Understanding Each Other

Last evening Lynda and I had the privilege of hearing Ryan Longnecker, (intern working with Bethany’s high schoolers) speak on post-modernism and the emerging church. One of several significant points he made was a quote from his room-mate’s dad.

You can’t even say you disagree with someone unless you can state their side in terms they agree with.

What a simple, yet profoundly important statement! All too often we insist on our own definitions of what others think – as if we are better qualified to tell them what they are “really” thinking and what they believe than they are. But then it actually takes work to listen without latching onto part of a statement and occupying our mind at building a rebuttal rather than hearing the rest of what is being said. We want to be ready to jump in at a pause to speak our mind – not ready to let what has been said sink in. Silence in a conversation? Egad! How scary! We may never get a chance to express the most important side (ours). We need to get away from the fear of silence in a conversation and train ourselves, individually and as groups, to allow time to consider and digest what has been said so that we make sure we are understanding it. But we are not comfortable with silence. We feel that something is wrong – that everyone is at a loss for words, and we have to fill the time with something. We need, we must, get over that and really think about what is being said! We need to be sure we accurately understand before we let our minds work the pros and cons.

Awwh, – Poor Little Fly!

With kudos to our President, and a laugh at PETA, I’m reminded of a poem I found years ago. (author unknown)

Don’t be discouraged, poor little fly,
You’ll be a chipmunk by and by.
Ages later, I can see, you’ll be a full grown chimpanzee.
Next, I see you with prophet’s pen,
Taking your place in the ranks of men.
And then, in the great sweet by and by
We’ll be angels – you and I.
So why should I swat you, poor little fly,
Prospective chum of my home on high?
That’s what some folks say.
Not I.

(No, I don’t believe anyone is suggesting this as a path of evolution, but the actual suggestions are not much better.)

“Spore” The Video Game

At an Orange County Multimedia Association (OCMMA) meeting a few years ago, several members gave a report on the E3 (the Electronic Entertainment Expo) they had just attended in LA. One of the demos they saw was of “Spore,” an evolution simulation video game that was under development. In this game, you could create your own life forms and have them evolve over time from single-celled organisms to intergalactic civilizations.

A comment was made that such a game wouldn’t be very popular in a Christian school. This of course drew laughter. I few minutes later, I realized that a Christian school would be a perfect place for it. What a wonderful illustration of Intelligent Design (ID). But the moment had passed; the subject had changed; and I had missed the opportunity.

The game is finally about to be released (Sept 5 in Europe, and Sept 7 in the United States). PC World describes it in its September issue under the title “Spore: An Innovative Game With a God Complex.” It describes it as “a groundbreaking evolution simulation where you foster life, from its single-celled origins to its spread as a space-faring civilization.” You can even “Share your own creations (be they life-forms, vehicles, or buildings) with the world via the game, on YouTube, or by e-mail …”

Several observations come to my mind. I note that the article’s title refers to a “God complex,” not a “chance complex.” It seems to be impossible to describe the game without references to a creative process. It has taken at least eight years for the very intelligent game programmers to develop whatever illusion of chance exists in the game. I doubt that they ever imagined that such a process would be easy to – (I’m trying to come up with a non-ID term, oh, well) – to create. I am impressed with anyone with such talent.

But here is what would really impress me.
Start from nothing – really nothing – nothing-nothing and let the game create itself. I’m reminded of an email that went around a while back about a contest between God and the devil over creating beings. As the game was about to begin, Satan complained about needing materials for the process. God responds, “ Make your own dirt!” So my first challenge – let the game begin – by itself, out of nothing.

Then I will be impressed.

Ok. Let’s set assume the presence of stuff, laying aside the question of how it came into existence. Gather all the stuff you need to get the game into its present state of existence – I mean the elements from the periodic table – not the CPU’s, RAM, hard drives, etc., etc.. I’ll ignore, for the sake of this challenge, the design implications of making your materials list.

With all your materials together, place them in your most ideal location so that they receive the best possible environmental influences and external energy sources to cause all your stuff to assemble into your remarkable video game. Again, I’ll ignore the intelligence required to figure out such an environment. No intelligence allowed from here on however – only time, chance, and natural processes allowed from this point on.

Give it all the time you think you’ll need – more if you’d like a fudge factor. Use as many such piles to allow for more opportunities and speed things up. Use as many variations and combinations of stuff-piles and environments.

When that all comes together into your game, I’ll be really impressed.

A point on which we both would agree is that neither of us would be around long enough to see a successful result if it did take place. I suspect that the existence of the game itself already proves that it has happened by time, chance and natural processes. After all, it’s here isn’t it? How else could it be here?

Such faith impresses me.

Take the game from where it is today. See if you can out-design God. Or, your way: see if you can out-design time, chance, and natural processes. What I’ve seen so far of Spore creatures are weird beings that don’t appear very viable to me. But I’ll let you be god of your own little universe. How does it stack up against the real thing? Have you done better? Give it your most intelligent and best shot. (There’s that “i” word again!)

Now try this:
Make a being in your little universe that is essentially like you – not flesh and blood human in our time and space world but a reflection of your essence in its electronic world. Once you’ve done that, figure out a way to literally put yourself into the game (electrons, bits, bytes, pixels, etc.) as one of your beings – not just an avatar, but fully whatever-you-call-him, yet still fully human as you are out here. Cool, huh?
Now – figure out and make a way that when the computer’s power is shut off, your being can come out into our space-time world and live the rest of your life as your friend and companion.

Wow! That would impress me.

