Posted by: gcarkner | November 2, 2018

Panel Discussion on Jordan Peterson

A Scholarly Discernment of the Peterson Phenomenon: strengths, weaknesses, what it says about our cultural situation,  where he fits philosophically in comparison with great minds like Charles Taylor, Paul Ricoeur, Victor Frankl, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Michel Foucault, Søren Kierkegaard, Northrop Frye, René Girard, John Milbank, Chantal Delsol, Bernard Lonergan, Friedrich Nietzsche, Richard Kearney, George Grant, Jens Zimmermann, C.S. Lewis, the Church Fathers. Students are hungry these days for wise and authentic public intellectuals to help them make sense of the world they inhabit. Negotiating late modernity is not for the faint of heart.


Panel Discussion on Jordan Peterson’s “12 Rules for Life”:

A Response to the Millennial Crisis of Identity


St. John’s College Lounge, UBC

Thursday, November 15 @ 7:00 p.m.


Panel ModeratorDr. David Ley, Professor Emeritus Geography, UBC; Fellow of St. John’s College


Marvin McDonald is a professional psychologist, faculty member at Trinity Western University, a writer whose work engages theoretical psychology and positive psychology. A gracious interlocutor, Marvin loves dialogue across different worldview perspectives. He believes in a creative interface between philosophy and psychology, and articulates responses to his graduate student inquiries from a vast landscape of knowledge and insight.

Ron Dart teaches in the Department of Political Science, Philosophy and Religious Studies at University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, BC. He is the most important writer about the Red Tory tradition in Canada with thirty-five published books, including the recent notable The North American High Tory Tradition. He has also written extensively on one of Canada’s top public intellectuals, George Grant. Ron is also a poet and a back country hiker. He has a number of YouTube videos on the Peterson phenomenon and is presently editing a book on Jordan Peterson.

Gordon Carkner,  a meta-educator with graduate students and faculty at UBC: GFCF (The Forum) & GCU which sponsor interdisciplinary educational forums like this one. He mentors students in a robust, well-rounded outlook on education. He has authored two books and co-authored one, most notably The Great Escape from Nihilism: rediscovering our passion in late modernity, a book which parallels the theme of the quest for meaning in Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life. His PhD work was on the crisis of the late modern self, a dialogue between Michel Foucault and Charles Taylor.



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Please read the book in advance of November 15 if possible, but this is not required.
Other Relevant and Pertinent Resources on Meaning, Identity, Moral Agency, Discernment of Our Age

Fowers, B. J., Richardson, F. C., & Slife, B. D. (2017). Frailty, suffering, and vice: Flourishing in the face of human limitations. Washington, DC: APA Books.

Carr, D., Arthur, J., & K. Kristjánsson, K. (Eds.) (2017). Varieties of virtue ethics. London: Palgrave/MacMillan.

Worthington, E. L., et al. (2014). Virtue in positive psychology. In K. Timpe & C. A. Boyd (Eds.), Virtues and Their Vices (pp. 433-457).  Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self; A Secular Age.
Richard Kearney, Anatheism: Returning to God After God.
Paul Ricoeur, Oneself as Another.
Calvin Schrag, The Self After Postmodernity.
Dennis Danielson, The Tao of Right and Wrong.
Christian Smith, Souls in Transition.
Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head.
C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man.
Chantal Delsol, Icarus Fallen: the search for meaning in an uncertain world.
James K.A. Smith, You Are What You Love.
George Grant, In Defence of North America.
Christian Smith, Souls in Transition.
Jonathan Sacks, The Dignity of Difference.
Philip Yancey, Reaching for the Invisible God.
David Brooks, The Road to Character.
Alasdair McIntyre, After Virtue.
Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic Comic Relief on Millennials in the Workplace by Simon Sinek:

12 Rules for Life: Like Russian author Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, whom he much admires, Jordan Peterson believes that we are not in this world to pursue happiness, to be entertained, but for moral growth, to grow in the virtues, to become attentive and take responsibility for our part in the larger scheme of things. This offers a more hermeneutical outlook or social imaginary, one which authenticates human subjectivity and the quest for purpose and meaning. Philosopher Bernard Lonergan has parallel concerns in his Principles of Self-Transcendence.

