Category Archives: Apologetics

What I learned from Tim Keller’s Message on Guidance

In these days when, by government edict here in Canada, churches are deemed “non-essential services,” I find myself searching the internet for inspiring and thought-provoking messages. A few weeks ago, I listened to a 2004 message by Timothy Keller on guidance. See the link below:

For a transcription of the talk, check out the link below:

Keller talks about three forms of guidance:

“We’ll find out by answering, by looking at these proverbs and understanding first of the guidance God does, secondly the guidance God gives and thirdly the guidance God purchases for us.”

  • Guidance God does
  • Guidance God gives
  • Guidance God purchases for us

He further subdivides “Guidance God does” into:

  • Paradoxical guidance God does 
  • Non-obvious guidance God does

There is so much in this message that I can only talk today about what spoke to me about “Paradoxical guidance God does.” When I think of guidance I think of help in decision making. Keller points out there are two contradictory views about decisions. One view is a deterministic view that decision making is really an illusion. Our brain chemistry, our hormones, are appetites so completely determine our decisions (if you’re a Materialist) that our decisions don’t matter. There is also a theological version of this: God makes our decisions for us, so again they don’t matter.

The second, free-will view, is that our decisions completely determine everything. Keller astutely points out that both points of view, if thought through to their logical implications, can’t help but lead to despair. Absolute determinism logically leads to complete passivity. My decisions don’t matter, ever. But free will leads to paralysis since I know so many of my decisions will not only be wrong, but devastatingly wrong that second guessing and doubt will paralyze me.

Keller correctly points out that, not only Proverbs, but he New Testament itself asserts both individual Free Will and God’s Sovereignty (Determinism) simultaneously and the two together are essential for hope and confidence in the future.

Since Free Will exists and is operative, my decisions matter a lot, so I cannot be passive. Yet since the God who loves me still is sovereign, he can smooth over my many poor choices, so in the end I will be okay. Keller uses the Genesis historical account of Joseph where many people made terrible decisions with some good ones thrown in, but God, made everything work together to good purpose and save Jacob and his family from a killer famine.

How to Come to Terms with this Paradox

As a scientist, I am no stranger to paradoxes. The one that springs immediately to mind is the wave-particle duality that is particularly pronounced in small particles. One knows this paradox is intrinsic to particles. One also understands the quantum nature of very small particles is so different from what I encounter in the macroscopic world, that I should not be surprised the properties characteristic of the quantum realm appear as paradoxes to me.

The way a physicist handles these paradoxes is instructive. One knows when to treat an electron as a particle and when to treat it as a wave to solve a particular problem. For diffraction one treats an electron as a wave; for collisions as a particle.

Some years ago I read Roger Penrose’s book The Road to Reality. Much I did not understand but his explanation of the arrow of time always stayed with me. Of the four dimensions (x, y, z, t) only time is unidirectional, that is to say time always moves from the present to the future. Indeed, our world is what it is, because of time. The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that for any process, the entropy of the universe must increase. To go back in time is to return to a lower entropic state of the universe and so contradicts this law. As a human being, I am remorselessly and relentlessly bound in time. At one point in time I am deciding cereal or eggs for breakfast. Twenty minutes later that decision is irrevocably set in the past. Within time I made a decision.

Yet if I believe that God created everything including time, then I have to believe he exists outside of time as well as within it. This to me is the whole explanation why Free Will and Determinism can co-exist. Within time (the only realm I comprehend), real decisions are being made and have consequences. Outside of time, in some way there is some multidimensional present where all of infinity is seen (I want tot say simultaneously, but that would be a symptom of my incurable compulsion to always drag time back into God’s timeless realm).

This brings me to my final point. I can’t understand God’s Sovereignty without dragging time into his timeless realm and so making him responsible for all actions and destroying Free Will. I can’t understand his sovereignty, but at least I know why I can’t understand it.

As Keller points out, having free, meaningful choices and a sovereign God superintending all is the only way of avoiding paralysis on the one hand and passivity on the other. Like the scientist, I apply my imperfect models to the problem at hand. When I am making a decision, I decide knowing that this is my responsibility. When I have second thoughts and wonder if I my decision has been a huge mistake, I am confident that God in his sovereignty will make it work out, despite my flawed choices.

On Reading the Unabridged Version of George MacDonald’s ANNALS OF A QUIET NEIGHBOURHOOD

I have enjoyed the many fine abridged versions of George MacDonald’s books, but have recently moved to unabridged copies of his works. I can see why many 21st century readers do not have the patience to read the asides and the sermons, but for me they have been a special delight.

At one point in Annals of a Quiet Neighbourhood, MacDonald writes down the Reverent Walton’s complete Christmas sermon to his parish. What especially interested me: Walton did not assume everyone in the congregation was at the same place in their spiritual journey. He spoke to three groups of people and recognized the questions they were asking and worked to help each group move further along the way rather than upbraiding some of them for their lack of faith. The first group he addressed were those who had begun to hope that the good news of New Testament were true, but deep down believed it was too good to be true.

People who wished the good news message were true, but thought it was it was not

I think moving from a position of convinced agnosticism (an oxymoron) to a wish that the message were true opens one’s mind to the point where one might listen to what is being said. “Begun to hope” is the operative phrase since these listeners did not really believe their hope could be true. I think there are two disastrous mistakes to avoid here (disastrous mistakes for both the inquirer and anyone who might speak with them on the subject):

The first, is to try to believe something simply because it might be helpful. To use hyperbole, this is akin to a high jumper convincing himself he can clear a ten meter bar in the hope his new found confidence will help him to clear two meters. At all costs, we must not lie to ourselves. It is much better to be scrupulously honest with ourselves even if it takes us longer to recognize the truth. Here is some dialogue from my upcoming book Coventry 2091. In this story, Geisbrecht is a counselor helping Jacob Kraiser get over nightmares about his parents and siblings death in a car accident. 

