Cosmos

by Brian 30. March 2014 06:43

I finally got a chance to sit down and watch the first episode of the new Cosmos series with host astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. It began with exciting animations and music to set your mind adrift like one of Sagan’s dandelions, untethered from the weight of substantive science. My daughter and I enjoyed the cosmic micro-to-macro journey, reminiscent of the intro to the movie Contact. It opened up some interesting conversation. I found Tyson’s personal experience with his mentor Carl Sagan touching and his excitement for science encouraging. But the effort to divide faith and science was both disappointing and misleading. Even though Tyson is not an atheist (he self-identifies with agnosticism) the executive producer Seth Macfarlane is an outspoken one. It seems pretty obvious to me his bias was allowed to drive the direction of the first episode.

 I’m going to skip over the first half of the show and the pop-science introduced briefly by Tyson’s comment: “Many of us suspect” everything in our observable universe is “but one tiny bubble in an infinite ocean of other universes...worlds without end.” [i] Tyson was allowed to quickly brush over this speculative, unobservable, metaphysical conjecture as if it were a genuine scientific theory. Since I’ve already blogged about the multiverse, I’ll move on to the second half of the show where for over 20 minutes I listened to Tyson attempt to widen the gap between those who look at the world through science and those who look at it through philosophy and theology. I won’t go into how badly Cosmos mishandled the history of the church and Giordano Bruno. You can read this excellent article showing how embarrassingly inaccurate Cosmos portrayed things. I do want to briefly mention how their divisive approach was unnecessary.

The new atheists, such as Richard Dawkins, believe those on the side of science must ridicule the other side of faith. There are also those like Hawking and Krauss who seem to think philosophy is dead because of the advancement of science. On the other hand, strict literalists like Ken Ham often appear to ignore any scientific view which might require a rethinking of one’s theological interpretations. The producers of Cosmos appeared, to me at least, to be fueling the fires in all of these camps. However, there are many scientists, philosophers and theologians who reject the notion science, philosophy and faith must forever be at odds. John Polkinghorne, who won the Templeton Prize in 2002, is an example of such a scientist and theologian.  I’ve blogged about this elsewhere but Polkinghorne’s words are worth repeating.

We must take account of what science has to tell us about the pattern and history of the physical world in which we live. Of course, science itself can no more dictate to religion what it is to believe than religion can prescribe for science what the outcome of its inquiry is to be. The two disciplines are concerned with the exploration of different aspects of human experience: in the one case, our impersonal encounter with a physical world that we transcend; in the other, our personal encounter with the One who transcends us. They use different methods: in the one case, the experimental procedure of putting matters to the test; in the other, the commitment of trust which must underlie all personal encounter, whether between ourselves or with the reality of God. They ask different questions: in the one case, how things happen, by what process?; in the other, why things happen, to what purpose? Though these are two different questions, yet, the ways we answer them must bear some consonant relationship to each other.

Science, philosophy and theology are all trying to make sense of the world from different angles. They all have their primary domains of inquiry into a single world; a single reality. These domains may overlap at points (contrary to Gould’s NOMA.) For example, we cannot divorce ourselves from scientific knowledge when developing a theology of creation. Nor should we air the conjecture of materialist scientists regarding unobservable constructs beyond the event horizon of our universe – at least not without the input of philosophers and theologians. So when you have an executive producer of Cosmos saying: “There have to be people who are vocal about the advancement of knowledge over faith.”[ii] It’s no wonder why the main message of the show is one of division instead of unity.

 



[i] Neil Tyson, 15:00-24 Cosmos Ep1.

[ii]Esquire interview Aug, 18,2009

Why Facebook?

by Brian 24. December 2013 07:37

What good purpose does Facebook serve with respect to its users today? It is questionable as to whether it delivers a net-positive degree of happiness or contentment. Studies seem to indicate Facebook is not helpful to our well-being.  We are deluded if we think by having hundreds of friends we’ve never met, and by engaging in superficial interaction, that somehow we will derive similar benefit to spending face-time with real friends. So what good is it then? I can see two purposes for Facebook that are potentially worthwhile. One is to share with your shortlist of real friends and family. The other is a global forum where we might engage in the Great Conversation.

There are those who keep their friends and family list short. They post pictures of their vacations, pets and kid’s graduations. These posts are received on their friends’ newsfeed with genuine appreciation. No matter how many pictures they upload of pets or plates of food, their friends will probably *like* it. Under this scenario you typically steer clear of controversy. It’s better to avoid politics, philosophy and religion. Share a recipe or funny story and everyone will love it. Get into weightier matters and you might get unfriended. To these folks, a contrary comment might get you labeled as a troll. And of course if your only intention is to irritate those around you, then trolling is a vice. If on the other hand you articulate an idea and those who oppose it are irritated and offended, then trolling merely reveals our culture of reticence and political correctness run amok. That aside, it seems to me this is a legitimate use of Facebook even though I’m less inclined to use it for this purpose.

Then there are those of us in the camp who see Facebook as a global forum to discuss any topic. There was a time when we had speak-outs in the town square where one would stand up and engage the public in discourse. I’ve heard stories of my grandfather who would go down to the local pub and take part in philosophical discussions. The bartender kept a copy of Webster’s dictionary behind the counter to settle disputes over terms. He and his friends would look forward to these engagements over a scotch. No one knew who would wander into the fray on any given night, or how they might be bent. But regardless, there was a general respect for the opinion of others. Listeners were expected to form their own perspective, and if you had the courage, you might even articulate it openly. Tolerance actually meant something positive then. Though today we may have regressed in the practice of rational discourse, Facebook might actually offer some means of revitalization.

