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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 ubcgcu.org, 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: email@example.com; or firstname.lastname@example.org
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: email@example.com
GCU Facilitating Staff
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
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
A Note from Faculty to Incoming Graduate Students
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.
Professor Emeritus, Geography,
September 1. 2014.
Philosopher Dr. Paul K. Moser of Loyola University Rethinks Our Search for God
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…
Scholarly Reflections on the Fine-Tuned Universe & Biosphere
Dr William Lane Craig’s talk at UBC on March 6, 2013: http://youtu.be/LtupHkRKimc
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.
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
- A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
- God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
- 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)
- moral intuitionists (feel about a situation or decision)
Dialogue for the Curious Cranium
Oxford Biology Professor Richard Dawkins
Oxford Mathematician/Philosopher Dr. John Lennox
- 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
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”
“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 Dawkins, The 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 Dawkins, The 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. http://craigjosling.blogspot.ca/2012/05/summary-of-gods-undertaker-has-science.html
“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).
See also posts within this blog on A Fine-Tuned Universe? and on Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies
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 Science: Religion, 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
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
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…
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…
Words to the Curious: Summer Reading Possibilities for Cranial Inspiration
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.