Thursday, October 31, 2019

Wesleyan Tradition and the Reformation

Happy Reformation Day!

I like to remember today that the Wesleyan tradition comes from the Church of England rather than the high Reformation path of the Lutherans and the Reformed. The Anglican tradition has often viewed itself as somewhat of a "via media" or middle way.

1. So with regard to sola fide, we are often accused of believing in works because we believe you can fall away. We are both James and Paul. [1]

2. With regard to sola scriptura, we often speak of a quadrilateral, where some would say prima scriptura is a better description of us. [2]

3. With regard to sola gratia, we fit well with recent scholarship suggesting that grace involved a reciprocal, even if disproportionate relationship between giver and receiver. [3]

4. With regard to solus Christus, we are in agreement, but we recognize that the way of Christ is more a confession of the heart than a mere cognitive assent with the head. [4]

5. With regard to soli Dei gloria, it is technically true, but we would emphasize God's response that we mean everything to him.

[1] The Wesleyan tradition fits very well with the new perspective on Paul.

[2] Insights from twentieth century hermeneutics suggest that words alone have no fixed meanings unless they are located in a context. The locations of biblical context are varied and ancient, requiring "translation" to other contexts. In short, it's never the Bible alone.

[3] Once again, recent clarifications of ancient patron-client language support Wesleyan understandings of grace.

[4] Which can survive the postmodern critique much better than hyper-modernist traditions

Saturday, October 26, 2019

His Truth is Marching on

1. I used to love Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's famous quote: "The arch of history is long, but it bends toward justice." I knew it wasn't true for the individual histories of many places. The arch of history in so many places is conquest, plateau, decline, conquest by someone else.

But I thought it was true for the US, at least for this period. Unlike those who liked the motto, "Make America Great Again" in the last election, I have felt that America was, on the whole, getting better and better. I was truly proud of our nation. And I felt the church was getting better and better.

The biblical standard, the Christian standard for ethics is love of God and neighbor, and the primary manifestation of the love of God is the love of our neighbor. And we remember that the love of our neighbor includes the love of our enemy. I don't think the Bible is calling us to be stupid in the face of our enemy. But this is Jesus' ethic. This is the biblical ethic. This is God's ethic according to Scripture.

So what would being a great nation mean? It would mean, of course, being a nation that truly serves God. But that love of God would chiefly mean being a nation that embodies the love of everyone in that nation.

2. As far as loving God, these last years have led me to take to heart Jesus' words that "narrow is the gate and few there be who find it." There will be times and places culturally where most people claim to be serving God. But the number looks to be about 30%. What I mean is, even if 60-70% of Americas were to say they are Christians, I bet the true number in the invisible church is always more like 30%.

The implication is that there will never truly be a Christian nation. In fact, by extension, perhaps only about 30% of Israel was truly Israel. We tend to confuse political units with the church, but I suspect that only 30% of the medieval Catholic church was truly part of the Church. I'm not being rigid or flippant about these thoughts. I'm only saying is that, on this planet, on this project of God in this corner of the universe, humanity seems doomed to be a majority profligate species, even after God's offer of salvation.

God couldn't care less about a people that says they are serving him. That is a trick. That is a path of self-deception. We use our power to force people to our ways and call it "Look God, we are serving you." My hunch is that those who push for this sort of civil religion are themselves probably not truly in the church. My hunch is that the greatest proponents of civil religion are themselves drunk on power rather than the Holy Spirit.

3. So a nation that serves God in name is not a nation that serves God. The greatest embodiment of a nation that serves God is a nation that loves its people and that sets up structures that embody the love of one another. Growing up, I was proud of the American experiment because I believe it at least tried to embody this biblical ideal.

What might this look like? A nation that loved its neighbors would believe that "all humans are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable" privileges, because they are all created in the image of God. That means a system of equal justice under the law, and laws that fight against the natural human gravity of tribalism and inequality toward equality.

A loving system fights against classism, racism, sexism, and any -ism that privileges--intentionally or unintentionally--one group over another. I'm speaking of equal empowerment for opportunity, not communism. "The greatest good for the greatest number" with a Bill of Rights to protect minorities and individuals from what might benefit the majority to the detriment of the minority. Yes, I believe a carefully regulated capitalism makes for greater overall human thriving. Working out the details is always a matter of expertise (and the will to do so).

