If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning — just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning. Similarly, the fact that eyes exist suggests that light must exist. And the the fact that we have spiritual longings … the fact that we even have a meaningful category of thought and speech called spirituality … Suggests that there is some corresponding reality out there which we have the capacity to “sense”. That capacity would be called faith, and that reality, God.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1943, p. 46)
I continue to be a little confused by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow’s book, The Grand Design.
Following from their work in this book Stephen Hawking uses their theories to explain why it’s possible for the universe to have begun spontaneously, created from nothing. From this basis Hawking postulates that being able to use the laws of physics and nature to describe how the universe could have sprung into being is sufficient to explain that it could not have been created by God.
I’ve long had a problem with this idea because it seemed to ignore the questions of what came before and how this could be. Yet I figure out a way to explain why it wasn’t sitting right. I understood what my issues with the theory were, but I couldn’t find appropriate language to explain it.
I recently read a response by Gerald Schroeder which I feel goes a long way toward explaining why I felt something was seriously wrong with Dr. Hawking’s conclusions. The paradox is that Mr. Hawking has demonstrated very eloquently that the laws of nature must have existed prior to the big bang and the creation of the physical universe. In my view, there is no difference between “laws of nature” and God. The “laws of nature” are God and God is the laws of nature. Thus, Mr. Hawking has provide us with a theory supporting the existence of God (nature) by showing us how nature (God) could have caused the physical universe to spontaneously spring into being.
In “The Big Bang Creation: God or the Laws of Nature” Schroeder explains it best…
The Grand Design breaks the news, bitter to some, that … to create a universe from absolute nothing God is not necessary. All that is needed are the laws of nature.
there can have been a big bang creation without the help of God, provided the laws of nature pre-date the universe. Our concept of time begins with the creation of the universe. Therefore if the laws of nature created the universe, these laws must have existed prior to time; that is the laws of nature would be outside of time. What we have then is totally non-physical laws, outside of time, creating a universe. Now that description might sound somewhat familiar. Very much like the biblical concept of God: not physical, outside of time, able to create a universe.
My opinion is simply stated. Being physical, we know and relate everything to our physical world. God is alien to us in this regard. Being spiritual and not physical we cannot and should not try to fit the experiential possibilities of God into the constraints of our physical world. Understanding this, it follows that if we can track the evolution of our physical world back in time to a singular point where it all began, and we base our understanding of this beginning on the laws of nature and physics that we observe to govern our physical world, that we must conclude that something occurred to bring about the laws of nature and physics and were necessary to bring about the physical world. If the laws of nature and physics are not physical in and of themselves, perhaps we can think of them as spiritual. If the laws of nature and physics are spiritual then perhaps we can think of them as God.
What do you think?
“Why did it all turn out like this for me? I had so much promise. I was personable. I was bright. Oh, maybe not academically speaking, but I was perceptive. I always know when someone’s uncomfortable at a party. It all became very clear to me sitting out there today, that every decision I’ve ever made in my entire life has been wrong. My life is the complete opposite of everything I want it to be. Every instinct I have in every aspect of life, be it something to wear, something to eat… It’s often wrong.”
–George Costanza – “The Opposite”, Seinfeld Episode 22, Season 5
If I’m truthful, I have to say that I’ve found this tendency to be true in my life more than I’d like to admit. As I pondered this reality I began to realize a bigger truth…
This is often the case for many people, not just me. It’s also true for entire groups and institutions. Rarely are we really in control. Rarely do events turn out the way we envision them. In fact, when we stop and think about it we begin to realize that we’re not really in control of anything. Yet we continue to function as if we can be.
Recently, I’ve seen this played out in a particularly peculiar way in my church.
As is so common in the Christian community today, my church struggles a bit financially. We make ends meet. But we also suffer from corporate worry about failing infrastructure and systems that we just don’t seem to have the means to care for. Sure, we could appeal to members to give more so we can pave the parking lot. But, it’s not a very sexy appeal is it? Let’s face it. If given a choice more people would toss in more money for the installation of a coffee bar than for a new furnace. Unless of course it’s the dead of winter and we can’t keep the building warm. Although…. Even then…. Folks might be inclined to just complain and not come. But if we had a coffee bar? And if the coffee was free!?! Yeah boy! Count me in!
