first contact

(I’ve got a week filled with almost a dozen meetings, a sermon to write, a boarder moving in, Tom’s 4th birthday party, and a band practice.  And I’ve got comments on this blog I’ve not had time to respond to yet.  But this post will be short… ;P  )

It’s a very real possibility (or a high probability) that at least some kind of life exists (or has existed – or will exist in the future) other than on earth.  We’ve found evidence of liquid water in the history of Mars and that’s just H20, and just within our solar system.  So it would seem to be hardly a surprise to find some kind of life, plant or animal – or something else? – in other place.

But how likely is intelligent life?

There’s no logical problem with it of course.  S.E.T.I. scans space for signs of intelligence, communication, speech from any ‘others’ out there.

I’m hardly the first to say so, but considering a (conceptual) spectrum-of-intelligence, we ought not assume that we are at the highest end of the spectrum.  However, there is an assumption that I think is reasonable.  It is the assumption that: if we ever do come to know of life that is higher than us on this spectrum-of-intelligence, it would seem less likely that we would discover it (e.g. the movie Prometheus), but that it would discover us (e.g. War of the Worlds or Transformers).

Other possibilities include that it possibly has already discovered us, but would have reason to make itself known to us.  Or possibly they are already trying to make themselves known to us, but our technology or techniques are not suited to pick up on their communication.

As an aside, it is also – at least logically – possible (though we rightly think it unlikely) that more-intelligent-than-us life is hiding out deep in the sea, deep underground, or just behind the sun.  :)

So then, given that we know of no known, reputable communication from other physical life forms (get ready for spam in the comments!?), the options seem to be:

a1) communication is not possible between them and us due to insufficiency of  technology and techniques.
a2) communication is not possible between them and us due to ‘them’ not even existing.
b) communication is not known by us due to our insufficient technology or techniques.
c) communication is not desired by them.

projection

We are incredibly skilled at the (always) subconscious act of looking at or evaluating a thing in a very ‘us’-ish way.  Thus, it is all too often the case that:

  • the [re]view says more about the [re]viewer than of that which is [re]viewed
  • the name says more about the namer than of that which is named
  • the belief says more about the believer than of that which is believed
  • the doubt says more about the doubter than of that which is doubted
  • the defence says more about the defender than of that which is being defended
  • the dismissal says more about the one dismissing than of that which is being dismissed
  • the theory says more about the theorist than of that which is theorised
  • the interpretation says more about the interpreter than of that which is interpreted
  • the translation says more about the translator than of that which is translated
  • the governing says more about the governor than of that which is being governed
  • the instruction says more about the instructor than of that which is instructed
  • the legislation says more about the legislative body (or process) than of that which is legislated
  • the writing (or blog post!!??) says more about the writer than of that which is written
  • the comment says more about the commenter than of that which is commented on
  • and so on…

kenotic God

A true swordsman is recognised not simply by ability to swing the largest of swords with great speed and strength, but by the skill and agility to wield any sword in the best way.  Likewise, the vision of God in Christian Scripture (not only in the NT – explicitly in passages like Philippians 2:5-11 – but in the OT) is of a God who does not mindlessly brandish the sword of omnipotence around like a brute or side-show stuntman, but rather wisely wields it in ways that are not about mere strength but intent, skill and purpose.

It is becoming increasingly clear to me that basically no Christian doctrine about God makes any sense at all if God’s omnipotence is not seen in this particular way.  Just as a skilled swordsman most probably indeed could swing a sword quite fast and powerfully, but would only do so at rare occasions or perhaps only once, so also there are many things that an omnipotent God is able to do, but not willing.

The kenotic, or ‘self-emptying’, God is not shackled to ‘logical’ expectations for what omnipotence would do.  God both a) refrains from doing things he has capacity to do, as well as b) does things he does not need to do.  God could have not created.  It’s not as though there could be any force or person or will ‘above’ God that caused God to create.  But create he did – and does.  To venture into the conversation of sovereignty and process theology and ‘free will’, etc., God could have chosen to have a very deterministic and micro-managerial rule over the world.  It’s not as though that would be un-fitting or impossible for omnipotence.  But his sovereign rule is far more respecting of freedom, and what we have is a mixture of inability to do many things (i.e. breathe in space, fly, etc.), and ability to direct our own courses of action.  We are dependent enough upon the world and each other such that the degree of indifference we can fall to has limits, yet we are also independent enough from it and others such that an annoyingly persistent responsibility for our actions is perpetually ensured.

knowing God

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? (Galatians 4:8-9)

There is a lovely tension in Christian epistemology between our ‘knowing God’ and being known by God (both of which, to be clear, are about an interpersonal kind of knowledge, not about simply knowing an infinite quantity of ‘facts’ about God or us).  One of the central announcements of the NT is that Jesus has revealed God in not only a fresh, unexpected way, but also in a full (and thus final) way.  God can at last be known.

But this knowledge of God in the face of Christ does not catapult humans into a state of omniscience.  “Who has known the mind of the Lord?”, asks Scripture elsewhere.  And in the passage above, Paul suggests that the point is not our knowledge of God, but God’s knowledge of us that matters.

There is continuity and discontinuity here with the knowledge proper to the natural sciences.  Continuity in that in both cases, reality often has to surprise us for us to ‘get it’.  It’s often not what we expected it to be.  Truth has that ring to it.  But it also has discontinuity in the obvious sense that nature does not and cannot ‘know us’ as we know one another – let alone as we can be known by God.

answers, questions & tensions

My few posts on this blog touching on epistemology are a drop in the ocean of literature on the topic, the majority of which I’ll almost certainly never know about, let alone read.  But allow little wee me to suggest that the wisdom of human experience tells us that any proper pursuit of knowledge should be accompanied by all three of the following: answers, questions and tensions.  The opposite way of saying this is that as long as we retain our position as finite observers and non-omniscient know-ers, we must not have only answers, only questions or only tensions.