Geisbrecht looked at Jacob for a moment and then said, “Here’s what I want you to do. Start a journal. Write about the good times with your parents and siblings. By the way, do you believe you’ll see them again?”

“I haven’t really thought about it.”

“Well think about it. If you really believe this absence is temporary—and I mean really believe because you are convinced that’s the reality—then that conviction puts a whole different complexion on these questions. But don’t fool yourself. Don’t talk yourself into a conviction. Be scrupulously honest.”

Giesbrecht looked at Jacob as he thought about the question. “No, I don’t believe I’ll see them again.”

Giesbrecht sighed. “Well that makes things harder. Write down everything you remember about your parents and siblings, good times and bad. Especially, after you wake up after a nightmare, pull out your journal and write. If you were a Christ-follower, I’d tell you to pray. I’d also tell you to write about God’s love and goodness. Maybe you’ll be able to do that honestly in time, but right now you can’t and I don’t want you pretending and lying to yourself.”

Giesbrecht gave Jacob a searching look. “Will you begin journaling?”

Jacob might be tempted to propagandize himself into believing that he would see his family again because of the beneficial effect (I’m not even sure this kind of deep cognitive dissonance is possible) of feeling more at peace and less traumatized by the loss of parents and siblings. Geisbrecht cautions him against this tendency because we ought to believe things because they are true and connected to reality and not because they make us feel a certain way.

The second mistake is to view good news as “wishful thinking” and dismiss it merely because we believe we are falling victim to our own wish fulfillment desires. Dismissing good news, merely because the news is good makes no sense. As truth seekers we must follow the evidence where it leads and one of the chief decisions we have to make has to do with what evidence we allow for consideration.

MacDonald through Walton speaks to two other groups of listeners:

  • Those who have begun to believe the Good News is true, but fear they might be disappointed if they looked into it more closely.
  • Those who have become convinced the message is true. They then wonder what it will mean for their lives. Will they go on? Will they act and their convictions? Exercising our will and making a decision is always the last hurtle, isn’t it?

Those groups of listeners may merit further discussion in the future.

If you’re interested in checking out my books, here is a link for your convenience …

The Father Brown Stories by G. K. Chesterton

Cover from my volume of FATHER BROWN CRIME STORIES

I am reading the Father Brown stories for the second time. I believe I now have a complete set and can read them all in chronological order. I particularly want to focus on one story I had not read before:

  • Chapter 1 entitled “The Resurrection of Father Brown” in The Incredulity of Father Brown

The Resurrection of Father Brown (caution spoilers)

Father Brown is in an unnamed south american country (it is on the northern coast of the continent) quietly serving as a priest to some of the poorer citizens when his ministerial assignment is discovered by an american reporter named Paul Snaith. Mr. Snaith wrote so many glowing articles of the famous Father Brown serving in South America to readers in America, that Father Brown was invited to go on an american speaking tour (which he declined). At Snaith’s hands, Father Brown’s fame continued to grow. He received a bottle of wine from a Mr. Eckstein, asking him to try it and say what he thought of it. Knowing the lunacy of american advertising, Brown had a glass and went out for an evening walk. He realized he was not alone. But he was a man of courage and even stronger curiosity and walked on.

“All his life he [Father Brown] had been led by an intellectual hunger for the truth, even of trifles.”

He was beset by two men, one with a knife and one with a cudgel. This attack was observed through a window by John Adams Race an american engineer who happened to be an evangelical Christian. Race left his house and rushed to the scene. As he arrived, the cry went up: “Father Brown is dead!” Snaith was there and confirmed it. The death was also confirmed by Dr. Calderon.

The funeral, with Brown in a wooden coffin at the foot of a wooden crucifix, was held a short time afterward, and Mendoza, one of the local politicians gave a long oration, praising Father Brown. His political opponent, an atheist and revolutionary named Alavarez kept his peace until the oration grew to be too much when Mendoza, as part of his speech, began berating his political opponents.

Alvarez, beside himself with rage, berated and blamed God for this and every other tragedy. He ended up defiantly by saying:

“I defy the God who is not there to waken this man who sleeps forever.”

“Stop! Stop!” cried Snaith; “somethings up! I swear I saw him move.”

The wonder at this miracle, as expected, caused the crowd to roar with excitement. Surrounded by the adulation of the crowd and of Snaith, Father Brown sat up and tried to calm everyone down. When he failed he staggered off.

Later on, Race asked Brown where he had gone. Brown explained he had rushed to the telegraph office to tell his bishop to disregard the reports of this “resurrection miracle” since it was a hoax.

My Personal Thoughts

If I put myself in Father Brown’s shoes, wouldn’t I be tempted to use this supposed miracle to strengthen the faith of believers? Wouldn’t I be tempted to use a “noble lie?”

Father Brown’s answer to this question is telling. Brown told Race that he would praise God not for saving him from death but from disgrace.

“And if it had only been my disgrace! But it was the disgrace of all I stand for; the disgrace of the Faith that they went about to encompass.”

Snaith, Mendoza, Eckstein, and Calderon had set the whole thing up. Eckstein drugged Brown. Calderon confirmed his death. Snaith would have published the miracle broadly and then he have “uncovered” the hoax he had orchestrated. Snaith had even duped Brown into writing a few letters, although innocent at the time, later would have made it sound as if Brown had perpetrated the hoax.

For me this underlines that commitment to the truth is paramount. There are no shortcuts. There are no “noble lies” permissible. This, of course, doesn’t mean I don’t believe in miracles, but rather I must, through diligence and a certain degree of skepticism make very sure they are indeed miraculous, much as the gospel writers and Father Brown did.

If you are interested in checking out Peter’s books, look here.

Interacting with Bruxy Cavey’s ORIGINS Week 2: Ribs, Ladders, and DNA

In week 2’s message on Origins, Bruxy Cavey focused on Genesis Chapter 2.

