Posted by: gcarkner | March 23, 2023

Book of the Month

My book of this month choice is Biblical Critical Theory: How the Bible’s Unfolding Story Makes Sense of Modern Life and Culture. Christopher Watkin does a great job of following suit with St. Augustine’s City of God in the late modern period. It is a thoroughly brilliant biblical theology that engages critically with culture.

Posted by: gcarkner | March 4, 2023

Matthew Lynch Grapples with Violence

Dr. Matthew Lynch, Associate Professor of Old Testament 

Regent College, Vancouver, B.C.

The Land Keeps the Score: Violence in Creation According to the Old Testament

Tuesday, March 14 @ 4 PM

Excellent Talk on Bible & Moral Ecology


Most scholarly and popular treatments of violence in the Old Testament focus on social or personal dimensions of violence and its impact. Similarly, contemporary Christian attempts to grapple with the challenges of violence in Scripture often focus on the ethics of human-on-human or divine-on-human violence. While important, these approaches fail to address the Old Testament’s emphasis on the land as a victim of human violence. According to the Old Testament, the land bears the marks of violence because violence is, fundamentally, an ecocidal phenomenon. This talk explores this reality in Scripture and its implications for contemporary ethical reflection. 


Matthew Lynch spent the final year of his doctoral studies in Göttingen, Germany, remaining there as a postdoctoral researcher for another year following the completion of his PhD. He was subsequently hired at the Westminster Theological Centre in the UK, serving for seven years there in roles including Dean of Studies, Academic Dean, and Lecturer in Old Testament. During this time, he also lectured at Nashotah House and Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. He is the author of First Isaiah and the Disappearance of the Gods (Eisenbrauns),  Portraying Violence in the Hebrew Bible: A Literary and Cultural Study (Cambridge, 2020), and Monotheism and Institutions in the Book of Chronicles: Temple, Priesthood, and Kingship in Post-Exilic Perspective (Mohr Siebeck, 2014). He also has a forthcoming volume entitled Flood and Fury: Engaging Old Testament Violence (IVP). Matthew is a founder and co-host of the OnScript podcast. He is married with two children.

Posted by: gcarkner | March 2, 2023

Foucault & Taylor on the Modern Quest for Identity

Two of the world’s most well-known philosophers, Michel Foucault (deceased, but much alive in his followers) & Charles Taylor, are brought into dialogue on the contemporary crisis of identity. Vancouver Meta-Educator Dr. Gordon E. Carkner lays out the different solutions they offer to build a robust and resilient identity in late modernity. He scribed his phD dissertation on this debate, and also wrote the book The Great Escape from Nihilism. There are some exciting angles to explore and some surprising consequences. What are the sources of self that make you stronger, more imaginative, inspired and engaged? Taylor, Professor Emeritus McGill University in Political Philosophy, is one of the deepest and most nuanced thinkers in our day, a public intellectual deeply concerned about the future of democracy. His 2007 book, A Secular Age, won the Templeton Prize. This discussion draws on his classic contribution on morality and identity Sources of the Self. His latest book is the 2016 volume The Language Animal. He has a positive international reputation.

You might also enjoy this discussion: Cultural Warning re: the Death of Civilization from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.


Posted by: gcarkner | February 14, 2023

Brilliant Reflection from Christian Smith

Dr. Christian Smith is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame. Smith is well known for his research focused on religion, adolescents and emerging adults, and social theory. Smith received his MA and PhD from Harvard University in 1990 and his BA from Gordon College in 1983. He was a Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for 12 years before his move to Notre Dame.

Smith is a leading American theorist of the philosophy of critical realism and the social theory of personalism. His larger theoretical agenda has been to move personhood, morality, motivated action, culture, and identity to the center of sociological theorizing generally and the sociology of religion specifically. Smith’s critical realist personalism require social science to revise its dominant approaches to causation, social ontology, and explanation. Recent personalist works by Smith include What is a Person? and To Flourish or Destruct. Earlier in his career, Smith’s work on social movements emphasized not only structural political opportunities but also personal moral motivations for participation in social movement activism. In his work on American Evangelicals, Smith developed a subcultural identity theory of religious persistence and strength in the modern world and highlighted the massive cultural complexities within conservative Protestantism. His book, The Secular Revolution, emphasized the centrality of culture, agency, and moral vision by religiously hostile actors in the secularization of American public life. Moral, Believing Animals’ anthropology underscored the morally-oriented, narratological, and epistemically anti-foundationalist condition of human personhood. Smith’s more recent work on the religious and spiritual lives of U.S. adolescents–in his books, Soul SearchingSouls in TransitionYouth Catholic America, and Lost in Transition–emphasizes the interplay of broad cultural influences, family socialization, and religious motivations in forming the spiritual and life experiences and outcomes of American youth.

See also Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies.

Brilliant Thought Quotes from Christian Smith’s Oxford University Press 2019 book Atheist Overreach: What Atheism Can’t Deliver

It focuses on evaluating certain key positions and claims that many atheists assume or make about science, morality, and human nature. Smith contends that many contemporary atheist activists are trying to claim too much, attempting to establish positions that are unwarranted, going overboard in confidence and enthusiasm in prosecuting their positions.

Chapter 1. How Good Without God are Atheists Justified in Being?

I maintain that a truly good reason for moral actions requires both a warranting explanation and a motivational justification.

Our contemporary atheist moralists assure us that we humans still can and must aspire to a highly demanding version of a universalistic, egalitarian, and inclusive humanism…. But, none of them provides a convincing reason–sometimes any reason–for the universal scope of humans’ asserted obligations to promote the good of all other human beings.

Charles Taylor “The question is whether we are not living beyond our moral means in continuing allegiance to our [high] standards of justice and benevolence. Do we have ways of seeing-good which are credible to us, which are powerful enough to sustain these standards? If not, we would be both more honest and more prudent to moderate them.”

