Sunday, November 30, 2014

When Mind Is Reduced To Matter

Scientific materialism brings with it some rather troubling implications. For example, that our brains are really "simply meat computers that, like real computers, are programmed by our genes and experiences to convert an array of inputs into a predetermined output" (Jerry Coyne, professor of biology). Or that humans are "survival machines – robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes" (Richard Dawkins, biologist).

I bring that up because last night I was reading an article by Aldous Huxley on A Case For ESP, PK and PSI, which appeared in the Jan. 11, 1954 issue of Life magazine. It was a rather lengthy piece that stated the positive case as it existed then (in the heyday of J.B Rhine). Much work has been done since then by researchers with respectable credentials, yet the case for PSI still remains outside the mainstream of scientific thought. (But not, I would add, to the average person who can point to their own experiences.)

Anyway, the following paragraph from the article literally leaped from the page at me and I knew I had the subject of my next blog post:

Our philosophy has no place for free will or for anything which might be described as the soul. And yet, with a blessed absence of logic, we go behaving as though we believe in the uniqueness, the paramount value of human personality. Habit and the fact that our fundamental institutions were framed by men who were firmly convinced of the existence of all things that "no behaviorist has ever observed" make it quite easy for us to think one way while acting another, incompatible way. How much longer can we continue to perform this curious feat? One fine day some dangerously logical demagogue may ask us why, if men and women are merely the byproducts of physical and social processes, they should not be treated as such. After which we may expect to see the fiction of George Orwell's 1984 turn into appalling fact.

Are we there? Have we reached the day when we are going to be treated merely as "byproducts of physical and social progress"? Perhaps not, but some of us fear we are inching steadily in that direction.

The reason I believe those forecasting the end of religion are mistaken is that humans as a whole will never be able to fully embrace the worldview that philosophers of scientific materialism (such as those cited above) so boldly proclaim. It is too deeply ingrained in the human psyche that we are free and aren't mere robots. The rank and file human will always sense their uniqueness and rebel against reductionism. At least that is my prediction.

As approaching an understanding of PSI phenomena, again the rank and file human has some sense of the transcendent. The sense that our minds are not a byproduct but rather a direct product of the Supreme Mind which ordered the Cosmos is basic. That would allow that there can be connections with each other, our environment, and the Supreme Mind.

For me the acceptance of psychic phenomena serves as a kind of argument for belief in the primacy of mind in the universe. The annals of human history are replete with examples of premonitions, predictive dreams, spontaneous intuitive insight, and other psychic experiences. The Universe is intelligible and our minds are intelligent. Either that is by design or is the result of the most astonishing coincidence (or series of coincidences) of all time.

That I am a meat computer functioning inside a larger meat machine is something I just can't wrap my mind around. I'm sure that is true for the majority of us. And even those who do claim to believe it often act inconsistently. They are too uniquely human not to.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Lucky Star?

Recently I posted about the theology book that stopped a bullet and likely saved a life. The news coverage I examined before writing that post sometimes made references to soldiers and others whose lives were saved by pocket Bibles with metal covers.

I enjoy hearing about these strange - and for many of us - inspiring occurrences. To the extent I consider myself religious, I also consider myself a pluralist. It is known fact that Christians haven't a corner on "miracle" stories. Spiritual sentiments have been a feature of humankind for at least as long as recorded history. The details about the understanding of those sentiments differ from people to people, but they all speak to a shared belief in a vaster reality.

For example, while researching stories of bullets being stopped by Bibles, I happened upon one where a soldier was saved by another religious symbol, a Star of David medal. The full account can be read online here. Or, for those who don't care for link-clicking, I'll offer the following summary.

Los Angeles Times writer Jack Foisie characterized the occurrence as "a close brush with death, a chance intervention of 'the almighty,' if the man is religious, of 'fate' if he is not."

The soldier involved, Lt. Mark J. Meirowitz, was a religious man who wore a Star of David medal around his neck. It was that medal which deflected a bullet, preventing it from decimating his lung and arteries.
In Meirowitz's own words:

I had no idea what hit me. I noticed my left arm was in an awkward position, so I reached over and grabbed it with my other hand. It was like grabbing a block of wood. I felt nothing, I remember saying, oh, my God, I've lost my arm.