An important observation by a contributor to Bruxy’s Blog

In my week 1 Origins blog, I addressed an interesting and anonymous comment on Bruxy Cavey’s blog. Part of this comment also has relevance to my discussion of Origins Week 2.

Anonymous wrote:

“When I first heard that this series was coming, with special focus on Genesis, my initial reaction was “Uh-oh… this should be interesting.” While the stories seem to try and carry a message or lesson, I can’t take them literally…I just can’t. The only thing I can do to from dismissing them outright is telling myself that they’re essentially all symbolic, not to be taken literally; a way to try and explain something very complex in simple terms. Like trying to explain to a child why and how we do our taxes once a year…you can’t go into depth, so you sort of oversimplify and use symbols that they already understand; like, “we have to tell the mayor (to replace CRA or gov’t) how much money we made, this way they can decide if we give more or get some back,” etc. God is the alpha and omega: this, to me, means he’s like infinity, outside of the constraints of time and space. I can’t even understand what that would even mean, so how could I possibly understand how he actually started it all? Enter Genesis.”

Genesis Chapter 2 apparently provides an amplification of Day 6, Chapter 1 which closes with the creation of Man (Homo sapiens). Anonymous, like many, takes this as a figurative description. He points out, using the metaphor of an adult explaining to a child a complex subject (for example why we have to pay taxes) that an adult would be forced to use imprecise, figurative language to capture the limited vocabulary of the child. 

Specifically Anonymous says:

“Like trying to explain to a child why and how we do our taxes once a year…you can’t go into depth, so you sort of oversimplify and use symbols that they already understand; like, “we have to tell the mayor (to replace CRA or gov’t) how much money we made, this way they can decide if we give more or get some back,” etc.”

I agree, God in his desire to reach out to us, uses our language and in some sense His communication is limited by the words and concepts available to His audience, just as the adult is limited in vocabulary and concepts in speaking to the child.

However, if I were that adult speaking to my child, I would choose my words very carefully since I realize my child will mature and remember my words when they are older. If I were clever enough, I might choose metaphors that had embedded in them concepts and understanding that go far beyond what the child can grasp, concepts that will only become much clearer later as the child’s knowledge and understanding grows. 

Of Ribs, Ladders and DNA

Why choose a rib in Genesis 2 to describe the creation of Eve?

The Hebrew word, transliterated Tsela means:

  1. side, rib, beam
    1. rib (of man)
    2. rib (of hill, ridge, etc)
    3. side-chambers or cells (of temple structure)
    4. rib, plank, board (of cedar or fir)
    5. leaves (of door)
    6. side (of ark)

Particularly interesting to me is the idea that Tsela refers to side as well as rib. If I imagine a side with ribs running from the backbone to the sternum. this picture, to me, a chemist, is reminiscent of Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA). You may be familiar with the alpha helical structure of DNA.

Helical Structure: By Zephyris – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

How does this relate to ORIGINS?

If you straighten out the helix and look at the actual chemical structure the ladder or ribbed structure is apparent with each base pair as an individual rib. Perhaps God, in His desire to not only speak to ancient Homo sapiens using a rib cage also wanted to speak to modern Homo sapiens in such a way as to indicate He knew a great deal more about the biochemistry than the simplified language of Genesis might indicate.

By Madprime (talk · contribs) – Own workiThe source code of this SVG is valid.This vector image was created with Inkscape., CC BY-SA 3.0,

Equally interesting to me was the curious choice of the male as the source of both sexes. From my reading, I think most modern biologists would have identified the female as the more fundamental of the two sexes (I think this is based on reproduction being formally attributed to the female and that some species (for example social insects) have only a short-lived and transient role for males.

If one thinks of God genetically creating male and female, it makes sense to use the male as the genetic source code of the human race. In Homo sapiens, only the male has a complete set of chromosomes (including the sex chromosomes XY). To me this another one of those instances that would mean nothing to the early audience of Genesis but speaks to me.

Some final thoughts

Conviction and proof have limits that each person sets for themselves. Even though I find these correspondences in Genesis of great significance, I recognize that others would not do so. Indeed there are some who might set the bar so high that there is probably nothing anyone could find or say that would redeem Genesis in their eyes. I understand that. Still, this is meaningful to me and I share it in the hope that others might find it useful.

Tough Questions from a Reader of THE DRAGONS OF SHEOL

It’s no bother …

Accessibility to one’s readers is one of the benefits of being an indie author. So it’s no bother at all when someone sends me a question. Indeed it is a special delight.

I asked permission to share this conversation with my blog readers and it was granted providing I maintained the reader’s anonymity. I propose to do so by using the Latin name Aulaire (means well-spoken) for the reader.

The tough questions

Aulaire, you do ask me the toughest questions! Like you these situations you mention make me ask: “How can this be?”

Let me begin with a disclaimer: these are tough questions facing Christians (and for others too). I have some partial answers, but if we ever find ourselves in these these troubling situations, we will find out pretty quickly how hollow and incomplete my answers are.

Aulaire, on describing what troubled her about some passages, wrote:

“I find even in the old testament when God had Joshua going into the promised land [and] King David fighting nations opposed to Israel, how they slaughtered & killed whole people groups, even the women and children.”

1. We know that God is omnipotent. We often don’t realize, however, that omnipotence is inherently self-limiting. For example, when I write a book, I am, humanly speaking, omnipotent. I can write a romance, a book on economics etc. Indeed, I could write about anything at all. But as soon as I write my first line (“Dave Schuster sat in the Chancellor’s office …”), I have already limited my own “omnipotence” significantly. Many possible books are now ruled out. I believe God is in the same boat. As soon as He begins creating, He is limiting his own omnipotence. Thus Aslan (from Lewis’ Narnia books) growls when it is suggested the Emperor-Over-The-Sea not follow His own rules. This implies, particularly when sinful people are deciding for Him, that often God is left, in a given situation, with only bad choices on His plate. I believe He will, play His poor cards as well as He can at the time and still make it right when the story is complete, but in a given situation He may, because of our deal, only have poor cards to play (I know, Aulaire, you’re reading The Dragons of Sheol. You might check out the chapter on Al and Floyd’s discussion of God as a Bridge Partner).

