Category Archives: Questioning Your Way to Faith

Bad News – The Audio Version of THE HALCYON DISLOCATION Won’t be Coming Out Anytime Soon

teddybear-wearing-headphonesI received some bad news yesterday. I learned from my publisher that the vendor that was producing the audio version of The Halcyon Dislocation has declared bankruptcy (I don’t even know the vendor’s name). This is particularly unfortunate since the editing of the audio edition was 98% complete (as I understand it, even after the audio editing is complete, there was still a good deal of post editing processing to do before it would be ready for download and sale). The only significant piece missing was an audio list of the dormitories at Halcyon University that were all named after famous philosophers. Unfortunately many of the unusual names were mispronounced in the last audio mp3 and needed to be corrected.

In all of this, I must say my partnership publisher Word Alive Press has acted with grace and integrity. I appreciate this very much, since this was their loss as much as it was mine (perhaps more so). Going through this painful experience has underlined for me why I remain a loyal partner of Word Alive Press.

I’m going to go through my various bios and descriptions to look for places where I had promised that the audio version of The Halcyon Dislocation will be coming out soon so that I can delete those expressions of hope and avoid raising unrealistic expectations. I will do my best to be thorough, but if I miss one or two, I hope my readers will be understanding.

A Response to Stuart Aken’s Blog on “Why are we required to respect religion?”

Images of Religious Symbols courtesy of Wikimedia

Images of Religious Symbols courtesy of Wikimedia

Writer Stuart Aken, in his blog entitled I’d Like to Know: Why? #3 Religion, asks the provocative question: “Why are We Required to Respect Religion?” This question is of interest to me as a Christ-follower (even though I would not characterize myself as religious—I know other people would characterize me in that way).
As I thought about Mr. Aken’s blog, it led me to think about how the phrasing of the question channels the responses that this question elicits. It’s always handy to set up a contest or a discussion so that only one side is given the bows and arrows while the other is left only with a shield. It’s like a Canadian or American football game where the rules of the contest allow only one team to play offence (and hence is best set up to score points) while the other is perpetually on defense. I think such a rule-based asymmetry is neither sporting nor does it readily necessarily let the better team prevail.

If one looks at the question in its current form, then Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and other adherents of a religion are on trial to justify their beliefs and explain why their beliefs merit respect, but atheists, agnostics, materialists, and secularists are excluded from scrutiny by the form of the question itself.
It seems to me a more instructive and fairer form of the question would be: “Why should I respect the World View of others when their World View differs from my own?” In this context I use “World View” to mean how I and others view reality. I think this re-configuring of the question has important advantages:

1. Now everyone, religious and agnostic alike has a chip in the game and has beliefs that may be called into question.
2. It ought to be understood that everyone intrinsically believes that their World View best explains the real world (material and spiritual).
3. Any criticism that is leveled at another World View can also properly be asked of one’s own. So if one asks if religious world views are prone to violence, one has to ask if one’s own World View is different in this regard and why.
4. In this kind of a discussion, if one begins to believe that many of the key things one genuinely believes about the nature of reality are wrong, this will be a very unsettling development for everyone who experiences it—not just religious people.
5. Finally, I think it prevents participants in the discussion from making the disastrous mistake of assuming that all religions are really the same, merely because they are religions. Even within a religion there may be substantial differences in World View by adherents because of differences in emphasis, in interpretation of sacred texts, in theology, or by reconciliation with other sources of evidence.

Thank you Mr. Aken for raising this important topic. Perhaps as time becomes available, I will be able to give my perspective on some of the other follow-on questions you raised in your post.

Peter’s Presentation and Author Exposition at the CHURCH LIBRARY ASSOCIATION OF ONTARIO in Guelph, Ontario

CLAO PictureI was delighted to be invited to participate in the Church Library Association of Ontario (CLAO) in Guelph Ontario through my association with The Word Guild. I was able to display my books, speak to attendees and also present a two minute synopsis on one of my books.

My Two Minute Presentation

My name is Peter Kazmaier and I write adventure fiction targeted primarily at high school- and university-aged males. The book I’m featuring today is called The Halcyon Dislocation. It describes a fictional university in North Carolina that, for the Department of Defence, conducts a large scale research experiment  that goes awry. As a consequence the whole university is transported to a parallel world. The students and the faculty find themselves in a struggle to survive when their whole support structure has disappeared.

Finding enough food, exploring the new world with all of its surprises, and dealing with a university administration that becomes increasingly tyrannical is enough to lead the protagonists into one adventure after another.

