‘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!
This week Rachel and I have started a morning Bible study together, reading through the Gospel of John. This is something we’ve talked about doing for many months, but we finally decided to do it over the weekend. I think this was prompted, in part, by her sharing of her testimony / faith witness Sunday morning in our “Gospel Encounters” Sunday School class. As we read about the testimony of John the Baptist, I was reminded of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the fact that parts of the book of Isaiah (referenced in John 1:23) were included with the scroll fragments found at Qumran. I thought this discovery was made after World War II, but since we have a Google Home in the bathroom adjoining the room where we were sharing our study, I asked aloud, “Hey Google, when were the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered?” The Google Assistant replied with the dates, 1946-47. How cool to be able to verify information like that during our Bible study, just using my voice! It was like we had a digital librarian right on hand, standing by to readily answer our questions when needed!
‘This was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders sent priests and Temple assistants from Jerusalem to ask John, “Who are you?” “Well then, who are you?” they asked. “Are you Elijah?” “No,” he replied. “Are you the Prophet we are expecting?” “No.” “Then who are you? We need an answer for those who sent us. What do you have to say about yourself?” John replied in the words of the prophet Isaiah: “I am a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Clear the way for the Lord ’s coming!’” Then the Pharisees who had been sent asked him, “If you aren’t the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet, what right do you have to baptize?” John told them, “I baptize with water, but right here in the crowd is someone you do not recognize. Though his ministry follows mine, I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandal.” This encounter took place in Bethany, an area east of the Jordan River, where John was baptizing.’
Later, as we discussed the importance of having direct access to the Bible and these words from the disciple John, I mentioned Vatican II (“The Second Vatican Council”) in the context of the Catholic church making fundamental reforms in the way Mass is and was conducted. (The priests turned around to face the congregation instead of the altar and cross at the front of the church, and the mass changed from being shared in Latin to the local vernacular language of the congregation.) Again, I thought Vatican II took place during the 1960s, but I confirmed by asking Google Home… it was held from 1962 to 1965.
It’s wonderful to have access not only to the Internet, but to a search assistant via Google Home during Bible study!
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.
He was “a Pharisee’s Pharisee” (someone who ardently followed all the directives and prescriptions of Jewish law)
He was born a Roman citizen
He was zealous
Paul wrote most of the letters included in the New Testament
Paul had important arguments with the Apostle Peter, over the historic requirements of Jews to follow dietary restrictions and men to submit to circumcision
Paul went on several important missionary journeys
Saul was a tent maker by trade
God annointed Paul as His missionary to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the Gentiles (non-Jews)
Paul’s letter to the Galatians addresses the toxic organizational structure of that early church, and includes his teachings on how to properly handle church leadership and organization
Things we WANT to know include:
Where was/is Tarsus? (a historic city in south-central Turkey)
How did a person become a Roman citizen?
We read the 9th chapter of the Book of Acts from the New International Version, which is the first of three accounts of Paul’s conversion which are included in Acts. (The others are in Acts 22 and Acts 26.) After reading this chapter, we watched the 5.5 minute video, “The Road to Damascus – Saul Takes his Journey.” Since this video was published by the Mormon Church, I shared the same disclaimer I have before when sharing Mormon videos: Some of the videos shared by the LDS church (like this one) are outstanding, but my use of them in teaching does NOT constitute an endorsement or recommendation of LDS theology.
After watching the video, we discussed in small groups and then shared together things which stood out for us, after reading Acts 9 and watching this video. Some of the standouts were:
Paul’s conversion experience was VERY dramatic
The events detailed in scripture and depicted in the video required obedience on the part of both Paul and Ananias.
The video did a good job portraying the tenderness of Paul after his conversion experience, it’s both understandable and reasonable that he was extremely humbled by this experience on the road to Damascus.
In his communication to Ananias, God reveals his plan for Paul to be his missionary to the Gentiles, bring them the Gospel of Jesus Christ
Paul’s response to his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus included baptism, an act in which his old identity (Saul) was washed away and he was reborn into his new identity (Paul)
This coming Sunday (tomorrow) we’ll continue our study of Paul, his conversion experience, and the lessons we can glean from this powerful Gospel encounter with Jesus Christ!
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. ‘
Building on the four part framework for sharing your story / sharing your testimony that our church staff wrote back in August in the post, “Going Deeper Into Your Story,” I am encouraging members of our Sunday School class to use this model to frame their stories of “everyday Gospel encounters” as well as “bigger” stories, like our testimonies of how we came to faith in Jesus Christ.
‘My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds, of your saving acts all day long— though I know not how to relate them all. I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign Lord ; I will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone. Since my youth, God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come. ‘
In “Going Deeper Into Your Story,” we are encouraged to use a four part framework for composing and sharing our Gospel encounters with Jesus: Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension. Each of these phases are explained in the post. It can be challenging to know how to share our stories of faith, and this framework can be very helpful as a “template” we can use to fill in our background and the significant events in our story which we want to share with others in a concise, effective way that points primarily to Jesus, God, and the work of the Holy Spirit.
I definitely like and have used this four part framework, but the second element, “crucifixion,” suggests that this model is only focused on stories about the darkest and deepest valleys of our lives when God intervened. Those are stories we may be called to share, but there are also important Gospel encounters which may not fit under the dramatic category, “crucifixion.” For that reason, today I suggested also thinking about and praying about Gospel encounters in our lives we can share which are more everyday events. God is at work all around us, all the time. Our busy lives and full schedules can be impediments to our ability to discern and “see” God’s work in our week. With this in mind, I substituted the word “crucifixion” with “encounter” in this four part framework.
Script: Write your story in chronological order, keeping in mind Adobe Spark Video limits you to 30 seconds of narration per slide. This is likely the most challenging and time consuming step of this workflow.
Find Photos: Either locate photos you have taken and save them to the device you’re using to create the digital story. In my case, this was the Photo Roll of my iPad. If you don’t have photos, Adobe Spark Video lets you search for icons from The Noun Project. You can alternatively find copyright-friendly images from websites like Unsplash. Insert these photos into Adobe Spark Video.
Record: Find a quiet spot and record the audio narration for each slide of your story. Then export your final video and upload to YouTube for sharing via social media, email, a website, etc.
After watching my example narrated slideshow about my friend, Bob, I asked class members to respond. We used “the two lenses of analysis” for digital storytelling which I learned about presenting lots of workshops from 2006 to 2009 for Storychasers. These lenses are “content,” when you focus on elements of the story, and “technical,” when you focus on technology details and process elements.
Our closing challenge in today’s lesson was to think about Gospel encounters we can share in the weeks and months ahead, either in person or as short, narrated slideshow videos. I’m hopeful I’ll be able to offer a Saturday morning workshop in February or March this year on the process I modeled and explained today using Adobe Spark Video.
Here are the slides we used in today’s lesson. If you find these ideas helpful, have questions or feedback, please reach out to me via Twitter (@wfryer) or my electronic contact form, which will send me your message via email. I pray God will empower you to be bold and courageous as you share your stories of faith, walking with Jesus Christ.
I will not likely share the audio from this video and speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in tomorrow’s class, but have included in our slides (slide 10) and will embed it below. I LOVE this exhortation from Dr. King, which is based (I think) on this passage from Luke 22. Yes indeed, “We all can serve!”