Monday, September 28, 2009

Very interesting study

Dr. Sam Parnia talks about the AWARE study, which is researching out of body experiences by patients during periods of clinical death. 10 to 20 percent of patients who suffer cardiac arrest report memories of consciousness when no electrical activity was measurable in the brain. Many of them report witnessing events that they "should" not have been aware of given their circumstances. Current neuroscience does not allow for this. Of course, if this study reveals interesting findings, science will follow and adjust.

Many people theorize that Near Death Experiences are "false" memories. Others say that minimal brain activity is maintained, despite not showing up on current instruments, and that oxygen deprivation creates the sensation of tunnels, bright lights and a sense of well-being. Others see it all as evidence of a soul. Still others see it as a combination of things. While the existence of souls and an eternity of love for all (in some form beyond my current ability to comprehend) is certainly my hopeful dream, whatever a near death experience is, I say "thanks brain!"

Devising a study would seem to be difficult. Even if these experiences are objectively real, would people watching doctors and nurses attempt to resuscitate them even notice a picture which can only be seen from the ceiling looking down?

Still, it is a fantastic start, and this study could tell us a lot about consciousness. Because of a new instrument being used to measure oxygen in the brain, it could also tell us lot about which types of resuscitation attempts tend to be the most successful at restoring consciousness and avoiding permanent brain damage.

Unfortunately, it will be a few years before the study publishes findings..

Debates part one

I have recently become passionate about listening to debates, particularly those covering religion. I will recommend a few over the next few weeks. If it's something you are interested in, then I encourage you to listen. Very fun stuff.

Anyone who watches the presidential debates knows that whether a person wins or loses a debate is not proof that they are correct. It's half a legitimate search for truth and half a sporting event where debaters try to best each other in how good their arguments SOUND. I have often heard people win debates with bad points because his/her opponent does not effectively refute those bad points - either in substance or in the clarity of the speech.

This first one is hardly a debate, actually. Evangelical Christian apologist William Lane Craig debates in a traditional, well-organized style. Liberal theologian and Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong is less interested in responding tit for tat with Craig, than he is at getting his point of view across. Often this is annoying in debates, since the debaters don't really engage on specific points, but in this particular example I think Spong comes off favorably.

The debate subject is the historicity of Jesus' Resurrection. Was it a one time, specific, bodily event? Craig argues yes. Spong argues no. But as I said, Spong spends his time arguing for his point of view, rather than against Craig's.

The whole debate is about an hour and a half, but I recommend listening to just the last 10:30 of the debate. Craig ties up his points in an organized manner, lamenting liberal theology, and describing his personal experience of God. Then Spong responds to Craig's accusations in one or two sentences and delivers an eloquent description of God - something that he believes is essentially outside any human's ability to effectively describe.

Here is the link

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Kalam Cosmological Argument part two

The following might be some fairly obvious observations to some. But they completely blow my mind, and I think they further show the problems with the KCA as a logical argument.

Premise 2 of the Kalam Cosmological Argument states that “the universe began to exist.” Then it supposes that it must, therefore, have had a cause.

The problem with this is that the universe has always existed. Remember, we are assuming the view that the universe had a beginning and that it was the beginning of all matter, space and time (though in reality this is just one way of viewing the origin of the universe).

“But wait”, you might say, “the universe had a beginning. It has not always been here.”

But “the universe had a beginning” and “the universe has always been here” are not mutually exclusive. I might ask, “When did the universe not exist?” and the answer (assuming our premises) is NEVER. The universe has never not existed. Therefore the universe has always existed. What the beginning tells us is simply that our concept of “always” is not infinite, but can be measured - at least into the past.

This is completely bizarre, I know. But everything is when we consider the origin of space, time and matter!

The KCA seems to subtly imply that time did not ACTUALLY begin to exist at the beginning, but rather that there must have been some time before in which God created the universe. But there was nothing before the beginning. Conservative theists trying to “prove” God logically often claim that He therefore exists “outside of time.” We’ll get more into that in part 3, but for part 2 it is enough to show that the universe has always been here, and that it’s beginning is far different than anything else that has had a beginning inside the universe.

Conclusion - There has never been a time that the universe did not exist. The second after it came into existence, the universe had always existed. And it has still always existed. The KCA seems to have refer to the universe’s lack of infinity, rather than to the beginning as an event, for its argument. We'll get to that later. Thanks for reading!

