evidence

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

Digestion

Illu_stomach

Dear Russell and Friends,

For the past week I have been a reader.  I read every word of your last post Russell – – twice.  The context of my reading was heightened by a strong sense of self preservation.  I was riding shotgun as my 15 year old with a learner’s permit drove back from Colorado.  Thankfully, fear can enhance learning.  I also read most of the dialogue that you and unkleE conducted.  You are birds of a feather.  Each of you looked like you were concluding the discussion with tacit apologies for length, then kept going.  [insert good natured smile here].

One thing that struck me as I read your discussion about faith and reason was the nature of your replies to each other.  You respectfully asked unkleE if he minded a point by point reply and he answered that he rather preferred it himself.  It worked well and disciplined you both to visit and revisit each other’s arguments and to protect against the erection of straw men.  I got to thinking – – why do I rarely reply in this manner?  Is that related to the way I differ in my view of an evidence driven life although I work in an evidence driven field?  Perhaps so.

Although I rarely answer line-by-line, I hope you do know that I always want you to be taken in context and I overtly want the majority of readers here to realize that you are among the best of men.  Why do I answer like this?  What is this?  This, for me, is digestion.  You always get me thinking.  That is one of the things I value about you most.  I live in a land of thought and you provoke new thoughts, different angles, and novel chains of reaction.  So, when you write an epic on a topic that means much to me – – I think, digest, then reply.  It is analogous to the replies of hand-written letters – – a mode that I still cherish although employ too seldom.  It is diametrically opposed to the immediate communication of text message, IM or telepathy.

Digestion.  What were the results of my digestion so far?  First, let me offer that the topic we chose could populate a PhD thesis or even a life of study.  This digestive process will represent first pass metabolism alone.

Arguing with Dead People

If you forced me to choose between writing and the wheel as the greatest contribution to human progress, I would choose the pen.  What an honor to explore the thoughts of Aristotle and Hume.  What we read now and the links that we click are the honored descendents of that humble stylus, brush or quill.  You spoke of Aristotle and I summoned the best from my memory.  Disciple of Plato.  Tutor of Alexander the Great.  Father of observational science.  To make my joy complete, I found this – – well worth the 3 minutes.

Then you quoted David Hume on wisdom.  David Hume – – I had an ephemeral response that I did not consider David Hume to be wise, but I couldn’t remember why.  The internet and a short attention span to the rescue again.

You are more aware of logical fallacy than most.  It was one of our first studies together.  So, I know that you were not using Aristotle or Hume to argue from authority.  After two years of conversation with you I know that for sure.  My point is this and I know you will not argue.  It is okay to argue with, preferable to argue with dead people.  We have the greatest intellects of all time (Aristotle would certainly represent the 1% of the 1% of the 1% ad infinitum) available through writing, commentary, and the internet wayback machine.  How foolish for me to argue with Aristotle on the details of science which he got wrong when he essentially invented the scientific method and would freely acknowledge that his views should be revised when evidence accrued.

Was Paul aware of Aristotle?  Likely so.  In Acts, Paul presents to Greeks in Athens at the Aeropagus (Mars Hill) adjacent to the Acropolis.  Was Paul, who wrote his epistles in high Greek, unaware of Aristotle?  Unlikely.  Did he present his reasons to believe in full view of the impact, then 350 years old, of Aristotle.  I argue yes.  The tension between Aristotelian logic and faith is neither contemporary nor insoluble.

What of David Hume?  He also stands with the 1% of the 1% in terms of human intelligence and impact.  That there will be 1 of 10,000 people in that category is mathematically predicted and constrained.  But would I listen to Hume about wisdom?  Wisdom is something different.  Wisdom is less predictable.  So I can not only disagree with Hume’s philosophy, but challenge a quote where he points the path to wisdom.  That would be a delightful topic for future posts – – the difference (if there is one) between intelligence and wisdom.

I know that Russell was not arguing from authority, so I won’t walk down that path.  He knows that I can freely argue with Aristotle and Hume and that they, the giants, would welcome a challenge from an ant.  My thesis is that the scriptures were constructed in full view of Aristotle’s epistemology.  They were not breathlessly awaiting a three minute lesson to correct their stark ignorance.  There is nothing new under the sun.

The Possibilian Brain

You and our good friend Howie were the first to turn me on to David Eagleman’s Possibilianism philosophy.

