everyday ethics

Today I walked past a man sitting on a bench on the sidewalk. He was –no doubt– simply taking a work break. He was smoking. This happens all the time… Sure, some people probably don’t appreciate the small of cigarette smoke as they walk by, but it’s still no big deal, right?

Then, minutes later, in the Turkish shop I was getting lunch at, a guy lined up behind me. I thought I recognised him. He was wearing sunglasses, so I wasn’t sure. I thought he might have been the new pastor at the Presbyterian church my wife and I were married at (after all, the church was a short walk away). A look at his T-shirt confirmed that it wasn’t… Continue reading “everyday ethics”

god, multiverses and science

multiverseThe idea that there are other universes than our own (perhaps an infinite number) is quite common today. It is often used to explain how our universe was able to produce and sustain such rich biodiversity that we see on Earth. The idea being that given an infinite number of chances, our ordered and balanced universe is simply eventual. Sometimes, even, this talk is used as evidence that ‘science’ shows (even ‘proves’!) that our universe, after all, is not the result of the action of any kind of Creator.

Continue reading “god, multiverses and science”

true love: stranger & friend

A very recent post had a moral bent, and the ensuing comment-discussion quickly observed that morals are based on values and eventually focussed on the question of what (if anything) underlies our values. In other words, are values grounded ‘on’ anything? Or, are they as free and changing as the various expressions of human cognition/thought? In this post, I want to try to explore this question further. Just one thing before I begin: Continue reading “true love: stranger & friend”

sexual identity remixed

I’m well aware of this topics’ controversial nature. In fact, that’s part of the reason I’ve been wanting to write about this for a while. What I do not want to do is quote verses or provide what I think ‘the Bible says’ about this issue. Of course, I do have a view on that, but that specific pathway into this topic has been almost ruined for all kinds of reasons, not least simplistic applications of various texts. As with any other discussion, the use of words is key. At one extreme, the sheer number of terms being created (‘pangender’, ‘omnisexuality’ and ‘heteronormativity’ to name but a few) does not seem to help fruitful discussion, but at the other extreme, many can fail to appreciate the complexity of the issues being discussed. Because of this complexity, it would be easy to spend huge amounts of time trying to address everything that has ever been said about human sexuality. But, of course, that’s the job of a lengthy dissertation or something. My hope is to fruitfully contribute to the conversation. Quite simply, I want to raise two concerns I have relating to human sexuality.

Continue reading “sexual identity remixed”

chatting with atheists

I’ve recently been chatting with a couple of atheists, Ian and Ken.

They’re really nice guys, and I’m not just saying that to be P.C., either.

If you’re a Christian (or any kind of theist, for that matter!), I whole-heartedly recommend dialogue with atheists. We Christians are guilty of saying many things that simply don’t make sense, and dialogue with atheists can really help sharpen (and therefore strengthen) your beliefs. Here are a few things you’ll want to do when talking to them (or anyone else as well!).

Use words carefully.
When conversations get past a certain point, you quickly realize that many words mean slightly (or very!) different things to different people. Words like ‘objective’, ‘reality’, ‘supernatural’, ‘miracle’, ‘authority’, etc., can be very, very slippery. Use them carefully (or don’t use them at all!), and press their use of them as well.

Be willing to be sharpened.
There are many complaints of atheists that are very valid. Christians need to be open to learning, re-thinking, re-shaping their ideas. I dare say God would want us to do this! There are a lot of things that a lot of Christians say or teach or write in books, etc., that is really embarrassing, and quite often, one simply needs to agree with the complaint of the atheist and perhaps share the ‘better’ position that clears up the distortion that they are complaining about.

Focus on the topic of materiality.
I’ve learned that one of the most vital beliefs of atheists is that reality is only material. Press them on this, but don’t make the mistake of claiming ‘objectivity’ in this area. Logic, reason, emotion, art, etc. – these areas are difficult to explain for materialists.

