Posted by: gcarkner | July 14, 2014

Negotiating Postmodern Thought @ UBC

Why is postmodernism a good thing for Christian graduate students? Cornel West writes that “truth-claims about descriptions in science and religion are contextual, and for Christians, ‘Truth-talk’ precludes disinterest, detachment, and distance because Jesus Christ is the Truth, the Truth which cannot be theoretically reified into a property of an abstract description, but only existentially appropriated by concrete human beings in need.” Rather than having to shoehorn Christianity into our academic work in a way that presents some parochial Christian idea as The Right Way to Think About X, we have the freedom to approach our work joyfully as an outgrowth of our position as followers of Christ.

The applied linguist Suresh Canagarajah notes that postmodernism or post-positivism in the social sciences is hospitable to those with strong political or religious commitments because it unsettles the “old platform” of scientific inquiry, calling into question constructs of rationalism, objectivity, empiricism, disinterested knowledge, and so on. On the other hand, Canagarajah also writes: “postmodernism has only limited uses for me as a philosophical paradigm. I am prepared to abandon postmodernist discourses when my spiritual walk reveals richer orientations that illuminate faith and life better.” Read More…

Posted by: gcarkner | July 8, 2014

After Nihilism: Towards an Incarnational Outlook

Go Past Nihilism and Find a Better Orbit

As we move beyond nihilism, we long to see culture reformed, heritage maintained, lives made whole, identities brimming with meaning. From one perspective, we want our full humanity back; we want the big picture on who we are, where we are and what our potential is. What is the discourse that can locate this renewal? Is it to be found in the language of incarnational humanism, an ancient tradition with many modern scholarly advocates? Language is an important means of God’s prophetic engagement with humans, the infinite in communion with the finite, all the while expanding the horizons of the finite. There is a profound significance about the Creator in dialogue with his creature, with his creation. We see this communication writ large in the incarnation; it is astoundingly important and yet often neglected today. How else can we engage agape love and the goodness of the divine in the fullest sense? It is a great gift (a bridge) to us humans which is meant to draw us upwards into a new dimension of life, a new caliber of thinking, finding a new centre to orbit around.

D. Stephen Long does an excellent effort of showing this complexity and nuances of this outlook in his important book God Speaking.

The certainties which the church has received as a gift require its participation in humanity’s “commom 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. (D. S. Long, God Speaking, p. 87)

Hermeneutic philosopher Anthony Thiselton says that the mystery of the incarnation is too profound for human discovery alone; it requires transcendent revelation and interpretation. Read More…

Posted by: gcarkner | July 2, 2014

Words to the Curious: Gord’s Summer Reads

Words to  the Curious: Summer Reading Possibilities for Cranial Inspiration

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Who doesn’t want to read a stack of good books this summer? I’ve tried to offered a variety: spanning devotional to world affairs with some supercharged theology in the mix: excellent scholarship, the prophetic voice and people who brave the spiritual journey towards intimacy with the divine. Nihilism does not have the last word.

 

~Gord Carkner

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Posted by: gcarkner | June 17, 2014

Large Three Country Science & Faith Gathering

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You are personally invited to join Jeff Schloss and BioLogos at this year’s

ASA/CSCA/CiS Annual Meeting 
From Cosmos to Psyche

July 25-28, 2014

McMaster University
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

Connect, debate, engage, and learn at the joint annual meeting of the American Scientific Affiliation, the Canadian Scientific and Christian Association, and Christians in Science (UK).

As Christians in the sciences, we study nature not only to satisfy our deep curiosity to understand the world, but also to glorify and worship our God who created it.

Meeting Highlights:

  • Plenary lecture by BioLogos Senior Scholar Jeff Schloss on Monday, July 28 on “Evolution, Moral Cognition, and the Question of Human Exceptionalism”
  • Four more plenary lectures from leaders in bioethics, cosmology, and neurology
  • Genesis workshop with John Walton
  • Deborah Haarsma and Jim Stump presenting “What Americans Think and Feel about Evolution”
  • Nearly 90 more talks in 4 parallel sessions
  • Field trips to Niagara, the Royal Botanical Gardens, and the McMaster Nuclear Research Reactor and Origins Institute
  • Exhibition Hall with BioLogos booth
  • Face-to-face engagement with scientists and scholars from around the world

Act now to take advantage of early registration by going to the ASA event page. Clickhere for more information about the schedule, speakers, field trips, and registration details. “From Cosmos to Psyche” is highlighted in Randy Isaac’s June 11 post on the BioLogos Forum–read it here.

