apologetics

The Russian Winter

 

Minard grafficDear Russell & Friends,

A short post on a long book?  The graphic by Minard above is hanging in my study.  I first saw it in consultation with our hospital’s statistician.  He described it as the best information graphic ever.  I purchased the inexpensive print in an Edward Tufte conference on the graphical display of information that my oldest and I attended together 5 years ago.  Hobby Lobby did the rest.

The graphic depicts Napoleon’s march to and retreat from Moscow in the War of 1812.  And that was the extent of my knowledge until reading Leo Tolstoy’s War & Peace.  Like a visit to Israel, reading and reflecting on this book takes time.  Tolstoy has fascinated me since I read that his apologetic influenced but did not convince Gandhi.  I took Oprah’s advice to read Anna Karenina and found my favorite opening line ever, an explanation for my upbringing, and a hope for my children and grandchildren:

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way

Like so many of you, my history and future is an amalgam of the clauses of this brilliant sentence.  I found that Anna Karenina was a profound portrait of humanity and I found in Levin a man I could admire and even emulate in his pursuit of authentic faith.  So, when the the itch to read War & Peace arose, I was ready to scratch.  I listened to the story from Audible, just less than 1 hour a day with occasional splurges on the way to the airport.  It took a quarter of a year.

And here I am – – done.  I wrote the topics that Tolstoy approached in my journal and I’d like to share them here soon.  It is astonishing.  Calculus, astronomy, medicine, literature, theology, history, philosophy and so much more.  The characters, at least 20 major, became friends or even worthy opponents.  And here I am – – done.  As the Texas Winter begins I can’t help but feel let down.  Finishing an amazing book leaves me wistful.  Will my life ever be apportioned with the time and knowledge to write like that, even read like that in more than borrowed minutes?

Consider this an introduction if you will.  I missed you in the blog and hoped that writing about reading would help get me off dead center.  May I ask?

  • Do you enjoy long books?
  • Do you feel a let down when they are done?
  • Have you read Tolstoy?
  • What were you surprised to learn in War & Peace?

Pascal – – 1:16

photo credit:  Charles Joseph Minard’s work, hanging in my study

Love & Friendship

Pictofigo_Friendship

Dear Russell and Friends,

I’m back a week now and so happy to be so.  The cobwebs of jetlag are clearing.  I’m so appreciative of Russell’s Paean to a Peon in the last post.  I thought I would add my perspective.  When will I speak of the impact of visiting Israel?  Not for some time.  There is so much to digest before I’m ready to synthesize and share.

Last night we drove the 1.5 hours needed to pick up our oldest son at his dorm and take him out to dinner with his brothers.  We met two friends of his from high school out on a dinner date and discreetly enquired as to their social status.  He said they said they were friends.  They looked happy, compatible and able to enjoy each others company.  P1 said it with a twinkle in his eye.  “Yeah – – we’ve tried to tell them there’s more to it.”

Perhaps our young friends are discovering what the older crowd knows.  ‘Just friends’ is a middle school perspective.  Friendship lasts when passion fades.  What then is the difference between love and friendship and how does it relate to my friend Russell and me?

Love is a decision.  For a follower of Christ it is a command.  Love God.  Love others.  It has a description:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  1 Corinthians 13: 4-7

It is hard.  At least for me.  Despite Russell’s insistence, I’m not kind by nature.  I actually enjoy sarcasm and that can be quite rude.  I am irritable and prone to resentment.  I don’t bear all things, don’t hope in all things.  Don’t endure.  Love is hard.  But to love and be loved brooks no description.  It is air and you only notice it when it isn’t there. Loving Russell was a choice.  I loved him because God loved him and I honestly admired him for the way he served his wife and daughters and cared deeply about the effects of his deconversion for them.

So, what is friendship?  I’m not sure that it is as much a decision.  It is actually harder to build than love in my opinion.  Friendship is aided by such things as common interests and disinterests.  Much of what Russell and I enjoy is spawned from the common interest of science.  Do our interests diverge?  Of course. Even in science my competency tends towards psychology & biology and his towards physics, math, engineering, computer science, formal logic … (you get the idea).

