Monday, October 26, 2009

Fall Guy

I love the fall. It is my favorite season. We are really lucky to see such vibrant oranges, yellows and reds on our trees this year.

This is a beautiful picture taken by Barbara Ebert (my mom-in-law). I think it really captures this moment in time.

Sue, Seve and I went to the zoo yesterday, and let me tell you, this is the time to go! The trees tie together the trails and exhibits into a tapestry of jeweled flora and fauna - not sparkly and showy, but subtle, reflective and deep.

The lions were right up against the glass. The “cubs” are 3 years old now and when Seve put up his hand to the clear surface, the lion would put up her paw. Then she would roll over, like a giant domestic short-hair attempting to play.

A bear was also sacked out right up against the glass, limbs splayed in all directions, clearly unworried about keeping its gender a secret!

The Oklahoma Trails exhibit is stunning right now. The trees have really grown up since construction was completed, and the waterfalls are beautiful, flowing in still motion, sending serene white noise into the fresh, autumn air.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Interesting Swedish Proverb

“Theology is poetry plus, not science minus.”

The "plus" lies in the fact that theology makes truth claims concerning the practice of life and what is sacred. Of course poetry does too, but theology usually couples the aesthetic, abstract claims of art and philosophy with a concrete lifestyle program to be enacted.

Valid faith claims lie in the realm of axiomatic premises about what is good. They lie outside the realm of provability and at best point us to the limitations of human knowledge with a sense of hope and wonder. Religions are man-made symbolic systems to attempt communication and deeper understanding of this hope and wonder. Unfortunately these symbols often become the truth themselves for millions of people instead of remaining the humble, flexible signposts pointing to truth that they are meant to be. While I feel strongly about naturalism, or at least if there is anything supernatural I feel strongly that we cannot successfully argue for it logically without severe ad hoc constraints asserted onto the supernatural, naturalism describes the past up to this point. It also provides us with the materials we have to make decisions. Yet it does not inform us of what exact decision we should make in any given circumstance.

For that it seems we need a “plus”. Religion is not necessary, of course, but it is a language that can sometimes help us discuss and think through our experience of existence. At its best it is "poetry plus."

And theology is certainly capable of being “science minus”. This happens when religious discussion, meant to provide a language to describe the indescribable, is used to make concrete scientific claims. It’s when we claim to know things, objective things, that we don’t really know, except perhaps in our non-objective (and lovely) hearts.


I have appreciated my great great uncle's poetry and prose for a long time, but this poem really, really reveals him as a kindred spirit. Fantastic.


by G.A. Compton

Just buckle on most any creed,
Like picking up a stole-
No creed was ever fitted, yet,
Exactly to each soul.

Convention says that you must wear
One o'er your sinful heart,
So put it on - but grow until
You burst the thing apart.

Monday, October 19, 2009



by G.A. Compton

Wide marked with fallow graves is patient earth
Where peasants, scheming rogues and palsied kings
Crept to the teeming womb that gave them birth
To boast a brief dominion over things.
She watched them fashion crowns from her best gold;
And from her ore, hot gyves and blades of war;
She saw them scratch papyrus with the bold
And childish letters, lord and avatar.

Earth laves her wounds with rain spun from her seas,
And drops a seed upon her shrinking scars--
Then, rhythmic beauty dances to the breeze
With arms of silver waving at the stars-

Thru centuries its liquid finger mulls
Its nectar in the crater of men's skulls.

Der Fuehrer

This is one of many poems Barry wrote during WWII, when the fate of the world was still very much up in the air.

Der Fuehrer

by G.A. Compton

The world has seen great empires tumble on
The foolish heads of greater men than you:
You, with your big complex, Napoleon,
And gangster-laughter at a murdered Jew -
A painter with dead Alexander's dream;
A corporal with Caesar's lost desire;
A little Hun, with arson torch agleam,
Setting a writhing, tortured earth on fire.