4. This direction is not inevitable. I knew it, but have long wanted to believe that Dr. King's motto would be true for my lifetime. Yet I cannot say with confidence that history will look back on these days and say the right thing. I still think it will, but I'll admit I'm not sure.

What is the right thing? I think it is clear that the last three years have been a major step back in the move toward justice. Has America become more loving toward its neighbors and the world in these last three years? The self-deception of the evangelical church has been astounding.

The attitude and comments of John MacArthur on Beth Moore this past week are representative of the heart of the evangelical church in general in America. It thinks it is standing up for God when in fact God's Spirit has left the room. I wish I could say, "Let them wither on the vine." God's truth is marching on. I hope that's true.

But God's kingdom is not yet fully here. It will only be fully here when Christ returns. Until then, the true invisible Church may face some rough waters... often from the visible church.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Sermon Starters: Know Thy Frog DNA

Houghton College Chapel: 10/25/19

Text: Genesis 1:1-5

  • I used to have the role Dr. Sarah Derck has here. Every once and a while I would get a question from the parent of a prospective student. "What do you believe about evolution? What is your interpretation of Genesis 1?
  • I would usually answer two things: 1) God did it and 2) the Bible is true.
I. "All truth is God's truth."
  • When it comes to these sorts of issues, I strongly believe in an old saying: "All truth is God's truth." If you find something that is really true in one area (e.g., business), then it's going to fit with something that is really true in another area (e.g., music). Truth is what God thinks, and God thinks about a lot of things in every area.
  • So if something is true in science, it's going to fit with the truth of Scripture.
  • One big problem is that we always seem to assume that the problem is with the understanding of science and not with my understanding of Scripture.
  • We are inevitably a mixture of stuff that is really there and stuff that is really tradition, or culture, or just the fact that we are weird.
  • Matthew doesn't say there were just three wise men. Some people will get very upset with you if you tell them.
  • Jurassic Park - they mixed frog DNA with the real dinosaur DNA. We all inevitably have some frog DNA in our faith.
  • 1 Corinthians 3:11-13 - the foundation is Christ. We build stuff on him--some gold (Apostle's Creed) but also some grass (not least because you're weird).
2. Let's look at the Genesis text.
  • Genesis 1:1-2
  • I see three main take-aways: 1) God did it, 2) God did it alone, and 3) God brought order out of chaos.
  • Debate about the rest. For example, many think this is God creating out of pre-existent chaos like in the Enuma Elish or Greek Theognis.
  • I tend to read it with what I consider golden Christian glasses. Creation out of nothing (ex nihilo). Creation out of empty set! It implies that God is omnipotent and omniscient.
3. Beware of staking your faith on any one interpretation or conclusion of science.
  • Beware of the "God of the gaps."
  • Beware of the "evidence demands" approach of a certain apologetic. It is ultimately about faith and God is the one who gives us the power to have faith.
  • Having said that, it is fun to read these verses with a view to some modern science.
  • Big Bang - suggests there was a beginning. Many twentieth century scientists resisted this conclusion, including Einstein. Fred Hoyle.
  • Genesis 1:3 - author of Genesis didn't have anything like what I'm about to say in mind, but perhaps God smiled at the thought of CBR 13.8 billion years ago.
  • Fine tuning of universe: expansion just right not to rip or crunch. Just right for the right proportion of helium and hydrogen. Just the right asymmetry between matter and antimatter, just the right balance between the forces.
  • Francis Collins suggests this really only leaves two possibilities: creation or the multiverse. Both require faith.
Romans 11:33-36

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Online Science and Scripture course

taken from
I will be teaching an 8 week online course for Houghton College from late October to December called Science and Scripture. I'm excited not only for the topic but also for the notion of offering the live sessions of courses like this one as life-long learning possibilities for a broader audience.

To join the class, follow this link:

1. If you just want to audit the class, basically coming to the live sessions on Monday nights from 7-9, the cost is $150 per person. A church could then have a small group to discuss the live time later in the week or during Sunday School.

2. If you want to take it as a bona fide class for college credit and transfer it back to another college, the tuition can be paid as $300 a month for five months ($500 a credit hour).

