Thursday, December 11, 2008

Ever heard of Putaruru?

We have failed to heed God’s message – God’s fault or ours?

The world is in financial and economic crises – sounds sterile. Hundreds of thousands of people around the world are losing their jobs, they and in many cases, their families will suffer real hardship.

Some atheists may ask why God let the evil bankers trick us into spending money we did not have on what we did not need just so that they could get rich.

I may respond and ask why we did not listen to the many voices, Christian and others, which warned that it would not end well? … and perhaps I would admit the voices of churches were not raised very loudly (or did the media stifle them?) to call us to think about increasing number being plunged into abject poverty as we plugged in our flat screen TVs. … yea blame the messenger for not making us listen to God’s word.

Perhaps we all have to concede that the most strident voices calling us to ‘love our neighbour as ourselves’ were those of the fundamentalists – the loony fringe (?) – oh but had we all heeded their cry! Had we been more like Nineveh – certainly we received the same message – and less like Sodom, well who knows …

It is easy to say that Christ preached against the avarice practised by the merchant bankers and others who sowed the seeds of this crisis; it is also easy to say that if we had all followed Christ’s teachings we not be in this sorry state.

Correct me if I am wrong – if we had not been distracted by the new and shiny would we not have been better off living a good Christian or Hindu lifestyle, respecting those around us, even the starving in Darfur? But all of us (me included) did not do that, so …… and the starving still starve and the number of the poor increases.

Do I seem heartless? No, I weep for those who really do and will suffer, I feel nothing but disdain for those who rode the pig’s back and now have to make do on a few million less next year, yet how clear is the sound of their weeping, and so loud that governments around the world have come to THEIR aid – I guess those that really need the aid (like wiping 3rd world debt) have to again rely on the trickle down effect – like Lazarus at the gate of the rich man’s house. Certainly the situation is the fruit of avaricious. Certainly lax regulation opened the gate – blah blah … etc I could rant on, but you know it anyway.

Out of the gloom comes a story of real Christian spirit. In the small New Zealand town of Putaruru the sawmill is to close and around 200 jobs are to be lost. Bad news in a small town with a population around 3500. However, in the neighbouring town of Tokoroa (pop 4000) the workers at the mill there have agreed to restructure their shifts and reduce their hours and take home pay to create about enough new jobs for those laid off in nearby (25kms away) Putaruru.

Now those taking the pay cut are not the management of the corporate parent on $mega packages with bonuses that motivate the cutting of jobs at the first sign of missing their double digit targets. Those taking the 12.5% cut in work hours are giving up their pay at overtime rates, so more than 12.5% of take home, are those who can least afford it, earning generally at or below the average wage.

Is this proof of God, of course not, but it is the message of Christ, “love your neighbour as yourself” at work. Are all those who are making the sacrifice Christians – I doubt it, even with Google Earth showing 7 churches in the Tokoroa & 6 in Putaruru (1 per 600 people). Christ’s teaching is God’s message to all – and is particularly relevant now. Those who will now have jobs for the new year have those jobs because good has triumphed over evil, love over selfishness – these are the fruits of God’s spirit at work within the spirits of the good people of Tokoroa, Putaruru and around the world.

If you pray (or for atheists is it, wish or hope – or does life just happen for you?) for anything next year, perhaps you will join me in wanting more openness in the world to the spirit that moved the workers in Tokaroa.

Now I know most of my visitors are atheists (interesting how visitor numbers soar (& lots more repeat visitors - feel free to comment folks) when I get active on the DC site) so I mean no disrespect to your beliefs but see wishing you and those dear to you a blessed Christmas as a small act of love ...

… so I wish all who have visited here, together with those close to them and my enemies too, a wonderful and blessed Christmas. May the peace of Christ and the blessings of Holy Spirit be with you, in your homes and on your travels; in your anxieties and your joys.

While I look forward to talking with you again next year I will reflect over Christmas about maintaining this blog, or resting it for a while. On the one hand it is hard to find time, on the other I have learned much from you, thank you for time, I am sure it is more valuable than mine and you have given it freely to me, a stranger, as a gift – there I knew God’s spirit was at work in you too!

Hamba kahle


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Of pagan statues, Zeus and other gods

When the pagans figured out that a statue was not God they faced a choice. Either there was no God or God was not a statue. Wisely, most have concluded that God is not a statue and human religion has moved on.