For a list of other events, please visit our events calendar.

Posted by: gcarkner | June 7, 2014

Religious Discernment 101

It doesn’t matter what you believe; all religions are basically the same?

This is certainly a common sentiment, promoting tolerance and respect for difference. This is often the discussion in the clever TV show Little Mosque on the Prairie. One also notices such an exploratory sentiment in the movie Life of Pi. The trouble is, it’s a naive statement that lacks gravity and plausibility. It trivializes some of the most important discussions of our time. What a person believes about the ultimate meaning of life matters infinitely, especially to them. It also trivializes the Big Life Questions of purpose and meaning. Believers at least recognize the differences and their significance for how life is lived. They often risk torture and death for their beliefs, especially if they refuse to bow to an oppressive political regime which may not favour their religion. They quite literally stake their lives on these beliefs; that’s not trivial at all.

But are these believers mistaken? Does it really not make any difference what you believe? Are all religions at bottom the same? Is John Hick and other religious relativists correct after all, i.e. that plurality of cultures and religions within our globalized world means that pluralism (the ideology) is true? Has our late modern world trivialized truth too much for us to discern these issues?

Undoubtedly, there is much common ground between religions. Many accept a Creator and have some story of origins, plus a notable figurehead, a great or wise person with unusual insight, someone who can gather a significant following. All have a sense of good and evil, and a quest for peace.They want to solve an existential human problem.  There is often a search for enlightenment or truth about oneself and the world–the meaning question. They try to answer why we suffer at some level. Most foster worship and teach an ethic for living well, being responsible for one’s family and respecting one’s neighbour’s interests, concern for the poor. There are indeed many similarities; few would question that claim. There is also much that is good in most religions [We say this while knowing that there exists also bad religion which deceives, exploits and oppresses the individual, steals her freedom or livelihood, splits up families, takes advantage of the naive].

But the similarities are by no means complete. In fact, the differences are quite staggering upon further investigation. Take conceptions of the divine, for example. While Buddhism prefers the emptiness of Nirvana to any positive or definite idea of God, tribal religions are polytheistic, believing in many gods, like the ancient Greeks and Romans. And in between, we have everything from the impersonal Brahman of Hinduism to the intimate personal Lord of Christianity. And of course we have the fundamentalist Neo-Atheists (Dawkins, Dennet, Harris et al) who claim that God and religion is irrelevant and probably even harmful, a promoter of violence; science is all we need and all we can trust. There are also different analyses of what is lacking in the world (the brokenness within the human condition) and how this can be redeemed, repaired, or addressed effectively. There is a common quest, but different solutions, to fix us humans, a sense that we still have a long way to go, both in our character and identity development.

A further example is the Christian idea of the incarnation. That God bent on revealing himself to us entered history as a human being is a claim unique to the Christian faith, but it is absolutely essential to the integrity of that faith. Other religions might claim temporary manifestations of deity as an avatar or angel from time to time. Christianity alone rests on the assumption that God literally became man for our human identification, affirmation of the human journey, and salvation from self-harm or harm by others. If supernatural aid for our current problems is available, that is significant indeed; it ought to capture our attention and stimulate our imagination.

Are these beliefs all the same? One could hardly say that. They are at variance with each other: they are even contradictory on many points. They might conceivably all be wrong, but we fear that they cannot all be right on all points. The common thing is the spiritual quest for all humans. But here is the basis for dialogue: to understand and appreciate each other on campus. We are here at university from all round the world and from a grand diversity of religious atheist ideology backgrounds; we ought not settle for stereotypes but ask our friends what they actually believe and why. Learn from and respect your laboratory and research neighbour. Listen hard to what motivates and empowers them ideologically, religiously. Perhaps even take a comparative religions course.