Highlight the logical absurdity of the Big Bang.
The Big Bang theory posits that the universe results from a Singularity – a non-dimensional point under massive atomic pressure. This non-dimensional point existed in nowhere, because there was nowhere for it to be, and it existed at no time, because there was no time in which it could be. In short; where there is no time and no where, no thing happens, and no thing exists.

Don’t scientifically argue creation from the Bible.
Genesis (or any other place in the Bible) is not a scientific text. It is a theological one. Whatever you think you know about the age of the earth, carbon-dating or evolution (micro or macro), please don’t bring the Bible into these conversations. It’s like wiping your nose with an anvil.

Don’t argue for the existence of God using some experience you had.
You will be quickly told that your experience is subjective and therefore not valid for evidence. Don’t bother.

Press them on the word ‘science’.
The Latin root for ‘knowledge’ is ‘scienta’. Science, therefore, is a general term about ‘knowledge’. Press them to specify what KIND of knowledge they are referring to. They will want to give supremacy to physical science, but remind them that this is only one kind of ‘knowing’.

I could go on, but that should do for now.

Happy chatting!

-d-

as iron sharpens iron, so one thesis sharpens another

I love logic. It just makes sense!

I want to share with you a method that will save the world. Well, not really, but it’s really cool.

Basically, this method consists of the principles behind the Scientific Method. Call it what you will, but it applies to ANY topic – Theology, Philosophy, Physics, Geology, Sociology – ANY topic.

It has to do with making sense of ‘things’ that we observe in reality (whatever ‘things’ you may be ‘observing’ in ‘reality’). People have different ways of interpreting and explaining what they observe in reality. The so-called ‘law of non-contradiction’ (which is about as basic as it gets with logic!) says that two contradicting statements about the exact same thing cannot both be equally accurate.

Anyway, you start with an observation of a ‘thing’, then when you explain this ‘thing’ to someone you do so by means of a statement – your ‘ideas’ about it – your ‘thesis’ (or hypothesis, if you like). A diagram of this would look like this…

Now, the problem with an idea or ‘thesis’ all by itself is that it could be wrong. Sure, it could be right as well, but you’ll never know unless you contrast it with another one. It is really unfortunate that many people never even make this first step. They simply hold on to their precious thesis and never test it to see how strong it is. You need to test your ‘thesis’ against other ones! The diagram enlarges to show the 2-way dialogue with another ‘thesis’…

This is wonderful when this actually happens. It could be a simple mis-understanding between friends. “Oh, I see. I thought you meant ‘x’, but now that you’ve explained it, I realise you actually meant ‘y’! I’m no longer upset anymore!” Of course, this could play out in an endless number of scenarios. Either the ‘thesis’ or the ‘anti-thesis’ could become (or appear to become) more correct or less correct.

What happens (if an agreement or ‘middle ground’ is reached) now, is that something emerges from the conversation. This ‘something’ is one of a few things: a) it is the original ‘thesis’ (only now stronger – having been contrasted with another one), b) it is the ‘anti-thesis’ (having been shown to be stronger than the ‘thesis’) or c) a mixture of the two – a syn-thesis! This looks like this…

What happens here, is that this stronger idea – this syn-thesis – becomes the NEW ‘original’ thesis! Which makes our diagram look like this…

At this point, what do we do with all theses (plural of ‘thesis)? Remember? We test them against other ones! This is no different here. The NEW, stronger thesis needs to seek yet another ‘anti-thesis’.

This is called learning. I hope it is clear that this is an on-going process!

I think we actually can make real progress, but also think we need to remember that as we ‘advance’ our theses, we may look back and observe that what we thought was an ‘advance’ in the past was actually a step backward (and yes, even this observation itself could later be seen to be ‘wrong’ – and so on ‘ad infinitum’!).

Two ‘theses’ in dialogue is a wonderful thing, but it is even better to have 3 or more! The ‘synthesis’ you emerge with will be all the more stronger! (This is often referred to as the process of ‘peer review’ – and it’s a wonderful thing.)