Flying Spaghetti Monster

While Lynda and I were in Barnes and Noble last evening and I was on my usual path to the computer section, my attention was drawn to a prominently displayed book. It was a bright red book titled The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, by Bobby Henderson.

It was rather obvious that it was a parody on something – very likely against theism in some way. And so it is. It turns out to be a development of the statement made by Mr. Henderson about a decision of the Kansas State Board of Education that intelligent design must be taught as an alternative to biological evolution in public schools. In an open letter to the board, Henderson calls for equal treatment of his belief in the “Pastapharian” theory of creation, obviously mocking their decision, but considering such an option as just as logical.

I wanted to say something clever to the Barnes and Noble lady who greeted me as I glanced through the book, questioning why such a volume should be so prominently displayed. But as usual I came up blank – until after bed time. (It was 11:20 pm as I penned the first draft of this.)

The book was resting in an acrylic stand on a workstation table about chest high and facing the incoming traffic along a narrow walkway beside the escalator. What I now wish had come to my mind then was to ask her how the book came to be placed in such a position, and then to proceed:
– What processes were involved in getting it into the hands of the intelligent person who made the decisions to place it in such a location?
– How did the book itself come together?
– What processes were involved
– in the pages becoming bound together?
– in the printing of the pages?
– in the arrangement of the letters into the words – sentences – paragraphs?
– in the fabrication of the paper?
– in the design and fabrication of the parts of and assembly of the machinery to print it?
– This could go on and on, but what about
– the transportation system to get it there (vehicles, roads, drivers, maps & navigation systems)
– Postal system to plan and take advantage of the transportation system
– Payment and accounting system to
– buy the books so they could be stocked
– sell the books
– pay the employees
– again, this could go on and on
How many of these and so many other systems involved in getting that book into place on its acrylic stand can, with a straight face, be attributed to time, chance and natural processes?

Which of the steps were just allowed to happen by chance?

Oh, and don’t forget that this is just one of thousands of books on tables, racks and shelves all neatly and intelligently organized and arranged (at least originally) for maximum sales appeal so that customers can find them, buy them and make money for a large national organization.

– How does all this compare to the organization and order of a simple flower that grows, reproduces itself – attracting insects to help the process – and is beautiful to boot, and is a single example of a huge variety of plants and animals?

Which is more complex – the book store and its history and assembly, or living organisms?

Who’s really being silly?

[Reminder: See my caveat in the pages on the right.]

Starting Point

This replaces my entry from Sept 5.

Starting points are important.

The options for our conclusions are dependent upon our initial presuppositions. We disallow some results by decisions we make consciously or unconsciously at the beginning.

If it is decided at the start that all must be explained without any reference to a transcendent God, a transcendant God will not be found at the conclusion. If it is predetermined that there can be no intelligent design, miracles, virgin birth, or resurrection, then any evidence or testimony in their favor must be interpreted in some other way.

It seems to me that the best approach at the beginning is to leave all possible conclusions available and only rule them out as the evidence itself makes it necessary.

The naturalist would jump on that statement and claim that the use of the word “possible” would rule out any activity on the part of God because any such activity would be considered miracles, which are by definition impossible. But on what basis do we impose such restrictions on him? If a transcendent God did, in fact, create all there is, should we not expect that “possible” for Him should not be defined by what is possible within that creation? Would He not have the right to set up restrictions on His creation to which He is not Himself bound?

We must understand that it is important in an attempt to determine the way things are, and how they have come to be as they are, that we begin at the right place. That place should include, at least at the start, all potential results of our investigation, including the possibility for the need for faith at some level.

Please understand that I don’t start here with a clean slate. I have drawn some conclusions, some of which I consider set in my mind. Does that mean I have a closed mind? Perhaps on some points I do. I have, at least for myself, settled some questions:

  • That there is a God
  • That He has communicated to us through the Bible
  • That He became a human being in order to die as payment for our sin.
  • That He rose from the dead
  • That we can become His children and have eternal life by trusting in that payment

But I do still have some questions, some of which might raise some evangelical eyebrows. I consider myself to be evangelical. What follows is a list of thoughts I’ve been accumulating about taking a fresh look at our paradigms, presuppositions and the boxes that tend to contain us.

· Presuppositions, Boxes, paradigms, open minds, learning from history and records of prior learning and development:

o How do we free our minds enough to discover new ideas without abandoning the accumulated knowledge of history, including science, philosophy, technology, etc.?

o How do we do so in such a way that we correct the errors in our accumulated knowledge, etc.?

o No one, except an infant has a clean slate, and even theirs are not really empty at birth. And as soon as they are born we begin to mark on their slates – not always neatly – with information they must know to survive and get along in our culture.

o We need to take advantage of what we already know, and gather what others have learned. At the same time we need to learn to be critical to the extent that we are able and be open to adjust our knowledge to the truth when we discover error in our understanding.

o We need to recognize that we have blind spots in our thinking and do all we can to see into them.

o The mere fact that we were born into a particular path of learning, choices and training does not make that path correct. We need to be especially cautious of our own beliefs because of the danger of hanging onto them only because they are ours. This does not mean automatically dumping those beliefs for that reason either. But we should be making a special effort to test them with an open mind against other viewpoints. We don’t want to hold onto errors just because we grew up in them or because they are culturally correct. This is not to divorce ourselves from our cultural background. We also need to discern what issues are really important and which don’t matter.

o Once a thought is planted, it is very difficult, if not impossible to uproot it and disregard it entirely or pretend as if we never heard it. “You cannot un-ring a bell.”