Posted by: gcarkner | September 30, 2014

Katharine Hayhoe Climate Change Specialist at TWU Oct. 8

Renowned Climate Scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe

Trinity Western University’s Distinguished Lecturer Series

Evening Public Lecture

Climate Change: Facts, Fictions, and our Faith

Northwest Building Auditorium, Trinity Western University in Langley, BC

Wednesday, October 8 @ 7:00 p.m.

Dr. Hayhoe has been identified by TIME as one of the 100 most influential people in the world for 2014.

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Climate change is one of the most hotly debated scientific issues of today. But, is the evidence solid? Are proposed solutions viable? And why would anyone care? Join Katharine Hayhoe as she untangles the complex science behind global warming and highlights the key role our faith and values play in shaping our attitudes and actions on this crucial topic.
Biography for Katharine Hayhoe, Ph.D
Recently named to TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World list for 2014, Katharine Hayhoe is an atmospheric scientist who studies climate change and what it means for people and the natural environment. But Hayhoe may be best-known to many people because of how she’s bridging the broad, deep, gap between scientists and Christians— work she does in part because she’s a Christian herself. Together with her husband Andrew Farley, a pastor, professor of applied linguistics, and best-selling author, Hayhoe wrote “A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions,” a book that untangles the complex science and tackles many long-held misconceptions about global warming.  Her work as a climate change evangelist is featured on the documentary series “Years of Living Dangerously” and “The Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers.” In 2012 she was honored to be named one of Christianity Today’s 50 Women to Watch.
Rodin's Thinker

Katharine Anne Scott Hayhoe (born 1973) is an atmospheric scientist and associate professor of political science at Texas Tech University, where she is director of the Climate Science Center. She has authored more than 60 peer-reviewed publications, with an h-index of 28, and wrote the book A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisionstogether with her husband, Andrew Farley, a pastor. She also co-authored some reports for the US Global Change Research Program, as well as some National Academy of Sciences reports, including the 3rd National Climate Assessment, released on May 6, 2014. Shortly after the report was released, Hayhoe said, “Climate change is here and now, and not in some distant time or place,” adding that “The choices we’re making today will have a significant impact on our future.”

Professor John Abraham has called her “perhaps the best communicator on climate change.” Time Magazine listed her among the 100 most influential people in 2014. The first episode of the documentary TV series Years of Living Dangerously features her work and her communication with religious audiences in Texas.

Posted by: gcarkner | September 26, 2014

Can We Make Peace between Faith and Reason?

Mythology that Currently Haunts the Relationship between Fides et Ratio

The Discourse on Faith and Reason Revisited

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We suggest that our current state of skepticism in Western late modernity stems from a significant confusion about the relationship between various types of faith and various types of reason. Yes, there is more than one type of reasoning or knowledge. Alasdair McIntyre notes three massively different ways of reasoning (paradigms) in Three Version of Moral Inquiry: essentially pre-modern, modern and postmodern. Faith also is a multivalent concept and applies equally to hard science as well as relationships or the study of Holy Scripture or a personal spiritual journey. Even God asks to reason with us humans, asks us to test his statements against the reality of our lives, to see if we can make sense of our lives from a larger transcendent frame or horizon. It takes constant practical reason to drive a car safely and one better be sharp especially if driving on the autobahn in Germany (where speeds sometimes exceed 200 km./hr) or the towns of Italy or Shanghai.

 One cannot even begin at the science bench without many important assumptions that cannot be proven  by scientific reason or empirical evidence. Biochemist turned philosopher Michael Polanyi revealed that faith was operative in all stages of scientific research and discovery, both theoretical and experimental. Below are listed ten of the common myths that set up the problematic. They need to be evaluated for their cogency, to get beyond the unhelpful and hard categories of fideism and rationalism. There are clearly good ways to reason and bad ways to reason, and this matters immensely, having life and death implications at times. Can you help address some of the following myths (things commonly believed even by PDs, but which are actually wrongheaded).  Myths emerge in culture, even academic culture, because of lazy or fuzzy thinking; they become unchallenged urban legends. Sometimes they have been dumbed down to egregious Sophist rhetoric where truthfulness or goodness doesn’t seem to matter any more, where being clever with words outranks honesty and integrity, where hubris outranks taking responsibility for our words and their consequences in individual lives, society or a nation. We dare not sacrifice the virtues of the mind, because the harm is both towards others and against our very selves. These myths are self-defeating and self-stultifying: they hamper good research and discovery. Reductionist views can lead to distrusting one’s own thoughts, a position which a top philosopher at Duke University has taken.

The Myths and Preliminary Responses

Myth #1. Faith and reason are inherently incompatible, or in opposition.

Philosophy should be the love of wisdom that prompts persons to use reason in the quest for truth, goodness and beauty…. Philosophy and theology have distinct tasks, but those tasks cannot be delineated solely in terms of nature and supernature or reason and faith. ~D. Stephen Long

“The question of God… is one that can and must be pursued in terms of the absolute and the contingent, the necessary and the fortuitous, potency and act, possibility and impossibility, being and nonbeing, transcendence and immanence…. Evidence for or against God, if it is there, saturates every moment of the experience of existence, every employment of reason, every act of consciousness, every encounter with the world around us.” ~David Bentley Hart

 “As I try to discern the origin of that conviction [that the universe is orderly], I seem to find it in a basic notion discovered 2000 or 3000 years ago, and enunciated first in the Western world by the ancient Hebrews: namely that the universe is governed by a single God, and is not the product of the whims of many gods, each governing his own province according to his own laws.  This monotheistic view seems to be the historical foundation for modern science” Melvin Calvin, Nobel Prize for Biochemistry  (Chemical Evolution, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1969, p.258).

Myth #2. Reason does not involve faith at any level of its operation.

