Showing posts with label thoughts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label thoughts. Show all posts

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Blame it on the Tron

I watched old school Tron the other night. So much awesome kitch in that movie, I couldn't stop grinning during the whole thing.

Some things I noticed, since last time I watched it, a few decades ago:

The "Watseka" street sign sounded really familiar. Lo and behold:

View Larger Map

I live within 10 miles of Flynn's! We'll have to pay homage some time. Here's the wider shot.

I don't think they used the same spot for Tron: Legacy, though.

I also don't remember this blatant Easter egg:

They even sampled the Pac-Man sound effects. I remember Pac-Man being such an incredible craze at the time (we sang the "Pac-Man Fever" song in school once, badly), but somehow I never caught it here.

The Messianic overtones of the movie were pretty interesting too — Flynn being the User/god, come to inhabit the world of programs in order to save them. I certainly didn't pick that up as an 8-year old. Then again, it's only these days that I spend any time wondering whether our reality is just a computer simulation.

Here's a bit of dialogue I liked quite a bit.  Flynn has just revealed to Tron that he is actually a User, and not just a program, like the rest of them.
Tron: "If you are a User, then everything you've done has been according to a plan, right?
Flynn: "You wish! You guys know what it's like; you just keep doing what it looks like you're supposed to be doing, no matter how crazy it seems."
Tron: "That's the way it is with programs, yes..."
Flynn: "I hate to disappoint you pal, but most of the time that's the way it is for Users, too."
Tron: "Stranger and stranger."
Wise words.

Monday, April 7, 2008


Sorry, I can't get enough of reading my own type (and corrections). I replied to SonOfPethuel's blog.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

From Your Side

Here are the lyrics to a song I wrote back in my less heathenistic days. I have an entry on my to-do list to record this some day but I haven't been very motivated to get it done.

From Your Side

There was a day
I thought I knew just what I wanted
But my heart had gotten in the way
There was no use
I was sullen as a stone
I didn't have a thing to say
I wish that you could carve my heart
So that I could have another start
But we all have our demons
And I know you have your reasons
I just wish I could see the other side
What does it really matter
You tell me there's an answer
But I can't help thinking that there must be more
I know it's not about me
But sometimes it's not so easy
I know the picture's bigger from your side
From your side
There is a way
And though I know which way to go
It doesn't wash the pain away
So now today
There is something I've got to do
I'm going to give it all away
I wish that I could see your eyes
'Cause then I think I'd realize
When the hunger is so strong
And I know I can't go on
You're always there to tell me it's all right
Could it be that I'm too late
But you're so willing to wait
There are better things than this world, in the next
I know it's not about me
But sometimes it's not so easy
I know the picture's bigger from your side
From your side
From your side

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Dear John Letter

Here is my email to John Oakes. It's a bit less derisive than my earlier post; I just listened to the lecture and his approach is quite respectful and less self-assured than I was led to believe by just reading the notes. Nevertheless the content is the same and so I feel my criticism is warranted.

I just listened to your lecture on The Problem of Pain and Suffering and had a couple of comments.

Before I elaborate, let me mention that I applaud your respectful treatment of the difficulty that the question presents to the Christian. I also appreciate the fact that you address the sources of suffering separately, namely other people, and natural causes. It is with your explanation for the latter that I take issue, however.

First of all, I do not believe it is up to "us" — whether unbelievers, or doubters, or objects of God's creation — to propose a universe which does not include plate tectonics, before we can rightfully criticize the concept of an omnipotent God who created a world where suffering comes at the hand of that same world. It is the bible that makes the claim that such a God exists; thus the burden of proof lies with the bible — or at least the theist who claims to believe it — to sufficiently explain this assertion.

Second, would you have us believe that God spoke this world into existence, can change the nature of physics at will to enable a man to walk on water, and yet cannot save people from earthquakes caused by the plates of the earth shifting because they are necessary for life? Or, what of the virgin birth? And, is it not Jesus' unique ability to nullify the natural order of life and death, the very reason that we should believe he is from God? And yet, this same God must now submit to the very same laws of physics he so remarkably violated before? This approach seems very inconsistent.

You went on to include other phenomena such as hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and even bacteria. Unremarkably, then, you have made God subservient to exactly the circumstances of the natural world in which we find ourselves. If this is the case, then wouldn't it easier to assume that God does not exist, or at least does not care? At least this would relieve us of the aching burden of searching to find some purpose for senseless suffering.

Consider this: are there plate tectonics in heaven as well? If heaven is some different kind of existence, why not just start with that existence? This solves the problem of envisioning an environment that does not include plate tectonics. God could still accomplish his goal of "soul-making," or whatever other justification one might have for suffering at the hand of other humans with free will, without adding the additional burden of suffering from natural causes. Thus I respectfully find your explanation lacking.

Another issue you may wish to address in your talk is the problem of animal suffering — that is, if animals do not have souls and do not have the chance to go to heaven, their suffering has no meaningful explanation. As of yet I have not heard much argument from the apologetic side on this issue (I have not yet listened to the rest of the conference lectures so I apologize if this is addressed elsewhere).

Thanks for your time.

Friday, July 20, 2007

John Oakes — The Problem of Pain and Suffering

John Oakes is a member of the San Diego Church of Christ, which I used to attend. I remember him speaking a number of times to my part of the congregation. He has a Ph.D in chemical physics and has authored a number of books.

I recall hearing him for the first time many years ago. I remember being a bit surprised at one of his answers during the Q & A session, mostly because it seemed to depart subtly from the doctrine of inerrancy in which we had been trained. Basically I had asked what his take was regarding the fact that Chinese history books go back so many more generations than the bible accounts for. His response was something to the effect of, anyone trying to make that assertion is trying to nail down specific genealogies to a certain time in history, which simply is not the intent of the bible. At any rate, I respected his knowledge quite a bit, and he continues to be well respected within the church to this day.