Main Books:
Tentative Course Schedule
(Reading: B=Barbour; C=Collins; W=Walton)

Week 1: The Four Views
(Oct 28-Nov 3)
  • Reading: B xi-38; C 1-54
  • Live Session October 28 from 7-9pm EDT (25 points participation)
  • Weekly Discussion (30 points)
  • Where I am now (50 points)
Week 2: Genesis 1 and the Big Bang
(Nov 4-10)
  • Reading: B 39-64; C 57-84 W 5-45
  • Live Session November 4 (25 points participation)
  • Weekly Discussion (30 points)
  • Interpretation Work: Genesis 1:1-2 or Hebrews 11:3 (50 points)
Week 3: Quantum Physics, Determinism, and Free Will
(Nov 11-17)
  • Reading: B 65-84, 150-180; W 46-76
  • Live Session November 11 (25 points participation)
  • Weekly Discussion (30 points)
  • Interpretation Work: Psalm 139, Romans 9, Ephesians 1 (50 points)
Week 4: Adam, Eve, and Genetics
(Nov 18-24)
  • Reading: C 85-142 W 77-112
  • Live Session November 18 (25 points participation)
  • Weekly Discussion (30 points)
  • Reading Response (50 points)
Week 5: Genesis and Evolution
(Nov 25-Dec 1)
  • Reading: B 90-118; W 113-172
  • Live Session November 15 (25 points participation)
  • Weekly Discussion (35 points)
  • Interpretation Work: Genesis 1 (50 points)
Week 6: Evolution and the Fall
(Dec 2-8)
  • Reading: C 145-234; Selections
  • Live Session December 2 (25 points participation)
  • Weekly Discussion (35 points)
  • Interpretation Work: Genesis 3 or Romans 5 (50 points)
Week 7: The Fall and the Environment
(Dec 9-15)
  • Selections from Douglas and Jonathan Moo
  • Live Session December 9 (25 points participation)
  • Weekly Discussion (30 points)
  • Short Paper (50 points)
Week 8: Embodiment, the Soul, and Personhood
(Dec 16-22)
  • Reading: B 119-49; C 235-272
  • Live Session December 9 (25 points participation)
  • Weekly Discussion (30 points)
  • Final Research Paper (200 points)

Sunday, October 06, 2019

2. Leadership and Diversity Books

Will add to the list as I find them in unpacking...

Leadership, Management, Administration
  • The Making of a Leader by Bobby Clinton
  • From Good to Great by Jim Collins
  • Great by Choice by Jim Collins and Morton Hansen
  • Built to Last by Collins and Porras
  • How the Mighty Fall by Collins
  • What Got You Here Won't Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith
  • Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
  • Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  • The Starfish and the Spider by Brafman and Beckstrom
  • Leading Change by Kotter
  • Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud
  • Leadership Pain by Samuel Chand
  • Power Plays by Wayne Schmidt
  • Leadership (5e) by Northouse
  • Introduction to Leadership (2e) by Northouse
  • Leading Up by Michael Useem
  • Leading Leaders by Jeswald Salacuse
  • Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader by Ibarra
  • Mentoring Leaders by Carson Pue
  • Leading From the Inside Out by Rima
  • Leadership the Wesleyan Way, ed by Aaron Perry and Easley (I'm in there)
  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
  • Death by Meeting by Lencioni
  • The Ideal Team Player by Lencioni
  • Sticky Teams by Osborne
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
  • Think Better by Hurson
  • Brain Rules by John Medina
  • The Four Disciplines of Execution by McChesney, Covey, and Huling
  • Range by David Epstein
  • Dare to Lead by Brene Brown
  • The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson
  • Work Rules by Laszlo Bock
  • Project Management for Dummies 
  • Roberts Rules of Order
  • Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton
  • Living Your Strengths by Winseman, Clifton, and Liesveld
  • Standout 2.0 by Buckingham
  • Made to Stick by Heath and Heath
  • Eldership and the Mission of God by Briggs and Hyatt
  • Church Elders by Jeramie Rinne (deficient)
  • Half Time by Buford
  • Foundations of Church Administration by Petersen, Thomas, and Whitesel
  • Management for Your Church by Lindgren and Shawchuck
  • The Church Leader's MBA by Smith and Wright
  • What Every Pastor Should Know by McIntosh and Arn
  • The Missional Leader by Roxburgh and Romanuk
  • Five Levels of Leadership by John Maxwell
  • Amplified Leadership by Dan Reiland
  • Home Run by Kevin Myers and John Maxwell
  • A Tale of Three Kings by Edwards
  • From Success to Significance by Reeb
  • Free by Chris Anderson
  • The E Myth Enterprise by Gerber
  • The E Myth Manager by Gerber
  • The E Myth Revisited by Gerber
  • Visioneering by Stanley
  • Dare to Serve by Bachelder 
  • Unscripted by Johnson
  • The Death of Expertise by Tom Nichols
Culture and Diversity
  • Cultural Intelligence by Livermore
  • Culture Making by Crouch
  • Culture Map by Erin Meyer
  • Christ and Culture by Niebuhr
  • Christ and Culture Revisited by Carson
  • Christianity in Culture by Kraft
  • American Nations by Colin Woodard
  • Jesus Without Borders by Green, Pardue, and Yeo
  • Facing Leviathan by Mark Sayers
  • A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Race: A Theological Account by Carter
  • The Christian Imagination by Willie James Jennings
  • The Cross and the Lynching Tree by Cone
  • A Black Theology of Liberation by Cone
  • Jesus and the Disinherited by Thurman
  • Dream with Me by Perkins
  • Multiethnic Conversations by Deymaz and Okuwobi
  • Being the Church in a Multi-Ethnic Community by McIntosh and McMahan
  • Tears We Cannot Stop by Michael Eric Dyson
  • Prophetic Lament by Rah
  • Many Colors by Rah
  • Disunity in Christ by Cleveland
  • The History of White People by Painter
  • Dear White Christians by Harvey
  • Uncle Tom's Cabin
  • Social Inequity by Marger
  • We Should All Be Feminists by Adichie
  • Evicted by Desmond
  • Through My Enemy's Eyes by Munayer and Loden
  • The Lemon Tree by Tolan
  • Coming Together in the 21st Century by DeYoung
  • I Am Because We Are by Hord and Lee
  • Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria by Tatum
  • The Color of Compromise by Tisby
  • Lifting the White Veil by Hitchcock
  • Bridging the Diversity Gap by Alvin Sanders
  • Waking Up White by Irving
  • Prejudice Across America by Waller
  • Place, Not Race by Cashin
  • To Plead Our Cause by Bales and Trodd
  • The End of White Christian America by Jones
  • Embrace by LeRoy Barber
  • The Death of Race by Banum

