‘In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. ‘
During our lesson, I also mentioned the remarkable November 2019 PBS Frontline documentary, “In the Age of AI.” It’s two hours long, and I’m planning to spend one of our upcoming Sunday School lessons discussing it and watching a short excerpt. It’s possible I may be able to lead a multi-week study and discussion of this video over the summer, likely in June. AI is already reshaping some aspects of our society and the way we live, and it’s projected to transform even more in the years to come.
I hope these resources are beneficial for you as you learn more about bioethics and the topics addressed in this presentation. In addition to these resources, you can follow me on Twitter @pocketshare (my Christian channel) and @wfryer, (where I share things generally related to educational technology and learning.) You can also access my book, “Pocket Share Jesus: Be a Digital Witness for Jesus Christ” on pocketshare.pressbooks.com.
As I’m continuing to teach and lead the class, “Curiosity and Questions: Jesus and Science” this year, I’m enjoying the YouTube recommendation engine (in moderation, of course) to help me discover other videos I can share and use in class as well as outside of class as ‘extra recommended media / videos.’ This morning YouTube helped me find Dr. David Eagleman’s (@davideagleman) 2016 presentation from PopTech, “GOD vs NO GOD – And the Winner Is?” It’s 20 minutes long. In the presentation, David makes some excellent observations about the awe and wonder with which we can (and perhaps should) regard our universe and our amazing human bodies, especially the human brain. He misses, however, some key perspectives about “knowing and authority beyond science,” however, and it is to those topics I want to turn in this post. Before going further, however, I recommend you watch his talk:
It’s good to be reminded of The Hubble Deep Field photograph, which is staggeringly beautiful and mind blowing in its implications for not only astronomy and science but also cosmology and faith. Created in 1995 as a composite image from a very small portion of the night sky using the Hubble Space Telescope, the Deep Field image powerfully conveys how vast our universe is, and how little we can literally glimpse of it from our position on earth on the outer rim of the Milky Way galaxy. It’s truly an awe-inspiring image that can be a catalyst for wonderful conversations about the origins of our universe and BIG questions of faith as well as science. How did we get here? Did God create all of this? How can we know about things like “Who created the universe” or “Why are we here?” “Are we alone in the vastness of space?” Science can encourage and provoke us to dive into these questions, but ultimately, there are a number of questions “modern science” (as we’ve learned to understand it the past 400 years of human history) can’t answer.
In his video, ““GOD vs NO GOD – And the Winner Is?”, David Eagleman correctly points out the folly in dogmatically claiming that a creation story from any culture fully apprehends and describes the processes and observations of cosmology. Here are a few important elements he either omits or gets wrong in his talk about beliefs, science and the origins of our universe.
Creation Stories Were Not Crafted to Compete with a Scientific Worldview
David Eagleman conflates the Biblical creation story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden with the Kuba Kingdom’s Creation story in the Congo. and his connections elicit laughter from his audience. The paraphrase of his message here is, “How can any rational human in the 21st century actually subscribe to such a patently incomplete and false story of cosmology?” Eagleman fails to grasp, or at least communicate to his audience in this 2016 presentation, that the Jewish creation stories (because remember, there are two of them in Genesis) were not formulated and should not be interpreted today to be comprehensive texts summarizing all that is known and needs to be known about cosmology (the origins of the universe). The Bible as a whole, and the Pentateuch specifically, are not “books of science.” Portraying Biblical cosmology as a “fail” because we have learned so much observationally about our universe in the past 400 years risks misunderstanding the value and purpose of these stories and literature. For more on these perspectives, I commend “The Bible Project” videos to you and specifically the six minute video, “The Book of Genesis – Part 1 of 2.”
Not All Faith Derives from Predominant Culture
David Eagleman misses another extremely important point about faith and belief in this talk, when he tries to explain to his audience how we understand where religion comes from. Eagleman asserts that predominant cultures imbue faith and belief, and this cultural transfer of cosmological perspectives is understandable from an anthropological / scientific perspective but not valid from the viewpoint of scientific truth. Eagleman’s observation can be more accurately stated this way: MANY people DO adopt their beliefs and faith perspectives from their parents, family, and predominant community culture. HOWEVER, some people “break” with their family and culture, and take on beliefs which are different and even bear a huge physical cost. The testimony of our former pastor, Mateen Elass, who grew up as a Muslim in Saudi Arabia and eventually came to faith at Stanford University after traveling to India and studying Buddhism intensely is a case that comes to mind. The faith of C.S. Lewis, who documented his journey from atheism to Christianity as a follower of Jesus in his book, “Mere Christianity,” also provides a counterpoint to Eagleman’s assertions about the origins of faith. Francis Collins, the leader of the Human Genome Project and author of “The Language of God,” grew up an agnostic but came to faith in Jesus. Orthopedic surgeon Curt Gruel, who spoke to our class on September 15, 2019, has a similar story of “being a disciple of science” but through his lived experiences coming to know and follow Jesus Christ. A couple weeks ago we heard from a Christian missionary working in Iran about the ways God is revealing himself to Muslims through visions and dreams today. Here’s the point Eagleman misses, and it’s very important when we discuss faith and cosmology. Not all faith and beliefs about God derive from a predominant culture / environmental pressures.