Simpering, drooling kings have torn down
What saintly seers have builded thru the years;
Each ounce of gold in each barbaric crown,
Has been bought with an anguished nation's tears!
When we think of their fates we do not fear
Your foolish putty-face and clownish leer.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Kalam Cosmological Argument part three

In my first entry on the KCA, I wanted to define what “begins to exist” meant. I defined it as being synonymous, in our experience, with “reorganized from something else.” This showed an equivocation in the KCA, as the universe has never been “reorganized from something else.” (Please remember that I am assuming the view that the universe came into being from nothing - time, space and matter did not exist in any way prior to this. This is one view out of many, but I am assuming it to argue with the KCA).

However, I can understand the potential criticism that “begins to exist” in the KCA actually means to refer to a singular moment where something attains its essential properties, and begins to exist. I think this idea is highly contentious. For instance, this table next to me - when exactly did it begin to exist? Did it become a table at the moment the wood was cut into the shape of a table top? Was it when the last nail was put in place? What if we added another nail? Is it a different table now? Yet we know that the table does exist now and that once it did not. The way to reconcile this is to say that “begins to exist’ is a process - not a singular moment but a combination of moments - which brings about something that we can identity as a separate entity from other things. Hence “reorganized from something else”.

But ultimately, this identification of things only serves our human purposes. In an ultimate sense, all things are the same -made from the same materials - and we might be quite justified in saying that nothing has ever truly come into being - except once! This is a super-reductive, ultimate way of thinking, but the KCA’s concern is with ultimate meaning after all.

Buddhist thought has long recognized that nothing has inherent existence. Nothing is completely fixed. Everything is a flow of change.

But let’s just say this doesn’t work, and “comes into being” is a specific moment, a single frame of time where something has attained its essential properties. Of course the table is different now than at was at that moment, since it has lost atoms, etc. BUT ANYWAY! Let’s assume my first post fails. Let’s look at “cause” instead.

Back to the table (BTW, it is currently supporting a stack of books topped by the Bible, a video camera, a bunch of cello music and a “Gripmaster” to build hand strength....just so you know). What was the cause of this table? Was it the last nail put into place? Was it the human who built the table? Was it the tree that later became the table? And if we pick only one, what was the cause, or causes, of that cause? They would certainly have to be considered causes of the table as well. So the table had many causes.

Let’s reformulate the KCA:

1. Everything that begins to exist has many causes
2. The universe began to exist
3. Therefore the universe has many causes.

This is probably not too satisfying to proponents of the KCA. So let’s say we can group causes together and call all of them together one cause. But as we have shown, identifying any one cause, or even a group of causes, as THE cause is arbitrary. If we continue to zoom out (the table to the tree to the previous tree to the sun to what caused the sun, etc.), we see that the true cause of this table at this exact moment is all previous states of the universe. Can we reconfigure the KCA this way?

1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause which is all previous states of the universe.
2. The universe began to exist
3. Therefore the universe has a cause and it is all previous states of the universe.

This is obviously non-sequitur reasoning.

Perhaps some will argue the a cause and its effect are simultaneous. Bill Craig uses Kant’s example of a ball resting on a couch. The dimple in the couch is the effect, the ball is the cause. They are simultaneous. Craig does not go on to mention Kant’s reflection that a dynamic relationship is still implied. The dimple requires the ball, but the ball does not require the dimple. So are they truly simultaneous? The way to argue this is that even if a cause and effect can be simultaneous (pushing down on one end of a seesaw elevates the other end), then the potential for the cause must still exist prior to the cause. This way cause and effect can be simultaneous, but the obvious dynamic relationship is still accounted for. I had to “cause the cause” in the case of pushing down the seesaw. I had to place the ball on the couch. There is still an aspect of dynamic chronology here.

If God’s action and the beginning of the universe both occurred simultaneously, then we might just as easily argue that the universe caused God’s action, rather than the other way around. If we argue that this cannot be, what’s our reason? We would argue that God has the potential to create the universe, but the universe does not have the potential to create God (unless you’re an atheist!). So if God must have the potential to be the cause, there is still a time-oriented relationship despite attempts to avoid it. The potential for a cause exists prior to a cause.

