Posted by: gcarkner | August 30, 2014

Welcome to UBC!

Big West Coast Canadian Welcome to New Postgraduate Students

Welcome to UBC! We’ll 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. Where are you from and what are you studying? GCU draws people from many countries and many disciplines to create a home away from home. 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.

Within GCU, we are here to develop 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 myself to stimulate reflection and discussion, along with suggestions for further exploration. Because we are interdisciplinary, that creates a lively conversation as people bring their wealth of knowledge together. Overall, we work towards a better world and becoming better people 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 challenge.

GCU September Events: 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.

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

Have a super start at UBC,

Gord & Ute Carkner

GCU Facilitating Staff




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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?

Are we looking for God in all the wrong places: i.e. does our bias blind us so that we miss the personal moral challenge of belief in, or discovery of, God? Is our methodology and approach all wrong, off base?

Will we let God to be God in order to discover him? Or will we continue the fallacious spectator evidence approach, treating him like a lab rat or a mere object in the world, or a clown that must perform for us? Perhaps we are caught in the grips of an idol and desire too much control in the search for the very ground of our being (see David Bentley Hart). Our pride can cause intellectual and discernment blockage.

Are we willing to consider purposively available evidence of divine reality, including his good, benevolent purposes for humanity? Or are we stuck in a gear which disallows divine goodness at all costs?

What if our inquiry went beyond mere reflection and inference, to human obedience and disobedience? How would that change the situation and nature of our search. God seems to hide from certain approaches and attitudes. What if there is no magic cognitive bullet available?

What is the available Authoritative and Invitational evidence, if we change our posture and investigative approach? This is what Moser calls kardiatheology: a new disposition of the core of our thinking, willing, deciding, the core of the self. Agape love comes into the picture.

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)

~Gord Carkner

You may also be interested in John Lennox, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?; or Philip Yancey’s Reaching for the Invisible God

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

Oxford Biology Professor Richard Dawkins debates 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, Squamish, BC 

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“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

“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”.

“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

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.

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

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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 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

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