Monday, September 21, 2009

"Experiencing God" by Susan Adams

The following is another entry for the "God Strategy" project. The others are on the old blog which is no longer available, though I still have copies if anyone wants to read them. I think this one is the 6th or 7th entry:

My Life . . .
Begins and continues, the sun shining through
sparkling glass, clear, cleaned to polished perfection.
Suddenly an explosion of lightning shatters the glass
causing the pieces to rain down unexpectedly.
A soft, gentle hand picks up the splintered fragments
and carefully cements them back into place creating
tiny prisms, jagged spectrums ready to receive light.
The sun again dawns through a welcoming window
projecting perfect rainbows through imperfect
panes, signaling promises kept.
I stand in awe . . .

This poem is an attempt to try and explain my God experience. The glass has shattered more than once in my life, yet I have never experienced hopelessness. There has been the knowledge of a real presence with me to comfort and guide me and grow me during very difficult times and during times of absolute joy - during all of life. He is my creator, sustainer, and loving parent. He does not forsake me when I am angry with Him, when I question Him, or when I experience times of doubt. I do not know this relationship exists, I cannot prove it; and yet I know this relationship exists and is real and vibrant. I am forever grateful . . .

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Thought provoking video

This is a great, relatively short video that demonstrates very clearly the problems in arguing logically for God. It also shows that the implications of this is that if we do decide to take a "leap of faith" then we cannot in any way justify expecting others to do the same. It gets a bit preachy at the end, in a way I TOTALLY agree with, about how the way we treat others shows more about us than what dogma we are intellectually submissive to. I recognize the difficulties that can come from this argument, because we can argue that how we treat people is dependent on whatever "metaphysical" views we adopt, but it's still a great, thought-provoking video. Thanks, Vernicus.

Friday, September 18, 2009

New Little Dragon

I have a new 6 year old Little Dragon that is learning guitar. I usually make up simple songs and write them out for young students. Then I ask the student to name the songs. Usually they struggle to do so, but eventually come up with something like "Sunlight" or "Guitar Song". All kids are creative, but sometimes on the spot, it doesn't pan out.

This new Little Dragon has named four songs so far, and they are pretty good. Here they are, in order:

1. "March of the Dolphin" Think about it. That is pretty funny.

2. "The Penguin Learns to Skip"

3. "The Dolphin learns to Fly" - a bit of a re-tread, but still good.

4. "Snoopy Learns To Not Get Shot Down By The Red Baron"

I'm going to write another song next week, just to see what the title will be.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Blog Adventures part two update

Here are the couple of comments on received on Wade Burleson's blog. Most of the comments were about his original blog which concerned the Baptist Faith and Message of 1963 vs. the 2000 update. But here are the two brief interactions I had, one with "THY PEACE" and one with Wade.


There is one big difference between Christ's followers and other religions. For Christ's followers the Source is Our Lord Jesus Christ. We draw strength from Him. We draw life from Him. When we love others, it is Christ we is loving through us. For other religions, it is mostly innate or the power of self to love others. There are limits to this love. Whereas the love as shown by a Christian, there are no limits, for Our Source is the giver of this love.

This has to be experienced by a believer, that on their own they have no power to do any good. But with Our Lord Jesus Christ, all things are possible. Here the important thing is to distinguish between what one's self is desiring and what The Spirit is desiring. I honestly believe this is the tripping point for lot of Christians. They intend to do lot of good and they do some good but of their own power, rather than drawing on the power of Our Lord Jesus Christ. And the results do not bear much fruit. Yes, we need discernment in validating the fruit too.


"For Christ's followers the Source is Our Lord Jesus Christ."

Couldn't I interpret the physical sounds of the words "Jesus Christ" and the mental image in your head when you think of Jesus - as the sign rather than the source? After all, surely your mental image is not close to what the actual Jesus looked like and surely the historical Jesus would not have recognized the sounds "Jesus Christ" as His name. In other words, is it the names and mental images or the ESSENCE of something that is important?

" For other religions, it is mostly innate or the power of self to love others."

I'll focus on Buddhism - a main idea of Buddhism is that separate self is an illusion. I'll agree on the "innate" part though. God created man in His own image, after all.

"Whereas the love as shown by a Christian, there are no limits, for Our Source is the giver of this love."

If we are measuring "Love" in quantity, I doubt there are many Christians who show more love than the Dalai Lama. If "love" is meant qualitatively here - that is so subjective that we cannot possibly measure it. We cannot know for sure what others experience. Judgement would be unwise.

thanks for the words,




Interesting comment.