2. I think genuine mercy was always an alternative to Old Testament law punishments. Joseph, as he sought to apply the Old Testament Law, could have had Mary stoned for adultery (betrothal had the weight of marriage) but he had a right to a merciful option and “resolved to put her away quietly.” The trouble in Joshua and David’s time: Israelites, acting like the people around them, had no problem exterminating their enemies. They sometimes showed a false mercy by sparing the bits they wanted (e.g. the cattle) and God condemned this self-serving, false mercy.

3. Jesus did not spare Himself our injustice. When God wrote Himself into our story, He took on all the bad bits. He grew up in a poor family in a subjugated nation.  He was thought an illegitimate child of sin. His father likely died when He was young. He was hated by his own people, and of course, He was crucified unjustly at the young age of 33. God didn’t spare Himself, so how can I complain?

4. We must not assume that if actions occur in the Old Testament without comment that God approves.

Aulaire, speaking of historical events that bother her, wrote:

“And also allowing Hitler to continue as long as he did to exterminate the Jewish people.”

Fifty-two million people lost their lives in WWII. Given my background I had friends and relatives who lived through this terrible time from inside the Third Reich. I have seen the scars it has left on their lives. Asking when God should intervene to override our foolish and downright evil decisions is a difficult question. I think we almost all agree, we wouldn’t want to lose our God-image-bearer humanity by having Him control all of our decisions. So where would we have Him draw the line? I don’t know. I trust He knows best.

A mentor of mine used to draw a dot with an arrow going to the right. He would say the dot is my life now; the arrow is eternity. I trust God will use eternity to make things right.

I want to end again with the disclaimer: I don’t really have a completely satisfying answer (to me and likely to anyone else) on your questions, Aulaire. This is the best I have. Others likely could say much more.


Some additional material from QUESTIONING YOUR WAY TO FAITH

Questioning Your Way to Faith is a short book that has two friends talk respectfully about some of life’s most difficult questions. I hope this chapter excerpt is of some value as it touches on the questions Aulaire raised. 

Chapter 5 The Problem of Evil Committed by Christians

Around five o’clock, Al said “How about supper?”

 “Why don’t you clean the fish,” responded Floyd, “and I’ll get the fire started.

“Sure thing; sea bass always tastes best when it’s fresh.”

Floyd nodded and headed to a sheltered dell beneath a rocky ridge to a small fire pit.

They had only kept one of the sea bass. Al began cleaning the fish. He heard twigs snapping.

Floyd reappeared. “Do you have any matches?”

“In the second drawer of my tackle box.” Al went back to his task. He deftly gutted the big sea bass and cut four generous fillets. He buried the head and entrails and carried the four fillets in the frying pan along with his knapsack into the dell. Floyd had a small fire going.

Al set the skillet down and unpacked a small grill, placing it between two rocks.

“You’ve obviously done this before,” said Floyd.

“This is one of my favorite things!” Al pulled out the small lunch cooler and produced a package of potato salad from the cafeteria.”

“What would you like to drink, Floyd?”

“What do you have?”

“My favorite wheat beer from Benson’s Microbrewery or cola?

“I’ll take the beer.”

Al flipped the fillets with his hunting knife and a freshly cut stick. He added salt and looked critically at the fillets. “I think they’re done.”

“Good. I’m starving.”

“Can you get the two plates in my knapsack, Floyd?”

“Sure. Boy I don’t normally like fish but that smells great.”

“There’s something special about fresh fish. Here, help yourself to the potato salad.”

They ate in silence. Then Al rinsed off their plates and the frying pan in the sea. When he came back, Floyd was nursing his beer and leaning back against a driftwood tree trunk looking up at the sky. “This is the life Al.”

“I couldn’t agree more, Floyd.” The evening sun tinged the sea orange.

The beauty of the sea and the sky is almost a meal on its own.

Floyd was silent for a while. Al looked at him. His friend seemed to be thinking.

Floyd cleared his throat.

“Al, going back to our previous discussion, your argument about God being good simply doesn’t add up. How many wars have been fought over religion? I remember reading that in the Thirty Years’ War, a Christian religious war between Catholics and Protestants, about two thirds of the population of what is now Germany was killed. The Philippines were converted to Catholicism from Islam by the sword, all except one island, which the Spanish couldn’t easily land on in force. Look how the Jews have been treated by Christians. How can God be the moral force you make Him out to be if so much evil is done by His followers in His name? Your argument would be much more convincing if Christians were actually a force for good rather than evil.”

“Floyd, in a great many ways you’re right. Much evil has been done in the name of Christianity. In fact G. K. Chesterton and others as I recall, made the point that the best argument against Christianity is Christians.

“Still I don’t think the argument against Christianity on this ground is as strong as you make it,” continued Al. “First of all, if you look at nations and peoples before the French Revolution, every one of them was religious. Therefore it’s easy to look at a multidimensional problem and say they committed evil because of religion. And what about politics? What about greed? What about power? Didn’t these play a role?”

“I’m sure they did. But the Thirty Years’ War was ostensibly a religious war wasn’t it?” asked Floyd.

“That’s exactly my point,” said Al. We pick from a host of causes and label it a ‘religious war’ when we could just as easily call it a war for political power and control. Have we stopped fighting just because we’re less religious?”

“I suppose not,” conceded Floyd.

“We haven’t,” said Al. “If we focus on governments that are openly antagonistic to religion, have they done any better? The French Revolution—after proclaiming the noble sentiments of equality, fraternity, and freedom—moved quickly on to the Reign of Terror, and then on to Napoleon’s long war to dominate Europe.