We conclude that it does matter very much what you believe. Otherwise, let’s face it, we are shallow and anti-intellectual, unwilling to learn from someone different from ourself . All religions make strong exclusive claims; if one drills below the surface, each one believes they have the truth on many matters and the purpose of our existence. We need to examine these claims to determine which are true, which are most plausible. This can be a fun and enlightening exercise, stimulating you to understand your belief better and more critically. Considering that the majority of our world’s population espouses some faith, this is not trivial at all. Let’s keep the conversation going!

~Gord Carkner, PhD Philosophical Theology

Reference: Eerdmans Handbook on the World’s Religions; JND Anderson, The World’s Religions. See also the post called Dialogue on Worldviews, and the series on Moral Relativism. David Bentley Hart has some brilliant quotes on the natural and supernatural as well.

The religious relativist, while claiming to take every religion seriously, does not take any religion seriously. He does not appreciate what is at stake in religious disagreements.                                                                                                                                                                                          –Dr. Jay Newman,  Philosopher University of Waterloo

Posted by: gcarkner | May 22, 2014

We Want Our Humanity Back

Recovering Our Humanity Involves a Courageous Moral Stance and Content

There are many forces in the world today that would seek to steal our humanity, our innocence, our dignity and self-respect, our higher calling in life, our good reason, our good faith, our deeper sense of purpose. There are forces that seek to dismiss our connection with a moral robustness and a transcendent horizon of meaning, seek to dumb us down. We are tempted to sell out to the cheaper definitions of the human experience, to live a trivial existence of narcissism and radical self-interest–the prideful consumer. At the end of the day, these cheap versions are lies and smokescreens, keeping us form deeper insights and wisdom of the ages. They set us up for a spectacular fall. People should not settle for cheap versions of humanity; they should expect and demand a full and whole humanity and pursue a thick self. Don’t miss the profound quotes at the bottom of the article, especially those from Abraham Heschel.

But who would deny that humans have ethical capacity and are skilled at apprehending the good and the true? There is often disagreement about ethical foundations but not this fundamental capacity to make ethical choices and reflect as ethical beings. From a materialist perspective it may seem enigmatic, but nevertheless a real phenomenon as noted by Charles Taylor in Sources of the Self. This is quite amazing for any animal. Without this critical ability, one could not expect good science or good relations among scientists, let alone justice and fairness of opportunity within an academic institution, a courtroom or a society. Science would be bankrupt without a tremendous amount of trust, critical thinking and peer review accountability. This is all about ethics and normative expectations; truth and goodness are both operative.

Nor is this moral capacity simply a mere product of evolution, although biologists such as Jeffrey Schloss at Westmont College are working on the evolution of altruism. The moral dimension of our humanity cannot be properly reduced to a survival issue or self-propagation. All humans by choice and desire participate in a quest for truth and struggle with their grasp of the ethical (except for psychopaths or sociopaths), the just, and the fair. Both truth and love are together needed for genuine knowledge according to the late Wittgenstein. [1]

In my PhD work, I was delighted to discover the deep genius of philosopher of the self Charles Taylor at McGill University. According to Taylor’s important tome Sources of the Self, [2] people are deeply embedded as moral creatures and universally have some relationship to the good; they cannot escape their moral capacity, behaviour or moral desires. They cannot escape being moral interpreters and interlocutors. I wrestled much with his position on the moral subject in my critique of Michel Foucault’s concept of moral self-constitution, which was rooted in radical freedom. Taylor, Canada’s premier philosopher, has many important things to offer to this philosophical anthropology conversation. You can read more about the parameters of his position in the GCU blog posts  entitled ‘Quality of the Will’. Read More…

Posted by: gcarkner | May 7, 2014

Paul Ricoeur: Une Grande Pensée

 

Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 7.26.13 PMPaul Ricœur (1913–2005) was a French scholar widely recognized as one of the most distinguished philosophers of the twentieth century. In the course of his long career he wrote on a broad range of issues. He is best known for combining phenomenological description with hermeneutics. As such, his thought is within the same tradition as other major hermeneutic phenomenologists, Martin Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer. In 2000, he was awarded the Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy for having revolutionized the methods of hermeneutic phenomenology, expanding the study of textual interpretation to include the broad yet concrete domains of mythology, biblical exegesis, psychoanalysis, theory of metaphor, and narrative theory.

