Quid Est Veritas…again

Many moons ago I posted on the concept of truth, and specifically on Focus on the Family’s “Truth Project.” Now Earl has gone and brought up the subject again, albeit from a different angle. Keep in mind that he is writing to the evangelical community with which he has experience. He and I are good friends. Now I’m going to take a few moments and point out why I think Earl’s three absolutes of truth are not, in fact, absolute. Keep in mind that, for the most part, I agree with what Earl is getting at (that is, Christians ought to stop assuming that the world should work according to what the Bible defines as right. Now, how Christians should act is a completely different matter). Onto the three absolutes of truth.

1. Truth is self-evident.
A line right out of the Declaration of Independance – so unlike you Earl! I’d like to believe that all truth is self-evident, but I’m unable to really get on board with that. I think it works – to a point. I realize that you’re working specifically within the frame work of religion and philosophy, but if I can bring in science for a moment I think I’ll make my point quite clearly. The way in which bacteria evolve is not self-evident. To be sure, you could observe it with a microscope, but without some kind of education you would not understand what you are seeing. You couldn’t pluck up a peasant from 1456 and plop him down in front of a microscope and expect him to understand what he was seeing. Yet, clearly, bacteria exist and evolve. Bringing it back around to religion, the idea of a single-God may seem self-evident to us today in the West (as evidenced by the three major religions), but is hardly as self-evident in other circles, or in the past. So, I think ultimately that some truth’s are self-evident (Murder is bad, for instance) but others are less self-evident (how many gods? A God at all?).

2. Truth is self-manifesting
I’m not really sure I understand your point with this one.

3. Truth is indisputable
To be honest, I’m surprised this was your third one. People all over the place dispute all kinds of things that are “true.” Take the fact that, basically, the entire conservative Christian community disputes evolution. Now, it might be nice to think that things are indisputable, but that isn’t always the case. We might say that evolution isn’t actually disputed, and that those who do dispute it are silly, but what about another example? What about the person who says that stealing in all circumstances is wrong. But then I person comes along and says that stealing from the rich to help the poor is fine. A third person comes along and says that neither of those are quite right, its only okay to steal to save someone’s life. Which truth is true? The fact that truth is disputable is why we have multiple religions, and multiple factions within those religions. There may be a bare minimum, a lowest common denominator, of truth that is shared across all religions, but that’s certainly not shared or at least not shared without disputation between religious people and non-religious people.

In the end, I think that we may be talking about something entirely different from truth. I’d like to say we’re talking about right and wrong. But I don’t know if those three things really apply to those either. So, I guess ultimately I’m not convinced that Earl’s three absolutes hold water.

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Thoughts on the Golden Compass

Last night Mandy and I went out with two students from our youth ministry to see The Golden Compass, based on the book by the same name, but more properly termed The Northern Lights. As anyone who walks in the twisted corridors of modern Evangelicalismâ„¢will know, this book has generated no small amount of controversy among conservative Christians. This controversy has been aided by some comments by Phillip Pullman himself. My thoughts before seeing the movie can be found here.

Having now seen the movie I can say that my thoughts really haven’t changed, aside from to say that there is absolutely nothing controversial in this movie. The movie was, in my opinion, something to be compared to the movie adaptation of Eragon. It was short, moved rapidly through what could have been an interesting plot had it been given an extra 45 minutes, and ultimately, for me, lacked satisfaction in the ending. As much as New Line might want this movie to be another Lord of the Rings, that is simply not happening. I am amazed as to why producers apparently refuse to make movies longer the 1.5 – 2 hours. The first Harry Potter movie was quite long, and did extremely well. The Lord of the Rings trilogy, when put together, add up to over nine hours, and that is only the theatrical versions. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is well over two hours, and provides excellent entertainment. Yet movies that could have been good, such as Eragon and, I assume, The Golden Compass, are neutered at slightly over 1.5 hours. You simply cannot have the development that a fantasy film requires in that time frame. Alas, I’ve wandered horribly off topic in this. Let me try to refocus.

Having said all of that, I wouldn’t be concerned at all about anyone seeing the Golden Compass in its movie form. After the movie we had some great conversation with the students who went with us over ice cream. We talked about God, the Church, church services, and a number of other issues ranging from the mundane to the profound. These conversation topics are a direct result, not of the movie, but of the controversy surrounding the movie. In all honesty, aside from some interesting thoughts on thinking for yourself and challenging what you’ve always been taught, the movie lacked any kind of philosophical or idealogical thrust. After we finished chatting over ice cream we stopped by a Borders and I bought the entire trilogy, which I am now reading. So far, I can say that the movie also corresponds to Eragon in that not a single scene has been pulled directly from the book. It’s not as bad as it was in Eragon, but it is close. I’m only six chapters into the book, but thus far I’ve found nothing horribly objectionable. I have been informed, by sources of varying repute, that it is not until the final book that the narrative becomes a diatribe against all things religious. I shall endeavor to report my findings via this medium once I have finished the trilogy.

Ooze Book Reviews: Thank God for Evolution! part 1

So, I was planning on simply doing one large review once I finished Thank God for Evolution! by Michael Dowd. However, the author was kind enough to divide the book into parts, and there is enough information here to warrant breaking my review down into its constituent parts. Beyond that I need the chance to think through some things, blogging will help me to do that. First, since this is a book that wants to talk about how science and religion can get along, I think some background is needed regarding my own biases. I grew up in a borderline fundamentalist home — though the experience was mostly positive. My mother and father taught me a literal interpretation of the Scriptures, which I began to question during my time at Davis College. I no longer hold to an absolutely literal interpretation of the Scriptures. I have also come to the conclusion that evolution has a ton of factual evidence supporting it. I’ve been attempting to convince my parents that one could believe in the Bible, the authority of the Scriptures, and that Jesus rose from the dead (really…like…with a body), and at the same time acknowledge the evidence for evolution.