“Have the Communists done better? They’re avowedly atheistic and have killed a great many people in the pogroms and mass exterminations of dissenters. I think the root problem is not really religion, but a lack of respect for Freedom of Religion. If we respected the rights of people to make up their own minds without coercion, then we wouldn’t do these things. But all governments prefer a homogeneous populace. So there’s a tendency to make us all the same because then we’re easier to manage and govern. Coercion can just as easily be secular as religious.”

“How do those excesses excuse the Christians?” asked Floyd.

“They don’t, but I think people who raise this issue are overlooking an important fact.”

“What’s that?” asked Floyd.

“If you’re a power hungry tyrant, and you want your followers to join in a cause that’s dear to your heart, it will never do to say ‘Let’s beat up on our neighbors. I know they pose no threat. They haven’t done us a stitch of harm, but let’s kill them, take their land, and enslave them. Come on—it’ll be fun.’”

“Go on.”

“The vast majority of people are too fair minded to risk their own lives, and the lives of their children on such an escapade. But if the war monger builds a case that the neighbor poses a threat and will attack us, take our freedom, our children and our lands, then the call to war becomes much more credible. The appeal to religion has worked for tyrants because religion was so valuable to the people. It gave meaning to their lives. And so by having that threatened, one could bend them to commit atrocities because in their fear they succumbed to the argument that the end justified the means. Today with the decline of religion in the west, we make the same calls using our new values. The threat is that others will impose their unwanted religion on us, take away our wealth, our children and our freedoms. The same story works. The same people are pulling the strings. Still religion is not seen as being as valuable as it once was, so it’s no longer used to justify evil. But other things are.”

“Still that doesn’t excuse them,” said Floyd.

“No not at all. If you follow the teaching of Jesus, the end never justified the means. That is a great trap. What makes things worse is that our evil nature always makes it seem as if the injustices foisted on us are grievous beyond words. And yet when we do the very same thing to someone else, it was a justifiable necessity on our part. We are hopelessly unsymmetrical in our evaluations.”

“Still why did they fall for it?” asked Floyd.

“I don’t know. The New Testament teaches us to regard others—even those who think differently from us—as brothers. We are to return good for evil and love our enemies. The end never justifies the means—yet Christians still can be moved to do things that go against their fundamental teachings. Why do they do it? Why do I do it? I wish I knew. I’m far from perfect, and so are they, I guess.”

“Floyd, I think you and I could agree on this question a good deal more if you substituted “religion” for “God” and “Christians.”

“Al, I don’t see how that will help you. Isn’t Christianity a religion?”

“That depends on the definition. If you think of religion as the institutions, the laws, the regulations that are supposed to bring us close to God, then Christianity, as far as I can tell from reading the New Testament, was never meant to be a religion. Indeed, in the Gospels, Jesus’ strongest words of censure were directed toward the Pharisees, the religious heavyweights of his day, and he accused them of keeping people who were truly seeking God away from God by loading them down with regulations, duties, and obligations which were the constructs of men and not of God. Christianity is much more about meeting a person, than following a program.”

“Okay you’re trying to draw a distinction between Christianity and religions. I’ve heard that before,” said Floyd.

“Floyd, getting back to the question about ‘religion being the root of all evil…’”

“I never said all evil, but I believe Christians are responsible for much of the evil in our world.”

“I can see why that behavior should bother me since I see clearly how they do not conform to the behavior God has set out for Christians. But why does it bother you? At the risk of being repetitive, if all people, including Christians, are the product of millions of years of evolution, through which we have been conditioned by our genes to eliminate competition and reproduce as prolifically as possible, then wouldn’t we expect the killing off of competition to be the most natural of activities? Would rape and pillaging not be entirely consistent with that conditioning? At their worst are these “Christians” from the Thirty Years’ War not acting exactly as one would have predicted based on evolution? So why the surprise? Why the expectation that they would be better?

“It seems to me the anomaly—from your point of view—would be those people who rise above this ‘ethic’ of me and mine first.”

“You have a point,” said Floyd. He shook himself and looked around. “It’s getting dark. We should be heading back. Will you put out the fire while I collect up our gear?”

George MacDonald – On the Importance of the Imagination

I am re-reading George MacDonald’s Thomas Wingfold-Curate again, and in another sense, for the first time. I previously read and enjoyed Michael R. Phillip’s excellent edited version entitled The Curate’s Awakening (which I would recommend for first-time readers of this series) but now I’m reading the original version which is much longer.

Some spoilers to the story

Thomas Wingfold is a curate who has slid into his clerical profession without much thought. His uncle gave him a complete set of detailed sermons which enabled Wingfold to provide messages and sermons for all occasions in the church year. The sermons were so numerous that when they were recycled, so much time would have passed that the word-for-word repetition would have been unobtrusive to the congregation.

Wingfold’s complacency is shaken

Two things happened to begin a crisis in Wingfold’s life:

  1. He was accosted by a self-assured, masterful, self-confident atheist who challenged him with words to the effect: “Surely you can’t believe all that nonsense you are spouting?”
  2. A dwarf who occasionally attended Wingfold’s church gently informed him that his sermons were plagiarized from a well-known minister called Jeremy Taylor.

The metaphor of a carriage

Wingfold, seeking to be honest, at first considers resigning his appointment, but Polwarth, the dwarf, encourages him to remain in his post until he completes his quest for faith, but, while there, to be honest in his sermons.

In Chapter III, as Wingfold prepares his second genuine sermon, he sees the progression of his intellectual quest through the metaphor of a carriage. His will has the reins; the guard beside the driver is his conscience. The dog running beside him is Fancy, which I take to mean his desire and feelings for beauty, order, and completeness. Imagination is the outrider that explores paths in all directions but can be called back at any time.

The importance of imagination

As I thought about this metaphor, I concur with MacDonald’s view that imagination is a necessary but not sufficient condition for progress in understanding our physical world (science) or understanding the spiritual world as in the case of Wingfold’s quest.

