Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Lawrence Krauss, atheistic theoretical physicist and cosmologist -- best thing to happen to my Christian faith in a long time!

Lawrence M. Krauss, the atheistic theoretical physicist and cosmologist is the best thing to happen to my Christian faith in a long time! How so?

Last night I watched Krauss's Ratford lecture on his theory of an independent, spontaneous universe that could spring into existence all on its own: Click here: Lawrence M. Krauss || A Universe from Nothing || Radcliffe Institute Why would watching this lecture strengthen my faith in the Biblical account?

Yesterday I was engaged in an online conversation with a humanist who was obviously impressed with Krauss, and though I was familiar with Krauss and his views on the universe, I thought it best to watch the lecture posted on Twitter by the person I was dialoging with. As I started the video, I felt butterflies in my stomach and a little empty. With a cold chill, I asked myself, "What if this guy is right?"

I try to always have an open mind when I listen to people, especially those who are smarter than me. More than once I've wondered, what if Carl Sagan was right and the universe is all there is? I've stayed up at night with a cold fear gripping me, considering that I all think is wrong. Thankfully, Krauss reassured me of my belief in God. What could an atheist do to reinforce my belief in God?

If you've read Krauss or watched his material, you know he's an enjoyable speaker. He uses humor and sarcasm well. I really liked his lecture delivery. I could see myself having a cup of coffee and a few laughs with him. And while I was willing to postpone judgment and put my beliefs on hold, the more he talked, the more my understanding of a Biblical cosmology made sense.

First of all, when Krauss says, "from nothing" he isn't delivering promises of an empty universe from scratch. His theory allows for "virtual" pre-existing particles to fluxuate, to be "spewed forth" which based on observations of already existing matter, "could" spring into existence in and out so fast, these mini universes can't be observed. So for Krauss, before the Big Bang, particles, energy and some sort of gravity existed. The Biblical "In the beginning" proceeds particles, energy, light or time. Therefore, Krauss has not eliminated the need for a creator, because in his vacuum of space, there is still the container of space and the elements of quantum physics and gravity. In the Genesis account of Creation, we don't even have space, it is the complete absence of any matter. Krauss hasn't provided a something from nothing universe. He tries to flip the age old question of, "Why is there something rather nothing" around to say that we should ask, "Why is there nothing rather than something?" but he says, if that were the case we wouldn't be here to even ask these questions without explaining his meaningless turn of the phrase.

Secondly, modern particle and quantum physics research being conducted today is under controlled lab environments, guided by intelligent scientists. A laboratory experiment is vastly different from an uncontrolled, hostile universe. Again, attempting to measure the effects of particles in an accelerator assumes they already exist. Biblical creation says God spoke the very elements of the universe into existence, by His choice. Krauss's "plausible" theory of a spontaneous universe is a strawman argument that is based on such circular reasoning that it is amazing that he has an audience. He used so many "ifs" saying "if we have this, or if we allow that" that none of his reasoning or arguments were ever convincing, because his entire theory was overly dependent on the opposite of what complete emptiness is.

Third, according to Krauss, the laws of physics are an accident. The complexity and necessity of the Laws of physics, all needing to be in place before the universe could unfold in the Big Bang, just happened on accident after the Big Bang. That is far more fantasy than possibility. He wants to assume there was "quantum mechanical gravity" before the Big Bang, and then circle around and say the Laws of Physics happened after the Big Bang, all by accident.

Lastly, it is clear that Krauss is actually a nihilist, not an objective cosmology. His "take away" points were: You are more insignificant than you thought, and the future is horrible. Everything is pointless in his theory, no pun intended. He repeatedly says we know what we know, and we know we don't need anything supernatural to create what we see. Krauss thinks by saying the question "Why" doesn't matter, that we should take him at his word. He drives home his point that asking "Why" is irrelevant, but he offers nothing compelling to persuade us that "why" is unimportant. I agree that science can provide a "what" and often times a "how" in the physical universe, but to say that "why" is unimportant is doublespeak and smoke and mirrors. Krauss knows that the "why" question is beyond the scope of his science, and "why" is the basis for reality, so he thinks he is defusing the the power of the Theistic argument by hamstring his opponents by slyly and stealthily removing their ammo. Metaphysically, he is acting disingenuous and deceptive.