Just to be thorough (sorry), let’s consider the possibility that a cause can occur after an effect. This may seem weird, but time IS weird. However if the cause of the universe happens after the effect, then this cause may not have happened yet, so it might make sense for the universe to appear as if it has not been caused.

Once we start speculating outside of space and time we are wondering into fascinating, yet paradoxical areas upon which it would be quite unwise to build a belief system. To be fair to traditional theists, it seems to me that ANY explanation of the origin of the universe is utterly bizarre - not just ones invoking a conscious agent as the cause. It could be true that God caused the universe, my emotions tell me that something must have happened, but I think it is unwise to suggest that this conclusion is logically necessary.

What it comes down to is that, as we are arguing it here, the origin of the universe was a singular event. So looking around inside the universe, drawing inference from what we see, and applying it to the beginning (of all the things we are drawing inference from!) is highly problematic.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Faith and Belief

A couple of months ago I had a good email exchange with a friend concerning many things including whether the existence of God can be a concluded from logical arguments. Anyone familiar with me knows that I do not see God as a logical necessity, but rather as something approached with faith.

In one exchange with my friend, I blithely quoted Psalm 3:5:

"Trust God with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding....”

I was taking a bit of a pot-shot, hopefully with good humor, pointing out that his basic belief was that we can trust our own understanding.

His reply was, “You’ve got to believe in Him first.”

I disagree with this.

I do not think that faith requires a belief in a specific version of God. So does faith require any beliefs? I do think there is at least one - an acknowledgement of human limitation. I firmly believe that I do not know everything! The implication of recognizing our limitations is also to recognize a gap in our knowledge of things. To me, the attitude with which we approach this gap is what defines faith. Faith is when we open ourselves to possibility with an attitude of trust.

This is not just relevant within a religious framework. Consider a practical problem - say a problem with a co-worker. Is it better to worry about it a lot? Or to approach it with an attitude of faith - a sense of trust that this problem will untangle itself in some way? Herein lies the beauty and the danger of faith. The beauty is that it puts us in a better frame of mind, making our experience much more pleasant. The danger is that I think faith can lose this affect without action. The relationship between faith and works is a major consideration in the New Testament and in all our lives. But I think it can be argued that faith can contribute to an attitude that makes positive works more likely. In fact, a complete lack of faith usually results in emotional paralysis in my experience. There is great freedom in recognizing our limitations, relaxing, controlling what we can, and having faith concerning what we cannot. I am thinking serenity prayer.......

Here is my tentative definition:

Faith is a recognition of human limitation followed by an attitude of openness and trust towards the unknown. I do not define it as intellectual submission to a specific dogma.

Therefore perhaps a person could say with a clear conscience that she has faith in God, even if she does not know exactly what God is. Or - “I am not sure in what sense I believe, but I do have faith in whatever it is that IS.”

What do you think?

Sunday, October 11, 2009



by G.A. Compton

(my great, great uncle)

When I am old and broken like a reed,
And sunsets spill no more the ruby wine
That bacchanal the birds - too spent to heed
The genesis of spring in sod and vine:
When silver tongues of maple trees are mute
To this, almost, insensate shell of me,
And April breathes upon a broken lute,
And silence fills the old affinity -

Then, as I leaf the page on fading page
Of intermittent memory, I'll live-
Despite this bold and truculent pillage-
As fully, having all that life can give-

And I vow, I swear, it shall be ever new-
My love, the old, old love, I bring to you.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Bodily Resurrection in Paul? part two

One question I have for those favoring a bodily resurrection is this: Do you believe that your own physical body will be reconstituted and changed into a spiritual body during the general resurrection? Paul calls Christ the “first fruits” of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15), implying that those who belong to Jesus will be raised in similar fashion. If Jesus was raised bodily, then his followers will be raised this way as well. Let’s think out the implications of this through the person of St. Paul.

