Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Our Grandfather in Heaven

In his book, The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis has this to say about our concept of love.
By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively His lovingness; and in this we may be right. And by Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness- the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven - a senile benevolence who, as they say, liked to see young people enjoying themselves’, and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all’. . . . I should very much like to live in a universe which was governed on such lines. But since it is abundantly clear that I don’t, and since I have reason to believe, nevertheless, that God is Love, I conclude that my conception of love needs correction. (pp.31-32)
True love is when a parent teaches their child in such a way that the child learns to live a productive and contented life in this world. A parent who loves their child disciplines the child in the hope that they will learn to be self-disciplined. The parent gives the child good food and encourages an appetite for that food. The parent seeks the health, strength, happiness, and self-discipline of the child.

Saturday, May 26, 2012


I watched the 1997 movie Contact once again. I love this movie because most of the time it seems to be truly wrestling with questions of philosophy, science, and theology. It asks questions that don't get answered (just like real life). It recognizes that there are fundamentalist zealot Christians and there are fundamental zealot scientists. It describes scientists with an openness to faith and describes people of faith with an openness to science. It struggles with the problem of absolute skepticism and with the problem of faith when we have no hard evidence on which to base our faith. It recognizes that some experiences go beyond what can be measured with scientific methodologies. These are very good questions to ask.

I encourage the reader of this blog to give the movie a thoughtful viewing and allow the questions of the movie to become questions we also ask about life, faith, and science. I will quote a few of my favourite scenes from the script to whet your appetite for this movie and this discussion.

The movie is about one woman's determined effort to detect evidence of intelligent life beyond this planet. Early in her life she has this interaction with her father.
"Ellie: Dad, do think there's people on other planets?
Ted Arroway: I don't know Sparks. But I guess I'd say, if it is just us, it seems like an awful waste of space."
Ellie's father passes away and she grows up to become a world renowned scientist who continues to ask the question she asked of her father. She uses large radio telescopes to "listen" for signs of life on other planets. She is part of the SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) project. It is at this time that she meets Palmer Joss, a charming man of faith. Trained in a catholic seminary, but rejecting some of the vows of ordination, he calls himself a "man of the cloth without the cloth." Ellie asks Joss "So what's more likely? That an all-powerful, mysterious God created the Universe, and decided not to give any proof of his existence? Or, that He simply doesn't exist at all, and that we created Him, so that we wouldn't have to feel so small and alone?" This question is left open for the rest of the movie.

Ellie Arroway eventually receives a message from the Vega star system with instructions for how to build a large machine that transports her to the far reaches of the universe far beyond Vega. As she seeks to describe the things she sees she finds herself at a loss for words.

Ellie Arroway: [Witnessing a celestial light show up close] Some celestial event. No - no words. No words to describe it. Poetry! They should've sent a poet. So beautiful. So beautiful... I had no idea.

Eventually, Ellie meets one of the intelligent beings who sent the message to earth. The being comes to her in a form that makes it possible for it to communicate. It comes in the form of Ellie's father, Ted Arroway.

Alien: You're an interesting species. An interesting mix. You're capable of such beautiful dreams, and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you're not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we've found that makes the emptiness bearable, is each other.

At the end of her journey Ellie finds herself back on earth but with no evidence that the journey even took place. From her perspective, she was away from earth for about eighteen hours; but from earth's perspective she was never gone. The recording devices show nothing but static and she is left trying to explain a personal experience for which she has no physical evidence.
Panel member: Doctor Arroway, you come to us with no evidence, no record, no artifacts. Only a story that to put it mildly strains credibility. Over half a trillion dollars was spent, dozens of lives were lost. Are you really going to sit there and tell us we should just take this all... on faith?
[pause, Ellie looks at Palmer]
Michael Kitz: Please answer the question, doctor.
Ellie Arroway: Is it possible that it didn't happen? Yes. As a scientist, I must concede that, I must volunteer that.
Michael Kitz: Wait a minute, let me get this straight. You admit that you have absolutely no physical evidence to back up your story.
Ellie Arroway: Yes.
Michael Kitz: You admit that you very well may have hallucinated this whole thing.
Ellie Arroway: Yes.
Michael Kitz: You admit that if you were in our position, you would respond with exactly the same degree of incredulity and skepticism!
Ellie Arroway: Yes!
Michael Kitz: [standing, angrily] Then why don't you simply withdraw your testimony, and concede that this "journey to the center of the galaxy," in fact, never took place!
Ellie Arroway: Because I can't. I... had an experience... I can't prove it, I can't even explain it, but everything that I know as a human being, everything that I am tells me that it was real! I was given something wonderful, something that changed me forever... A vision... of the universe, that tells us, undeniably, how tiny, and insignificant and how... rare, and precious we all are! A vision that tells us that we belong to something that is greater than ourselves, that we are not..., that none of us are alone! I wish... I... could share that... I wish, that everyone, if only for one... moment, could feel... that awe, and humility, and hope. But... That continues to be my wish.
William James in an essay on mysticism has said that one of the marks of a mystical experience is its ineffability. That is, for the person who has the experience, “no adequate report of its contents can be given in words."* The movie Contact is exceptionally good at describing this ineffability. One of the last scenes, which would have made a better final scene than the one used, shows an interaction between Palmer Joss, representing faith, and Ellie Arroway, representing science.
News Reporter: Reverend Joss! Reverend Joss, what do you believe? What do you believe?
Palmer Joss: [pause] As a person of faith I'm bound by a different covenant than Doctor Arroway. But our goal is one and the same: the pursuit of Truth. I for one believe her.
At the end of the day, both science and theology seek to find truth. May this movie encourage each of us to pursue truth with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