We Have Sources of “Knowing” Outside of Science
Another vital point which David Eagleman missed in his 2016 talk is the idea that as human beings, we have sources of “knowing” outside of science. Certainly science has tremendous value to us as a systematic way to not only understand our world but also creatively project our own ideas into it. Engineering is the application of scientific principles to design and build structures as well as solve problems. Your reading of this blog post right now is the result of technological innovation built on scientific principles and understanding. Yet the replicability of experimental conditions in a controlled setting / laboratory only provides PART of the ways we know and understand reality as human beings. Our ‘lived experiences’ can inform us and also reveal to us fundamental truths about our world, ultimate reality, and God. My own journey of faith, which included a dramatic ‘near death experience’ in undergraduate pilot training in the US Air Force, is a part of my own story and powerfully shaped my acknowledgement of and understanding of God’s reality in our world. Curt Gruel shared a similar “journey of faith” story with our Sunday School class in September. These experiences are not scientifically replicable in a lab setting where variables are tightly controlled. They are still, however, valid “ways of knowing” and point to the importance of understanding that “scientific knowledge is not the only type of knowledge which exists or points us to truth.”
Our Faith in God and Jesus is More than a “God of the Gaps” Understanding
One of the important points author and scientist Francis Collins makes in Chapter 4 of his book, “The Language of God,” is that Christian faith or any other faith in God as the creator of the universe should not hinge on a “God of the Gaps” understanding. In other words, we certainly DO regard the universe with awe. Our world IS still filled with mysteries which we do not understand, to the extent that we don’t have comprehensive or even “good” insights into the processes which define and explain phenomena we observe.
I’m not sure if there is a more generally acknowledged term for this, but it seems this dynamic throughout history has gone like this: “The more things we can NAME scientifically, the less space we have in our minds for God, his active role in our lives and world, and even His very existence.” In other words, as “the gaps” in our understanding of our world and universe have started to “fill in” through scientific inquiry and discovery in the past 400 years, we’ve (naively) convinced ourselves that we no longer need God. That God is a human, psychological and cultural creation. As Nietzsche said, “God is dead.” The Enlightenment and the scientific revolution which followed it have provided “science” as a replacement for religion and faith.
Thankfully, the God of our universe is not dead, and our perception of Him, our understanding of Him, and our faith in Him and his goodness need not hinge on a “God of the Gaps” understanding. Charles Darwin himself alluded to this in his concluding sentences in “The Origin of the Species,” when he observed:
“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning, endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.”
Charles Darwin, concluding The Origin of Species, as quoted by Francis Collins in “The Language of God,” pp. 98-99.
In his 2016 PopTech talk about God and science, David Eagleman omits this important perspective that acknowledgement and understanding of, and faith in God, can be compatible with the rhetorical answer to scientific questions, “I don’t know.” One does not have to be a “Possibilianism,” to have and regularly express this kind of humility in the face of the universe’s mysteries. One can, in fact, be a Christian and follower of Jesus. Humility and acknowledging our inability to ever fully apprehend the fullness of God’s reality is, in fact, an essential in the Christian life.
‘He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. ‘
Micah 6:8 https://my.bible.com/bible/111/MIC.6.8
Scientific Uncertainties and Discoveries Need Not Threaten Our Faith in God
Finally and importantly, David Eagleman omits the idea in his talk that scientific uncertainties and discoveries need not threaten our faith in God. This perspective was summarized well by Saint Augustine, who lived from 354 to 430 AD. He wrote:
“In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on the one side that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines this position, we to fall with it. “
As David Eagleman encourages us in this 2016 video, we can and SHOULD be in awe of our universe and the mysteries it holds. We need not abandon faith and our belief in God, however, because we realize religious texts and Biblical stories fail to fully capture scientifically understood observations of and theories about our cosmology.
To help us better understand the context and history of both theological and scientific thinkers as well as their ideas, I’ve started a timeline using the Knight Lab’s Timeline tool. I’ve titled it, “Faith and Science.” It is embedded below. I’ve started with five dates, the resurrection of Jesus Christ (33 AD), the fall of Jeruselem (70 AD), and the years of death for the three scientists mentioned above: Copernicus (1543), Kepler (1630), and Galileo (1642).