The major theme that unites his writings is that of a philosophical anthropology. This anthropology, which Ricoeur came to call an anthropology of the “capable human being,” aims to give an account of the fundamental capabilities and vulnerabilities that human beings display in the activities that make up their lives. Though the accent is always on the possibility of understanding the self as an agent responsible for its actions, Ricoeur consistently rejects any claim that the self is immediately transparent to itself or fully master of itself. Self-knowledge only comes through our relation to the world and our life with and among others in that world.

In the course of developing his anthropology, Ricoeur made a major methodological shift. His writings prior to 1960 were in the tradition of existential phenomenology. But during the 1960s Ricoeur concluded that properly to study human reality he had to combine phenomenological description with hermeneutic interpretation. For this hermeneutic phenomenology, whatever is intelligible is accessible to us in and through language and all deployments of language call for interpretation. Accordingly, there is no self-understanding that is not mediated by signs, symbols, and texts; in the final analysis self-understanding coincides with the interpretation given to these mediating terms. This hermeneutic or linguistic turn did not require him to disavow the basic results of his earlier investigations. It did, however, lead him not only to revisit them but also to see more clearly their implications. Read More…

Posted by: gcarkner | May 4, 2014

Problem of Moral Relativism … 3

Alternatives to Relativism

Nietzsche saw very clearly that if there was an end to God and traditional values, then the strong could impose their values on the masses. Domination would be widespread. Thus came his model of the ubermensch (superman) and the ethics of will-to-power.  There is a natural progression from relativism to will-to-power ethics (with the view that a human is just another thing in the world). This goes back to the ancient philosopher Democritus. William Golding’s book Lord of the Flies, which many of us studied in secondary school, is a graphic heart-wrenching picture of unrestrained evil, where might makes right and bullying is the social ethos. A group of boys marooned on a remote island make their own society, and the results are shocking. The twentieth century has trembled at the great atrocities and abuse of power by those who are without any fear of a transcendent being or any sense of obligation to a code of conduct or set of norms. They operate without accountability and promote the degeneration of Western culture. If might makes right, we become little better than cerebral apes. And the strongest ape with the best technology rules the jungle.

Relativism in the twentieth century has led us into some very dangerous political experiments; billions have been spent on war-making; human rights have been violated in terrible ways; imperialism ran rampant; hundreds of millions have perished. It has been called the bloodiest century in history. Perhaps we have seen the proof  of William Penn’s claim: “Nations must be governed by God or they will be ruled by tyrants.” British journalist Paul Johnson (A History of the Modern World: from 1917 to the 1990s) graphically illustrates the way in which the ethic of will-to-power has flourished in the soil of relativism during the twentieth century. In fact, we may well ask, Do we have one example in history of benevolent leadership without the restraint of traditional morality and the rule of law, i.e. a context where the governing authorities have absolute power whether tzar or proletariat leader? How indeed is Russia operating these days?

Without a moral plumb line, societies seem headed for personal nihilism and/or political tyranny. This dilemma was admitted by an atheist blogger: RationalSkepticism.org The ultimate end point is despair and ugly oppression, propaganda and control from the top. A subjectivist ethic is no ethic at all; it offers no hope for society or for psychologically healthy relationships. It consists in the blind leading the blind. Relativism seems to lead us into some frightening conclusions both intellectually and experientially. We must ask whether there is not another paradigm that can be more intellectually sound, sane and just. Despite its popularity for the naive, relativism is both inconsistent and dangerous. Read More…