In my previous post, I talked about the importance of working very hard to disprove theories and hypotheses. in my own view (and I know many will disagree with me) I see defects with current explanations of our physical origins. Use of the imagination to come up with better explanations that describe all of the data are needed (again in my view).

Finally a caveat: imagination is useful only in generating possible explanations. After the work of imagination is done, one has to put on one’s skeptical hat and try to disprove the new hypothesis, just as one did with the old.

As Science Fiction author, I am able to let my imagination roam as I write my novels and don’t have the difficult obligation of disproving the backstory of my imaginary inventions.

Interacting with Bruxy Cavey’s ORIGINS Week 1: Love’s Great Choice

My Canadian public education, from elementary school, through high school and on through my university postgraduate studies, from the basis of inculcating a worldview, had a decidedly Materialistic bias. I was taught that all smart people were convinced by the overwhelming evidence of “science” that chance operating over billions of years produced “life, the universe, and everything.” They usually stopped short of explicitly stating that there was no room for God, but the extension of the teaching to this conclusion was easy and no barrier at all was set up to hinder this extension. 

It was only in high school and university that I began to realize that a great many dubious philosophical presuppositions had been smuggled in with the historical assertions I had been fed. The many remarkable successes of what I now call “Good Science” were used to justify (if I looked at the data) “Dubious Science.” However, in the minds of most students, who had been taught to regard all science to be of equal value and veracity, the word “science” or “scientists believe” was used as a certificate of reliability.

Into this difficult and heavily contested discussion arena, Bruxy Cavey has provided his own input. Having listened to the first message on the first two chapters of Genesis, I think his goal is modest: he does NOT want to specifically argue for one interpretation or another, but rather to explore the language and context of the Hebrew text to provide a boundary to the range of interpretations that are consistent with the text.

Given that objective, I learned a few things.

One had to do with the Hebrew word Yom (day). It was interesting how it was used differently in the accounts of the seven days:

  • Days 1-6 there was evening and morning cited after each creation event
  • Day 7 , the Sabbath Day when God is resting from creation seems to go on without end. In Hebrews 4:1-11 we are urged to enter that rest.
  • In Genesis 2, when the passage unpacks the creation of Man, the events such as naming the animals seem to require more than 24 hours.

Responding to Comments

I also wanted to interact with one of the interesting anonymous comments that appeared on Bruxy’s Blog. The comment is shown below in blue.

I was great at prayer and reading the bible when I was younger, but like so many, things changed when I went to university and studied science. Years later, I still love listening to science podcasts. I’m trying to reconcile what science says and what the bible says. I will never dismiss science because there is a lot to respect about the scientific method and the sweat, blood and tears that goes into understanding of the physical world around us, that is brought to us by relevant and worthy fellow human beings. While it can be said that science has just as much blood on its hands as religion, it has brought us the amazing technology I’m using to type this out, penicillin, the ability to “hear” remnants of the Big Bang and the understanding that a marble and a giant boulder will hit the ground at the same time when dropped from the same height (still blows my mind).

Sorry for belabouring the point on how much I enjoy science, but that’s not going away. And yet I want to make room for Jesus and his irreligious message. I love the focus on love and shifting my gaze from myself to others.

When I first heard that this series was coming, with special focus on Genesis, my initial reaction was “Uh-oh… this should be interesting.” While the stories seem to try and carry a message or lesson, I can’t take them literally…I just can’t. The only thing I can do to from dismissing them outright is telling myself that they’re essentially all symbolic, not to be taken literally; a way to try and explain something very complex in simple terms. Like trying to explain to a child why and how we do our taxes once a year…you can’t go into depth, so you sort of oversimplify and use symbols that they already understand; like, “we have to tell the mayor (to replace CRA or gov’t) how much money we made, this way they can decide if we give more or get some back,” etc. God is the alpha and omega: this, to me, means he’s like infinity, outside of the constraints of time and space. I can’t even understand what that would even mean, so how could I possibly understand how he actually started it all? Enter Genesis.

I guess I’m hoping for a Meeting House take on this and that I’m still allowed to show up

Anonymous stated:

I will never dismiss science because there is a lot to respect about the scientific method and the sweat, blood and tears that goes into understanding of the physical world around us, that is brought to us by relevant and worthy fellow human beings.

We should all be truth-seekers since truth is connected to reality. While I understand the sentiment expressed by anonymous, science is not a uniform endeavor. Indeed, I think we ought to respect science by putting its best practices into operation as we evaluate the merit of a particular theory or claim. It all comes down to the data and the integrity of the people who collect and discuss it. Scientists, like other people, are confronted with political pressure, political correctness imperatives, natural biases, and peer pressure.

Even if we haven’t measured a data point, it still behooves us to be skeptical and ask the hard questions and see if the data adds up. Especially we ought to see:

  1. If the scientific community has tried hard to disprove the theory or hypothesis (it is easy to fall into confirmation bias and collect more and more data points in support of our favorite theory).
  2. If sufficient attention has been paid to data points that don’t support the theory. Or have they conveniently shoved the data into the “to be explained” file, never published, and promptly forgotten.
  3. If scientists are being pressure to adopt a certain view or theory.  Look specifically for political pressure, political correctness imperatives, and peer pressure. Have scientists lost their jobs because of their hypotheses? Are there accusations of pseudo-science to keep you from looking carefully at the data and arguments? Have lectures been shut down? These considerations don’t over ride the power of the data but ought to cause us to dig deeper and find out what is being suppressed and pay particular attention to the voices that are being silenced.

Anonymous wrote:

it [science] has brought us the amazing technology I’m using to type this out, penicillin, the ability to “hear” remnants of the Big Bang and the understanding that a marble and a giant boulder will hit the ground at the same time when dropped from the same height (still blows my mind).

I generally agree. Notice, however, penicillin, and classical mechanics (i.e. gravitation and Newton’s Second Law) are qualitatively different from “the ability to ‘hear’ remnants of the Big Bang.”