But he had not lost his arm. The nickel-sized medal deflected the bullet. It was found later in the armored car he was riding in when shot, the upper part of the medal missing.

Coincidence? Surely. Something more? Ah, that's the rub. Stories like these are perfectly explainable by natural means. However, religious folks tend to see patterns in their lives, patterns in which individual events like this one would tend to stand out. For those who will allow nothing but the natural, patterns are often chalked up to luck - either good or bad. Religious folks tend to count good luck as blessings.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Maybe It Was Synchronicity?

Ouch! Three visits to my last post. What's up with that? Coincidence maybe? I haven't had numbers that low since the other day when I posted about fleeces.

I pretty much just posted Downey's picture because I thought it was pretty. I love symbolism of all kinds and the fact that we humans can look at the same thing and interpret that thing in so many different ways.

Roma Downey is a Catholic Christian, so no wonder she posted on Facebook about her picture:

It certainly energized a tired, hardworking crew for the rest of the day and reminded everyone that we were being watched over as we are working hard to bring the Book of Acts to the screen.

I enjoy studying coincidences. Some of us see cosmic implications in them. As I suggested in that last post, some think of these things as Godwinks. I have seen the word Godincidences used. Also have seen Cosmic Winks employed. Then there is that old concept Carl Jung popularized, known as Synchronicity.

And I am very well aware that many of the hyper-rational folks think some of us are nutcases.

For my part, I can only write that I find life in the cosmos too extraordinary for me to think of it as ordinary. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Sign Of The Cross

Lovely Roma Downey and her husband Mark Burnett are producing for NBC a miniseries, A.D., which concerns the early Jesus movement after his death. Fittingly enough, it will begin to air on Easter Sunday, 2015.

She and Mark produced the recent Son of God movie. Downey is also well known for her role as an angel in the televisions series Touched By An Angel. Did you know she is also author of several children's books? Busy and gifted lady.

Anyway, while on location in Morocco, production ground to a halt when a cross appeared in the sky, formed by the clouds. The picture above is hers and is all over the internet. Later she showed her picture to a pastor friend who referred her to Acts 2:19 (the Bible book which forms the basis of the miniseries ): "And I will grant wonders in the sky above and signs on the Earth below, blood and fire, and vapor of smoke."

Okay, I'm sure this isn't that, but it is still interesting. Of course it is being seen as a sign of blessing on the A.D. project.

Well, in life you tend to find what you're looking for. Believers clearly see a cross in the clouds; skeptics see just a coincidence. But what a coincidence! Here is a miniseries concerning the mission of the Jesus' disciples after his death, and during production the sky produces the shape of a cross - the method of Jesus' death. It's the kind of thing SQuire Rushnell calls a "Godwink."

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Is God A #$%$?

I have been following the story of awful shooting at Florida State University. Admittedly, the student who was either blessed or lucky in being saved from the would-be killer's bullet slowed to a stop by books (especially a theological tome) in his book bag especially caught my attention.

Jason Derfuss, the young man who was spared, took to his Facebook page to say

Earlier tonight there was a shooting at FSU, right as I was leaving Strozier. I didn't know this at the time, but the Shooter targeted me first. The shot I heard behind me I did not feel, nor did it hit me at all. He was about 5 feet from me, but he hit my books. Books one minute earlier I had checked out of the library .... The truth is I was almost killed tonight and God intervened. I know conceptually He can do all things, but to physically witness the impossible and to be surrounded by such grace is indescribable. To God be the glory, forever and ever, Amen.

It seems to me totally understandable that spiritual-minded people like Derfuss would think that way. Unusual or incredible coincidences are usually chalked up to divine providence.

On the other hand, it also seems reasonable to me that those who have no patience with the god-hypotheses would use examples such as Jason Derfuss to press their viewpoint.