Smith speaks of the systemic vulnerability to moral hackers: “Again, I say atheists have reasons to be good without God, but not as faithfully and consistently good as these atheist moralists would like to think.”

Absent from these works is any recognition of human history’s tragic quality, to which (not only religious) human literature, drama, philosophy, and social commentary have testified for millennia.

There is a credulous faith in the innate and reliable goodness of human beings (against the evidence).

Chapter 2. Does Naturalism Warrant Belief in Universal Benevolence and Human Rights?, i.e. Does the moral beliefs of universal benevolence and human rights fit well with and flow reasonably from the facts of a naturalistic universe?

Many modern people tend to believe strongly that all human persons everywhere possess inalienable human rights to life, certain freedoms, respect of conscience, and protection against unwarranted or arbitrary violations of personal property and choices by government or other persons.

Officially science is only methodologically naturalistic, not metaphysically so, meaning that scientific methods and explanations only appeal to natural causes but science makes no judgments about the nature of ultimate reality.

Metaphysical naturalism is a general picture of all reality as consisting of nothing but the operations of nature. Atheism, by comparison, is the specific, “not-theism” answers to the question of whether some form of divine being exists.

Someone who believes in a naturalistic cosmos is, it seems to me, perfectly entitled to believe and act to promote human universal benevolence and human rights, but only as an arbitrary, subjective, personal preference–not as a rational, compelling, universally binding fact and obligation.

Many ancient civilizations and cultures readily accepted and practiced different forms of slavery, infanticide, patriarchy, and sometimes human sacrifice. Many took for granted innate inequalities between different groups of people. In general, few possessed the cultural resources to develop a strongly humanistic morality of the kind we affirm today.

By contrast, the transcendent monotheism of ancient Judaism introduced a set of uncommon ethical sensibilities that were crucial in the eventual development of the culture of benevolence and rights. Elaborated on page 51.

Christianity directly inherited this ethical legacy and added to it the demanding teaching of Jesus on love for one’s enemies, universalizing the neighbour, self-sacrificial giving, the disciples’ worldwide mission, the sacred value of caring for the physical needs of others, and the dignity and importance of women, children, “sinners”. The Christian Apostles further taught the duty to share material wealth, respect for the conscience of others, the priority of persuasion over force, and the power of God’s kingdom to dissolve divisive social distinctions–“In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free, because all are one in Christ.” ~Paul the Apostle

Few ancient human cultures appear to have possessed the embryonic moral and metaphysical material from which could have evolved the robust commitment to universal benevolence and human rights…. What actually did develop, at least in the West, was in large measure the cultural and institutional outcome of deep historical Jewish and Christian roots. And at the heart of those traditions was the belief in a transcendent personal God who is the source, governor, and judge of moral order and action. [Historian Tom Holland agrees with this in Dominion: how the Christian revolution remade the world.]

Many people are not naturally and predominantly altruistic, self-giving, considerate of the needs of others, and more committed to the truth and justice than their own welfare [a general empirical observation]…. Most people have not only a bright side with capacities for genuine good but also dark sides with capacities for deep selfishness, self-deception, and indifference toward the needs of others.

Nothing about the human capacity for complex reasoning, forethought, or planning per se naturally leads to universal benevolence and belief in human rights…. However, in the globalized world in which we now live, given the huge military and environmental challenges humanity now faces, the very survival of our species depends not only on human cooperation but also the imperative of universal benevolence and rights.

But the grounds for such require a cogent justification running in the background, capable of being brought to the foreground and vindicated when necessary. In the future of our dangerous, globalizing world, those wishing to champion and defend universal benevolence and human rights will have to think more clearly and explain more persuasively than their skeptics, however barbaric and heartless their skeptics may seem now.

Morality of the sort we are trying to justify here has to do with what is right and wrong, good and bad, et cetera, which are believed to be established not by humans’ own actual desires, decisions, or preferences but by sources believed to exist apart from them.

Plausibility Weakness of Naturalism: All versions of such rational, nontranscendent moral philosophies, it turns out, fail to account successfully for universal benevolence and rights in one or both of two ways. Either they surreptitiously smuggle in assumptions and commitments from the Judea-Christian or some other moral heritage, or they simply fail on their own terms as rational systems justifying universal benevolence and rights. See also Thomas Nagel, Mind & Cosmos: Nagel is probably most widely known in philosophy of mind as an advocate of the idea that consciousness and subjective experience cannot, at least with the contemporary understanding of physicalism, be satisfactorily explained with the concepts of physics.

Chapter 3. Why Scientists Playing Amateur Atheology Fail

See also our GFCF lecture on Science & Scientism with Oxford’s Physics Professor Ard Louis:

Vulgar imperialistic scientism means claiming that if science cannot observe or discover something, then it cannot be real or true. Stated slightly differently: the only things that could be true or real are those that science can observe or validate. Examples used are: Yuval Noah Harari, Steven Weinberg, Edward O. Wilson, Victor Stenger, Richard Leakey, Marcelo Gleiser, science writer Roger Lewin.

The bemusing irony in all of this is that the presuppositions that authorizes only science to tell us what is real and true, and that produces such dramatic conclusions about the universe’s pointlessness, is not a scientific statement and could never, ever itself be validated by empirical science. It is instead a philosophical presupposition, something not unlike a faith commitment.

Science is a dominant institution when it comes to knowledge claims. And one of the privileges of dominance is not having to learn and think as hard as one should when it comes to making claims beyond one’s core competence.

When science writers publicly pronounce on metaphysics and theology, they should be obliged to satisfy two conditions. First, they should learn enough about real metapysics and religion to be able to speak accurately and intelligently about them. And second, they should make clear in their writing and speaking that they are no longer making scientific claims but rather switching modes of discourse and epistemological frameworks to discuss metaphysics or religion. To fail to do either of these I think is irresponsible and deceptive…. They are making a basic category error in thinking in the first place that they can even judge such religious claims with scientific tools.

