Sunday, April 30, 2006

I didn't rig this

Intelligent Design and Alfred North Whitehead

ANW believes in evolution. The following comes from his Science and the Modern World, Chapter 6 - The Nineteenth Century .

The general principle is that in a new environment there is an evolution of the old entities into new forms.

and in the next paragraph

The main work, proceeding during this pause at the end of the nineteenth century, was the absorption of this doctrine (ANW's organic conception of evolution) as guiding the methodology of all branches of science. By a blindness which is almost judicial as being a penalty affixed to hasty, superficial thinking, many religious thinkers opposed the new doctrine;

But ANW is an anti-materialist. Continuing the sentence:

although, in truth, a thoroughgoing evolutionary philosophy is inconsistent with materialism. The aboriginal stuff, or material, from which a materialistic philosophy starts is incapable of evolution. This material is in itself the ultimate substance. Evolution, on the materialistic theory, is reduced to the role of being another word for the description of the changes of the external relations between portions of matter. There is nothing to evolve, because one set of external relations is as good as any other set of external relations. There can merely be change, purposeless and unprogressive.

Interesting. What would he say today about Intelligent Design? I think he defies common categories.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Science and the Modern World - Alfred North Whitehead

A few weeks ago I was rummaging around looking for a book when I discovered that I had a copy of Alfred North Whitehead's Science and the Modern World. This paperback book is so old it's list price was thirty five cent. Turns out, I bought it when in Memphis between '72 and '74 and had forgotten about it all these years.

I'm so happy I found it. I've been gravitating towards what he writes about. Not long before finding the book, I had even bought a book on process philosophy which he and Charles Hartshorne developed.

The book is full of marvelous insights. The language is wonderful.

The book is critical of scientism. It has a postmodern feel. From reading it you would not neccessariy know that he spent much of his life doing mathematics. He coauthored with Bertrand Russell (who adversely influenced me when I was younger) a massive tome the Principia Mathematica in which they take about 70 pages to prove that 1 is greater than 0, or some such thing.

By the time he wrote this book (published when he was about 64), he had crossed the channel and become a Harvard philosophy professor.

He criticizes a mechanical view of the universe. I recall that his old buddy Russell once said something about us being an accidental collocation of atoms, or something like that. Whitehead on the other hand recognizes that there is more. There is no light or color as a fact in external nature. There is merely motion of material. He says that these things are the offspring of the mind. Nature gets credit which should in truth be reserved for ourselves; the rose for its scent; the nightingale for his song; and the sun for his radiance. The poets are interely mistaken. They should address their lyrics to themselves, and should turn them into odes of self-congratulation on the excellency of the human mind. Nature is a dull affair, soundless, scentless, colourless; merely the hurrying of material, endlessly, meaninglessly.

The book is definitely postmodern, even though written in 1925.

I'll post more on this book. Gotta get to work now.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Creation, Wisdom and the Mystical

Striking quote by way of Gideon Strauss' blog. Check out his site, his neocalvinism links, and the New Pantagruel.

Creation not only exists, it also discharges truth. ... Wisdom requires a surrender, verging on the mystical, of a person to the glory of existence.

Gerhard Von Rad

Monday, April 17, 2006

I find this edifying

From an article by Len Hjalmarson and Rob McAlpine

"What are some of the facets of postmodern culture that offer a unique opportunity for the Gospel? Let's list them:

* recognition of the essentially spiritual nature of life
* openness and desire for community
* rejection of authority in position and acceptance of authority in relationship
* emphasis on participation over spectator mentality
* leadership by wisdom and example not knowledge or position
* emphasis on practical answers, "walk" over "talk"
* emphasis on journey and process over goal
* desire for experience over knowledge, the "subjective" and mystical dimension
* spontaneous order over rational structure, webs of connection and meaning
* recognition of truth in paradox, images and story "

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Spiritual Pollution

Check out Richard Beck's web site, Experimental Theology and Spiritual Pollution series on the role of Disgust in our moral and religious outlook.

from part I

Growing up in my small church in Erie, PA, I often heard that, as Christians, we were to "hate the sin but love the sinner." As a catchy aphorism, the formulation isn't bad. It nicely captures two treasured Christian commitments: Holiness and love. But as we observe Christendom, it seems that this formulation frequently fails us. That is, it seems to be very, very hard to balance a fierce commitment to holiness with a call to radically love a broken world. Churches that emphasize maintaining "holiness" seem culturally marginalized, fearful of the world and often despising the people participating in the larger culture. Some of these churches can seem downright hateful. By contrast, "relationship-oriented" churches seem soft on sin, tempering the ethical message of the gospel to "connect" or "reach" a variety of populations. And each church "type" seems suspicious or judgmental of the other.

In the following posts I'm going to suggest that this balance between holiness and love is hard to achieve when we structure facets of Kingdom living with the emotion and logic of what is called sociomoral disgust. Looking ahead, I'm going to argue that certian sins, such as sexual sins, and certain aspects of church life, such as worship and doctrine, are often structured by a contamination logic, a logic that activates a disgust psychology that creates interpersonal distance and irrational emotions.

