Archive for December, 2010

Backwards cause and effect

December 22, 2010 2 comments

I was watching a children’s program the other day. It was an educational program, I believe–the segment I was watching was attempting to teach kids about the notion of “elasticity.” This is a notion in physics that describes how various different materials react to collisions. Essentially, bouncy things (like basketballs) are said to have high elasticity, whereas un-bouncy things, like grapefruits, have low elasticity. Something interesting happened as this concept was being described by the narrator, as he showed various examples, something that I think speaks well to how our society understands science. I don’t remember what the exact objects were, in his examples, but let’s pretend they were basketballs and grapefruits.

First we are shown a clip of a grapefruit being dropped. The narrator said “this grapefruit doesn’t bounce much, because a grapefruit has low elasticity.” Then we are shown a clip of a basketball being dropped. The narrator says “this basketball bounces almost to the point at where it was dropped from. This is because a basketball has high elasticity.” The point was then hammered home with a few more similar demonstrations.

As you might expect, I have a philosophical objection to how things are being phrased here. My basic objection is that the concept that is being used to describe reality is being given a metaphysical status greater than the actual reality itself. They have things backwards. The ball does not bounce high because it has high elasticity, but rather it is said to have high elasticity because it bounces high. The more general problem is that we talk about scientific concepts that describe nature as if they determine nature. We act as if our description caused nature.

Of course, this is difficult philosophical territory. But suppose we simply chose a different words to say essentially the same thing. Suppose we said, as a child would say, “the basketball bounces high because a basketball has lots of bounciness.” This is a cute remark, the kind of endearingly tautological sort of remark that little kids are prone to make. No one would argue that a child who said such a thing had some deep understanding of the nature of reality. Rather, we’d say that the child came up with a word for what he saw the object doing, and turned it into a substance. He made a noun out of a verb.

Now, I propose that we lay aside for now the amazing ability of science to predict certain sorts of events and patterns in nature, and just consider science metaphysically. I ask you to consider whether not science, in its purely metaphysical content–that is, in its ability to tell us what things really are–has never really been much more than something like this practice of the child, of giving a name to what he saw. And I think this takes nothing away from science; rather it liberates it from the oppressive task of having to deliver absolute truth.

Ah, but you might protest, the child and the scientist are different. There is a deeper concept at work in the scientists mind than in that of the child. He knows about molecules and thermodynamics and the internal chemical structure of the object–the concept of “elasticity” is a lot deeper, a lot more general, than you are giving it credit for. It says things about the object beyond simply how high it bounces. It has a precise mathematical formulation. This is true, and important, but my point remains. The deeper level of abstraction of the physicist, and the use of advanced mathematics in his reasoning, does not make things fundamentally different from a metaphysical standpoint. Rather, it conceals the error. Thus I had to state my point in the terms I did, in order to make it clear that there is an issue here. The issue is taking something that arises in language and thought, and treating it like a fundamental reality.

This is how we are taught science as children; it is how we are gradually sold a false philosophy without the chance to challenge it. If the child does not know about molecules and thermodynamics and internal chemical structures, then why are we telling him about elasticity? What is the point of introducing a concept that cannot be more meaningful to the child than what he is already able to conjure up via his own imagination? All this does is create in his mind the idea that there is some sort of deep reality behind the concept. Further it begins the lifelong process of selling his mind the concept that “the scientists”–who barely exist at all except in the imagination of educators and media personalities–who are the imagined priesthood of the modern religion of science, have access to truth on a more basic level than the rest of us.

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December 20, 2010 Leave a comment

There are moments in life when I feel such great joy that I am overwhelmed–especially recently. And I promised myself that, one of these times, I’d write about it, which I am doing now.