Friday, October 04, 2019

1. Science and Math Books

I can't imagine I will complete this idea, but as I am in the process of moving, my books are largely in boxes. Wouldn't it be interesting to catalog all my books? Well, it would be for me. I'll add to the list as I find them. I've put my favorites in bold.

  • Calculus 6e, by James Stewart (this is the book I've been using to make YouTube videos on calculus for several years now)
  • Dr. Euler's Fabulous Formula by Paul Nahin
  • e: the Story of a Number by Eli Maor
  • Linear Algebra, by Richard Penney
  • No Bullshit Guide to Linear Algebra by Ivan Savov
  • Differential Equations: A First Course by Guterman and Nitecki (my college textbook)
  • Chemistry: The Central Science by Brown, LeMay, Burston, and Murphy (this is the book I've been using to make YouTube videos on chemistry for several years now)
  • University Physics, by Young and Freedman (this is the book I've been using to make YouTube videos on physics for several years now)
  • A Student's Guide to Maxwell's Equations by Daniel Fleisch
  • Fundamentals of Physics I and II by R. Shankar
  • The Feyman Lectures on Physics, vols I, II, and III
  • The Character of Physical Law by Richard Feynman
  • QED by Richard Feynman
  • Quantum Mechanics and Path Integrals by Richard Feynman and Hibbs
  • Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity by Carlo Rovelli
  • Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli
  • A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (I've had since late 80s)
  • Just Six Numbers, by Martin Rees
  • Our Mathematical Universe by Max Tegmark
  • The Road to Reality by Roger Penrose
  • The Science of Interstellar by Kip Thorne
  • The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene
  • The Hidden Reality by Brian Greene
  • The Theoretical Minimum: What You Need to Know to Start Doing Physics, by Leonard Suskind
  • Quantum Mechanics: The Theoretical Minimum by Leonard Susskind
  • Thirty Years That Shook Physics by George Gamow
  • Quantum Mechanics: A Complete Introduction, by Alexandre Zagoskin (bought in LA when I took Sophie to Pepperdine)
  • Introduction to Quantum Mechanics (2nd ed) by David Griffiths
  • Quantum Mechanics for Scientists and Engineers by David Miller (a textbook)
  • Covariant Loop Quantum Gravity by Rovelli and Vidotto
  • 30-Second Quantum Theory by Brian Clegg
  • Quantum Field Theory for the Gifted Amateur by Lancaster and Blundell 
  • Quantum Theory, by David Bohm
  • Higgs by Jim Baggott
  • Three Roads to Quantum Gravity by Lee Smolin
  • Relativity by Einstein (older version and 100th anniversary edition)
  • The Perfect Theory: A Century of Geniuses and the Battle over General Relativity by Pedro Ferreira
  • A Most Incomprehensible Thing: Notes towards a Very Gentle Introduction to the Mathematics of Relativity (both second and third edition)
  • General Relativity by Robert Ward (a thick texbook I've had since 1984)
  • Special Relativity by A. P. French
  • The Ancestor's Tale by Richard Dawkins and Yan Wong
Computer Science
  • Learning Web App Development by Semmy Purewal
  • Android: Programming and App Development for Beginners by Samuel Shields
  • The Columbia University College of Physicians Complete Home Medical Guide (since 1985... I was in a book club)
  • House Construction Details by Burbank and Romney (1979 - my dad was very patient with my requests)

