Straw Men

Dear Dr. Robert Jeffress,

Dear Russell & Friends,

I’ve cc:ed you on my open letter to Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church Dallas, Texas.  For point of reference, I’m responding to his sermon here:

Dear Dr. Jeffress,

My name is Pascal and I am a follower of Christ.  I have done so since I was a child, trained by imperfect but godly parents who loved me and taught me to to love scripture.  I had not heard your name or seen your face before you chose to address the world in the guise of addressing your congregation.  My first impression was that you must be a Republican politician.  Red tie.  Dark suit.  Dour expression with forced smiles.  When I searched your name, most posts were from Fox News.  First impressions can be illuminating.  Malcolm Gladwell would call it a blink.  That was type 1 thinking – – a heuristic reflex that recoiled and said – – this man is a Pharisee.  In this open letter, let me return to type 2 and carefully respond to what you carelessly constructed.

“As Christians we follow the Bible.  We follow the New Testament specifically.  You cannot find a verse anywhere in the New Testament that commands us to kill unbelievers.”  Jeffress, above: 1:50-

Your polemic was actually very short on the scripture that I love.  Let’s go to that scripture to evaluate your words.  First:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.  James 3:1

Jesus’ brother James is talking to both of us.  We both teach.  You teach the scripture as a vocation and presumably well for you were called to teach at a powerful church in one of America’s largest cities.  By posting on YouTube you are teaching more people than could ever crowd that building and reaching those who would never darken its doors.  What about scripture?  What does scripture say about itself?  Second:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  2 Timothy 3:16-17

Your assertion that Christians follow the New Testament specifically is constructed in a way that dismisses the Old Testament.  As a debater, I understand why you did it.  The Old Testament is rife with verses that say exactly what you assert the Qu’ran says.  As a believer, I must remind you that our whole story of redemption – – creation, fall, chosen tribe to bless the earth, saviour and much of what we learn about government comes from the Hebrew scriptures – – our Old Testament.  Paul, who wrote the precious verses to his young pastor mentee Timothy above, loved scripture and said that it was useful.  Christians follow all of scripture.  What is scripture useful for?  It is useful for one thing I’ve honestly never used it for before – – rebuking error, even from a pastor-politician.

You said that God does not intend man to live without borders and that securing borders is the God-given priority of government.  Be careful.  Using God’s name in vain does not only mean swearing.  It means speaking for him without sufficient study and respect.  A false prophet uses God’s name in vain.  In support of your argument you quoted this:

From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.  Acts 17:26

Paul was speaking in Athens on Mars Hill to believers in all current faiths, including those who believed in no God.  To read the words in context belies your thesis.  What does scripture say that God intends for the people of the world?

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.  Rev 7:9

At the outset of your speech, a version of which I expect to see at the Republican National Convention for which you were auditioning, Christ-following was constrained – – even reduced – – to the New Testament.  False.  Scripture rebukes you.  That allowed you to conclude that Donald Trump was right.  Shame on you. What does scripture say about refugees and immigrants?  Again and again – – it says this:

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them.  The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born.  Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God. Lev 19:33-34

I realize your position.  You are an elder.  I recognize that scripture warns me to take accusations against an elder very seriously and to do so only in the presence of other mature believers.  That is why this letter is as open as the video that you posted.

You are wrong.  You have misrepresented scripture and handled it poorly.  You have used your pulpit for politics.  Change.  Bring back the prophecy of truth telling, not punditry.  Go back to the full counsel of scripture.  Repent (turn around) and pray for God to humble your heart.  He will if you ask.  I’ve been there and he’s forgiven me of my foolish pride too.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 2 Tim 2:15

Deeply grieved,

Pascal – – 1:16

 

Revery Interrupted

Dear Russell & Friends,

I had intended to post on stewardship this morning and was thinking about the structure of the post and the planned alliteration before falling asleep last night.  I awoke to the morning solitude, strong coffee, an open journal and the internet newspaper.

Again.  Terror again.  Violence directed at the unarmed and uninvolved. Violence without warning, without defense.  Violence by those wanting to die – – a locally uncounterable strategy.  And those who started a normal day weep.  And those loved ones lost.  And I just can’t write about stewardship or even the punchline – – time.

I grieve with you, those who suffer the sudden loss of love now fully recognized.  I grieve with you, those in physical pain and mental shock in Paris hospitals.  I grieve with you friends and families at the bedsides I have so frequently attended feeling – – helpless.