Science is itself grounded on a set of presuppositions that are ultimately taken on faith or not. And, as Michael Polanyi has shown, scientific discovery is actually driven not by strict adherence to some Method but by deeply personal, prescientific commitments to human values like wonder, beauty, and truth. Both science and religion are thus implicated in personal belief commitments of various kinds, and to the evaluation of the truth of those beliefs through the facts of lived experience.

The difference that does matter here is something like this: science seeks to understand the natural workings of matter, energy, life, the mind, and society that can be theoretically understood through direct and indirect empirical observation, whereas most religions seek to understand and engage either realities that transcend creation, even if they interact with creation, such as a personal God (as in Abrahamic faiths), or realities that the immanent material world actually obscures, such as the force of Brahman (as in some forms of Hinduism and Buddhism). In both cases, even the most powerful of science’s tools are constitutionally incompetent to penetrate and evaluate religion’s claims.

A thought on scientists smuggling metaphysical atheology into their scientific writing: I think when we get down to it, a good part of what motivates many of these scientists to reject God, religion, and other nonnaturalistic metaphysical views are not the findings of science but instead personal moral and emotional objections. He gives examples from Steven Weinberg and Edward O. Wilson on page 101.

Finally, it is incumbent on scientific atheology writers (people who use science to dismiss God and religion) to think harder about the presuppositions of naturalism, materialism, and empiricism that drive them into narrow imperialistic claims…. Science qua science is constitutionally incapable of disproving the possible reality of what is most important in most religions: whether that be the God of Abraham, Saint Paul, Muhammed, or Zoroaster…. Let’s have good, rigorous arguments about science and religion… ones that are well-informed, fruitfully constructive when possible, and fair and honest when they must be critically destructive.

See also quotes from David Bentley Hart on Scientism:

Chapter 4. Are Humans Naturally Religious?

Based on critical realism as a background guiding philosophy. Critical realism reconstructs our basic assumptions, telling us to ask different questions … opening up new, helpful possibilities, understanding and explanation.

Definition of Religion: a complex of culturally prescribed practices that are based on premises about the existence and nature of superhuman powers (personal or impersonal)…. Everything in reality has some kind of nature … insofar as entities possess and so can express particular characteristics, capacities, and tendencies by virtue of simply what they are.

Premises of Critical Realism:

  1. Real entities with essential properties exist in reality, often independent of human mental activity.
  2. Real entities possess certain innate capacities and powers, existing at a “deep” level of reality, that only under certain conditions are activated so as to realize their potential.
  3. When the causal energies of entities are released in particular cases, they are neither determined nor determining, neither absolutely predictable nor random, neither chaotic nor incomprehensible.
  4. The social scientific task in not to discover the covering laws that explain and predict observable associations of conditions and events…. The task rather is for our theorizing minds to use all available empirical evidence and powers of reason to develop conceptual models that as accurately as possible descriptively represent the real causal processes operating at a “deeper” unobservable level of reality, through the agency of real causal mechanisms that produce changes in material and nonmaterial world.
  5. We must always pay close attention to the environmental and contextual factors that do and do not activate the causal capacities and powers of different entities, which then produces a variety of possible, sometimes-observable outcomes…. We have to be willing to deal with major complexity.

Are people religious–in what sense?

Smith does believe that human beings are naturally religious in this way: They possess a complex set of innate features, capacities, powers, limitations, and tendencies that capacitate them to be religious (i.e., to think, perceive, feel, imagine, desire and act religiously), and that under the right conditions, strongly tend to predispose and direct them towards practicing and believing religion. The natural religiousness of humanity … is located in the distinctive, inherent features, capacities, powers, limitations, and tendencies of human persons that are rooted, ultimately, in the human body and brain and the emergent (often nonmaterial) capacities that arise from the body and the brain.

I am speaking here of very powerful causal forces and dispositions that are rooted in the nature of reality and are chronically triggered to become operative in human life in a variety of contexts. That helps to explain religion’s primordial, irrepressible, widespread, and seemingly inextinguishable character. See also by Christian Smith What is a Person?: Understanding Humanity, Social Life, and the Good from the Person Up; and Moral Believing Animals: Human Personhood and Culture.

All humans are thus believers before and more basically than we are knowers. There is no universal, rational foundation upon which indubitably certain knowledge can be built. All human knowing is built on believing (presuppositions). That is the human condition…. Religious commitment is not fundamentally different, at bottom, from all the human belief commitments, insofar as religion involves trust in and response to believed-in realities that are not objectively verifiable or universally shared by all reasonable people. Religious believing is thus not at odds with the broad trajectory of all human believing.

When the prospect of a helpful superhuman power is present, it is quite natural for humans to be interest in the possibility of appealing to those powers to help avert or resolve their problems.

Humans also ask and wrestle with the “Life Questions” (Brad Gregory): What should I live for? What should I believe and why? What is morality and where does it come from? What kind of person should I be? What is the meaning of life, and what should I do to lead a meaningful life? Other existential questions that emerge are in our consciousness of existence: death, tragedy, the character of love, obligation…. We are meaning-making animals (see Charles Taylor, The Language Animal). We need language for these awarenesses–Taylor calls it constitutive language.

At the end of the day, if atheism is not compatible with moral excellence, universal benevolence, human rights, the authority of science, and basic human nature, then its attractiveness is significantly diminished…. They are overplaying their hand, trying to claim more for their viewpoint than reason and empirical evidence justify…. Considered rationally, metaphysical naturalism is simply not a worldview that independently possesses the intellectual resources to warrant a commitment to benevolence afforded and human rights honoured for all humans everywhere…. Science is inherently incapable of proving or disproving God’s possible existence.