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Language of God 4

So far:
Chapter 1 Notes: here
Chapter 2 Notes: here
Chapter 3 Notes: here

Chapter 4: Life on Earth
  • Begins by recapping the argument from design by William Paley. He argues against Paley's argument with a syllogism that I don't actually think is analogous. I recognize that Paley's argument is not without its questions, but I don't think Collins has really dispensed with it as easily as he thinks.
Origins of Life
  • Earth inhospitable to life for its first 500 million years. 4 billion years ago, no evidence of life. 150 years later, microbial life.
  • "No current hypothesis comes close to explaining how in the space of a mere 150 million years, the prebiotic environment that existed on Earth gave rise to life" (90). Collins is rightfully cautious about inserting God into these gaps, but I'm comfortable myself with a casual insertion. In other words, this certainly could have been God's intervention.
  • RNA may have been the path to the first life form.
  • Second Law of Thermodynamics is generally irrelevant to this discussion. "Order can certainly increase in some part of the system (as happens every day when you make the bed or put away the dishes)." The Second Law is about the total disorder, not the order/disorder of a portion of the system.
Fossil Record
  • "Suddenly, approximately 550 million years ago, a great number of diverse invertebrate body plans appear in the fossil record" (94). This is the Cambrian explosion.
  • "The vast majority of organisms that have ever lived on Earth have left absolutely no trace of their existence" (94).
  •  230 million years ago, dinosaurs dominated. An asteriod in the Yucatan peninsula toasted them and opened the door for mammals to thrive and eventually dominate.
  • Initial reaction to Darwin was mixed. B. W. Warfield accepted evolution as "a theory of the method of God's providence" (98).
  • Darwin's faith was ambiguous. He speaks of the Creator at the end of The Origin of Species. Then later he said, "Agnostic would be the most correct description of my state of mind" (99). Another time he called himself a theist.
  • He tells a little of the development of genetics, from Gregor Mendel to James Watson and Francis Crick. 
  • "Do not fear, there is plenty divine mystery left.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

The Top Ten Things I Didn’t Know about Houghton

I have now been on the Houghton College campus for about a month. Before coming here, I had certain vague impressions of the college. I knew it was a Christian college with a long and rich Wesleyan history. It had the reputation of being a really smart school, with professors and students of the highest academic caliber. (Parenthetically, a former board member suggested to me that Houghton “makes” people smart, whether students arrive that way or not.)

Now that I’m here, I have discovered some other spectacular things I had little or no idea about.

10. Morning Prayer and Daily Communion
Before I came, I had no idea that a group of students and others meet five days a week for morning prayer with the Dean of the Chapel, Michael Jordan (not the basketball player). Then in the late afternoon communion is available for anyone who can come. I didn’t know that! A special group known as the Immanuel Scholars also meet together regularly for spiritual formation and retreat.

9. Online Program
I didn't realize that Houghton had entered the online area. I heard about one Brain class in the online psychology major where they mail an eyeball to students for them to dissect. There's criminal justice, organizational management--all at Houghton quality taught primarily by the residential professors.

8. Woods, Ropes, Deer
To be honest, I did know that Houghton had beautiful waterfalls and woods all around it, but the beauty of western New York has blown me away. I came to work one morning and a deer was in the parking lot. Sometimes people joke about Houghton’s location but frankly this place is amazing. Houghton sits on 1300 acres… Let’s just say having somewhere to hike isn’t a problem. One of the first things I did when I arrived was go out to its new ropes course--fantastic!