John has a website dedicated to Christian apology, I have been reading some of the notes he posts, which are presumably from speaking engagements in which he has participated. One in particular,
"The Problem of Pain and Suffering, Part I," caught my attention. The gist of John's essay is to offer explanations to the classic apparent contradiction among the collective assertions that: 1) God is omnipotent, 2) God is loving, and yet 3) suffering exists. First John deals with suffering at the hands of other people, and offers the familiar explanation of free will. Then he tries to tackle the issue of suffering due to natural causes. Here is an excerpt:

The fortunate facts about the earth we live on include the production of heat inside the earth from radioactive uranium and the action of plate tectonics caused by the release of that heat. Without plate tectonics, the earth would have lost its atmosphere and the soil would have lost its ability to support an abundance of life a long time ago. Plate tectonics, a necessity for life, also produces earthquakes. Humans suffer because of earthquakes. Before we fault God for causing earthquakes, we better propose a universe and an environment in that universe which does not include plate tectonics. Are earthquakes evil? No, they are necessary to life.

Now, this strikes me as ridiculously inconsistent.

First of all, it is not up to "us" — whether unbelievers, or doubters, or objects of God's creation — to propose a universe which does not include plate tectonics, before we can rightfully criticize the concept of an omnipotent God who created a world where suffering comes at the hand of that same world. It is the bible that makes the claim that such a God exists; thus the burden of proof lies with the bible — or at least the theist who claims to believe it — to sufficiently explain this assertion.

Second, John would have us believe that God spoke this world into existence, can change the nature of physics at will to enable a man to walk on water, and yet cannot save people from earthquakes caused by the plates of the earth shifting because they are necessary for life? This God decided to miraculously circumvent the natural order of child-birth to bring his one and only son to this earth — an event about which all of history supposedly revolves. The very basis of Christianity is based on Christ's ability to nullify the natural order of life and death! The resurrection is the very event proclaimed so loudly as evidence that Jesus is above the natural physical laws, and therefore from God! And yet, this same God must now submit to the very same laws of physics he so remarkably violated before?

Which is it? God is not subject to the physical laws that we observe, or he is?

John's notes continue on to include other phenomena such as hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and even bacteria. Essentially he has made God subservient to exactly the circumstances of the natural world in which we find ourselves. Pardon me, then, if I do not seem very much in awe at the power of such an "omnipotent" God. And if this is the case, then isn't it easier to assume that God does not exist, or at least does not care? At least this would relieve us of the aching burden of searching to find some purpose for senseless suffering.

I start to wonder what kind of heaven John believes in. Are there plate tectonics in John's version of heaven as well? I'm sure he will say something to the effect of, no, in heaven there will be a different kind of existence. But then, why not just start with that existence? There; the problem of envisioning an environment that does not include plate tectonics has just been solved! God could still accomplish his goal of "soul-making," or whatever other justification one might have for suffering at the hand of other humans with free will, without adding the additional burden of suffering from natural causes.

And yet he apparently did not choose that route, because such suffering does exist. Thus I find John's explanation sorely lacking.

I just ordered the CD containing the lectures of the 2007 International Apologetics Conference, where presumably John spoke from these notes. If no further insight into John's argument can be gleaned, I will likely send him an email of my criticisms.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Science Superior to Religion

I've been thinking a lot about the relationship between science and religion. Each camp seems to characterize this relationship in their respective ways. For instance, theists will typically claim that science is a faith, implying that the same amount of faith is required to believe in it as, say, Christianity. Others, on the other hand, tend to treat them as completely separate — "incompatible magisteria" being the classic label.

I must note that I am very likely abusing the word "science" here. By it I am trying to encompass all skeptical thought based on observed evidence. Also implied in science is the possibility that any theory may be proven incorrect in the future, given sufficient evidence.

First of all, I take issue with the theist's claim by arguing that the faith in science is somehow comparable to the faith required to accept something like Christianity. It is true that there are some things that will never be proven and we must take them to be axiomatic truths. But the amount of faith required to believe in any religion is orders of magnitude greater than that required to accept the basic axioms that we use to describe the world which we observe.

The more interesting issue that this brings up, however, is that the theists are more correct than they know — science and religion actually are quite similar. The error is in which criteria by which to compare them.

My assertion is that science is what religion tries to be. So, from this perspective, science supersedes religion, as it is more powerful and less prone to religion's pitfalls.

Of course, this is incompatible with the theist perspective that religion (whichever one is correct) is supernaturally revealed and therefore trumps any conclusions based on evidence and observation. But there are clues inside of every believer that invalidate the theist's position. To illustrate this, I outline the typical process of coming to faith.

  1. A prospective believer somehow comes in contact with the bible (or other holy book).
  2. He reads it and finds that it contains profound wisdom and provides meaning for his life.
  3. He decides to accept it and dedicates his life to learning from and obeying this book.

I omit the possible step of 0) a religious or miraculous experience. Although I believe it to be common, theists typically don't allude to it as a reason for their faith in a discussion such as this, which seems wise.

Now the crucial point of this process to note is step 2). How does someone come to the conclusion that this book holds profound wisdom? Answer: the bible accurately and successfully (in the prospective believer's mind, anyway) explains the world that he has experienced so far; it illuminates and confirms his suspicions about how the world works.

And this is precisely what science does — attempt to explain the evidence that we observe about the world. I reiterate my claim — religion is an attempt to explain the observable world, and is therefore an attempt at what science more powerfully achieves.

Another way to look at it is this: there are several myths and religions to choose from; why reject almost all of them in favor of just one? Most of them are quickly dismissed because they do not accurately describe the world that we observe. If you found that the holy book to which you currently subscribe had decreed something ridiculous, like "kill all babies," you would never have considered it legitimate in the first place. Why? Because it deviates so wildly from what you already observe to be true and right.

When faced with deciding between equivalently realistic religions, what does the believer do? He assesses the credibility and authority of each religion based on the weight of evidence for each. Again, science has provided the means of distinguishing between religions.

Other thoughts regarding the relationship between science and religion:

  • Science is the means by which we choose to accept a religion (consciously or not).
  • Science is the means by which we judge between religions (consciously or not).
  • Science is the means by which we correct/reinterpret religion's incorrect/misinterpreted claims (consciously or not).
  • Science evolves and grows, whereas religion is static, except for reinterpretation, which is enabled and prompted by science.
  • No religion has been perfect from its inception; each is trying to get closer and closer to an ideal. This nullifies any advantage of divine revelation that religion can claim to provide over science.
  • Religion is more vulnerable to gullibility and a stubborn resistance to correction than science because it depends on belief disproportionate to the amount evidence supporting it.