Friendship requires – – time.  I used to say that time was the currency of love.  That is true as far as it goes, but it is likely more true of friendship.  I can love someone out of respect for God and his commands or out of respect for a fellow human and her intrinsic worth as a co-member of the race.  I need not know her to treat her with love.  I only need the work of:  patience, kindness, humility, pliability, and selflessness. Only that.  Easy, right?  But friendship takes time.

So what if you start with friendship?  That is what happened with my wife.  We talked, walked, listened, wrote letters and realized that we enjoyed each other’s company.  We were teens and next enjoyed each other’s embrace then married and enjoyed sharing more and more of life.  But we were friends.  Still are. In marital love, friendship is an antibody to despair and divorce.

Russell and I inverted the process – – we started with a brotherly love.  The friendship has been building.

I’m curious as to the advice you might give another – – friendship, love, both?  How does it work for you?

Pascal – – 1:16

photo credit:  By Pictofigo (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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

The Cliff

Sitting_near_the_cliff

Dear Russell & Friends,

I’m writing in response to a recent post by a family friend J, Russell’s wife.  She also goes by CC, the Counterfeit Christian, to reflect her journey through the desert of doubt concurrent with her husband’s loss of faith.  In this post she mentions the cliff of infidelity and how it shocked and disappointed her that she could even let it come into view.  I found her admission to be mature, honest, and much more healthy than most of us can manage.  In light of Josh Duggar’s recent revelations I felt an obligation to speak.

Mrs. Pascal and I met at the age of 19.  She actually baked my 20th birthday cake in a dorm microwave one step up from an easy bake oven.  We jogged together (she later confessed that she didn’t like to run), played racquetball, shared meals, and grew in friendship.  We wrote a series of pre-internet letters on paper with pen in envelopes requiring a stamp.  We both still have every one.  We decided to marry after an intense argument.  I asked her for 48 hours space.  I was either going to marry her or never talk to her again.  What a wonderful decision.  We celebrated 21 years of marriage last month.

In a life driven by priorities, following Christ is first.  The second priority is loving others.  These two priorities are why I’m here.  But there is a rank to my others.  My bride deserves to be first in my esteem and affections.  My children know that I love them but that they must play a secondary role in my heart.  Other people – – our community here falls into the third tier.  So if one person is my first priority, how can I guard my heart and hers?  I consider infidelity to be one of my deepest fears.  I would likely feel less guilt with other crimes that might be objectively considered more serious.  Why?  I promised her.  I gave my word.  I said that I wouldn’t leave and wouldn’t destroy what we worked so hard to build.

The photo above is beautiful.  Mrs. Pascal just walked by and said so herself.  I explained the metaphor of the post and she wholeheartedly agreed.  We have tried to draw our stopping line one mile from the cliff.  I am not a young sports car.  I’m not fast, shiny, or sexy.  I am a middle aged locomotive.  I can carry much over great distances.  I am defined by momentum, not acceleration.  A train can take a mile to stop.

Here are my principles for guarding a faithful marriage.  I have built them with the lessons learned from my weaknesses and from the failures of those I consider friends.  In the last twenty years I have sat across the breakfast table from 7 different men who were leaving their wives and children.  Only one turned back.  All of these men had picnics by the beautiful cliff.  For what it is worth – – here is the advice that I give myself.  I ask you all to hold me accountable.

