Wednesday, September 29, 2004

more science, theology too

For as much as some people try to keep science and theology in separate camps, it's entertaining just to observe how impossible that really is. Scientific discoveries oftentimes direct our theological inquiries, and the opposite is true as well -- our theologies (or maybe a better word would be worldview) almost always drive scientific thought. During much of the 20th century, scientific thought about space and time dominated popular physics. From Plank to Eintstein, Hubble to Hawkins, we've seen so much being said about the relationship between our three dimensional physical world and the "fourth dimension" of time. While I understand little of it, it's interesting to note that while science has been preoccupied with time, and specifically its relativity to the physical world, 20th century theology found itself grappling with some of the same issues regarding time.

But I'm not real concerned with time here. What I'm more concerned with how much Greek thought use to influence our view of the cosmos, and how it still dominates our view of God. I guess a good place to start with the discussion is Aristotle, because his ideas about the physical world were so closely related to his philosophical framework, that his thought framed the debate for both scientists and theologians. Primary for Aristotle's worldview was that earth was at the center of the universe, and that everything else -- the sun, moon, planets, and stars -- revolved around it. (Aristotle was convinced the earth was round, and also believed celestial bodies were round as well, orbiting earth is perfect circular trajectories. He really had a thing for circles.) Aristotle had the philosophical belief that objects at rest were in their perfected state, so the earth, being at the center of it all, was the most perfect object. This had implications for his idea of the divine, as well.

The divine state was one of rest, too; immobility was a state of perfection, because it implied that there was nothing better to achieve. At rest, a being has no need for anything else -- they have attained a perfection. If, say, I needed to use the washroom, I wouldn't be in a state of perfection, because there was something I needed to do before I could be at rest. If, after that, I needed to learn about the history of the British monarchy, I would still not be in state of perfection, because I would still not be at rest. It would not be until I had achieved a fullness in everything, from knowledge to physical needs to an uncanny skill at skee ball, that I would finally be perfect, in a state of eternal rest.

You probably see where this is going. Early Christianity, when faced with Greek thought, incorporated much of this thinking into our view God. Because God was perfect there was nothing He didn't know, hadn't done, or couldn't do (God therefore, knew British history, had traveled the Alps by horseback, and most certainly was a master skew-ball player). But Christians didn't stop there. We adapted the Aristotelian cosmological view, too. Placing the earth at the center of the universe, surrounded by the plants and sun, beyond which lay heaven. Aristotle sort of filled in the blanks for us that the Bible had left out. He gave Christianity its intellectual oomph.

Then, a few hundred years later, everything started falling apart. Aristotle was convinced that anything that was important could be figured out by simply thinking about it long enough. When people started actually observing how things worked, they realized that Aristotle was wrong about so very, very much. Copernicus suggested that perhaps the sun was at the center of the solar system, with the earth in circular orbit. Kepler surmised that elliptical orbits worked best for predictions of planets, though he had a hard time philosophically giving up circular orbits. Galileo discovered moons around Jupiter, proving that not every celestial body orbited really orbited the earth. Along with Kepler, he finally proved that the Copernican view of the planets was correct. Newton figured out the mathematics to prove all this, and to predict future movements. All of this was based on observations of the natural world. By watching how things worked in certain situations, we began to get a sense of how they worked in all situations, predicting how things would work in the future.

Theologians went two very different ways after that. Some rejected any hint of the supernatural or miraculous, because it couldn't be reproduced or observed under controlled conditions. Miracles, the virgin birth, the resurrection -- all went flying out the window of superstition once reason and the scientific method moved in. Other theologians clung tightly to the miraculous, and like Aristotle, tried to think their way (and, so they thought, God) out of the problem. Since then, we've come up with quite the cornucopia of ideas, ranging from the dogmatic to the ridiculous. It's been a stirring time for theology, but a rough time for the Christian faith.

We still cling to that old Aristotelian view of God, even if we've given up on his cosmological model. But remember, just as his model of the universe was based on pure thought, so was his model of God. If we can come up with a model for the world based upon observation, why can't we come up with a model for God based upon observation as well?

