Category Archives: Materialism

Study Guide for COVENTRY 2091. Part 2. Chapters 1-3

Facilitators Notes for Part 2

In our discussion, we covered Parts 1 and 2 in a single session. There was more than enough discussion to fill two hours (our planned discussion time).

One of the questions that came up during the discussion: “Was the protest that led to the founding of the Coventry Penal Colony motivated or inspired by the Freedom Convoy that took place in Canada in January and February 2022?”.

The simple answer:  The chronology of the writing of Coventry 2091 makes that connection impossible.

  • Coventry 2091 was published in June 2021, a full 6-7 months before anyone, including me, even heard of the Freedom Convoy.
  • The events in Coventry 2091, thought to occur in 2049-2051 were imagined before my previous book, The Dragons of Sheol was published in June 2019.
  • This connection is simply one of those coincidental things that happen as one does one’s best to imagine the future.

The Opening Chapters of Coventry 2091

My hope about our discussion

When paddling your kayak in a channel in a strong wind, it’s not enough to point the boat’s bow toward your destination, since the wind will blow you off course. You have to take the wind into account by paddling against it just enough to reach your goal. The assumptions made about the future in this book and others in this genre are like the wind blowing us off course (unless the wind comes directly from astern—unlikely). Let’s focus on how we change our paddling rather than thinking about changing the direction of the wind.

What is the Coventry 2091 “What if?” Question?

Most Science Fiction, particularly if it’s extrapolated from the present, begins with a “What If …” question. So does Coventry 2091.

What if, in 2051 in Canada, a politically unpalatable, peaceful protest occurred that was so extensive and enduring that the government had to take extraordinary measures?

The Coventry 2091 story is set some forty years later.

Are there any other “What if” questions embedded in the extrapolation from your reading of Speculative Fiction as well as Coventry 2091?

Chapters 1-3

When writing fiction, it’s important to make the fictional invention plausible enough that the reader isn’t constantly saying “no way!” or “I can’t believe that would happen!”

How plausible do you find the back story leading up to the founding of Coventry Penal Colony and its operation? Do you think it could happen in Canada? Why or Why not?

What do you find least plausible in the back story resulting in the non-violent protests in 2050 and the founding of the Coventry Penal Colony? Why?

At the end of Chapter 3 (pages 18 and 19), Jacob, Hanna, and Zeke talk about the difference in teaching between their brief experience at Coventry and their public education.

How do you see our public education (at all levels) changing and if you were to look into your crystal ball? How will these changes affect future generations of students? How will these educational changes affect Christian students in particular?

How do we change our paddling, as it were, if we:

  • Saw changes in our educational system that we found very disturbing and deleterious?
  • Concluded that our children or grandchildren were no longer adequately prepared for life through their education?
  • That the educational system increasingly becomes more antagonistic to Christianity?

Study Guide for COVENTRY 2091. Part 1. Introduction to Speculative Fiction

Introduction to the Coventry 2091 Discussion Question Series

I was privileged to be invited to facilitate a discussion group on my most recent novel, Coventry 2091. I thought there might be readers who could benefit from the time I invested in crafting questions for the discussion. I hope this proves to be of value.

The group I facilitated was interested in discussing the implications of the world view that under-girds much of the world-building and character development. Many of the questions were designed to encourage that particular type of discussion by the group members. I was not always sure how active and far reaching the discussion would be. In practice, I covered two parts in each session. If the discussion in Part 1 by your group requires more time, it’s easy to end after one part and reserve the second part for the following session.