“Modern rationalism makes us choose truth against beauty and goodness. Only a permanent, living unity of the theoretical, ethical and aesthetic attitudes can convey a true knowledge of being.” ~D. Stephen Long

“Philosophy has its limits, but it must be redeemed, and a place must be made for it within the gift we receive in sacred doctrine. Philosophy has its own integrity when it does not exceed its proper limits and seek to police the questions asked. The limits Wittgenstein placed on philosophy for the sake of a life worth living is similar to the limits Acquinas put on philosophy for the sake of the Christian life as a way of following Jesus into the truth of God.” ~D. Stephen Long

See Roy Clouser, The Myth of Religious Neutrality; An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories (rev. ed.; University of Notre Dame Press, 2005).

Myth #3. Modern reason has made Christian faith redundant; faith is a primitive disposition of our medieval ancestors.

“The certainties which the church has received as a gift require its participation in humanity’s “comom struggle” to attain truth. The human search for truth, which is philosophy’s vocation, is not set in opposition to theology’s reception of truth as gift. What we struggle to understand by reason we also receive by faith. No dichotomy exists between the certainties of faith and the common struggle by human reason to attain truth. … the truths humanity seeks by common reason (philosophy) and the certainties of faith can be placed over against each other such that each illuminates the other and renders it intelligible until the two ultimately become one, which is of course what the incarnation does in reverse. The concretion of the one Person illumines the natures of both divinity and humanity. Faith seeks reason and reason assists faith. They mutually enrich each other.” ~D. Stephen Long

 “The common belief that . . . the actual relations between religion and science over the last few centuries have been marked by deep and enduring hostility is not only historically inaccurate but actually a caricature so grotesque that what needs to be explained is how it could possibly have achieved any degree of respectability.”  ~Colin Russell, UK Historian of Science.

Myth #4. Faith is credulous assent to unfounded premises, a belief in something that is untrue or at least suspect.

“Faith not only seeks and presumes reason, it converts it. Every account of reason assumes something beyond it, some enabling condition that makes it possible but cannot be accounted for it within its own systematic aspirations… Likewise faith can never be pure; it will always assume and use reason even as it transfigures it.” D. Stephen Long

“Newton argued that the regulation of the solar system presupposed the ‘counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful being’ and indeed hoped that his Principia would convince the thinking person of the existence of a Deity.” ~John Lennox, Mathematician/Philosopher

Clearly there exists both good faith and bad faith. Believing a lie or promoting a falsity, as in a ponzi scheme, for the sake of an advantage or con is bad faith. Evidence is vitally important to good faith; clarity,  consistency, coherence and unity is important to good faith; exposing fantasy or superstition is essential to good faith. One needs good faith in signing a major contract. Faith is a form of knowing that can go beyond the evidence but should not contradict it, or be hopelessly uncritical or unexamined. Does the Christian narrative have resonance, or make good sense of our experience? That’s a key question. ~Gordon Carkner

Myth #5. Reason is a pure, disinterested obedience to empirical fact; methodological naturalism implies/requires belief in philosophical naturalism.

“Naturalism, alone among all considered philosophical attempts to describe the shape of reality, is radically insufficient in its explanatory range. The one thing of which it can give no account, and which its most fundamental principles make it entirely impossible to explain at all, is nature’s very existence. For existence is most definitely not a natural phenomenon; it is logically prior to any physical cause whatsoever…. In fact, it is impossible to say how, in terms naturalism allows, nature could exist at all.” ~ David Bentley Hart, Philosopher

“Note that I am not postulating a ‘God of the gaps’, a god merely to explain the things that science has not yet explained.   I am postulating a God to explain why science explains; I do not deny that science explains, but I postulate God to explain why science explains.  The very success of science in showing us how deeply ordered the natural world is provides strong grounds for believing that there is an even deeper cause for that order”.   The issue here is that, because God is not an alternative to science as an explanation, he is not a God of the gaps.  On the contrary, he is the ground of all explanation: it is his existence which gives rise to the very possibility of explanation, scientific or otherwise.” Richard Swinburne, top Oxford Philosopher

“An admirably severe discipline of interpretive and theoretical restraint [modern empirical science] has been transformed into its perfect and irrepressibly wanton opposite: what began as a principled refusal of metaphysical speculation, for the sake of specific empirical inquiries, has now been mistaken for a comprehensive knowledge of the metaphysical shape of reality; the art of humble questioning has been mistaken for the sure possession of ultimate conclusions. This makes a mockery of real science.” ~David Bentley Hart

Myth #6.  Reason is morally and ideologically neutral, the same for all thinking human beings, therefore universal—unifying society.

“The good characterizes a public, successful performance of truth; it refuses fideism….Truth is an activity, a judgment inextricably linked to the good, and therefore to moral transformation. When I am pursuing truth I am pursuing goodness…. This truth both an undying fidelity and love, and at the same time a generosity towards others. By refusing to subordinate itself to ‘power’, understood as willful self-assertion, it best serves the tradition of democracy.” ~D. Stephen Long

Charles Taylor’s contention is that the power of materialism today comes not from scientific “facts”, but has rather to be explained in terms of the power of a certain package uniting materialism with a moral outlook, the package we call “atheistic humanism” or exclusive humanism. (C. Taylor, A Secular Age, p. 569) It works off an ontological thesis of materialism: everything which is, is based on “matter”, without explaining why this is taken as true.

Read Alasdair McIntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality?

Myth #7. Faith & reason exist is separate incompatible arenas; reason deals in physical causes only, while faith deals with supernatural/spiritual/magical causes.

“Polanyi probably criticised Popper, as most philosophers of science reject falsificationism.  Duhem and Quine showed, for example, that theories only make predictions when combined with a framework of background assumptions.  So when a prediction is false, the problem could be with the framework, not the theory itself.  Kuhn showed that all theories, even the best ones, are inconsistent with some of the data.  Hempel showed that many scientific statements aren’t falsifiable.  Bayesians (who are now the dominant group) reject Popper’s fundamental claim that theories are never probably true.  Popper is much more popular among scientists than among philosophers of science. Also, while there is disagreement among Bayesians and others, present views don’t allow such a sharp separation between science and religion.  Kuhn for example says that the present “paradigm” isn’t open to rational scrutiny, but shielded from criticism, and paradigm shifts are only partially rational.  Bayesians say that science depends on subjective judgements of plausibility in addition to logic and data, etc.”

