It’s time for a little update, not much, but I am no longer new to blogging. I have been at it a few years. Not that I have gained any particular stature. I simply can’t claim to be new at it. I still write as part of my profession, but blogging is more interesting. Blogging is my way of sharpening ideas and fleshing them out. I know I don’t always “get it right”, but it’s the journey that counts.
I have been on a journey for truth since I emerged from the haze and confusion of adolescence, much of it self-induced. Stepping out of that myopic existence I began to get an inkling that a world of truth lay in front of me to encounter, and so I set off. I didn’t realize, then, how much faith is required to seek truth. Continue reading “My Journey”→
We can perceive and feel our way to understand that time had a beginning at the point of a quantum vacuum, but we can go no further even to perceive, but for speculation, what lies beyond. We are left to grasp by pure faith that God initiated the universe into being.
Perspective can make all the difference in the way we perceive and understand anything. Our view from a position under the canopy of a dense forest will be different than our view from a drone in the same location flying over the same forest canopy. The higher we fly that drone, the more our perspective expands and understanding of our location grows.
From a great height, we see the expanse and contours of the forest, the streams and rivers that run through and beyond it, the mountains in and the oceans in the distance where the forest transitions into the hills, the foothills, the mountains slopes and the peaks in one direction, and the openings, meadow, plains, and coastlands in another direction.
The higher we go and farther out we see, the more we see and understand the forest in relation to other geographical features that surround it and the savannas, valleys, deserts, and coastlands and oceans in the grater world beyond the forest.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
This verse has become so often quoted that it might seem trite to us. “Yea, yea!” we say. “We need to trust God. I get it.”
It’s hard to grasp and trust in the perspective God has from our place where light filters sparingly through the forest canopy. Our perspective is not much better in the barren expanse of a vast desert or on the waves of a vast ocean as far as the human eye can see. Knowing that the forest canopy, barren desert or vast ocean gives way to a different reality can seem like a small consolation from where we stand.
We have a harder time grasping and appreciating that God sees out over the universe where our planet sits tucked among other planets circling the sun in an opportune place in the Milky Way solar system where we peer out, however tentatively, into an expanse of other solar systems stretching out in all directions beyond our capabilities even to observe.
Ninety five percent of the universe we can see is comprised of dark matter and dark energy that we know exists, but we cannot even observe. Mystery surrounds us in every direction and beyond our capability to go or even to glimpse.
We can perceive and feel our way to understand that time had a beginning at the point of a quantum vacuum, but we can go no further even to perceive, but for speculation, what lies beyond. We are left to grasp by pure faith that God initiated the universe into being by His very Word and expends still into some unknown future and “void”.
There is one critique of the Christian notion of sin and the justice of God that is troubling on its face. That key critique for anyone who claims that God demands justice for sin is that God is seemingly unjust to require justice of beings who can’t measure up.
Many modern people bristle at the Christian idea of sin, and they bristle even more at the idea that God would punish sinners. Frankly, I think many modern people simply don’t understand what sin is and who God is.
But, that aside, there is one critique of the Christian notion of sin and the justice of God that is troubling on its face. That key critique for anyone who claims that God demands justice for sin is that God is seemingly unjust to require justice of beings who can’t measure up.
Alongside the notion that the God of the Bible and demands judgment for not measuring up to God’s just standard is the notion that all people are sinners who don’t measure up. In fact, the New Testament is fairly read to say that people are incapable of living up to God’s standard.
The doctrine of original sin says that we are all corrupted because the sin of Adam and Eve has been passed down generation after generation. Even if we don’t believe in the doctrine of original sin, however, the Bible is clear from the Old Testament to the New Testament that human beings don’t measure up to God’s standard:
They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.
They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.
as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one; …. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
Jesus said, “No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18 (NIV)) Yet, he says, “Be perfect … as your heavenly Father is perfect?” (Matthew 5:48)
This is the dilemma: How can we be perfect?! “To err is human” the bard once said, and so it seems we are imperfect by our very nature.
Many people reject the idea that God can be just and demand justice from people incapable of measuring up to the standards God’s justice demands. They say it would be unjust for God to demand justice from beings who have no ability to act other than they do, and so fail to meet God’s standards.