Introduction to Speculative Fiction

Speculative fiction is a general term encompassing both Science Fiction (itself a broad term) and Fantasy. The easiest way to understand them is to look at some concrete examples:

  • DUNE by Frank Herbert is Science Fiction
    • Has anyone read it or seen the movie?
    • Any characteristics of SF you can identify?
  • THE LORD OF THE RINGS by J.R.R. Tolkien is Fantasy
    • Has anyone read it or seen the movie?
    • Any characteristics of Fantasy you can identify?
  • HARRY POTTER by J. K. Rowling is a subcategory of Fantasy that some call Urban Fantasy.
  • OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon is a Time Travel novel, but also a Romance and Historical novel.
  • Dystopian novels such as 1984, BRAVE NEW WORLD, and A HANDMAID’S TALE are Speculative Fiction because they are set in the future (future at the time of writing).
  • Are there any other books you have enjoyed, that, on reflection, might be Speculative Fiction?
  • Given the examples we discussed, any thoughts on a comprehensive definition of Speculative Fiction?

So, you might be reading Speculative Fiction without knowing it.

Why Do I Write Science Fiction/Fantasy?

There are a number of reasons:

  • There are books I would have liked to read, but no one has bothered to write them yet. So, I had to write them.
  • Most SF books are based are based on a Materialist world view. When I read them I don’t truly feel “at home” in them, and often wish there were books more in line with what I believe.
  • I read a lot of SF in high school and university and these books helped kindle my love of science. I would like to connect with that age group of readers, who normally don’t care what an old guy thinks, but might read a story by an old guy if it were well-written enough.
  • Did anyone else read Science Fiction and/or Fantasy in high school and university? What made you stop (if you did)?

If you were to write a novel, what would you write about?

The Dystopian Political System in THE HALCYON DISLOCATION

When I was planning the plot for The Halcyon Dislocation, an essential element was the development of a dystopian political system for the isolated, dislocated University of Halcyon. In particular, the political system, to the outside observer, would look like a functioning democracy with regular, honest elections, opposition parties, and even new grassroots parties that objected to the status quo.

However, the system is rigged so that these fledgling opposition parties almost never rise to power since it takes a very long time to gain a following, and even if they do, they will find the new party membership and the incessant government propaganda has turned them into another version of the older parties that they were supposed to supplant. Hence nothing has changed except possibly the ruling party’s name.

The reader might ask, “Why do we need such a new, elaborate political system. Man’s history is replete with tyrannical regimes which used propaganda and force to beat down opposition, often for long periods of time?”

I would answer that those systems all have several fatal flaws which this modified dystopian quasi-democracy circumvents.

First of all, using power overtly to suppress dissent means the dissent goes underground and the government receives outward compliance until the opposition gains sufficient momentum that people begin to believe a regime change is possible. Then allegiances change very quickly.

Secondly, suppressed citizens are smart enough to see what is going on and they will not be fooled even if the penalties force them to comply outwardly. They are essentially slaves in their own country and will serve and work halfheartedly at best. It will lead to a general malaise.

The Aberhardt Principle

A key element of the Halcyon quasi-democracy is the Aberhardt Principle, named after the professor on staff who wrote about it. In this approach for making societal change, one sets up a system where everyone is encouraged to speak their mind so the sociologists can measure how effective the advertising, propaganda, education, and entertainment activities have been in changing people’s minds about key issues. The focus is on changing people’s minds against their will by repetition, multiple lines of influence, and long exposure to the multi-media message. The rate of time-dependent change of people’s minds determine how quickly the agenda-setters in the Halcyon quasi-democracy can implement their social changes.

So, even though grassroots opposition parties form, by the time they get to power (if they ever do), they will find not only has their new party changed their outlook, but sufficient time has elapsed that the electorate now fully endorses the new sociological innovations that the old grassroots membership opposed.

Concluding Comments

This is not a political blog and I draw no inferences to past, present, or future systems which might resemble this Halcyon University dystopia. I merely point out, through this imaginative exercise in plot development, that it is possible to develop a political system that has honest, regular elections, allows citizens to share their political views with some freedom, and yet is totally tyrannical and constrained even though the programmed social innovation happens on a multi-year timescale to allow for Aberhardt-style attitude adjustment.