There are difficulties, too, which we will need patience for. Too many voices in one ‘conversation’, means that it will simply take longer for each thesis to have its say. It could well be that a mixture of ‘smaller conversations’ and ‘larger ones’ could be a great thing, because each would have its own strengths and weaknesses/hindrances.

Another hurdle come because this process has been going on quite naturally for some time now, and in many, many different fields – theology, sociology, etc. It seems that after a time, there can be ‘patterns’ that emerge. Details that were originally hotly debated are given less and less time and often assumed to be valid in later conversations. This can be antithetical to the process of this method, as the whole point of it is, of course, to expose ALL of a thesis to criticism.

As I suggested earlier, patience is necessary! But we must be about this business of dialogue with other theses! We must grow. We must learn. To not dialogue is to fail to ‘advance’ at all (whether or not they are real or ‘illusory’ advances!) To not even attempt to advance is to slip backward.

“Iron makes iron sharp; so a man makes sharp his friend.” Proverbs 27:17 (BBE)

love the world?

I love this quote from Bishop Tom Wright…“The Christian calling is to know the world with a knowledge that approximates to love. And the point about love – the epistemology which love generates – is that love both affirms the other-ness of the object (objectivity) while remaining in deep, rich and close subjective (subjectivity) relationship to it. Love transcends the objective-subjective divide.

Indeed. Love – true love – is a beautiful marriage of objectivity and subjectivity. It is not merely objective. That kind of ‘love’ would be distant, detached, indifferent and irrelevant. Also, it it not merely subjective, either. That kind of ‘love’ would be spine-less, scared, watered-down and weak.

Objectivity can’t handle interactions with things that are not like ‘it’. Objectivity remains detatched and protects its own ‘other-ness’, lest it become ‘corrupted’ from interaction with the alien ‘other’. Because it remains detached, it will never make a difference. It either escapes altogether, or watches from a distance.

Likewise, subjectivity will never make a difference. It is so interactive with the ‘other’ that it takes on the very nature of the ‘other’ and is therefore no longer itself, and therefore no longer able to influence or change. It is either enveloped-into or itself invelops the other.

God is often described in some of these ways. On one hand, God’s holiness and un-changing nature certainly seems in-corruptible and ‘objective.’ But is God so ‘objective’ that He remains detached, dis-interested and removed from reality? Most certainly not! The Scriptures testify to God dwelling among and being active in His creation – supremely so in Jesus Christ.

On the other hand, God’s gentle care and sacrificial love seems to point to a more ‘subjective’ quality of God. But is that to say that God is a push-over or that He compromises His own nature? No way! The Scriptures are clear that God is not mocked, He does not change and there is none like Him!

Not only do we mis-understand the nature of God in these ways, we also can mis-represent Him in these same ways. We can seek to be so pure and undefiled above all else (not ‘of’ the world, but unfortunately also not ‘in’ it!) that we have little or no effect on it. Purity and holiness is vital and important, but that purity and holiness needs to be seen by the impure and un-holy world we live in. This means we cannot retreat into our ‘Christian’ corner of the world.

Also, we can seek to be so ‘relevant’ in the world (‘in’ the world, but also unfortunately ‘of’ it), that we end up being just like it, and therefore have little or no effect on it once again. We must speak in the world’s language and meet them where they are at, but all the while taking care that we are imitating Christ, not the world. How can we expect the world to care about our hope when we dream, plan, spend and consume just like the rest of the world?

I think of two verses that could be seen as contradictory, but aren’t – especially in this light. The first is the ‘objective’ 1 John 2:15; Do not love the world, nor the things of this world.” The second is the ‘subjective’ John 3:16; “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son…” It’s not either/or. It’s both.

May we love God as God loves the world. In objectivity, may we see the ‘other-ness’ of the ‘world’ not as a threat to escape from, but as a field to work in. In subjectivity, may we seek interaction with the world not in order to imitate it, but in order to influence it.