Miscellaneous thoughts on faith vs skepticism

My family are not believers, but I was somehow graced with the gospel and converted at age 17 (only a few years ago 😛 ). I naively digested a lot of literalist material, much to my families chagrin (they are an educated bunch). I then spent 7 years at university studying science and engineering. Eventually the discontinuity between YEC and the standard models of science stretched my credulity too far. However my experiences of God have been far too rich to dismiss the Bible and the Church outright, so I reserved judgment. In recent years I have recovered the inclination to look into these matters again, but from a somewhat more relaxed perspective. I for one think that ID or theistic evolution neatly resolves my dilemma.

Existence ex nihilo. Order from chaos. Life from non-life. Mind from matter. A chain of millions of coincidences, culminating in mankind. Creation is striving upwards — as Paul Davies said, the Universe appears to be specifically designed for humans to arise.

The existence of God is a logical conclusion from numerous lines of independent evidence, not just personal revelations, but also undeniable miracles before my eyes, prophecies, and most of all the power of God’s love that changes people’s lives.

The life of Jesus Christ is the most powerful evidence Christianity offers. The eternal God embraced humanity and mortality in order to gather all people to Himself.

Jesus said of himself:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Matt 11:28-29

I have found Christianity to be a “revealed” religion, as the Catholic phrase goes. I had given up on God but he never gave up on me, and did not demand anything of me. He simply encouraged me to show up at church, and although my response was half-hearted at best God has helped me out a LOT.

We cannot reach God by human effort, including by debating on a blog. We need Grace.

Does prayer work?
Jacalyn Duffin: The Doctor Was Surprised; or, How to Diagnose a Miracle
A survey of more than six hundred miracle records in the canonization files of the Vatican Secret Archives from the seventeenth century to the twentieth century reveals that more than 95 percent are healings from illness. The history of the canonization process is summarized to explain the sources. The diagnoses amenable to miracle cure change through time to reflect current medical preoccupations and methods. Physician testimony has always been crucial to the investigation of miracles for declaring the hopeless prognosis and the surprise at recovery. From this analysis, medicine and religion emerge as parallel semiotic endeavors, using their canons of wisdom and careful observation to derive meaning in suffering.

Professor Leslie Francis of the University of Bangor has studied 31 experiments (conducted to the “highest professional standards”) into the effectiveness of prayer.

“The findings are quite staggering,” he says. “Studies show that patients in hospital who are being prayed for (even when they do not know they are being prayed for) are more likely to recover.”

Not forgetting the miracle of Dunkirk, the miraculous growth of the Church, the history of Israel, and the transformation of nations by the Gospel of peace.

I enjoy these discussions, but according to Karl Barth:
“Belief cannot argue with unbelief, it can only preach to it.”

“the most active workers and thinkers and fighters in the divine service in this world have at the same time, and manifestly, been the most active in prayer”

Recommended reading:
Isaiah chs. 5, 40, 61
Psalms 23, 103, 126
Hosea 10:12
Micah 6:8
Hebrews 1
1 Corinthians 13
John 16

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Unlike the atheist who brashly asserts that there is no God (confident in his mind’s ability to comprehend the universe), the wise believer in Christ holds a humble opinion of his abilities, and for the unscholarly there are brief catechisms, or the simple command of Christ to “Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbour as yourself. This sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

Chesterton discusses the irrational folly of trying to comprehend the world with reason alone. Polanyi recognized the same thing, but spelled it out in a more systematic way, showing how every act of perception is an imaginative leap of irreducible creativity. As Chesterton writes, “poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea,” but “reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so to make it finite…. The poet asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.”

And why is it so difficult to have a rational discussion with these hyper-rational people? For the simple reason that their minds are not impeded by the distraction of reality.

