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
  • 7.1 Political Philosophy
  • 7.2 Social Philosophy
  • 7.3 Economic Philosophy
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.

Monday, September 02, 2019

1.3 NSO continues

4. At one o'clock, parents and young people separated for the first time. The students met their group leaders, grabbed ice cream, and then headed off to the classroom where their First Year Experience (FYE) class would meet that semester. It was quite a clever set up. One of their freshmen classes was designated a first year experience class, but it was much more than a class. It had attached to it a one hour class called "First Year Experience" that helped them adjust to college and involved a lot of pizza.

So Lucy's FYE class was connected to a required course called "Central Themes of the Bible." Mac's attached class was "Intro to Sociology." They were smaller sized classes of about 15 that made it possible for them to get to know a professor really well. Only the best and most helpful professors were chosen to teach those classes.

Then for the one hour FYE part, some activity was always planned involving either the professor or their group leader. One week they would go over to the professor's house for supper. Another week they went to see a movie. Around mid-term, they had a pizza party. Meanwhile, both the professor and the group leader met at least once one-on-one with every student to have coffee at the campus coffee shop, "The Grounds."

5. Meanwhile, the parents went to the recital hall to hear the president. She gave them a little flavor of the college, touting its three historic emphases of virtue, scholarship, and service. She especially encouraged them to let their children go, to let them become responsible for the next phase of their lives. She strongly suggested that they resist the urge to visit their children (or vice versa) for at least the next month.

Then at 2:30 was a Consecration Service, where the parents symbolically handed over their children to the Lord. The president spoke again. At one point she invoked Ron Weasley from Harry Potter, "So you're going to suffer, but you're going to be happy about it." She emphasized that for the next three or four years they were going to be challenged intellectually, spiritually, and probably relationally and even physically (the hills on the campus were notorious). But she assured them they would be better prepared for life and whatever job they ended with than at the vast majority of colleges.

At the end of the service the new students marched out of the chapel following a man in a Scottish kilt playing bagpipes. They marched around the "quad," as it was called, and then returned to the chapel for their first class photo. More ice cream and refreshments with their parents, and their parents were off.