So why might a church library be interested in acquiring this book? Most adventure and science fiction is based on a completely secular world view. From the perspective of these books, religion in general and in Christianity in particular have ceased to become societal influences just prior to the start of the story. I wanted to change this formula. I try to be true to the genre, but several of my characters are Christians and as readers we can experience how they react to both the secular university environment and the stress of the university dislocation. It provides a chance to introduce some faith discussions without derailing the plot. These types of faith discussions are a natural part of university life and I hope I have portrayed them in a way that is realistic.

If you are looking for books for your high school and university students that will challenge their thinking but keeping them reading to the final page, I would be delighted to talk to you about it. If you share my interest in Speculative Fiction as a genre, I would enjoy talking about some of our favourite books. Thank you.

My Books

Where to buy Peter’s books:

Peter’s Websites

Local Book Stores

  • Good Books Christian Bookstore, Oakville, on Kerr Street
  • Family Christian Bookstore, Burlington, on Guelph Line

Online

Search for “Peter Kazmaier” at Amazon, Chapters-Indigo, iTunes, Google Play, or at Word Alive.

Specific short-links for your convenience (in alphabetical order)

Author Interview of Peter Kazmaier by Andrea Washington

Eastern Feiramar Color 3300 x 2475 (300 dpi)I was graciously invited to an author interview by Andrea Washington. Here is the link.

For your convenience I have also reproduced the questions and answers here. I welcome any questions you might have. Thank you Andrea!

Why do you write?

I love to read Fantasy and Science Fiction. First and foremost then, I write books that I would like to read, but no one else has taken the trouble to write them. Specifically, I like books that are plot-driven and keep me riveted wondering what happens next. But I also like books that ask the Big Questions, as people do in real life. Why are we here? What does it mean to be human? Why should I try to be good?

When did you decide to become a writer, and what was that process like?

For a large fraction of my life, I was a researcher in chemistry and much of my writing appeared in technical journals or as patents. My career as a novelist had a curious start. I was a member of a book club and during one of our sessions I mused how I would love to write a novel. One of my friends said, “Well why don’t you do it?” The gauntlet was thrown down and I had to do something about it. It took me four years of attending writer’s conferences, and writing in my spare time while still holding a full time job before my first book came out, the first edition of the colonization epic The Halcyon Dislocation.

So, what have you written? (Include everything you have published)

As I mentioned I have more than sixty technical publications on chemistry and about 175 US patents, but I’m sure your readers are not that interested in them. In terms of novels I have written three (in the order of publication):

  • The Halcyon Dislocation (two editions)
  • Questioning Your Way to Faith
  • The Battle for Halcyon

The Halcyon Dislocation and The Battle for Halcyon are the first two books of a four part series that I call The Halcyon Cycle. They deal with a science experiment that transports the island University of Halcyon to a parallel world. In the story we experience how various members of the university deal with the trauma of the dislocation and the challenges of surviving in a new world.

Questioning Your Way to Faith is a much shorter book that arose because of requests I received from some of my readers. In terms of a time line, Questioning Your Way to Faith is set before the dislocation and involves two university friends having an extended discussion about whether or not Christian belief is reasonable.

Where can we buy or see them?

My books are available as either e-books or as trade paper backs at most major bookstores and online outlets. In alphabetical order here are some links:

What genre are your books?

My books are Science Fiction that read a bit like Fantasy. I say that because my books have a strong science component and I worry a lot about whether events like the dislocation are feasible. Having said that, once the University of Halcyon is in the new world, technologies begin to fail (because modern technology requires enormous infrastructure) and then one has much more of a Fantasy-style landscape.

Do you do any research for you books?

I try hard to get the details right in my books, so I do quite a bit of research to make sure that the phases of the moon are correct, the fish found off the island of Halcyon are correct for that locale and that events like the dislocation are not unreasonable from a physics perspective.

Are you working on at the minute?

I’m working on the next book in The Halcyon Cycle which I have provisionally called Descent into Abaddon.

Do you mind telling us about it?

Not at all. I listened to a wonderful lecture a few years ago that described how our relatively low atmospheric pressure limited the size of land mammals and also the size of flying birds. My next book is centered on a continent so far below sea level that the high atmospheric pressure removes these constraints.

What is your favorite book that you have written so far and why?

I would probably say The Halcyon Dislocation. I like the Crusonian aspects of being marooned in a new world and all of the discovery that entails.

How often do you write a week?

I write in fits and starts. When one has several books in print, one has many duties. I work better when I work at something for a concentrated period of time.

Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?

No I don’t set pages per day. I like long books, so I aim for more than 100,000 words for my books.

What do you find is the easiest thing about writing?