In most historical eras, it has not been hard for people and cultures to come to believe, embrace, practice, and pass on religions to subsequent generations. It has been much, much harder to extinguish them…. Humans not only have the capacity to be religious, like the capacity for anything else humans can do, including rare and difficult things, but also those capacities are directed by strong natural tendencies that turn them toward religious expression.

Notre Dame Sociologist, Christian Smith, documents the contemporary outlook in Souls in Transition, his award-winning book on Americans aged 18-23He notes the following revealing traits among university undergrads. They are:

soft ontological anti-realists: there is no real world as such.

epistemological skeptics: question every truth claim, including moral truths.

perspectivalists: mine is only one of many ways to see things.

subjective isolation: pursuing my own unique path in life, but with a sense of loneliness.

constructivists: building myself and my morality from the ground up.

moral intuitionists: how I feel about a situation or a decision is the most important factor, even if I am uncritical about such feelings.

-antipathy/rebellion towards parental shaping, social conventions and institutional morality.

See also my blog posts on moral relativism at ~Dr. Gordon E. Carkner Dr. Paul Allen on Critical Realism

Posted by: gcarkner | January 31, 2023

Robert Mann, Physics & Faith

Dr. Robert Mann from University of Waterloo and the Perimeter Institute gave a brilliant talk at the 50th anniversary of the Canadian Science & Christian Affiliation on Saturday January 28, 2023. Some people today think science and faith are incompatible, and this can cause an existential crisis. But that is definitely not the stance of Robert Mann. His talk was entitled “To Infinity & Beyond.”

Professor Mann works on gravitation, quantum physics, and the overlap between these two subjects. He is interested in questions that provide us with information about the foundations of physics, particularly those that could be tested by experiment. Professor Mann has a lively and energetic research group of about 10 graduate and undergraduate students, where we address a number of interesting questions in physics, such as

  • How would relativity influence how a quantum computer worked?
  • Could we use a quantum probe to peek inside a black hole?
  • Is it possible that the Big Bang could be replaced with a black hole at the beginning of time?

CSCA Talk: Dr. Mann sees four areas where science & Christian faith are compatible and in fact need each other: Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience. This is also known as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Science & Faith together give us a richer perspective on life and reality.

Reason: There are epistemological parallels between science and Christianity. It is amazing and fascinating that the world is rationally transparent. Famous physicist Sir John Polkinghorne once noted, “There is a transparent beauty to the physical properties of nature.” Reason is used in science to interpret the data, and to eliminate errors in our thinking. Mathematics undergirds the laws of nature. He believes that this points to a mind behind nature. In his long experience, he observes that physics ‘makes God look good’. Peer correction is important in science as well as in understanding the Bible and the faith. A healthy measure of skepticism is important both in science and in theology. We need to continually test ideas until they become robust.

One other point made by Robert was the question of authority: It is important for atheist scientists to refrain from waxing eloquent about how science disproves God and religion, rendering all religious activity and belief to ‘unscientific’ fantasy and myth. Christian Smith covers this problem well in his 2019 Oxford University Press book Atheist Overreach, Chapter 3 “Why Scientists Playing Amateur Atheology Fail”. It is important that we stay in our lane epistemologically. Guilty parties operating this intellectual sleight of hand are top people: Yuval Noah Harari, Edward O. Wilson, Richard Leaky, Victor Stengel, Marcelo Gleiser, Steven Weinberg. The temptation to speak on the nature of everything (meaning, purpose, destiny of humanity and the universe) is lively, but wrong headed. This does not add to one’s scholarly integrity but subtracts, while confusing the public about the nature of reality at a popular level. It often bleeds into the ideology of scientism. Assumptions of materialism, naturalism and empiricism are articles of faith.

Experience is equivalent spiritually to Experimentation in science. We have to reflect on and interpret both our encounters with God and our scientific discoveries (data). We test these against Tradition–what is established thus far. History, both in science and theology, is important. Thus, the importance of peer reviewed journals. We don’t start brand new in the lab each week; we are building on knowledge that others have established. It is also important to see that science does not give us the big picture of meaning or metaphysics. We need to go elsewhere for that insight. In religion and human meaning, we need other forms of language–constitutive language (Charles Taylor, The Language Animal).

Scripture is not a scientific text per se, but of course scholarship is working on getting the best documents and discerning the tradition from other scholars down the centuries. Continual comparison occurs between different statements about God throughout the biblical narrative until a sound picture emerges. The scientific spirit of making rational sense of the Bible resonates with wise Christian believers. Scientific theories and theology are similar. Good theories and good theology will endure the tests of time. In Solomon, one of the ancient, wise kings of Israel, we see someone who operated in the spirit of science before science emerged in his botanical categorization.

~Gordon Carkner, GFCF @ UBC [] View our scholarly lectures.

Here are the videos from Robert Mann’s visit to British Columbia:

Listen to Robert Mann’s UBC 2019 talk on The Multiverse, Science & Theology: A Critical Inquiry.

See also how one scientist, Dr. Sy Garte, came to a personal faith over 60 years

See also Robert Mann on The Edge (Physics & Theology).

Posted by: gcarkner | January 27, 2023

Reading Suggestions

Follow-up Reading to Michael Ward’s Lecture on C. S. Lewis

Sir Roger ScrutonAnybody who goes through life with an open mind and heart will encounter moments that are saturated with meaning, but whose meaning cannot be put into words. Those moments are precious to us. When they occur, it is as though, on the winding, ill-lit stairway of our life, we suddenly come across a window… through which we catch sight of another, brighter world–a world to which we belong but which we cannot enter. There are many who dismiss this world as an unscientific fiction. I am not alone in thinking it real and important.