I reckon this is the case for all kinds of knowledge.  Scientific knowledge of the natural world has all three.  Every answer and natural discovery opens up new questions and fields of natural research.  Science both closes and opens gaps in knowledge, so don’t listen to anyone who talks as if we’ve figured out how the entire universe works from top to bottom.  Personal knowledge of other persons has them too.  Does one every completely know their mate or partner or friend?  The more one thinks, speaks and acts as if they do, the worse mate, partner or friend they will be.  Even theological knowledge of God, which dares to speak words about the Ultimate (only because of its conviction that the Ultimate has first spoken to us), remains a discipline that has real questions.  Don’t listen to any preacher who speaks of God as though they’ve got him easily boxed up and packaged.

When it comes to knowledge and know-ers, sometimes the knowledge claimed says something about that which is known – the melon might actually be a bit browned compared to other melons.  But it can also say something (or everything) about the one doing the knowing – the melon might only appear browned because the viewer forgot she was wearing sunglasses.  Each type of know-er will have their strengths, but strengths become weaknesses if not balanced by the other kinds of know-ers.

The mistake common to ‘answers’ type (or ‘black and white’) people is to be so intent on finding answers that they pushing away questions or not marrying up one answer with another, so they need the question-asking and tension-finding type people to humble and grow them.

The mistake common to ‘question’ type (or ‘grey’) people is to be so focussed on questioning everything that they ignore the answers and tensions that might be right before their eyes, so they need the answer-giving, and tension-finding types to reign in their advocacy to various devils.

The mistake common to ‘tensions’ type (or ‘both/and’) people, which I count myself to be within, is to be so familiar with finding tension and paradox that they fail to acknowledge times when it just might be either/or, or a different both/and than they currently hold to, so they need the answer-giving and question-asking types to disturb and re-frame the tensions they have grown (possibly too?) comfortable with.

methodological indifference

I’m beginning to wonder if so-called ‘methodological naturalism’ ought to be critiqued on purely philosophical grounds (i.e. not as a sneaky pre-apologetic move).

It seems that many people (against the evidence) are under the impression that ‘science’ supports naturalism (All-is-Nature) more than it supports theism (Nature caused and sustained by Supernature).  But if our scientific observations are to be truly objective, then we must admit that when we look at any particular thing or set of things (or any particular process or set of processes) in what we call the world, we do not find accompanying labels or name-tags that tell us “Made by YHWH” or “Purely Natural: No God Required”.  One must go beyond the evidence (though not leaving it behind!) to make such statements.  The theist knows she is doing this, though she will rightfully claim that she has followed reason in doing so.  The naturalist, however, seems to not often admit that they ‘go beyond the evidence’ to their Naturalism.  Why is this?  Do they think the world screams “not made by any God at all”?  If so, why?

I (in all my lack of importance for both science and the philosophy of science) propose a new term: methodological indifference!

knowledge of self – knowledge of the other

Feuerbach wasn’t entirely wrong.  Projection is a real thing.  Anthropomorphism is well known: that we can project human characteristics onto animals.  When it comes to Feuerbach and God, I think he just throws out the baby (that humans can know anything of God) with the bathwater (humans are prone to projection). For him, projection is a reason to doubt any/all knowledge of, and hence the existence of (for who can be bothered believing in something you can’t know!?) God.  For me, projection is the temptation to make God into a mere idol.

But the salient insight here is the importance of knowing self (and your tendency to project – or indeed your tendency to dismiss the possibility for any knowledge simply because full/perfect knowledge seems impossible) in the quest to know any ‘other’.  Both the knowing subject and the known object must be a part of any thoroughgoing epistemology.

same as always

It’s 12-12-12 today ((or was exactly 2,000 years ago to be pedantic)), and we are nearing the day (21-12-2012) which is heralded by some as something of an apocalypse and an end-of-the-world event.

Among other things, this highlights to me the reality that scientific discovery does not wipe out superstition.  People have always been superstitious and will always be.  Conversely, people have always denied any inherent purpose or meaning to the world – and they always will.

Science is great and helpful.  But I think Dallas Willard is spot on when he says “you can be very sure that nothing fundamental has changed in our knowledge of ultimate reality and the human self since the time of Jesus.” (The Divine Conspiracy, 106; emphasis original)

People wrongly think and speak as though at some point in history we learned some fact that forever sealed off the cosmos from any and all miracles; whereas the ancients, blissfully ignorant of this elusive fact we now know, had no other option.

In addition to ignoring the reality of ancient unbelief and scepticism, this way of thinking also misses the blindingly obvious truth that it’s psychologically and linguistically impossible to think or speak of a ‘super’-natural event if one has no idea of what a natural event is.  As Lewis said, when Joseph learned of Mary being pregnant, he was startled – not because he didn’t know how babies were conceived, but precisely because he did.

science and the Imago Dei

So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. (Genesis 2:19)

I’ve long held that this part of the creation story is a lovely expression of what we call science.  Things like taxonomy and zoology explicitly name the creation.  This is basic to a Christian understanding of the Imago Dei, what it means to be humans created in the Image of God.  So you could imagine my childish glee to see that even a proper atheist like Michael Ruse can lament that this seems under-appreciated.

I’m not just a historian, I’m also a philosopher. So I don’t just want to find out what happened, I want to know what we should do. And I’ve been worrying about what is the right thing to do. I think it’s deplorable that we do have this division in American society today. I think it’s deplorable that science is not seen as, if you like, the true mark that we are made in the image of God – that our ability to ferret out the nature of the world shows that we are not just grubby little primates. (from here)