Overall, having intelligent thinkers like Krauss on the scene helps our faith in several ways. It seems the more he tries to disprove the necessity of a creator, the more he proves the case of the Anthropic principle and Intelligent Design. Also, I like the fact that whenever I am confronted with theories like Krauss's, it makes me rethink my beliefs, keeps me sharp, and makes me have to work hard to make sure I can communicate what I believe and why.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

What you need to know before watching the Bill Nye and Ken Ham debate:

The upcoming debate (click here for free live-streaming of the debate) with Bill Nye and Ken Ham is generating a lot of interest on both sides of the issue.  Here's what you need to know, regardless of your perspective, before you watch the debate:

#1. Neither of the debaters are overly academically credentialed.  Nye has a Bachelor's in engineering, Ham has a Bachelor's in biology and a teaching certificate.  So neither one should be considered an expert, nor will they be a professor anytime soon...

#2. Neither of the debaters are entering this with an open mind.  It is a debate, not a dialogue.  So don't expect these two to build on any common ground, nor will they win the other one over.   Sadly, as a result there will be more division over this subject than there needs to be.

#3. What is the exact topic of the debate? "Is creation a viable model for origins?"  That is a narrow topic to cover, without straying into other metaphysical areas.  So I expect both debaters to go off on tangents.

#4. Both debaters have a lot on the line, reputation wise.  So, after the dust settles, expect both men to declare themselves the winner of the debate.

#5. You should watch the video for yourself and form your own opinions of the debate, don't let your social circle pressure you into their opinions of the issue.

An earlier post on why I'm not 100% optimistic about tonight's debate:

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

One unintended Life Lesson in "Saving Mr. Banks" you won't want to miss

I highly recommend seeing "Saving Mr. Banks" (No plot spoilers here)
Emma Thompson plays the persnickety, down right rude and cruel character of P.L. Travers.
Tom Hanks, as you know, plays the lovable Walt Disney.  I was on the verge of so many cascading emotions the entire length of the movie.  From start to finish, the plot built superb suspense & tension, and reeled me in the whole time.

The movie is the backstory of how Walt Disney (who worked hard for 20 years to land the project) acquires the rights from P.L. Travers to her "Mary Poppins" and the actual plot of the movie takes place once P.L. Travers agrees to negotiate terms for her story.  The movie also powerfully brought to life the different struggles that cultural differences play when people are seeing the same situation through different lenses, i.e., P.L. lives in London when she is invited to California to collaborate with Disney.

The story of Mr. Banks is far more than the inner workings of the struggles over contracts, writers, screenplays and production.  The story weaves back and forth in time and ultimately, it is a story of how our family of origin shapes and molds us.  I won't tell you how this is brought out in the movie, you need to experience the movie yourselves.  The movie has valuable lessons on negotiating with people who hold you hostage, it has lessons on teamwork, it even has lessons on how people can... well I must leave that last one off, I don't want to spoil the plot.  Still. The movie has one unintended lesson that the director is more than likely unaware of.

The unintended lesson that serendipitously hit home the hardest for me, came to light because we knew all about the movie "Mary Poppins" and our 15 year old son who my wife and brought with to movie, didn't.  We've seen the movie countless times as children, and Klay hadn't.  Why is this significant and what lesson was driven home here?  If you are unfamiliar with Mary Poppins, Saving Mr. Banks is hard to fully appreciate.  You will laugh, but you won't cry.  You will enjoy the art of a good story, but you won't be captured by the story.  If you haven't seen Mary Poppins, you are on the outside of the story.  Tammy and I said to ourselves, we should have had Klay watch Mary Poppins first.  Several times thought the movie, Tammy and I laughed and sang songs, because we knew the plot of Mary Poppins, but Klay was lost.  So, we (as second generation Disney movie fans) would explain the parallel story of the original movie -- within the movie to Klay who was clueless. What's the lesson?