Soul of the World

In The Soul of the World, renowned philosopher Roger Scruton defends the experience of the sacred against today’s fashionable forms of atheism. He argues that our personal relationships, moral intuitions, and aesthetic judgments hint at a transcendent dimension that cannot be understood through the lens of science alone. To be fully alive―and to understand what we are―is to acknowledge the reality of sacred things. Rather than an argument for the existence of God, or a defense of the truth of religion, the book is an extended reflection on why a sense of the sacred is essential to human life―and what the final loss of the sacred would mean. In short, the book addresses the most important question of modernity: what is left of our aspirations after science has delivered its verdict about what we are?

Drawing on art, architecture, music, and literature, Scruton suggests that the highest forms of human experience and expression tell the story of our religious need, and of our quest for the being who might answer it, and that this search for the sacred endows the world with a soul. Evolution cannot explain our conception of the sacred; neuroscience is irrelevant to our interpersonal relationships, which provide a model for our posture toward God; and scientific understanding has nothing to say about the experience of beauty, which provides a God’s-eye perspective on reality. Ultimately, a world without the sacred would be a completely different world―one in which we humans are not truly at home. Yet despite the shrinking place for the sacred in today’s world, Scruton says, the paths to transcendence remain open.

On Human Nature  

Roger Scruton presents an original and radical defense of human uniqueness. Confronting the views of evolutionary psychologists, utilitarian moralists, and philosophical materialists such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, Scruton argues that human beings cannot be understood simply as biological objects. We are not only human animals; we are also persons, in essential relation with other persons, and bound to them by obligations and rights. Scruton develops and defends his account of human nature by ranging widely across intellectual history, from Plato and Averroës to Darwin and Wittgenstein.

The book begins with Kant’s suggestion that we are distinguished by our ability to say “I” – by our sense of ourselves as the centers of self-conscious reflection. This fact is manifested in our emotions, interests, and relations. It is the foundation of the moral sense, as well as of the aesthetic and religious conceptions through which we shape the human world and endow it with meaning. And it lies outside the scope of modern materialist philosophy, even though it is a natural and not a supernatural fact. Ultimately, Scruton offers a new way of understanding how self-consciousness affects the question of how we should live. The result is a rich view of human nature that challenges some of today’s most fashionable ideas about our species.

UNCOMMON KNOWLEDGE: Dialogue between historian Tom Holland, author Douglas Murray and scientist Stephen Meyer well-nuanced with various levels of belief on the God Question: Does God Exist? 

Tom Holland: “Christianity is the most successful explanation for what human beings are doing, what life is for, why we were created, why there is suffering…. The mystery of Christian inheritance is a kind of strangeness

Jurgen Habermas: “I am dismayed by the unwillingness of the modern West to admit that there is a God-shaped hole in the culture.

Stephen Meyer: “Human rights are fantastical without Christian theology.” See also Christian Smith, Atheist Overreach, Chapter 2. on this topic.

Posted by: gcarkner | January 19, 2023

Michael Ward, University of Oxford, UBC Lecture


English Literary Critic & Theologian

C. S. Lewis on Appearance and Reality in the Christian Life.

Thursday, January 26, 2023 @ 12:00 PM Pacific Time

View Talk on our YouTube Channel


C. S. Lewis knew well that Christians walk “by faith, not sight”, as the apostle Paul puts it (2 Corinthians 5:7).  But what is the difference between faith and sight?  How does faith differ from delusion?  Michael Ward will explore these themes as they are presented in Lewis’s writings, especially his fiction, and in particular his best-known works, the seven Chronicles of Narnia.


Michael Ward is the author of the award-winning Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis (Oxford University Press), co-editor of The Cambridge Companion to C. S. Lewis (Cambridge University Press) and presenter of the BBC television documentary, The Narnia Code. A member of the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the University of Oxford in his native England, Dr. Ward is also Professor of Apologetics at Houston Christian University.  He studied English at Oxford, Theology at Cambridge, and has a PhD in Divinity from St. Andrews University, Scotland. He played the role of Vicar in the film ‘The Most Reluctant Convert: The Untold Story of C.S. Lewis’ and handed a pair of X-ray spectacles to Agent 007 in the James Bond movie ‘The World Is Not Enough.’ In real life he is a Catholic priest, assisting at Holy Rood Church, Oxford alongside his work as an academic. His latest book is After Humanity: A Guide to C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man (Word On Fire Academic). 

Next in GFCF Series: Save the Date March 14 @ 4 PM: Regent College OT Professor Matthew Lynch on The Land Keeps the Score: Violence in Creation According to the Old Testament Details at

Bibliography on C.S. Lewis Oeuvre

1. C.S. Lewis: A Biography, Roger Lancelyn Green and Walter Hooper (HarperCollins, revised and expanded edition 2002)

2. C.S. Lewis, A Companion and Guide, Walter Hooper (HarperCollins, 1996)

3. The Cambridge Companion to C.S. Lewis, ed. Robert MacSwain and Michael Ward (Cambridge University Press, 2010)

4. Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis, Michael Ward (Oxford University Press, 2008)

5. The Lion’s World: A Journey into the Heart of Narnia, Rowan Williams (SPCK, 2012)

6. After Humanity: A Guide to C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man, Michael Ward (Word on Fire Academic, 2021)

Register for the Science & Faith Conference at Trinity Western University on January 28, 2023: 

If you liked Michael Ward, you will like this dialogue: Does God Exist?

Sir Roger Scruton: Anybody who goes through life with an open mind and heart will encounter moments that are saturated with meaning, but whose meaning cannot be put into words. Those moments are precious to us. When they occur, it is as though, on the winding, ill-lit stairway of our life, we suddenly come across a window… through which we catch sight of another, brighter world–a world to which we belong but which we cannot enter. There are many who dismiss this world as an unscientific fiction. I am not alone in thinking it real and important.