Many atheists point to the apparent roots of today’s religions and struggle to reconcile what appears to be the pagan origins of some it. It is hardly a surprise that as religion and theology evolved peoples’ thinking was influenced by their socio-cultural environment. In the machine vs soul discussion Lee outlines a path of evolution for the concept of the soul. While some may propose other paths, Lee asks how I as a Christian can accept a concept apparently born in paganism. I reply that I have no difficulty.

The "God is not a statue" thinking has prevailed and the concept of a spiritual life with a god or gods has given rise to the major religions of the world and hence a theist majority in the population. This does not suggest blind acceptance. Rather, it means that a multitude of the wise and scholarly of many religious persuasions have pondered the question and decided, on the weight of evidence, that they should continue to seek to better understand God

The multiplicity of religions shows that their thinking has not yet converged on a single theology. However there are signs that convergence is taking place among liberal theologians across the religious spectrum – interestingly around the simple core of Christ’s not unique core message.

Perhaps some atheists have not managed to reject a particular religion/denomination while retaining a belief in God – pity really; after all we devised religions as vehicle for our relationship with God, not the other way round.

Those atheists (like Lee?) who came to atheism by rejecting the fundamentalist evangelical Christian (or other) model of God were right to question doctrine. They conclude, and to a large extent I agree, that the fundamentalist God is not a really good working model of God – it does not stand up to scrutiny.

Atheists then make a choice different from mine. They decide that as the model of God that they have is flawed, there is no God. I decide that just because the model has its faults does not mean there is no God. I reject the model and keep looking for a better one - one that stands up to scrutiny.

Why do I do that? Firstly it is the valid deduction to make. Secondly, the overwhelming weight of anecdotal and circumstantial evidence requires only a small leap of faith to acknowledge there is a God. To dismiss all the evidence – albeit anecdotal and circumstantial – and conclude there is no God requires a leap of faith way too big for me!

Hamba kahle - peace


Thursday, September 25, 2008

At the alters of science, economics and relative morality

Are our cell phones really safe, what about GE foods or new drugs?
The TV reported a court case involving the claimed harm from electromagnetic radiation that was lost on the grounds that it had not been conclusively proven that the specific radiation caused the illness.

Now I find this very interesting. It is of course a product of our enlightened age, where scientific proof is the new God and is the final arbiter on all things. As a society we have accepted this and generally accept it. In doing so have we created the age of pseudo-informed gullibility?

From a public policy perspective seeking conclusive evidence before acting is in my view irresponsible. In a community driven by moral values rather than economic incentives perhaps we could hope for better.

While we now accept that smoking causes cancer it is not understood why in some cases it does not. Indeed the failure of smoking to deliver cancer with scientific repeatability bogged the smoking debate down for years and to some extent still does. Do we have to wait for science stamp of approval before we believe anything?

Of course the true rationalist may argue, for instance, that a “safe” drug later shown to harmful was never proven safe. If causality between cell phone use and neurological damage is eventually established (perhaps at least as well as the smoking – cancer link) then they might argue that the scientists had done a good job in establishing the link and were wise to have been initially cautious, to await proof – they could have been wrong otherwise.

Wrong in what way – scientifically of course, to question the actual morality may require reference to an absolute. After all, why would a company knowingly market a product that may kill off its customers in 10 years – surely the morality of economics is enough to regulate conduct. Why give home loans to people who may not be able to repay them? But wait – it works, the market is correcting itself and all is well, none have been harmed (well not the ones that matter!). Why would a drug company market a diabetes drug that increased the risk of heart attack by 43% - surely there is no economic or moral gain in placing your customers at risk? … but they do have to wait until the risk is conclusively proven.

There are two sides to the proof problem in public health.
First is that we require “proof” when common sense should prevail. Would you sleep under EHV powerlines by choice, or that phone ‘attached’ to your ear all day or continue to take that medication? At some point acting morally to reduce the risk has to be recognised as the preferred option. But it will require a change in the public mindset, a turning away from the God of conclusive proof.

Second in our free market driven world of contestability most research is funded, directly or indirectly, by corporates with a vested interest. That’s good right? They will want to know their products are safe …. Perhaps this provides the reason for the paucity of well funded research in many of the areas of public health – of course if there was a possible pill to counteract the effects of electromagnetic radiation then the science would be there.