The first category (isolating and characterizing penicillin or verifying classical mechanics) contain time-independent events and the critical experiments that can be reproduced in 2019, 2050, or 2200. The Big Bang is an historical event. A person with the proper resources can measure the background radiation, but they cannot perform the critical experiment (initiate a Big Bang and show it gives rise to the background radiation).

That doesn’t make the historical account incorrect, it just means the tools of scientific experimentation are not as well suited to these problems as they are to time-independent questions.

Anonymous wrote about reconciling what he has read in Genesis with the accounts that scientists propose:

When I first heard that this series was coming, with special focus on Genesis, my initial reaction was “Uh-oh… this should be interesting.” While the stories seem to try and carry a message or lesson, I can’t take them literally…I just can’t. The only thing I can do to from dismissing them outright is telling myself that they’re essentially all symbolic, not to be taken literally; a way to try and explain something very complex in simple terms.

That’s fair enough. My own reaction is somewhat different. I have significant personal experience that makes me trust what the Bible teaches. Still, as Bruxy stated, the Bible may be perfectly reliable, but that doesn’t guarantee my interpretation is correct. I line up all the historical theories of our origin side by side: evolution, intelligent design, and various creation theories and generate a plus/minus for each one. I think all theories have significant defects and so I am left with saying we don’t know the details.

Anonymous makes a very important point using his analogy of explaining the CRA to a child. Explanations are always constrained by the language and understanding of the audience. For me one of the great attributes of the God of the Bible: He reaches out to us. He uses the language and understanding of his audience to speak to us. I think we need to keep that in mind as we read Genesis.

I appreciate Anonymous’ comment and I appreciate my chance to interact with these ideas.

A useful link on bias

Series on Origins by Bruxy Cavey (Podcast Available)

For the next five weeks Bruxy Cavey of The Meeting House in Oakville, Ontario will be speaking on Origins, that is, the first few chapters of Genesis. The live sessions will be in Oakville at 8:00/9:30/11:15 am. The podcast (the link will not be active until after the message) will be available later that afternoon and the video-cast a day or so later.

I will be attending in person and likely interacting with the content through my blog.

The topics he will be covering:

  1. The origin of the cosmos
  2. The origin of Homo sapiens (Man)
  3. The origin of ethics
  4. The origin of evil
  5. The origin of religion

I have found Bruxy Cavey to approach these controversial subjects in a fair-minded manner. He tries to do justice to the various views (Christian, religious, secular) by presenting the best arguments for each viewpoint as well as highlighting the deficiencies. He will often describe where he lands without making you feel you must agree with him. Why not check it out?

Insights from Jordan Peterson on the Old and New Testament

My book club is reading Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life; An Antidote to Chaos. As part of this reading program I have been listening to various interviews of Peterson and a recent one, taken from a talk and interview at Lafayette College , caught my particular interest.

After a lengthy and colorful introduction by the moderator, Peterson posed a question to the audience. I am going to tell you what I heard in my own words, but I highly recommend you listen to his comments for yourself.

In my paraphrase and summary, his preamble and question went like this:

So called “right wing thinking” is concerned about establishing hierarchies (which are necessary for survival and for society to function), while “left wing thinking” focuses on equality and fights for the bottom tier of the hierarchies that have been established (which is also necessary).

He went on to say that we know where “right wing thinking” crosses the line into extremism: when they claim one group (usually their own) is intrinsically superior to other groups. Peterson then asked the question: Where is the line for extremism on the left?

He went on to answer his own question. The line is crossed on the left when their zeal for equality for the lowest tier in a hierarchy causes them:

  1. To focus on equality of outcome rather than equality of opportunity
  2. To compel a certain kind of speech and thinking because it’s the only way to get people to comply with their demand for equality of outcome.

What Has This to Do With the Old and the New Testament?

Note: I’m not especially interested into entering into political discourse, important as that may be, but I am interested in how Peterson’s comments affect my thinking about the history of Judaism and Christianity described in the Old and New Testaments. I will confine my remarks to that subject.

I thought about the points Peterson made, and it struck me how this analysis parallels what I see in the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, when primarily describing God’s dealing with His chosen people Israel, he clearly sets up hierarchies: indeed he set up a political one and a religious one each of which acted as a balances to the another. This structure enabled the Israelites to survive despite encountering many enemies and suffering under the afflictions they caused whether it be slavery in Egypt or captivity by Babylon. Even under the heel of the Roman Empire, their identity and cohesion as a people was preserved. When I look at it, the hierarchies in their culture and in their relationship to outsiders contributed positively to their survival and cultural cohesion. However, there was potentially the possibility of crossing the hierarchical line that Peterson articulated.

When Jesus came, he seemed to turn everything on its head. He came in at the lowest tier—as many thought—the illegitimate son of a Galilean carpenter. Yet Christ, while not destroying the Jewish hierarchy, taught that to be a leader in His Kingdom, the leader has to be servant of all. This seems very much like fighting for the lowest tier.

Given Peterson’s analysis, it’s striking to me how Christ came to restore a sense of balance to the hierarchies and keep the Jewish people (and hopefully Christians as well) from crossing the line into extremism where “chosen people” comes to mean “as a people we are superior.” This has been helpful to me because it shows a natural progression in the Old and New Testaments and shows how hierarchies and fighting for the lowest tier are both essential for balance.

Disclaimer: I know Professor Peterson has delivered some lectures on biblical topics. I have not listened to any of them.

©Peter Kazmaier 2018

A Christian SF Writer Comments on the Challenge: God is Either Loving or Weak

Is there a contradiction between the theological claims that God is omnipotent and that He is love?

A short time ago my teaching pastor, Bruxy Cavey was teaching on Three Beautiful Words (God is Love) from I John 4:8 (if you’re interested in this critical message you can download the podcast for free).