Somehow I managed to go through a good portion of my life without believing that true happiness is possible. When I was found by my beautiful Savior Jesus Christ, I knew joy then, and that joy was mostly based in hope: hope for a redeemed heart, a heart at peace with God, a heart that dwells in his love and is no longer oppressed by evil. I was given glimpses of what the love of God brings to the human heart, and that is a beautiful thing, and I believed God and his promise for me to deliver that. But there has always nagged in the back of my head the sense that the true release is yet to come; yes I hope for the kingdom of God, but can I really be happy now?

I don’t want to ask that question in the wrong way. I don’t want to ask if I can have “my best life now,” as it is falsely offered in various corruptions of Christianity. We are destined for suffering, and being happy isn’t the most important thing; it is not what we should seek. We should “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness…” That is true. But also “…and all these things will be added unto you.”

What I want to express is this: God has blessed me, enormously. I am actually grateful to be alive now; I knew before that I ought to be grateful for this, but in truth I wasn’t. And, not only that, I wished I were grateful for the promises of God to me, for the new heavens and the new earth, for eternal fellowship with him. I wished that I were, but I wasn’t, so much of the time. I didn’t feel it; I believed, but something in my heart always held back.

I believe God has broken this barrier by showing me true joy from his own hand. But my heart is still inclined this way, inclined to trample God’s good gifts, to forget them. And it makes me sad to know this, to know that in a few days, in maybe a few hours, I might, like stubborn Israel, forget the works of God and turn again to myself, to become cynical, to see all his work in a different light, to submit to fear and worry and self-concern, and complain about what I don’t have. Pray for me, that I’d remember God’s blessing, that he’d show me his grace even as I forget his love.

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The Path to Misery

December 6, 2010 1 comment

“Oh, come, O Key of David, come,
And open wide our heav’nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!”

The path to misery is selfishness. We often think of selfishness as an outward thing–a selfish person treads on others, and will hurt others for personal gain. And for some that is undoubtedly true. But for an introvert like me, selfishness can be more of an internal preoccupation, a self-obsession that blocks my concern for others and chokes my ability to love my neighbor. I wonder how much of my time is spent thinking about two or three of my favorite worries, devoting mental energy to hypothetical line of reasoning that serves no end, that benefits no-one, including myself. For an introvert, selfishness can often take the form of an endless, self-concerned internal monologue.

Right now (and much of the time), that monologue concerns the future; the decisions I have to make, the circumstances that might occur, and what those mean for my future. This monologue will cause me to forget the basic fact that God is sovereign and the only real harm that can really befall me will come from my own sinning. And even that, Christ has paid for.

What the tempter affects, in me at least, during these sessions of self-concern, is impressions. I have every reason to be happy, and no reason right now to fear or doubt. But my flesh, and the kingdom of darkness, will destroy a completely beautiful thing simply by creating a worrisome feeling, which the mind then latches onto, deciding that it must pursue an endless internal line of questions, a vague and undirected attempt to resolve the worry by thinking about it. This sort of worry has no living root, it has no purpose; frankly, it is sent from hell to destroy faith and joy.

The tempter will make you feel as if something is awfully wrong, but he will not tell you what it is. Goodness is simple, it is not hard to see. Well, perhaps it is hard to see. But it is not a mystery how to be blessed, how to make things alright, how to have nothing to fear. Trust in Christ. God is present with us, and for those who trust in Christ, there is nothing to fear. The word of Christ is joy and life, it is clarity. Let us listen to him.

Why do I worry? I worry because I am selfish, because I want a plan that works out in the end, in a way that I can see, in a way that I can control. And I want to deal with things according to my own resources: my own strength, courage, and wisdom. I cannot simply trust God, behold the beauty and goodness that is before me, or even sometimes the ugliness and despair, and say to God: “you know all things, you are the one with the perfect plan, your will be done. Help me to love you and love my neighbor, and rejoice. Let me trust you.”

When life is considered in light of the Kingdom of God, the big decisions will not seem so big. The outcomes don’t really matter that much, unless we do not believe that God will turn any life lived in service to him into something beautiful in the end, into a root which may grow in his eternal kingdom, in the new heavens and the new earth.

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