If you have a CALGARY PUBLIC LIBRARY card, you can check out Peter’s books for free …

Becoming a Truth-Seeker in an Age of Propaganda

My well-used copy of THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH

In C. S. Lewis’ novel THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH, published in 1945, he foresaw the age of propaganda. An unobtrusive organization, the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments (N.I.C.E.), was engaged in implementing its program of  eliminating undesirables. Although not well-known to the public, the N.I.C.E. controlled parliament. It didn’t really matter whom you, as a voter. elected. Once elected, the MP would be beholden to the N.I.C.E. for their success. Similarly, the media organizations were also under the thumb of the N.I.C.E.

At one point the protagonist, the malleable Mark Studdock, in his quest to always be part of the progressive element at his college, is roped into writing propaganda pieces for the N.I.C.E. for its many initiatives destined to remove people’s freedoms and liberties. Studdock’s template propaganda pieces appear in customized form in all of the nation’s papers. Lewis presents a brilliant picture of how a well-educated, articulate, academic can write convincingly and compellingly on almost any subject. As a reader, who knew the true events behind the story, I could nevertheless only marvel how a clever writer could twist the context to make the facts fit the wholly deceptive perspective desired by the N.I.C.E. The malevolent Progressive Element in the N.I.C.E. goes on to stage fake protests, use the media to mislead the public to rage against the innocent, all for the purpose of eliminating those people who oppose their pragmatic agenda of efficiency and control. Lewis has a real knack for making the propaganda so persuasive that the reader would be taken in if he didn’t see the actions behind the rhetoric. To me this prophecy is happening before my eyes seventy-five years after this book was written.

How does one, then, become a truth-seeker in an age of propaganda?

Before beginning a discussion of a difficult subject about truth and propaganda, it is important to define the terms.

Truth is a very important word in the New Testament. In the Greek the noun, transliterated, is ALETHEIA.

ALETHEIA: “The reality lying at the basis of appearance; the manifested veritable essence of a matter”

W.E. Vine; Cremer

PROPAGANDA: “An organized programme of publicity, selected information etc. used to propagate a doctrine, practice, etc.; the information, doctrines, etc. propagated in this way, esp. regarded as misleading or dishonest”

Oxford English Reference Dictionary

As I work to be a truth-seeker, two important points stand out to me:

  1. Truth (Aletheia) is connected to reality. It is quite dangerous to ignore truth because reality, by its nature, will win out.
  2. Truth is not always easy to identify, since appearances may be misleading. Often appearances can be created by what people say.

With regards to propaganda, it is not the opposite of truth, but often is a caricature of it. As the definition indicates, propaganda uses publicity and selected information with an end in mind. They may want you to buy a product, vote for a particular party, censure some group, or believe a particular message. The publicity and selected information is chosen in order: to get the audience to accept the teaching or take the steps desired.

So how do I become a truth-seeker in an age of propaganda? I think there are four steps that are important for me to take:

  1. If I am given information driving me to a particular belief or action, argue against it. If the information is part of a propaganda initiative, the propagandists are likely telling me half-truths and omitting all counter arguments. If the information is true, I won’t find any compelling counter arguments and the information will become even more convincing.
  2. Look for data and make the discussion about data. Often the most convincing propaganda is based on emotion, perhaps appeals to sympathy. That is to say, the propagandist avoids asking whether the statement under question is true or false. Instead they focus on how someone has been hurt or denigrated by the assertion.
  3. Look at the presuppositions. In propaganda, often the assumptions behind the information is never discussed, much less critically evaluated. Yet the whole argument rests on the validity of these assumptions.
  4. Become a two-column person. By that I mean, assume there is data for and against any position. If none is presented, as is often the case with propaganda, seek it out. Don’t be satisfied to leave one column empty.

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.

Whither Our Universities? Part 1

Is the sun setting on our universities?

Since high school, one way or another, I have been associated with universities. First as a student (undergraduate and graduate), then as a Postdoctoral Fellow, as a research collaborator, and also as an Adjunct Professor. I have also participated in academic pursuits such as writing and refereeing papers. Organic Chemistry was my focus and through that discipline I met many fine people.