This foreshadows Gödel’s theorems, which proved that a formal system can be complete or consistent, but not both. Thus, the end result of atheistic scientism is “a combination between a logical completeness and a spiritual contraction”

A human being is situated halfway between the stars above and the dust below — or between freedom and determinacy, matter and spirit, security and adventure, animal and God, part and whole, time and eternity. So,

Look up — look up
And seek your maker
Before Mr. Gabriel blows his horn
–Francis Albert

If the world were as simple as the atheist insists it is, not only would it not be worth understanding, but it would be too simple to have ever given rise to understanders.

Yes Christianity makes testable truth claims, but

the Gospel is not a systematic exposition of the Christian teaching, precisely because it is not concerned with teaching. Jesus did not leave behind Him a new philosophical system, nor did He institute a mere religion. He left His body and sent His Spirit. And the Gospel consists of fundamental elements from the life of Jesus and the experience of the new community in Christ. St John the Evangelist speaks clearly of the restricted character of the Gospel: “And there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25) However, those things which the world could not contain if they were written in detail are found, made known and lived in the Church, where Jesus Himself lives. Those who think they know Christ outside the Church know very few things about Him; those who belong to the Church live “in Him”. Thus we can say that the Gospel is essentially a “private” book. The Gospel and dogma are expressions of the same Spirit of the Church. The Church is not producing literature when it writes the Gospel nor engaging in philosophy when it formulates dogma, but in both cases it is expressing the fulness of the new life hidden within it. For this reason, the Gospel cannot be understood outside the Church nor dogma outside worship.”

I should also mention that atheism requires large dollops of faith. Usually unstated, the assumptions are:
* A belief that the universe and the manner in which it functions can be comprehended by a species of limited intelligence through empirical methods (a necessary assumption).

* A belief that actual causal patterns, that explain the origin and subsequent development of both the universe and life on earth, can be traced to basic forces of nature from which are generated more complexly organized phenomenon.

* A belief that consciousness arose from chemical properties of matter contained by the organism having consciousness.

* A belief that chemical reactions of non-living matter led to a living cell.

* A belief that science is able to explain the origin of the universe and life on earth without recourse to any telic or intelligent causal components.

* A belief that no empirical data can be produced to support theories of intelligent design.

However, I would argue that assumptions 2-6 are more rooted in philosophical materialism or naturalism than they are empirical science. Indeed, I would argue that these kinds of assumptions are not necessary at all to the advancement of science. My view of natural science is that it needs to be minimally metaphysical opposed to anti-metaphysical.

Empirical science does not deal well with large discontinuities. Indeed, to study natural causation requires some degree of continuity or a causal chain or nexus; where an unbroken chain of causation doesn’t exist the history of science shows that human inference is a very powerful tool in bridging the gaps. However there are limits to this gap bridging. Problems like the origin of the universe, the origin of life and the origin of consciousness and mind (what I call the “big three”) presently have too much discontinuity. The so called scientific explanations put forward by materialists are little more than “just-so stories”. These kinds of explanations usually require not only several leaps of logic but a very generous leap of faith as well. (HT: <a href="telicthoughts.com)

I offer the challenge of Edward Tingley:

Maybe what the nay-sayers ought to do is to stop pronouncing in the absence of evidence and start looking for new instruments by which to get some. That is science. Modern science, especially, advances by the discovery of new means by which to acquire what is, to be sure, also concrete, measurable evidence. But it is not always “material evidence,” “the evidence of the eye.”

This sentiment is echoed by Francis Collins:

To simply rule ‘out of order’ any questions that go beyond the natural world is a circular argument. This leaves out profoundly important spiritual questions, such as why we are here, if there is a God, and what happens after we die. Those are questions that science is not really designed to answer. You have to look in another place, using another kind of approach. And for me that’s faith.

God is the author of all truth. You can find him in the laboratory as well as in the cathedral. He’s the God of the Bible; he’s the God of the genome. He did it all.


