Posted by: gcarkner | September 23, 2016

Power: a Re-boot for the Twenty-first Century

A Re-evaluation of Power 

The cross offers a meta-critique, and an alternative vision, of ‘power through weakness’. Biblical Christianity promotes a renunciation of privilege, but this is not passivity. Philosopher-Theologian Anthony Thisleton talks about the cross as a ‘meta-critique’ in New Horizons in Hermeneutics, (614-619) a paradigm of God’s self-giving love. Nietzsche’s will-to-power is transformed into a will-to-love under this critique. Contrary to the entitlement expectations of the late modern self, the ethic of the cross in principle shatters the boundaries and conflicts between tribes, Jew and Gentile, female and male, free person and slave (Galatians 3:23; Ephesians 2). It is anti-hegemony.

Biblical Christianity is counter-cultural, calling for love where there is conflict, service where there are power-interests, and trust where there is suspicion. Nietzsche’s ‘solution’ of will-to-power, must be confronted and critiqued. People like Foucault are right when they exposes power-bids which are rooted in self-interest, but it is very wrong (extreme) to assume that all truth-claims are in essence nothing but a power-play. Truth cannot be subsumed or fully defined under power-knowledge. We must never give up on the genuine search for the truth of a matter. Sometimes it leans in the opposite direction to power or resists power interests. This is what the quest for justice is all about. Without truth that transcends interest, we have no basis upon which to confront the abuse of power. Biblical discourse offers a means of separating disguised self-interest from statements with integrity.

Power is not univocal: it can be used to repress or to enable; it can be horded or equitably distributed. At times it is centralized and intentional and at other times, it is diffused and without a key broker. There are both conspiracies and self-regulative strategies around power. It is at its best when neither hegemonic nor too centralized. The hope is for individual selves to discover new empowerment and move out of negative power-contests. Power is not always a negative thing and can be negotiated by appropriate power-brokers who have integrity and operate with fairness. It is negative if it is isolated within too small a group as in elitist or ethnocentric/racist structures or used against other people. Above all, power of any kind begs for a sound ethical and political framework within which it can properly operate for the common good. The twentieth century has taught us some stark lessons about the abuse of political, military and financial power in particular. Paul Johnson in A History of the Modern World: from 1917-1990’s gives telling evidence of abusive power’s brutality.

Some provocative quotes from  Andy Crouch, Playing God: redeeming the gift of power.

  • All true beings strive to create room for more being and to expand its power in the creation of flourishing environments for variety and life, and to thrust back the chaos that limits true being. In doing so it creates other bodies and invites them into mutual creation and tending to the world, building relationships where there had been none: thus they then cooperate together in creating more power for more creation. And the process goes on.There is a kind of being that delights in sharing space and a deeper, truer being that is able to create more than enough space–room for more being. (p. 51)
  • It is not much of an exaggeration to say that nearly an entire generation of students of literature and cultures, under the influence of Nietzsche’s intellectual decedent Michael Foucault, devoted tremendous intellectual energies to exposing the Nietzschean underbelly of dominion in precisely the domains that were once thought to represent a refuge from the will to power—in art and architecture, in family and friendship, and not least in religion.” (p. 48)
  • What matters to Jesus, it seems, is not what is done with the lifeless coins on which Caesar has placed his stamp, but another image—the image of God in living image bearers. The image of God is found in human beings, and the real demonic power of Caesar is to demand not the sacrifice of coins but of people, not money but lives.” (p. 87)
  • Love transfigures power. Absolute love transfigures absolute power. And power transfigured by love is the power that made and saves the world. (p. 45)
  • What is the deepest truth about the world? Is the deepest truth a struggle for mastery and domination? Or is the deepest truth collaboration, cooperation and ultimately love?” (p. 48)
  • In a Nietzschean world we are all reduced to waiting for Superman—or, just perhaps, acquiring enough power that we ourselves can thrust back all that exists us, achieving the domination we believe is necessary for the triumph of the good.” (p. 50)
  • Sin and death, and the twin systems they create, idolatry and injustice, are already unmasked and have lost the critical battle. Creative love was always stronger and more real—and in the community of the resurrection, the first and latest followers of Jesus find that the reality living, breathing and working powerfully through us.” (p. 53)

~Dr. Gordon Carkner

Posted by: gcarkner | September 19, 2016

Book Review: Faith & Wisdom in Science

Book Review: Faith and Wisdom in Science by Tom McLeish (OUP, 2014)

~Dr. Olav Slaymaker, UBC Geography

Tom McLeish is Professor of Physics and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research at the highly ranked University of Durham in the UK.. With this book he has initiated a new genre of writing about the relation between science and faith. I have a raft of books on theology AND science; this book is the first one of which I am aware that attempts a theology OF science. It is an exciting book in so many ways and is marked by great originality. For some readers the case for the identicality of the scope of theology and science will be too radical to contemplate. Yet the argument is succinct and equally well grounded in Biblical exegesis and experiential empirical and theoretical science. I expect to continue to mine this book for several years to come.