I did like I usually do.  I watched it, thought about it, then ordered and read one of his books – – Incognito:  The Secret Lives of the Brain.  It is on the 2014 reading list – – and I’m barely caught up with the 2015 posts.  One thing that I liked about Eagleman was his call to humility.  I think that the 20 minute video is worth the watch, but I will spoil my favorite part of it.  He walks to one end of the stage and represents the strong atheist view, then walks to the other end of the stage and represents the young earth creationist biblical literalist view (I’m summarizing from a 1 year constructed memory).  Then he calls for gentility and arbitration in the middle.  And what is the mediator in the middle?  Science.  That is what moves him, what convinces him, and what he has and will continue to contribute to.  Science.

I have heard some fellow believers say, “I love science, and here is why I believe the earth is young.”  That is a non sequitur to me.  If I claim to love science to you and our readers, then how would I justify the statement?  Perhaps by the time I dedicate to reading science.  At least as much by volume as my annual reading list.  Perhaps by the time I dedicated to studying science.  Ten full years after a university bachelor’s degree in biochemistry.  Perhaps by my understanding of why your hope to live hundreds of years is misplaced.  Perhaps by my willingness and craft in caring for more dying people in the last ten years than I could ever personally know outside of my profession.  I do love science.  And to me, science unfolds the mechanisms that a creative and caring God used to delightfully construct the reality that we live in.  Cosmology and post-translational modification equally awe me.  We are fearfully and wonderfully made.  I get just as excited as you when I study, although I rarely offer to send a family recipe or jump up and down.

The Supremacy of Science and the Interaction Problem

I have not forgotten that I owe Victoria a reply on the video about Miracles and Televangelists.

Many here have already visited her excellent blog on neuroscience (also Eagleman’s area of expertise).  She is smart, funny, and compassionate.  She also explains beautifully how the human brain can construct the emotional experiences of joy, sorrow, and yes – – religion.  I found the video about miracles and healing to be especially relevant to my journey as I was raised in the charismatic tradition and I’ve actually been to a Benny Hinn service.

I have been digesting the video for quite some time and look forward to posting about it in the future. Apropos to current discussion is this – – what if the experience of religious devotion is mediated by neurochemical interaction?  Does that make it less believable or more?  For me it makes it more believable.  I am thankful to understand the biochemistry of reward, punishment, fear, and hope.  In a way that addresses the interaction problem.  Will we be able to locate the soul via functional MRI or PET?  Quite unlikely.  Do we really want to argue about angels on heads of pins.  I hope not.

I appreciate the explanations that science can give.  I love studying science.  It does not threaten my faith.  I hope that is not fatally conflicted.

Writing Russell Off

Russell did not wish to be written off as a

post-modernist strong-rationalist steeped in scientism

Dammit Russell.  Not only did you force me to quote you, but you packed three precise terms requiring definitions in seven words, hyphens excluded.

I’ll never write you off.

The Products of Digestion

Digestion provides two things:  nourishment and excrement.  I realize that this line of thought may be the former to some and the latter to others.  The point is this.  I love my brother Russell.  We think very differently.  This is a place where we encourage you to think differently and to realize that you are among friends.

What do you think?

Blessings,

Pascal – – 1:16

 

 

photo credit:  via WikiCommons, public domain

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.

Wrestling With Russell’s Reasons – – 1

512px-Rembrandt_-_Jacob_Wrestling_with_the_Angel_-_Google_Art_Project

 

Dear Russell & Friends,

Today begins an attempt to reply to Russell’s reasons for not following Christ.  The icon above is a Rembrandt circa 1659 entitled Jacob Wrestling with the Angel.  It depicts the biblical story from Genesis 32.  That story about Jacob’s life has always had meaning for me.  God allows us to, even encourages us to wrestle with him.  He did not create automatons and your intellect does matter.  I have wrestled with many things in faith.  Sometimes I win the match.  Sometimes I lose.  I always come out better for the struggle, and like Jacob, I still limp.  Russell and I talked yesterday and agreed on a general format for going forward.  I’ll try to reply to one reason each week.  As the reasons unfold you’ll see that we could spend a year on each one or even an academic career.  That is neither feasible nor desirable for our purposes.  There are, however, scholars on both sides of the argument who have spent substantial time and effort in producing works for the interested and the curious.  Whenever possible, lets lead each other to those works.  Without further ado:

Reason 1:  The Bible is neither inerrant nor infallible.