Here's the unintended lesson: You can't expect people to follow along with your story who don't know your story.  This is in no way a critique of the movie, it was excellent, and I hope it wins several Oscars.  Where I see the lesson's application, is in how we "do" church.  Most  second and third generation Christians think everyone else knows the story, the ritual, or the way we do church.  In reality, not everyone in church does (Churched or not, you can apply this to your organization's culture).  For me, there's nothing more important than church, and this movie has more lessons on leadership, negotiation,  people-skills and assimilation than a week's worth of Seminary lectures.  Indoctrination isn't the way to go -- instead-- acculturation, asking other's their point of view, learning the story behind the story, and walking through the story side-by-side, that's where the magic is.

Friday, January 17, 2014

When the Stars align: Bill Nye the Science guy vs Ken Ham

Perhaps you know about the big news?  Bill Nye “The science guy” (who recently caught national attention, claiming that teaching creationism in schools hurts students) will debate Ken Ham (CEO & founder of the Creation Museum) at the Creation Museum.  The topic of the debate:  "Is creation a viable model of origins in today's modern scientific era?"  The tickets for the February 4th debate sold out, in just two minutes! You can watch it for free:

If you’re unfamiliar with the Creation Museum (it’s near Cincinnati) it’s similar to our region’s Grey Fossil museum; in fact, both museums begin their exhibit with a timeline.  There are differences though. The Creation Museum is much larger in scale and grandeur; our modest museum here is adjacent to an actual active dig.  And as you may have guessed, they promote two different views on our origins.  We have taken our children to both and I highly recommend visiting both museums.

Even though I’m deeply passionate about this topic, I can’t say I’m excited about the upcoming debate.  I think Bill Nye will embarrass believers by making short work of Ken Ham.  It’s not that I think Ham is wrong about God creating everything.  Neither do I disagree with Ham’s views that God sparked life -- literally creating man from the dust of the earth.  Nor do I disagree with a literal 24 hour, Seven Days of Creation.  I think Ham will lose ground on a field not worth fighting over, namly Ham’s dogmatic view on the age of the earth.  

With all of the evidence that our universe is 15 billion years old and our planet appears to be 4.5 billion years old, no one benefits from Ham arguing the case for a “young earth” that’s only 10,000 year old.  In fact, when we talk with non-believers about our origins, we instantly lose creditably if we squabble over the (insignificant) age of the universe.  The Bible isn’t written as a science textbook and our goal isn’t to give a date -- nowhere does the Bible reveal it, neither does the Bible suggest we should argue for the age of the universe.  

How do I personally try to collaborate the Biblical account of creation with the scientific evidence -- accounting for the fate of the dinosaurs and of a world that appears far older than the genealogy of Adam?  The best explanation is, there are eons elapsing between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2.  Read “in between” the lines; in Genesis 1:1 God created the heavens and the earth, but by verse 2, everything is literally broken, chaotic, and dark.  When God creates it is good, so what happened?  In between Gen 1:1 & 1:2, more than likely, is when satan rebelled and was exiled from heaven. This would explain the cataclysmic devastation that is described in Gen 1:2, and it would explain why the serpent is already in the Garden of Eden in Genesis chapter 3.   

Ham should focus on issues where faith & science align, topics where he and his staff are well versed.  Namely, that the earth and all forms of life display an uncanny trait, intelligent design.  Darwinism can’t account for life spontaneously appearing in a hostile universe or for intelligence/creativity/ration/reason/logic/communication all developing from the void of space.  Between the “Anthropic principle” (where the earth is uniquely stationed for life to thrive), the massive amount of information encoded in DNA (requiring an intelligent source), and the irreducible-complexity of cellular life that could not have evolved but had to be fully assembled for life to even exist in the first place (like a mousetrap, every simplistic piece must be in place before function is possible, remove just one component and it won’t work), we have solid, defensible reasons to believe in the Creator God of the Bible.   