Perhaps I have grown cynical? But, while as a society we continue to not believe it because science says it can’t be proven - indeed the very oxygen of atheism – we place ourselves knowingly but unverifiably at risk. While we continue to worship at the alters of science, economics and relative morality perhaps we gain an insight into what lies behind the biblical lesson of the sins of one generation being visited on the next.

Is there a better way?

Hamba kahle - peace


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Machine or soul?

There is an interesting thread to atheist thinking that goes something like this:
1) There is nothing about us that cannot be explained (in time) in biological terms, including our thought processes and even our personalities. We are simply a biological body/machine, no soul or metaphysical component.
2) Because our actions/thoughts reactions/decisions can be explained (traced to the ‘programme’ we have written for ourselves as we grew up) we are without freewill and therefore in effect sophisticated, apparently autonomous, bio-computers. Implicitly such creatures have no soul, ipso facto no God.

Now some of this seems to make a lot of sense at first. Apparently our brain controls us; some of this control is hard wired (instinctive) such as the fight/flight response. Some of the way we are is determined by our experiences and what we have learned and expresses itself at the sub-conscious or conscious level. Exactly which is which – the old nature vs. nurture debate – is really not of specific interest to me here. It is the consequences that are of interest to me.

There are clear evolutionary advantages in being less dependant on hard wiring and being able to learn – or more specifically to be taught - how best to conduct ourselves. Waiting for, say, our knowledge of how to make fire to become hard wired is clearly less advantageous than being able to pass the knowledge on from generation to generation and within or between communities.

So the evolution of a superior capacity for learning and teaching has been good for us and has led to our ability to dominate other life forms on this planet. Together with learning however comes the ability to do things that may be bad for our (or others) survival in the short or long term, as either individuals or as a species.

I would like to focus on us as individuals and ask if our ability to think is open ended (i.e. we can exercise freewill) or is it constrained by the dictates of evolution and is our “thinking” a deterministic outcome of our “programming”.

In biological terms, if we are still “evolving” - I prefer developing - it is through the accumulation of knowledge and our ability to adapt our environment to us, rather than our biology to the environment. Now is the ability to learn/teach the final step in the evolutionary ladder. Theists believe not, believing that there is a further step in the development of a soul that is eternal and supersedes the physical body – seems like a logical progression to me.

The challenge to this theory is that the atheists argue that we are stuck at the biological computer stage. In support of this position they present research that demonstrates our advancing knowledge of how the brain works – its storage of memories and its decision making and in some cases what they hypothesise is the seat of consciousness.

But what is actually being advanced by those arguments? As I see it, nothing more than an explanation of how the bio-computer that is our brain works and we should draw no metaphysical inference from the science.

What it does ask though is where (if at all) is the dividing line/role between soul and machine?

As this is already a long post I will cut it off here with this most contentious question left hanging. In truth the answer to this may elude us and to debate may be futile, but as we draw a clearer line between machine and soul we should better understand both.

Hamba kahle – peace


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

There is no God - proving the negative

An anonymous comment on one of my posts here challenged the often argued atheist position that it is unreasonable to expect them to prove there is no God - as one can’t prove a negative. I left the anonymous comment there – of course it is correct - we prove negatives all the time.

Equally absurd, is that while arguing that you can’t prove the negative, many atheists actually claim that they have proven that there is no God. Simply put, the PoE - Problem of Evil - (or ‘Argument from Evil’ if you prefer) seeks to prove that God and evil cannot co-exist and since evil exists it deduces that there is no God.

Now some atheists have an interesting dilemma – if you can’t prove a negative then the PoE is worthless … if they credit the PoE then they accept the burden of proving their view that there is no God – or they retreat into agnosticism.

It is my view that the distinction between so called ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ atheists is nonsense. Either you believe God exists or you don’t – if you can’t figure out which, and many people are searching, then being agnostic is at least an honest position.

In terms of the atheist/theist debate however there is no hiding place in ‘you can’t prove a negative’, nor is there a defence in saying that being atheist is not ‘believing there is no God’, but simply ‘not believing that God exists’ while not acknowledging implicit belief in the corollary.

A number of atheists still set great store in the PoE – it creeps into most of their arguments at some point. While it is certainly not valid as an argument – it is flawed through and through and to believe its conclusion is more of a act of faith than believing in unicorns – it is none the less an interesting source of questions. Why do we have evil? Why are there negative consequences to some of our actions? Why do some people choose evil? What of the innocent victims of evil? Where/how does God fit into an evil world? … … etc etc.