That was a great place to start.  As I’ve mentioned before, I have four cornerstones for belief that are also stumbling blocks for the skeptic:  supernatural, scripture, saints, and saviour.  Russell started with scripture and began with the specific language of the churches that he and I grew up in.

Inerrancy is the doctrine that the Bible is without error or fault in all its teaching.

Infallibility is the belief that what the Bible says regarding matters of faith and Christian practice is wholly useful and true.

Some equate the two terms and some don’t  There are subtle differences that the equators find irrelevant.  One point of agreement, however, is that the belief in inerrancy and infallibility is not the same as the belief in biblical literalism.

What was Russell arguing and why was this a good place to start?  He responded to a common American fundamentalist evangelical teaching – – something that we both grew up with.  I wrestled with his first reason in several ways (and continue to do so):

  1. I studied inerrancy by reading a small book on my shelf then posted the reflections here.  This document would certainly be representative of the church to which I’m going this morning and in fact of all the churches that I’ve attended since childhood.
  2. Russell replied with a detailed analysis of my thoughts and of the statement.
  3. I started reading again, primarily Bart Ehrman and N.T. Wright.  Both are accomplished New Testament scholars who come to completely different conclusions.  I’ve only read one Ehrman book, but I must read more.  It is difficult for me because his attempts to constrain sarcasm sometimes seem half-hearted.
  4. I began to realize that my reading had in fact been narrow.  What about the context of scripture in the landscape of sacred texts and world history?  That’s when Russell introduced me to Audible books and I turned off NPR during the commute.  The bookshelf page is an attempt to chronicle my reading with Russell and before him.
  5. I continued to run and think and sleep, realizing that so much happens in my subconscious before I have the thought accessible in the frontal lobe and available to write here.
  6. I realized that I might be fighting on the wrong hill.  What exactly does scripture mean to me?  Should I defend the terms inerrant or infallible?  That’s what Russell was trying to get at with his very patient reply to me.  I accepted the terms initially and was prepared to defend them.  I had grown up with them. As I studied more, it appears that American protestants for the last two hundred years had grown up with them.
  7. I reconsidered.  My experiment in defending the terms inerrant and infallible yielded a negative result.  It did not increase my love for Christ or my love for others.  It was not a sure and sufficient reason for my skeptical friend.  The scientific method cherishes negative experiments.  They teach you as much as the positive ones.  However, there is a publication bias that over-represents the experiments which validate the initial hypothesis.
  8. Where do I stand now?  Here is the best description of my regard for scripture:

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete,equipped for every good work.  2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV)

I was answering the wrong question, but it was the question posed by the fundamental American Christianity that Russell and I knew so well.  What are the consequences of taking my stand on a different hill?  I suppose that you could view this as a retreat.  But, if I’m arguing the wrong thing in the wrong spirit, then I should retreat.  This represents a healthier way of representing what scripture actually means in my life.  That is why I’m going slowly through Romans.  What is the consequence of arguing inerrancy or infallibility?  Romans 1 can be about debating genealogies instead of about how Christ followers should treat gay people.  I find the former approach less helpful and the latter more relevant and profitable.

So, what am I saying?  I’m not going to marry myself to the terms inerrant or infallible.  After a year of reflection I believe that I was wrong to do so.  For the interested I’ll present a link to an interview with N.T. Wright in which he addresses his beliefs on Biblical inerrancy.  I confess to being swayed by his scholarship and opinions.  I confess that my confirmation bias kicks in much stronger when I read him as opposed to Ehrman.  However, this is a change of mind for me and a difference in how I’ll approach the crucial subject of scripture.

The brief interview is here.  In the comments section below the interview we learn by negative example what tone to avoid in our own dialogue.  Your conversation is welcome here as Russell and I continue to wrestle with reasons.

Pascal – – 1:16

 

photo credit:  Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Love Letter – – conclusion

512px-Handwritten_letter_by_Descartes_December_1638

So down that I slept 20 of 24 hours and despaired of the other 4.  Despair.  What does Bertrand Russell know of despair?  What does the writer of Hank know of despair?  Unyielding despair so corrosive that it didn’t leave me desperate.