 The central theme of the book is that the scope of science and theology is identical and that therefore there must be insights that are worthy of exploration and exchange between the two disciplines. Both science and theology are built on faith; they are both more about imagination and creative questions than about method, logic and providing answers and they both involve pain and love as their central emotions. Perhaps the most revelatory part of his thinking is his view that order and chaos are equally part of God’s world and his refusal to accept the simplistic argument that God’s existence is proven from the fine tuning of the universe. He insists that we must grapple with the chaos and disorderliness of much of creation and incorporate this into our theology beyond simply throwing up our arms and declaring that the disorder is caused by the Fall. And he bases his view on an original exegesis of parts of Proverbs, Psalms, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Hosea, Job (especially Job) and Genesis 1 and 2 and bolsters his argument with insights from Romans, I Corinthians, the Gospel according to John and the Revelation of John. Read More…

Posted by: gcarkner | September 14, 2016

New Book Coming: The Great Escape from Nihilism

Coming this Fall


Book Description This book is about a journey: out of the confines of nihilism into the heart of meaning. It presses the question: Does nihilism have the last word? The book addresses a contemporary crisis of faith, a crisis of identity, and a sense of lostness in late modernity. Our companions on the journey are a fine, seasoned group of writers, poets, social reformers, scientists, scholars and public intellectuals. Among the notables are Alvin Plantinga, Miralslov Volf, Jürgen Habermas, David Bentley Hart, Michel Foucault, Calvin Schrag, Jim Wallis, Tom McLeish and Jens Zimmermann. Special mention goes to eminent philosopher of modernity Charles Taylor for his deep, insightful cultural lens. He brings a major contribution to the discernment of our circumstances and our critical choices. The Great Escape from Nihilism is about a courageous and somewhat dangerous journey, but ultimately it is a path towards hopeful alternatives to the forces that weigh down our spirits, and the tensions that divide us. We must decide whether the quest to escape outweighs the risks. After mapping the contours of nihilism and the immanent frame in Part 1, the story proceeds with diagnosis and then prognosis. The ten substantial conversations that follow in Part 2 are modeled on real, ongoing discussions and lively debates over several years on university campuses across Canada, the United States and Europe. Despite how practical they are, there is more to life than science, technology, business and algorithms. Our journey involves the quest for the Holy Grail of human flourishing, the deeper life, the thick self. Dr. Carkner provides wise and persuasive suggestions of ways forward in navigating the landscape of late modernity.

Keywords  Nihilism, Secular Age, Search for Meaning, Scientism, Radical Individualism, Ideology of the Aesthetic, Recovery of the Good, Agape Love, Incarnational Humanism, Communal Responsibility, the Common Good, Late Modernity


Posted by: gcarkner | July 26, 2016

Welcome to GCU Fall 2016

 GCU Fall Term Welcome 2016

This group exists to help you reach your fullest potential as a graduate student. You help us build community among other grad students on campus and respond to those pursuing the deeper life.

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UBC is a Great Opportunity to Expand Your Horizons and Sharpen Your Skills

 Welcome to UBC! GCU sponsors a reception for new students second week of classes Wednesday, September 14 at 6:00 pm at the home of Professor Emeritus Dr. Ed and Anne Jull, 1828 Western Parkway. Our study group begins in September on Thursday evening at 7 p.m.: rooted in the book of Philippians. Our hikes begin on September 10 and 17. Our Fall Retreat will be held at A Rocha Centre in White Rock on September 23, 24. We are all on a journey both academically and spiritually. We hope that GCU can add fun, spice, wisdom and colour to that adventure.

Our updates are on the GCU Blog Site We post important lectures, social events and study group information, places to intersect with others who can build your imagination. It is a great network of creative minds and you add much with your background experiences, academic passion and searching questions. We hope that you will find it a home away from home in a community of mutual support. You can also ask questions or get more information from Gord at or  Ute at

Key Words to Capture the GCU Narrative Curiosity, Community, Digging Deeper into Faith and Reason, Integration, Science-Religion Dialogue, Identity Capital, Big Questions, Meta-Biology, Meaning and Calling, Adding Value to Education, Culture Making, Justice and the Common Good, Creative Imagination, Good Scholarship, Innovation, Christo-centric Inspiration, Incarnational Humanism, Adventure and Fun, Celebrating Creation, Re-thinking the Secular, Social Relevance.