Posted by: gcarkner | January 3, 2023

Hope for a New Year 2023

New Year’s Resolutions/Good Habits for Life Enhancement

  1. Redeem some relationship that is strained or broken. This will take some weight off your shoulders.
  2. Set in place a reasonable work schedule with space for playing hooky or chilling by the fireplace. Try to find a balance between discipline/principle, paranoia/buffer and risk/creativity.
  3. Schedule more time with friends. Cultivate new life-giving relationships. Hold a baby.
  4. Get outside in the fresh air and seek mobility. The gym is a good option in foul weather.
  5. Spend regular time with God in prayer and Scripture meditation. Bible study is also fun with friends. Worship also gives perspective on your struggles.
  6. Help someone in some way (as realistic) each week. This makes you a stronger self and builds community–builds a good feedback loop.
  7. Develop a framework for growth, impact and personal empowerment–one that will move your life forward.
  8. Assess your giftedness, assets and calling. Build out from your strengths and successes. What caused that success? How can you make it even better?
  9. Call out the things that cause you fear or make you feel weak, and face them bravely with patience, grace and integrity. Get help as needed. Prayer can give you perspective on your negative/dysfunctional fears.
  10. Seek out someone to mentor you in something new, keeping that creative edge alive. Have a wonderful 2023.

 This poem from Dietrich Bonhoeffer is in Lutheran, Catholic and Mennonite hymn books in Germany.  He expressed from prison at the turn of 1944  a hope that we also need looking into 2023.

Finally here is a great talk to start 2023 by UK Bishop N.T. Wright:

A Big Welcome to New UBC Postgrad Students!

“By the Powers of Good” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

With every power for good to stay and guide me,
Comforted and inspired beyond all fear,
I’ll live these days with you in thought beside me,
And pass, with you, into the coming year.

The old year still torments our hearts, unhastening;
The long days of sorrow still endure;
Father, grant to the souls thou hast been chastening
That thou hast promised, the healing and the cure.

Should it be ours to drain the cup of grieving
Even to the dregs of pain, at thy command,
We will not falter, thankfully receiving
All that is given by thy loving hand.

But should it be thy will once more to release us
To life’s enjoyment and its good sunshine,
That which we’ve learned from sorrow shall increase us,
And all our life be dedicate to thine.

Today, let candles shed their radiant greetings;
Lo, on our darkness are they not thy light
Leading us, haply, to our longed-for meeting?
Thou canst illumine even our darkest night.

When now the silence deepens for our hearkening,
Grant we may hear thy children’s voices raise
From all the unseen world around us darkening
Their universal paean, in thy praise.

While all the powers of good aid and attend us,
Boldly, we’ll face the future, come what may.
At even and at morn God will befriend us,
And oh, most surely on each newborn day!

Posted by: gcarkner | December 10, 2022

Transformative Moments of Epiphany

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is screen-shot-2018-12-08-at-8-58-26-am.png

Mary Encounters Something Wholly Other

Luke 1: 26-56

Epiphanies are suggestive of transcendence. Michael Morgan (1994, pp. 56f)) points out that Charles Taylor sees a parallel between the epiphanies of art and poetry in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and the I-Thou epiphany of religious encounter with the divine. Taylor elaborates the idea of epiphanies (1989, pp. 419f, especially 490-93). He sees Post-Romantic and modernist art as oriented to epiphanies, episodes of realization, revelation, or disclosure. Epiphanies and epiphanic art are about a kind of transcendence, about the self coming in touch with that which lies beyond it, a ground or qualitative pre-eminence. One might call it a gift of the imagination or a re-enchantment of reality.

Taylor reviews various ways of articulating epiphany in Sources of the Self (1989, pp. 419-93). He articulates how God, inserted into this idea of epiphany, fits as a moral source (Sources of the Self, pp. 449-52). Epiphanies can be a way of connecting with spiritual and moral sources through the exercise of the creative imagination: sources may be divine (Taylor), or in the world or nature (Romantics like Thoreau), or in the powers of the imaginative, expressive self (Michel Foucault).

These epiphanies are a paradigm case of what Taylor calls recovering contact with moral sources. A special case of this renewal of relationship between the self and the moral source is religion and the relation to God, which he sees in the work of Dostoyevski. The relationship to art parallels the relationship to religion. The self is oriented in the presence of the inaccessible or sublime, that which captures one’s amazement or awe, for example, when one’s eyes are riveted to a certain painting like Monet’s Lillies, and one’s inner emotions are deeply moved by a poem. One is taken beyond oneself, in an experience of transcendence; the experience involves both elements of encounter and revelation. It can come in a discovery such as finding out the chemicals in our bodies were once part of the death of a star; we are stardust, embedded in creation itself; we owe the stars our very existence.

When Mary hears from an angel that she is to become the vessel of a most profound turn of events in history, she is in awe, overwhelmed. It is truly an epiphany, an I-Thou encounter with radical alterity. Heaven and earth reach out to each other at this juncture and something dramatic occurs. This news changes everything. Time stands still in this kairos moment. She allows transcendence and immanence to intermingle within her body, her life. Mary’s story is punctuated by the incursion of the eternal into the temporal, informed by the descent of transcendence into a historical teenager’s life. We know it as the incarnation, the most profound identification of the divine with humanity. D. Steven Long writes in Speaking of God (309): “The purpose of the church is to recognize and acknowledge those conditions by which we can, like Mary, say yes to God and in so doing make Jesus present to the world. Those conditions are the way of holiness and that assumes the transcendentals—truth, goodness and beauty.”

Descent by Malcolm Guite

They sought to soar into the skies

Those classic gods of high renown

For lofty pride aspires to rise

​But you came down.

You dropped down from the mountains sheer

Forsook the eagle for the dove

The other Gods demanded fear

But you gave love

Where chiselled marble seemed to freeze

Their abstract and perfected form

Compassion brought you to your knees

Your blood was warm

They called for blood in sacrifice

Their victims on an altar bled

When no one else could pay the price

You died instead

They towered above our mortal plain,

Dismissed this restless flesh with scorn,

Aloof from birth and death and pain,

​But you were born.