There’s nothing easy about writing well. Of all the hard things that must be done to produce a good novel, I find imagining new worlds and new inhabitants of those worlds easiest.

How long on average does it take you to write a book?

I suppose it takes me roughly four years from start to finish to write a book. However that’s highly misleading since I start the next book right after the first draft is complete, so there is a good deal over overlap when I’m writing the first draft of one book and editing the last.

Do you ever get writer’s block and if so do you have any tips on how to get through it?

Writer’s block, in the sense of reaching an impasse in a story is not usually my problem. My problem is sheer laziness. I have many duties to complete and I get caught up in all of these urgent matters and let my writing time slip.

What is your editing process like?

I have friends who have taken a great deal of time as “beta readers” who critique my book and often see blind spots that I as a writer have missed. I always enlist the services of a professional editor to complete the edits. I can’t stress how important it is to find an editor who is not only technically competent, but has a genuine love for your books.

Why self-publishing?

Self-publishing is a very broad term that includes vanity publishing. I prefer the term micro-publishing. By that I mean running a very small publishing business with an emphasis on the quality of the books produced and a severe eye on the costs.

Why self-publish or micro-publish? In my journey, I have seen many writers who spend years producing a novel and then spend years writing to acquisition editor after acquisition editor trying to interest them in their work. Often the writers eventually give up in discouragement without ever having provided their book to the people who really matter—their reading public. [For more on micro-publishing check my blog http://wp.me/p4cZo4-1l .]

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Force yourself to be a “finisher.” Make sure you sell some version of your book to your reading public to get feedback from them.

Where do you see publishing going in the future?

In my role as a research scientist I had a chance to see the Print-On-Demand technology develop. I think this trend will continue and will favor the smaller publisher. Traditional publishing will not disappear but will continue to be under increased cost pressure because of their extensive infrastructure.

Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t included?

  1. The best books become part of our intellectual scaffolding. Remember as a writer you are an artist first. You want your books to be entertaining, but also to make a difference in your readers’ lives.
  2. Don’t mistake sales as the primary indicator of your success.

[On re-reading this second point, I realized that my brief comment could lead to misunderstanding. Sales as a primary indicator for success can be highly misleading for an author starting out for two reasons. First of all, selling books is an annuity business and so sales build over time. That is to say, you have many upfront costs (Realistically one should charge at least minimum wage for all the time one invests writing and setting up one’s business. Many writers mistakenly think they are getting as bargain if they can find a traditional publisher that will pay them an advance and a royalty. Often these writers haven’t accounted for the enormous time they invested in preparing the manuscript for consideration by the traditional publisher.), but sales only begin once your book lists. However, once your book lists, it stays listed for a long time and generates an annuity stream. Secondly, there may be two reasons why a book doesn’t sell: (1) the book is poorly conceived and written; (2) the author is not well-known and so few readers get as far as even trying the book and so they never find out if it’s good or not. Unless one is well-known for other reasons (e.g. you’re a U.S. President), being unknown will always be an impediment when you start out. To distinguish these two barriers to sales, one needs to get the book into the hands of readers and get feedback.]

What is your favorite book and why?

My favorite books (on an equal footing) are C. S. Lewis’ Narnia series and J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I re-read the Narnia books because of the profound spiritual insights that Lewis offers. I re-read The Lord of the Rings because of the sheer beauty of the work. Even though I know the plot almost line for line, I love the beauty of walking through the vale of Ithilien and the terror of the Mines of Moria.

How can readers discover more about you and you work?

I’m always delighted to hear from my readers. They can contact me by email directly or leave a comment on my blog.

Website: http://www.WolfsburgImprints.com
Blog: http://www.PeterKazmaier.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/peter.kazmaier
Twitter: @PeterKazmaier
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00JB0IWE6
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4136519.Peter_Kazmaier

How to Win an Argument by Manipulating the Definitions

IMG_0009-2

As a novelist, I am in the midst of writing the second volume of a colonization epic set in the future. Although the stories have all the aspects of discovering a new world (my second book in the series called The Battle for Halcyon is about to come out on Amazon, iTunes, and Chapters) I am interested in making the stories as realistic as possible. To be realistic I try to have characters that care about the things most of us care about: survival, freedom, friendship, purpose, meaning, and spirituality. I am therefore interested in discussions that deal with these big questions.

An acquaintance of mine in the Goodreads group the Christian Theological/Philosophical  Book Club, posted an acerbic comment which was billed as the draft of a script to be presented as a monologue on YouTube.

The comment quoted from the Catholic Encyclopaedia on the topic of “belief.” I will cite certain portions of the comment for discussion since I am not sure all of my readers can open the Goodreads comment without first joining Goodreads. Here we go with the quote:

From the Catholic Encyclopaedia

Belief “That state of the mind by which it assents to propositions, not by reason of their intrinsic evidence, but because of authority”.