Even though Facebook has much to be desired for in-depth discussion, it does have an interesting characteristic. As you pursue weightier matters, conversions on topics considered taboo, your friends-list will inevitably evolve. Those who are intolerant of your views might unfriend you. Other uninterested friends in the first camp might hide your posts on their newsfeed. If you are tolerant in the traditional sense of the word, then you might unfriend those who are vulgar, offensive and incorrigible, but not those who can articulate a contrary view. On the other hand, you might choose to block those who agree entirely with you but add nothing but derision and noise to the conversation. With all of these configuration changes over time, your friends list will evolve to be comprised of those who are suitable for engaging in meaningful discourse on all sorts of topics.

You may be wondering how this applies to apologetics. Well, cordial and thoughtful discourse can improve our understanding of a topic and help us to better articulate a position to others. It also opens up opportunities for third-party observers to learn and grow. There are several people on my friend’s list with significantly different worldviews to mine. Still, I respect and appreciate hearing from them. To be sure, the more substantive and developed one’s worldview becomes, the more unlikely a contrary belief is integrated. A well-developed Christian worldview may find little to no common foundational ground with an atheist, but there may be plenty of possibilities around the periphery. We are certainly better suited to speak to someone with a different perspective after we have taken the time to understand it. If we communicate with each other with clarity and mutual respect, others watching will take note. I have found engaging in the Great Conversation on Facebook to be fruitful, especially as we employ 1-Peter-3:15 gentleness and respect. We inevitably learn more from those we disagree with than from those we already agreed with.

Coming Out

by Brian 22. October 2013 21:29


I wonder if we are reaching the end of the divine saga where the Lord extinguishes the firestorm of complete nonsense sweeping his creation. Let me see if I have things straight: Many atheists are adamant their position is simply one of rejecting belief in God or gods.[i] Yet mere rejection of a belief (that P) is not equivalent to believing that not-P.[ii] These people are not by definition atheist (asserting God’s nonexistence) but agnostic. So even though they really don’t know, many act as if they do. This is shown by their rallying, suing, writing, speaking, arguing, complaining, and devoting countless hours of energy against those of faith. Now a famous swimmer comes along and says she can be an atheist and believe in a postmortem soul. But Oprah says Ms. Nyad is not really an atheist because by valuing awe and mystery she believes in God[iii] (someone please direct a C-130 to OWN immediately and douse that hot-spot!) Then the Friendly Atheist says the talk show host ought to apologize for mislabeling who atheists are. The apology is demanded even though on his view we live in a materialist universe where everything is absurd including talk show hosts [iv]. But through all of the noise and confusion, one thing is clear. Atheists are slowly admitting their religiosity and their need for denominational boundaries.[v]

I did find something positive in this recent string of events. As a result of Oprah’s comments, the Friendly Atheist has created some “highly-sharable images” which include the following text:

“Atheists feel awe and wonder just like ordinary people do…because we ARE ordinary people. We’re parents, teachers, first responders, engineers; we’re part of every community. And we feel hurt, too, like anybody else, when media figures use their influential platforms to spread misunderstanding and bias about our way of looking at the world.” [emphasis added]

Thank you Friendly Atheist for your candor and confirmation of what I’ve been saying for a while now. Despite receiving numerous comments and emails to the contrary, atheism (practically speaking) is a worldview[vi]. Here we have a notable atheist and his collaborators openly admitting this in a marketing piece. So now that this baby step has been taken, it’s time to come the rest of the way out of the closet. It’s time to accept the fact that for many: Living out the atheistic worldview looks a lot like a religious life. After all, you even have churches popping up from East London to Los Angeles to prove it[vii]. Quite frankly, these new steps are appreciated by some of us. At last atheists might receive the same religious tolerance as Christians and the same legal treatment under our convoluted view of church and state. I’m all for fairness here.

 



[i] Nielsen, Kai 2011: "Instead of saying that an atheist is someone who believes that it is false or probably false that there is a God, a more adequate characterization of atheism consists in the more complex claim that to be an atheist is to be someone who rejects belief in God…”

[ii] http://www.apologetics.net/post/New-Atheism-Epistemology.aspx

[iii] Oprah: “I think if you believe in the awe and the wonder and the mystery that that is what God is … God is not the bearded guy in the sky.” This after Diana Nyad says “So to me, my definition of God is humanity and is the love of humanity.”

[iv] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2013/10/16/boston-atheists-tell-oprah-to-stop-relabeling-atheists/

[v] Which atheist church do you belong to? The new, friendly, or ah-theist sect?

[vi] http://www.apologetics.net/post/Atheism-is-a-worldview-(II).aspx

[vii] http://theweek.com/article/index/250032/why-atheists-are-starting-their-own-global-church

About the author

I am a Christian, husband, father of two daughters, an owner of ISC, lead architect of MapDotNet, armchair apologist and philosopher, writer of hand-crafted electronic music, and a kid around anything that flies (rockets, planes, copters, boomerangs, hot air baloons, lawn furniture)

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