GCU is interdisciplinary and international, it creates a lively conversation as people bring their wealth of knowledge, experience and expertise to the table. They also bring their heart, humour and their joy to community. Let’s get to know each other and explore new horizons together during this important journey of postgraduate education. GCU helps you keep perspective on your studies and career development.


Long hours in the laboratory, thesis proposals, the weight of comprehensive exams means that a grad student needs a support infrastructure. I can’t speak highly enough about getting involved with a group on campus like GCU, and also finding a good church home base. Also as you are walking into your office or biking into campus, try praying for your profs, fellow students, or admin staff; this can help stimulate surprisingly fruitful conversations. And don’t forget that you are here to serve undergrads with grace. Feel free to track me down for coffee; I love ideas exchange.

~Dr. Craig Mitton, PhD

Associate Professor

School of Population and Public Health

As a graduate student several decades ago I found the Grad Christian Union community at my university uplifting spiritually and socially. In an often chilly secular environment, it was a great venue to meet other grads outside my own field and cultural background and develop friendships and join in events with those who shared the same core values. I am still in contact with several of these friends 30 years later. With some other faculty and graduate students, I helped to launch the Graduate & Faculty Christian Forum a number of years ago. Gord has been a solid advisor to this group as well 

~Dr. David Ley

Professor Department of Geography

University of British Columbia

There is no more important bellwether for our society and our culture than the university — and yet Christians within academia often travel incognito, which isn’t good for them, isn’t good for the university, and isn’t good for other Christians, who often feel alone when really they’re not. A ministry to grad students and thus provides a vital venue where Christians can connect, show their colours, and stimulate each other to play the full role they’re called to play as fully alive and “out” followers of Christ. Decide to be a public Christian at UBC.

~Dr. Dennis Danielson

Professor of English

University of British Columbia

Graduate research is often like looking for a lightswitch in a totally dark room. It can be frustrating at times. It certainly was for me! It was invaluable for me to have close connection with other Christians whom I could share that load with, and who were praying for me.

~Dr. Bé Wassink

Instructor, Materials Engineering

University of British Columbia

We will buy you a free coffee of your choice. Looking forward to hearing your story and your aspirations for grad school.

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Graduate Christian Union Fall Orientation

 Fall Dinner Reception for New UBC Students

Wednesday, September 14 @ 6:00 p.m. home of Dr. Ed and Anne Jull, 1828 Western Parkway: Find out about the GCU program and meet other students and UBC faculty.

Hikes and Coffee on Saturday, September 10 and 17    Contact Ute: Get to know the natural beauty of the local mountains.



GFCF Scholarly Lecture Series with Durham University Biophysicist Tom McLeish: November 1- 4 Includes fall book study on Faith & Wisdom in Science


First Study Group Meeting, Thursday, September 22, 7:00 pm @ 277 west 16th ave. (near Cambie) on the Book of Philippians under the theme Daring Greatly. T: 604-349-9497


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How You Can Flourish with GCU

  • Building a Christian Voice with Integrity in Academia: faith and reason as partners
  • GCU Blog org   reaching students in 92 countries. Spark a conversation.
  • Scholarly Christian Lectures: UBC Graduate and Faculty Christian Forum
  • New Book: The Great Escape from Nihilism: rediscovering our passion in late modernity by Gordon E. Carkner, Ph.D.
  • Providing Cutting Edge Resources for Students and Faculty:    Mentorship and support by senior UBC faculty and Gordon Carkner
  • Apologetics Training and Resources: Ravi Zacharias Conference Sept 6 & 7; Apologetics Canada Conference March 5 & 6.
  • Hospitality and Friendship at our Bible Study in the Book of Philippians (Thursdays)
  • Prayer and Spiritual Direction: Contact GCU Staff Ute Carkner
  • Join our Listserv Today for information on future events and opportunities: Contact Gord Carkner, GCU Director and Mentor  


Our Core Values

  • Students engaging and encouraging fellow students on the cutting edge of thought and research.
  • Courage and integrity in the pursuit of excellence in research and noble personal character.
  • Winsome exploration of fullness and joy in our work and life, to live large with humility.
  • The agape love posture of respect in relationships with high goals for collegiality and friendship.
  • In preparation for global citizenship and pursuing hope for a better and more just world.
  • A stance of intellectual openness in the pursuit of a reasoned faith and faithful, responsible, virtuous reasoning, handling the pursuit of knowledge wisely.
  • A constructive contribution to campus discourse, raising important questions, and exploring fresh ideas and horizons.
  • Drilling down into the richest heritage of Judeo-Christianity, leaving no stone unturned. Exploring how this can inspire and open up channels for academic investigation.
  • Develop a deep identity in Jesus Christ and the biblical narrative while respecting difference in convictions of others, promoting a responsible spiritual quest for truth, beauty, goodness and community.
  • Encouraging intense curiosity that draws from the wisdom of faculty across the disciplines and scholarship from around the globe.
  • Advocating for others who are less fortunate or less privileged, pursuing their empowerment and freedom from oppression and grinding poverty. Pursuit of the common good towards an integral humanism.