Dare I grieve for the misguided, angry and evil young men who convinced themselves that this was for God’s glory?  Dare I grieve for the mothers of these men and wonder if this was their aspiration?  Dare I grieve for those who hold their faith as preciously as I hold mine and see themselves disdainfully numbered amongst the criminally insane?  I dare.

Dear God – – I know these few sentences will be a thin slice of what is aching in my heart. Please comfort the broken.  Please heal the hurt.  Please walk amongst us with compassion and join our suffering as you did in Jesus Christ.  Please forgive these most despicable of our enemies and give us the courage to follow your lead.  Thank you for being there and for caring when we hurt too much to breathe.

Love,

Pascal – – 1:16

 

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.

schaeffer

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

Russell Unplugged

2003_Faith_Saturn_electro-acoustic_guitar

 

Dear Russell & Friends,

Good morning.  I’ve been thinking about this post for nearly a week and the coffee is just right.  Perhaps this will serve as useful background for those new to our blog.  It will certainly serve as therapy for me.  Most of the activity on the blog lately has been on Russell’s post The Problem.  It is one of his most important posts.  He might (would) put iMultiverse in the short list too.  A few miles away from here, perhaps in his sleep, Russell just smiled.

The comments have multiplied on The Problem as Russell has found a new interlocutor, unkleE.  I am 43 years old.  Russell is 7 years younger.  unkleE is twice Russell’s age and is doing, I think, what I want to do when I grow up.  He is reading, writing, engaging those who do not share his perspective of belief.  However, he is doing it in a way that I can’t – – from the personality type of INFP (81%) or ISFP (76%).  If I take the former it is only 1 letter away from Russell – – INTP.  So, from the perspective of age and from the perspective of a similar engineering-type personality he can engage Russell in ways that I can’t.

So what happened?  They both went out of their way not to offend.  That’s what I’ve been thinking about.  I have Russell’s permission to share our text stream as some of the comments unfolded.  One thing you’ll notice is that these texts had something I’ve never seen before – – an arrow at the bottom designed to reveal the words incapable of display on the largest of iPhones.  For an introvert, Russell has a lot to say.  That belies one of the misconceptions about introverts.  We have plenty to say.  Its just more comfortable in writing or with people we know well.  Russell has posted some of this in his own reply, but I’d like to give you a flavor of the text stream and what it means to know someone.  Concluding at the beginning, it takes time.  Russell and I are 2 1/2 years into a friendship that I hope will last.  It has not been easy to listen well or to be heard.  But it has been worth it.

 

R:  The unkleE comment was focused on one thing… why I’m not highly convinced that fine-tuning is a problem. He things I haven’t read enough, don’t understand the science, don’t understand large numbers, and am too biased against the evidence. That didn’t seriously hurt my feelings. I responded with more details, that’s his punishment for being critical. Haha. Gotcha’ unkleE! 🙂

P:  you two are quite a pair

R:  Indeed. I think we should Skype and hang out. I bet we’d get along great! That reminds me, are you still interested in trying a podcast, hangout-on-air youtube video with just our logo up, or some other type of audio-only conversation sometime?

P:  I actually am.  I’m interested in more than i’m successfully executing right now which is a deep and constant frustration

R:  I ran it by Howie and he’s interested. He’d join us.

I can see it being huge benefit for me for at least two reasons. Communicating ideas will, once the kinks are worked out, hopefully be done more efficiently. And it’s helpful to communicate tone of voice which adds important inflection and other vital information to the topic being discussed. It’s not very search engine friendly, but most of our hits probably don’t come from that and we have plenty of other written content on the site. I’d really like to see a comment on the blog, hit a button, record a response and paste it as a link. Haha. It would also be great to take someone’s question or point and invite people to a round-table discussion via hangouts-on-air, etc. I’d rather not do it live until we polish up a bit, though. 😊