  1. Tell the truth.  Tell the truth to yourself.  You can become attracted to another.  None of the 7 men thought they could ever stray – – that was the one commonality.
  2. Friendship is more dangerous than physical attraction.  You’re not 19 anymore.  Finding someone who appreciates you and laughs at your jokes – – danger.
  3. Avoid pornography.  It is corrosive and encourages to ask, what if?  It honors neither women nor men.  How many human traffic victims?
  4. Tell the truth.  Tell the truth to your true friends.  Some men (most men) have less than 5 friends.  Find one.  Please.
  5. Do not meet privately with someone from work.  Have your meetings out in the open.  Do not go to lunch one on one.  Take a colleague.
  6. Know yourself.  I am more vulnerable to words than plunging necklines.  For me, to exchange letters with a woman who is not my wife is a crossing of the one mile boundary.  I did that one time.  I thought I had built accountability into the system.  The letters were for a noble cause.  They were openly exchanged.  I was wrong.  My bride asked me to stop and I did immediately.  She knew my heart better than I did and I’m so glad that she loved me enough to guard it.
  7. Be kind, but not familiar.  I hope that I am never rude, but I would rather be considered rude than over familiar.
  8. Do not flirt.  It is jet fuel on a camp fire.

This list is less important than the spirit behind it.  Please – – guard your own heart and the heart of the one you promised it to.  What do you think?  Have I drawn my lines to extremely?  Does this make sense, or not?  Have you successes or failures that may help us?

Pascal – – 1:16

photo credit: By Dinkum (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

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

Romans 3:27-31

Romans 3:27-31 (ESV)

27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

Time to take my own advice.  I’ve asked Russell for positive assertions to balance his skepticism and he’s provided several excellent ones – – the love for his family and the love for the beauty of science.  What do I love and where can I explain how I build my life?  I too love my family and my work.  That is such a blessing and I realize that all can’t rejoice with it.  My hope for each of our readers is that you have a family to love and treasure.  My hope is that work is a joy and not a toil – – no matter what you do.  Why has scripture led me Christ?  Romans is a major reason.  I chose Romans because its authorship is not disputed by atheist New Testament experts.  That is not the non sequitur it seems.  On many issues of history, I prefer to consult the least biased experts I can find or at least those with different biases than mine.  Serious scholars of the Christian New Testament attest that Paul wrote Romans in the first century CE.  I last addressed Romans 3:21-26 here, saying that humility required confidence.  What does this next passage say?

Here we find that least controversial of words – – faith.  Paul contrasts the Jewish law and prophets with a different kind of law – – faith.  I find our recent discussions of what faith is and is not to be useful background as I revisit Romans.  To simplify, faith is belief based on acceptable evidence or is the evidence when empirical evidence is not available.  Faith is my belief that there was a man named Jesus who was God incarnate and that he made me right before himself by the free gift of forgiveness.  This faith is specific and does differentiate following Christ from other religious faiths.  For me to believe this there are several prerequisites.  I have to believe that a supernatural is possible and probable.  That is empirically untestable.  I have to believe that Jesus and Paul existed and that Paul’s letter is an early and faithful communication of what he believed.  Thomas Paine, in The Age of Reason, would cede the first three points but argue that a revelation to one is just that – – a revelation to one.  He felt that Paul mythologized the Christian faith based on his familiarity with Roman myth.

As a follower of Christ, I do believe that God came to men and dwelt among them.  I do believe that he willingingly gave his life to rescue mine and to reconcile me to God.  Then what of the myriad book of rules that Paul contrasts here?  Then what of the law of works?  Why did the Jews have so many rules, some of them so strange to our modern ears?  The Jews, people of the book, were set apart.  In my opinion, they still are.  They were, are, a minority.  The law and physical male circumcision were two marks that set them apart.  But I was not born a Jew.  I was born a Gentile (non-Jew) just like >98% of humanity.  If I did grow up with the law, prophets and traditions of God’s chosen people, then how could I be special before him too?

By the law of faith.  Paul is saying that faith in Christ brings Gentiles into God’s fold.  As a Gentile writing 2000 years after him that brings me comfort.  I was not raised with Torah.  I was not circumcised for religious purposes.  I have always identified with the Romans more than I have the Jews.  And yet, there is a way for me.  The law set apart God’s people the Jews.  In antiquity, they were strange.  The law of faith sets apart the people of God today.  I feel strange too.  It is interesting that Paul feels faith is not a replacement for law but a fulfillment.  The purpose of the law was to lead the Jews to and constantly remind the Jews of God.  This purpose is now fulfilled by faith – – leading me to and constantly reminding me of God.