I would say that the difference between Christianity and Buddhism is that Buddhism uses love as a prescription for life, while Christianity sees love as the evidence of life.

In other words, Jesus Christ is life, and life eternal. Apart from faith in Him, particularly and specifically faith in His work on our behalf (a work that no sinful human being can accomplish), we are separated from God. That work, of course, is the work of "atonement."

Ted Kennedy in his memoirs confessed to feeling guilt for many of his mistakes in life and tried to make "atonement" (his word) for them toward the end of his life. In my view, if somebody tries to "love" to be right with God instead of loving "because" they are right with God, they've got the cart before the horse.




"if somebody tries to "love" to be right with God instead of loving "because" they are right with God, they've got the cart before the horse."

I agree with this sentiment. But I think it's right on track with Buddhism. Transformation on the inside is essential to create true transformation on the outside. The "outside" is evidence of the "inside" as you say. Anything else is unsustainable.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Kalam Cosmological Argument part one

The Kalam Cosmological Argument is a philosophical argument often used for God’s existence. The foremost defender of the KCA is William Lane Craig - an articulate and intelligent Christian philosopher and apologist. He formulates the KCA this way:

Premise 1: Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
Premise 2: The universe began to exist.
Conclusion 1: Therefore, the universe must have a cause.

This sort of makes sense, doesn’t it? Of course, it also sort of doesn’t. I’m going to bring up objections to this argument in a few posts.

I should start by saying that there are many views about the origin of the universe. Some physicists believe that there is a multiverse of which our universe is only one. Others think we will never know for sure what happened. Others believe that the universe did not necessarily have a beginning. But many scientists believe that our universe is everything that has ever existed, and that it did have a definite beginning at the Big Bang, and that this is the moment when time itself began to exist. This latter view is the one Craig supports, and it is the one I will be arguing from.

Craig defines “begins to exist” as “comes into being”. He states that no one thinks that a tiger could just pop into existence without a cause. This makes sense. So let’s think, how did a tiger come into being? The first law of thermodynamics tells us that the amount of energy/mass in the universe stays the same. So the atoms that now make up a tiger were once other creatures, plants, inanimate objects, light, etc. And in the future, when the tiger dies, all the atoms will turn into other things, playing a part in causing those things’ existence. It’s quite amazing. Therefore, “begins to exist” means “reorganized from something else.”

Yet Craig does not believe that the universe is something that has been “reorganized from something else.” Remember this is the universe itself we are talking about, which is everything. We are no longer discussing certain materials inside the universe turning into other things. Once again, in premise 1 “begins to exist” is the reorganization of matter/energy into different things. In Premise 2 “began to exist” cannot mean the same thing since, in Craig’s view, the beginning of the universe was the beginning of all materials. There was nothing from which the universe could have been reorganized.


Premise 1 - “Begins to exist” means “reorganized out of existing materials”
Premise 2 - “Began to exist” means “coming into being out of nothing” (which is, ironically, the very thing Craig argues against in his tiger example).

Since “begins to exist” actually means two different things in the KCA’s premises, despite initially sounding like it doesn’t, this is a Fallacy of Equivocation.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Two good books

The Bible: A Biography (Books That Changed the World) The Bible: A Biography by Karen Armstrong

My rating: 4 of 5 stars Armstrong is great at writing concise, clear biographies on difficult subjects (the Buddha for instance). This is an easy read, full of information. It will challenge you if you think that the purpose of Scripture has always been what it often is today. Fascinating stuff. View all my reviews >>

The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened In the Years Immediately After the Execution Of Jesus The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened In the Years Immediately After the Execution Of Jesus by John Dominic Crossan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars You don't have to agree with all of Crossan's conclusions to see that THIS is how you study early Christianity - through anthropology, archaealogy, textual criticism, etc. etc. Read this book only if you are very, very, very interested in what may have happened in between Jesus' life and the letters of Paul. At times it is fascinating (studying oral tradition of different cultures, memory studies, textual criticism, etc.). At times it is really detailed and boring - but that's only because Crossan tirelessly explains his methodology. Interesting stuff - I read it over a few months. View all my reviews >>

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Blog Adventures part two

Wade Burleson is the pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid. He is quite conservative but seems to be a kind man, with a spirit that values civility in disagreement. I appreciate that.

He recently posted a blog about the updated Baptist Faith and Message here. His post contained the following sentence:

“It is this command to love others, which is the distinguishing mark of the follower of Jesus Christ, that differentiates Christianity from all other religions.” - Wade

Here is my comment. We will see if it goes anywhere...... Thanks for reading!

