Agreeing On Nothing

Dear Russell & Friends,

Good morning.  I’ve missed you and thought often of you as I fire up the Charity Miles app.  Our RussellandPascal team has 6 members now with a total of 169 miles.  If my math is correct, that is over $41 donated to various charities that move us.  If my musing is correct, that is new money that we had perhaps intended to give but had not acted on.  Please join our team if you are able.  We would like to see half the blog followers join in the next one year and our goal for mileage is >10,000 (time to goal uncertain).

Russell and I had breakfast a week ago and after two hours we agreed upon nothing.  Don’t despair.  The reason I led with the Charity Miles collaboration is to remind you of how much we do agree on.  And, one cup of coffee in, it is quite possible that my insistence we agree upon nothing is a double entendre.  We talked about this book that I lent to Russell over Christmas break – –

the information

I loved the book and further thought that it might help me to understand my friend.  It did.  Here is another book that I’m reading with an extended quote below.


Love is not an easy thing; it is not just an emotional urge, but an attempt to move over and sit in the other person’s place and see how his problems look to him.  Love is a genuine concern for the individual.  As Jesus Christ reminds us, we are to love that individual “as ourselves.”  This is the place to begin.  Therefore, to be engaged in personal “witness” as a duty or because our Christian circle exerts a social pressure on us, is to miss the whole point.  The reason to do it is that the person before us is an image-bearer of God, and he is an individual who is unique in the world.  This kind of communication is not cheap.  To understand and speak to sincere but utterly confused twentieth-century people is costly.  It is tiring; it will open you to temptations and pressures.  Genuine love, in the last analysis, means a willingness to be entirely exposed to the person to whom we are talking.   —  Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There

How did these two books relate?  Gleick, in The Information, helped me to love my friend Russell.  I read the book with fascination and took notes in the cover.  I think I took notes – – Russell still has the book.  I read it around the same time that Russell introduced me to Sean Carroll and Howie and began to think – – why don’t I think this way?  It is quite a beautiful way to think.

Information theory then has become an area of interest for me and obsession for Russell (I’ll ask him to correct me if I overstate; I frequently do for effect).  Information theory found its way into our taco breakfast last week and helped us to agree on nothing.  Please accept a brief paraphrase.

R:  Even in the outer boundary of the known universe there is information.

P:  I don’t see it.  Quantum fluctuation maybe . . .

R:  But, that is information.

P:  I’m tracking – – I just didn’t consider that useful information.  So you’ll accept the noise and not just the signal?

R:  Yes.

P:  Remember how we’ve had a hard time agreeing about the definition of nothing?  How I insist that the Universe can’t naturally be made from nothing?

R:  Yes, but that has never bothered me.

P:  You know it bothers me?

R:  I do.

P:  So would you accept the complete lack of information as nothing?

R:  I would.

There are not many readers of this blog who will recognize the milestone that this represents in Russell’s and my communication.  We have gone to great lengths to understand each other, deconstruct straw men and yes – – to love each other.  As Schaeffer says, it has not been easy.  But this agreement, on nothing, meant the world to me.

Where will it lead?  Do I jump directly to an apologetic based on ex nihilo nilo fit?  Absolutely not.  I finish the post and prepare to run a 10K trail with two of my sons, thankful that I’ll log 6.2 more miles for water.  On that run I’ll thank my God for my friend and thank him for the love that lets us to talk to not past each other.

Pascal – – 1:16


  1. What if…what we think is the signal is really the noise? Isn’t that the crux of a lot of the miscommunication between people like you and Russell (and Christians and questioners everywhere)? Everybody’s signal is someone else’s noise; one man’s objectivity is another’s subjectivity. Maybe that disconnect is the REAL noise that keeps us from hearing each other…

    Liked by 4 people

    1. What if indeed. Welcome back.

      I think you’re right and we (you and I) tend to think metaphorically. This conversation with Russell was very concrete. We have episodically talked about dark matter, the charms of quarks and several other things that I barely understand. And we could never agree on nothing. We both agreed that dark matter, as mysterious as it may be, is something. Although the Large Hadron Collider may or may not elucidate that mystery it is not an excuse for me to place my God in the gap.

      So, for us, in a very literal sense this was a milestone. Your points about subjectivity and objectivity are well taken and honestly how I prefer to think. I like very much when you call a spade a spade and help me to clarify my thinking.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hey!

        Sorry, I didn’t mean to try and spade anything, really! It just made me think. The tangential is my stock in trade. I’m glad for you two. May there be many more breakfasts where “nothing” is resolved. :0)

        Liked by 1 person

    1. It counts! 🙂

      From their FAQ page

      Can I do anything other than walk, run or bike?

      Absolutely! Skipping, skating, hoping, rolling and all other human-propelled activities are perfectly acceptable. The app does not feature a setting for every activity. You should just choose whatever setting (Walk, Run or Bike) that is most applicable to what you are doing.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent post, my friend. There is so much I want to say about nothing but there’s no time. We must revisit this and make sure nothing is examined in detail! 🙂

    Seriously, I love the Schaeffer quote and I think it represents you perfectly. You’re always reading from other perspectives to help you understand someone who thinks differently than you, and that is an extremely respectable quality in my eyes. It’s one of the most important attributes we can embrace, and really serves to raise the ideological bell-curves and depolarize the extreme ends of our human concerns. You inspire me in that way and your commitment to understand others it what makes you so good as a friend to skeptics. 🙂

    Enjoy the rest of your trip. I’ll decide on something to post about after I read through your last few posts and respond to a few comments. Not sure if it will be about nothing or not. 🙂

    Gentleness and respect,



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