  • Be Attentive: pay attention to what is happening around you
  • Be Intelligent: examine your assumptions, reflect, self-criticise
  • Be Reasonable: speak carefully and listen carefully to others
  • Be Responsible: own your part in the greater scheme and take responsibility for yourself

Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life has captured the imagination of many who hunger for a hopeful way forward in a confusing age of uncertainties. He is directing people away from their nihilistic tendencies and towards a meaningful, productive existence. It cultivates a particular kind of identity, one grounded in basic and traditional principles of conscientious living. It is a book well worth engaging.

Firm but caring…Peterson speaks the way I always wished my father had….He is the right person at the right time, someone capable of showing you men that cleaning up their room has cosmic significance, and that imposing a little order upon chaos is good for the soul, which in turn is good for the world ~National Review

Posted by: gcarkner | October 29, 2018

Dennis Danielson: The Tao of Right and Wrong

The Tao of Right and Wrong: Rediscovering Humanity’s Moral Foundations

By Dennis Danielson

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Written in the tradition of The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis’s classic work on moral philosophy celebrating its seventy-fifth anniversary in 2018, The Tao of Right and Wrong addresses questions such as what is just? What is right? What is wrong? What purposes, and what virtues, are worth pursuing? And most importantly, how can we weigh answers to these questions without lapsing into, “That’s only your opinion”?

In The Tao of Right and Wrong, Dennis Danielson offers a vigorous primer on moral realism, asserting that humans can and should exercise ethical judgments—and that these judgments are not reducible to subjective opinion, animal instinct, or cultural “construction.” The book is a twenty-first century call for the virtuous cultivation of “humans with hearts,” for a rejection of moral nihilism, and for a life-affirming embrace of moral realism founded in the Tao—the transcultural fund of ultimate postulates that form the very ground of moral judgment, codes of ethics, and standards of right and wrong.

Dennis Danielson is Professor Emeritus of English at the University of British Columbia and an intellectual historian who has written about literature, religion, and the history of science. He is a past recipient of his university’s Killam Prize for research in the humanities, and of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation’s Konrad Adenauer Research Award.

From the text of The Tao of Right and Wrong:

“Even if we can’t decisively answer the question, it’s worth pausing and asking why educators, and to a large extent the rest of us, have grown so squeamish in the presence of words like ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ Why do we resort to euphemisms like ‘positive,’ ‘negative,’ ‘appropriate,’ ‘inappropriate,’ ‘challenging,’ and the like?” (11-12)

“Any education founded on the proposition that all judgments of value—all ‘oughts,’ all standards of morality—are ultimately just subjective opinions must collapse into incoherence.” (25).

“The point is not that animal behaviors have no relevance to our understanding of human behavior, but rather that we require a standard of judgment above and beyond that offered by bare biology as a guide to what is morally permissible, advantageous, or obligatory.” (39)

“By adhering to a richer notion of reason and of human dignity and integrity, one rooted in the Tao, we may offer our children and ourselves a clearer, more authentic, and more dynamic foundation for moral life, virtuous life.” (53)

“The very fabric of our lives is teleological—purpose-driven—in ways that far transcend the dissemination of our genes (though perhaps that’s part of it). Therefore, a failure to account for that strong sense and experience of purpose, of goal-directedness, of moral worthwhileness, is a serious failure indeed.” (p. 58)

“Surely it’s reasonable to hope that social change might be driven by interpretation of principles rather than that the interpretation of principles should be driven by social change.” (70)

“Let us rekindle our confidence in the reality of ultimate sacred postulates and unashamedly teach them to ourselves and our children.” (78)



“Dennis Danielson’s message in The Tao of Right and Wrong needs to be urgently heeded. … This book should be on every teacher’s reading list.”

—Margaret Somerville, Professor of Bioethics, University of Notre Dame Australia

The Tao of Right and Wrong is a remarkably compressed and equally lucid exposition of the truths that really count. … The debate in which this book engages is, in the full sense of the term, a fundamental one.”

—Rex Murphy, Commentator for The National Post and formerly for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

“Dennis Danielson marks the 75th anniversary of C.S. Lewis’s classic work The Abolition of Man by updating it for our present situation and applying it to current concerns in a skilful and thought-provoking way. Timely, deft, impressive.”