What of my sincere friends who do not believe in either a supernatural, or the historicity or fidelity of scripture?  Here I find comfort and instruction in the reminder that the God of three natures is one.  He is God of Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews).  <2% + >98% = everyone.  Who am I to disrespect those whom God calls his own?  Mine is to love and to gently reason and to be thankful for the law of faith which brings me to God and offers the same for all humans.

Pascal – – 1:16

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.

the Trail

Trail

 

Dear Russell and Friends,

I hiked the trail above about 10 days ago.  It is the Kalalau Trail in Kauai.  Our family has been planning and saving for this trip to celebrate the graduation of our oldest son for years now.  We went with two other families whom we’ve known for almost 20 years.  Our kids call them Aunt and Uncle and their kids are more like the first cousins mine don’t know.

kauai-kalalau_trail

As you might predict, the five boys ranging from 12-18 moved a little faster than the adults ranging from 40-44.  A lot faster.  Along the way we saw this.

Kalalau Coast

It is certainly the type of picture I’ve seen before either in print or film, but seeing it in person was different.  The whole trip was different.  I’m a planner, but I’ve learned from my more spontaneous friends over the years.  This trip was a medley of planned events and open space to fill as we decided with little notice.  I actually caught up on sleep and recharged my batteries to the point that this week’s work was well supplied.

Our halfway point was here.

Waterfall

The water was so cold after the 4 mile hike in.  It was bracing, clean and pure.  My sons and I swam in the waterfall.  I’ll rank the experience, like the hike in general, as one of the most memorable.  Then 4 miles out.  We heated pizza for the kids and went out with the adults – – memories and margaritas.  This was the least expensive, most fun part of our trip.  Hiking.

Why do I like hiking so much?  I’ve been giving that more thought as the boys and I prepare for Pike’s Peak in two weeks.  I’ve been giving it even more thought as I consider this place to read and write with you.  I was decidedly and purposefully off the grid when Russell prompted a flurry of activity with his rainbow removal service post.  And since I’ve been back the question rises – – do I go back on the grid?  Why am I here in the first place?  Why keep writing?  A friend reminded me with my own words.

He needs to talk.  I need to listen.  Why have this conversation?  Why have it in public?  Why adopt pseudonyms?  We don’t think that we are alone.  Many in our generation need a safe place to come and reason together.  My orientation to the skeptic, agnostic, and even atheist has changed.  It has changed like a compass needle with the orientation of my heart.  As I follow Christ I realize . . . he loved me, I will love them.

about Pascal

Then she used her words.

I think it has been useful, although painful at times. A recent example I can point to is the softening in your heart toward gay people—I know you’ve always loved them, but I’ve seen a change in how you write about them. Your response to the documentary my friend recommended was a blessing to me and to my friend. Your words have softened my heart, too.

Why was I doubting this trail at all?  Because I’m tired.  Yes the Hawaii trip added much back, but sometimes that kind of refreshment tempts you to fundamentally change and not let yourself get so tired again.  Because I wonder if the impact of words with strangers can change me to the same extent that unread words in a paper journal can.  Can those words open doors to others or only seal them tighter shut?  Because I’m not as noble as I think I am and I quit sometimes.  No one likes a quitter.  That’s one of the reasons I sometimes can’t like myself.  And yet.

The most beautiful trails I’ve ever walked involved effort, sometimes mud and bruises.  But they were beautiful.  I am not a person who enjoys or seeks arguments.  Perhaps more honestly, I do enjoy arguments but find that they are usually destructive and try to avoid them.  Some of the arguments here have changed me, just as my friend asserted.  Do I still follow Christ?  More closely than before I began.  Do I still care about skeptics?  The same answer applies.  After thinking more about the trails and trailheads in this blog and in my life, for now I need to keep hiking.

Am I the only one who runs away sometimes, even in his own mind?

Have you been tempted to disengage the friends or internet strangers you know you need to know?

Do you get tired and find that re-charging can have a paradoxical effect?

Did any of this make sense?   Sometimes I’m too metaphorical for my own darn good.

Pascal

–1:16