The comments section of the Yahoo News coverage of this story provided me not only with the title for this post, but also some perspective for those of us who would take seriously the matter of divine providence.

Let me give a couple of comments from nonbelievers who were provoked by Derfuss' Facebook post.

One critic offered:

This idiot is convinced that god intervened ... If god intervened, then by extension he chose not to intervene when the others were shot. What kind of douche bag god does that??? ...Nice god you got there, idiot.

Then another wrote:

I'm sure it's a pleasant thought to those that escape tragedy by inches to imagine God must have singled them out for special saving. But seriously, there's an incredible insult against those who die or are seriously injured in shootings & other tragedies implicit in such a "God intervened for ME" belief. It implies those who get shot must not be worth saving in God's eyes, & therefore must have "had it coming."

That is sick, & I don't mean in the good way.

Interestingly enough, a man claiming not to be religious or a believer in God at all brought up a counterpoint (which I'm sure he heard or read somewhere along the way) with:

...if God and heaven are real then death really isn't that terrible a thing so deaths wouldn't prove that God is an #$%$. In fact, compared to eternity in heaven any evil that happens in life would be worth almost nothing. Someone could undergo the most horrid evils but it would seem insignificant upon reaching heaven.

Now that isn't the way I personally would respond to critics above - but then, I have a different outlook on things than Derfuss does, even if I am able buy into this possibly being a divine coincidence.

Back in my Christian days I would have signed off on the idea that bad as the suffering in this world is and can be, it can't compare to the final glories of Heaven. And I would have quoted the Apostle Paul:

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).

Alas, I am no longer a Christian and am an agnostic about Heaven. So that defense is not open to me.

However, something I recall from Christian apologist C. S. Lewis' little work on The Problem of Pain has stuck with me and concerns the conception of Divine Goodness:

Nothing so far has been said of this, and no answer attempted to the objection that if the universe must, from the outset, admit the possibility of suffering, then absolute goodness would have left the universe uncreated. And I must warn the reader that I shall not attempt to prove that to create was better than not to create: I am aware of no human scales in which such a portentous question can be weighed...

Well, I kind of accept that suffering is inevitable and certainly neither do I know what scale to use in order to decide whether it was better to create or not to create. Perhaps this approach might serve to temper the idea that suffering makes God a #$%$.

But what about the idea that God plays favorites, which the critics also press?

I confess that I also have a dislike for the idea of "chosen" people. Fatalism and predestination in the divine scheme of things just don't appeal to me at all - which, I know, proves absolutely nothing.

Nevertheless, I don't want people thinking that if I take divine coincidences or providence to be genuine it makes me hardhearted and unsympathetic to the suffering of others. (Nor do I want to be thought an idiot.)

But let me this throw this thought out here. It's something I kick around and find much more satisfying than my former viewpoint. What if there is a divine realm (call it God for simplicity) and a divine sense in each one of us that attracts us to the divine? What if we humans do have the freedom to choose to act or not to act in connecting with this divine realm? And further, what if those who do seek connection explore and concentrate on this connection to varying degrees? (In the instance at hand we have Jason Derfuss needing to work on a theology paper and "for some reason" choosing the thick tome that aided in perhaps saving his life - obviously because he is seeking connection with the divine.)

In this scheme it certainly doesn't necessarily follow that an "intervention" for one is a choice not to intervene for another.

At the same. time In offering the above I'm not suggesting that bad things can always be avoided. (What religious philosophy offers that, anyway?) This is in agreement with Lewis that from the outset the universe entails suffering. Even with the matter of death - which every one of us must eventually face - it remains true that how one lives is more important than how one dies - even if the death turns out to be tragic. Life is still a gift and an opportunity.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Believable Skepticism of James Randi

Recently the New York Times ran a story by Adam Higginbotham on The Unbelievable Skepticism of the Amazing Randi. Interesting read, that, and anyone - believer or unbeliever in the paranormal - does himself a disservice by ignoring it.