Before closing our lesson today with “Joys and Concerns” and prayer, we watched Sean McDowell’s video, “How Do We Know God Is Good? 3 Reasons.” If you watch any of the videos linked and referenced in this post, this is the top one I recommend!
So this is an unusual find this weekend. One of Alexander’s roommates shared this with me. You can ask for 10 random “Christian” bumper stickers from the website below, or select 10 that you want for free. I definitely do NOT agree with all the messages included in their bumper sticker menu, but I DO agree with many of them. In most cases, these short messages encourage some worthwhile, critical thinking. Some reference Bible verses, most do not.
As an example of a bumper sticker message with which I disagree: We don’t simply need to require / mandate prayer in public schools to remove all ills, like drug abuse or premarital sex from teen and adult culture. I happen to work at a school that mandates chapel for all students, and I can tell you this is not received well by many of the students. At some point I will write a blog post reflecting on mandatory chapel. I am definitely a fan, and I love having chapel services at our school, but it is recklessly naïve for people to think we simply need to mandate prayer and Bible reading in schools and this will heal all of our society’s ills like a magic wand. God has the power to heal any of us at any time, but the mechanism of his healing for our culture is not via a mandated school Bible curriculum in public or private schools. If you’re a little fuzzy on historic problems with mandated religion, refer to the English Wikipedia article for the “European Wars of Religion:”
It is true bumper stickers on our cars can provide an opportunity to encourage people to think about questions of faith, morality and propriety. I don’t think putting a bumper sticker on your car is going to realistically lead to immediate, life changing decisions for people to turn their lives over to God and reject evil, but it’s worth considering whether or not this is something you want to do. Check it out: www.christianbumpersticker.org
I think a more random selection of these bumper stickers could be used as a catalyst for excellent conversations in a Sunday school class, about our beliefs and the ways in which we are called to advocate for and work for God‘s kingdom on earth.
A friend of mine on Facebook had asked me some excellent questions regarding the role of women, and specifically some of the verses from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians this past January. After seeking direction and counsel from both our lead pastor (Eric Laverentz – @ericlav) as well as Dave, I recorded and shared a 10.5 minute video for him of my best understanding of these passages and the overall perspectives of Christians on the roles of women in the church.
Women have and continue to play extremely important roles of leadership, service, teaching, and prophesy in the Christian church. If you are seeking answers yourself to questions about this topic, I hope this video and the verses Dave Moore shared with our Sunday School class are helpful and instructive to you.
‘“ ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. ‘
One idea which emerged during our class discussion yesterday is this: While we often (or always) “come up short” understanding the grand plans of God and how individual cases of pain or suffering fit into them, as Christians we often DO experience situations where God empowers us to serve others through our trials and through the trials of others. As one of the speakers in the longer video we watched yesterday explained, often our best response when someone comes to us in pain and suffering is to embrace them and cry with them. We may not have “the answers,” but do have the capacity to love and support each other. We can embrace others and embrace God through faith, and have confidence that God is the one opening the door for us to love each other through our struggles and our dark valleys.
This is also one of the most important ideas which emerged for me yesterday during our lesson: God invites us to call upon him and use the name of Jesus to bring strength, peace, healing, and love into our darkest and most painful moments. I have experienced times like these in my own life, when I have literally cried out to God for help and assistance to bring me back from the abyss of despair. It’s a bad place to be, and an especially bad place to be ALONE. But that’s exactly one of the key messages of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: We go nowhere alone. God goes with us, and he promises to never abandon us or forsake us. What good news this is to everyone facing the suffering and trials of this life! We may be uncertain about the timetable of God’s cosmic plans and how our lives fit into them, but we can be certain about His reality and His provision in our times of need.
The name of Jesus is powerful! Do not hesitate to call upon the Lord when you are feeling isolated or alone, when you are suffering and full of despair. Call upon the name of Jesus to fill you with God’s Holy Spirit in all circumstances, whether they are filled with light or darkness. This is the Good News of the Gospel, that Jesus came to save us from our sins and the destructive power it has in our world. God wins. And we’re on God’s side. This is good news.
It worked well to use the website mentimeter.com yesterday to get members of our class to respond to a question using their smartphones. I used this as an opening question on the screen when class members came into class, “What is your favorite encouraging Bible verse?” This was a good way to start a relatively “heavy” lesson on pain and suffering.
May God bless you richly this week as you seek Him and strive to better understand His call upon your life. Make no mistake, God will open doors for you to not only draw closer to him in relationship, but also serve others with whom you have contact today and this week as you ask Him to.
Praise God for His love and the revelation of His truth through His Holy Word. Have a great week!