7. Solar Power and Charging Station
I found about the solar field as I was researching the campus. What a great investment! It won’t take long before it pays for itself and then saves the campus greatly. Houghton takes seriously the Christian task of taking care of the environment (creation care), which is why it is one of a growing number of colleges that has a charging station for electric vehicles.

6. Beautiful Stone Buildings
I love the stone that unifies the buildings on campus. Story has it that red brick was not available during World War II, so someone had the idea of using river stone for the Luckey Administration Building. No one regrets it now. The campus is far more beautiful as a result.

5. Bagpipes on the Quad
The fact that Houghton is in the hills of western New York suggested “Highlanders” as the name for our teams. I heard that one of the men’s residence halls even has Highlander Games of a sort with log throws and everything. When new students begin their fall semester, they march around the spacious Quad behind a bagpiper and the President. Then as they come to graduation, they make another final round.

4. Epic Adventures
It is no surprise that there are opportunities in nature here, largely under the direction of Laura Alexeichik. Some students actually do a Highlander Program before they start their first semester, doing challenging hiking in upstate New York. There are opportunities not only to ride horses but to kayak, ski, and did I say, hike?

3. Cyclotron
On my first tour of the Payne science building, I joked about Houghton getting a particle accelerator. “Well, we have one,” Mark Yuly responded with a straight face. Houghton apparently has one of only two cyclotrons in the world of a certain size. The theme of the science departments here is “Doing Science.” There are no Sheldon Coopers here. They are all hands on experimentalists, and students here do science. This is actually the first year of the electrical engineering program with Mark Budnik coming on board.

2. London Honors
Before I came here, I didn’t know that Houghton has an honor’s program in which students go to London for the second semester of their freshman year with a faculty member and family. Houghton also has other travels abroad in which all students can participate. Students in the past have gone to everywhere from the Holy Land to Tanzania to Germany to eastern Europe. There is also a science honors program where freshman students tackle a different contemporary science problem each year.

1. Horses!
OK, I knew Houghton had horses, but I didn’t know how many—almost 40 horses. Some students bring their horses to college! They have equestrian summer camps, and people come from all over the United States for them—some come for a couple months. The equestrian studies program is one of the strongest programs at Houghton. Did someone say horses?

How did I not know about all these wonderful things?! Six distinctives here--spiritual formation, the arts, athletics, creation care, life calling, and a global reach.

But now the secret is out…

Monday, September 30, 2019

Language of God 3

See here for notes on chapter 1 and here for notes on chapter 2.

Chapter 3: The Origins of the Universe
  • "One of the most cherished hopes of a scientist is to make an observation that shakes up a field of research... Any assumption that a conspiracy could exist among scientists to keep a widely current theory alive when it actually contains serious flaws is completely antithetical to the restless mind-set of the profession" (58).
  • I resonated with this comment, although I did finally plow through Hawking after 25 years: "It seems likely that the 5 million printed copies of Hawking's book [A Brief History of Time] remain largely unread by an audience that overwhelmingly found the concepts within its pages just too bizarre to comprehend" (60).
  • Eugene Wigner: the "unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics" Why is it that math corresponds so well with the world? (62)
  • The Big Bang - actually very amenable to faith because it posits a clear beginning.
  • Robert Jastrow - "For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream.. as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries" (66).
  • "The Big Bang cries out for a divine explanation" (67).
  • The Anthropic Principle - basically he presents the fine tuning argument for the existence of God. "Our universe is wildly improbable" (74). This basically reduces to two possibilities--a multiverse or God. As a stand alone universe, not at all a realistic option--too improbable.
  • Freeman Dyson - "The universe in some sense must have known we were coming" (76).
  • Bottom line - "The Anthropic Principle certainly provides an interesting argument in favor of a Creator" (78).
  • Laplace argued hard determinism around 1800. Quantum mechanics smashes him to quantum bits.
  • Genesis is poetic. Augustine - "In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take a stand that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it" (83).