I have somewhat mixed feelings about Randi. He has done much good by debunking frauds. He doesn't like to be called a "debunker," preferring investigator. Whatever. He seems to me more a flat-out debunker. His book on Faith Healers, which contains among other things his well-known exposing of Peter Popoff is a classic. Unfortunately, one that will probably remain mostly unread by those who would most benefit from it. Praise aside, He comes across to me as closed-minded, overbearing and at time self-righteous. That's my take of the man. Still I would say, ignore what he has to offer at your own peril.

But my purpose in this post is to highlight something I find interesting. James Randi is probably the picture ideal of the modern "scientific skeptic." In fact, the NYT article quotes Randi thusly: “Science, after all, is simply a logical, rational and careful examination of the facts that nature presents to us.”

But interestingly, in this same article, there is this tidbit:

In 1975, Randi published “The Magic of Uri Geller,” a sarcastic but exhaustive examination of the psychic’s techniques, in which he argued that any scientist investigating the paranormal should seek the advice of a conjurer before conducting serious research.

He suggests this because scientists supposedly have been flimflammed by those claiming paranormal powers. The degree to which that is so is a matter of debate, but no doubt it has happened. In fact, Randi himself was responsible for flimflamming a group of researchers in the Project Alpha hoax.

Well, of course. Because all education and rational thinking aside, scientists and rationalists are, in the end, humans. Humans have biases and blind spots in their thinking. Personally, I'm skeptical of priests and I'm skeptical of scientific priests.

If science as a discipline is, as claimed, provisional and open to revision, then scientists who make sweeping pronouncements should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Right?

James Randi isn't a trained scientist and many prominent skeptics aren't. To the degree science reveals facts about nature, these must still be interpreted. How tempting it is to do this with an ax to grind.

In short, and with apologies to Adam Higginbotham, I don't find Randi's skepticism unbelievable at all. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Amazing Voyage Of Colonel Gracie

The great RMS Titanic disaster, even though it occurred over one hundred years ago, has retained a fascination for many of us. Last Sunday I spent a great portion of the afternoon reading The Truth About The Titanic, by survivor Colonel Archibald Gracie IV.
Col. Gracie was one of the last people to exit the sinking vessel after having assisted others into life boats. Then, after being plunged into the icy water, Gracie found his way to a makeshift raft (actually an overturned life boat) occupied by one J. B. Thayer, Jr.

Together they pulled aboard several other "half-dead men." They did that until the small raft was in danger of itself sinking and they were knee-deep in water. Then he and Thayer were forced to keep away other desperate men who would have caused the raft to sink and drown everyone.

In a news story in the 4/19/12 Washington Times Gracie characterized his rescue as "nothing short of miraculous." His book not only expounds on that theme and his adventure, but also provides many details surrounding the entire event.

Sadly, Gracie never recovered from the exposure he suffered that fateful night. He was diabetic and in steadily declining health afterwards, living only seven months more. His last words were reported as, "We must get them into the boats. We must get them all into the boats."

I gleaned the following tidbits from his book, which he had finished and placed into the hands of his publishers right before his final illness.

The morning of the disaster began with Col. Gracie exercising and then taking a swim followed by what he called "a hearty breakfast." Then he followed up with an onboard church service about which he wrote:

I remember how much I was impressed with the "Prayer for those at Sea," also the words of the hymn, which we sang, No. 418 of the Hymnal. About a fortnight later, when I next heard it sung, I was in the little church at Smithtown, Long Island, attending the memorial service in honor of my old friend and fellow member of the Union Club, James Clinch Smith. To his sister, who sat next to me in the pew, I called attention to the fact that it was the last hymn we sang on this Sunday morning on board the Titanic....

What a remarkable coincidence that at the first and last ship's service on board the Titanic, the hymn we sang began with these impressive lines:

O God our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast
And our eternal home.

(For what it's worth, Col. Gracie refuted the popular notion that the ship band played Nearer My God To Thee as Titanic sank; he said if they had they would have been stopped, physically if necessary, because it would have created a panic - the opposite of what they were attempting to do.)

Another thing that Col. Gracie found more than "mere coincidence" was the fact he was constrained to get a few hours of restful sleep which enabled him to endure his ordeal.