-Dr. Richard Johns, Philosophy of Science

 Myth #8. Faith is the irrational belief in the opposite direction of where scientific evidence leads us.

“Faith adds less a material content to geology, physics, mathematics, evolutionary science, economics, etc., than the form within which they can be properly understood so that they are never closed off from the mystery that makes all creaturely being possible.” ~ D. Stephen Long

“There is no such thing, at least among finite minds, as intelligence at large: no mind not constrained by its own special proficiencies and formation, no privilege vantage that allows any of us a comprehensive insight into the essence of all things, no expertise or wealth of experience that endows any of us with the wisdom or power to judge what we do not have the training or perhaps the temperament to understand. To imagine otherwise is a delusion…. This means that the sciences are, by their very nature, commendably fragmentary and, in regard to many real and important questions about existence, utterly inconsequential. Not only can they not provide knowledge of everything; they cannot provide complete knowledge of anything. They can yield only knowledge of certain aspects of things as seen from one very powerful but inflexibly constricted perspective. If they attempt to go beyond their methodological commissions, they cease to be sciences and immediately become fatuous occultisms.” ~David Bentley Hart

“The most pervasive error one encounters in contemporary arguments about belief in God–especially, but not exclusively, on the atheist side–is the habit of conceiving of God simply as some very large object or agency within the universe, or perhaps alongside the universe, a being among other beings, who differs from all other beings in magnitude, power, and duration, but not ontologically, and who is related to the world more or less as a craftsman is related to an artifact….. Beliefs regarding God  concern the source and ground and end of all reality, the unity and existence of every particular thing and the totality of all things, the ground of the possibility of anything at all.” ~David Bentley Hart

Myth #9. Faith is seated in the emotions or sentimentality; reason is a non-emotional, cool operation of the disinterested mind.

“The existence of consciousness is both one of the most familiar and one of the most astounding things about the world. No conception of the natural order that does not reveal it as something to be expected can aspire even to the outline of completeness. And if physical science, whatever it may have to say about the origin of life, leaves us necessarily in the dark about consciousness, that shows that it cannot provide the basic form of intelligibility for this world.” ~Thomas Nagel Philosopher

“God alone has necessity in and of himself. That is, if the word “God” has any meaning at all, it must refer to a reality that is not just metaphysically  indestructible but necessary in the fullest and most proper sense; it must refer to a reality that is logically necessary and that therefore provides the ultimate explanation of all other realities, without need of being explained in turn…. God is absolute being as such, apart from whom nothing else could exist, as either a possibility or an actuality…. It is God’s necessity, as the unconditional source of all things, that makes any world possible in the first place.” ~David Bentley Hart

Myth #10. Good reason requires a materialistic universe; materialism is a fact of deductive logic.

” There simply cannot be a natural explanation of existence as such; it is an absolute logical impossibility. The most a materialist account of existence can do is pretend that there is no real problem to be solved (though only a tragically inert mind could really dismiss the question of existence as uninteresting, unanswerable, or intelligible).” ~David Bentley Hart

“It would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense; it would be without meaning, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure” ~Albert Einstein

Leading Philosopher Alvin Plantinga argues that naturalism (which includes materialism) is in conflict with evolution, a main pillar of contemporary science. The argument centers on the status of our cognitive faculties: those faculties, or powers, or processes that produce beliefs or knowledge in us (e.g. perception, memory, a priori intuition, introspection, testimony, induction). His argument concerns the question of the reliability of  cognitive faculties (reliability of cognitive content) if we espouse naturalism and unguided evolution together. The probability is very low. Can we get to true belief, reliable knowledge by this path? Again it is an argument from coherence (or rather, in this case, incoherence). See Plantinga’s Where the Conflict Really Lies, Chapter 10.

“My aim is not so much to argue against reductionism as to investigate the consequences of rejecting it— to present the problem rather than to propose a solution. Materialist naturalism leads to reductionist ambitions because it seems unacceptable to deny the reality of all those familiar things that are not at first glance physical. But if no plausible reduction is available, and if denying reality to the mental continues to be unacceptable, that suggests that the original premise, materialist naturalism, is false, and not just around the edges.” ~Thomas Nagel, Philosopher

Therefore we need a critical assessment of current metaphysical, epistemological and anthropological assumptions in our day to find the liberation from the Nihilistic/Materialistic/Reductionistic world picture has taken us captive, the one that drives a wedge between faith and reason, religion and science. We propose that it is possible to think critically and wisely within a different framework or horizon, to offer new plausibility structure for robust and critical thought. We want to know all that is available for humans to know. We suggest that one can discover a richer understanding of reason when we open the discussion to the transcendent. We are adjured to be good stewards of both faith and reason by some of the greatest minds in the history of academia–Copernicus, Galileo, Tycho Brahe, Blaise Pascal, Peter Medawar, Michael Polanyi, Denis Alexander, Sir John Polkinghorne, Alvin Plantinga, Nicholas Wolterstorff.

See also post on science and naturalism:

Read: Faith and Rationality: Reason and Belief in God (eds. Alvin Plantinga & Nicholas Wolterstorff). Notre Dame Press.

James K.A. Smith, How(Not) to be Secular: reading Charles Taylor. (Eerdmans, 2014)

Posted by: gcarkner | September 19, 2014

Dawkins-Lennox Debate at UBC Sept. 22

The God Delusion Debate

Oxford Biology Professor Richard Dawkins


Oxford Mathematician/Philosopher Dr. John Lennox

at UBC

  • Monday, September 22 @ 4:00 p.m.
  • Woodward IRC Room 6

This is a film of a recent debate followed by a panel discussion with

Dr. Dennis Danielson English Department UBC, and Dr. David Helfand, President of Quest University

If you want to watch the entire film of the Dawkins-Lennox Debate go to YouTube:

Post-Event Commentary on Helfand-Danielson Dialogue

A. Dr. Bert Cameron, former Head of Nephrology UBC

I thought Dennis Danielson’s contribution was helpful

- rejection of the “non-overlapping magisterium” approach

- accepting God as an agent but more interest in what kind of God

- faith supported by scripture, history and experience

- pointing out that roots of science inspired by theological insight (I would add health care to that)

Professor Helfand’s presentation took me by surprise so I have had to think about it. He claims to be a complete sceptic. He begins with the premise that “there is absolutely no meaning to life whatsoever” therefore he claims not to be looking for meaning but only for understanding of mechanism. From this starting point he is convinced that the methods of science provide the best basis for understanding. Even here however, all findings are tentative, he claims to have “no faith” in any theory. “Subjective evidence is not a category” for him. Even the fact that the universe is explicable is just a “contingent hypothesis”. He would give little credence to any theory, including the “multiverse”, until there was some empirical evidence for it.