After the message, as is the custom in our meetings, the floor was opened up for questions. A query was texted in by Peter (not yours truly) and from memory the gist of the question was:

A speaker on TV said that God being loving and being omnipotent was a contradiction. If God were loving, he would fix the world to take away evil and suffering. Since he doesn’t that means either he can’t (therefore he’s not omnipotent) or he won’t (therefore he’s not loving). This has bothered me a lot. How would you answer this?

Now when I encounter challenges like this, I like to think through them and this is the reason for my post.

Thinking about the definitions

Omnipotence is a theological term that describes God’s power as creator and sustainer of all things. I don’t believe it is ever used in the bible but rather is used by theologians to describe the sum of the teaching on God in the bible on the subject of His power and sovereignty.

Before one can examine the claimed contradiction, I think it is useful to understand the word “omnipotent.” The TV speaker and I likely agree that omnipotent means “all powerful” but does that mean that there are no actions that are inherently impossible even to an all-powerful being?

I think the answer to that question is “no;” there are actions inherently impossible even for the omnipotent.
For example, the following actions are inherently impossible or necessarily limit the scope on omnipotence:

1. Actions that violate the law of non-contradiction: God can’t make it rain and not rain on the same spot, in the same sense, at the same time. Choosing to make it rain means He has already chosen against making it “not rain.” The decree and its complement come as a single package.
2. In any creative process, full omnipotence is limited to the first decision. After that, all future decisions are constrained by what has already been chosen. Often subsequent choices are impossible because they violate earlier choices.
3. Omnipotence tells us what God can do, not what He will do.

Allow me to elaborate on points 2 and 3.

In any creative process, full omnipotence is limited to the first decision

As a writer I see this principle in effect whenever I start a novel. When my page is blank I may write anything I like. Perhaps:
“In a galaxy far, far away …” or
“He found the body after midnight on the moor.” or
“When Dolores opened the letter, she knew her life would never be the same again.”

After the first line, my omnipotence as a writer has shriveled enormously. I can no longer do what I want. Everything I write afterwards has to be consistent with what I wrote before. I think God faces the same limitation of particularity. When he chooses a certain course in creation, the contingent choices have to be self-consistent. When He steps into time, what He can do now, is constrained by the choices already made.

Omnipotence tells us what God can do, not what He will do

Omnipotence argues that God could lie. What prevents Him from doing so? He could put the lying words together, but choses not to because of His character. We have the same kind of power: we can all formulate a lie, but in our better moments we chose not to. This argues that there are some things God could do, but does not do them because they conflict with His essence or character.

Okay so why doesn’t God end all wickedness and suffering right now?

I think this is really the heart of the question that bothered the texter, Peter, and I don’t have a full answer. Here is what I have: what would God need to do to fix all wickedness and suffering right now? I think we would have to change the role we currently play on this planet and wrest from us all impulses and desires contrary to His will whether we want to give them up or not.

One of my favorite fantasy book series is Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time®. In it a group of gifted people, called channelers, have enormous powers over their fellow humans. One power they have is called compulsion. With compulsion they can make subtle changes the thinking in the ungifted or even the gifted they have overpowered. For example, a channeler might compel a highly competent general to make subtle mistakes in a battle that to lead to disaster. On the other hand, compulsion can be used to completely take over a person’s mind so that the compelled must worship the compeller and be willing to kill or give up their lives for him. In the books, compulsion was rightly seen as a great evil in all its forms because it turned humans into automatons.
If my memory serves me correctly, there was a vision in the last book in which all people were compelled to be kind, productive, generous etc. But their humanity was sacrificed to make them that way against their will. They were no longer human. The protagonist saw this compelled change as a great loss to evil.

I think this is the fundamental flaw in having God fix things right now—it would have to be done against our will and our nature and that action itself would be an evil even if the end were good.

So where does that leave me?

I believe God is fixing things (perhaps it might be more correct to say He has fixed things in Christ) but the full effect of the cure has not fully spread through the system yet. The need for the means and the end to be true and good means the process will take some time, but it encourages me enormously that God in Christ came down into creation as a man and suffered right along with us. He was born into a poor family, of an oppressed people. His father likely died when he was a young man. Finally, he was crucified as an innocent man, while dying for His enemies who did not value His death at the time. This gives me great hope that God deeply cares about our (and my) condition in this flawed and marred world filled with flawed and marred people.

One of my favorite pictures is the one shown at the head of this blog taken of a framed print in my home. In Michelangelo’s fresco of The Creation of Adam, God is seen as touching Adam’s finger ever so slightly. Through this lightest of touches, He is communicating His love, but also His gift of independence and free will. The touch is there so Adam can choose to move toward Him or away from Him. Alas, we have moved away. He pursues us, but the touch continues to be light to preserve our free will. It is always my choice whether I move toward the touch or away from it. If I have to choose between becoming automaton or having God work the process to bring us home when we are willing to move towards Him, I choose His timing and process.

A final comment on theologically-skeptical snipers

I must end this blog with a protest about theologically-skeptical snipers. I can’t directly complain about texter Peter’s TV speaker because I never saw the program, but I have seen many others like it. The speaker, in criticizing theism or Christianity trucks out some challenge and then leaves it hanging. In my experience, they never go on to say: “This is my world view and this is how I answer this question that I have just asked.” That would reveal that their own answers are at least as problematic as the Christian’s and thus leave them open to challenge. In other words, these skeptics are often not skeptical enough because they don’t challenge their own views along with the Christian’s.

In my mind, these speakers are like snipers who are happy to lie hidden in the brush taking pot shots at their opponents. As long as their own position is undiscovered they can happily fire away without taking any return fire.

If you are interested in these kinds of questions and you find the musings of a non-theologian, Science Fiction author helpful, why not check out my book Questioning Your Way to Faith? In story form, it discusses questions I have wrestled with, in the context of a respectful conversation between friends who profoundly disagree on the answers. ©Peter Kazmaier 2018