Of the evening of the disaster he wrote:

My stay in the smoking-room on this particular evening for the first time was short, and I retired early with my cabin steward Cullen's promise to awaken me betimes next morning to get ready for the engagements I had made before breakfast for the game of racquets, work in the gymnasium and the swim that was to follow.

I cannot regard it as a mere coincidence that on this particular Sunday night I was thus prompted to retire early for nearly three hours of invigorating sleep, whereas an accident occurring at midnight of any of the four preceding days would have found me mentally and physically tired. That I was thus strengthened for the terrible ordeal, better even than had I been forewarned of it, I regard on the contrary as the first provision for my safety (answering the constant prayers of those at home), made by the guardian angel to whose care I was entrusted during the series of miraculous escapes presently to be recorded.

The account of the actual moments following his exit of Titanic is very moving and I want to give it here in detail:

My holding on to the iron railing just when I did prevented my being knocked unconscious. I pulled myself over on the roof on my stomach, but before I could get to my feet I was in a whirlpool of water, swirling round and round, as I still tried to cling to the railing as the ship plunged to the depths below. Down, down, I went: it seemed a great distance. There was a very noticeable pressure upon my ears, though there must have been plenty of air that the ship carried down with it. When under water I retained, as it appears, a sense of general direction, and, as soon as I could do so, swam away from the starboard side of the ship, as I knew my life depended upon it.
I swam with all my strength, and I seemed endowed with an extra supply for the occasion. I was incited to desperate effort by the thought of boiling water, or steam, from the expected explosion of the ship's boilers, and that I would be scalded to death, like the sailors of whom I had read in the account of the British battle-ship Victoria sunk in collision with Camperdown in the Mediterranean in 1893. Second Officer Lightoller told me he also had the same idea, and that if the fires had not been drawn the boilers would explode and the water become boiling hot. As a consequence, the plunge in the icy water produced no sense of coldness whatever, and I had no thought of cold until later on when I climbed on the bottom of the upturned boat.
My being drawn down by suction to a greater depth was undoubtedly checked to some degree by the life-preserver which I wore, but it is to the buoyancy of the water, caused by the volume of air rising from the sinking ship, that I attributed the assistance which enabled me to strike out and swim faster and further under water than I ever did before. I held my breath for what seemed an interminable time until I could scarcely stand it any longer, but I congratulated myself then and there that not one drop of sea-water was allowed to enter my mouth.
With renewed determination and set jaws, I swam on. Just at the moment I thought that for lack of breath I would have to give in, I seemed to have been provided with a second wind, and it was just then that the thought that this was my last moment came upon me. I wanted to convey the news of how I died to my loved ones at home. As I swam beneath the surface of the ocean, I prayed that my spirit could go to them and say, "Good-bye, until we meet again in heaven."
In this connection, the thought was in my mind of a well authenticated experience of mental telepathy that occurred to a member of my wife's family. Here in my case was a similar experience of a shipwrecked loved one, and I thought if I prayed hard enough that this, my last wish to communicate with my wife and daughter, might be granted.
Telepathy? Answered prayer? Coincidence? Is there a difference or are these things only open to interpretation by various worldviews? Col. Gracie seemed to be of religious convictions considered what happened next an answer to his prayer:

To what extent my prayer was answered let Mrs. Gracie describe in her own written words, as follows: "I was in my room at my sister's house, where I was visiting, in New York. After retiring, being unable to rest I questioned myself several times over, wondering what it was that prevented the customary long and peaceful slumber, lately enjoyed. 'What is the matter?' I uttered. A voice in reply seemed to say, 'On your knees and pray.' Instantly, I literally obeyed with my prayer book in my hand, which by chance opened at the prayer 'For those at Sea.' The thought then flashed through my mind, 'Archie is praying for me.' I continued wide awake until a little before five o'clock a.m., by the watch that lay beside me. About 7 a. m. I dozed a while and then got up to dress for breakfast. At 8 o'clock my sister, Mrs. Dalliba Dutton, came softly to the door, newspaper in hand, to gently break the tragic news that the Titanic had sunk, and showed me the list of only twenty names saved, headed with 'Colonel Archibald Butt'; but my husband's name was not included. My head sank in her protecting arms as I murmured helplessly, 'He is all I have in the whole world.' I could only pray for strength, and later in the day, believing myself a widow, I wrote to my daughter, who was in the care of our housekeeper and servants in our Washington home, 'Cannot you see your father in his tenderness for women and children, helping them all, and then going down with the ship? If he has gone, I will not live long, but I would not have him take a boat.'"