Thus, though Dawkins and Prof. Helfand both claim to be atheists, he isn’t particularly a Dawkins fan. In this, he is in company with a number of other non religious intellectuals such as Terry Eagleton, John Gray and Thomas Nagel. We really didn’t question Prof. Helfand on this, but he does not seem to be driven by the same moral imperative of Dawkins and some others such as Hitchins and Harris, that religion is so harmful it needs to be driven from the world.

He seemed rather to be expressing a personal perspective that might be summarized like this: “At this point in my life I have come to the conclusion that there is no overarching or ultimate meaning. I look at this fascinating and strangely  intelligible universe that I love to explore but I am not inclined to consider the possibility of a designer. I  find sufficient personal meaning in exploring and understanding the mechanisms of the cosmos which the physical and evolutionary sciences seem to be in the process of elucidating while recognizing that this understanding is based on a ‘contingent hypothesis’.”

It seems to me, that unless Prof. Helfand takes some moral conclusion from this, such as “others ought to think as I do” or “people who find meaning in the universe are deluded and doing harm”, there is little to discuss. Prof. Helfand’s statement that the universe is meaningless, reflects his subjective conclusion based on his personal experience and reasoning. As such, according to his own criteria, this opinion should not be given weight as scientific evidence.

Most of our understandings and decisions in life are based on data that would be considered  “subjective” since it is not empirically tested or testable. However, that does not mean that it is unreasonable to accept it.  As far as Christian faith is concerned, as Dennis quoted, Christians are called to “give a reason for the hope that is within them.”


David Helfand, a prestigious Columbia astronomer, placed his whole position behind Karl Popper and the falsification doctrine. He took the position of mechanism and claimed that meaning is in the realm of religion which he rejects. From is perspective life is meaningless. He held to a non-overlapping magisterium between science and religion. He didn’t totally agree with Dawkins on all points. Danielson does not see this sharp distinction between the realm of science and the realm of religion. He believes in both God and good science; religion and science are two ways of understanding one world as physicist Jon Polkinghorne might say.

B. Dr. Richard Johns, Philosophy of Science and Logic at Langara College writes: “Most philosophers of science reject falsificationism.  Duhem and Quine showed, for example, that theories only make predictions when combined with a framework of background assumptions.  So when a prediction is false, the problem could be with the framework, not the theory itself.  Kuhn showed that all theories, even the best ones, are inconsistent with some of the data.  Hempel showed that many scientific statements aren’t falsifiable.  Bayesians (who are now the dominant group) reject Popper’s fundamental claim that theories are never probably true.  Popper is much more popular among scientists than among philosophers of science.
Also, while there is disagreement among Bayesians and others, present views don’t allow such a sharp separation between science and religion.  Kuhn for example says that the present “paradigm” isn’t open to rational scrutiny, but shielded from criticism, and paradigm shifts are only partially rational.  Bayesians says that science depends on subjective judgements of plausibility in addition to logic and data, etc.”
See also Roy Clouser, The Myth of Religious Neutrality; An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories (rev. ed.; University of Notre Dame Press, 2005).
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Read More…

Posted by: gcarkner | September 17, 2014

The Main Thing in GCU

Escape from Nihilism: rediscovering our place in late modernity.

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This book is now ready for ‘field testing’ with students and faculty. Along with the biblical book of II Corinthians, it forms the backbone of our discussion this fall. This discussion will be mainly on Thursday evenings in our home, but we can talk about your issues over coffee or in your lab, even on the walkways of campus as we bump into each other. We hope you will find the material forms a good basis for dialogue with colleagues and give you perspective.

Is this study for you?  Do you want to develop a richer sense of identity and calling? Are you searching for a deeper and broader horizon of meaning? Are you hopeful that a community of friends can accelerate and give perspective to your academic work? Are you wanting to understand culture better and find some interpretive keys (insights) to how the world and society works? Are you keen to explore the fruitful possibilities of faith? Do you have some hope that a relationship with God might help you find yourself and help you deal with your hangups and frustrations, your relationships with others? Are you in search of joy and are you wanting to do more than just survive the work load of grad school? Do you want to learn how to set up creative dialogue with others?

The philosophical foundation of the book is in the work of Charles Taylor, our premier Canadian philosopher and an intellectual hero of ours. He won the Templeton Prize for his 2007 tome A Secular Age. a monumental analysis of how Western belief in God has shifted over the last 500 years. Calvin College philosopher James K.A. Smith has written a summary of A Secular Age in his 2014 book How (Not) to be Secular: reading Charles Taylor. This is a great introduction to Taylor’s genius in cultural and social analysis–helping us late moderns understand how we see ourselves and our world, learn why we struggle with our calling and identity. This will also help those of you who thought you were coming to a Christian country to study and found yourself studying neo-Marxism in Education Theory.

Escape from Nihilism is written to help graduate students like yourself to reckon with the Western intellectual environment into which you have either entered or grown up. Each of you should see the connections with the ethos in your department. Our discussion will be vital because of the questions you bring to the table. The trajectory of the book is to seek out hope and a more robust understanding of identity and what we mean by human flourishing; it involves a journey from Nihilism to Faith in a Trinitarian Goodness, a quest for transcendence, and a wager on agape love. Don’t worry about the language; we will explain terms and show their life importance; it has the non-philosophy student in mind. The book is written with a sense of urgency, but also with a strong sense of optimism about our potential for a richer experience of life, language and studies. It is all about exploring that something more in life at university. We hope some may even be inspired with some research ideas, find resources or direction for a topic. Who knows?