Born to these burdens, borne by all

Born with us all ‘astride the grave’

Weak, to be with us when we fall,

​And strong to save.

It is a strong transcendence to use philosopher Calvin Schrag’s insightful language. Transcendence means more than a selfless exposure or reorientation alone, but also a receiving that deeply involves the self, its imagination, its inner resources, its visions and revisions. In this calculus, for religion and art, the self remains autonomous and becomes fulfilled as it opens to the impact of the Other. It powers the sensus divinitatis. The human soul is enlarged. Human dignity is placed on a new level with the incarnation. Morgan elaborates through the example of Jewish writer, Martin Buber, on this concept of religious epiphany or I-Thou encounter (Morgan, 1994, pp. 60-61). Taylor appreciates (1994, pp. 226-29) his use of Buber in relation to his (Taylor’s) concept of epiphany. For Buber, the religious event, revelation, involves a meeting between the self and the divine Other, an encounter that depends upon both parties. It is an act of self-affirmation, even as it is a giving over of the self to the Other. Life is enhanced. Freedom and responsibility are enhanced. There is revelation, high thought, deep realization.

The self is receiver, but it is a receiver, not of a content, a proposition, a truth, but rather of a ‘Presence, a Presence as Power’. Furthermore, that Presence provides ‘the inexpressible confirmation of meaning’, a meaning that calls out to be done, to be confirmed by the self in this life and in this world … This confirmation and this affirmation of God and self in the world are what Taylor calls a ‘changed stance towards self and world, which doesn’t simply recognize a hitherto occluded good, but rather helps to bring this about’. (Morgan, 1994, p. 60) There is a profound, transcendent goodness revealed, articulated, interpreted for us.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is screen-shot-2018-12-08-at-9-10-18-am.png

Mary Shares the Profound News with Cousin Elizabeth

This entails the emergence of a supreme good in human experience. Thus, the concept of transcendence through epiphany, that has currency for artists and poets of the twentieth century, provides a category for us to extend to the transcendence of God. May this epiphanic realization continue this Advent Season and open up our world to horizons beyond our imagination, a re-enchantment of our reality. Mary is a model to us. She allowed epiphany and grace to transform her into a vessel of the Christ-event. “I am your servant Lord. I will do as you wish.”

Annunciation by Malcolm Guite

We see so little, stayed on surfaces,

We calculate the outsides of all things,

Preoccupied with our own purposes

We miss the shimmer of the angels’ wings,

They coruscate around us in their joy

A swirl of wheels and eyes and wings unfurled,

They guard the good we purpose to destroy,

A hidden blaze of glory in God’s world.

But on this day a young girl stopped to see

With open eyes and heart. She heard the voice;

The promise of His glory yet to be,

As time stood still for her to make a choice;

Gabriel knelt and not a feather stirred,

The Word himself was waiting on her word.

Dostoyevsky’s (1974) work The Brothers Karamozov reveals the power of transcendence and the danger of refusing it, i.e. remaining trapped within an immanent frame. Charles Taylor notes that:

“One of Dostoyevsky’s central insights turns on the way in which we close or open ourselves to grace. The ultimate sin is to close oneself, but the reasons for doing so can be of the highest. In a sense the person who is closed is in a vicious circle from which it is hard to escape. We are closed to grace, because we close ourselves to the world in which it circulates; and we do that out of loathing for ourselves and for the world … Rejecting the world seals one’s sense of its loathsomeness and of one’s own, insofar as one is a part of it. And from this can come only acts of hate and destruction. Dostoyevsky … gives an acute understanding of how loathing and self-loathing, inspired by the very real evils of the world, fuel a projection of evil outward, a polarization between self and the world, where all evil is now seen to reside. This justifies terror, violence, and destruction against the world; indeed this seems to call for it. No one … has given us deeper insight into the spiritual sources of modern terrorism or has shown more clearly how terrorism can be a response to the threat of self-hatred … The noblest wreak it [destruction] on themselves. The most base destroy others. Although powered by the noblest sense of the injustice of things, this schism is ultimately also the fruit of pride, Dostoyevsky holds. We separate because we don’t want to see ourselves as part of evil; we want to raise ourselves above it.” (C. Taylor, 1989, pp. 451-52)

The various school and pub shootings are just such a projection of hatred for the Other. It is a simple, cold, deadly logic. It is completely grace-less, warlike and violent, full of hatred and resentment. There appears to be a provocative link from self-sufficiency to pride and to the aesthetics of violence (religious or secular). Taylor holds out hope for a transcendent turn to agape love, hope for a different type of transformation from beyond pure immanent choice focused self-invention and greedy self-interest which brackets the social world/common good and God. There is discovery of self within the economy of grace, a discovery and a transformation that offers a different stance towards self and the world. It is an epiphanic discovery, but only if we allow it. Continuing with his discussion of Dostoyevsky, Taylor (1989) writes of this epiphanic encounter with transcendence,

Edwin Muir The Incarnate One

The windless northern surge, the sea-gull’s scream,
And Calvin’s kirk crowning the barren brae.
I think of Giotto the Tuscan shepherd’s dream,
Christ, man and creature in their inner day.
How could our race betray
The Image, and the Incarnate One unmake
Who chose this form and fashion for our sake?

The Word made flesh here is made word again
A word made word in flourish and arrogant crook.
See there King Calvin with his iron pen,
And God three angry letters in a book,
And there the logical hook
On which the Mystery is impaled and bent
Into an ideological argument.

There’s better gospel in man’s natural tongue,
And truer sight was theirs outside the Law
Who saw the far side of the Cross among
The archaic peoples in their ancient awe,
In ignorant wonder saw
The wooden cross-tree on the bare hillside,
Not knowing that there a God suffered and died.