So, there’s my background. Now, on to part one of Michael Dowd’s book, the subtitle of which is “How the marriage of Science and Religion with transform your life and our world.” Which is as good a place to start as any. Am I the only one who think that subtitle could be taken off of one of Joel Osteen’s books? Sometimes I look at the book, and instead of seeing the nifty fish fossil/ichthus mashup I see Joel’s smiling mug. It’s crazy. Beyond that, I am against religion being married to anything. It only creates problems. When religion is married to government – problems. When religion is married to culture – problems. When religion is married to the self – problems. When religion is married to philosophy – problems. All these various things can inform one’s take on religion, and religion should interact with all of them, but marriage is out of the question. Which of course sets the stage of Dowd’s book. I was expecting a book that outlined how science and religion could inform one another. So far I’ve only seen a marriage of the two that is best represented by the stereotypical wife beating husband, with science playing the role of the husband. Of course, religion is still there, so I doubt Dawkins would be pleased either.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s take a step back. Part I is titled “The Holy Trajectory of Evolution,” and contains the first three chapters of the book. In this Dowd basically attempts to explain his view of Evolution as religion. It is, put simply, the very thing conservative Christians have been warning about for years. They’ve said that evolution is a religion, and that it will try to eat Christianity. Dowd, far from putting their fears to rest, has only written three chapters that will say to them, “We were right!” It will be over no help to me in helping my parents to realize that one could still say the Scriptures are authoritative and inspired, but accept evolution.

However, all of this isn’t to say Dowd’s first three chapters aren’t worth reading. I disagree with almost everything he says, but it is interesting. First of all, he calls evolution our modern creation myth! How often have I said to people that evolution was the modern creation myth! I feel vindicated. However, he sees evolution than as a replacement for the Genesis account. Except, not really. It’s more like he sees evolution as a sort of Urstory. A sort of basic story that contains the basic truths to which various religions ascribe. The idea may not be that different from the idea that all ancient creation myths share a certain amount of truth. The different is, I think, that Dowd has made evolution the truth, as opposed to any one religions take on it. I disagree with this to some extent, and specifically the idea that evolution could ever be a replacement for Genesis. In the same way that the Genesis account interacted with ANE creation myths, I think that if it were to be written today, it would interact with — but differ from in key ways — the modern day evolution myth. That is to say, the underlying theology, I believe, would remain constant. So, whereas Dowd doesn’t want to see humans as unique (aside from being a way for the universe to perceive itself, but more on that in a moment), I think Genesis, from a theological perspective, teaches that humans are, in fact, highly unique among the variety of species out there. The way Genesis does this is by the whole creation of man account. God breath life into mankind. I think the underlying truth to that is accurate, if the literal description is not.

The second chapter basically lays out the idea that evolution is not a meaningless cycle of chance. Rather, Dowd argues, it is a journey of the universe. The universe is, in a way, creating itself. Strife and cooperation both of their place. There is quite a bit of fascinating reasoning going on in this chapter. I think that ultimately it proves untenable. In the end where he says “universe” I would say Adonai and be mostly satisfied with what he’s getting at, I think. I haven’t tried going through and reading it that way, so I don’t know. But, it sounds to me like his version of intelligent design is that the Universe (notice the capital letter!) is an intelligence (The Intelligence?), and as such is designing itself. I haven’t finished the book, so I could be wrong at this point. However, that is the impression I have come a way with.

The third chapter, and the final one in Part I, is an adaptation of a sermon Dowd gave once. It is titled, “Evolution and the Revival of the Human Spirit,” I can hear the conservative screaming already. To some extent they are justified, as all their fears come true. I haven’t gotten to the chapter where Dowd explains what he means by “God” yet, so I may be speaking out of turn. But, based on this sermon adaptation I think that Dowd views the universe, reality, existence, as God. As such we all live within it. Perhaps the most fascinating part of Dowd’s ideas in this chapter is the final subsection, on how “trusting the Universe means welcoming challenges” (pg 53). In here he basically makes the arguement, albeit briefly, that “sin” is all part of the universe, and need to be trusted like everything else. Conservative Christians will point to this as more evidence of the moral laxity of evolution as a religion. I feel no need to do so, however. What I would like to see discussed in more detail is the problem of evil in the world. So far Dowd has simply seemed to say that it is a requirement for progress, and although we should attempt to avoid it we need to realize that when it happens its all for the betterment of the Universe (with a capital U!). I’m hoping he goes into more depth on this idea later, because I’m sure that he would agree that what my current understanding of his thoughts on the matter are inadequate to the complexity of the situation.

So, having completed part one, I can say that I’m looking forward to reading part two. I will post a corresponding review and link to it at the bottom of this post. There are, I believe, five sections to the book. My present opinion is that this is not a book that adequately answers questions that Christians who see the evidence for evolution, but also want to continue affirming the inspiration of Scripture, may have. At the same time, I think it is an extremely interesting read. Since I’ve only read part one, I reserve the right to completely alter my opinions after I finished part two, etc.