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.