“There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness."

"The practice of altruism is the authentic way of conducting human life, and is not limited to the religious."

-the Dalai Lama

The absolute foundation of Buddhism is the practice of loving-kindness through the recognition that comes from compassion. According to your statement above, one of the following must be true:

1. Buddhists know the same Christ that Christians do, albeit by a different name.

2. Buddhists are not actually loving, despite all observable evidence to the contrary.

And I will add a 3rd option:

3. Buddhists have a true connection with God through their own religion.

How do we judge a religion? By its actual level of compassion and faith? Or through its intellectual submission to a specific dogma which purports to bring about this compassion and faith?

Do we judge a religion by its names and places or by its spirit? Do we judge it by the signpost or by where the signpost is pointing?

Thanks for the interesting blog on the BFM. I enjoyed it,


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Indians know how to do it...

If you have not tried Khazana you are really missing out. The restaurant is located close to the intersection of NW 50th and May in OKC - it's next to Steinmart.

It is the most well-tended buffet I have ever seen. If you go at 11 or at 1:30, the food levels and cleanliness are the same. And the food itself is ridiculously tasty.

Chicken Marsala, Chicken Vindaloo, Tandoori Chicken, spring rolls, naan, Palak Paneer, spicy lentls and chickpeas......I could go on and on. The flavors are hot, rich, sweet, meaty, vegetarian - it's hard for me to imagine someone not liking at least some of the selections. I like it all.

A lunch buffet and drink will run you about $10 or so. It is well worth it.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Thoughts on Intelligent Design - part three

Now let’s assume that there is a supernatural explanation for the universe and that it is the traditional Western God. Here are some implications of using natural holes in our knowledge to prove this:

God has obviously created a universe of causal relationships. Natural laws could be described as “God’s language.” It’s ironic to look for proof of Him in spots where this language does not work - where causal relationships allegedly break down. ID seems to suggest that the natural, “created” order did not work well enough to create first life, so supernatural interventions were necessarily inserted into the universe. In this case I see at least three options for interpretation:

1. God made mistakes in His initial creation.

2. God created the world with no thoughts of life and later changed His mind.

3. God intentionally left humans hard-to-find clues billions of years ago to induce His existence. However God seems to have failed since many, many scientists, philosophers and others who study these things do not view these alleged breakdowns as evidence of His existence. Plus why would God choose this route instead of direct, unmistakable revelation to each individual person? A non-believer might ask, “Where is my road to Damascus?”

A proponent of ID might say in response, “I don’t know think it is our place to draw conclusions about God’s plan. We cannot know His mind. This is human hubris.”

I agree. This is the exact reason why we cannot logically establish that intelligent design has occurred. To do so is to claim to know the mind of God. It is seeing a gap and plugging in God’s intentions and actions from our own limited knowledge. Once again, to claim that a supernatural, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, infinite source left behind finite, temporal evidence for us is to claim to know and understand God’s intentions and actions. I believe that this is the true human hubris. What I am trying to do here is use the same thinking that a believer in ID uses to view God’s “footprints” to view the implications of these footprints.

Another proponent of ID might say, “But God’s direct creation of first life explains the evidence in an easier way than chance.”

1. “God did it” will always seem more parsimonious than any natural explanation. Just like Harry Potter waving his wand to pack his trunk is easier than actually packing it by hand - except of course, that there is no explanation for magic - like God. To quote a friend, “It’s explaining the unexplainable without explanation.”

2. It seems difficult to claim parsimony when proposing a being who is more powerful and complex than the entire universe to “explain” one, tiny event inside the universe (or even the universe itself).

These are just some of the philosophical problems I see with attempting to make reason-based arguments for ID. I do not consider these posts as arguments against God at all. They are arguments against using natural, logical processes to argue for a supernatural cause for first life or for the universe as a whole. As Robert T. Pennock wrote recently, “
One may, of course, retain religious faith in a designer who transcends natural processes, but there is no way to dust for his fingerprints.”

If there is an infinite God, we finite creatures of limited ability are completely at His mercy. Perhaps an attitude of openness and trust towards the unknown is more useful than intellectual submission to a dogma whose justification is problematic. Isn’t this respecting the gap in our knowledge, being open to possibilities and acknowledging human limitations, rather than using the gap as an opportunity to plug in our pre-existing dogma, hence attempting to close the gap?

I say the gap itself is a beautiful thing. And the more we refine it through our growing knowledge, the more beautiful it becomes.