There it is, the highlights at least of Col. Archibald Gracie's amazing voyage. I would recommend Gracie's book as a very good way to spend a lazy afternoon. I don't pretend to know exactly how one should it interpret all this. It does seem to have something of the miraculous (as in, way out of the ordinary) about it.  

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Putting Out The Fleece

I want to post a little something about a news story I just read and found interesting. It calls to mind something from my youth, from my childhood in Pentecostal Christianity.

Pentecostals do not believe the age of miracles ended with the age of the Apostles, as do many branches of Christianity.

It was common for us to seek God's guidance in our daily lives, especially when we were uncertain about possible courses of action. We took inspiration from the story of Gideon's fleece in the Old Testament book of Judges.

Gideon was a Judge of Israel and was being called upon to deliver the once again oppressed Israelites, this time from the hands of the Midianites and Amalekites. But he wanted assurance from God. Here I will take up the story directly from the Bible:

And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said,

Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said.

And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water.

And Gideon said unto God, Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew.

And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground. (Judges 6:36-40, KJV)

Whenever someone said they were "putting out a fleece," we understood they were seeking a sign from God.

Here's a link to a story about a mechanic in San Antonio, Texas, a man named John Casey, who "put out a fleece" or asked God for a sign.

He asked God for a sign - "if I'm doing the right thing in my life, give me a sign" - and feels he got it. A mere two days after asking he and his son were working on a car in his garage. A car part laid on a cloth rag formed a Jesus-shaped grease spot.

Mr. Casey says, "The little hair I have left stood on end and just really... I don't know if you've ever got a deep feeling when you know that God is here with you. I got that feeling."

And Father Eddie Bernal of Saint Benedict Catholic Church weighed in:

It's quite possible that this is a very significant event, a very real event, and possible could have been done by him, just to let the person know, I'm with you and you're not alone and do not be afraid.

Such things are easy to make fun of and laugh off. I used to do it during my more skeptical days (not so long ago, I confess). Yet I recall many incidents from my earlier life that - if I am to be honest with myself - seem more than "mere coincidence." Some that almost, as Casey said, made my hair stand on end.

I suppose some people feel "connected to" or "in tune with" the divine, and some don't. Some don't seek such connections because they don't allow that such connection is even possible - that there is no divine and thus nothing to connect to. I'm not criticizing these folks. They may very well be correct and the rest of us a bit too much the dreamer.

But more people seem to find such a connection than not. Is it possible that is because the "connectors" look for it? Are the skeptics just crying "Bah, humbug!" or are they correct? Whatever the truth, I do enjoy seeking connection. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

"You Were Dead"

That is the way Ruby Graupera-Cassimiro's husband described her condition. That is, after her heart quit beating and after doctors spent three hours attempting to revive her. Just as doctors were ready to give up and pronounce her dead, suddenly (several minutes after doctors had quit working on her) her pulse returned and she was unmistakably alive. All this after complications following a C-section. Baby is fine.

Hospital spokesperson Thomas Chakurda calls it "divine providence."

While Graupera-Cassimo was apparently dead she had an experience of seeing a "spiritual being" she believers was her father, surrounded by other "spiritual beings," who told her it wasn't her time.

Doctors are calling her case a "double miracle," because not only did she survive after being presumed dead, she has suffered no brain damage such as should be expected after 45 minutes without a pulse.

I love stories like this. So is it a miracle? I think not; not in the sense of being something against all know science. These things happen, even if rarely, and that it does happen demonstrates it can happen.