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GCU Staff Gordon Carkner is a visionary, passionate about dialogue on salient questions of meaning and identity, faith and culture.  He has worked as a meta-educator, a networker, and campus pastor for over 30 years in Canadian universities. As a voracious reader, his vision is to mentor future leaders within academia with excellent resources: to keep them on the cutting edge and to broaden their horizons. Together with his team of university faculty and graduate students, he has sponsored countless book studies, lectures, panels, discussions and debates on the connection between a wide range of academic scholarship and Christian faith, helping people find their voice, grow their identity, and develop a spirit of curiosity. His present work is located in Vancouver, Canada at the University of British Columbia. He is also keen to feed relevant scholarship intelligence and critical thinking insights to church leaders. He is joined in his work by his lovely wife and ministry partner Ute and their two charming daughters. As a family, they enjoy getting out in the mountains of British Columbia, Alberta, and the Austrian and Swiss Alps. Gordon and Ute together have hiked the Grand Canyon and Ute joined an Australian expedition in Nepal.

Dr. Carkner holds a B.Sc. in Human Physiology from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada; a Masters of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois; and a PhD in philosophical theology from University of Wales, with a strong emphasis on the moral self and the making of the modern identity. His curiosity and expertise lies in the arena of questions concerning freedom and the good, secularity, meaning, worldviews, and philosophical anthropology, as they get articulated, discussed and debated within late modern Western culture. His current intellectual hero is Canadian McGill University philosopher, Professor Emeritus Charles Taylor. He is also well read in history and philosophy of science, science and theology. Gordon co-authored with Michael Green the popular book Ten Myths about Christianity, which sold over 200,000 copies in twenty languages and assisted many people around the world to reconsider what faith offers to their journey in life. He has also authored a number of key papers on scientism, individualism, worldviews and pluralism, tools for effective dialogue, and Charles Taylor’s recovery of the good for moral discourse. He hosts an active blog for postgraduate students, which reaches people in 92 countries, at

Dr Carkner has just finished a book to be released this fall called The Great Escape from Nihilism.


Posted by: gcarkner | July 17, 2016

Summer Good Reading

Gord’s Summer Reading 2016

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If we encounter a person of rare intellect, we should ask what books they read

Brené Brown (2012). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead. Avery. This is a surprisingly insightful book on human and family relationships; you might have seen her popular TED Talk on vulnerability or shame. She is a shame researcher in Texas who offers pearls of wisdom. We know a family of a GCU Alumnus in the UK that has been totally transformed by her teaching. Shame is the big elephant in the room for many of us.

Companion Volumes

Curt Thompson, The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe About Ourselves. (IVP, 2015)

Andy Crouch (2016). Strong and Weak: embracing a life of love, risk and true flourishing. IVP His books Culture Making and Playing God have been a huge hit for Christians looking to engage culture and find a creative, biblical way forward.


Timothy Jackson (2015). Political Agape: Christian Love and Liberal Democracy. Eerdmans. This is part of a trilogy on agape theology; there is a great final essay on Martin Luther King Jr.

Dallas Willard. The Allure of Gentleness: defending the faith in the manner of Jesus. Harper One. Willard has encouraged many young Christian philosophers in his time, and is also well-known for his work on Christian spirituality.

Two Great Books on Globalization

Miraslov Volf (2015). Flourishing: why we need religion in the age of globalization. Yale

Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, The Dignity of Difference: how to avoid the clash of civilization. Continuum

Two Books on Science & Religion

Fraser Fleming (2016). The Truth about Science and Religion: From the Big Bang to Neuroscience. Wipf & Stock Fraser is a former PhD student in Chemistry at UBC and one of the early members of GCU and the GFCF Committee.

Tom McLeish (2014). Faith and Wisdom in Science. Oxford University Press. (upcoming speaking tour at UBC, SFU and TWU first week of November 2016)

James K.A. Smith, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit.  (a very popular speaker, writer and philosopher from Calvin College).

Christian Artist Makato Fujimura, Silence and Beauty.