I think I’ve made a mess of things on The Problem. In my very rushed responses I’ve done a poor job of taking the time to be as gentle as I’d prefer to be while disagreeing. Sigh. This is a rough time for me for multiple reasons. I need to learn to deal with those who challenge and criticize my form of reasoning without helping me understand and improve it by explaining exactly where it’s wrong and why. When I feel criticized with nothing to back it up, apparently, I push to hard to delineate my steps and get them to explain, but the only thing that gets discussed are the irrelevant details that aren’t part of the reasoning. I write so much that it’s hard for anyone to focus and I usually make a mistake or two that gets us further off topic. Then I get behind on work and rush my comments even more and, without taking the time to polish them, they sound more confrontational than I’d like. I now have two people saying what you’ve said (I require too much evidence). It’s not lost on me that more than one should sound alarms. Evidently, this is a hot-button issue for me. Not being told that, but being told that without an example to help me learn from. When I list the steps in my reasoning and show where I doubt and why, those specifics are avoided as if I didn’t say them (at least so far). I’m really looking for the place, exactly where my folly resides, but nobody seems to be pointing to it. I’m really beginning to feel like I’m just a very poor communicator. Maybe I am just blind to it and they’ve been pointing all along. But that doesn’t help me. 😟 I fear this is the central issue of the blog. People in camp A think people in Camp B require too much evidence. People in Camp B think people in Camp A are failing to express that they been aware of and properly considered all the assumptions and counter-evidence (often, like you, they have considered it). I don’t think anyone is believing things that are unjustifiable to them, and very few are believing things that don’t make sense. It’s almost always a communication problem where we don’t see everyone else’s evidence. So when other people think my standards are too high rather than assuming, as I do, that I’ve just seen different evidence, I want to either see what they’re seeing and fix the holes in my reasoning or ask them to tone it down a bit. But getting to the point where they point out flaws that are actually there rather than ones they assume because I didn’t clearly state everything in my comment, or getting to the point where they are willing to say it’s just different evidence rather than a high bar for evidence – both seem equally unachievable. Thousands of words later I don’t feel much closer to a resolution and I’ve likely offended people, which is the opposite of what I want. I have learned how to better express my argument for why I don’t have high confidence in fine-tuning, but I don’t think it’s helped. I think I’ve learned a lot of things not to do. No argument or point is worth being anything less than gentle and respectful, even when I feel continually misrepresented and as though almost all my key arguments are ignored, and even when time is short. This was a great lesson. Sigh. Thanks for the advice here. This helped a lot! 😊

P:Talk to your wife and ask her opinion.  She knows your heart better than anyone and will have insight here.  I think you are right about the central issue.  I can’t process the cognitive burden of 5,000 word comments and I accept different evidence in addition to empiric evidence.  The Hume quote bothered me because it was simplistic.  How much of your text do I have permission quote in a post of my own?

R:  Good advice. You can quote anything. I feel misunderstood when people think I only accept empirical evidence. Another sigh. I read interpreted his quote differently, as proportioning the level of certainty we hold to the level of evidence (pro and con). Non-empirical evidence counts, but empirical often should count more, so it’s a balance thing. I think most people agree with this, but we all tend to interpret things, at least initially, the way we’re primed for. That’s why I think the real difference tends to be that some people are comfortable staying in their beliefs if they seem right and feel good. Others have more of a tendency to actively seek out other potential explanations that could also account for the evidence (all kinds) and then hold back certainty a bit in the hopes that they don’t confidently believe false things. That’s why I try to learn about the assumptions and biases and examine them all for most claims. I can see that it’s unusual. But that seems to be the real difference. I don’t require empirical evidence or more evidence for confidence. But if I see other potentially equal or better explanations after actively examining everything, I’ll withhold certainly that my favored or initial explanation is definitely the right one. Does any of that make sense?

Also, I think the more someone is aware of and understands other alternate explanations and is aware of and fearful of their own biases (fear they made lead them confidently away from truth), the more they tend to reserve certainty in more things.  If someone has a personality that isn’t interested in such things, or hasn’t been made aware of both the flaws in our reasoning and alternative explanations, they tend to see people like me as being too critical. They just don’t think the same way. So I completely get where they’re coming from, I just think that sometimes they assume I just require too much evidence so that science won’t even lead me to confidence. What I really do is balance my confidence against all the factors I see, which isn’t usually what everyone else sees, because more than wanting to be right, I really don’t want to be confidently wrong. I think you and unkleE are somewhere in the middle on that spectrum (believe what feels right vs actively search for better alternative explanations and the modifying weight of our own biases) and I’m just closer to one end. I don’t like being on the end. 😦 Making the bell curve taller is my goal in all of this.