I often wonder why so many atheists cling to the myth of the Argument from Evil. Is it simply that as people, when we choose to believe something (even a negative) we seek justification. In many ways it is so much more important for atheists to convince themselves that they are right than theists – after all, being wrong as an atheist means there really is an afterlife and who knows what else.

It must be very difficult to believe the negative – there is no God. It is an absolute position and it is not a singular position. There being no God implies there is no afterlife, no metaphysical phenomenon etc. This is such a vulnerable position, any evidence to the contrary undermines the absolute nature of atheist belief – no wonder so many atheists are so emphatic about requiring absolute proof to shake their absolute position.

Of course the weakness of the Argument from Evil is a real threat to atheist belief – if one can’t prove there is no God, well perhaps there is.

Now I don’t expect a single conclusive argument that God does not exist from atheists, but it would be interesting to see at least one that comes close, or perhaps an assembly of arguments or evidence that produces a weighting in favour of atheism. Failing that all we have from the atheist camp is a call to groundless faith in the proposition that there is no God.
To expect theists to provide proof (accumulated argument and evidence) of their position while atheists avoid doing so is intellectual nonsense brewed in a teacup. It is reasonable to ask anyone to justify what they believe – if they respond that they have no reason, just no one has convinced them of an alternative position, then one should question if their position is borne from reason and rational argument or faith?
I for one admire the faith of many atheists I have met – it stands firm in the face of all reasonable argument and evidence.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

It is really that simple

While indulging in the theist atheist debate over the last few months I have come to realise that there is only one question that really needs to be answered. The rest are qualifiers at best.

No it not the Problem of Evil which seems to be immortal in spite of being thoroughly defeated in ways too numerous to mention.

Nor is it the question of proof that God exists – many atheists appear to hold to a belief that is beyond logic, for many their faith is indeed strong.

There are two very important questions:
* Do we have freewill?
* How are we different from the complete thinking, singing, dancing, simulated human on the horizon of science?
But these questions only allude to the key and are themselves not the key.

The hub of the issue remains for me the existence of a metaphysical realm. While it may not obviously answer the freewill question, it does set us aside from machines. Of course you could argue that the spirit realm has/can colonise machines and perhaps that is what we are, colonised bio-mechanical devices – but none the less occupied in a metaphysical sense. So where I am really going with this is that the true crux of the issue is; “do we have a metaphysical or spiritual element?”.

How would we know if we had a spiritual element or not? – the $64,000 question! (my but inflation has taken its toll!).

Firstly we would have to seek the evidence within ourselves and secondly we would look to confirm it in others. The evidence would of course be metaphysical – no point using a metal detector to find wood.

The area I risk bumping into is that of brain chemistry and emotions – how to distinguish between the normal functioning (or even malfunctioning) of our bodily machine and metaphysical effects? We know quite a lot about brain function and personality etc. We know how sadness manifests itself in the brain and we know the areas of brain involved in math and memory. Clearly the human machine can function on a day-to-day basis as we would expect any fine machine to function.

So where and when does the metaphysical become relevant? It would be pointless for the spirit to occupy us merely as a physical home if it did not have a purpose – what are the options?
* To direct the body to do what it would not otherwise do – that is achieve some physical objective of the spirit.
* Provide a vehicle for the spirit to improve itself, or in some way to meet its own personal non-physical objectives.
Now I don’t know the answer, but either of the above (and perhaps other reasons you may think of) would most likely manifest themselves in ways which direct or influence our actions.

At this point I keep coming back to examples of metaphysical experiences (not necessarily religious in nature) that those whom I trust and respect have had. These range from premonition to telepathy like events and visual manifestations (yea call it seeing that which is not there – but not to be confused with hallucinations from wacky-backy or whatever). As for myself, yes I have a few events that defy scientific or probabilistic explanation.

However I find myself returning to the incident of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. This is a more powerful example to use than personal incidents which tend to be less open to scrutiny, less verifiable and easier to attack. But there are other well known incidents besides Paul’s, William Wilberforce’s conversion to name but one.

How does this convince me? The hypothesis “There is no metaphysical realm” is an absolute statement, all I need is a single metaphysical event to discredit it. In practice I am spoilt for choice, there are too many events to credibly dismiss then all as frauds or insanity.

With the existence of a metaphysical realm established, the existence of God is but a small step which I will keep for later.