*James, William. "Mysticism." In Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology, by Louis P Pojman and Michael Rea, 98-114. Belmont: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2008.

Contact. Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Performed by Jodie Foster, David Morse, Matthew McConaughey. 1997.

Friday, May 25, 2012

SpaceX and Deep-Sea Challenger

I have been inspired by two recent events in the world of exploration. Today, the SpaceX Dragon capsule and the International Space Station (ISS) made an historic rendezvous. This is the first time that a commercial vessel approached and connected with the ISS. As I write this I am watching the live video feed of the capture with the Canadarm robotic arm. The SpaceX crew, all on the ground in Houston, guided the unmanned capsule within 10 metres of the ISS and held it stationary, relative to the space station. Next, the crew on the space station slowly moved the arm toward the capsule and captured and installed it in a compartment on the space station where its half-tonne cargo could be retrieved. All of this occurred as the space station and the Dragon capsule sped along at 27,000 km/hr, 250 miles above Northwestern Australia. This is an amazing feat of engineering that required two very skilled teams of scientists, engineers, and support workers.

Earlier this year, on March 25, James Cameron became the first person to reach the 11 km deep undersea valley known as the Marinas Trench in a solo dive. Cameron had worked with the team that built the Deepsea Challenger submersible in which he traveled and had taken earlier test dives at other locations. James Cameron is better known as a Canadian film maker but has recently contributed much to 3D underwater filming and remote vehicle technologies.

Events like this remind me that there are few limits to what humans can accomplish when we work together in teams. I am challenged to think of ways that I might contribute to scientific discoveries as I work with others. The limits that inhibit my contributions are often in my mind. I am reminded that many scientific discoveries have been made by ordinary men and women as they worked at regular jobs. Albert Einstein is famous for developing many of his theories while working at a low paying job in a patent office. Thomas Edison put together a team of workers who helped develop many of his inventions. Nikola Tesla may have been a more intelligent scientist but his work in seclusion meant that he did not contribute to as many scientific advances as his contemporary, Edison. What might humans accomplish collectively if we each continued to work at our jobs but contributed to team projects? What prevents us from dreaming big? What could you or I tackle today?

I love the optimism of George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, in the movie "It's a Wonderful Life." As he begins his relationship with his soon to be wife he says this to her, "What do you want, Mary? Do you want the moon? If you want it, I'll throw a lasso around it and pull it down for you. Hey! That's a pretty good idea! I'll give you the moon, Mary." SpaceX and Deep-Sea Challenger are moon sized projects like humans tackled in the 1960s. Perhaps I need a few "lasso the moon" type dreams in my life.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Learning From Artists

My friend, Andrew, is blogging once again and invited some interaction with his thoughts about Christian music. You can find his thought-provoking, original, blog here.

His blog got me thinking about some of my opinions about what gets labeled “Christian” music. There is plenty of good worship music out there that can be used to praise God in a corporate setting. We could talk about that another time. But then there is all of that stuff that gets the moniker, Christian, or Spiritual, or Inspirational, or Gospel. We often get into trouble when we seek to put labels on who is “inside” and who is “outside” of the camp. We say this artist speaks from the perspective of “us” while this artist does not. I learn much from artists with whom I disagree. Their art is likely pointing to something I need to hear.