Having said that, these things can have a profound spiritual impact on those who experience them and their loved ones. The vision of being informed it isn't time, something reported time and again in these near-death experiences has the ring of the uncanny to it.

I am beginning to allow myself again to consider the divine in life. Just because an event isn't an against-physics type of miracle, doesn't mean it isn't miraculous. I accept evolution, yet still feel that an unguided evolution is very hard to grasp in light of the complexity of the cosmos.

For some time I've grappled with the ages-old concept of a Logos back of everything. A guiding, organizing principle behind life doesn't seem so far-fetched to me now. As I recall, even as a child I had a sense of this before I was schooled in the theology of the Abrahamic concept of God.

Even after that indoctrination there was a latent animism deep inside me that often caused intellectual conflict. I remember even as Christian wondering why God couldn't act through means rather than through the traditional concept of miracle. Always it occurred to me look first for more "natural" explanations for Bible miracles.

My journey has been a long one with many twists and turns. It is still underway....

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Does Atheism Have A Double Standard?

Keep religion out of our public schools, religious displays away from our public squares and buildings, and most of all, beware of creeping theocracy!

Yet every now and then atheist spokespeople let it slip how oppressive they would be if given the opportunity. For a long time I've suspected they aren't really as concerned with making the atheist alternative heard and respectable; deep down their aim is to eradicate religious thinking and, in the process, abuse those who do find a place for religion in their lives.

Another example (see also my posts Do Atheists Desire State-Sponsored Atheism? and A Theocratic Threat?) has presented itself in news coverage of comments made by physicist and cosmologist Lawrence Krauss (author of A Universe From Nothing) to the effect that "religion could be gone in a generation."

Okay, but how might that be so?

Like Richard Dawkins, he seems to want to make the educational system a place to destroy religious beliefs and instead inculcate atheism:

What we need to do is present comparative religion as a bunch of interesting historical anecdotes, and show the silly reasons why they did what they did.

I really take umbrage at the silly versus sane paradigm being introduced in this connection. Seems to me that would be encouraging bullying.

Krauss elaborated further:

But you don’t shy away from religion any more than you shy away from the claim that Earth is the center of the universe. We laugh at that now, and we get kids to realize why that might be wrong… and so we should take other falsifiable facts, which are at the center of our society, which is religious doctrine, and make just as much fun of that.

Note that Krauss and his ilk, however, feel that religion indeed should be shied away from if presented in a positive light by teachers.

Atheists bemoan it when their children are exposed to religious ideas in school. But religious parents who raise their children to believe in God should happy with having their children exposed to atheism - and in a confrontational way? 

Neutrality anyone?

Friday, November 7, 2014

Death And Faith

In the religious tradition I was raised (Christianity) death was viewed as the last enemy of humankind and was dealt a final blow by the resurrection of Jesus from the grave. That blow would be finalized by Jesus at the resurrection at the end:

For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:25,26, NIV.)

Of course that isn't the only way religions deal with death. I no longer hold that particular faith view. In fact, I'm agnostic about post-mortem existence - albeit a hopeful agnostic!

When it comes to death, faith is the only way to remain optimistic.

And speaking of faith, I have to say that Richard Cohen, in writing of The Courage of Brittany Maynard, offers an astounding faith in science being able to one day conquer death. Actually, he seems to be writing of his faith in science as a certainty (although to be fair, Cohen is a columnist, not a scientist):

The death of death is fast approaching -- fast being a matter of decades or maybe more, but sooner or later science will kill the Grim Reaper and future generations will look back on us and wonder what it was like knowing the end was always coming. We will, no doubt, vanquish death. In the meantime, we will have to deal with it.

We are now, Cohen suggests, waiting for the "technical problems" to be solved.

Okay, that may be true. It requires more faith in science than I have, but okay. It's a target worth aiming for.