Sherry Turkle, Reclaiming Conversation: the power of talk in a digital age.

Brian Fikkert & Russell Mask (2015). From Dependence to Dignity: how to alleviate poverty through church-centered microfinance. Zondervan

Books are food for the soul. They can be like a journey into another world. Some become our best friends. They can make a huge difference in our perspective. These authors can also be our mentors. Read outside your discipline to maximize your creativity. 

Good Reading  ~Gord

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Posted by: gcarkner | June 28, 2016

Virtue Liberates in the Long Run

Three Propositions from David Brooks, The Road to Character

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1. We don’t live for happiness, we live for holiness. Day to day we seek our pleasure, but deep down, human beings are endowed with moral imagination. All human beings seek to lead lives not just of pleasure, but of purpose, righteousness, and virtue. As John Stuart Mill put it, people have a responsibility to become more moral over time. The best life is oriented around the increasing excellence of the soul and is nourished by moral joy, the quiet sense of gratitude and tranquility that comes as a byproduct of successful moral struggle. The meaningful life is the same eternal thing, the combination of some sort of ideals and some man or woman’s struggle for those ideals. Life is essentially a moral drama, not a hedonistic one.

2. Proposition one defines the goal of life. The long road to character begins with an accurate understanding of our nature, and the core of that understanding is that we are flawed creatures. We have an innate tendency towards selfishness and overconfidence. We have a tendency to see ourselves as the centre of the universe, as if everything revolves around us.We resolve to do one thing but end up doing its opposite. We know what is deep and important in life, but we will pursue the things that are shallow and vain. Furthermore we overestimate our own strength and rationalize our own failures. We know less than we think we do. We give in to short-term desire even when we know we shouldn’t. We imagine that spiritual and moral needs can be solved through status and material things.

3. Although we are flawed creatures, we are also splendidly endowed. We are divided within ourselves, both fearfully and wonderfully made. We do sin, but we also have a capacity to recognize sin, and to overcome sin. We are both weak and strong, bound and free, blind and far-seeing.We thus have the capacity to struggle with ourselves. There is something heroic about a person in struggle with herself, strained on the rack of conscience, suffering torments, yet staying alive and growing stronger, sacrificing a worldly success for the sake of inner victory.

Compare Current Schools of Denial of Transcendence: Norms are nothing but the product of society and good is what we call good out of self-interest or certain social relations. All normative claims are problematic and therefore there are no criteria for judgment or discernment at a moral level. This comes as the next stage after the death of God (Deus Abscondicus) in western culture. It involves the admission (Nietzsche) that one cannot preserve Christian values once one has gotten rid of God. The Enlightenment tried to preserve ethical norms and absolutes based on reason (Kant) or emotions (Hume) or utility (Bentham). Often views in late modernity are part of a philosophy of absence. George Steiner in his important book Real Presences is quite helpful in his articulation of the loss of transcendence (presence) in late modern thought. The focus is on immanence (the here and now) and human practices. Virtues would then be reduced to the values of one’s tribe.

We are relentless. We depersonalize God to an idea to be discussed. We reduce people around us to resources to be used. We define ourselves as consumers to be satisfied. The more we do it, the more we incapacitate ourselves from growing up to a maturity capable of living adult lives of love, adoration, trust and sacrifice…. In our identity-confused society, too many of us have settled for a pastiche identity composed of social security number, medical records, academic degrees, job history, and whatever fragments of genealogy we can salvage. (E. Peterson 2010, 66, 79)

~Gordon Carkner

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Posted by: gcarkner | May 9, 2016

Leverage your Virtue

Leverage the Virtuous Community

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What kind of people form a virtuous community? How do we locate ourselves with respect to the good? What do wisdom, courage and hope, benevolence and love have to do with scholarship? What do moderation, self-restraint and frugality, patience and gratitude have to do with academic excellence, business acumen or scientific brilliance? Can we truly flourish if we live, work and love virtuously? Is self-interest and the almighty sovereignty of individual choice perhaps a scam of our age? Can virtue inform our academic vision to help it flourish? Our vision shapes our goals and actions day to day. Many of us will know of philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s landmark book After Virtue which decried the cultural loss of this ancient language of virtue; in its place late modernity have substituted the Nietzschean/Weberian language of posited values–self-invented morality. Is this wise for full human flourishing?