The fleshless word, growing, will bring us down,
Pagan and Christian man alike will fall,
The auguries say, the white and black and brown,
The merry and the sad, theorist, lover, all
Invisibly will fall:
Abstract calamity, save for those who can
Build their cold empire on the abstract man.

A soft breeze stirs and all my thoughts are blown
Far out to sea and lost. Yet I know well
The bloodless word will battle for its own
Invisibly in brain and nerve and cell.
The generations tell
Their personal tale: the One has far to go
Past the mirages and the murdering snow.

“What will transform us is an ability to love the world and ourselves, to see it as good in spite of the wrong. But this will only come to us if we can accept being part of it, and that means accepting responsibility … Loving the world and ourselves is in a sense a miracle, in face of all the evil and degradation that it and we contain. But the miracle comes on us if we accept being part of it. Involved in this is our acceptance of love from others. We become capable of love through being loved; and over against the perverse apostolic succession [of terror and violence] is a grace-dispensing one. Dostoyevsky brings together here a central idea of the Christian tradition, especially evident in the Gospel of John, that people are transformed through being loved by God, a love that they mediate to one another, on the one hand, with the modern notion of a subject who can help to bring on transfiguration through the stance he takes to himself and the world, on the other … What he [Dostoyevsky] was opposing was that humans affirm their dignity in separation from the world.” (C. Taylor, 1989, p. 452)

We mourn the terrible, tragic  loss of life that comes with racism, aggressive wars and terrorist acts against humanity, and yet we must not give up on love. We can see and think better, live better, be better. We need new eyes, the ability to see through the world to something better–the prophetic stance. Epiphany elevates our gaze so that we are open to the transformation of the world, rather than the elimination of those who are different, who irritate us. We must move away from self-righteousness to suffer and struggle for peace (Rowan Williams, The Truce of God). We must reject the forces of diabolos, division, prejudice, fear and hatred. The clenched fist must be replaced the open hand of fellowship and hospitality. When we come to realize that the very core of reality is love, our cynicism will melt away, our nihilism will give way to rich meaning and purpose. What do we make of Mary’s epiphany and her transformation? Can it rethink and remake our vision of life, our calling? Can transcendent light shine into our inner darkness and heal us? The right epiphany or breakthrough can change everything.

In Christ, we have both immanence and transcendence, physical and spiritual, a grounded this-worldly spirituality. St. John’s Nottingham biblical scholar Anthony Thistelton (Intepreting God and the Postmodern Self, 1993) says that the mystery of the incarnation is too profound for human discovery by reason alone; it requires epiphany or divine revelation. It is beyond our limited imagination to conjure. On the other hand, open-minded reasoning engages, and is engaged by, such profound epiphany. We ponder together the eternal verities. The right posture, the right intellectual virtues of humility and openness can result in discovering absolutely profound insights.

~Gordon E. Carkner PhD, Meta-educator UBC Postgraduate Students, Author, Blogger, YouTube Webinar Producer.

Morgan, M.L. (1994). Religion, History and Moral Discourse. In J. Tully, (Ed.), Philosophy in an Age of Pluralism: The philosophy of Charles Taylor in question. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Taylor, C. (1989). Sources of the Self: The making of the modern identity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

See also Real Presences by George Steiner; The Self After Postmodernity by Calvin Schrag; Not in God’s Name by Jonathan Sacks.

See also my thirteen-part blog series Incarnational Spirituality: a new horizon

Christmas Readings Eternal Seasons: a Liturgical Journey with Henri Nouwen

Definition: The word epiphany comes from the Greek language and is known to translate
to mean manifestation or appearance. It can also refer to the meaning of a
reveal. This ties in nicely with the meaning of the concept of epiphany, when it
is used as a literary device, an epiphany is a moment in which a character
gains clarity or understanding of a situation. They may have been through a
series of events which made no sense or left them feeling uncertain but at the
moment of the epiphany, they gain knowledge, awareness and realisation.

Using the concept of epiphany allows the writer to let the character see a
situation with a fresh pair of eyes or in a brand new light. Usually, when the
character has an epiphany, they are then able to much more easily tackle the
situation or problem with which they are faced.

Posted by: gcarkner | December 2, 2022

Gord’s Christmas Reads 2022

Rebekah Eklund, The Beatitudes through the Ages.

Daniel I. Block, Covenant: the Framework of God’s Grand Plan of Redemption.

John Swinton, Finding Jesus in the Storm: the Spiritual Journey of Christians with Mental Health Issues

John Swinton, Becoming Friends of Time: Disability, Timefullness, and Gentle Discipleship

Daniel Darling, Ministers of Reconciliation: Preaching on Race and the Gospel.

Michael Kruger, Surviving Religion 101: Letters to a Christian Student on Keeping the Faith in College.

Douglas Moo, A Theology of Paul and His Letters: The Gift of the New Realm in Christ. (Biblical Theology of New Testament).

Tim Keller, Forgive.

Sohrab Ahmari, The Unbroken Thread: Discovering the Wisdom of Tradition in an Age of Chaos. 

Eric Mason (ed.), Urban Apologetics: Restoring Black Dignity with the Gospel .

Jeffrey Bilbro, Reading the Time: a Literary and Theological Inquiry into the News.

Wendell Berry, The Need to be Whole: Patriotism and the History of Prejudice.

Bruce Waltke, Proverbs: A Shorter Commentary.

Craig Keener, I Peter: A Commentary.

Winn Collier, A Burning in My Bones: The Autobiography of Eugene Peterson

John Lennox, 2084: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity.

Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism and the Road to Sexual Revolution

Daniel K. Williams, Politics of the Cross: A Christian Alternative to Partisanship.

Christopher Watkin, Biblical Critical Theory: How the Bible’s Unfolding Story Makes Sense of Modern Life and Culture.

Terry Glaspey, Discovering God Through the Arts: How WE Grow Closer to God by Appreciating Beauty and Creativity.

Older Posts »