I hate you God – – just kill me and send me to hell.  Love Letter – – penultimate   from the beginning

I’m crying again.  It’s been a very long time since I confessed those words and everything behind them.  By now you understand why I will not, can not stand in judgment over you and Russell.  By now you understand why I can love you both courageously – – even if you think you’re walking away.  I can’t write anymore J.  It’s unusual for me to feel this way.  I’m exhausted but content.  I know that God is real.  I know that scripture is reliable.  I hope to be a saint that honestly presents himself as once wretched, now redeemed by amazing grace.  Thanks for being my friend.  I hope this didn’t shock you.  You realize that I needed to write it more than you needed to read it.

Always in Christ – – Pascal –1:16

P.S.  So there it is.  A two year old letter about foundational events in my life a quarter century ago.  Why did I write it?  To testify to where I came from and why I needed to turn.  I think that suffering is part of life.  Buddhism does not resonate with me because the avoidance of suffering is not a noble path.  To suffer with another in compassion is.  That’s who Jesus is to me.  He reached into my wreck of a life and loved me.  Then he told me through scripture to love others like he had loved me.  I was not easy to love.  Others are not easy to love. But it does make sense to me.  It is internally consistent and resonates with my experience, heart, soul, mind and strength.  Does personal experience give me an airtight reason to believe and complete immunization against doubt?  Of course not.  But to deny this influence would be false.  It is certainly part of my reason to follow Christ and to love.  I’m willing to let the other parts unfold over years.

Photo credit:  Handwritten letter by Descarte: by PHGCOM [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) via Wikimedia Commons

Love Letter – – penultimate

512px-Handwritten_letter_by_Descartes_December_1638

The P in PICU stands for psychiatric.  The ICU means the same as it would elsewhere.  At SASH it is a place for high risk suicidal patients or violent psychotics.  I represented the latter.  Love Letter – – part 13   from the beginning

How could a 16 year old hold his own with violent crazy people?  He was one of them.  The only time that I’ve ever been hit in the face with a closed fist happened on my first night there.  I think I deserved it.  I was about to throw a heavy chair onto a large Mexican man.  I was convinced that he had looked at me in a sinister way.  Despite delusion I was probably right, but the chair made sense at the time.  He never really bothered me after that.  That episode prompted the first of many physical and chemical restraints to control my violence – – protect others, protect me.  The rooms aren’t really rubber, but the walls were padded.  Over two years I would see five different versions.  Three had green walls.  The color of calm?  That night and many after I screamed with demonic rage.  It may have scared others.  I had lost fear’s protection.  I had abruptly arrived at the bottom of my pit after free fall and a concussive landing – – much like the man with the turban after his encounter with a train.

Could I elaborate?  Yes.  But it hurts.  I’m crying now and it oddly surprises me.  I’m not crying in sorrow, regret, joy or beauty.  I actually think it is the Holy Spirit communicating with God in a way that I can’t understand.  Grieving for me, with me.  That is how I’ve been praying for you since the beginning.  I no longer speak in tongues.  I hope that doesn’t displease God.  I don’t think it does because I love his Holy Spirit and understand him much deeper that I ever did when speaking in tongues.  So that is how I pray for you and your family now.  This part of the letter follows your unspoken request.  I’ve been faithful.  Will I elaborate in the future?  I don’t know.  But in a fragmented style I can recall that fragmented epoch.

Racing thoughts with no conclusions.  All links severed – – the web is for entangled poverty of mind.  Two types of people here – – those on drugs and those not.  I wish I was on drugs.  Then this might stop if I stop.  Molasses thoughts with no rest.  Just stuck.  God help me.  Who is God?  I am god.  Why can’t I read?  Why can’t I think?  Why can’t I write?  It doesn’t make sense and I hate nonsense.  I hate more and more and more.  I hate the one who made me and hate the one he made.  I raise a fist against that god.  Why doesn’t he just kill me?  Man propositions me.  Another fight.  After weeks a lower security unit with a glass door where I can see light again.  I walk through the closed glass door with outstretched arms.  Still.  Have.  Scars.  More restraints.  More meds.  More diagnoses.  Depression.  Mania.  Psychosis – – I favor that one.  Everything is related if I can just figure it out.  Everything has significance, so nothing does.  More drugs, less rage, less everything.  Less.  I don’t have the courage to kill myself.  Myself.  Myself?  Haldol and thorazine until my tongue fills my mouth in dystonic revolt.  Ativan, valium, anything to … calm … me … down.  So down that I slept 20 of 24 hours and despaired of the other 4.  Despair.  What does Bertrand Russell know of despair?  What does the writer of Hank know of despair?  Unyielding despair so corrosive that it didn’t leave me desperate.