The other approach to the relationship between science and religion, that they occupy non-overlapping magisteria, has its mantra: "Science tells us how; religion tells us why." The problem with this is, the answers that religion gives for those "why"s are so scant and nebulous as to be effectively worthless and serve only to raise the suspicion that they are mere hand-waving inventions of man. Try following any of these lines of questioning and you end up with infinite regression.

Why are we here? God has a purpose for all of us. What is our purpose? To love God. Okay, what does that entail? Love people. So, in other words, do whatever helps people (including myself) succeed in life? Did I need God to tell me that?

What happens when I die? We go to heaven. What's that like? Better than anything you can imagine. What will we do? Trust me, you want to be there. Um, okay.

The only way I can see these answers satisfying anyone is in the way of comfort. Certainly it is comforting to believe that an omnipotent father-figure is always watching out for us, or that the greatest loss we can possibly suffer in this world is cushioned, even eclipsed, by the promise of an afterlife. Pity that truth is not subject to wishful thinking.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

More UCLA Weirdness

I wrote another letter to the editor of the Daily Bruin recently. Of course this didn't get published either.

I read your article "Professor discusses nature of Islam" regarding
the discussion "Extremism and Islam", which I also attended.

I am surprised that there was no mention of the way the professor responded to the first question posed during the question and answer portion of the talk. The professor's response was, to say the least, belligerent and confrontational. I do not think it was a coincidence that the moderator decided to end the question and answer portion after just one question, claiming time restraints.

It was difficult for me to reconcile his speech claiming that "The core values of Islam are mercy, compassion and humility" while his response was so much less than exemplary. Personally I was shocked and felt that the outburst detracted from the professor's credibility. To make no mention of this in your article makes me wonder about the objectivity of your report.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


Last night I went to see the movie Obsession on campus, hosted by Students for Peace and Justice. Nonie Darwish, founder of Arabs for Israel and featured in the film, spoke to the audience afterwards. Overall it seemed the main point of the movie was to make strong parallels between radical Islam and Nazi Germany. By the end I distinctly felt that the implication was that war is the only logical solution, although it was never stated directly.

Watching many clips of how children are indoctrinated to despise the United States definitely had me thinking about my recent thoughts about belief. I certainly don't think that war is the answer to this kind of situation, but then the question becomes, what is? Education? Information? The invention of the internet has certainly been a revolution of sorts. Perhaps it can continue to enable global mind-change.

Something else happened that night which really left an impression on me, so much so I wrote a letter to the editor of the Daily Bruin:

I attended the showing of "Obsession" on the night of the 24th. As people were filing in, there were people from other groups handing out informational flyers to those waiting in line. I took one and put it in my backpack, looking forward to reading it more closely later. What surprised me was that upon entering, our bags were searched and this flyer was removed — I was told that I could not bring it into the theater. The response to my look of astonishment was that it was policy and that I could retrieve it after the show.

While I imagine there could be valid motivations for UCLA to make this kind of policy, I found the situation ironic considering that presumably the goal of hosting such events is to educate by showing different sides of issues and letting people decide for themselves. Especially disconcerting was the fact that as I left, the confiscated flyers were nowhere to be found. When I posed the question of where they were to the security guard enforcing their confiscation, he had no idea.

I hope to find out the history of this policy. And I would appreciate it if the groups that endeavor to enforce it would do so with greater respect and integrity.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

This I ... Believe?

My most recent attempt at describing where I stand on faith these days has been a criticism of the Christian concept of salvation being dependent on belief in Jesus. By and large all who call themselves Christian have a wide spectrum of beliefs regarding salvation, but at the core of them all is this one. Some doctrines hold that there are additional requirements for salvation (baptism, confirmation, etc.), but all these of course depend on some kind of belief in Jesus in order for them to be meaningful, so I think this argument can safely address most of Christianity, mainstream or otherwise.

Now here is how my travels have brought me to a place where this no longer makes sense: I have come to find that believing (or disbelieving) something is not a matter of choice. While this conclusion has been formulating in my mind over the past few years, I came upon the same idea expressed much more eloquently by both Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, and their arguments helped me to frame what I was feeling into words.

All of us have had something that we believed to be true at one time, only to find out later that we were wrong. For those who always get things right the first time, think of the many concepts that were once widely held but then later refuted — for example, the idea that the earth was flat. For a long period of time people could not help but believe that the world was flat. And yet, when more and more evidence appeared indicating otherwise, eventually it overwhelmed people to where again they could not help but believe that the world was round. Could they, indeed could we, still "choose" to believe that the world is flat? I suppose we could, but at that point we call this delusion or denial which is understood to be an unhealthy way to approach things. Certainly this is not the sort of faith that Christians would want to advocate anyway. In a sense it is making a distinction between what we "choose" to believe (voluntary) and what we "really" believe (involuntary). So even in this there is concept of something that we cannot help but believe.

If belief truly is involuntary, then how does the concept of a salvation based on belief fit into things? If belief is not something that we can choose, then salvation is not something we can choose either, and the point of exhorting people to choose it would be nonsensical. This to me is a conflict within the framework of Christianity that is beyond recovery.

Newtonian physics was a model that worked for a long time, but when Einstein came along he helped us see that the model fell apart when describing things approaching the speed of light; a new model was needed. In my experience Christianity has this same feel to it — I accepted it because as a model it made the most sense with what I saw and knew at the time. Belief as a choice was one key point that I accepted whole-heartedly; indeed I felt that anyone who chose not to believe was simply evading responsibility. Now however, I feel the model breaking down, this point of belief being one of many examples. Psychology, sociology, and science in general are better, more powerful models of describing the world, and they have proved more fruitful for my life in general.

Now I brought the idea of belief being involuntary up with Ben and he raised the interesting point that if belief is involuntary, that is, simply a product of experiences, then all choice is simply a product of experiences as well, since choice is determined by beliefs. Thus, he argues, the original assertion necessarily implies a deterministic world.