26 thoughts on “Miscellaneous thoughts on faith vs skepticism

  1. Based on my recent comments posted in various blogs , I have postulated a hypothesis. propose. Theoretcal Physics describes four fundamental forces of nature viz., weak nuclear force, strong nuclear force, electromagnetic force and force of gravity. Here we can present an analogy. Weak and strong nuclear forces represent pancha-bhutas or the five elements. Electromagnetic force represents force of current of mind which mainly works through sensory organs and force of gravity represents supra-causal state of Consciousness. We know that during advanced stage of practice of meditation and yoga pancha-bhutas or five elements merge into mind and mind into supra-causal state of Consciousness and ultimately Individual Consciousness merges into Cosmic Consciousness. This is the state of Perfect Bliss or Self-Realization. Likewise during the reverse process of Cosmic Evolution i.e. Perfect Dissolution of the Universe, weak and strong nuclear forces merge into electromagnetic force and electromangnetic force merges into force of gravity.

    In the beginning, the enetire Creation came into existence from this Single Force Current which later on manifested into many force currents during the process of Cosmic Evolution.

    Gravitation Force is the Ultimate Creator, this paper I presented at the 1st Int. Conf. on Revival of Traditional Yoga, held at The Lonavla Yoga Institute (India), Lonavla, Pune in 2006. The Abstract of this paper is given below:

    The Universe includes everything that exists. In the Universe there are billions and billions of stars. These stars are distributed in the space in huge clusters. They are held together by gravitation and are known as galaxies. Sun is also a star. Various members of the solar system are bound to it by gravitation force. Gravitation force is the ultimate cause of birth and death of galaxy, star and planets etc. Gravitation can be considered as the cause of various forms of animate and inanimate existence. Human form is superior to all other forms. Withdrawal of gravitational wave from some plane of action is called the death of that form. It can be assumed that gravitation force is ultimate creator. Source of it is ‘God’. Gravitational Field is the supreme soul (consciousness) and its innumerable points of action may be called as individual soul (consciousness). It acts through body and mind. Body is physical entity. Mind can be defined as the function of autonomic nervous system. Electromagnetic waves are its agents through which it works. This can be realized through the practice of meditation and yoga under qualified meditation instruction. This can remove misunderstanding between science and religion and amongst various religions. This is the gist of all religious teachings – past, present and future.

  2. This is the gist of all religious teachings – past, present and future.
    Incorrect. I don’t recall Jesus, Buddha or Mohammed blathering on about Gravity being the Ultimate Creator or whatever.

  3. Please try to understand my views with some patience rather in haste. In Science the term gravity has been used prominently by Newton and thereafter by Einstein to denote some force of nature. For Einstein gravity is the Fundamental Force of Nature described under General Theory of Relativity. This is the most mysterious force of nature. Scientists are working hard to know this mysterious force. This is the toughest challenge before the scientists in 21st Century. More Knowledge of this Force will shed more light on the Origin of Life,it is believed.
    The most mysterious force i.e. Consciousness which has been discussed in all the scriptures before and after Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed, and the Force of Gravity which has been used by Scientists are identical force. Consciousness and Gravity have the common attributes which I will discuss later.

  4. 1. Consciousness != Gravity
    2. Lots of sweeping, subjective claims.. Gravity is very well understood, some aspects of may be mysterious, but hardly the “toughest challenge before scientists in the 21st century”.

    Your theory is based on nothing measurable or verifiable.

  5. Many things are common between Current of Consciousness and Gravitational Wave.
    1. Current of consciousness can not be seen by any means and gravitational wave can also not be seen.
    2. Current of consciousness is the weakest force on earth. Its strength goes on increasing on higher regions. Gravitational force is also very weak on earth and strong on Sun and even more stronger on black holes.
    3 Tendency of both current of consciousness and gravitational waves are towards their source or centre.
    4. Current of consciousness and gravitational force are both regarded as the creater of all the celestial and terrestrial bodies of the whole universe. They are also sustainer of these and when they turn back towards their source or centre the whole universe will collapse.