A moral virtue is an excellence of character, developed by conscious choices over time and thus for which we can and should be praised; virtue disposes one to act in such a reasonable way to avoid extremes, to act in short as a sage would act. It is hard to develop solo; we need others to learn how to practice virtue. Virtues are heuristic; they teach us about new dimensions of life as we embrace them and embody them. Where do we find training in the virtues and character these days? Steven Bouma-Prediger (For the Beauty of the Earth, p. 140) a UBC GFCF visiting scholar shared his concern for environmental stewardship virtues. He articulate the language this way:

A virtue is a state of praiseworthy character—with the attendant desires, attitudes and emotions. Formed by choices over time, a virtue disposes us to act in certain excellent ways. Knowing which way is the truly excellent way involves avoiding the extremes of vice by looking to people of virtue as role models. As certain virtues shape our character they influence how we see the world. And the entire process of forming virtues is shaped by a particular narrative and community. The settled disposition to act well, which makes us who we are, is nurtured by the stories we imbibe and the communities of which we are a part.

There is an art, a finesse, a personal strength and creativity to virtue. It shows up in how we operate in the world and how we treat others. Virtues orient us toward both individual and group flourishing. It assumes trustworthy social relationships characteristic of a moral community; it takes into consideration an individual as well as a common good. There are academic and research virtues (Linda Zagzebski’s Virtues of the Mind) which help the university keep its integrity as a knowledge centre. Oxford’s Iris Murdoch, although not a believer in God, had a high view of the good, influencing premier Canadian philosopher of the self Charles Taylor (Sources of the Self). Basic honesty is under strain today as we are pushed to publish more and more and to superior academic performance (Matthew Crawford,  The World Outside Your Head).

Crawford suggest that our quest for radical individualism and autonomy is leading us into a unhealthy moral autism. We are losing our moral skill and agency. Matthew calls this the ‘cult of sincerity’, i.e., that you yourself can be the source of the norms by which you justify yourself–a radical responsibility for which we were not designed. It offers too much sovereignty. He says that we actually need others (friends, family, colleagues) to check our own self-understanding–through triangulation–to tell us we are doing OK, that we are good or excellent, or not so noble. One thing that sets us apart as humans is our desire to justify ourselves; we never act without moral implications. We need this web of people we respect (aka normativity). Charles Taylor agrees (Sources of the Self).

Here’s the rub: In times of cultural flux, where it is unclear what the rules are, how to value things or behaviour, it is difficult for us to understand ourselves socially. This leads to an existential crisis of alienation. So we become victims of the values of the marketplace–productivity, performance, usefulness, cash-out value. Matthew’s friend, psychologist Alain Ehrenburg (Weariness of the Self), notes that this is leading to epidemic levels of depression in our current culture of performance. Enough is never enough:

Depression presents itself as an illness of responsibility in which the dominant feeling is that of failure. The depressed individual is unable to measure up; he is tired of having to become himself. In a culture of performance, the person reads the value and status of her soul in her worldly accomplishments.

We are ever guilt-ridden and stressed. We are always faced with the raw issue of making things happen, our capacity, leading to this new pathology of weariness. The weariness of having to become one’s fullest self is leading to depression. On top of this, it is difficult to mitigate this depression in an age of performance, because weariness comes to equal weakness. So we turn to quick fixes, stimulants like Prozac or Adderall (an amphetamine) to keep us high-performing. This is an epidemic among students and also young faculty in high-performance universities. All the while we seek liberation through this autonomy, we are discovering a very serious brand of slavery. Modernity has turned on us: performance in capitalistic terms can crush us. We are not flourishing. We need a broader and richer set of moral parameters.
Brad Gregory, author of The Unintended Reformation has a chapter called “Subjectivizing Morality” on important sea changes in morality in the West. He makes note of a time when the virtuous community was a common social and political consciousness, part of people’s identity. But this has been exchanged today for a language of rights. Gregory notes: “A transformation from a substantive morality of the good to a formal morality of rights constitutes the central change in Western ethics over the past half millennium, in terms of theory, practice, laws and institutions.”

At one time, rights were articulated within values of the communal good (within the discourse of the virtuous community); now they have morphed into a consumeristic commodity to fulfill my subjective desires or opinions–my choice. This approach is threatening our freedom, dignity and rights. Today, our individual good seems to be in tension with the common good (within a discourse of individualism, self-interest and entitlements). We are struggling to find the social glue (the common purpose) to hold society together. Is the default position of personal preference and consumerism the answer? How do we recover again and leverage the power of virtue? This is no small concern; it is both a local and a global phenomenon.

Gordon E. Carkner, PhD Philosophical Theology

See also David Brooks, The Road to Character.

Jim Wallis, The (Un)Common Good.

Other blog posts on The Qualities of the Will.

