why would anyone WANT to believe in Jesus?

The most important reason that one ought to trust in Jesus completely is that his claims are true; he really is Lord of the universe. If you don’t believe this, the first step is to find out what his claims really are. If you’re not too sure, have a read through the account given by Mark, an early follower of Jesus here. It is probably the earliest written, it is short; “the gospel for skeptics in a hurry”, and it presents the core claims of the world’s most well-known teacher. It repays re-reading as well – there is a lot to it. The second step, I suggest, is to reflect on what questions these claims raise and find out whether Christian faith can answer them. I believe that Christian faith provides a rich account of human life and an adequate grounding for ethics, for science, and for history. On this story of the world, unlike the dominant narrative in our culture, history is not just “one damn event after another”, ethics is not futile, subjective (or at best a minimalist schema for the reduction of harm), and science is an insight into the deeper rationality underlying the universe. This account is not only promising for the intellectual resources it provides, but aligns best with the evidence that we have concerning the human condition and God’s revelation into the world.

All of the above can spawn much worthwhile discussion, and I’m most happy to engage in it. I really do believe that the evidence supports Christian claims to a greater extent than other worldviews, whether naturalism, Islam, Deism, polytheism or whatever else. But there is another question of deep concern to many people. Why should we really care? So what if it’s true or reasonable, if it doesn’t really speak to me, if it’s sterile and dry or even offensive and appears to be an infringement on my intellectual and social freedoms?

I’m convinced that the central Christian claims are both true – they are intellectually credible – and existentially satisfying – they are profoundly attractive and aesthetically pleasing.  Here are three reasons to believe the latter:

1) Jesus changes lives. Grace and peace are things absolutely worth having and they are transformative. I can speak to that from that perhaps uniquely intriguing source of information – personal experience. Look at the lives of committed Christians you know – I can’t point to many who are not perfect, but there are many who live well and who live better as a result of who their life is centred on.

2) Much great art and music has been inspired by reflecting on the claims of the gospel, the good news of God’s grace. God does not stifle creativity; or, for that matter, science! One indirect product of Christian faith has been cultures infused with a focus on the gospel – and this can be an attractive thing.

3) In a world of suffering, the most profound statements are made not in terms of triumphalistic conquest and violence, but in the language of sacrifice and humility. The cross from which the body of Jesus hung is worth considering in this light.

H/T: Tim Keller for the general theme of credibility & satisfaction, from this talk on the resurrection. I apologise for the spelling of resurrection on the visual.

other plans

When beginning to study biology, there were a few areas I decided I’d probably stay away from, at least for the most part (for some out of lack of interest, but mostly just in an attempt to not be too much of a generalist, i.e. to specialise in something).

These included population genetics, ecology, microbiology, and evolution. Now it turns out that I’ll quite likely be doing a masters next year on the evolution of a certain kind of microbe under different environmental conditions – i.e. my project will incorporate all four of these ‘no-go areas’.  Oh well, at least I’ve managed to mostly avoid plants – so far…

by dismissing it all, might you be missing it all?

“Fancies, you know, have often taken as strong a hold of the human mind as facts; and so we are not entitled to despise these fancies. We must proceed to rigid historical enquiry for ourselves. …” Thomas Cooper.

From a book worth glancing through. There are some glaring cultural differences, coming from a time when ‘colonialism’ was perhaps more a term of praise than derision – but I like the style of the writing, and it is most certainly mind-expanding.

HT: the library of historical apologetics.

please explain

Let us imagine that someone claims to be able to explain everything in terms of fundamental physics, or claims that ultimately everything is explicable in such terms. They’re almost certainly wrong, but let’s just go with it for now.

Note that one thing they will not have explained is fundamental physics itself. This may seem obvious and not even worth stating, but a lot of the task of a philosopher is IMO to state the obvious and to do so clearly. Let me quote from philosopher Brian Earp, from a discussion of consciousness: “Positing, ordinarily understood, is a very different enterprise from explaining. And it is typically much easier to do. To explain something (typically) just is to give a reductive or mechanistic account of it. Or, if that cannot be done, at minimum, it is to show why something exists, or is the way it is, by referring to at least one other thing and tracing some sort of entailment A to B. To posit, by contrast, requires much less work. You need only to declare, “The thing exists because it just does”  – a statement which might even be true, but which does not give the sense of ah-hah! that is typically associated with genuine explanation”


So, an interesting question arising from this is “what is the best fundamental level of explanation?” It is not at all clear to me that fundamental physics is that level (i.e. I’m pretty sure it isn’t), for at least two reasons. Firstly, it seems to me to cry out for further explanation. And secondly because it is not a sufficient explanation of even the every-day things around us if reductionism is false as I believe it is. Explaining why reductionism is false is something I hope to do a lot more work on in future.

the Word

The Bible is meant to be heard, and heard in community.