If we are wise, we will not perpetuate a false dichotomy between science & faith.  Francis Bacon (1561-1626), the founder of our modern scientific method, was also a devout Christian.  Bacon and his contemporaries wanted to study God’s creation, to understand God better.  Our first modern scientists did not attempt to disprove God through science, they used science to point people towards God.  Isaac Newton, for example, wrote more books on Theology than he ever did on math and physics.

Francis Bacon has a great quote we would do well to memorize: “God has, in fact, written two books, not just one. Of course, we are all familiar with the first book he wrote, namely Scripture. But he has written a second book called creation.”  As the Apostle Paul wrote nearly 2,000 years ago, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:19-20, ESV)

When it comes to the universe, science may well provide a “What,” but science can’t offer a “Why.”  The beginning question for all people, believers, agnostics or atheists alike is, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”  After all, what is it that we are trying to convince people of, dates on a calendar, or the reality of the God who created Time?  
Please SEE KEN HAM'S response:

Also, What you need to know before you watch the debate:

My post-debate thoughts:

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Broken Bread -- my plea for all believers to move beyond shallow communion services:

I'm not critiquing the church or condemning anyone.  And, I'm not saying there is a silver bullet or single solution for stopping the exodus churches are seeing all across the nation.  I do want to focus on one area, where nearly every church I've ever worshiped with, needs a major overhaul: Communion.

If your church doesn't truly emphasize the experience of communion, don't be surprised if your church seems irrelevant.   Don't fool yourself, simply "having communion" as a part of your worship every week, is not enough.  Why is this fresh on my mind?  Once again, today I've read another article on young Christians leaving their mainline Protestant denominations to join a liturgical church.  Click here to see an example

This is nothing new to me.  My best friend from college is now a Roman Catholic.  I received a book in the mail several years ago, it was a memoir from church of Christ preacher (who preached in the very town we live in) who joined the Catholic church -- for some reason unknown to me, he wanted me to know his story.  A young man who I respect very much, and who we have considered to be part of our family for 15 years, is joining the Anglican church --causing me to rethink my thoughts on the Universal Church once again.

There are countless examples of people leaving their childhood congregations to "find" a deeper, more significant experience.  I can't blame them.  I read and hear time and again about the impact the liturgy and the Eucharist have with drawing people into something "more."

I know there's something "more," because I have been blessed by sharing communion with the Church family we worship with.  Every week we share communion together.  It is an "open" communion, meaning everyone is welcome at the Table.  We don't quickly "pass" chrome trays; we have a table set up with fresh baked communion bread.  Weekly, Rodney lovingly bakes the bread for us.  We don't use thimble-sized cups either.  We use 3 ounce Dixie cups for the juice.

There's even more substance to our ritual though.  We have soft, contemplative music playing while we enjoy communion together.  Someone will first stand up front, share a thought and pray, or simply offer a prayer, and we are all invited to leave our seats and go to the Table together.  The very act of physical motion, of moving from our seats, offers significance, partnership and participation in this most important ritual.

And then after we surround the Table breaking our bread and getting a cup of juice, we have the liberty to celebrate however fits us best.  This means, some people either quietly meditate back in their seats, in solitude, while others share communion with a group, in different pockets around the room.  Our family -- we go to a corner of the room and circle up.  We hug, we laugh, we tell stories.  We keep an eye out for lonely people too, and we invite them into our huddle.  More importantly, we all take our time.  Yes, we slow down, and unconsciously hold our bread and our cup for a minute or two while we fellowship, and without feeling rushed, we consciously take Communion.

This freedom to celebrate Communion together, at our own pace yet unified in our individual ways, is in my opinion the most precious part of our church.  Communion with our church is so real, so in depth, so tangible, so unforgettable, so needed.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Alcohol: sinful or a gift from God?