Idea Progression- Bible - Gospel of Thomas

Quotes from Bible Gateway

Deut 30.

Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, "Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?" 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, "Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?" 14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.

Romans 10

5Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: "The man who does these things will live by them." 6But the righteousness that is by faith says: "Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?'" (that is, to bring Christ down) 7"or 'Who will descend into the deep?'" (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8But what does it say? "The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart," that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming:

Luke 10

8"When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. 9Heal the sick who are there and tell them, 'The kingdom of God is near you.' 10But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11'Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.'

Luke 17

20Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, 21nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you."

Thomas (Layton's translation) - Peter Kirby's Early Christian Writings Site

(3) Jesus said, "If those who lead you (plur.) say to you, 'See, the kingdom is in heaven,' then the birds of heaven will precede you. If they say to you, 'It is in the sea,' then the fish will precede you. But the kingdom is inside of you. And it is outside of you.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Early Morning Thoughts while Thinking about the Gospel of Judas

I have been fascinated by the gnostics for some time and I'm not really sure why. Well now that I think about it:

1. They are a mystery and mysteries, some of them anyway, beckon me to investigate.

I was excited when I first heard of the Gospel of Judas, hoping it would give us some juicy new knowledge. Alas, on the first read, I'm disappointed. There is not much in it that is new. It is a typical piece of Barbelo Gnosticism from the 2nd century. Further scrutiny may turn up a few things but we won't get any bombshells.

2. How could they believe such wild and depressing things?

I believe in the fundamental honesty of religious belief by people. Most people aside from a few televangelists, faith healers, and similar charlatans really do honestly believe what they do. The gnostic writers were writing what they honestly believed. I don't take them as folks who desired on purpose to be heretics. So where did they get such strange ideas? Bart Ehrman has a good explanation in Lost Christianities which I will relate some time in another post.

3. Maybe if I dig deeper I'll learn something.

Its been hard work but I believe I have derived some insights from the gnostics. To use a technical term, the signal-to-noise ratio is low.

4. Some things I've learned.

The belief of some gnostics that an evil god created the world as a mistake has, thankfully, gone by the wayside. The accompanying belief was that we should deny ourselves pleasure, that God's creation is not good, and that we should be life-denying ascetics. Well, you know, such a thing has been around right up to the present. I can recall lot's of sermons about how bad we are and how this life doesn't matter (pun intended), and how the only thing that we should think about and work on is getting to heaven.

It took another thousand years before people started climbing mountains and inventing science and starting a renaissance.

A student at a local preacher school was telling me about all their rules. (Conversation circa 1979). This fella was pretty well grounded and was confiding in me. He thought they went too far. His young children were definitely impressed. Evidently they were getting the point that pleasure is wrong and so they asked their Dad if riding a motorcycle was a sin.

Learning about the gnostics has been a useful way, by examining contrasts and similarities, to better understand my version of Christianity.

Then there are a few gems that are fun to ponder. There is something about cosmology in the verse below. Let's assume the Big Bang is true. Were not we all there together in that moment of creation? And didn't we come from the light?

Gospel of Thomas verse 50

Jesus said, "If they say to you (plur.), 'Where are you from?' say to them, 'It is from light that we have come - from the place where light, of its own accord alone, came into existence and [stood at rest]. And it has been shown forth in their image.' If they say to you, 'Is it you?' say 'We are its offspring, and we are the chosen of the living father.'

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Spectrum of Consciousness

In the opening to Ken Wilber's book The Spectrum of Consciousness, he quotes William James.

Our normal waking consciousness is but one special type of consciousness..... No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded. How to regard them is the question. . . At any rate, they forbid our premature closing of accounts with reality.

He's right. And one type of consciousness that I never experience anymore is when I was a child and when we would visit someone's house and play for hours. It was a timeless bliss that I remember. I wasn't thinking about 10 things at once. No worries at all. Purely in the moment. Purely focused and a being suffused with joy. Hadn't thought about that in a long time.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Physics and Consciousness

So little time and so much to do. What is discomforting, as a physicist, about my narrative below is that it is only an argument from analogy. What we'd really like to do is derive an equation that shows what conscious experience is and how it works. But we don't know how to do that. We are not even close. And no one really has any idea. People like David Chalmers acknowledge this and at least state the problem correctly. Understanding the brain is difficult enough. But even knowing the physiological correlates of consciousness do not tell us what it is. We may know something about how the electrical impulses move about as I lift my arm. But we have no idea how it is that I can do that. I can lift my arm, change my heart rate, and change my body chemistry. If I were a young man again, research in this area might be the path I'd take.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Physics and Emergence

I'm going to ramble along the lines of the conversation that Rob and I have been having in the responses to recent posts below. I'm not sure exactly what I'm gonna say but let's get started.

