December 13, 2009

If You Want to Fish for Men, You Have to Cut Debate

To listen to many American Christians, you would think that the main mission of the church was to fight a culture war. There seems to be an implicit belief that if we can just win that culture war (whether that means ending abortion, banning gay marriage, or proving science wrong), then people’s hearts will change.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t recall Jesus ever using that approach. He didn’t debate science, run for political office, or lead demonstrations. It seems to me that He was more interested in changing hearts, one person at a time.

November 29, 2009

Phil's "Etch A Sketch of Understanding" Proposal

Pianist/comedian Victor Borge used to joke that the first piano ever invented was very boring to listen to, because it only had one large key. It wasn’t a success until somebody finally came along and invented the cracks. 

I wonder if there was a similar problem with the invention of the Etch A Sketch®. Perhaps there was an early version that only had one knob. With one knob, the drawing stylus could only go back and forth along a single straight horizontal line. The novelty would have worn off rather quickly. Not until some genius came up with the idea of a second knob would the vertical dimension be added, and the Etch A Sketch would be on its way to becoming the most popular drawing toy ever invented.

November 19, 2009

Is God Bipolar?

Critics of Christianity often point to, and Christians themselves are often troubled by, the apparent differences between the “Old Testament God” and the “New Testament God”. How did an Old Testament God, who was all about laws, judgment, and “eye for an eye” vengeance, transform Himself into a New Testament God who is all about grace, forgiveness, and “turning the other cheek”? Does this prove that the Bible is inconsistent? Is it just a work of fiction, in which the New Testament writers forgot to check for continuity errors? Did God undergo some kind of transformation between the Old and New Testaments? Does God suffer from bipolar disorder?

November 2, 2009

How Many Lutherans Does it Take to Change a Light Bulb?

As both a scientist and believer, I’ve always been baffled by the attitude many believers and churches have towards science. For me, discovering something new and unexpected in God’s creation is always an opportunity to find out new and unexpected things about God Himself. Yet many believers and churches tend to be react with cynicism, fear, or downright hostility towards science. Scientists are cast as promoters of some subversive godless agenda, in spite of the large number of professional scientists who actually do believe in a personal, prayer-answering God.

Over the next few blog postings, I’m going to explore some of the issues that lie at the heart of this attitude of skepticism, fear, and hostility, and how to deal with them.

The first issue I’m going to address is: Resistance to Change

October 2, 2009

But It's Counterintuitive!

I recently had someone tell me that one of their reasons for doubting a certain scientific explanation was that it was “counterintuitive”. That got me to thinking – how reliable is our intuition, and is being counterintuitive a valid reason for rejecting a premise?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that almost all useful advances in knowledge begin with a counterintuitive step. And that’s precisely where scientific discovery operates, and where science is often attacked: at the point where new observations contradict our intuition.

April 3, 2009

Why is the Water Boiling? (A Parable)

Science and faith each claim to be pathways to discovery of ultimate truths. Yet the answers they come up with often seem so different, that one wonders how they can both be observing the same reality. How is it even remotely possible that science and faith could have equal validity as I seem to be claiming?

To address this paradox, Cambridge mathematical physicist and Anglican priest (how’s that for a set of credentials?) Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne often cites the different types of answers that could be given to the question: “Why is the water boiling?” To further illustrate the point, I have embellished the illustration into the form of the following parable:

April 1, 2009

The View from the Skeptic Tank

Are you a skeptic? Before you answer that, let me tell you that, in my opinion, most people who call themselves skeptics are frauds.

You see, a skeptic is someone who doubts, probes and questions. Skeptics don’t accept commonly held beliefs just because they are popular, sound good, or tend to confirm a position they’ve already taken. A true skeptic continues to question and reexamine positions including, and I would say especially, their own.

On the other hand, most self-proclaimed skeptics I know of have long ago staked out their position, and exercise their “skepticism” only against those with whom they already disagree. In my mind, that makes them “cynics”, not “skeptics”.

March 27, 2009

Introducing "Faith for Thinkers"

“Make a choice. You can believe the claims of science. Or you can believe the Bible. But you can’t have it both ways.”

No matter which side of the wall you’re on, you’ve probably heard those, or similar words. Maybe even from your own lips.

When spoken by a believer, the implication is that the claims of science are nothing but godless speculation. Science is fundamentally flawed, and has deluded the world into believing a system of lies in a desperate attempt to explain away anything supernatural.

When the same words are uttered by a scientist, the implication is that Christians have been deluded into believing a fairy tale, for which there is absolutely no evidence. Science deals with observable, provable facts, while Christianity is founded on make-believe.