(This post is not encouraging abusing alcohol in any fashion. It does address the legalism that attributes ideas to the Bible, that simply aren't in the Scripture -- namely that 100% abstinence from alcohol is supposedly ordained by God. Some people simply shouldn't drink period, but not becasue drinking is forbidden, but because for some individuals drinking is harmful)

About 10 years ago, when we lived in Illinois, during a unity meeting for the 3 branches of the Restoration Movement, Dr. Dull told me a personal story from his youth in Wisconsin:  When the revival preachers from TX would come to hold a gospel meeting, they would always preach against social drinking among Christians.  (Since Dr. Dull was used to seeing the Christians he knew have a bratwurst and a beer, this was of particular interest to him.)  The Wisconsin preachers in his home congregations always condemned the sin of smoking.  The TX revival preachers seemed to always have a pack of smokes in the front pocket every year they came to hold their Gospel meetings.

I'm comfortable saying, not everyone should drink alcohol.  For example, people who are under age.  Underage drinking is illegal, and young people are not mature enough; that’s common sense.
Plus, there are people with family histories/genetic dispositions, and addictive personalities that would be better off avoiding all alcohol.  That being said, to drink alcohol is never condemned in Scripture.  Drunkenness and drinking are not synonymous.  

There are ample and appropriate warnings on the dangers of drunkenness in Scriptures:  Prov 20:1 & 31:6, Isa 5:22, I Cor 6:9-10 and several more on the topic of forbidding the lifestyle of drunkenness. 

I've heard this question raised, "Isn’t one drink equal to being 1/10 drunk, therefore I’m a little drunk?"  With that reductionist mentality, don’t merely eat a flake of cracker at communion or take a sip of juice from a thimble, because then you only have obeyed with a marginal fraction.  Jesus said eat the bread and drink the cup, not nibble & sip. Also, you should avoid all cough syrups then, or morphine, or any painkillers that your doctor prescribes.  If I have an argument with my wife or another member at Church... (who hasn't) then am I violating II Tim 2:24 where we're told not to be "quarrelsome"?  Is even the hint of disagreeing 1/10th of being quarrelsome?

But, if we drink in front of non-believers won’t they reject the Faith? Or, if we drink in front of other believers, won’t they lose their faith? Jesus obviously wasn’t worried about His "testimony" being hurt by alcohol: “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” (Luke 7:34, ESV)

Passages in your Bible where alcohol is deemed appropriate:

Deut 14:22-27 is interesting. It says if tithing is not convenient, trade in your gifts for cash and purchase "strong drink" to celebrate: “You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year. 23 And before the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. 24 And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the Lord your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the Lord your God chooses, to set his name there, 25 then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the Lord your God chooses 26 and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household. 27 And you shall not neglect the Levite who is within your towns, for he has no portion or inheritance with you. (Deuteronomy 14:22-27, ESV) “You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man's heart.” (Psalm 104:14-15, ESV)

“Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God.For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.” (Eccl 5:18-20)

“Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.” (Eccl 9:7)

“Bread is made for laughter, and wine gladdens life, and money answers everything.” (Eccl 10:19)

“For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”” (Matt 11:18-19)

Also, remember, the Passover feast Jesus participated in, it used four separate glasses of wine to mark each part of the feast.

JN 2:1-11 (Jesus changed the water in to “oinos” which is the Greek word for fermented wine. John could have used the word for unfermented juice, "truxi" from the Greek word "trugao," if John intended to communicate Jesus turned the water into simple grape juice...)

“No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” (I Tim 5:23)

Two things to keep in mind as we finish up:
#1. If you choose not to drink, then don’t judge those who do. Rom 14 & 15.
I’m pretty sure what hurts our “testimony” more than enjoying a glass of wine is the rampant gossip and judgmentalism many Christians are guilty of. The overreaction of some believers to abuses of drinking, or the awkwardness of not knowing how to balance this topic, leaves alcohol worthy of complete abstinence in some circles -- this is close to the same mentality behind wearing burkas.

#2ndly, over consumption, THAT, is the sin listed in the Bible. I Cor 6:9-11, Gal 5:20-21, etc.  So, don’t get drunk. When we are drunk we do hurt our testimony, and we do some pretty stupid things.

Just like any other sin, drunkenness is the misuse of something that is good.
Ha, bet you didn’t expect drinking to be in the category of good, did you?