Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Why I Don't Hate Rob Bell

Last week I read an interesting blog post from Tim Challies, entitled The New Evangelical Virtues (follow the link to read it; it is quite short).  It was written primarily in response to the publication of Rob Bell's latest book, Love Wins: Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.  For those of you who have been living under a rock over the past few weeks, Bell, a pastor at Mars Hill and a leader of what has been called the 'emerging church', an increasingly popular postmodern Christian movement, wrote a book about God's grace and hell, which the day after its release was the fifth most popular book on Amazon and made number two on the New York Times bestseller's list.  

Friday, March 25, 2011

Accusing God: Suffering, Scripture and the Book of Job

The topic of suffering often comes up in religion-science dialogues, generally in the context of 'How could a good, all powerful God allow evil and suffering?'  This is a valid question, with a deep theological, philosophical and experiential history.  I do not at all intend to engage with this topic, but I would like to suggest that the Bible has some deeper insights into this than is usually recognized.  Take, for instance, the Book of Job, an ancient text found in the Old Testament.  For me, Job is one of the most honest and forthright religious texts when it comes to suffering.  It looks God square in the face and calls him on the injustice of it.  There is no 'this is the best of all possible worlds' Liebnizian view of the world in Job; nor is there a Robertsonian 'they got what was coming to them' mentality.  Suffering is viewed as inherently out of whack with the world and Job, who experiences the full brunt of a God-given suffering, gives vent to the frustrations that we all feel.  He does not come to an explanation for suffering in the end, but does find a partial solution in the faith in a God who can and will end it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Does the Second Law of Thermodynamics (Entropy) Contradict Evolution?

A friend of mine recently asked me if I knew how entropy and evolution could be reconciled.  This is not a theological question, nor is it a biological one – it is primarily rooted in physics.  Now, as a biologist I can talk for hours on the experiential evidence for evolution without ever once having to think or refer to the Second Law of Thermodynamics.  I have been told that the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which deals with entropy, is the one solid empirical fact we have about our universe, that it will hold true even if everything else we know turns out to be false.  I cannot speak to the truth of that, but I do know that evolution is a real phenomenon, and if entropy is as real as physicists claim it is, then the two truths cannot contradict one another.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Miracles - Real, or Delusions?

Are miracles possible?  They are certainly a common enough phenomenon, if you believe the reports of others.  People claim to have had visitations from angels, they see Mary’s face in pretty much everything, there are claims of faith healings and people rising from the dead.  Miracles are foundational to many religions but take an especially central place in Christianity, with the resurrection of Jesus.

Odds are none of us have experienced what we would consider a bona fide external miracle.  (At least, I have not).  Without such experience, though, with the only evidence of miracles being the reports of others, is there any rational reason for believing in the possibility of miracles?

No other thinker has had such an influential effect on the philosophy of miracles than David Hume.  Written in the 1700s, his arguments against the possibility of miracles and against the credibility of testimonies concerning miracles still reverberate with us today.  Here, I summarize his arguments against miracles, and suggest where I think Hume went wrong.  (You may need a Hume refresher - read Hume's Arguments in 10 Points)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Lament for Canada's Oceans

This weekend I had the pleasure of showing the documentary The End of the Line for a social justice class at Alberta Bible College.  This movie came out several years ago to strong reviews from the likes of Roger Ebert, and happens to prominently feature my honours supervisor, Dr. Jeff Hutchings, along with my ecology professor, Dr. Boris Worm (also of Sharkwater fame), and some other outstanding researchers from Canada and abroad.  The movie focuses on the plight of the world's fisheries, and shows how greed, mismanagement and uninformed consumers have worked together over the past sixty years to decimate our planet's fish stocks, such that historically plentiful fish (like Atlantic cod and bluefin tuna) have been hunted almost to the point of extinction.  Indeed, most of the fish species that we eat have been reduced to 10% of their normal levels, with a projected depletion of all of our fish stocks by 2048.  You can watch the trailer below:

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Creation, Redemption, and the Church

Last fall, I was invited to give a talk on environmental ethics to the pastors and workers within the Churches of Christ in southern Alberta.  We met at Bow Valley Christian Church in Calgary.   I was nervous going in, knowing that my message would contradict the long-held assumptions of many of those in attendance.  But I was convinced that, being rooted in scripture, they would have no choice but to change their ways of thinking about the environment.  Fortunately, my mind had exaggerated the resistance.  A good number of them already agreed with me, but had not investigated the theology behind it.  Others told me afterward that they were initially sceptical, but I had convinced them.  A third group, in the vocal majority during the Q & A after, but a minority among the pastors, yelled at me and told me to 'get my head out of the sand.'  Fortunately, I think they completely misunderstood my message.  The following is the complete sermon that I delivered, minus the slideshow (when reading Genesis 1-3, I showed pictures of creation followed by human-caused environmental destruction).  Here is the sermon:

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Animal Mind (Thinking About Thought - Part 4)

Chapter XI: On the Reason of Animals

How similar are we to the animals?  What makes us uniquely human?  Is it our ability to think and learn about the world?  As Hume has already shown, we do not understand the world through reason, we understand it through experience.  In this chapter, Hume expands his theory to include non-human animals.  In doing so, he knocks down at least part of the wall that separates us from our animal kin. 

Friday, March 04, 2011

What Is Free Will? (Thinking About Thought - Part 3)

Hume has so far developed a fairly convincing argument for how the human mind forms ideas about anything.  You can read his theory in Part 1, Part 2, and the Summary.  Now Hume devotes the rest of his book, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, to applying his theory to various philosophical problems.  If you are wondering why I am bothering to go through this book, it is because, first of all, I find Hume to be fascinating and convincing; secondly, his arguments shaped how later influential philosophers and theologians thought; thirdly, he is often quoted today by the new 'militant' atheists (like Richard Dawkins), and finally, this book provides his argument against miracles, which is often quoted but can only be understood and critiqued in light of the whole book.  With that said, today we will look at the problem of free will.  Argues Hume, free will (liberty) is not opposed to necessity - in a common sense outlook on life, both work together to give us true freedom.