  6. The evolution of consciousness is a modern branch of study in science. What is consciousness and when consciousness first arose? Are human beings alone conscious, or are other creatures also conscious? How far down do we go? The Philosopher Alfred North Whitehead says that consciousness goes all the way down. He sees it as an intrinsic property of creation.
    According to His Holiness Huzur Maharaj, the Second Most Revered Spiritual Head of Radhasoami Faith had stated : “Love or Force of attraction (i.e. the Force of Cohesion) is the Param Tattva or the chief ingredient of the creation, i.e. the entire creation has come into existence out of Love and is sustained by Love.” In scientific terminology this is known as Gravity which we will discuss in our later comments. Thanks.

  7. According to the Pulsating (Oscillating) Universe Theory, advocated among others by Dr. Alan Sandage, the universe expands and contracts alternately between periods running into tens of billions of years. Dr. Sandage thinks that some 12 billion years ago a great explosion occurred in the univers and that the universe has been expanding ever since. It is likely to go on expnading for 29 billion years more, when GRAVITATION WILL HALT FURTHER EXPANSION. From then on, all matter will begin to contract or collapse upon itself in a process known as ‘implosion’. This will go on for 41 billion years compressing matter into an extremely superdense state and then it will explode once again. This is the latest theory of the evolution of the universe.

    Here it is significant to mention that Gravitational Waves were produced at the very origins of time when the Big Bang occurred.

    It is evident that Big Bang (great explosion) is followed by the origin of Gravitational waves, and the process of Implosion is preceded by Gravitational Halt. Hence it can be stated that Gravitation is the cause of creation of the universe, its sustenance and its collapse to naught (zero dimension)

  8. His Holiness Soamiji Maharaj (1818-1878), Founder of Radhasoami Faith had described origin of the universe as: “Only He Himself, and none else, was there. There issued forth a great current of Sat (Spirituality), Love and Grace, which is called His Mauj (Will of Lord in Wave Form). This was (first) manifestation of Truth or Sat or True Supreme Being. This Mauj brought into being three regions, viz., Agam, Alakh and Satnam, of eternal bliss. Then a current emerged with a powerful sound. It brought forth the creation of seven Surats (seven distinct currents of energy). This was the only creation for considerably quite long time. This was the First Stage of Creation. During the Second Stage of Creation material forces originated. Then billions of Triloki came into being. These Trilokis are Galaxies (Island Universes or Brahmands.)

  9. This theory is a bizarre mix of speculation, sciencey-sounding terminology, and Hindu traditions that I have never heard of. You definitely have a talent for storytelling. The bits of cosmology you mention are interesting but the rest is not science by a long shot. On the whole, I have no idea what you’re on about. It’s a mess.

  10. That’s got to be one of the funniest conversations I’ve read. To paraphrase:

    A: Superman is real.
    B: Actually, Batman is real and superman is just a comic book hero. Grow up.
    A: Is NOT! Batman is totally a cartoon! You’d have to be deluded to believe otherwise. Only Superman is the real deal; the others are just fictional wannabes.
    B: Totally untrue dude. What does Batman do that’s not physically possible huh? “Kryptonite”… pffft!


  11. His Holiness Huzur Maharaj (1829-1878), Second Most Revered Spiritual Head of Radhasoami Faith had also described the origin of the university somewhat more eleaborately : “The Current which manifested in the beginning of creation stopped after descending some distance and, focusing there, it brought some creation into existence. This Region is know as Agam Loka and the Dhara or Current which came and stopped there is known as Agam Purusha. This is the Region of the ‘August Portal’ of Radhasoami.

    A current manifested from there also and descended from there and stopped at some distance and, focusing there, it brought some creation into existence. This Region is known as Alakh Loka and the name of that Current is Alakh Purusha.

    A current issued from Alakh Purusha also and in the manner described above descended downwards and the Region where it stopped and focused and where it brought into existence some creation, is known as Sat Loka and the current is known as Sat Purusha.

    The process of creation stopped at this stage and for a considerable time this was the entire creation. The current mentioned in the preceding paragraphs is extremely subtle and it cannot be seen in any manner nor can one have any idea of its form.