II Corinthians is a rich text expressing the Apostle Paul’s deep insight into the plan and purposes of God. It is a counter-cultural statement which gives us critical perspective on ancient culture and today’s late modern culture. Instead of will to power which was common among the ancient Greco-Roman world, the message is about agape love, mutual comfort and exploring personal transformation to become better humans.

We launch this project and the year with a call to adventure and discovery starting next Thursday, September 25 at 7:00 pm at a home 277 West 16th ave. (east of Cambie). See the map below. The study time is one hour. Tea and dessert at 7:00 pm and some casual debriefing afterward.

Always feel free to email Ute or myself for coffee or prayer. Ask me and I can send you a pdf version of the book (80 pages)


Gord Carkner PhD
GCU Staff Support Person
C: 778.840.3549

PDF of the Book: suggested donation $10 Escape from Nihilism

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Join GCU and its Networks for Adventures in Learning and Life 

Our Purpose is to help You Flourish in Grad School

“Welcome to grad school at UBC. This is an important transition for you as you move from youth to adulthood. Remember that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and for ever. He will accompany you through each of life’s seasons. Do not let the super-intellectual environment at UBC divert you from this abiding truth. I found a grad fellowship group essential to my spiritual life when I was doing my graduate degrees in the USA. I do recommend that you share the joys and challenges of grad school with Christian friends at UBC.”

~Dr. David Ley, Dept. of Geography UBC



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Corinthian Canal

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Old Road in Old Corinth

Posted by: gcarkner | August 30, 2014

GCU Welcome to UBC!

Big West Coast Canadian Welcome to New Postgraduate Students

Welcome to UBC! We look forward to meeting you. Please join us at our Fall Dinner Reception on September 18 at 6:00 p.m. in the Graduate Student Centre, Thea’s Lounge. Or we could meet for coffee at your convenience. GCU draws people from many countries and many disciplines to create a home away from home. A good support group is essential. It was delightful to meet so many wonderful people at the GSS Clubs Fair on Friday. We had some very interesting conversation amidst the excitement of a new adventure in education. Did you know that there are now 10,000 postgraduate students at UBC, virtually a university within a university? You have made a good choice to study here with great mentors and excellent libraries. It is one of the premier research institutions in Canada. Now it is your home for the next few years. Well done!

Within GCU, we are here to develop a strong network, new friendships and help you flourish as a grad student. We believe in both a robust Christian faith journey and a dedicated academic pursuit. We also love dialogue with people of different persuasions. This combination can be quite dynamic and inspiring. The questions from academic life can be brought to the Scriptures and the study of the Bible can inform our academic work in surprising and life-giving ways.

We work to develop a community of mutual support, where vision and ideas are shared and cherished. GCU wants to be a resource of good reading and support from faculty as well. On our Blog, we post articles from faculty, other students and Dr. Gordon Carkner to stimulate reflection and discussion, along with suggestions for further exploration. It can be a tremendous boon for your thinking and work. Because we are interdisciplinary, that creates a lively conversation as people bring their wealth of knowledge and experience of the world together. Overall, we work towards a better (more human) world and becoming better people (grow in the virtues) as a result of our time at UBC. Our previous university president, Stephen Toop, reminded us that graduate students are in preparation for global citizenship, which is both exciting and a deep personal challenge.

GCU September Events: We mentioned the Fall Reception at Thea’s Lounge, Grad Student Center on Thursday, September 18 at 6 pm. We have a Getaway Day planned for September 27 on nearby beautiful Bowen Island, Rivindell Retreat Center. That will include a hike and an intensive study of I Peter. Our first public forum in on September 22, at 4:00 p.m. in Woodward 6: a debate on the relationship between science and religion by Richard Dawkins and John Lennox, two prominent Oxford University professors. We begin a Thursday night Bible discussion in our home on September 25 on the book of II Corinthians. Of course, as people get to know each other and share interests, other fun things automatically emerge: brunches, bike rides, book studies, coffee discussions, and prayer. We think GCU can be a significant strategy for you while at UBC.

Let us know if you would like to join our listserv or create a fun activity:; or

We look forward to hearing about your research passion and the questions you are exploring. You know that you have so much to add to this dynamic environment and conversation.

Have a super start at UBC,

Gord & Ute Carkner

For Ute:

GCU Facilitating Staff



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Friends & Affiliates of Graduate Christian Union

Pascal Lectures, University of Waterloo

IVCF Grad & Faculty Ministries USA (Bob & Debbie Clark)

The Veritas Forum

International Fellowship of Evangelical Students

Graduate Christian Union Oxford, UK

SFU Christian Leadership Initiative

Regent College

 Trinity Western University & ACTS

 Faculty Ministry, Western Washington University (Paul Chen)

 UBC Graduate & Faculty Christian Forum

 Oxford Centre for Mission Studies

 Several UBC Faculty Members & Vancouver Pastors


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A Note from Faculty to Incoming Graduate Students

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A word of welcome and advice. This is my 46th year at UBC and I want to welcome you warmly to one of the top research universities in Canada. UBC is a highly competitive place and it takes some effort to make friends and to achieve a sense of belonging. The fact is that professors and graduate students alike are serious minded and dedicated people who often forget (and some have never known) that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Don’t be discouraged by the  secularism of the university community and its apparent lack of interest in people of faith.

Take the time to get to know your supervisor and recognize that a significant part of your future is in her (or his) hands. Whether he (or she) is a person of faith, they will have much to offer in terms of expertise and experience and the sooner you can develop a relationship of mutual trust the better. Seek out Christian friends and steward your time rigorously.

Your time as a graduate student is privileged, but oh so short, and you will need to be deliberate in planning your daily schedule.

May your time at UBC be rich in learning and rich in sharing. In this way, you will always look back on your time at UBC with gratitude.

Olav Slaymaker,

Professor Emeritus, Geography,


September 1. 2014.