Posted by: gcarkner | April 24, 2014

Who Stole Our Humanity?…5

Restorative Moves to Recover Our Humanity and Dignity

Further on the quest to retrieve our deeper humanitas, we move beyond scientism’s caricature of human existence, towards a whole and healthy picture of persons. We want to recover our lost heritage as Christian humanists (David Lyle Jeffrey, Andy Crouch, Culture Making; Jens Zimmermann, Incarnational Humanism; Erasmus). What are we to make of homo sapiens sapiens? Under scientism, influential thinkers like Nietzsche and Skinner have charted a cultural course beyond good and evil, while also relieving us of our freedom and dignity. It is indeed a surprisingly unpleasant road to nihilism. Reductionistic anthropologies have led to much political oppression and abuse as seen under Pinochet, Pol Pot, Mao, Stalin, Mugabe and Hitler in the twentieth century, where the government became the pirate of the people. They live an atheism rich with a will to power and without human rights. Scientific materialism has morphed into political-economic exploitation, with massive human suffering and extensive violence and loss. We must protest this impoverished and exploitive view of persons and seek an alternative, one that is urgent in our age of global terrorism, economic challenges, shrinking resources and political flash points (see Al Gore, The Future: six drivers of global change. 2013).

Humans must be distinguished from nature. Certainly, a person is continuous with nature biologically; this is one of the reasons that human biology has been so successful. But we should not settle for views of our identity reduced to our biological origins or biological infrastructure; humans are not only a part of nature, they definitely stand apart from nature in significant ways. They are much more complex and sophisticated than animals or machines despite the similarities. We can do serious damage when we do not recognize these distinctions. Much that is deeply true about us transcends our biology, chemistry and physics. Humans are an order of magnitude different from animals in many capacities: e.g. human altruism goes far beyond genetic altruism. Consider Oscar Shindler, says Francis Collins head the National Institute of Health brain mapping program, who took incredible risks to save those who were not of his tribe or DNA. Read More…

Posted by: gcarkner | April 21, 2014

Personal Mission Statement: the Power of Focus

Mission Statement: the Power of Focus

 

One Fall Retreat a couple years ago, GCU folks began with listening to a profound talk by Dr. Gordon Smith, a theologian on the concept of Christian Pilgrims. Perhaps you can listen to this CD at some point.  You could find it in the Regent Bookstore or Library. Gordon’s main point is that there is a vast difference between a tourist and a pilgrim. Tourists make demands and complain a lot about the service, expressing an attitude of entitlement. Pilgrims give thanks as they journey, humbly seeking out the gems of a situation. This attitude of gratefulness is rooted in a strong belief in, and appreciation for, the goodness of God in each situation. A pilgrim sees the importance of making it a faith statement, a weekly affirmation that: “God is Good and Gives Good Gifts”. Indeed God is the highest and purest form of goodness, the standard to measure all human claims to goodness (D. Stephen Long). Trinitarian mutuality is rich in self-giving. Our response is to give thanks as a way of life (Ann Voskamp).

It is this very good God who invites us into his Sabbath Rest (Hebrews 4:1-13). Sabbath is not a mere passive ceasing from work, but rather a cultivation of this attitude of thankfulness on the journey, a deliberate faith walk. The image takes us back to the desert wandering period in the story of the Children of Israel. God invites them (and us) into a communion of love, as fellow givers rather than consumers. Ruth Haley Barton offers a balanced approach to Sabbath in a chapter in her volume Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Transformation. Some might resonate with Mark Buchanan in his thoughtful book The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath. There are plenty of mentors to help us discover this Sabbath Rest.

Sabbath is the proper context for thinking about a ‘Personal Mission Statement’. It is important to take regular time out from our many activities, conversations and efforts in order to reflect on the big picture. It is key to a focus that can empower life and make it more meaningful. Below are some of our thoughts from the GCU retreat on a mission statement. It is core to what we want our life to mean and represent. Core to what we want to accomplish, essential to who we   are and what we fight for. One could say that it is the beam of wisdom that runs through a life—that on which other goals and objectives are hung. Few people (about 3%) take the time to dig deep, reflect upon and write such a statement. They assume this practice is for institutions, hospitals, governments or corporations.

A personal mission statement captures one’s narrative quest or “hypergood” to use a Charles Taylor term. It taps into our deep structure desire to make a substantial and important contribution. We think it is important for postgraduate students to take time to do this; otherwise life leads in a hundred directions without a focus, a formula for frustration and discouragement. We can get intensely busy and distracted by details and deadlines, and thereby lose the deeper meaning and the bigger picture of why we are in this program. We lose track of our life-focus trajectory. Read More…

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