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Language of God 2

Here are some notes on chapter 2 of The Language of God.
(notes on chapter 1 here)

Chapter 2: The War of the Worldviews
  • "Doubt is an unavoidable part of belief" (33).
  • Paul Tillich: "Doubt isn't the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith."
He treats four objections to belief in God:

1. Isn't it just wish fulfillment?
  • Freud--"at bottom God is nothing other than an exalted father" (37).
  • Countered by Lewis: wish fulfillment would likely give rise to a very different kind of God than the one described in the Bible.
  • Lewis: "Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists." (38)
  • But in a materialistic world, Annie Dillard speaks of the growing void: "We doused the burning bush and cannot rekindle it." (39)
2. What about harm done in the name of religion?
  • Voltaire: "Is it any wonder that there are atheists in the world, when the church behaves so abominably?" (40-41)
  • Marx: "Religion is the opiate of the masses" (41)
  • "A real evaluation of the truth of faith depends upon looking at the clean, pure water, not at the rusty containers" (42).
3. Why would God allow suffering?
  • Lewis - It would be an inner contraction for God to give free will and yet withhold it. (43) I don't find this argument convincing. I do agree that a world with some freedom seems better than a world without it, but it seems to me that it's above our pay grade to know how true this is.
  • Polkinghorne's distinction between physical and moral evil. I personally prefer not to call natural evil evil at all. For me, evil by definition requires an agent.
  • Lewis: "God shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world" (46). Sure, sometimes, perhaps most of the time. Not sure this does all the work Lewis wants it to.
4. What about miracles?
  • "A miracle is an event that appears inexplicable by the laws of nature and so is held to be supernatural in origin" (48).
  • "If we hold a philosophy which excludes the supernatural, this is what we always shall say" (that the supposed miracle was an illusion of some sort).
  • Bayes' Theorem - allows you to calculate the probability of observing a particular event. (49)
  • Not only materialism will kill the notion of miracles but also "claiming of miracle status for everyday events for which natural explanations are readily at hand" (52).
  • Polkinghorn: "Miracles are not to be interpreted as divine acts against the laws of nature... but as more profound revelations of the character of the divine relationship to creation" (53).
  • What I like about Collins approach is his insistence that we not play the miracle card too quickly, especially for gaps in our scientific knowledge. He also talks about God stacking the deck of probabilities toward a miracle within the realm of possibilities.

Lectures on Philosophy

My intention is to slowly accumulate video lectures introducing philosophy from one Christian point of view. Here is the introduction to philosophy that I wrote.

0. Is Philosophy Christian? (18 minutes)
1. The Questions of Philosophy (25 minutes)

2. Thinking Clearly (logic)
3. The Existence of God (philosophy of religion)
4. The Question of Evil (37 minutes, philosophy of religion)

5. What is a Person? (philosophical psychology)
6. Perspectives on Ethics
7. Perspectives on Society
8. Perspectives on Truth
9. Philosophy of Language
10. Philosophy of Science
11. Philosophy of History
12. Philosophy of Art

Friday, September 27, 2019

Language of God I

I'm teaching an online Science and Scripture course from October to December (more to come). So I'm pulling some books off my shelf and have purchased even more in preparation. A classic, although not even 15 years old, is Francis Collins' The Language of God. I don't think I'll have time to blog through the whole thing, but here is chapter 1.
  • Interesting that the human genome was cracked six months into this millennium--3 billion letters long
  • Bill Clinton: "most wondrous map ever produced by humankind... We are learning the language in which God created life." (4)
  • "The goal of this book is to explore a pathway toward a sober and intellectually honest integration" of scientific and spiritual perspectives. (6)
  • In chapter 1 he charts his pilgrimage. Chemistry to medicine, agnosticism to atheism.
  • Then he speaks of his awakening.
C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity was what pulled him in. He found his pathway to faith looking like that of Lewis. I am delighted that he came to faith. The moral argument seems to have done the trick for him.

For me, the fine tuning argument is the most persuasive, and I still find the cosmological argument significant. However, the moral argument has never grabbed me, nor has Lewis for that matter. No matter. I have no desire here to question Lewis or Collins.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

I know some Christian colleges, Liberty University students.

A number of students at Liberty University have protested what they see as immoral and/or unethical behavior from its senior administration:

I am quite convinced there are Christian colleges where the students don't have those sorts of complaints about their administration.

For example, I work at a university in western New York called Houghton College. It's a campus of less than a thousand where everyone knows everyone, and the professors are deeply invested not only in the intellectual but in the spiritual life of their students. I also guarantee you that the Christian commitment of the president and administration are on the highest level.

It's a place where your faith will get stronger while asking the hard questions. It's a place where you can figure out your life direction if you aren't sure. It's a place where everybody knows your name.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Houghton Ranked Third!