Wait, there are some people who do require empirical evidence and hold strong beliefs against the supernatural, etc., so am a little closer to the middle than I feared. 🙂 I need to be emphasizing caution to them more. We don’t see many. Instead I spend my time taunting biases and other possible explanations to well behaving believers in faith. Anytime I mention bias or MR I cringe. I really don’t like my position. There are very few situations one can feel like they’re being accused of bias and not feel criticized and defensive. It’s like you’re position of discussing sin. It has to start with us. I am biased too, etc. Everything on your side rests on our sin and need for a savior. Everything on mine rests on the flaws in our reasoning and alternative explanations that should keep us cautious of too much certainty. At the same time, you seem to get by just fine without talking about the points that offend people (sin) nearly as much as I talk about my offensive points. Of course, that’s largely because much of your audience doesn’t believe in it. 🙂 Some don’t believe bias applies to them either. Still, I need to learn from you. I feel my position is the more critical. 😦

P:  Wow.  Just read the last comment exchange.  IMO it would not have hurt your position to wait before responding.  IYO there were compelling reasons to respond promptly and perhaps the processing was already complete.  Hmmm…

R:  Haha. I know. I would have liked to have waited. 😦 On the other hand, I’m with family this weekend and have to drive tonight and get an early start tomorrow. I’m so far behind on everything that I really need to not have this dragging out during the week. If I didn’t respond this week I fear I may never respond. Losing momentum would have made it much harder to get back into the process and I likely would choose that over a post or two. I know you think he thinks like me, and in some sense he does because he can be technical, but in many other major areas I can’t see it. He and I process things as differently as you and I do. I wanted him to continue a few posts ago by addressing my responses to the actual argument he had made about fine-tuning rather than his opinion of my reasoning, unless he was willing to provide specifics that were related to the arguments. That’s not what’s been happening. He says it will happen in a future post on his site, but not in these comments, so they’re aren’t very helpful. The current cycle or avoiding those assumptions about his argument has gone through too many loops without being addressed and it’s dragging me down. It’s cut into my workout time more than my work time and that’s eating away at me. I wanted to wait, but more than that I wanted to be done so I can refocus. I caved. 😦 I feel bad about it. There is a lot of pressure from various areas at the moment and it was a huge relief to see something resolve. I realized this morning that what I pasted into the response was not my final draft but my first draft, which wasn’t softened. 😦 I do feel bad that I ended it on that and it was too offensive. Thank you for your follow-up, that helped a lot. 🙂

I just listened to that comment from last night. I wish I could delete it or edited it. But that wouldn’t be right. I really should have waited. 😦

Or at least checked it over to make sure it was the final version I had in the clipboard before I posted it. 😦

I will learn from this. Have a great day, Pascal.
kant_spinoza

R:  The last two points on each seem quite relevant.

Out of the block quotes and back to the coffee musings.  The last two points didn’t move me as much as the third and fourth bullet of the second section.  When I read how Spinoza handled the work of his predecessors and logical contradictions it resonated.  Did Russell feel the same way about Kant’s views?

So there it is – – a text exchange long enough for a post.  Why?  Because I sit across the breakfast table from this friend of mine and want to understand him better.  I like the way his mind works and want to discuss things on his terms, but I get in my own way.  I’m more like Spinoza (not a theist if I recall).

I do think that unkleE and Russell need to take a break.  I honestly agree more with unkleE in his way of processing.  But I won’t be able to communicate that well in writing.  I’ll need to communicate that in person with body language and tone of voice included.  That should happen Thursday night and in the many breakfast tacos that will follow.

If you have ever had the feeling of talking past someone or being talked past (Russell and I have both done that to each other then reconciled in person) how do you proceed?

Pascal – – 1:16

*photo credit:  By Tim Walker from United Kingdom (2003 Faith Saturn electro-acoustic guitar) [CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

On Evidence and Faith

old fashioned scale

Dear Russell & Friends,

I hope this Saturday morning finds you well.  Yes uncleE and other friends in Australia, I realize it is almost Sunday.  This has been a week like all others.  One fiftieth of another year elapsed.  I do not know what proportion that year represents of my supposed middle aged life.  A treasured work colleague one year younger than me died suddenly yesterday.  His partner, our community, and I grieve.

Because I don’t know if I’m in the middle or a day from the end, the conversation here means more to me.  You mean more to me.  I’m sorry for doubting it.  No — that’s not true.  Doubt is part of who I am and a reason I feel drawn to you.  Reason.  That’s what I’d like to address this morning.  I’m grateful to Mike for his guest post and the respect that he showed in our home here.  He is a thoughtful atheist who is willing to talk.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.  Hebrews 11:1 (KJV)

Mike quoted this scripture in a dialogue with Eric (uncleE) about evidence and faith.  It started with a comment that Mike offered in his guest post.  I’d like to provide the paragraph before as well for needed context.

I’m all about secularity and think people should be free to choose religion or non-religion. If anyone tried to take religious folks rights away to choose a religion, I would be in the front lines with them.