So… my church could use some additional funding. We have infrastructure needs and expenses that we have to juggle to pay for. We could ask more from our members. But, the economy has been rough and some people really are giving all they can. Right? Besides, there’s the whole “what do we ask for” question that I posed above.
Okay. So I need to get back on topic.
The natural inclination in situations like this is to look at what we need to do to attract more members. More members = more money. More money = funding for projects. Funding for projects = bathroom repairs. What could be wrong with that?
Simple. It never works.
We’re like George. We instinctively work tirelessly to solve the problem faced by a lack of funds. When what we need to do is to fight our instincts and do the opposite.
Interestingly enough, there is biblical guidance that also suggests that we should fight our instincts. Heck, just look at the entire way that Jesus lived his life. Eye for an eye? No! Turn the other cheek. Fight against Caesar’s taxes? No! Give Caesar what is Caesar’s. The poorest are the richest. Give up your life to have life.
He taught us that all of life is paradox. It’s not what it seems to be. We have no control.
So how do we function in light of this realization? We DO faith! That wonderful yet completely misunderstood concept. Faith.
All my life people have told me that I should HAVE faith. That it’s good to HAVE faith. To BE faithful. I was taught to believe that faith was something that I could possess. And if I possessed enough of it, I’d be okay. Kinda like money. If ya got enough… what have ya got to worry about, right?
Of course we all know that even people with “enough” money still have problems. So, if you can’t have enough money…. can you have enough faith?
The problem is that faith isn’t something you possess. It’s something you DO. It’s an action. A state of mind. A state of being. It becomes you when you become it. It’s a philosophy of being, not an understanding. The same is true of control.
This life is not controllable by us. The most we can hope for is to react well. God set a miraculous chain of events in to motion when He began to create. We’re a part of that creation – not the creators. Sure, we can influence things. We have that power. But can we really control them? I think not. Nor should it be the point.
George Costanza stumbled on a great truth. Control is a myth. It’s an illusion. Sometimes, the best course of action is to ignore our desire to try and control things and learn how to live within the boundaries of the gifts our life gives us.
Beer is an alcoholic beverage produced by the saccharification of starch and fermentation of the resulting sugar. However, we can arrive at a much simpler view if we look at what it’s made of.. at the essence of the ingredients.
Reinheitsgebot – The German (or Bavarian) Beer Purity Law of 1487 dictated that beer could only contain water, malted barley, and hops. The yeast that produced fermentation was implied and either taken from sediments of a previous batch or allowed to find the raw wort through natural airborne transmission.
Today we have an incredible variety of beer. The rules regarding ingredients have been relaxed to allow other grains and adjunct ingredients such as fruit, and finings such as Irish moss and gypsum. But at it’s core it’s still just water, malted grain, hops and yeast. Simple.
I like to keep this type of simplicity in mind when I’m contemplating the question of who I am. Whether it’s to answer my own query or someone else’s. It’s the KISS principle in action. One that I violate regularly. I’ll grab an idea, thought or concept, follow it to an absurd and extreme level of detail, then realize what I’ve done and back out, finally arriving at simplicity.
Maybe it’s not so strange. I’ve spent the last 26 years of my career engaged in the art of technical troubleshooting. The process has always been a natural one for me, although I realize it’s not so natural for many others. It’s the Sherlock Holmes method in practice.
When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.
Eliminate what can’t be causing the problem. Eventually you’re left with few enough alternatives the solution will emerge.
Perhaps that’s the best way to tackle the big question too. Eliminate the impossible. I’ll start by determining who I am not and hope that once enough layers of that onion have been peeled away, what I’ll be left with is who I am.
OK. Maybe it’s not “The” big question. But it’s certainly one of them.
“Who are you?”
And it’s cousin…
“Who am I?”
I think that at some point in our lives everyone has to have been asked the former and asked themselves the latter. I certainly have. Rather often, in fact.
In 1982 a move came out called The World According to Garp. I was drawn in by the idea of the movie, more than the actual content. At its core was the premise that each person perceives the world in their own way. The truth of my world and the truth of yours might be very different, even though we might seem to have a similar existence on the outside.
