also had to say that the planets' rotations did NOT center around the Earth, even though it did position the Earth to be in the center of the Universe:

I took the above diagram from, which is an excellent web site to learn more about the historical development of our cosmological models.

The Ptolemaic view also held to the idea that everything in the universe has a perfectly circular orbit. It inherited this from Aristotle, who espoused the Greek notion that the "heavens" had to exhibit motion using only the Greek notions of perfect geometry. Circles are perfect in the Greek mind.

The Ptolemaic view explained the motion of the stars and planets very well. In fact, it explained them so well that it was able to accurately predict their motions. It was the predominant worldview for hundreds of years.

And here is where I get into epistemology. Even though this paradigm was able to successfully forecast the rising of Venus, and make other predictions, even though it was able to be used to map the motions of the celestial bodies, it was dead WRONG. 

WHY was it wrong? It wasn't wrong because of faulty logic. The Ptolemaic view is entirely logical. The problem was with its assumptions. 

In the 16th century, Copernicus suggested that the Sun was the center of these orbits. This assumption was considered a blasphemy worthy of burning at the stake. In fact, before Copernicus, Giordano Bruno actually suffered this fate for making the same suggestion. A little later in history, after Copernicus, Kepler adopted the Copernican model and strengthened it by throwing out an assumption. He suggested that the celestial bodies did NOT move in perfect circles but that they had elliptical orbits.

This one tweak in assumptions gave the Copernican model strength giving it more accurate predictions than the Ptolemaic model. About a hundred years later, Galileo comes along and brings new technology to the table in the form of a telescope. Using it, he is able to greatly strengthen the Copernican model. The church sentenced him to house arrest as a result.

As an aside, this is why I sometimes say, "I'm not ashamed of Christ but I'm sometimes ashamed at other Christians."

The reason that I'm blogging on this subject is not to teach astronomy or astrophysics. I am no authority in either area. But I guess not being an authority isn't stopping me from blogging on epistemology, so here I go.

Notice that both worldviews were logical and both were useful, but the false worldview could be said to be less useful than the Copernican worldview. Both worldviews could even make predictions but the Copernican worldview ended up being the better of the two.

Also notice that the Copernican view is simpler and yet further beyond our imaginations. It was simpler from a mathematical perspective that I can't attempt to explain, nor would anyone but a mathematician, be interested in reading. The Copernican view stretched the imagination more because it said that WE were in motion around the Sun. It is easier to imagine that every day when man has seen the sun rise and set that IT is moving not the other way around.

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.  - Albert Einstein

And notice how presuppositions, not logic, was the primary issue. The Ptolemaic model inherited its presuppositions from a Greek philosopher named Eudoxus who espoused that the Earth was the center of the universe. Aristotle adopted Eudoxus' view because it fit into his philosophy. The Ptolemaic view survived and thrived because it worked. It wasn't as accurate as the Copernican view but it worked well enough to be accepted.

You can hold to many worldviews and get some "traction" out of them. Whether or not you are an atheist, theist, agnostic, Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Wiccan, pantheist, animist, pagan, or something else, your worldview probably works in SOME ways. Perhaps your worldview works in MANY ways.

An assumption is the answer to a question unasked.

Question your assumptions. Don't assume because your perspective is rational that it is right. Don't simply engage others in battles over logic. As I continually explore this questioning process, I have found that its path orbits around a cross.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Kingdom Sweet Kingdom

I believe in a place that the Bible calls “The Kingdom of God”. This is a place that I simply call “home”. Home is the place where a human being feels like they have arrived. It is the place you were made for. For a football player, you could say that home is what it feels like when you have just won the Superbowl, the ticker tape is streaming down and the fans share with you and your team in celebration on the world’s stage. For a musician, home may be the stage where they perform. For the parent, home may be as simple as having rocking that little one in their arms asleep, while singing a lullaby. Home is when you are with friends and family, sharing love with one another.

Home is more than a feeling, more than an ambition or ephemeral accomplishment. Home is living your life in the place where you belong, the place you were always meant to be. Home is doing what you were made to do. Home is the place where you lack nothing, a place of ultimate contentment.

Christianity, not only describes “home” as “The Kingdom of God”, and “Heaven”, but it is also found in the “living water” that Jesus offers to the Samaritan woman in John 4. This was a “living water” which would “heal” all thirsts. Home is the last drink you’ll ever need. Home is the last experience you’ll ever need to feel.

I focus on “home”, what Christianity also calls “The Kingdom of Heaven” because I am convinced, and need to preach to myself. What is that message? Focus on the Kingdom, focus on home, and you will not WANT to sin. Our potential to make foolish mistakes is eliminated if we can only maintain this focus.

A person who is dedicated to exercise will not exercise without a goal. They need the focus of being healthier, or being a better athlete, or improving their appearance. Exerting your body without this goal is not natural. Using guilt and fear tactics to get yourself into shape, telling yourself that if you don’t work out, the extra weight you carry gives you a higher risk of health issues, are not enough. A vision of greatness, wholeness and completeness is necessary.

This is what I call home. This is what Christ calls “The kingdom of Heaven”.

“Seek Ye first the Kingdom of God and the rest of these things will be added unto you.” – Matthew 6:33

What is the purpose of your life? Where is your home? Focus on the Kingdom and watch the struggle melt away. Nothing drives obedience like passion.