I remember the setting vividly: It was the summer of 1991, and I was spending three weeks in England at RAF Upper Heyford during the summer before my senior year at the Air Force Academy. Highlights of that trip included visiting Oxford University, Westminster Abbey in London, and getting a ride in a F-111 fighter jet– breaking the sound barrier briefly over the North Sea. I was eating breakfast one morning in the mess hall, when an Amy Grant song came on the cafeteria PA system. I don’t remember the exact song, but I think it was from her “Heart in Motion” album that had been recently released. The song had a lyric about “everything good coming from God.” I was struck by how unrealistic that seemed: How could people ascribe only the good things to God and not the bad things, if God is both omniscient and omnipotent?
I was raised in a Presbyterian church attending family, and I professed faith and joined our church as expected at the conclusion of “communicant’s class” in 8th grade, but it wasn’t until pilot training when I was 23 years old that I had a true “come to God” moment which was transformative for my personal faith. Eating my eggs and bacon in the chow hall at Upper Heyford that morning, I don’t think I had anyone to discuss these ideas with, but they made a vivid impression in my mind which persists today. Unlike my 20 year old self, however, I have better answers for this important and perhaps eternal question which Amy Grant encouraged me to ask:
How can God be real, good and powerful when bad things still happen?
Yesterday our family was almost involved in a very dangerous and destructive high speed automobile chase in downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma, and I posted about it on Facebook afterward. In the post, I gave thanks to God that we were not injured. Someone posted in reply, “Why didn’t God protect the other people who were involved in the accident?” I shared a brief response, but didn’t have time then for a more extended answer which this question deserves. This post is my attempt at that longer response.
We can ask this question in the specific circumstances of our own lives, or as we look at the broad brushstrokes of history. Why did my wife lose her husband to cancer when she was just 26? Why did my friend’s father commit suicide in 1989? Why did Hitler and the Nazis kill millions of Jewish people during the Holocaust? Why did whites almost exterminate native people when they came to the Americas in the 1500s onward?
There are a lot of things I don’t know and won’t claim to know, but here are some insights I’m confident of today which help me face these questions and make sense of them.
I know God exists, is real, and responds to my prayers because of an ongoing relationship I have with him, as well as specific things he has done in my life which “he has given me eyes to see.”
I do not know how God decides when and where to intervene in human affairs and the events of planet earth, but I strongly suspect that is a divine mystery we will never be able to fully comprehend in this life.
I know that when we choose to seek God and ask Him to reveal Himself to us, He answers and responds. God communicates to us through our prayers, through His Word shared in the Bible, and through other people. There are many ways we can be led astray and down ill-conceived paths if we seek “religion,” but if we seek God through the power of his Holy Spirit I know he can and will respond to reveal Himself, His nature and His truth to us.
When we are faced with bleak tragedy in life: the loss of a loved one, the loss of a life’s dream, a crippling injury, or something else, we sometimes come to this choice more directly and abruptly than at other times in life. Will I choose to believe in God and his goodness, or will I reject God because the circumstances of my life are simply too bad to imagine that a loving God would ever allow to exist?
This is the step of faith. Faith is believing when I cannot see, and trusting when I cannot know the outcome. Faith is a gift from God, but it is a gift we can ask for and receive, just as he is gracious to give us all good gifts. The fruits of His spirit are good:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23 NIV)
Amy Grant asks and answers this same question about which I am writing in her song, “Ask Me.” God does not always answer our prayers in the ways we expect or want. God is not a vending machine. God DOES promise to always be with us and never forsake us, even when the darkness surrounds us and we are overwhelmed with fear, pain, and sorrow.
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6)
I have experienced those emotions in my life, and God has walked with me through those dark valleys. Those experiences have strengthened my faith, once feeble and timid, to the point today where I see and acknowledge His goodness when it is manifested in my life.
Evil exists in the world, and yes, God has allowed that evil to remain. But that is not the final state for humanity, and in the end, evil does not win out. As we learn in the Bible, the existence and persistence of evil is closely tied to our human pride. And even though evil may seem to triumph at times in this world, God has overcome evil and the world through his Son, Jesus Christ, whose life and teachings serve as a blueprint for our actions as Christian believers.
My encouragement to you, if you have found this post and are struggling with questions about God’s existence and his goodness, is to seek Him. Seek God through prayer, and seek Him through your own reading of the Bible. Start with the Gospel of John. Seek God through the counsel of trusted friends whom you respect, and who profess faith in God and Jesus Christ.
Pray to God that he will give you eyes to see and ears to hear. Many who have heard and hear today the words of the Lord do not comprehend them, but he offers the promise of understanding and of FAITH to those who seek Him. As we read in Matthew’s gospel:
‘The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “ ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. (