Posted by: gcarkner | April 26, 2016

Creation and the Virtuous

Impact of Virtues & Vices of the Human Creature


Steven Bouma-Prediger, Environmental Philosopher 

Spirit BearSpirit Bear in Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest

Respect & Receptivity: If life in all its diversity is a gift from a benevolent Creator, we should respect its innate, intrinsic and precious value—its creational integrity. Biodiversity (a rich and full flourishing fittedness) is an intended result of God’s wise and orderly creative activity. We as the human dimension of creation are only one species among multitudes, and so we should cultivate the earth in harmony with other creatures, so that we can all sing a symphony of God’s praises together (Psalms 104; 148).

In other words, other creatures count morally or have moral standing. We have the same God-loved home, and are interdependent with other God-loved creatures on this planet. The virtue principle is to act to preserve diverse kinds of life. The opposing vice is conceit: to ignore or disdain other creatures, or just use or abuse them for our appetites or pleasure. Conceit has no genuine interest in another and will if necessary violate the integrity of the other through a lack of regard. A different kind of vice would be to worship the other creatures through an excess of reverence. Receptivity is a form of hospitality, which acknowledges our interdependence with the creaturely other; self-sufficiency is the vice that says we don’t have need of the other.

Self-Restraint and Frugality: The assumption here is that since creation is finite, others’ basic needs take precedence over our greedy wants. We should learn to live within our means and learn when ‘enough is enough’. There is a prima facie duty to preserve non-renewable resources and conserve scarce though renewable resources. Self-restraint is moderation (old Greek concept) of inordinate desires (temperance), a habitual control of one’s appetites and desires. The vice here is profligacy or self-indulgence (to be belly-oriented). Frugality speaks to an economy of the use of finite goods which acts as a form of hospitality. The opposing vice is greed (excessive acquisition) or avarice, a craving to acquire, blinded to the limits inherent within creation. Think of the recent financial meltdown for illustration of this vice or the destruction of the rainforests of the world.

Humility and Honesty: Humility speaks to the art of being responsible, unpretentious and aware of one’s limits; it recognizes that we humanoids are both finite and faulted; we should act cautiously and move slowly with a view to the consequences of how we consume and live with others. We don’t know all of the implications of our actions and so we should endeavour to be circumspect and careful. The opposing vice is hubris or overweening pride, an exaggerated self-confidence in our own creativity. Honesty means to be without guile or duplicity (perversion of truth for personal gain); it entails that we will act with forethought and put on the brakes even when we are disadvantaged. Its opposite is deception, a cunning misrepresentation of the facts often fuelled by envy and spite in order to see enemies harmed and humiliated. When we make creation our enemy, we can see the potential for harmful destruction. When we make creation our partner as in the recently built greenest home ever near Kamloops, it is speaking to humility, truthfulness and integrity.

Wisdom and Hope: Wisdom is an excellence of intellect, developed over time, one that allows us to live the good life (For the Beauty of the Earth, p. 150). It originates in the fear or worship of God. It is “sound practical judgment based on uncommon insight honed through long experience and informed by cultivated memory.” Assumption: it is God’s will that the whole of creation be fruitful and flourish, not just humans. We should act in such a way that the ability of living creatures can maintain themselves and reproduce—fecundity. Foolishness is the vice of habitual lack of sound judgment, to act as if the earth is endlessly exploitable. Hope is trust oriented forward in time rooted in God’s promises as talked about in an earlier section, a yearning for shalom or wholeness. Despair, hope’s nemesis, is the absence of any expectation of a good future; it leads to the sickness unto death of Kierkegaard, and this cynicism leads to death dealing against others in creation.

Patience and Serenity: Assuming a belief in Sabbath rest for land, humans and animals, it is a principle of rejuvenation. It takes the long view and shows a calm forbearance. We should act in such a way that the creatures, land and property under our care are given their needful rest. The vice is impetuousness, an impulsiveness based on fear of the future, that drive to gratify our desires in the immediate moment. Serenity is an unruffled peacefulness, an inner calm amidst chaos rooted in an assurance of God’s grace and his patience. This is the founding principle of farming: planting the seed and waiting. This takes the pressure off our obsession with productivity, acquisition, and consumerism. If rest is part of our rhythm, we will stay in the game longer and do better more creative work–work towards the bigger contribution.

Benevolence and Love: Benevolence is willingness to promote the well-being of another despite our feelings; love involves a feeling of affection (care) for the other. To love the earth means to serve and cultivate it and protect it from harm (to be earthkeepers), to take responsibility for it. It involves recognition of God as the real owner and we humans as the tenants, those who tend the earth gardens for the Master. If we love God’s good creation, we will not exploit, waste or pillage it; we will nurture it and preserve its well-being. This idea of loving (not worshipping) creation may seem strange, but it is biblical (Genesis 2:15). Caritas (charity or love towards the other) is the ultimate goal of Christian spirituality. The ecological tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico should actually break our hearts; creation is groaning (Romans 8); what a terrible waste.