Michael Ward, University of Oxford, author of Planet Narnia,co-editor of The Cambridge Companion to C.S. Lewis

“Brilliant essay. … In the Tao of Right and Wrong [Danielson maintains] that the crucial piece many are missing is a sense of the ultimate reality that supports meaning and ethical behaviour.”

Douglas Todd in The Vancouver Sun and The Montreal Gazette

Posted by: gcarkner | October 28, 2018

The Search for Meaning Amidst Uncertainty: Chantal Delsol

Chantal Delsol, French Philosopher

Delsol is a prominent French philosopher, political historian and novelist. Founder of the Hannah Arendt research institute founded in 1993. She is openly Catholic, and a disciple of Julien Freund and Pierre Boutang, describes herself as a “liberal-conservative“. Her analysis is that contemporary man, like the mythological figure Icarus, has flown too close to the sun–utopian ideology. She is one of the world’s most insightful social and cultural writers.

Modern man is not a zombie or a monster, but a drifter with an unhappy conscience, because, having a right to everything, he is fulfilled with nothing, and due to this dissatisfaction, he does not even know the name of what he is looking for. He is in self-exile from his own universe….But periods of metamorphosis hold within themselves the hope of meaning. (Icarus Fallen, xxvii)

To have meaning is to stand for something other than oneself, to establish a link with a value, an idea, an ideal beyond oneself. Life has meaning, for example, for those who spend their lives in search of a cure for a disease., or in the struggle against injustice, or just to show every day that society can be more than a jungle. The link one establishes with this value or idea confers a higher value on life….A life that has meaning recognizes certain references….In other words, it is paradoxically worth something only to the extent that it admits itself not to be of supreme value, by recognizing what is worth more than itself, by its ability to organize itself around something else. Everyone will admit that existence is at once both finite and deficient. We consider society to be mediocre, love insufficient, a lifespan too narrow. The person whose life has meaning is the one who, instead of remaining  complacently in the midst of his regrets, decides to strive for perfection, however imperfectly, to express the absolute, even through his own deficiencies, to seek eternity, even if only temporarily. If he spends his life making peace in society or rendering justice to victims, he is effectively pointing, even if it is with a trembling finger, to the existence of peace and justice as such….By pursuing referents, he points to them. He awkwardly expresses these impalpable, immaterial figures of hope or expectancy….Individual existence, when it means something, points to its referent through its day-to-day actions and behaviours, the sacrifices it accepts and the risks it dares to take….The seeker moves forward, all the while wondering, “What is worth serving?” Individual existence structures itself through the call for meaning. Existence is shaped by questions and expectations.

~Chantal Delsol, Icarus Fallen, (4-5)

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Western man at the beginning of the twenty-first century is the descendant of Icarus. He wanders into the world he has fallen. It is as if someone has thrown him into a game without giving him rules. When he asks around for instructions, he is invariably told that they have been lost. He is amazed that everyone is content to live in a world without meaning and without identity, where no one seems to know either why he lives or why he dies. (Icarus Fallen)

For two centuries man has attempted to refashion his condition and, in a sense, to separate himself from his former self. The major discovery of modernity consists in affirming that man invented transcendence, morality, and politics from top to bottom. The reasons that might have possessed him to invent these things are multiple, and vary according to who interprets them: to reassure himself, to escape from his natural anguish, to satisfy his desire for power or glory. In any case, what is essential here is the idea of invention. (Icarus Fallen, 18)

The contemporary era, as the end-product of the modern attempt to suppress morality, has created individuals who no longer raise the question of good and evil, and who are entirely ignorant of what used to be called “the examination of conscience”…. The attempt to eliminate the antinomy between good and evil through a denial of their differences should logically lead to carefree indifference towards these categories. Modernity has replaced the objective category of the good with what it calls values, that is, a smattering of subjective goods, each of which derives from individual judgment. By their subjectivity, values spell the death of the good, even if language confers upon them the majesty of the defunct good….Values are a form of solipsism or mere whim, depending on the degree of clarity of thought one might find in them. A purely subjective “good” is binding on no one but oneself, and can be differentiated only with some difficulty from sentiments, affections, or self-interest.  ( Icarus Fallen, 22, 27)