The way one is trained in both physics and engineering is by learning from simplified examples. Concepts are taught from the most basic, fundamental representation. Then the problems at the end of the chapter are just one or two steps of complexity above that. For instance, to learn kinetics, what happens when two objects collide that are going at different speeds and directions, we start with infinitely hard billiard balls that are perfect spheres and do not absorb energy from each other. There are other background assumptions we won't go into. There is no spin involved and no friction with the surface on which they sit. Everything is idealized. There is good reason for starting in this way. We must start first with the simple and get practice in order to learn the concepts and make sure we understand what we are doing.

There is a well known joke about this. A physicist was once asked to consult with a farm regarding a herd of cows that was not producing enought milk. After studying the problem and determining his solution, the physicist went to the blackboard to explain to his customer, saying "First, we assume a spherical cow..."

That's the end of the joke and everybody laughs.

But, when we get jobs and go out into the real world to solve real problems, all the easy things have been done. The equations get complicated. The machines we work with are not ideal spheres or cylinders and cannot be described by simple equations. Mathematical models are constructed. Data collected, the models are corrected and provided with "fudge factors" to make them work so they make the right predictions enough of the time to be useful.

The problems to be attacked in this way are many. But, we can only do simple machines and circuitry this way. And some simple fluid dynamic problems. Mechanical and fluid flow devices follow the rule's of Newton's mechanics. With electrical devices we use not only Maxwell's electromagnetic theory but quantum theory as well.

But, as great as physics and its subset of mechanical and electrical engineering is, it is pretty useless for telling us what a living cell is doing and what it will do. With such a complex, higher order system, new laws apply. I'm guessing emergence theory tells us that the with the higher complexity, new order and new phenomena have emerged which exert control over the lower. When we progress from single cell life to multicellular life, the next level, the new entity exerts control (supervene's) over it's cellular constituents. At some point in the appearance of life, consciousness appeared, that is, the ability to feel and experience. Now, it is the highest level.

postscript: I watched the special on the Gospel of Judas on the National Geographic channel last night. Enjoyed that. But, can't say that GJudas has anything new to tell us either about the real Jesus or the real Judas. Perhaps, it highlights that we really don't know that much about the latter.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Music and the Meaning of Life

It has always been a mystery to me why music is so important to me and to others. Music reaches way down deep.

I led congregtional singing twice Sunday. Dorothy and I drove 80 miles north of here to a small church in Speedwell, TN. for a morning service there. The scenery of the rolling hills with the mountains as backdrop was oh so beautiful and comforting. Tonight I led at the West End Church of Christ. Several commented that I'd sung some of their favorites. That was my good fortune to have picked what so many wanted. Some remarked that they liked it because I picked older songs that they knew. One person said a new song to him was one he learned in college. I reckon that was about 30 years ago for him.

Yes, music is something that goes way deep inside of us. What we hear becomes part of us and even who we are. The music of our youth helps to form our personal identity. When I was a teenager, I don't believe they used Led Zeppelin or the Who music to sell cars or as introduction to television shows. Back then they used something more appropriate to the buyer's age group.

I once read about a doctor in Vienna who treated spinal injury patients. He claimed that playing music that was popular during a person's puberty produce noticeable effects in healing. It got their juices going in a special way that music from other era's in their could not. I read that twenty or so years ago and don't know if anyone has followed up on that but it rings true with me. The Beatles hit the scence as I was going through puberty and they and the other bands of the British Music invasion of the sixties stir things up inside me in a way that other music doesn't.

I love all kinds of music. Recently, I bought a couple of Lone Ranger episodes on DVD from Cracker Barrell just so I could hear the background music, the William Tell Overture and other pieces. An older man at church gave me a CD of his favorite: Dixieland music. It is great. Each type of music takes one to a different time and place. One can be transported there to smell the smells experience the scene. Reggae music can change one's mood after the first few beats and induce feelings of relaxation and ease. I could ramble on about the different feelings produced by different musics. I love classical. There just is too much good music to keep up with these days. I don't dislike Rap. I just haven't had much exposure too it. Can't Touch This by M. C. Hammer was a work of genius I thought. Too much music and so little time.

Yep music is important and I'm not sure why. Don't know how it has evolutionary value or how it arose in our brains. Exploring that issue could be fruitful for understanding the mind body problem. Who knows?

Process Theology

Am exploring process theology by reading Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition by John B. Cobb, Jr. and David Ray Griffin. The book was published in 1976 and is oriented mostly toward the influence of Alfred North Whitehead. This is interesting on page 24:

We have had the view that the ultimate constituents of the world were like tiny billiard balls. Any changes brought about in the world involved only the rearrangement of externally related bits of matter. Since they did not permeate each other, no irreversible changes could be effected. If some combination of things is found to have unfortunate consequences, the combination can simply be undone, and things will be returned to the state they were in before. Ecology, as the study of the interrelationships of things, has taught us that this view is false. Interrelations are internal to things. Whitehead's thought is throughly ecological. It involves extending to the status of a universal truth Paul's insight that we're "members of one another."

This book is now thirty years old but is amazingly contemporary in its emphasis on relationship and emergence and other things.

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