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Posted by: gcarkner | August 24, 2014

Rethinking Our Search for Divine Evidence

Philosopher Dr. Paul K. Moser of Loyola University Rethinks Our Search for God

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Philosophy raises some really pertinent questions about the current approach to the debate on the evidence for God’s existence, that is, a God worth worshipping, a morally superior God. Dawkins et al want God to be a clown, to dance or juggle before atheistic scrutiny. They make a mockery of genuine spiritual  search and do great damage, not least to their own integrity. Here are some tough and insightful questions raised by Moser a bright philosopher in the Chicago area.

Are we willing to consider a morally demanding definition of God as part of our quest for the elusive divine?

What if God would be perfectly loving even in offering to humans any divine self-manifestation and corresponding evidence of divine reality?

How might one’s lacking evidence of divine reality then concern primarily one’s own moral character and attitudes before God rather than the actual availability of such evidence? We know from the history of science that a lack of openness, or the wrong approach or methodology can hamper the advancement of knowledge.

Recommended Reading: The Evidence for God: Religious Knowledge Reexamined by Paul K. Moser (Cambridge University Press, 2010)

Cognitive Barrier  Today’s cynic has trouble reading or registering this divine love language. Many late moderns have a problem believing in such a love, such spiritual fuel. Those proud and cynical skeptics want to treat evidence of agape love and evidence for God like a laboratory investigation. They cannot see the sign in the Advent, cannot discern the import of the storyline of the woman at the well. They cannot understand why scholars would travel the globe to investigate such signs, or why thousands would gather to partake of this bread, this pedagogy. There is no feeling of wonder at the Advent miracle, no wonder at the carpenter’s compassion for the marginalized. Handicapped by moral blockage, or blinded by science, our cynic cannot receive divine love prima facie. Read More…

Posted by: gcarkner | August 22, 2014

Captions of Europe in the Summer of 2014


Eiffel Tower B:W


Arc de Triomphe


Versailles Gardens

Chapel at Versailles

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The Louvre, Paris

Notre Dame Paris2 Paris

View from a Mountain in Bavaria

Strasbourg Munster


Vineyards near Constance

View in Heidelburg

Castle in Meersburg

Posted by: gcarkner | August 22, 2014

Mind Expanding Quotes on a Fine-Tuned Universe & Biosphere

Scholarly Reflections on the Fine-Tuned Universe & Biosphere

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Dr William Lane Craig’s talk at UBC on March 6, 2013:

Noted Physicist Paul Davies asserts: “There is now broad agreement among physicists and cosmologists that the Universe is in several respects ‘fine-tuned’ for life.”  Astronomer and mathematician Sir Fred Hoyle at Cambridge University was in complete astonishment when he discovered the resonance in the carbon atom, a basic building block of the biological life, and also discovered that carbon along with other heavy elements were made in the nuclear furnace of stars.

Barrow, John and Tipler, Frank. The Anthropic Cosmological Principle. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986. Classic book dealing with almost all aspects of the Anthropic Principle, with extensive calculations regarding fine-tuning.

Carr, B. J., and Rees, M. J. (April, 1979). “The Anthropic Cosmological Principle and the Structure of the Physical World.” Nature, Vol. 278, 12 April 1979, pp. 605 -612. This is the first major article extensively discussing the way in which the constants of nature are set just right for life to occur.

Paul Davies (Physicist and Philosopher, Professor at Arizona State University): “Scientists are slowly waking up to an inconvenient truth – the universe looks suspiciously like a fix. The issue concerns the very laws of nature themselves. For 40 years, physicists and cosmologists have been quietly collecting examples of all too convenient “coincidences” and special features in the underlying laws of the universe that seem to be necessary in order for life, and hence conscious beings, to exist. Change any one of them and the consequences would be lethal. The crucial point is that some of those metaphorical knobs (of which there are 40) must be tuned very precisely, or the universe would be sterile. Example: neutrons are just a tad heavier than protons. If it were the other way around, atoms couldn’t exist, because all the protons in the universe would have decayed into neutrons shortly after the big bang. No protons, then no atomic nucleus and no atoms. No atoms, no chemistry, no life.”

Amazing Facts  200 billion stars in our Milky Way home galaxy alone; 100 billion galaxies; 13.8 billion years of cosmic history. Cosmology fuels the bigger questions.

Read More…

Posted by: gcarkner | July 28, 2014

Emerging Adults

Christian Smith Sociologist Notre Dame University: Souls in Transition

Current generation heavily influenced by a new religion which he labels Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Christian Smith exposed the sub-cultural ethos of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD) which he considers a new religion in America (exploitive of Christianity and Judaism). This outlook rules the minds and hearts of teens and young people 18-23 in huge numbers. This online article below is quite revealing and offers a serious concern for church and campus workers alike.

Something heretical lies at the level of deep structure in people’s thinking. It contains a defeater belief for orthodox Christian faith as we preach. Some think that it could be part of the explanation for the exodus (see the EFC report Hemorrhaging Faith pdf) of many teens (3/5) from the church after age fifteen. This is something to ponder and discuss: adolescents may have bought into a different religion ( a therapeutic mythology) while sitting in our pews and Christian education classes! Here’s a link. Christian Smith is a reputable scholar and expert on teen and young adult culture in North America, so he is worth attending to.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

  1.  A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2.  God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3.  The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.

4.  God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to   resolve a problem.

5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

MTD is a revisionist faith, which colonizes established religious traditions like Christianity; it is parasitic on orthodoxy. It offers a divinely underwritten personal happiness and interpersonal niceness. Smith writes, “We have come with some confidence to believe that a significant part of “Christiainty” in the United States is actually only tenuously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition, but has rather substantially morphed into Christianity’s misbegotten cousin Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” I’m going to look into it in more detail.

General American 18-23 Values from Souls in Transiition 

  • soft ontological antirealists
  • epistemological skeptics
  • perspectivalists (various ways to see this; mine is only one)
  • in subjective isolation (my path)
  • constructivists
  • moral intuitionists (feel about a situation or decision)
Posted by: gcarkner | July 25, 2014

Dawkins-Lennox Debate September 22

Dialogue for the Curious Cranium

Think Again!