And this really got me thinking in a lot of different ways. Initially my response is to say that choice is not directly determined by beliefs, but that within a certain set of beliefs there are still an enormous, perhaps infinite, number of choices available to a person. While I think this is a reasonable idea, I also note that a deterministic world is not outside the (or my) realm of possibility. As my education is in computer science, this kind of thinking is not unusual. The theory that the world is in fact some kind of computer simulation has already been put forth, in fact.

What Ben's question really raises for me is the need for a closer examination of the concept of "choice." I haven't thought about it extensively but perhaps a materialist world — where the brain behaves according to rules of chemical reactions — denies the idea of choice altogether. What if historically "choice" was simply the label we used to describe the mysterious machinations that people undergo, producing behavior? Maybe it was simply our tool to describe what we could not yet explain accurately, on the level of "soul." Perhaps now we have a better model and so we should reexamine what choice means. After all, as I have brought up before, we did not choose to be born into this world. Is it that difficult to accept that choice as we know it is some kind of mysterious illusion?

The idea of a deterministic world is somewhat unnerving, I think because our traditional understanding of choice is so pervasive. It's interesting how I (and probably most people) immediately equate the obliteration of choice as a concept with a loss of rights, or some kind of authoritarianism, or as somehow turning us into robots. I suppose I may eventually quell my initial unease with relinquishing my definition of choice and wholeheartedly embrace the idea of a deterministic world. For now though I will consider it undetermined, *ba dum bump*.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Absolute Morality

This post continues my discussion with Kip by elaborating my perspective on the existence of an absolute morality.

There was a time when I believed in a sense of absolute right and wrong, but since then I have come to change my position on this. The following are some of the logical steps I went through while contemplating this concept. I will begin with the initial premise of C.S. Lewis, which I subscribed to first.

The Premise

Lewis reasoned that since most people accept that some religions are "better" than others, then there must exist some sort of ultimate "best" religion that these comparisons are in a sense "pointing" to. This made sense to me, as did his subsequent claim that Christianity was the religion that best fit the bill, based on other reasoning which I won't get into. In fact Lewis used this universal sense of morality as evidence of God.

Perspective on Good and Evil

Later I came upon a new approach to the concept of evil. Instead of a looking at good and evil as two equivalently manifest ends of the morality spectrum, doesn't it make more sense to define "evil" with respect to good, that is, as the absence of good? This is comparable to how darkness is not a true physical entity, but merely an abstract concept describing the absence of light. I contemplated whether the devil exists, a debate common in Catholic and even Jewish theological circles.

Judgment, and its By-Product, Guilt

The psychological perspective brought me to the point that really made the difference. In reading How People Grow I started to see how judgment and guilt do not benefit a person in that they do not elicit a sustained change in behavior. They may work in the short-term, but in the bigger picture they inevitably do more harm than good. This truth struck with a real resonance because evidence of it was all around me, and even included me, as I had been deeply involved in a group that used both judgment and guilt (unconsciously, in my opinion) as instrumental parts of its practice.

Instead, the more powerful concept that elicits lasting behavior modification is the realization of consequences. When a person realizes how his behavior causes pain to those around him, he wants to change. This presents a more meaningful and effective motivation for change than "because it's the right thing to do."

In their book Cloud and Townsend still believe in the concept of judgment but assert that it is reserved for God alone — it is not meant to be wielded among mortals. I started to wonder though, what might happen if I did not assume God existed in the first place.

The Thought Experiment

The following thought experiment further convinced me — consider the scenario of a man alone on a desert island. In this context, is this man subject to judgment of right and wrong? What kind of universal law could you try to enforce upon him? This implies that law is a purely relational artifact; it only has meaning in the context of two (or more) entities.

Thus the existence of absolute morality and the existence of God are equivalent assumptions. Therefore, one cannot use one to prove the other without creating a circular argument. Of course if they are equivalent, then proving that absolute morality does not exist is as impossible as proving God does not exist.

Although disproving the existence of absolute morality is impossible theoretically, I believe that there is another reason to abandon the idea of it entirely.

Absolute Morality Unattainable

In practical terms, one could never profess having a grasp of absolute morality anyway. Even if there were a source of revelation such as the bible which contained some definition of it, it would still require interpretation by humans in order to understand it, which is by definition fallible. We need only look at the history of Christianity, or any other religion for that matter, to see several tragic early approximations of a purported absolute truth. The real danger is in assuming that we are more "sincere" in our faith than the early believers and therefore beyond making the same errors of interpretation.

Belief in Absolute Morality Dangerous?

Another interesting thing to think about is whether a belief in an absolute morality is actually detrimental, aside from the actual veracity of the claim. I assert that even if such a thing exists, believing that it exists will inevitably entice someone at some point into thinking that he has attained it. If (or perhaps, when) a better perspective comes along, convincing this person that an improvement exists could prove difficult, perhaps even impossible.

Even from the theological point of view, it seems like the "pride before the fall" scenario all over again. In other words, humility would dictate that we leave ourselves open to the possibility that we could be wrong in any particular area.

But perhaps in practical terms there is no difference in saying "there is an absolute truth, but I will never attain it," versus "there is no absolute truth, but I will strive endlessly to find what is better." Either way the point of real consequence is that we should never feel as if we have reached the absolute best policy on how to behave in any situation.

Apologies that this post ran so long; hopefully it's not too incoherent. I did not even delve into moral relativism, which, without having studied it extensively, I imagine I subscribe to. My guess is that The God Delusion, which I have just started reading, will express some of these same ideas more cogently.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Love/Hate (ongoing)

I've decided that I should be more assertive about who I am rather than deferring my opinions to whoever else is in the room at the time. As an exercise towards this endeavor I will maintain an ongoing list of some things that I love and hate.

    Posted 12/19/06:
  • the TED video blog
  • Radio Lab podcast
  • things my mom gets enthusiastic about

    • Bookworm
    • Sudoku
    • that online Scrabble game with the jumping tile when you score big

  • toffee bar crunch ice cream
  • philosophical discussions with friends
  • feeling a shiver when listening to a new song
    Posted 12/19/06:
  • that (not so) sinking feeling when I flush and realize I've plugged up the toilet
  • people that flake on appointments
  • people that don't return my phone calls

Monday, December 18, 2006

God vs. Science

An article in TIME magazine entitled "God vs. Science" came out a bit ago; actually it was the cover story. It was quite an interesting discussion between outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, and Francis Collins, Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute.