Okay, so what would that model look like? At first glance, it seems impossible. How can we possibly observe God, who can't experience with our five basic senses the way we can experience falling bodies, elliptical orbits, and Jupiter's moons? Some people just give up, claiming its impossible to reconcile Christianity (and faith) with scientific observation (and reason). But hold on just a minute. What if, some way beyond our understanding, God broke through into our world, and BAM! -- showed up on our doorstep in a way that we could observe him with our five senses?

Hmmm...if only....there...was...a...way.....

Oh, that's right. He actually did show up. He showed himself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. To Joseph, Moses, Joshua, and the whole nation of Israel. And if that weren't enough, he stopped being soley God long enough to be God and human for a while, too. So that we could interact with him without our faces melting off and our brains running out our noses. The Incarnation is the ultimate in scientific observation! Jesus had parents, he got famous by having some really radical ideas (and healing all sorts of people). Everyone in Judea knew who he was, but then he got even more famous by dying. And, if you can believe his rag-tag bunch of disciples, he actually came back to life, with a real body and the very real scars to prove he really had died in the first place!

So why do we stick with the old Aristotelian view of God, one the philosopher came up with just by thinking of something really perfect? Why don't we move to this other view, of a God that was actually around for humanity to observe and check out, and whose friends had the foresight to write about, so that everyone could hear about what they had experienced?

(Now isn't the time to go into whether or not Jesus was really God, or if the Gospel's really contain the full truth of what he said, or if the church made him into God because the were crazy or power hungry or something. There's another time for that whole debate. I guess my target audience here isn't really seekers or doubters, but those who've already bought into Jesus as the second person of the Trinity.)

But we still cling to these old thoughts of God, even if they were based on a faulty cosmological model of the universe. While I'm not advocating that science say what we can and can't believe about God, I think it's time we put our view of God to the same test that we put our view of the universe to. We've got the material at our disposal, all we've got to do to is study and observe. Was Jesus actually God because he had perfect knowledge, and at rest, needing nothing from his people? Did his mission really mean anything? Or was Jesus God because he loved perfectly, and was constantly on the go, meeting the needs of his people, sacrificing his "perfect life" in heaven to bring his Creation back to the Father?

It's hard to give up our view that God cannot change in any respect. But he has changed. He laughs and cries alongside with us. That's change. He experienced what it was like to be born, and what it was like to die. That's change. And if you can stomach it, the Bible even claims that he has, on occasion, regretted his actions. That's a whopper of a change. But no matter your view on the riskiness of God's actions, you have to admit that the church has for too long clung to this old view of God, based on pure thought, and on not his character and activity found in the Bible.

It's time we sat down and observed what God is like -- because that's the whole purpose of divine revelation: To uncover what was once hidden, making the truth knowable to any and all who seek it.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Some thoughts on Creationism, from a former Freedom Farmer

I've been reading some scientific things lately, and thinking about where I've come from, where I've been, and where I might be heading. In high school, I was pretty much convinced that evolutionary theory was a huge mistake, a lie propagated by the atheistic community to undermine the theistic worldview. In college, I backed away from this view, discovering something called intelligent design theory, or more specifically theistic evolution. And here's why: the overwhelming majority of scientists who find themselves researching and publishing in today's world are evolutionists (not Darwinists, mind you) in some form or another. That is to say, the don't give a crap about creationism, unless they have the opportunity to belittle it in front of those who adhere to it.

As any objective viewer might comment, it seems a landslide victory in favor of the theory of evolution. But there's something about the use of a word like landslide that should make the observer go, "hmmmm...." A landslide depicts an overwhelming rush of something, in our case scientific evidence supporting evolution, that overpowers something else -- again, in our case, creationism. Any sort of landslide is overpowering, but when it's used in reference to social creatures, say humans, for instance, it almost inexorably leads to an air of pride and arrogance.

Sometimes even, in the aftermath of a landslide victory, those who have "slid" over the minority begin to ignore it, because the majority has covered or defeated it so completely. We can see this in all kinds of intellectual thought, but maybe, to take a page from current affairs, we see it most visibly in the political arena. Public officials often see their way as the best way, because a majority of citizens voted for them into office (never mind that since a majority of citizens fail to vote, it's actually a majority of the minority that elected them in the first place). Elections don't even have to have had landslidic results for this particular view to take shape, as we can see from the presidential election of 2000. The point is, just because you win, or are currently winning, doesn't mean you are right.