  12. Huzur Maharaj further says:

    The Chaitanya (Consciousness) below the Region of Sat Loka was covered with vapoury substance of a darkish colour and as the distance from Sat Loka increased, the vapoury substance also became denser and denser just as some thing is covered over with layer after layer.

    From below the Region of Sat Loka, a dark current having a blue tint issued. The name of this Current is Niranjan and on descending down, it came to be known in Brahmanda as Para-Brahma and Brahma.

    This dark current came down but it could not do the work of creation as the currents of the higher regions had done after focusing there. Then a second current having a greenish-yellow hue was sent down from there. This current came down with countless spirit-entities within it and then this second current and the first dark current both together brought into existence the lower creation.

  13. I have presented a paper entitled “In Scientific Terminology Source of Gravitational Wave is God” in 2nd World Congress on Vedic Science held at Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi in 2007. I sent the abstract to Prof. C.S.Shastry, Professor Emeritus of Physics, Amrita University, Coimbatore for comments. I would like to reproduce his comments here:

    “Please forgive me for this very much delayed reply regarding the article “In scientific……

    You have made very good observations-which only show that ancients had some rare insight obtained through religious means. There will be always attempts to reconcile science and spirituality. However, within the logical frame work of science there is a limit. This is because science is too objective and keeps the problem of subject (observer) aside – whereas most of the religious truths are subjective and only way to get convinced about them is to go inward. Therefore, even though some insights of spirituality on universe etc are exciting, their real test has to be done only by the method of science. If spirituality can predict (like Einstein predicted gravitational waves, Maxwell predicted electromagnetic waves) definitive truths which can be precisely measured and confirmed then only main stream scientists will be excited about them. I think for the people of spirituality this is not of primary interest-hence they may not be able to do this . Hence I think these two streams of human pursuit will continue separately for foreseeable future even though at a distant future date there will be a better unified understanding –if not total understanding. I have interest in both these areas-but do not feel competent to understand their satisfactory synthesis.”

    So, I am working on the synthesis of religion and science, quantification of esoteric qualities and on other related areas. I am not telling any story. Yes of course, I am telling scientific truths in story like manner.

  14. Anirudh,
    I think your professor is absolutely right. Religious people with curious minds will naturally want a synthesis with science. But there is a lot of subjectivity, myth, doctrine, historical cruft in religion. In practice religion just doesn’t gel with the austere “basic principles” of scientific theorems.

    I want such a synthesis too, I think there is a way of looking at things that puts both science and religion in perspective. I don’t know why you are on a Christian blog explaining your Hindu synthesis in great detail because a) I don’t understand half of what you’re on about, and b) (with respect), I don’t feel a need to synthesise Hindu beliefs with anything.

    Damian, glad that you’re amused! I am bemused by all this far-out theorizing 😛

  15. Dear Ropata

    Thank you very much for your comments.

    I think ‘belief’ is neither Hindu, nor Muslim, nor Christian and so on. ‘Belief’ is pure scientific truth, may be with some subjectivity of the observer. For example, according to Christian belief, in the beginning was the Word, Word was with God, and Word was God. Perhaps you will agree with me that this belief is universally accepted by all religions in one way or the other.

    In response to my paper on Gravitation Force is the Ultimate Creator, Prof. Pankaj Joshi, Renowned Physicist (working on Gravitation Force), Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai commented: “Thank you for your letter and the enclosed paper. I agree with your effort. After all, both science and religion are quest for truth and the laws of nature, and an attempt at synthesis will certainly be useful. I wish you all the best for your effort.”

  16. There can certainly be rapprochement and cross-pollination of ideas when religions meet, but to claim that any belief is “universally accepted by all religions” is just wishful thinking. Every religion already claims to have the over-arching understanding of reality, all you are doing is adding another one.

  17. I quote few lines from St. John in Wilderness Physics and Faith 2. Rumors of a Designer, Creator and Sustainer Part1. The Laws of Physics. The Big. This is a Christian Blog. It says:”The early history of the universe can be described by narious “eras” that are based on the type of particle that predominated during that era.