However, I will not pretend that I agree with religion – Christian or otherwise, and I’m certainly not adverse to sharing my views and doing my best to convince others to embrace evidence based thinking instead of faith.

The first paragraph is important to me because I need to emulate it.  I need to stand for people whose convictions I do not share.  I live in America, an imperfect place.  But one blessing that I should not take for granted is the ability to speak without being stifled.  How can I realize that blessing without defending it for another?  That was the core of Mike’s first paragraph and I appreciate it.

The second paragraph is important to me because Russell and I have often reached a point of impasse here.  Is the word instead correct?  I feel that it is the pivot of the sentence at least, likely the paragraph, perhaps the thesis.

Back to Mike’s scripture reference.  It is one of my favorites and I chose to use the King James Version because I remember it from childhood and it has the words evidence and faith in close juxtaposition.  As a Christ follower in a scientific vocation, this verse has meant the world to me.

Is faith blind?  Is it always required?  The text in Hebrews says that faith is the substance of things hoped for.  Is faith needed for things already realized?  Probably not.  I do not have faith for a table.  I’m sitting at it.  Is faith the substance of my hope for my children to follow Christ?  It is.  Is faith separated from hard work?  By no means.  My favorite epistle is James.  Martin Luther called it the epistle of straw.  I don’t particularly like Martin Luther.  James said that faith without works is dead.  So, if my faith that my sons will follow Christ is to have life, should I lead an authentic life worthy of imitation?  I argue yes.  I have faith – – belief – – in what I hope for but have not yet realized.  That faith is coupled with effort.  I can not have faith that Mike and I can continue respectful dialogue.  I have to be willing to write letters and to carefully read his.

Faith is the evidence of things not seen.  Allow me to be clear.  I am an old earth creationist.  I believe that God created the universe by authoring natural laws and allowed us to evolve to sentience.  I don’t think he directed every mutation.  He could have, but the scientific evidence does not point that way.  I don’t believe that Genesis is literal.  I do believe it is completely true.  As a student and lover of language, allegory has never bothered me.  In biological science, I have some degree of expertise.  In physical science, I have enough knowledge to plumb the depths of my own ignorance.  In social science, I have compassion, but not Mike’s degree of professional knowledge, expertise and practice.  As an aside, social workers are some of my favorite people on earth.  How is faith evidence?  Did I take on faith the existence of Pluto?  It could have been another light source that we didn’t understand.  In a thin way I did before the photos came back, but that’s not what I’m talking about.  I take on faith that my life will continue if it ends tomorrow.  That is a bold claim that I can’t prove.  My personal version of Pascal’s wager is this:  if I’m wrong I won’t know it  — the can’t lose position for an egotist like me.  That is a statement of faith.

Faith is my belief in the things that I have not witnessed, accounting for the fact that even what I witness, experience and remember are constructed in a brain so complicated we barely comprehend it.  Is faith required for history?  To some extent.  Only modern history is recorded verbatim and one first run movie or internet meme will convince you that future generations may believe nothing that we so confidently record.  But I don’t really consider it faith to believe that Jesus Christ existed.  That is a consensus amongst historians just as the existence of the third Roman emperor Caligula is.

Do I need faith to believe that Jesus was God incarnate?  I do.  Scripture claims that he was.  I can question the veracity of that Scripture.  I can rightly question the legitimacy of eye witness accounts.  I can rightly question even the existence of a supernatural.  I can rightly ask why some claims of deity survived and others did not.  There are few active temples of Zeus remaining.  At every point in my chain of logic for belief, there are legitimate questions that skeptics ask.  I don’t have answers for them all.

I’m open to the possibility that I live a dichotomous life – – evidence in my professional pursuits, faith in personal.  But that doesn’t feel quite right.  I see the effects of faith as evidence.  There was a call to comfort when our professional friend was taken so quickly.  There was an impromptu memorial at our place of work.  We remembered his life.  There was an urge to pray – – a hope that there was someone greater who cared about our grief.  Is that urge evidence?  It could be.  All human societies have displayed the behavior of worship.  Is that behavior evidence?  Perhaps not.  Perhaps it is an accident of our genes that made the paranoid and delusional more likely to survive.  But it could be.

Time to close this James Joyce style post.  I’m not even sure that I’ve asked or answered any good questions and for that I apologize.  I suppose I just needed to write, and in a time of sudden loss this post took a different flavor than it would have otherwise.  I do have one question that may be useful.

 embrace evidence based thinking instead of faith.

How would the meaning change if “in addition to” replaced “instead of”?