Let’s say Paul was killed in Rome sometime in the 60’s. I’m sure many people assume that he is in heaven with Jesus. But if Jesus has been physical raised and Paul has not (yet), are they currently together but in different bodies? Is Paul awaiting the general resurrection and his actual spiritual body which will be his former physical body transformed? If he is, then where are the materials of that body today? Surely Paul was buried, probably not in a proper tomb if he was martyred by Rome, and his body has decomposed. His remains have long since been transformed into earth. Perhaps parts of that earth have since become grass and animals have fed on that grass. Perhaps people have eaten some of those animals and then reproduced over generations. Even if this is not exactly right, we know that Paul’s physical remains have transformed into others things many, many times since his death. Maybe there are materials in thousands of people all over the world that were once part of the Apostle Paul. At the general resurrection at the end of the world, who gets to claim those parts? If Paul does, will molecules fly out of people, animals, plants and earth all over the world? And let’s remember that every molecule that made up Paul was once something else, and quite probably someONE else.

to be continued...

Bodily Resurrection in Paul? part one

I have listened to several debates recently on the bodily resurrection of Christ. I am sure I will be recommending some of them, or portions of them, soon.

I divide the predominant views that I have heard into two basic categories:

1. Jesus was bodily raised from the dead. His dead body was transformed into a “resurrection” or “spiritual” body, but it’s the same physical body transformed.

2. Jesus was not raised bodily from the dead. His followers had visions of Christ vindicated and exalted by God and saw this as the new “resurrection” or “spiritual” body. How seriously you take this depends on how seriously you view that which is considered “spiritual” in this context. A secularist might describe these as hallucinations, a religious person might see them as "genuine" visions.

The question for this brief series of posts is, "What did Jesus first followers think?"

It can be argued that both views are represented in the New Testament. Jesus is presented as a spiritual vision, appearing in a flash of light to Paul, walking through walls, appearing in a form that was not immediately recognizable to his followers. But then in Luke, Jesus eats a piece of broiled fish to prove that he is not a ghost. Luke 24:39b has Jesus state, “a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” This is contrasted by Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15:50 concerning the resurrection body, “ flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.”

Paul’s description of spiritual bodies in 1 Corinthians 15 can be argued vigorously to support both views. Did Paul believe Jesus left his earthly body behind, exchanged for his resurrection body? Those who support this view may quote the following passages from 1 Corinthians 15:

35 But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?’ 36Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.

45Thus it is written, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. 47The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is* from heaven. 48As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. 49Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will* also bear the image of the man of heaven.
50 What I am saying, brothers and sisters,* is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

Those who think Paul believed that Jesus’ physical body was not exchanged for a spiritual body, but rather was the same physical body changed into a spiritual body, might quote these passages, also from 1 Corinthians 15:

42 So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. 43It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.

For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: 
‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’

Note the “it"'s in the first passage seems to refer to the same entity, but is it referring to the physical body or to the “dead” from verse 42, which may mean soul?

I go back and forth on what I think Paul thought happened when God raised Jesus. Physical body changed or exchanged? Did Paul think that Jesus took any flesh and blood with him to his spiritual body? We should remember that the term “spiritual body” is paradoxical and therefore perhaps it is fitting that Paul’s intentions can be read both ways! I come down cautiously on the side of the spiritual body replacing the physical body in Paul’s theology for two reasons that I will present in the 3rd or 4th part of this series.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Zero Circle

This poem by Rumi says it just about right. Just about as perfect as it can be said. Sometimes it's false to cry yes, but it's impossible to say no. This is the paradox of our existence. I am going to quit and let the poem talk.....

by Rumi

Be helpless, dumbfounded,
Unable to say yes or no.
Then a stretcher will come from grace
to gather us up.

We are too dull-eyed to see that beauty.
If we say we can, we're lying.
If we say No, we don't see it,
That No will behead us
And shut tight our window onto spirit.

So let us rather not be sure of anything,
Beside ourselves, and only that, so
Miraculous beings come running to help.
Crazed, lying in a zero circle, mute,
We shall be saying finally,
With tremendous eloquence, Lead us.
When we have totally surrendered to that beauty,
We shall be a mighty kindness.

Translated from the Persian, Farsi by Coleman Barks

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Crazy fact

Courtesy of Skyhook.....

An ostrich egg is one cell.