The commenter then goes on to interpret for us:

There we have it, Sinners: no evidence required when it comes to believing … just authority. It helps if you adopt a very severe tone when you’re dealing with matters such as this – adds gravitas to the smoke you’re blowing up people’s backsides.

I think you get the sense of the rant.

Three Questions

Now I am not a Catholic, but I have read many excellent, well-reasoned book by Catholics. My own experience with Catholic teaching and reasoning made me think that I was not getting the full story on the Catholic position on faith or belief in this rather one-sided monologue. So I looked up faith and reason in Peter Kreeft & Ronald K. Tacelli’s excellent book Handbook of Christian Apologetics. Peter Kreeft is a Catholic, a philosophy professor at Boston College, and has impressed me with his practical and thorough going analyses of these types of questions. All of Chapter 2 is devoted to the question of faith(belief) and reason.

As I thought about the content of the Kreeft Chapter, I realized there are three types of questions that we can ask (the question taxonomy depends on the kinds of evidence one can muster to answer the questions):

  1. Questions that can be answered by reason and data alone.
  2. Questions that can partly be answered by reason and data, but then you need to trust someone (i.e. have faith in someone) to achieve an answer.
  3. Some questions are so fundamental and so foundational, they cannot be proved by data and reason at all and you have to trust someone for the answer.

Note even in type 2 and 3 questions, one can always “try out an answer and see how it works.” In Kreeft and Tacelli’s analysis, they connect “taking someone’s word for it” with revelation. That is to say that for questions of a spiritual nature, God has taken the initiative to reveal the answer to us (this is the most common application of faith in this context). In other realms, I may have to trust a physicist to explain the physical meaning of mathematics I don’t fully comprehend. Or I may have to trust a medical doctor to interpret symptoms and recommend a treatment for me in circumstances where I simply don’t know enough to make a proper judgement.

Examples of the Three Types of Questions

Perhaps the three types of questions would become clearer if illustrated with an example.

Question Type #1 Questions that can be answered by reason and data alone

A mundane example of a type 1 question would be “how do I fix my car?” With enough data and problem solving skills, one should be able to work it out. Now note, I could accomplish this by faith (the Greek word for faith in the Bible transliterated pistis really means trusting someone ). That is to say I could take my car to a mechanic that I trust (faith) and have him fix it for me. Faith in a person shifts my focus from the data and reasoning about the data to the character of the person that I’m trusting. But both are valid approaches. In the end whether or not I go back to the mechanic will depend on how the experience works out (trust can either be strengthened or weakened by experience).

Question Type #2 Questions that can partly be answered by reason and data, but then you need to trust someone or something to achieve an answer

Two examples of the second type of questions: Does God exist? and How does the mind work? There are many philosophical arguments for the existence of God (Kreeft and Tacelli list twenty of them in Chapter 3), but at the end of the day, one can always say, “I don’t know if that’s really compelling.” In the end it’s not enough to be intellectually be convinced that God exists because of for example the Kalaam argument, but rather one need to go beyond the data and reasoning to the person.  Similarly on the question of the mind, one can do many experiments on the mind but at the end some one has to use their mind to interpret the data. In the words of C. S. Lewis, that’s a bit like asking someone to take out their eyeball to look at it. Using the mind to analyse the mind is a form of begging the question. The measured data may be reliable, but in the end you must trust your own mind (or someone else’s) to analyse the data.

At the beginning of this blog is a picture of one of this year’s daffodils. Why do I find it beautiful? You can partly explain that by analysing the chromophores in the compounds the daffodil produces but ultimately there is a part of the answer that eludes that explanation. For me, like a beautiful painting, the daffodil was designed with my response in mind. The full answer to this question can not be achieved by studying the chemistry alone.

Question Type #3 Questions that are so fundamental and so foundational, they cannot be proved at all and you have to trust someone for the answer

The example that directly comes to mind would be the question: “What is God like?” A question that the writer George MacDonald thought was more important and more fundamental than the question “Does God exist?” If God is wicked, evil, or a trickster, he is powerful enough to fool us all. Any evidence I amass, any reasoning I apply will always face the caveat “But what if he’s just fooling me?” I can’t see anyway of getting around it. I have to trust in his goodness and see if it works out.