God seems to be acting unfairly to demand that we meet His standards when we are 1) created beings, 2) born into sin, and 3) incapable of living up to the perfection God requires.
Other questions tumble after these thoughts: Why didn’t God create us perfect? If we are born sinful, how can God blame us for being sinful? If we are incapable of being perfect, how can God punish us for our imperfection?
I like apologetics because I like the intellectual exercise. I enjoy loving God with my mind. Maybe the reason for that is that I became a Christian in the academic setting of college. I was a seeker then, and I have always been stimulated by the intellectual journey.
I have loved talking, writing, and reading about meaningful and significant matters since I emerged from an existential angst that I sought (unsuccessfully) to smother with alcohol and drugs in my teens. Once I stepped out of that haze to face the reality of life, I dove head first into the search for truth.
I had no patience for merely fanciful speculation. My keen interest and motivation became a quest to learn about and understand the nature of reality. If there was meaning to find there, I was dedicated to finding it.
My journey led me eventually to Jesus, and there my quest was fulfilled. I have found in Christ the truth for which I sought. In the Old Testament, which speaks of him and foreshadows him, and in the New Testament, which is a testament to Jesus, the Messiah, the savior of the world from all the existential angst that bears down on mankind, I have found explanations and nuance that make sense of reality.
I have found a home for my restless mind in learning to love God with my mind. The intellectual pursuit is part of loving God, but it’s easy to forget for someone like me that I also need to love God with my heart, soul, and strength. (See Luke 10:27)
I may get into what it means to love God in these various ways in another blog post, but first I am realizing it’s important to see that love is meant to be the primary object and focus of our hearts, souls, strength, and mind. Loving God is the ultimate goal of these things – not the other way around.
We engage our hearts, souls, strength and minds in order to know God. Knowing God in a Hebrew sense means much more than intellectual ascent and understanding. It means relationship because love is relational.
Knowing is also the primary focus of apologetics, but the emphasis on knowing in apologetics, especially for western-mined Christians, is often primarily intellectual. In apologetics, we talk about learning various arguments for God, like the cosmological argument, the argument from fine-tuning, and the ontological argument. Then there is the Kalaam cosmological argument, and variations on variations of arguments.
We talk sometimes about which arguments are the best arguments, which arguments are most effective and most difficult for a nonbeliever to counter. We talk as if we do apologetics like gladiators in an arena where knowledge is the ultimate weapon.
I have suspected for awhile now we are missing the boat when we view apologetics this way. Maybe I am slow to this realization, and most other people are way ahead of me, but I suspect I may be more typical than I fear.
I have heard a number of people assert that Christianity gave birth to the scientific method. Perhaps, the first time I heard that claim was from John Lennox, the famous Oxford University professor of mathematics. I was intrigued, but I didn’t take the time to research his claim at the time.
I have heard the claim repeated multiple times, most recently by Dr. Michael Guillen the astrophysicist, former Harvard professor and TV personality. In fact, he devoted a podcast to the subject, so I took my opportunity to learn more.
I did some of my own research as well. Wikipedia, for instance, has a page on scientific method. It begins with Aristotle and focuses on rationalism as the basis for scientific method.
Properly speaking, rationalism is not a method. It is a philosophy, a way to approach the world. Rationalism and Aristotelian though seem to have helped led the way to the development of the scientific method.
Aristotle’s inductive-deductive method that depended on axiomatic truths and the “self-evident concepts” developed by Epicurus would would be jettisoned for something more like the modern scientific method beginning around the 16th Century. Perhaps, this is why Guillen doesn’t mention them.
After those early pioneers, Wikipedia mentions some great Muslim thinkers who were influenced by Aristotle, but placed “greater emphasis on combining theory with practice” and “the use of experiment as a source of knowledge”. Guillen starts with these early “flashes” of scientific method in the Muslim world, including and Avicenna (Ibn Sina) Averroes (Abū l-Walīd Muḥammad Ibn ʾAḥmad Ibn Rušd)
These men of the Islamic Golden Age pioneered a form of scientific method, but the inertia did not continue. Likewise, Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides), the great Jewish theologian, physician, and astronomer displayed a flash of scientific light. He urged “that man should believe only what can be supported either by rational proof, by the evidence of the senses, or by trustworthy authority”, foreshadowing a future scientific posture, but is prescience did not yet take hold.