In the meantime I'm dying. My mirror and inner barometer won't allow me to doubt it. My heart is unwilling to totally let loose of faith that death might no be the end. If I can't have certainty, at least allow me hope.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

When The Astounding Occurs

James Greenwood, a pastor at Faith Pentecostal Assembly church, (and this gives you an idea of the template he uses to interpret life events), tells a skin-tingling tale of coincidence, which he wonders aloud might be more akin to something miraculous.

The link to his experience is right here and I think it's worth the read. But I'll summarize his coincidence/miracle.

He traveled to a "developing country" in order to help install a water filtration system for a Christian camp that was forced to boil water for drinking.

Not being much of a handyman or "good with tools," he began to pray for two things: (1) that nothing went wrong in his effort and (2) that he would to see the purified water run before he left.

Once there they did run into problems with the installation and as he puts it: "We realized we were going to need more than what we had, and being in a developing country, we knew it would take longer than we had in order to find all the parts we needed."

It was decided that they would leave the water filtration system in hopes that one day it could be installed. But this was complicated by a "language barrier" between them and people at the camp.

Then the miracle/coincidence occurred when:

...a man with a plumber’s shirt walked by us. We quickly asked in our best Spanish if he was a plumber. We discovered not only was he a plumber, but he spoke perfect English because he was from Miami. And to top it all off he had a bunch of extra parts with him.

The man was only in the area for the week James and his friends were there to install the filtration system. James Greenwood did get to see the clean water running before he left.

In my lifetime I have experienced a number of these coincidence/miracles (and at the time I was a Christian and would have claimed these as answered prayers, just as Greenwood does). I've written posts about a couple of them. Since leaving Christianity I had another rather significant coincidence/miracles, and I posted on that a couple of years ago.

What to make of these things? I had quit praying (though I have since returned to the practice in a manner of speaking) because I had trouble making sense of how it was supposed to work. Was God something similar to a genie who granted wishes? Could God be petty enough to be cajoled into doing things? Or perhaps, I thought, it was time to take a second look at the Law of Attraction.

This I have discovered: people of all faiths and even those of no faith have usually experienced these happenings. I have collected a large number of these from friends, family, and acquaintances. I'm not so interested in how these individuals interpret these events. but just that they occur and make deep impressions on people. I have supplemented these with stories (like this one) that I have culled from the newspapers.

I can't help but be amazed and fascinated.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The "Truth" About The Paranormal

The BBC has recently published (on Halloween, no less) a piece that sets out to explain paranormal phenomena. Ghosts, telepathy, lucky charms - you know those things that bring the ire of the uber-rational among us, all are examined from a psychological perspective.

Now this isn't an overly negative piece. It is pointed out that superstitious thinking can provide benefits. even "boost[ing] your performance in a range of skills." Still, I think the overall thrust is given in the article by the following quote from psychologist Adam Waytz: "We create beliefs because we don’t like believing that the universe is random"

Ah, the crux of the matter, that. But what if the universe isn't random? What if those of us who are continually discovering overly coincidental coincidences aren't just being silly or superstitious?

The paranormal is one of those words like supernatural that I'm not fully comfortable with. Too easily they become pejorative.

The problem I have with paranormal is this: if so many millions of humans throughout history have experienced these weird occurrences (and there is abundant testimony that we have), why is it considered paranormal, as in beyond? It seems fairly typical, or normal, to me.

It further seems to me that whether we first believe the universe is a coincidence or designed leads us to our conclusions about the so-called paranormal. Cosmologist and physicist Paul Davies has been intrigued by what he calls the Goldilocks Enigma, the question of why the universe seems just right for intelligent life
Okay, I'm not denying it all isn't a huge cosmic coincidence. On the other hand, it seems excessively cynical to deny the possibility it might not be. Some folks are just too uncomfortable with the idea that existence might have an intelligence back of it.

For my part, believing the universe is random just doesn't make good sense to me, doesn't jibe with my inner sense of reality. I do think psychology can tell us a lot about so-called paranormal experiences. I don't tend to dismiss all of it as bogus. If the universe is intelligent and designed, it makes sense that we are designed to detect that fact (if fact it be) and make sense of it. For me it is all a matter of mind. It makes better sense - if not perfect sense - viewed this way.