Pascal – – 1:16

 

photo credit:  “Bascula 9” by L.Miguel Bugallo Sánchez  – self made, Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Bascula_9.jpg.

Arguing with Ayn

Ayn_Rand1

Dear Russell and Friends,

There she is.  Demure smile, confident pose, piercing eyes & cigarette in hand.  She created the best book title ever – – Atlas Shrugged – – a title that compelled me to read.  Her first name rhymes with wine.  She is worth arguing with.  We could not disagree more on so many fundamental things.  And yet.

Ayn Rand is one of the best, smartest, most incisive writers that I have read.  She has strong opinions well reasoned that are diametrically opposed to my worldview and philosophy.  Is reading her an exercise in frustration?  No.  Not at all.

Atlas

Reading her is pure pleasure and reminds me that my life is too short to pick lesser books.  I’ve just begun The Fountainhead in its 25th anniversary edition.  Rand wrote the introduction in 1968 – – five years before I was born and a full 25 years before I could digest her ideas.

Now I’ll wrestle with Howard Roark just like I wrestled with Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden.  From the grave their ideas and speeches echo.  And so it is with Ms. Rand.  I want to invite her to our table and listen. Then I’d share what enthralls yet disappoints me.  Her protagonists are my antagonists – – they are Übermensch, gleaming strong and clear.  I need these antagonists – – worthy opponents in the circus of ideas. Her antagonists are straw.  Caricatures of bias, bigotry and weakness.  If only she could revise.  Would she?  If only she had the courage to face the strong and not the weak.  Would she?  Oh well.  Her gift to me remains – – enemies that I can respect and answer with a clear conscience.  Enemies that best me in more areas than I usually admit.  Enemies of concrete, steel, arcs and planes of soaring thought.  Enemies that could become friends.

What of my antagonist to her protagonist?  I hope to return her gift and not to duplicate her greatest mistake.

Pascal – – 1:16

 

photo credits:

Ayn Rand portrait by Phyllis Cerf (1916–2006) Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ayn_Rand1.jpg#/media/File:Ayn_Rand1.jpg

“Objectivist1” by Michael Greene – originally posted to Flickr as Atlas 2. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Objectivist1.jpg#/media/File:Objectivist1.jpg

Wealth and Power

640px-Biltmore_Estate_14-2

Dear Friend,

I begin most of my letters here with a derivative of that salutation.  Dear Russell and Friends . . .  But the letter on my table is not from Russell.  It is from Steve Forbes, or rather it appears, from his desk.  I don’t know Steve Forbes but he asks me to join him by buying a magazine.  It is three and a half pages long, but a quick read due to capacious spacing and outsized font.  The first words that receive the inflation denote the thesis of the letter.  Mr. Forbes offers me something that he thinks I want:  wealth and power.

Is he right?  Before I discount advertising, I must assess its success.  It often works.  Very often.  And those who can afford Forbes magazine and even its peddled luxury wares are not less vulnerable. Perhaps they are even more so.

Mr. Forbes thinks that I want to read about the lives of billionaires.  In his words the magazine that bears his name is not all about business.

It’s also about enjoying the rewards of success.  Exotic supercars. Yachts to die for.  Hideaways that you can’t get to from here.  The private plane circuit, where wealthy flyers never see the inside of a terminal.  Plus, you’ll get ForbesLife, our guide to living the good life.

Is he right?  Is wealth and power a worthy goal?  Mr. Forbes is no fool, but I’ve been one.  I’ve been sorely tempted to mistake my gifts for entitlement.  I’ve been sorely tempted to direct my capacity toward temporary things that will not survive even my brief life.  I’ve been sorely tempted to seek approval, influence, and regard.  In truth – – I find power more tempting than wealth and view the latter as only the currency of the former.  I have been tempted and I have fallen.

One reason I follow Christ is so that I can answer Mr. Forbes with honesty.  Yes – – you’re right sir.  I do want wealth and power.  But, deep within me I know it is not enough.  Deep within me I know that it will not survive me.  Vanderbilt barely lived in America’s largest home.  So what can replace wealth and power as my desire? Following Christ has given me that answer.

Mr. Forbes and his team are no fools.  I’m not in the top 0.1% of income, but honesty compels me to acknowledge that I am in the top 1%.  I’m not in the top 0.01% of intellect, but honesty compels me to acknowledge that I am in the top 0.1%.  Honesty is not what I need.  I need humility.  By following Christ I see someone so much greater than me that I have no metric of comparison.  Yet he came to serve and to suffer with us (compassion defined).  Mr. Forbes may not be a fool, but I want to be.  I want to foolishly reject the call to wealth and power although I know that I could realistically attain a measure of it.  I want to foolishly love those who are poor and powerless.