Oxford Biology Professor Richard Dawkins


Oxford Mathematician/Philosopher Dr. John Lennox

at UBC

  • Monday, September 22 @ 4:00 p.m.
  • Woodward IRC Room 6

This is a film of a recent debate followed by a panel discussion with

Dr. Dennis Danielson English Department UBC, and Dr. David Helfand, President of Quest University

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Some Quotes from Famous Scientists to Spark the Discussion Prior to the Debate

“Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence… Faith is belief in spite of, even because of, the lack of evidence…Faith is not allowed to justify itself by argument…  Faith being belief that isn’t based on evidence is the principal vice of any religion”

~Richard Dawkins

“There is something infantile in the presumption that somebody else has a responsibility to give your life meaning and point… The truly adult view, by contrast, is that our life is as meaningful, as full and as wonderful as we choose to make it.”
― Richard DawkinsThe God Delusion

“Do you really mean to tell me the only reason you try to be good is to gain God’s approval and reward, or to avoid his disapproval and punishment? That’s not morality, that’s just sucking up, apple-polishing, looking over your shoulder at the great surveillance camera in the sky, or the still small wiretap inside your head, monitoring your every move, even your every base though.”
― Richard DawkinsThe God Delusion

“The only watchmaker is the blind forces of physics.”
― Richard DawkinsThe God Delusion

“Indeed, organizing atheists has been compared to herding cats, because they tend to think independently and will not conform to authority.”
― Richard DawkinsThe God Delusion

A Blogger’s Summary of Lennox’s Arguments about the nature of science and reality in God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? which responds to Dawkins.

“The existence of consciousness is both one of the most familiar and one of the most astounding things about the world. No conception of the natural order that does not reveal it as something to be expected can aspire even to the outline of completeness. And if physical science, whatever it may have to say about the origin of life, leaves us necessarily in the dark about consciousness, that shows that it cannot provide the basic form of intelligibility for this world.” 

Thomas Nagel Philosopher in Mind and Cosmos

“The common belief that . . . the actual relations between religion and science over the last few centuries have been marked by deep and enduring hostility is not only historically inaccurate but actually a caricature so grotesque that what needs to be explained is how it could possibly have achieved any degree of respectability. “ ~Colin Russell, Historian of Science

“Note that I am not postulating a ‘God of the gaps’, a god merely to explain the things that science has not yet explained. I am postulating a God to explain why science explains; I do not deny that science explains, but I postulate God to explain why science explains.  The very success of science in showing us how deeply ordered the natural world is provides strong grounds for believing that there is an even deeper cause for that order”.

~Oxford Philosopher Richard Swinburne

[The issue here is that, because God is not an alternative to science as an explanation, he is not a God of the gaps.  On the contrary, he is the ground of all explanation: it is his existence which gives rise to the very possibility of explanation, scientific or otherwise.]

 “Because there is a law of gravity, the universe can and will generate itself from nothing”.~Stephen Hawking and Mlodinow in “The Grand Design”.

Arno Penzias (Nobel prize-winning discoverer of the cosmic background microwave radiation): “Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing, one with the very delicate balance needed to provide exactly the right conditions required to permit life, and one which has an underlying (one might say “supernatural”) plan” (Cosmos, Bios and Theos, Margenau and Varghese eds., Open Court, La Salle III,1992 p.83).

“You, your joys and sorrows, your memories and ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules”. ~Francis Crick

“There is not the slightest shred of scientific evidence that life is anything other than a stupendously improbable accident.  It’s often said that life is written into the laws of physics; well, it’s not – any more than houses or television sets are.  It is consistent with those laws, but they alone will not explain how it came to exist….For a hundred years the debate has been dominated by chemists, who think it’s like baking a cake: if you know the recipe, you can just mix the ingredients, simmer for a million years, add a pinch of salt, and life emerges.  I don’t think that is ever going to be the explanation, because life is not about stuff, about magic matter; it’s about a very special type of information processing system.  And the whole subjects of information theory and complexity theory are very much in their infancy… A law of nature of the sort we know and love will not create biological information, or indeed any information at all.  Ordinary laws just transmit input data into output data.  They can shuffle information about but they cannot create it … I have come to the conclusion that no familiar law of nature could produce such a structure from incoherent chemicals with the inevitability that some scientists assert” (Paul Davies, op cit, p.20).

“A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.  The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion beyond question” ~Cambridge astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle, The Universe: past and present reflections (regarding the resonances in energy levels in H, Be and C).

Sir John Polkinghorne, for instance, himself an eminent quantum theorist, rejects the many-universe interpretation.  “Let us recognise these speculations for what they are.  They are not physics, but in the strictest sense, metaphysics.  There is no purely scientific reason to believe in an ensemble of universes.  By construction these other worlds are unknowable by us.  A possible explanation of equal intellectual respectability – and to my mind greater economy and elegance – would be that this one world is the way it is, because it is the creation of the will of a Creator who purposes that it should be so” (One World, SPCK, London, 1986 p. 80).

“Natural selection, the blind, unconscious, automatic process which Darwin discovered …is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life, has no purpose in mind… is the Blind Watchmaker” (Richard Dawkins).

The tendency towards a pure reason or pure faith are really impossible to actualize; there  are no pure domains of reason and faith. They are intertwined. One cannot get rationalism without the other extreme of fideism; both are forced categories; rationalism needs faith to be fideism for its very survival. Nietzsche claimed that there are only interpretations; positivists claim that there are only facts. What should we believe whatever our starting point or prejudgments? It is perhaps a life-long quest to understand the nuances of this relationship. Marquette intellectual D. Stephen Long helps our quest offering fresh insight and much to ponder in his profound bookSpeaking of God:  theology, language and truth. Stephen was a past guest speaker at UBC in the GFCF series.

~Gord Carkner

See also posts within this blog on A Fine-Tuned Universe? and on Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies, Markers of Scientism  David Bentley Hart comments on naturalism as an explanatory regime.