    1. Planck Era (the beginning of the universe to 10^-43sec

  18. (continued from above)
    1. Planck era (the beginning of the universe to 10^-43sec from the beginning)

    During the Planck era quantum gravity effects dominated. Since we lack a theory of quantum gravity, we can only speculate about the conditions during this time. So every one is speculating whether Theist, Atheist, Skeptic or Scientist. I am also speculating. I am not adding to any over-arching understanding of reality.

    Number is increasing of those who believe that Gravity is the secular word of God. This is new trend.

  19. More false claims: “Everyone is speculating whether Theist, Atheist, Skeptic or Scientist”, “Number is increasing of those who believe that Gravity is the secular word of God. This is new trend”

    Your speculations are baseless.
    Your claims are full of falsehoods and half truths.
    Your writing is filled with impenetrable religious jargon.
    The authorities you refer to are nobodies with fancy titles.

    You are just writing foolish nonsense.

  20. You are totally mistaken, ropata. You can nothing learn by losing patience. To whom you will say authority I fail to understand. Now see what great scientists of their times say.

    Prof. G.C.Gupta writes: “The quantitative and experimental views are the two views of nature, e.g. of the river. Since the beginning of physics Quantum in the 1920s, the need for putting these views together has been intiiated by noted physicists. The Nobel Prize winning physicist Werner Heisenberg knew measurement and experience belonged together and spoke about a “consciousness” behind symmetries and other laws of nature. His colleague often referred to as the father of the wave equation, Erwin Shroedinger, deplored the “ghastly silence” in physics, how physics remains quiet about the topics nearest and dearest to us. He referred often to the philosophies of India, to the importance of recognizing that some universal intelligence like a god or a soul lies behind the universe. John von Neumann, one of the most respected mathematical physicist of the last century claimed in the early 1930s the human consciousness somehow entered the laws of physics and determined the outcomes of experiments. How consciousness worked in the physics of matter was not clear to him.”

    Now I am working to explain the hidden secrets of consciousness etc. Ropata, you are ignorant and innocent. India has a very deep philosophy and its supermacy can not be ignored

  21. Problems:
    1) you take liberties with facts and data
    2) you’re trying to recast of some great religions to fit your mold, but show little understanding of their fundamental tenets
    3) you use religious concepts to explain physical phenomena

    Try to tone down the all-unifying grandiose claims, use more data, be a little more circumspect, and you might gain more interest in your work. I see what you’re trying to do, and I wish you luck.
    this may interest you
    and you probably already read this.

  22. Philosophers are arm chair thinkers and they use to take liberties and interpret the facts and data as per their intuition. There should be no objection.

    Would you please let me help to know the fundamental tenets of some great religions?

    I use religious concepts to explain everything and not physical phenomenon only. Try to know : ‘Sometimes from concrete to abstract and sometimes from abstract to concrete’.

    Now I would like to let you know some views of Mr.K.D.Abhyankar on The Origin of the Universe: “The problem of the origin of the Universe has been with us from the earliest periods of the human civilization. People of varous countries have answered the question at different epoch depending upon their limited experiences and according to their general philosophical attitude. There are accounts of the creation of the Universe in early Babylonian and Chinese texts, in the Hindu Puranas, in the Bible, and in the American Indian and African folklore. It is interesting to note three distinct pictures, albeit speculative, presented by the early civilization which have their counterparts in the modern cosmological theories. The Christian and Islamic theologies conceive of a beginning and an end of the Universe. The Chinese, on the other hand, would beliegve that the Universe is everlasting, while the Indian would prefer a cyclically changing Universe with repeated creation and destruction. These three attitude correspond respectively to the “big bang” theory of the modern cosmology, of which George Gamow was one of the ablest exponents; “the steady state” theory propounded by Thomas Gold, Hermann Bondi, and Fred Hoyle of the Cambridge school; and the theory of the “pulsating Universe.” It should be our aim to test their validity on the basis of modern scientific observations made with the best and the most up-to-date instruments available to us”.

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