Responding to Possibilianism & Dr. David Eagleman: Knowing & Authority Beyond Science

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.

One of the lessons I’ve enjoyed sharing with my 5th and 6th grade students this year involves creating and sharing InfoPics. One of my 5th graders, Masha, commented to me last week how looking at images of the universe and our galaxy “makes her feel so small.” This is one of Masha’s InfoPics she shared on our class Seesaw blog. Her expressed sentiment is laden with cosmological and theological questions. It is to these questions as well I’d like to turn now.

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.

https://twitter.com/PocketShare/status/1179550552985878528

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. “

Saint Augustine, “The Literal Meaning of Genesis,” translated and annotated by John Hammond Taylor. Quoted by Francis Collins in “The Language of God,” page 83.

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.

For more thoughts and resources related to these topics, I encourage you to check out the public website for our Sunday School class, “Curiosity and Questions: Faith and Science.” If you have feedback about this post or that site, you can leave a comment for me below, reach out on Twitter to @wfryer or @pocketshare, or use my online contact form.

Takeaways from Curt Gruel’s Presentation about Christian Faith from a Surgeon’s Perspective

Last Sunday during our “Curiosity and Questions: Jesus and Science” Sunday School class, Curt Gruel was our guest speaker. Curt is a very unique Christ follower. He was an orthopedic surgeon and the doctor in charge of the medical residents at OU Medical Center for years, and then went to seminary to (eventually) lead the “Heartpaths Spiritual Direction” program here in the Oklajoma City area. Curt has been my personal “spiritual director” for the past five or so years (at least since I was teaching STEM in Yukon Public Schools, before coming to Casady School) and is someone I deeply respect. Curt is also an artist, and has about 50 of his prints on virtual display at The Studio Gallery OKC. This Sunday (tomorrow) our class will be recapping Curt’s inspiring and theologically deep presentation from last week, so I thought I’d share the “tweeted takeaways” I shared during his presentation from my Christian Twitter channel (@pocketshare) and also provide a little summary analysis of ideas he shared or referenced in this post.

I created a “Twitter Moment” of the 9 tweets I shared during and immediately after Curt’s Sunday School presentation on my primary / professional Twitter account (@wfryer):

Here are some of the important concepts and terms Curt mentioned, which I plan to explore in a bit more detail in tomorrow’s Sunday School class recap:

  1. Empiricism
  2. Process Theology
  3. Biblical Inerrancy
  4. Johannes Kepler (We should reference both Nicolaus Copernicus and Galileo Galilei)
  5. The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence

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).

Gospel Encounters: Sharing our Journey of Faith to Jesus

Today in our adult Sunday School class, continuing our focus on both historical and contemporary “Gospel Encounters” with Jesus, I shared my personal testimony as well as a framework for “Sharing our Journey of Faith to Jesus.” This is based on a four part framework explained on our church‘s new website, “7 Core Practices,” detailed in the post from August 2018, “Going Deeper Into Your Story.” Here are the slides I used during today’s lesson.

I referenced a video about part of my testimony which I recorded and posted to YouTube in September 2011, titled “God Answered My Prayer in Pilot Training.”

I initially wrote about this on my professional blog in August 2006, before I created this separate space as my “Christian blog.” It was initially named “Eyes Right,” before I changed it to “Pocket Share Jesus” to align with the “Digital Witness for Jesus Christ” book and evangelism empowerment project.

This was the first time I shared parts of “my story” publicly which followed the events described in the above video. Those experiences from my life in February 1994 are likely things I will never put online and share digitally, but I am glad to have an opportunity to share them in person with others with the hope and prayer they will serve as an encouragement which points others to Jesus Christ.

I hope and pray today’s lesson highlighted the ways God has and continues to be active in my life and the life of our family. I also hope it was an encouragement to us all to share our own Gospel story with others. Check out 7corepractices.com for more inspiration and practical suggestions about ways we can serve and share Jesus Christ in our homes, workplaces, and communities. Also check out www.dw4jc.com for suggestions and strategies for how we can share scripture, our stories, and our witness of God’s Holy Spirit being active in our lives using digital media.

* Added 27 October 2018: I shared a modified version of these slides, with a few photos from pilot training which I dug out of our garage, in a presentation for our Friday Morning Men’s group on October 26, 2018.