This is where I think I’ll begin.
I didn’t grow up in an atmosphere where prayer was talked about much. It was expected that we did it as individuals, and we occasionally did it as a family, but there wasn’t much emphasis on it at all.
In my church life as an adolescent prayer was mentioned often, but there were no instructions on how to pray. And, the vibe of the place certainly discouraged asking about it. You were expected to already know. Asking would simply blow the whistle on your ignorance.
Over the years I paid some attention to what other people… people I admire and/or respect… had to say about how to pray. I learned. I came into my own way. My own method. I can’t even really explain it. It’s not like what I hear most people doing. Actually, now that I think about it… I’ve never heard anyone pray the way I pray.
But that explanation is for a different day.
Today I want to talk about my journey to learn how to listen for the answers to prayers. For the longest time I felt that my prayers were never answered. In a lot of way’s praying seemed pointless. But as I thought about it I began to realize that it wasn’t the praying that was off. It was my awareness of what constituted a response.
There’s a scene from the movie “Evan Almighty” that I think sums up how to listen for answers to prayers. I think that if I learn how to listen for the answers in our opportunities, rather than for specific events or moments I’ll find my answers. When I apply that lens I see and hear answers to prayers everywhere!
For example; I’ve always prayed for financial stability. Not necessarily for wealth, but for enough to not be in obvious need. Did I find a boat load of money? Nope. But I have found that I’ve been provided with opportunity to be financially stable. I’ve accepted that opportunity and things have worked out.
I’ve discovered that when we pray for a loved one to be released from pain we have to be prepared for the answer to be something other than healing. Healing happens. But so does death. Both are a release from the pain.
Want more friendships in your life? Pray for them. Then look for opportunities to be a friend.
The Data Says So … Doesn’t it?
The paradox of alternate realities
Be careful out there! It’s been a very long time since I slogged through my social statistics classes as an undergraduate Sociology major. But, one thing I learned that stuck with me is a simple truth. If you’re good with the math you can make the data say whatever you want it to.
Case in point…
The ongoing, regular and constant conversations about disparity in gender and race amongst the ranks of elite classical musicians in American orchestras. When you look at the data you see a world dominated by white Anglo Saxon men. Sure, you can debate and argue nuances involving the rise in the numbers of Asian men and women, or whether or not you should make distinctions between western and eastern European origins. But why bother?
The fact is – most American orchestras have been practicing blind auditions for decades. This means that auditions are held behind a curtain. The path to the performance spot on the stage is carpeted to avoid the sound of heals on wood. The applicant is not allowed to speak to avoid exposing their gender through the sound of their voice. The applicants audition is judged on artistic merit only.
Yet, the numbers aren’t wrong. Facts are facts. So, the pundits go on and on about the glass ceilings that cause the social inequity that is enumerated by the data. But, they make a very common mistake. They confuse correlation with causation. The data certainly correlates. But that doesn’t mean that one thing causes another.
For example – the number of African American women is disproportionately low compared to the general population, and the magnitude of the difference is statistically significant. There is a data correlation. Many may assume that there is a social barrier that exists that must be influencing the balance which results in the data we see. But, it’s equally possible that the real culprit is not a negative limiting factor, where one group is actively excluding another. It’s possible that the root cause is sociological and a result of a simple fact. The underrepresented group has less desire to be counted among the group being measured. They exclude themselves because they have no interest in being included.
Of course, we can debate why this is so, and I’m sure someone will propose that the reason they don’t aspire to be among elite classical musicians is because some other group in society oppressed them systemically which resulted in a shifting of cultural values that plays out as a lack of interest in the classics.
As you see, we can paint the picture any way we like using the existing data if we’re clever and committed to proving our position.
Outside the realm of data analysis and statistics we often see that this same phenomenon holds true. Reality is dependent on the perceptions of the observer. Multiple people can behold the same object or event yet ascribe completely different meaning to it. Much like elusive quantum particles that can only be detected when observed – the act of observing disturbs and influences the particle – reality can be disturbed by observation.
Multiple possibilities. Multiple observers. Multiple realities. All in conflict with one another, yet all correct.