I hate you God – – just kill me and send me to hell.

-conclusion tomorrow-

Pascal

-1:16

 

Photo credit:  Handwritten letter by Descarte: by PHGCOM [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) via Wikimedia Commons

Love Letter – – part 12

512px-Handwritten_letter_by_Descartes_December_1638

I heard her say, “it is very competitive, but I think you can do it.”  When a man falls it is so hard to say when.  Is it iced coffee?  No.  That’s just when people knew.  I fell here – – setting my gaze so intently that I mortgaged the present to attain the future.  I’ve told Mrs. Pascal many times – – “I’m so glad that you didn’t know me in high school  – – I was unworthy of you.”  The problem is, no one knew it.  Not even, especially not even, me.  Love Letter – – part 11   from the beginning

Isn’t that the horror of pride?  It is low visibility – – I had no friend close enough to see me or confront me.  And it is low awareness – – like trying to read silver fine print on plastic wrap just a wisp in front of your eyes.  The Academy application process was stringent and it did start the sophomore year for the successful.  High grades were not enough.  They valued physical fitness and community leadership as well.  My school had few clubs and no sports.  I became the sophomore class president and extended my commuting bike rides to 30 mile training excursions.  I ran more, resumed lifting weights to conquer the dreaded 3 over hand pull ups that I must do and even joined a rugby club.  I told my Mom it was less dangerous than football.

I became more involved in my church youth group and less involved with Jesus.  Who knew it?  As a parent that frightens me.  Oh for grace to love my sons and to be an eager, engaged protector-provider for them and my bride.  My father’s passivity, compounded by an extended recovery, could not or would not restrain me.  My mother’s opinion mattered less and less to me every day.  A strong willed son raised by a controlling mother either collapses into her gravity or escapes at great cost.  My path would be the latter.  Layer upon layer I hardened.  I forgot what I had been forgiven and I loved less.  And by consensus criteria for success I was thriving.  The youth pastor with his relevance and trendy clothes had no idea.  Who will stand for people like me?  I needed a father to see my rebellion.  I needed a father to correct and rebuke me.  I needed a father to kick my ass.  My father could not.  My Father would.

What else happened in my heart?  On a visit to my Dad during his first recovery, still in the summer before the sophomore year, I sat with him then went to explore as he dozed off.  Two indelible marks were made on my heart that day – – one yin, the other yang.  For good I was moved by the evening flag ceremony.  I’ve been to many more with the Boy Scouts and I’m still moved.  My Dad used to cry.  For the bad, I visited the gift shop and went to the section I’m always drawn to – – books.  Magazines were there too for the benefit of our soldiers and their visitors.  Some have said that a boy will always remember his first pornographic image.  In my case it only took 23 years to forget.  January 1, 2011 brought an end to my intermittent but pernicious battle with impurity.  Honestly, if the battle had not been decisively won (I must constantly stand guard), I would not have entered this friendship.  That is not a part of my story that I’ll elaborate for you.  Needless to say I know what I’ve been forgiven and love more.  It is a story for my sons – – I’ve warned and encouraged all three – – and a story for my brothers in faith.  Sins of impurity are common and isolating – – low visibility, high awareness.

So the sophomore year progressed and I was doing well by all appearances.  The problem with walking far from God is that it makes life easier.  Not better, but easier.  I make a point with my boys, P1 especially, that I was quite nerdy.  That is true and I suppose that I still am but the point of that assertion is reassurance – – things work out well for nerds.  But this was not at all the same intense social isolation I felt in middle school.  Nerd?  Yes.  But I was the number one ranked nerd in a competitive magnet school where this was more admired than shunned.  Although sophomore class presidency was less a popularity contest than freshman – – it was only a little less.  Actually, Mrs. Pascal would have liked me.  I was friendly and cheerful.  I always helped those who appeared to struggle.  But I was not yet even becoming the man God intended for her and I was too selfish at that point to recognize her demure, elegant beauty.

-to be continued-

Pascal

-1:16

 

Photo credit:  Handwritten letter by Descarte: by PHGCOM [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) via Wikimedia Commons