Which brings us back to evolution, and why I will always have a soft spot for creationism. If we say that for every 1000 scientists (of any stripe), 999 of them use old earth evolutionary theory as the lens with which they interpret their results, that would leave us with 1 scientist out of 1000 that are interpreting data with young earth creationist theory. (And by young I mean no more than 10,000 years old. Everything after that is, in this particular case, just old).

Though to be honest, the ratio is of young earthers to old earthers is probably much greater than that (meaning there are far more than 999 evolutionists for every creationist). For all practical purposes, this means that evolutionists will always overpower creationists in terms of field work, research, funding, and publishing (both popular and technical). The masses (myself included) will accept their truth as universal, and any other ideas as crackpot, or, if they're trying to be polite, obscure. Students will always be indoctrinated with popular notions, as it doesn't much make sense to indoctrinate them with anything else. And the cycle will repeat, over and over, until we find a petrified dinosaur with a petrified human in his petrified stomach. Which by all current scientific accounts, will never happen.

But what if, suddenly, for some strange reason, all new scientific discoveries in biology, geology paleontology, astronomy, and everything else that ends in om- or og- y were interpreted throughout the lenses of young earth theory? What if Genesis 1 and 2 were discovered to have some secret code that predicted the War of 1812, the invention of the submarine, and the breakup of the Beatles, thus making it a divinely inspired scientific document? What if every discovery was made based on the assumption of apparent age and a universal flood and a six-day creation?

Or perhaps less fasciously, would creationism suddenly make a whole lot more sense if just 1 percent of scientists were young earthers? What would our textbooks look like if just 10 percent of scientists believed the earth was less than 10,000 years old? How would our scientific journals read if there was even 50-50 split between old earth scientists and young earth ones? Would the increased competition make for better science? Or at the very least, for more treacherous debate on Nova and the Discovery Channel?

The point is that young earth science isn't bad science because it's wrong (although it might very well be). For all intents and purposes, it's bad science because most scientists tell us it's wrong. Pure and simple. In the grand scheme of things, creationists could either turn out to be Galileos, or some other young European man we've never heard of because his ideas were so fabulously wrong that no one remembers him! All evidence points to the contrary, but to be fair, look where that evidence is coming from.

This isn't to mean that I completely and wholeheartedly approve of creationism, and wish it were taught in public schools alongside evolution. Personally, I think creationism takes extreme liberties not just with science, but with biblical interpretation as well. But because evolution is so entwined with naturalism and materialism, I'm naturally inclined to be skeptical of it as well. Of course, there is a middle ground with intelligent design and theistic evolution, but who's to say they're not clinging to a particular side a little too tightly for reasons of emotion or intellect?

In the end, I know nothing. Mostly, because I'm not a scientist. But partly, because even if I were, I'd still be duped into one side of the debate from the get-go. It's hard to study science if you don't buy into the Big Bang, macroevolution, microevolution, apparent age, intelligent design, or young earth creationism. In fact, even though I'm no expert, I'd say it's pretty near impossible. Which is why I'm not a scientist, and why I lean toward the side that nearly everybody's on, the landslide side, the side that devoured the competition whole, but still have certain sympathies for the side that everyone makes fun, derides and rejects, the side got devoured and is having a hard time making its scientific case from the belly of its captor. Someday though, it might burst forth like the little baby aliens Sigorney Weaver used to spend so much time trying to kill. That would be nice. In all likelihood though, it'll just be excreted quietly on a Tuesday afternoon a few years from now, which is to say, it'll be pooped out and we won't hear from it again.

But here's pulling for the poop.

Friday, September 17, 2004

24 turned 25

It's a funny thing, unpacking and packing at the same time. While I'm opening boxes from the Montana move, my parents are moving to a new house in Wisconsin (not much of a move; it's the house next door). Packing and unpacking unearths lots of old memories for me. You see, I'm a pack rat by nature, and love opening long forgotten boxes and surprising myself with old letters and papers. It's good for me. Like pineapple, only dusty and sometimes coffee stained.