I find personal Bible study difficult as of late – probably a sign that I’m too busy, and there is a lot of the Bible that I have not read carefully for a number of years (makes me feel old). This afternoon as I study I’m listening to mp3s of the book of  Ephesians. It only takes a few minutes, and it is fantastic. I’m really appreciating how it repeats some of its points a couple of times, rephrased. If I listened to the Bible more, I would I think listen to my own inner whirl less, and that could only really be a good thing. The community thing is something else that I appreciate, and which could probably be done better; perhaps there is more to say on that in future.

There are copyright issues for free downloads of most versions, and a number of the free versions are not very nice to listen to. I’m listening to chapters from the ESV, but only a few can be downloaded for free so I’ll have to buy it sometime.

So, what’s the message of Ephesians? God has done (past) a great thing for us, in Christ; we were far off, but have been brought near to God. He has chosen us to live (present) according to his light. We are forgiven and peace is established and grace is showered upon us, through Christ. Our down-payment of God’s deep love in the present time is the Holy-Spirit. God’s plan is revealed in Christ, and is for all people. There is a full inheritance that we will receive (future), and God will be glorified. What could be a better message?

“Be careful how you walk; not as unwise, but as wise, for the time is short. …”

double standards

I’m in the middle of writing an essay for the token philosophy course I’m taking; sorry if I’m a broken record on this, but I think it’s interesting anyway. I’m probably going a bit OTT with it, but I’m up to very close to 50 references, for a 5-6k word paper. As I reflect on it, that strikes me as quite a few. Some of them I need to actually read rather than skim, but it’s a good few hundred pages of philosophy. I’ll have to pick the main ones I think, as the markers are unlikely to believe I actually read them.

And, I feel I need to have this kind of background in order to say something particularly intelligent on the topic; I recognise that what I’m saying is controversial, and I want to defend it as well as I can. I was already fairly well informed philosophically, for the standards of the course, but I’ve still had to go away and get to know some of the debates, and despite all this I’m concerned my grade will be average – we’ll see. Critiquing naturalism is hard work, and it occurs to me that it’s not really because naturalism is plausible. From the perspective of history and most human beings, it’s a frightfully ambitious claim, but it is largely taken for granted in my context. Given this background, as it is the status quo, I probably need to work quite hard to make much progress; I expect to get a good mark with this essay, but there is an interesting asymmetry I think in the standards of evidence that are generally expected to be required when defending, say, theism, versus scientific naturalism. I get the impression that theistic arguments can generally be dismissed fairly easily, for instance by students in most classes (philosophy can be a bit of an exception, thankfully), as those who matter also tend to reject them, and at least think they know the general gist of why they’re wrong. Breezily dismissing naturalism on the other hand is to set oneself up for strife. Hence the 50 references I suppose. ..

Perhaps my life’s work intellectually (probably largely outside my day job, but we’ll see) will be to expound on the selective scepticism displayed by modern doubters of Christianity in the Western world – the kind of scepticism that holds arguments for God to extraordinarily high standards, while accepting accounts of history, science, and ethics that fits the ‘Enlightenment’ worldview but are either untethered to the evidence or fly directly in the face of it. Maybe I’ll write a book on it. It is hardly obvious that scientific realism and meta-ethical realism/objectivism should be held to by naturalists, for a transcendent God provides a much better basis. There is some irony in them being used to critique Christianity – but I guess we’ll have to wait for the book for the definitive word on it all.

 

The final pearl of wisdom for today, which might make me sound a little pomo (and for that I apologise): naturalism is not held, by most people, on the basis of rigorous argument to that conclusion. Instead, it is held fundamentally on the basis of a combination, I think, of trust and hints. While they wouldn’t say it in this way, it seems to me that people trust certain institutions or projects that seem to support naturalism/secularism, such as science, education, and Western liberal democracy, and they feel that certain aspects of the world hint at the truth of naturalism; perhaps primary are the success of science, the presence of evil, and our ability to find happiness in life without worrying about God. If this is truly the case, an apologetic for the Christian faith which is presented in the form of rigorous argument (even vast swathes thereof) will merit primarily suspicion and antagonism from most people. A more attractive contextual approach may be to present alternate pillars to trust which are truer, better, and more beautiful (Christ and Scripture), and to explain how the hints we find in the world really are hints, but are of hints of purpose and personality rather than emptiness. In taking into account these hints and trusting in these foundations for life, we don’t lose the others but instead recognise how they fit together and are of genuine importance.