For the most part I found their perspectives remarkably compatible, which could be comforting in some ways, and unfortunately dull in others. Collins has no problem accepting evolution as the means by which God created humans, and Dawkins admits there are profound things in this universe that science cannot (yet) explain. Ho hum.

The one glaring thing I found suspect was Collins' invocation of Occam's razor. The article reads:

COLLINS: ... Barring a theoretical resolution, which I think is unlikely, you either have to say there are zillions of parallel universes out there that we can't observe at present or you have to say there was a plan. I actually find the argument of the existence of a God who did the planning more compelling than the bubbling of all these multiverses. So Occam's razor — Occam says you should choose the explanation that is most simple and straightforward — leads me more to believe in God than in the multiverse, which seems quite a stretch of the imagination.

This just seems silly. If I got that right, Collins is arguing that it's simpler to believe that God exists than that a multitude of universes exist, of which we are just one. What I can't understand is how such an obviously intelligent person cannot see the flaw in that reasoning. By calling the existence of God the "simpler" explanation, he has simply lumped all of the complexity into a different bin and labeled it "God." Which is more complicated – a innumerable number of universes, or some kind of being able to create such universes, at will? One might as well quote Hebrews 3:3:

Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself.

Certainly if the builder deserves greater honor, it is safe to say he is decidedly more complex than the house he built.

One consequence of labeling this complexity "God" is that Collins renders it automatically beyond the reach of human scrutiny, by definition, and thus absolves his responsibility for further study or explanation, because of course such things are "unknowable." This approach is common to all creation/intelligent design arguments and therefore, to me anyway, removes itself from the realm of science. At any rate, I find myself agreeing more with Dawkins than with Collins in this article.

What I really find interesting is the apparent flip in roles between the scientists and creationists/intelligent design proponents. All of a sudden, it is the theists who are saying, "there is no way it could happen" (with regards to life springing spontaneously from non-life), while the scientists are the ones holding out with perseverance and faith, saying, "just because you don't see it doesn't mean it's not there" (with regards to the discovery of some natural process).

Between the two camps I think it's the scientists who have the right approach. To proclaim that there is no way that life can be created spontaneously through random events is tantamount to fortune-telling. Anyone versed in history knows that it is foolish to say "it will never be done" about anything. And to those who would bank their faith on this kind of fragile reasoning, what will you do if someday life is in fact artificially created, or found elsewhere in the universe?

Wednesday, November 8, 2006


I've had this conversation relating some of my reasoning with several people now and it hasn't done much more than, at best, render my audience speechless, or worse, exasperate them. By now I've had a couple of chances to think about this concept a little more precisely so I'll try to express it here.

It isn't much more than the long-standing criticism of fundamental Christianity, namely, if God is so loving, why does he send so many people to hell? Mostly what I have to offer is a rebuttal to the common defenses of this attack.

Probably the most reasonable response to this question is:

God doesn't send people to hell, He lets people choose it for themselves. C.S. Lewis argued this very point quite eloquently; probably the concept has origins even earlier than that. And, for a time this answer satisfied me. It certainly makes sense to say that God loves us so much that ultimately giving us choice is a greater expression of love than forcing his presence upon us in heaven. So in this sense hell is simply an existence apart from God.

Essentially one could characterize the debate as such:


God is unloving for sending so many people to hell.
Actually God is loving because he gives us the choice to choose Him or not.

Thus the responsibility has been placed on us to choose our eternal destination. And here is where I interject a rebuttal — but we didn't choose whether or not to be born.

The defense attempts to remove the judgmental characterization of God by placing the responsibility squarely on our shoulders. But a large portion of that responsibility was already decided when our parents — intentionally or otherwise — conceived us. So why should I be judged by my decisions when it wasn't my decision to even exist? If I had to choose whether to go to hell or to have never been born, I think the obvious choice would be the latter.

As an illustration, in bible studies I used to be involved in we would refer to John 12:47-48:

"As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day."

The illustration went something like this: Imagine you're taking a class. The teacher says, "Here is the textbook, you are responsible for chapters 1-5; there will be test in four weeks." If you choose not to study and get an 'F', is it really the teacher that is judging you? And the answer is, no, it's the textbook that is judging me; I brought this judgment upon myself because I chose not to study; the teacher didn't give me an 'F', I gave myself an 'F' because of my choices.

The corollary to my rebuttal then, is, how about the guy that decided not to enroll in the class? Why should he get an 'F' too?

The point of my rebuttal is this: there is no way of getting around the fact that God sends people to hell; at least, this defense falls short. Ultimately we are all thrown into a test we didn't sign up for but are expected to pass or fail depending on the choices we make with the circumstances handed to us.

Alternate defenses I have heard to the initial criticism are:

Hell is actually like never being born. This is a pretty decent idea. It does make for interesting interpretation of phrases like "eternal fire" (Matthew 25:41) and "eternal punishment" (Matthew 25:46, Jude :7) though. Also, as far as I know the main support of this concept is that the fire-and-brimstone concept of hell was developed later on to scare people into behaving. If you bring this up though, doesn't it lend credibility to the idea that heaven was also developed to inspire people to hope and is therefore also an imaginary concept?

People who don't [have a chance to] believe in Jesus are judged by a different standard — their consciences (Romans 2:15). This argument is quite liberal and opens up a can of worms for the typical fundamental Christian. Notably the interpretations of "Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me'" (John 14:6) and "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Romans 4:12) are difficult to resolve.

When I was part of an organization which believed that it was going to save the world in our generation, then the concept of God sending people to hell was not so hard to swallow — at least I could say I was part of a group that was actually doing something about it. And I really believed it; there really were at the time what looked like substantial results: lives significantly changed, lots of numerical growth. In time though the superficial glory faded — numbers dwindled and life changes either regressed or were more accurately attributed to community or even hype.

So sustaining this interpretation of Scripture means believing that many, many people are go to hell, for many, many generations to come. And thus I think the criticism is valid — can a God like that really be considered loving? Or is there some other interpretation that fits reality better?