God Empowers Us to Serve Others Through Trials

Yesterday’s Sunday School lesson, as well as sermon, both focused on why we have pain and suffering in our world. These are tough topics for anyone to address. I was and am thankful to for the opportunity to facilitate this lesson at church for several reasons, however. This has been a topic on my mind and heart more frequently than usual in the past few months. It’s also, according to Barna research, the most common question asked by people about God everywhere. “Why does God allow pain and suffering in our world?”

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.

A couple more items from yesterday’s lesson.

Here’s the short video I shared with our class, as I gave a brief summary and enthusiastic recommendation of The Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C. Sarah and I were able to spend about 4 hours there last week during our visit to the area, and it was fantastic!

Here is a 44 second time lapse version of my sermon sketchnote yesterday, on Eric Laverentz’s (@ericlav) message, “The Problem of Sin.” I drew this and exported this video with the ProCreate app for iPad. Learn more about creating sermon sketchnotes in this chapter of “Pocket Share Jesus: Be a Digital Witness for Christ.” I added quite a bit more to this chapter over the weekend, but still need to add more to the chapter on “Narrated Sketchnotes.”

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!

Sermon Sketchnote on Psalms 78:1-8

This is my narrated sermon sketchnote and sketchnote for today’s sermon by Jen Howat on Psalms 78:1-8 at First Presbyterian Church of Edmond, Oklahoma. Key points were:

  1. Don’t hide God’s good news about Jesus Christ!
  2. Remember God calls us to SHARE with others
  3. As disciples we should be reproducing: Helping GROW other disciples!
  4. People can’t follow Jesus if they haven’t heard about him from someone
  5. Remember those who POURED their lives into you as a believer, and resolve to “pour yourself” in a mentor/apprentice relationship into others
  6. It’s good for God to create TENSION in our hearts: Encouraging us to SHARE JESUS with others!

Narrated Sermon Sketchnote on Psalms 3

This is a sketchnote and narrated Sketchnote I created today in church as Lee Schmidt preached on Psalms 3:

“Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.” But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. I call out to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain. I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side. Arise, Lord! Deliver me, my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked. From the Lord comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people.”
‭‭Psalm‬ ‭3:1-8‬ ‭NIV‬‬

God Never Abandons Us

These are our sermon verses today, which are important reminders about God’s faithfulness:

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters…

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.” ) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:28-29, 35-39 NLT)

Zechariah Did Not Believe (initially) #sketchnote

I am flying tonight from Oklahoma City to Raleigh, North Carolina, to share three presentations at their statewide educational technology conference. I started re-reading the Gospel of Luke tonight, and was reminded of our church’s presentation of the musical “One Incredible Moment” as I read the story of Zechariah. I don’t think I remember the story of Anna, which also is shared by Luke in the second chapter:

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38 NIV)

I am practicing my sketchnoting skills (feeble as they are) with a new iPad stylus (the Paper53 “pencil”) and the iPad app Paper53. I don’t like it as well as ProCreate, but since it is free (ProCreate is not) and I’m sharing a presentation on visual notetaking this week, I decided to practice a bit. I can’t get the “undo” function of the app to work, so some of the unintended smudges I made on this drawing persist. I do like the watercolor brush though, and will likely use it more in some Sketchnotes I’ll make at the conference this week.

I pray God will give me faith to believe in the truth and goodness of his promises, and not doubt them as Zechariah did when the angel Gabriel foretold the birth of his son, John.

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.” (Luke 1:18-20 NIV)

A Fast to End Injustice and Oppression

From the verses in Isaiah I used last week for an Ash Wednesday sermon, starting the season of Lent:

“This is the kind of fast day I’m after: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts. What I’m interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families. Do this and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around at once. Your righteousness will pave your way. The GOD of glory will secure your passage. Then when you pray, GOD will answer. You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.'” (Isaiah 58:6-9 MSG)

These verses are on my heart as I think about the challenges schools so close to our home face, and my own prospects for teaching in the year to come.

Our Bodies Are Temples for God’s Holy Spirit

Today’s sermon message focuses on how we should act and care for our own bodies, which are temples for God’s Holy Spirit.

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭6‬:‭19-20‬ NIV)

I used iMovie for iPad to create a narrated version of this sketchnote.

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