Dr. Guillen credits Robert Grosseteste and Roger Bacon with the formation of principles of scientific method that “caught fire” in Christian Europe beginning in the 1200’s. “Concluding from particular observations into a universal law, and then back again, from universal laws to prediction of particulars”, Grosseteste emphasized confirmation “through experimentation to verify the principles” in both directions.
Roger Bacon, Grosseteste’s pupil, “described a repeating cycle of observation, hypothesis, experimentation, and the need for independent verification”, including the recording of the way experiments were conducted in precise detail so that outcomes could be replicated independently by others. This became the foundation for the importance of peer-review in science, says Guillen.
Wikipedia mentions Francis Bacon and Descartes, who Guillen skips to get to Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton. Bacon and Descartes emphasized the importance of skepticism and rigid experimentation, eliminating the Aristotelean dependence on first (axiomatic) principles.
Galileo Galilei introduced mathematical proof into the process and continued to distance science from reliance on Aristotelean first principles. Galileo and Newton formulated the terms of scientific method that would inform modern scientists ever afterward.
That the two latter men were men of faith, along with Grosseteste (Catholic Bishop) and Roger Bacon, his student, is significant. So were Maimonides and the Islamic thinkers before him men of faith.
Guillen emphasizes the fact that these men who pioneered the way to modern science were devout religious believers at the same time. Guillen also observes that science did not really take off until the 17th Century. The trailblazers of the modern scientific method were religious men, and the scientific method caught fire in Christian Europe during that time, lead, chiefly, by men of faith.
Why did science catch fire in Christian Europe and not in other parts of the world? Why not in the Islamic or Jewish world? Or the world of the eastern religions? This is question Guillen poses, and he provides a possible answer.
This passage above gets me thinking about these things again. The passage quoted above is from Steven’s address to the Jewish leaders who had him stoned after calling them stiff-necked like their ancestors in the desert (among other things).
Steven recited the Jewish history to them, including the Ark of the Covenant that was created for the Ten Commandments and Tent of Meeting that was carried through the desert. The Tabernacle with the Ark of the Covenant became the inner sanctum of the Tent of Meeting. These structures the people carried with them became the place they would meet with God.
David desired to build God a home, a permanent place for the Ark of the Covenant and Tabernacle, and Solomon accomplished David’s dream. David knew, however, that God does not live in a temple made by human hands. Solomon, David’s son who built the Temple, acknowledged this when he dedicated the Temple:
“But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!
1 Kings 8:27
They understood that the Tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting, and the Temple were symbolic. These physical structures and the activity organized around them and in them were meant to point to a metaphysical reality of much greater substance.
It’s ironic that David, a man after God’s own heart, knew these things, but the people of God generally often did not. David was a man after God’s own heart, but the Israelites on the whole were often stiff-necked, as Stephen said.
I find it ironic that people who try to interpret and apply the Bible in the most literal way fall on opposite ends of the spectrum. Fundamentalists and atheists both tend to interpret the Bible literally. They are the two sides of the same interpretive coin.
At the end of the passage quoted above, the Lord poses the rhetorical question, “Did not my hand make all of these things?” Does anyone literally believe that God’s hand made the universe? (Only one hand?)
I would venture to guess that nearly everyone understands this phrase to be allegorical. Yet, there are so many things in the Bible that people try to take and apply literally that are, perhaps, not as obviously allegorical.
I’ve heard the counter statement that we cannot pick and choose the things we believe out of the Bible. We must believe every word of it, or reject all of it. This is the literalist approach – all or nothing. Never mind that a verse like the one quoted above is clearly not intended to be taken literally!
Not to pick on “fundamentalists” (whatever that term might mean), but those people we tend to label with that term tend to push a very literal interpretation of Scripture. They, in a sense, double-down on the “facts” stated in the Bible and believe everything. Many atheists dig in on the same literal way of interpreting the Bible, but they believe none of it. They both approach the Bible the same way, but one believes 100% and the other believes 0%.