Anyway as I said, this argument didn't make it very far with my audiences so far. I am curious if this makes sense to anyone out there.

Saturday, November 4, 2006


So here goes.

There are so many different perspectives from which I have initiated this discussion that it is difficult to decide which is most appropriate. For now I will start with faith.

The concept of faith has always seemed complicated to me; I even remember writing a blog entry on it a while back. There was a time when I wavered between two schools of thought; either faith is a decision that a person makes (Hebrews 11:1), or faith is something that God simply grants (John 6:44, 6:65). This conundrum could also be posed as the probably familiar "free-will versus predestination" paradox.

Recently however I have come to believe that people, using myself as anecdotal evidence, come to faith based on the "personal evidence" they have encountered in their lives up to that time. By personal evidence I don't mean evidence in the sense of apologetics, I simply mean something that someone is willing on which to base a conclusion. When I came to commit myself to Christ the evidence before me was this:

  • I believe in God because the wisdom in the bible seems to ring true to what I have seen in my life.
  • Although I believe in God, I am not certain of the practical aspect of devoting my life to God because, let's face it, I'm not impressed with the people that I have seen so far who already have.
  • My life doesn't seem to be working the way I think it is supposed to, i.e. I am lonely and unhappy.
  • Here is a group of people (Church of Christ) that is actually getting something done and whose members are really serious about following the bible.
There was a part of me that felt woefully ignorant of other religions and wanted to take some time to study them out, but of course the church beckoned and a lost world awaited so the curiosity was relegated for time being. And in the beginning I was happier, so the evidence in my life was indeed reinforcing my faith.

Since that time I have gone through many ups and many downs. During this time, and especially the past three years or so, I added the following to my body of "personal evidence":

  • It turns out that the "getting something done" part of church was really probably the authoritarian and charismatic leadership — cult of personality, if you will. Without that, explosive (numerical) growth is absent.
  • The remainder of the benefits I feel that the church has to offer can be attributed to the community aspect of the group. In fact the most useful lessons on cultivating this community I learn from books by Cloud & Townsend. While they are biblically based, I find it is their psychological training that lends the most value to their perspective.
  • I have experienced and have seen in others an interesting state — believing or knowing intellectually that God loves me, yet not feeling it. How does this state come about? If people simply read a book that tells them God loves them, it may indeed impart that factual knowledge; however it requires real love from real people to be able to even conceptualize what God's love feels like. But that opens up a large loophole in my mind — if what people need is love from other people, why need God?

All this to basically state, I don't think of myself as "falling away" or "giving up", but more than the rules have changed and I am trying to reconcile my concept of God with the evidence I see. In some sense you could probably frame this as "[working] out [my] salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12). For now I will leave it at that and perhaps I will elaborate in future posts.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The First 48 Hours

I have taken to watching late night crime shows every now and then. You know, the brainy ones like CourtTV that show you, in the unlikely case you decide to go tearing off to the dark side, exactly how to cover up the most heinous of crimes by not doing the dumb stuff that gets these amateur criminals caught.

A new one that is a pretty subtle rip-off of the 24-style of cinematography is a show called The First 48. Now the reason I mention this, other than to sneak in a confession that I'm a chronic channel-flipper bound to drive my future significant-other to madness, is that the other night there was a really interesting episode involving what was turning out to be a revenge killing in some neighborhood in the south, I think Tennessee.

The investigator had brought in her suspect for questioning and prefaced the scene with a statement to the effect of, "We really need to get a confession out of him." Now the investigator is a stocky black woman with simple but pleasant features. I didn't take much notice of her as the show followed her between the crime scene and the police station. One scene even showed her in such a mundane situation as showcasing some items in her closet, such as her interrogation jacket ("this one really gets the confessions," or something to that effect), and a large purse ("especially good for carrying my gun").

All that changed when she stepped into the interrogation room though. What she brought to bear was not only riveting, but completely unexpected. I'll try to do her justice but bear in mind this is paraphrasing. Speaking to the suspect:

"Now I know that the man killed last night was actually involved in a murder a ways back, he shot your brother, right?" No answer.

"Now sometimes things happen and I'm not saying it's right, but you know, I understand." Stoic silence.

"You've been carrying this torch for a long time, and that's a lot of burden for a man to carry." The man — boy, really — puts his head down on the table and starts to cry.

"I know how hard it is to be a black man in this town. You know sometimes s*** happens and sometimes black men don't know the right way to respond; you probably didn't have any role models showing you what to do and how to behave. I know, it's hard. Now I want to help you but you need to let me." And with that he is sobbing, covering his face, as if trying desperately to save it and whatever dignity he has left.

The scene finally ends without him confessing but later on I think it is mentioned that he does eventually break. What is so startling to me was this detective's ability to connect immediately with all that he had stored up emotionally. It was surprisingly skillful and very moving, as if I too had come in contact with all the stored up neglect, anger and futility that led to this tragically pivotal point in the young man's life.

At the same time the thought lurked in my mind that while the detective stated she was there to help the suspect, the audience is privy to the fact that if he refused to confess, they might not have a case to prosecute. Of course from the spiritual perspective, I believe it really would be helping him to coax him into admitting the truth, and that "getting away with murder," had it ended that way, really wouldn't be. I couldn't help but wonder, though, if the detective herself was really thinking that far ahead, considering the tone of her statement right before the interrogation. Regardless — kudos, detective.

Thursday, August 4, 2005

Winslow's Congregational Email

My apologies to any unlucky reader expecting to see signs of life here over the past few months. I have been making quite a few changes of late, some of which are detailed below. At any rate I am authoring this post mostly to make a record of an email I sent in response to a broadcast made by Winslow to the entire San Diego Church of Christ. I won't post his actual email here since I don't have permission, but suffice to say it was basically state-of-the-congregation-type address, which it turns out is not very good. He showed some statistics on how much the congregation has been shrinking over the past five years, and some plans to combat it. He ended his email with a humble plea to anyone thinking of leaving the church to reconsider and to please speak up. I was moved enough to write back:

Thank you for your heart-felt email. I will share with you some of my thoughts since you took the time to share your heart. Hopefully it will give you some perspective and may help you in your quest to help the church in its current condition.