Key Insights from a Course by John Lennox Summer of 2014

  • DNA is a language, a semitic code. It involves billions of bits of information (3.5 billion base pairs).
  • Scientists are beginning to accept that there is a ‘singularity’ at the origin of life–they are giving up on a scientific transition from inanimate matter  to biological life. The attempt to see how a chemical soup  can emerge into life has failed. Emergence is not the answer. Evolution must start with biological life.
  • Many top biologists (e.g. James Shapiro, William Provine, Robert Reid, Lima de Faria, Eric Davidson) are having doubts or second thoughts about the mechanism of natural selection. They are joined by atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel (Mind & Cosmos).
  • Insight about Information in a System: information must be inputted; a biological system doesn’t create info; information is not physical or material. Structures that bear information cannot arrive by emergence.


 Our Two Distinguished Panelists

Professor David J. Helfand, President and Vice-Chancellor, Quest University Canada; President, American Astronomical Society, Professor of Astronomy, Columbia University (on leave). He has spent 35 years as Professor of Astronomy at Columbia University, where he served as Department Chair and Co-Director of the Astrophysics Laboratory for more than half that time. He is the author of nearly 200 scientific publications on many areas of modern astrophysics including radio, optical and X-ray observations of celestial sources from nearby stars to the most distant quasars. He is engaged in a research project designed to provide a complete picture of the birth and death of stars in the Milky Way.

But most of all, David is an inspirational teacher, who received the 2001 Columbia Presidential Teaching Award and the 2002 Great Teacher Award from the Society of Columbia Graduates. He has a deep concern about the state of the modern research university which he sees as dysfunctional, in part because of the impossibly large number of functions which the research university is expected to fulfill in 21st. century North America and in part because of the low priority given to teaching excellence. Because of these concerns, he has taken the radical step of pioneering a university dedicated to innovative teaching. David believes that he is a better cook than he is an astronomer and, ambiguously, colleagues who have sampled his gastronomic delights agree. We welcome him as a major public intellectual and a personal friend of many of us.


Dennis Danielson professor of English at the University of British Columbia, is a literary and intellectual historian who has made contributions to Milton studies and to the early modern history of cosmology, examining scientific developments in their historical, philosophical, and literary contexts. His books include Milton’s Good God: A Study in Literary Theodicy (1982) and the Cambridge Companion to Milton (1989, 1999), both published by Cambridge University Press. His subsequent work in the history of astronomy, especially The Book of the Cosmos: Imagining the Universe from Heraclitus to Hawking and The First Copernican: Georg Joachim Rheticus and the Rise of the Copernican Revolution, has engaged both humanities scholars and scientists in dialogue about the historical and cultural as well as cosmological meaning of Copernicus’s legacy. Danielson was the 2011 recipient of the Konrad Adenauer Research Prize from Germany’s Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. His new book Paradise Lost and the Cosmological Revolution is in press and scheduled for publication by Cambridge University Press in 2014.

Further Reading on Science & Religion

Polkinghorne, Sir John, One World: The Interaction of Science & Theology. Princeton. (physicist/theologian—leading light on Science & Religion)

Polkinghorne, Sir John, Exploring Reality: The Intertwining of ScienceReligion, Science and Providence.

McGrath, Alister. A Fine-Tuned Universe: the quest for God in Science and Theology. (Gifford Lectures)

Hutchinson, Ian. Monopolizing Knowledge.

Craig & Meister (eds.). God is Great; God is Good.

Gingerich, Owen, God’s Universe.

Collins, Francis, The Language of God. Free Press.

Pascal, Blaise.  Pensees.  Trans. A. J. Krailsheimer.  Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1966.

Capell & Cook eds., Not Just Science: Questions Where Christian Faith and Natural Science Intersect. Zondervan

Jaki, Stanley, The Road to Science and the Ways to God. Chicago (Gifford Lectures on history of science)

Russell, Colin, Crosscurrents: Interactions Between Science & Faith. Eerdmans

Danielson, Dennis (ed.), The Book of the Cosmos. Perceus.

Plantinga, Alvin, Where the Conflict Really Lies: science, religion and naturalism. (a critique of the new atheist and the hegemony of Philosophical Naturalism)

King's College Cambridge

King’s College Cambridge

Lewis, C.S., Miracles. Macmillan (a classic)

Waltke, Bruce, “Gift of the Cosmos” (article on Genesis 1:1-2:4) Chapter 8 in   An Old Testament Theology, Zondervan, 2007.

Alexander, Denis, Rebuilding the Matrix: Science & Faith in the 21st Century. Zondervan (director of Faraday Institute in Cambridge, UK)

Burke, ed., Creation & Evolution: 7 Prominent Christians Debate. IVP UK.

Livingstone, D. N., Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders: The Encounter BetweenEvangelical Theology and Evolutionary Thought.

Owens, V.S., Godspy: Faith, Perception, and the New Physics.

Gingerich, Owen, “Let There Be Light” article on natural theology by America’s top Christian physicist at Harvard’s Smithsonian Institute.

Theology of Creation

Alexander, Denis, Evolution or Creation?: Must we Choose?

Capon, R. F.,  “The Third Peacock” in The Romance of the Word. Eerdmans

Gunton, C., The Triune Creator: a historical and systematic study. Eerdmans (English theologian)

Walsh & Middleton, The Transforming Vision. IVP (on Christian worldview)

Bouma-Prediger, S., For the Beauty of the Earth: a Christian vision of creation care. Baker Academic, 2010.

Nagel, Thomas, Mind and Cosmos.

Limits of Science

Medawar, P., The Limits of Science.

Schumacher, E.F. A Guide for the Perplexed. Abacus. (brilliant challenge to ontological reductionism)

Carkner, Gordon, Unpublished paper: “Scientism and the Search for an Integrated Reality” (several posts from this on the Blog)

McGrath, A. & J., The Dawkins Delusion? IVP 2007.

Lennox, John. God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? Lion Books, 2011.

Jeeves & Berry,  Science, Life, and Christian Belief. Apollos Books.

Ward, Keith, Pascal’s Fire:  Scientific Faith and Religious Understanding.

Harper, Charles Jr. ed., Spiritual Information: 100 Perspectives on Science and Religion. Templeton Foundation Press.

Spencer, N. & White, R. Christianity, Climate Change, and Sustainable Living.  SPCK, 2007.

See also DVD Series called Test of Faith from Faraday Institute in Cambridge, UK

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