Houghton ranked third among liberal arts colleges in the area of social mobility. In addition to ranking 123 among liberal arts colleges in the nation, Houghton is known for helping individuals without an initial advantage thrive in society.

You can read more here:

Houghton Ranked a Best Liberal Arts College for 2020

Saturday, September 14, 2019

1.5 Sunday at the Beginning

9. It was a Christian college, so there was a worship service for all the new students Sunday morning. That afternoon there would be a church fair where most of the churches in the area would set up tables on the quad if it didn't rain. A few even had special gatherings that evening for anyone who was interested in learning more.

The worship was a fun service. It was mostly contemporary Christian music, although they did start with the campus hymn--Great is Thy Faithfulness. The worship band was pretty good. Lucy noticed that there was a good mix of people in the band--guys, gals, white, black, Hispanic, Asian.

The Dean of the Chapel preached. She was good. Her text was Joshua 1:9--"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged. The LORD your God is with you wherever you go." As far as Mac could tell, she was not reading from a paper. He hated it when the preacher read from a manuscript. Those sermons were usually more boring.

But Lucy could tell she wasn't simply making up what she was saying on the fly. She could tell she had worked on the sermon long enough that she could speak conversationally. She had notes but she never looked at them but was able to walk across the stage from one side to the other without missing a word.

10. Highlander University was broadly Methodist. With the Scottish connections, Presbyterian might have made more sense but its founder was a Scotsman whose parents had come under the spell of a horse riding Methodist named Francis Asbury in the early 1800s. Elijah Shepherd was in his fifties when he decided to pass on a portion of his wealth to found the college in 1867.

He had made his money on the canal, especially on logging. Although he had been an abolitionist in principle, he felt guilty for not doing more before the Civil War. He made sure that African-Americans were welcome at the college from the very beginning. In fact, two of the ministers in the very first class were former slaves who had escaped to the north through the Underground Railroad.

At the beginning, it had been Highlander Seminary, focused on training Methodist ministers. But the first president of the college convinced Elijah that the school needed to provide a broad education to both men and women. And women were a part of the school from its earliest days, some of whom had been present at Seneca Falls when the woman's movement began. Others had been there when Luther Lee preached the ordination service of the first woman to be ordained in the States.

So the church most associated with the church was Methodist, and more students and faculty attended there than any other church. Lucy and Mac had more or less assumed that was where they would go. There were regular chapels at eleven in the morning on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. But they were not meant to substitute for regular going to church.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

1.4 Class Preview Day

6. The evening brought res hall parties. Lucy and Mac forgot that they were even on the same campus together. Neither of them were much into such social events, but they found themselves having fun nonetheless. There were plenty of snacks and games. Lucy spotted one or two possible friends, and Mac just blended in without thinking much about it. They quickly realized that their own roommates probably wouldn't end up their best friends.

The morning brought the first day of class... sorta. The university had decided to start classes on the Friday before Labor Day, just to dip the students' toes in the water of college. There would be more orientation on Saturday and they would have Monday off. So Friday they walked through their classes.

7. When Lucy had made her deposit--$200--she had declared Environmental Science as her major. One of the distinctives of Highlander University was an "integrated science curriculum." All science majors took either a biology-chemistry combination or a physics-calculus combination their first year. Then they took the other the second year. And the chemistry and physics courses were designed to connect to each other.

So after answering a few questions, an admissions counselor set up a schedule for her. She would start with eight credit hours of the biology-chemistry combination. Then she had the "Themes of the Bible course." Finally she took three hours of Spanish 3 to finish out a language requirement, since she had Spanish in high school. It was a total of 15 hours, a respectable first semester load.

Mac wasn't exactly sure what to major in. Criminal Justice sounded interesting, although he wasn't entirely sure what it was about. It sounded like something a policeman might study. So the admissions counselor signed him up for Intro to Sociology, Spanish 3, philosophy, and, on a whim, ROTC. It was a 13 hour load, a light load for a chill guy to slide into college.

8. The administration insisted that the first day of class be fairly light. There were always professors that wanted to crack a whip to shock the new students into college, but they had been squelched. The day was meant to be more like a preview day. In fact, it was scheduled so that a student could get a taste of almost every class they had, even if it didn't meet on Friday.

On Saturday their FYE groups met to discuss how the first day had gone and to look at their syllabi--the blueprints for each class. There was pizza for lunch and then the first home football game of the year on Saturday afternoon. That was fun, especially since they won. Then Saturday night was yet another res hall social to keep growing the new relationships.