For the past 12 years I have been a member of the San Diego Church of Christ. However, over the past month-and-a-half I have made the decision to start visiting other churches, doing some soul-searching and trying to get perspective. So far I have gone to a Presbyterian church, an Evangelical church, and a few non-denominational churches. When I first made my decision, I wasn't quite sure all of my reasons — I just began with the realization that although I was attending Sunday church and other meetings regularly, inside I really did not have the desire to go. Since that initial decision I have thought a lot about why I made the choice to step away and have been able to clarify what I have been feeling.

I have been in the singles ministry for the past eight years or so and I think that this fact has a lot to do with my decision. Without ministry growth for the past few years, the dating prospects become pretty hopeless. More than that though, is that without a feeling of investment in the singles, there isn't even much hope for the situation to change. Any investment of staff at this point is probably going to be geared towards the campus ministry, which is completely understandable. Unfortunately I don't think I have another five or ten years to wait for that influence to trickle into the singles ministry. While the Fosters have admirable hearts for the singles ministry and have done a great job overall, their work has been at such a high level and so broad that their influence has not been able to really take hold anywhere, in my opinion.

That is my feeling from the ministry perspective. From the regional perspective, I felt a certain stagnation. Specifically — my region has strengths and weaknesses, most of the pretty obvious. The characteristic strengths would be things like: educated, strong-charactered, influential, eloquent. The main weakness would be: lack of warmth or heart. Now in my mind, this is all completely acceptable — every region, every person, has a personality and character. But if we go so many years without even some kind of plan of growing in or even acknowledgment of these weaknesses, I begin to feel like things will not change, at least not very soon.

At any rate, after doing my best to champion these causes for a few years, I have come to a point where I feel like I am not getting my own needs met sufficiently to continue serving in a sustainable way. So I have decided that for myself, I need to take an active role in my own decisions and find a place that I feel has the resources and potential to help me where I am at. And who knows; I may get to a point someday where I feel strong enough and have been able to incorporate what I've learned and bring it back to the San Diego Church of Christ.

In summary, here are my suggestions, if I may be so bold.

  • Focus on finding a way/learning how to inspire people to desire church growth. For a while I did not think this was important, mostly as a response to feeling forced to for so many years. And unfortunately I think the leadership has shied away from it first because of the backlash, but second and more importantly because I think it doesn't really know how to truly inspire people without control tactics.
  • Humility has not been our church's strong suit especially with regards to other churches. I think that the time has come to swallow our pride and look to grace outside of ourselves and find help and direction from other successful churches. All forms of redemption require a point of realization that we cannot do it by ourselves — why not for the church also?

I am not sure where my steps will lead me at this point in time but for now I consider anything a possibility. Also I hope that in no way has this email been patronizing or condescending or offensive to anyone. Thank you for your time.

Well, we'll see what happens.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

I Am

Well yesterday I had a few things I really wanted to write down but I was too tired and I figured I could remember them until I had a chance to record them. Unfortunately I think I figured wrong.

Ah yes, I remember. Well one of them was a concept that I heard from Barbara De Angelis (warning: links to a very fufu page) when I dropped into one of her seminars last week. Paraphrased, it is:

If I don't allow people to know the real me, then any love they give me is counterfeit and I will therefore never really experience it nor be truly filled by it.

Which means, if in fact I am portraying a certain image, no matter how much people love, respect, and care about me, I may not truly be available to receive it, and it would be my own responsibility to change that. Now, this isn't terribly revolutionary — I'm sure if I thought about this I could have come up with a similar perspective — I just have never really heard it phrased in a way that really made me want to examine the contrast between who I am and who people think I am.

That seminar, by the way, was pretty amazing, despite the fact that the majority of attendees were old, white women. When I walked up to the ticket booth the lady asked me, "Can I help you?" as if it wasn't already obvious that I was going to buy a ticket. She seemed pretty surprised that I was there, I guess. Anyway, I was most impressed with the Question and Answer time she had after her speech — she seemed remarkably perceptive in diagnosing relational issues in a very short amount of time. Throughout the seminar I was also impressed with this feeling of giving, empowering, and grace that she seemed to give off. Good stuff.

At any rate I left with the distinct desire to focus much more seriously on figuring out who I really am, what I really need and how I'm going to get it.

The other thought I have been mulling over now and then relates again to Christianity and evolution. I have been considering how evolution has really served to shape and perhaps even correct my concept of Christianity.

Consider our typical American Christian concept of God. If you start young enough, many of our ideas resemble an old man who wants people to do good and not bad. This is a useful illustration when we are too young to understand much else, but most adults are at a point where this preliminary characterization is simply not enough.

Another concept of God that I think is pretty popular in our culture is that of being chosen by God, or somehow special in His eyes. This is an idea I have really given a lot of thought to before (wow, almost a year ago!). In my mind, I cannot reconcile the idea that God loves all people equally and yet at the same time considers me (or anyone else, for that matter, besides Jesus) special or chosen. Either you love all those around you equally, or there are some you love more than others. I don't think it can be both. It makes sense that we would try to fit God's idea of love into the mold of our reality of humanistic love — after all, no human being can honestly say they love all mankind equally.

That conflict troubled me for a long time, and so I find myself revising my understanding of God and His love. It is not something that fits our human understanding of love, it must be bigger than that. Strangely enough, this bigger concept of love feels to people (myself included) to be a colder, less romantic kind of love — that God loves all people equally and wishes for all to be saved. And it that sense, I think it seems to resemble evolution (or maybe, natural selection).

Well I've written about as much as I coherently can for be continued.

Wednesday, May 4, 2005

You-Reek-a (Eureka)

Zak and Mark and I were hanging out after our Men's buildup tonight and it really got me thinking. In fact, I really think I've hit upon something. I guess it's not really something that revolutionary when it comes down to it, but I think that the clarity with which I see it now is somehow different. Anyway here goes...

It has been said that each congregation has a "personality," and by that I take it to mean that each one has its strengths and weaknesses. There is nothing inherently wrong with that just as there is nothing inherently wrong with people having personalities; nevertheless, I believe it is useful to explore a certain personality in order to specifically accentuate those strengths and illuminate those weaknesses with the intent of growing in them.