I remember listening to U2 in the early 80s when the only place you could buy the “Boy” album was in small Christian record stores. They had been given the label of alternative Christian music. Fortunately they spoke to a broader audience than that. Their music was prophetic and was not “safe.” Would they be viewed as a Christian band today?

Steve Taylor has a reputation as a satirical/sarcastic song writer but many of his songs are prophetic. I have written here about his song, “I Manipulate.” You could listen to songs like “We Don’t Need No Color Code,” “Baby Doe,” “Drive,” or “Meltdown at Madame Tussauds.” Most of these songs obscure the lines between “Christian” and “Secular.” Andrew pointed out to me that Derek Webb has said that “the word ‘christian,’ when applied to anything other than a human being is just a marketing term.” Both Andrew and I would agree with this. Derek Webb is another artist whose music is too prophetic for “Christian” radio and too "Christian" for mainstream radio.

Bob Dylan at one time made a profession of Christian faith. Evangelical Christians heard this and the headlines which proclaimed his newfound faith nearly ruined his career and livelihood. Other Christians pointed out flaws in his theology and his lifestyle expecting him to graduate to maturity instantly.

The fact is we can learn much from artists who do not follow Christ. Don Henley’s “Frail Grasp On The Big Picture” is a prophetic voice to North American culture. Listening to Dallas Green (City and Color), I am awestruck by his spiritual themes. I have no misconception that the man is a Christian but I certainly learn from this artist. I will seek to humbly learn from Christian and non-Christian artists. We must take “every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5) even if that thought arises from within the camp.

Monday, May 21, 2012


"Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion. God governs all things and knows all that is or can be done." - Isaac Newton*

Isaac Newton is often referred to as an English mathematician & physicist who lived from 1642 - 1727. Yet few remember that he was also a theologian. In fact, he wrote more on theology than he did on natural science. The intriguing thing about this man is that he was a brilliant scientist who believed that he could maintain faith in God while exploring the intricacies of the universe created by God. He had this to say about the uniformity of creation, the ability of eyes to capture light, and the Being who made them:

. . . Can it be by accident that all birds, beasts, and men have their right side and left side alike shaped, (except in their bowels,) and just two eyes, and no more, on either side of the face; and just two ears on either side of the head, and a nose with two holes; and either two fore- legs, or two wings, or two arms on the shoulders, and two legs on the hips, and no more? Whence arises this uniformity in all their outward shapes but from the counsel and contrivances of an Author? Whence is it that the eyes of all sorts of living creatures are transparent to the very bottom, and the only transparent members in the body, having on the outside a hard transparent skin, and within transparent humours, with a crystalline lens in the middle, and a pupil before the lens, all of them so finely shaped and fitted for vision, that no artist can mend them? Did blind chance know that there was light, and what was its refraction, and fit the eyes of all creatures, after the most curious manner, to make use of it? These, and suchlike considerations, always have, and ever will prevail with mankind, to believe that there is a Being who made all things, and has all things in his power, and who is therefore to be feared.#

I bring Sir Isaac Newton to our attention not so that we can follow his theological writings. He was not an orthodox Christian and did reject some doctrines that most contemporary theologians and Christians would view as essential (most notable would be his view on the trinity). Yet, he can teach us a way forward in our contemporary world. Many today assume that we must make a choice: scientist or theologian; believer in science or believer in God. What if, like Newton, we chose to say, "I can trust scientific technique and I can trust God."? Scientists of the 17th century had no problem with this. It is only our contemporary "scientism" and "evolutionism" as philosophical constructs that are in opposition to faith and theology. What might we learn? How much more of God might we understand if we started with the assumption that science can lead us to the Creator rather than starting with the assumption that there is no God? Newton even goes so far as to say that a natural consequence of recognizing that God created this universe ought to be that we also "fear" Him. Indeed, if we allow that there just might be a God behind all that we see would it not be reasonable to respect this awesome Being who has created a universe? In fact, He would be a reasonable authority on the best way to live in this universe in which we find ourselves.

*Tiner, J.H. (1975). Isaac Newton: Inventor, Scientist and Teacher. Milford, Michigan, U.S.: Mott Media. See also

#Memoirs of the Life, Writings and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton by Sir D.Brewster Volume 2. A portion of this is also quoted in Brouwer, Sigmund. Who Made the Moon? Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


“The point of the resurrection…is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die…What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a great future in store for it…What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God's future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether (as the hymn so mistakenly puts it…). They are part of what we may call building for God's kingdom.”
N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church