Some Observations

Now let me make a few observations:

  1. There are questions that one can ask in all three categories. So the questions exist. I think people who acknowledge that fact of question’s existence and try to answer them as best they can, are more connected to reality than those who try to cram all questions into category one and then either pretend that questions in categories two and three don’t exist or are meaningless.
  2. The most important questions (because they are the most fundamental and are most strongly linked to meaning) are in categories two and three.
  3. The genuine search for truth under-girds all three questions. By truth I mean, statements and assertions that are connected to reality (how things really are). Reality dictates the questions.
  4. Authority is related to character and trustworthiness, not power.

This sheds much more light on the definition in the Catholic Encyclopaedia. The commentary on the Catholic definition in the Goodreads comment to my mind is wrong:

no evidence required when it comes to believing … just authority

It’s not that no evidence is required, but rather that for the most important questions material evidence (in the scientific/engineering sense) is insufficient (actually woefully inadequate) for addressing these questions. In those cases one’s only recourse is to identify a trustworthy, honest, reliable, knowledgeable being and take their word for it. That process is another description of finding someone with authority (authority in this context means a character of honesty and access to the answers). So if one reads the context of the Catholic Encylopaedia definition as pertaining to the most important faith questions (type 3), it makes perfect sense because evidence in terms of archaeology, astronomy, chemistry and physics is of no value in addressing these questions.

How to Win an Argument by Manipulating the Definitions

One of the things that trouble me about the discussion by the commenter is the apparent willingness to orchestrate the conclusion by choosing a definition for faith that virtually compels the result that he is arguing for. One simply does not have that freedom with definitions. Definitions must be co-extensive with the property they are defining. If one is questioning the validity of faith in God or Christ, one needs to use the definition for faith as used in the Old and New Testaments, not simply make up whatever definition one pleases (or make up a definition calculated to make the argument outcome a ‘slam dunk’). Unfortunately a robust faith based on evidence of the senses and the reliable character of the messenger, seems to be transmogrified into what is better termed “blind faith” an irrational faith divorced from both evidence and the character of the messenger. To me that’s cheating and does not demonstrate a very high commitment to discovering the truth behind the questions one is asking (even if the answers are not the ones were were expecting). Furthermore when I read the New Testament and particularly the Gospels that is not the faith I see demonstrated.

This is the very point that John Lennox made when he came to Toronto a few weeks back. It is well worth it to listen to his presentation. I made the point in my book Questioning Your Way to Faith (Subtitled: Learning to Disagree Without Being Disagreeable) that truth-seekers believing in the objective correspondence between truth and reality, ought to always try to achieve the strongest arguments on both sides of every question, because in the end truth matters. Two friends may ending up disagreeing because they weigh the evidence (personal evidence, anecdotal evidence, as well empirical evidence) differently, but still they ought to listen to each other.

Why the Three Questions on Faith Strengthens the Christian World View

In closing I want to make two final points. Ravi Zacharias in his book Why Jesus? provides two tests for evaluating world views: coherence and correspondence. To me the three types of questions speak to both criteria. A coherent world view needs to be able to answer questions of type 2 and type 3 (especially type 3). These questions often related to meaning and purpose. But type #1 questions are also compatible with the Christian world view. For me the Christian world view is coherent because it can relate to all three questions.

In contrast to the views expressed by many Materialists, science and Christian faith are compatible. The Christian world view is founded on the principle of objective truth. Many things science advocates are later revised. Christians are wise to wait until science is truly settled and can legitimately be claiming to describe a truth. For many so called scientific questions that level of certainty will never be achieved. For those unchanging assertions that are not revised, reasoning and data are valid avenues for discovering truth.

From my vantage point the Christian world view also speaks to correspondence. Since one can ask type 2 and type 3 questions there ought to be answers. Saying the questions are meaningless is not a legitimate answer in my view.

So What Does That Mean for Me?

I can’t control how others argue, but I can control how I argue on important questions. Here are some guidelines and aspirations I set for myself:

  1. Be a truth-seeker. Care more about the truth than about winning the argument.
  2. Listen carefully to what is being said. Don’t just wait for him to finish before I launch into a rebuttal.
  3. Pay careful attention to the definitions. Many friends talk past each other because they use the same word in different ways.
  4. Respect the other person’s right to disagree, even when the evidence seems compelling to me. Proof happens in the mind and evidence can always be weighted differently.

My Second Book QUESTIONING YOUR WAY TO FAITH was Reviewed by Author Bonnie Beldan-Thomson in FAITH TODAY

Kazmaier-questioning your way to faith front cover (1)

Author Bonnie Beldan-Thomson has reviewed my second book in the magazine Faith Today. Why not check out the link below.

http://digital.faithtoday.ca/faithtoday/20140102#pg72

I’d love to hear your comments on the review or the book.

Thanks for reading,

Peter Kazmaier