Now, the West region has many strengths: generosity monetarily, intellect, talent, vision, and organization come to mind. There is however one particularly glaring weakness — namely, love. It is my opinion that this weakness that is the major obstacle to our growth at this point.

Of course, love is such a broad term which has several manifestations, and this is not to say that the West Region lacks any love whatsoever. I suppose the specific type of love, if there is such a thing, that I find lacking could be described as warmth or heart or even hospitality. Perhaps even the physical expression is all that is lacking — affection, then.

How many times have you seen real affectionate love and appreciation in a congregational setting? Effusive, lavishing, heart-felt and humble — gratitude, acknowledgment, praise. It stirs in my heart just describing it. I remember Russ Ewell in San Francisco showing his sincere appreciation of those serving for the worship service; he was encouraged how, without prompting, someone cared enough to come early that Sunday to organize Christmas carols in the foyer, so that people walking in would feel just a little more special when they came in. I remember Ismael Rodriguez praising me profusely for my work on the "Celebration of the Soul" service (most of which was possible because of his own inspiration). And I remember James Counts always remarking his amazement at my varied abilities.

As a child I would spend time with my dad on certain weekends, since my parents were divorced. I remember the day Dad dropped me off at home without kissing me goodbye. I don't recall specifically what we did that day, but I do remember leaving realizing, okay, things have changed. I remember feeling a subtle sense of loss as I got out of the car.

It is so much easier to laugh things off, to quip with a snide remark, to brandish our quick wits, than it is to show deep affection. I am much more likely to spar back and forth for hours with the guys than work on deepening my expression of love for them. It's so much safer, so much more culturally accepted. I will never run the risk of letting people know I need them or their love so long as I have my shield of humor around me.

This is probably not news to anyone. What is remarkable to me, I think, is that we haven't done anything deliberate about it for as long as I can remember.

When people contemplate leaving the West Region, do their hearts ache? Do they feel pangs of anguish as the memories of the tears of pain and joy flood their minds? Do they agonize about their decision, weigh other options, pray for miracle opportunities to stay to open up? If not, why not?

In thinking about these things with regards to myself, I realize that there is a certain wall where affection simply stops. I think about all the words I've used to describe this kind of love and what really gnaws at me is the fact that those words are what I think I can be. When I am filled up, when I feel most loved or empowered, that is when I feel the most myself, and that is when I wish there were more people with which I could share love. More typically though, I find myself scraping by, barely meting out a half-polite word to my roommates because I'm so drained and tired of dealing with the indignities of my daily life.

Tuesday, May 3, 2005

Steve Shoff's "Meaningful Service Initiative"

For Steve's leaders' meeting ("E-quip") he had us fill out a service initiative statement. Here's what I put together after some short thought.

What? (overall idea/vision):

To bring each member of my group to another level of maturity and
connectedness with each other and the rest of the fellowship; to
empower each of them to clarify their own needs and what it will take
to meet them; to empower each of them to pursue their own individual
or collective projects with community, workplace, or church

Why? (reason/purpose/meaning):

We haven't spent enough time cultivating people and their gifts, to
where each person knows him- or herself deeply and knows what he or
she can offer. As a result we have many who do not know what they
really want and feel instead like they are wandering without hope or

Who? (people involved/friends/team):

My "Changes That Heal" discipleship/support group. I also need to
develop relationships with people that will meet my needs more
directly; specifically, strong-charactered men that I respect.

What for? (goals/objectives/aims):

An overall more healthy west region, and more specifically, singles ministry.


I'm not exactly sure how I feel about it. I mean, partly I just put something in order to fill in the blanks. During the meeting itself we worked on a "Credo Memo" — an exercise described in the book The Leadership Challenge. The task is as follows: assume you are on a paid sabbatical from your job or group for six months and will have no contact at all during this time. What kind of memo would you leave them with? We worked on it for about ten minutes; I spent the first half of it finishing my Pat & Oscar's BBQ chicken and thinking what to write and then the last quarter of it cleaning off my hands. Unfortunately I lost the paper after the meeting. I'm pretty sure I put something like this though:

Credo Memo

Help people be the best that they can be by: letting them be themselves, cultivating their strengths, realizing their weaknesses, celebrating their victories and mourning their losses. Love several different forms, at several different times, in many different ways.


As I wrote that I kept thinking, the more I write, the easier it is to get too bogged down into details and to place too much emphasis on something, to the neglect of something else. It seems that I am limited to the overly broad term "love" to express my thoughts. I start to appreciate how supremely difficult it would be to write something like the bible, for this reason. I wonder if that is why the book of John can seem so "lofty" sometimes, as if John purposely kept things very conceptual. To those who would criticize the bible for not spelling things out more explicitly — I imagine it is pretty difficult to write something useful enough that the population that benefits from it transcends gender, age, culture, and even historical time period.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Satan as a Concept

Another book I read recently is called Glimpses of the Devil, by M. Scott Peck. Although there was not a lot of study material per se, it was a very interesting account of two supposed cases of demon possession. The purpose of the book is to convince the reader of at least the possibility of such supernatural concepts — demons, possession, the existence of the devil.

The accounts are quite gripping, especially early on in the book — I could hardly put the book down — but in the end I found myself less than thoroughly convinced.

The book brought to mind C.S. Lewis' concept of good and evil (bear in mind that I am paraphrasing; it has been a while since I read Lewis' works). He argues that there is no such thing as "evil" in and of itself — evil is simply a spoiling or negating of that which is good. It is similar to the concept of heat and cold; technically, there is no such thing as "cold", it is only the absence of heat.

I remember my grade-school teacher trying to explain why vacuum cleaner doesn't "suck," and getting very confused by her explanation. Now I realize that in the same way, a "vacuum" occupying an amount of volume is not an actual "thing," it is the absence of a "thing."

These could all be semantics, or a shifting of your reference point. I think the concept of the devil as a thinking, active being is difficult for me to accept. All personality is a facet of the goodness of God; if Satan is totally devoid of goodness, does it have a personality?