Oh Mr. Forbes, you knew I would be tempted.  I am constantly tempted by goals that honor myself and not my savior.  Oh God – – please let me be wise and pursue your compassion.  Let me live differently as a steward of the capabilities that are only a gift from you.

Dear readers – –

1)  Does Mr. Forbes’ offer tempt you?

2)  Atheist friends:  how have you mitigated this siren call?

3)  Christ followers and those of other faiths:  same question.

4)  Any:  am I wrong to recoil from this letter?  I welcome your criticism.

 

Pascal  1:16

photo credit:  “Biltmore Estate 14-2” by Biltmore_Estate_14.jpg: Doug Coldwellderivative work: Entheta (talk) – Biltmore_Estate_14.jpg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

Counting Threads

Jesus Resurrection Tapestry

 

Dear Russell and Friends,

This reply has been hard to write just as this week’s breakfast was hard to digest.  I’m afraid that my response to our words in person was similar to my response to the gentle words that you wrote in the last post:  anger.  Instead of replying, I decided to say nothing for a while.  Isn’t it better to stay silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt?  Anger.  Not my favorite emotion, but there it was.  What business have I trafficking in anger to gentle, respectful, and reasonable words?  Perhaps with very different styles we both do better in writing.  There is time to check and recheck:  the eraser, backspace or even rubbish bin if it doesn’t read back right.  In person we are there, welcomed into a circle of fellowship and contention.  I do remember what we argued about.  I thanked you for posting on Tuesday but confessed that I had not read it yet.  You warned me that some of the words could come off as if you were angry, but assured me that you were not.  We talked about ways to live and why I thought the ten commandments provided a good start, acknowledging that the anchor of authority was the Hebrew God.  You said there were two incompatible versions of the ten commandments.  I blanched.  I don’t regularly read the Hebrew scriptures besides Psalms and Proverbs.  I usually read the New Testament once in a year.  This year, and perhaps five others in adult life, I endeavored to read the entire Bible.  On the morning of our breakfast I was in Deuteronomy (the second giving of the law) and had very recently read the second giving of the ten commandments in Deuteronomy 5.  I thought that I knew Exodus 20 fairly well when it was given the first time.  In a booth, in a moment, I cried foul.  Show me.  I could pretend to be noble and say that I was thinking, “come let us reason together.”  No – – I was much less noble.  I was thinking, “bullshit.”

[insert parenthetical]  Why talk, write, argue in public?  I am so flawed and this is so messy.  Friendship is messy.  Love is messy.  These discussions can should happen with friends. But friendship usually involves then survives injury.  I would rather tell the truth than spin myself to death in vertigo. [parenthetical done]

I asked who had taught you how to study the Bible.  I truthfully admitted that I had not been taught and suggested that the same might be true for you.  And then we left.  I’ve been thinking about it since.  Allow two reflections on my anger?  To me this topic and you are important.  If either were not I could answer, or not answer, with apathy.  The Bible has an interesting take on anger:  be angry and sin not.  Much easier commanded than actualized.  As much as possible, I want to spend little time in anger because I usually can’t follow the imperative to divorce it from sin.  Over five hundred words without me mentioning the trustworthiness of the Bible.  Me evasive?  Never.  This is the first second time I’ve used profanity on the blog.  The first?  My response to your comment on When to give, Where to stand.  Dammit Russell.

Back to work.

“The questions then press thick and fast, as they did for both Jews and Christians in the pagan diaspora:  What counts as loyalty and disloyalty?  What counts as dangerous compromise, and what as wise flexibility?  When do you resist, when do you run away, when do you stay and try to improve things from within?”  Surprised by Scripture, N.T. Wright, p. 184

The brief N.T. Wright interview that I read and linked to in my first WWRR post introduced a topic, but begged for context.  Madalyn said much the same and offered that I could, perhaps should, go deeper.  She was right so I ordered the book and completed it yesterday.  The second chapter is titled, “Do We Need a Historical Adam?”  From the faith perspective that I grew up in, even the question is disrespectful.  To doubt a literal Genesis and a young earth was to doubt Jesus, the resurrection and everything else precious.