This blog has lost its focus as of late. Writing things from Montana, to people far away, was the whole reason I began blogging in the first place. To be honest, this blog never had much of a focus to begin with. Just an odd (and rarely updated) collection of what was on my mind at any given time. But I've grown weary of the "wow, i just saw a beautiful sunset" of "man, sometimes god seems so far away" posts that I've put up in the past. There's a time and place for that, but I don't think it's here anymore.

The first option is to just drop it. It served it's purpose while I was out, and now that I'm back, let it be what it was, and rest. But I can't quite seem to let it go. It's a bit addicting, as any blogger will tell you, and I've no desire to give it up just like that. So what do I write about?

Going through a box of papers from school gave me the idea. This little blog can became what I might have meant for it to be in the first place, but never got around to doing. Namely, a new reflection on things I've already thought about. I went to college for five years, and took mostly classes where the emphasis was on writing and reflecting on ideas; not simply on observations or data or presentations or performances. Over the course of those years, I came away with a worldview, and all the opinions that go along with it.

Of course, my papers are extremely boring and pseudo-intellectual, unfit for normal reading. I put them up on my website originally, just to say I'm a self-publisher, eventually realizing just how stodgy they really were. The old website has since been scrapped, becoming a blog to keep in tough with friends (mostly kids) back in Montana. So this blog, I think, is the perfect place to modify all those old thoughts and ideas, giving whoever reads this thing a better glimpse into who I am as a person -- just how exactly my mind works, or more specifically, what it works on.

Though I've written poetry, I've never been particularly good poet, let alone an average one. There have been times when that's all I really wanted, but it's just not meant to be. So I've got to stop blogging like I'm Walt Whitman or W.S. Merwin or fill-in-the-blank with whoever you prefer. So tomorrow, or whenever I get my lazy butt into gear, we'll see what was important enough for me to write over the last six or seven years, reaching back into high school if I can find some of those things. I can't wait. I'm sure you can, however, but don't let me know that. Just nod your head and smile politely. But don't be so polite that you fail to disagree with what I'm writing. Tear it aparts if you want! Tell me how you really feel. All three of you. And that dog over there, too. I'm not racist.

No really, I'm not.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004


Tonight, I painted a bedroom. Tomorrow, I take over the world.

Monday, September 13, 2004

watching comets, hating mcworld

I've been thinking about high school today. And how I missed out on things, and how that it isn't true. At all.

I wish I would have kept a journal during high school. So I could look back in time and catch a glimpse of who I was before Brennan Manning, and Bonhoeffer, and John Sanders. I try to remember. What I do recall isn't all that interesting. Friends was the ideal life. Eddie Vedder was my Rock and Roll Hero. Mallrats, Swingers and Star Wars were the greatest movies of all time. Old comic books and rural conservatism made me idealistic. I wasn't afraid of anything.

And then I turned 25. Most of the time, I think I've deen a fairly good job of not becoming an angry, cynical 20-something. Of course, I'm anti-this and pro-that. And I hate all the right things (MTV, Starbucks, fundamentalists), but secretly, I love them, and want to consume them, because I am a pig, and insatiable.

I'm not bitter, and it's only because the things that are evil, evil, evil -- the things that make America this heaving, vomitous mass -- I privately love. Like the Surreal Life and Drew Carey. And I refuse to call them guilty pleasures. Because I don't feel guilty about consuming them, and calling them pleasures is just weird, because I never use that word. It sounds like weird sex with 40 year olds. I just grossed myself out with that one.

But I like my stupid TV shows, and my Franz Ferdinand (even if they are more ubiquitous than herpes [more weird gross sex stuff, I need to stop that]). And it's nice to have these things, and still hate pretty people and politicians and Bill Gates and the whole entire world. But not to have these depressing thoughts when I first wake up, and not to feel like I'm killing babies when I eat at fascist restaurants like Taco Bell -- feels good, and it feels right, like butterflies and maple syrup. And cheese toasties, with the little bubbles popping through the top.

So I'm a corporate whore. Sue me. I still have my Jesus, and my fair trade coffee, and that one copy of Mother Jones that I never really finished. I feel okay with that, glad that I'm not a bitter, young Nick Hornby character. And everything is right with the world. Except for those dirty bastards in the DOD.