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.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Diversity Speaks of Another

E Pluribus Unum. Out of the many, one. Ravi Zacharias says that all philosophy is the search for unity within diversity.

How can you have diversity without an idea? For instance, if you look at other people, you will see an idea with infinite variations of expression. Whether we are looking at Brad Pitt, Nancy Pelosi, Jim Belushi, Miley Cyrus, Betty White, Oprah Winfrey, Tiger Woods or Donald Trump, we are seeing diverse people who share the 'ideas' found in the definition of what it means to be human beings.

They all have arms and legs, have to breathe, sleep and eat, have the same core needs, need to be loved and want to love. They all have the same basic hopes, dreams, ambitions, temptations, weaknesses, etc.... Yet people are diverse. Just looking at the examples I gave, you have people who are old and people who are young, females, males, white, black, mixed, intelligent and not so bright...

To be human is to share in an idea. In music, we have infinite variation also. Edgar Varese defined music as 'organized sound'. That definition is pretty close but not perfect. After all, the siren ringing we'd hear when a train is coming to a crossing, or the sound of emergency sirens are also organized in the sense that they pulse at a constant rhythm.

There is something more intangible in the music. Music is a a flow of ideas..... ideas that only make sense to a mind. Music is thematic and tells a story. It repeats ideas to hook the listener. It uses a certain degree of contrast to keep itself from having the monotony of a siren. Music is an idea.

Ideas can only be understood by a mind. If diversity screams 'IDEA', then 'IDEA' screams 'GOD'. If there is no God, then tell me why diversity exists at all, or tell me why everything isn't so random as to be chaotic. I can envision a world devoid of God being birthed by some natural process if every human was either identical clones of one another, or so different from one another that we couldn't even call each being a human because we couldn't be expected to have ANYTHING in common.

Imagining this second scenario, imagine one person being born with no such thing as legs and feet. Maybe they have wheels. Imagine the next person not being born, but being 'hatched' and having eyes in the back of their head, never needing to eat, because their body has mastered photosynthesis. The possibilities would be endless, the world would be full of monsters. If such a world existed, and there WAS a God, its creation would yield the reflection of a grand monster.

But instead, we have a world that yields themes. The sun can be counted to rise, shine and fall each and every day we live. But what that day yields in all of its detail will be unique to itself, never occurring again. That is a theme and themes are written by composers.

Diversity speaks of another different from itself. E Pluribus Unum. Out of the many one God.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Listen for a Who

In the classic Dr. Seuss book, “Horton Hears a Who”, an elephant discovers a tiny world in a speck of dust. None of the animals can hear the life that he hears so they dismiss Horton as a nut case and try to take the little speck of dust away.

If you've read this blog enough by now, you'll know that I believe in asking the "why?" questions. I was probably the annoying kid in the backseat of the car asking my parents, “Why do you always drive over the speed limit?  Why do we slow down for cops? Why can’t I drive?”

Often times I find we focus on the “what?” questions without diving into the “why?” questions. I can explain this blog you are reading to be a series of digital 0’s and 1’s (binary) that are electronically represented to your computer’s CPU and digitally interpreted as text and computer instructions that allow this amazing miracle of the internet to even happen. But if I don’t understand “why?” what good is such an answer?

Using this example, you can’t dive into the “why?” without diving into the intentions of the original developers (Arpanet), today’s web content providers and surfers of the Internet. The “why” question begs the question of purpose and meaning. Purpose and meaning inevitably point to someone’s volition, i.e. , their will.

When I ask atheists and agnostics the why questions regarding morality, I often catch them trying to give answers like, “well it is obvious” or “just because” or even “if you have to ask, you are a moron!”  This is no answer at all. Answering “just because” to the questions of “Why is killing evil?” or “How can good be objectively defined?” is the equivalent of saying there is no cause for such beliefs. Something that is causeless would have to be eternal since it has no beginning. That is a divine quality. What has no cause except for God?

And this is something many people don’t understand when they ask, “Who created God?” Something HAS to be causeless.  If an atheist rejects belief in God, they have to believe in a causeless process, a set of natural laws. They are replacing one problem with another.

Many times, I catch people unwilling to ask the why questions. I often find people are NOT willing to let their questions go deep enough. Sometimes it’s the old excuse of “since we can’t no everything, let’s bury our heads in the sand”. This mindset lacks discernment. Unfortunately, I see this often with people of faith.

But most often, I see people who are afraid to ask the why questions because they lead to a “who”. Horton gets the idea of having the people of Who-ville make the loudest noise possible so that the other animals would hear and believe. It took everyone in the community of Who-ville to get this word out.

If believers want to get the word out about the reality of God’s love, we need to be a living question, causing others to think the thoughts that lead from the what, to the why and from the why to the who.

To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in
stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in
such a way that one's life would not make sense if God did not exist.

Cardinal Emmanuel Suhard