This is part of the dichotomy that I now see as false.  If Genesis is not literal, can scripture still be inerrant, infallible, God-breathed (inspired) and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness?  I can approach this from a few angles:

1)  The scripture was useful to me in recognizing, but not acting upon my anger in sin.  I was able to find solace in 1 Corinthians 13, reminding me that love is patient and kind.  If I dwelled in anger, that would work against the call to love.

2)  The scripture was useful to me in correcting my errant path.  I turned back (repented).

3)  The scripture was useful to me for training in righteousness.  Training implies a perpetual preparation.  I am hopeful that I’ll become more like Christ with age, maturity, and constant use.  Scripture will be my measure.

4)  I don’t believe in a literal Adam or a six day creation.  That is not surprising for my skeptical colleagues, but what about for the loved sisters and brothers with whom I’m about to fellowship?  It would be very surprising, perhaps threatening, for some.  Like our Taco Tuesday, it could provoke anger.  I should be careful.

5)  I think in metaphorical language.  If Genesis is the story of transition from prehominid woman to humans in recorded civilization then what value does it have?  Is there still a creation?  Yes.  Is there still a creator?  Yes.  Does the creator communicate with his creations?  Yes.  Can these creations worship themselves as in Romans 1?  Yes.  Is there a Problem deeper than a generalized misunderstanding of logical fallacy?  Yes.  Much deeper.

6)  You know that I love studying science and even practice it in an applied manner.  The m-verse doesn’t solve a problem for me.  The m-verse doesn’t expand the denominator of time to infinity where anything can happen.  The m-verse can not redefine nothing.  Quantum fluctuation is not nothing.  I find it intellectually coherent to say that our observable universe began with low entropy because God created it with order.  I still find it compelling that a beginning begs a beginner. Ex nihilo nihil fit

7)  So my view of scripture has changed.  It no longer bothers me to consider that the creation story in Genesis was a myth (story to teach truth:  not a fiction).

You emphasized the following in your post:

N.T. Wright seems to be saying that if we start discussing why the Bible can be trusted, we’re missing the point of scripture. That is not a satisfactory answer. We must each make up our mind. Is the Bible without error, or might it have some error (in the intent of the original writings)? We must acknowledge the problems listed in the Inerrancy? post. It is not a distracting topic that misses the point. It is the foundation of trust for the whole Bible.

I disagree with you.  I’m not angry and I don’t plan to revisit that place often.  That said, I’m lying if I say all goes according to plan.  I feel that you have been counting threads and missing the tapestry.  The metanarrative of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration is useful to my understanding of the world and in the imperative of how to live.  Does that make me a pragmatist like William James?  Maybe so.  I live in a pragmatic world.

Could other worldviews work?  Allow me to address my favorite:  Buddhism.  There is so much in Buddhism that endears itself to me.  Compassion.  I do think that is the answer.  I just don’t think that attachment or even suffering is the problem.  Because Buddhism offers the right answer, even to the wrong question in my opinion, it largely works.  I could live like a Buddhist and follow Christ well.  Or I could follow Christ and have the same answer to a better question.  In the scientific method, the question matters.

Your two questions were:

Questions

If you believe the Bible is without error in any sense (the meaning or letter of the original authors’ intentions, etc.), do you have a reason that doesn’t depend on the Bible’s claims about itself? How certain are you in your belief and can you justify your level of certainty in the face of The Problem and what other believers say about their sacred texts?

My non-biblical reason is pragmatic.  With scripture I have the tools to criticize my own heart, to overcome my own biases and to change.  I have the tools to turn (repent) when I’m wrong and the instruction to pursue humility and patience – – difficult character traits.  I don’t elevate the problem you reference above to The Problem.  On that we fundamentally disagree.  I must recognize my own cognitive fallacies rather than focusing on others – – on that we fundamentally agree.  How do I compare my beliefs to those of others?  Is the question right?  Is the answer right?  What do I do with both?

If you believe the Bible has errors, how do you have confidence in which parts are true? Why trust it in claims regarding the supernatural?

My core belief that God created is supernatural, isn’t it?  That is why it is not my chief cornerstone of faith but is a cornerstone nonetheless.  In this edifice, all corners bear load.  If I believe God created, and have no dissonance in accepting mechanisms of a bang, abiogenesis, and evolution writ large, then cognitive resonance and coherence results.

I know that we’re still friends.  I know that because I know your character which is naturally more gentle and respectful than my own.  I’m beginning to understand my character.  I hope to more as life progresses.  My character also allows for disagreement with friends, perhaps even yearns for it.  I look forward to our next time in person – – Détente number 3.

Pascal

–1:16

photo credit:  Resurrection of Christ tapestry, the Vatican