Justice and Courage: Justice is a central feature of human flourishing, the disposition to act impartially and fairly; it implies respect for the rights of others, especially the vulnerable. In Isaiah 24, justice is intimately tied to the health of the land; social justice and ecological health are bound together. Biblically we are enjoined to act so as to treat others, human and non-human fairly and to attend to the weak, widow, orphan, sick and handicapped. Courage is the moral strength in the face of danger, tenacity in the face of opposition, a stubborn persistence in the face of adversity. Often it takes tremendous courage to sustain justice, to lobby for justice and to do the right thing.

Such is the leverage of virtue. It trumps moral relativism, moral autism or mindless subjectivism. In today’s late modern world, older vices such as acquisitive attitude have become virtues causing a moral inversion. There is still time to recover and retrieve these ancient virtues once again and to truly flourish on this blue green planet. Steve Bouma-Prediger is a good place to start on this journey home. He is a lead voice in this field of creation care.

See also The Four Cardinal Virtues by Joseph Pieper

Notes recorded from For the Beauty of the Earth by Gordon Carkner

Other relevant blog posts include ‘Qualities of the Will’ on the work of Charles taylor and the recovery of the good.

Posted by: gcarkner | April 12, 2016

The God Particle in Physics

Finding God, … the particle.

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Haldron Collider Cern

In early 2011, deep under the Swiss-French countryside, scientists began studying the chaotic fires of high energy particle interactions using the new large hadron collider at CERN. The LHC had achieved incredibly high energies, rarely seen in the universe since the Big Bang. By July 2012 scientists excitedly announced that they had produced the massive Higgs boson, a.k.a. the “god particle.”

The divine nickname, and attendant media hype, begs the question of whether this discovery has any religious implications. At first blush, the question is almost embarrassing to scientists. It appears that the name “God particle” originated from “God-d*mn” particle, not any theological connection. The Higgs particle was the simply the last major prediction of the Standard Model (SM) of physics and its detection was the ultimate triumph. Yet, it is the very success of the SM that has potential implications for metaphysics and theology.

The Standard Model gives deep insights into nature; however, many run contrary to our common-sense view of reality. For example, according to the SM the universe is populated by both real and “virtual” particles, which are the by-products of invisible fields, such as the “Higgs field,” that span space and time. Virtual particles have a shadowy existence, randomly appearing then disappearing, yet have a measurable effect on real particles. Even real particles may be created from “nothing”. Here the physics intersects with the metaphysical discussion of the nature of matter. The SM description of continual creation (and annihilation) may also have implications for the theology of creation. Using theological language, one could describe the Higgs particle as the incarnation of the omnipresent Higgs field, in which we live and move and have our being, bequeathing to all matter the gift of mass. What this means needs to be worked out more rigorously.

The awesome technical and scientific achievement of this discovery also leads us to seriously reconsider the question of why humans, with pen and paper, computers and particle detectors, can so deeply understand the physical universe. This same question prompted Eugene Wigner to write the paper “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences”. In the Standard Model, the unreasonable effectiveness of “symmetry” prompts the same question. The success of the scientific enterprise seems to point to some transcendent reality because we appear to be able to apprehend truths beyond our brains’ biochemical activity. Such a reality has always been the province of religion. Thus, the discovery of the Higgs particle invites us to explore the broader interactions between science and theology.

Barry Pointon, Ph.D

Physics Department

British Columbia Institute of Technology

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Further References on God & Physics:

John Polkinghorne, One World: the interaction of science and theology.

Denis Alexander, Rebuilding the Matrix: science & faith in the 21st century.

Ard Louis, Physicist, Oxford University

Jennifer Wiseman, NASA physicist.

Tom McLeish, Faith & Wisdom in Science (OUP, 2014)

Alister McGrath, A Fine-Tuned Universe.

Posted by: gcarkner | April 3, 2016

Great Books on Science & Religion

Great Books on Science and Religion

See also Resources on Faith & Scholarship


Mind Expanding Quotes on a Fine-Tuned Universe & Biosphere

Slides of Pointon Lecture Human-Haunted Cosmos

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Background Microwave Radiation from the Big Bang

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)

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Horse Head Nebula: where stars are born from cosmic dust

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.

Northrop Frye, The Educated Imagination.

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Limits of Science; Perspective on Science

Medawar, P., The Limits of Science.

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

Polanyi, Michael.,  Personal Knowledge:Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy.

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.

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History of the Cosmos

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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Upcoming Speaker November 2016




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