A writer of futuristic fiction is concerned about where things are headed

As a writer of futuristic fiction, I am driven by “What if …” questions. Since universities have played such an instrumental role in our culture in molding the sequential generations, naturally enough, some of the “What if” questions deal with trends or potential trends I have observed in higher education.

In my novel, The Halcyon Dislocation, the movement and isolation of a hypothetical University of Halcyon to a parallel world sets up an experimental literary sandbox. One can ask the question, what would the university elites do if they had the opportunity to channel the thinking of their students in any direction they chose? What would they choose? How would they get there?

What would university elites choose if they could mold student thinking in any direction they wanted?

One of the problems that plagues science, indeed culture and politics as well is the question:

If I can do something, how do I determine if I should do that very thing?

The “can” is usually determined by data, experimentation, and collective scholarship, but the “shoulds” remain elusive since they depend on the question of objective right and wrong which is inaccessible to data and experimentation. In the absence of an objective right or wrong, the answer often becomes: “Because I have the power and I want to, I will do it and no one can stop me.”

The danger then, for universities, is the tendency to becoming factories of conditioned students rather than nurturing educated students who have learned to thoughtfully consider opposing points of view in humility and respect.

Becoming factories producing conditioned students, rather than educational institutions that enable students to thoughtfully consider different viewpoints with respect, is one of the dangers universities face

The antidote to this tendency to become ever more efficient conditioners of students as our manipulative skills and technology increase, is to make sure opposing voices (including religious voices) are not only allowed to speak, but are heard and considered. Free speech is the best safeguard against conditioned speech.

A Recent Example That Hits Close to Home

I know of Organic Chemistry Professor Tomas Hudlicky by his fine reputation. He wrote, and had accepted a paper in Angewandte Chemie (along with the Journal of the American Chemical Society, Angewandte Chemie is arguably one of the two best journals in chemistry). However, after the Twitterati ignited a Twitter storm (Twitter Gewitter?) everything changed for Professor Hudlicky, According to an article in the National Post by Peter Shawn Taylor, the accepted paper was withdrawn by Angewandte Chemie, the two referees were taken off the referees list (I’m sure as volunteers they have better things to do with their time) and the editor was suspended.

I respectfully suggest you read the whole paper, as I did, or at least read up to page 4, along with Note 2 which seemed to cause all the offense and then think about discussing the points Professor Hudlicky is making.

The text of the paper if it’s still available … Hudlicky Paper

Retraction Watch with resignations

Another Retraction Watch discussion

A blog by Jordan Peterson on this specific topic

In my view, the proper way to proceed is to have everyone, first read the paper, then present their best arguments in respectful discussion. A view or position that is not permitted to be questioned, is likely indefensible. If the case for the other side were compelling, why not make it? Is that not the mission of universities to encourage students to properly discuss opposing points of view with respect and leave the final convictions that come out of the discussion to the students? Apparently not.

Revisiting My Review of THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU by H. G. Wells

In 2017 I reread and reviewed The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells. Since then I wrote and completed The Dragons of Sheol, my fourth book. As I was immersed in fine-tuning the plot this book, I was struck by the similarities and differences of H. G. Wells’ Moreau world and the world I was imagining for Sheol.

With that in mind I wanted to set the stage for that comparative discussion by revisiting and elaborating on my previous review.

My Previous Review Comments

The Island of Dr. MoreauThe Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A thought-provoking book about the dangers of science unencumbered by morality and man’s penchant for wanting to play God. An added benefit for me: a chance to see how the relationship and nature of man and animals was viewed through the eyes of a late nineteenth century writer.

View all my reviews

Why Revisit This Succinct Review?

SPOILER ALERT – I will be discussing important elements of the plot, so if you wish to The Island of Dr. Moreau for the first time, you may wish to skip the next paragraphs. Read the rest of this entry

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