Ban the economy and the black market will blossom. Decree that religions are obsolete and you will have sects. Deny that human beings seek the good, and the ghost of the good will appear surreptitiously under the guise of correct thinking. Societies that attempt to rid themselves of the figures of economics, religion, and morality must put up with them in their black market form. (Icarus Fallen)

Dominated by emotion, our era overflows with sentiment. It is almost as if the feelings that were once associated with a certain type of piety have contaminated the whole population. Tear-jerking sensitivity has always been the stock-in-trade of those groups of human beings for whom existence is structured exclusively by morality, to the detriment of knowledge and efficiency. Seeking the good while remaining indifferent to truth gives rise to a morality of sentimentality. Reactive judgment, deprived of thoughtful reflection, engenders fanatical emotion and an absolute priority of feeling over thought. (Icarus Fallen)

On Relativism 

One of the particularities of our time consists in the fear of truth. We hold dearly to the good but we are suspicious of the truth…. [Modern man] does not fear what is false but what is evil…..The disappearance of truth understood as objective truth, and its replacement by “points of view” or subjective “truths,” does not stop contemporary man from identifying moral imperatives that he would not abandon under any circumstances. Where do these moral imperatives come from, seemingly born out of nihilism, like trees flourishing in the desert? (Icarus Fallen 45, 46)

Morality has reduced to revulsion, indignation, disgust, instinctive nausea, recoil of the heart against the negative consequences of ideology: “This instinctive nausea…is the undergirding, however negative and frightful it may be, of contemporary thought.” (47) Certainties are the target of such revulsion: “The rejection of ideological truths through moral intuition has two consequences: the fear of truth, and the redeployment of a new imperative through the intuition of an objective evil.” (47). It is a reaction to totalitarianisms of the past. “Certitude kills, irrespective of whether it is truth or error that nourishes it. Great certainties terrorize in great ways. Truth or the belief that one possesses the truth, is [seen as] inherently dangerous.” (47)

A pervasive moralism, reduced essentially to bad conscience, that is, to an anemic moral code, has replaced the search for truth. Contemporary man is satisfied to merely reject the objects of his disgust. His only compass in the general disorder of his thoughts is the consensus of repugnance–towards Nazism, totalitarianism in general, anti-Semitism, apartheid. There is no other solid ground to stand on. This disgust indicates an anxious search for the good….The criterion of disgust is only able to impose itself on what has already proved to be unacceptable. In order to denounce a great wrong, we must wait until it produces virtually irreparable human disasters. (48, 49)

Indignation–which is after all merely a gust of anger and one unaware of its sources–reveal the only certainties, however modest they may be, that are left in a time that is otherwise deprived of certainties. In the era of the philosophy of values, of moral relativism, we are still able to point to an absolute evil….From the discovery of an absolute evil, however, we cannot deduce the existence of an objective good, since in our time it is imprecisely the relativity of the good that guards against falsifications of the Good, and against the Good’s great temptation to rule by terror….Henceforth, morality must prevent, but not bind. Its norms are exclusively negative. This, then, is how we are able to reconcile everything that is dear to us, that is, by erecting barriers that protect us from the unacceptable, while allowing each person to choose his own good. (50, 51)

Of course there is a kind of inherent dishonesty in the refusal to designate the good….By antithesis, absolute evil, once it has been recognized, cannot fail to evoke the existence of the absolute good, which is also objective. An absolute good would also entail obligation, and this would necessarily limit individual freedom….The only moral faculty that contemporary man considers valid is a bad conscience…. This morality of the requisite minimum keeps intelligence at bay. (51, 52)

To denounce an evil essentially means to identify a good under attack….The good is understood to exist even while it is denied. It lives, albeit as a nebulous presence, in the very heart of its desertion.(52)

The identification of an absolute evil forces us to believe that an order exists beyond our will, beyond our capacity as creators of order. This identification puts into doubt not only the subjective morality of our times, but the very possibility of its being. We cannot decree that each individual has the sovereignty to invent his own values and at the same time point the finger at an intolerable and permanent universal. We cannot proclaim “To each his own morality,” and at the same time decry racism and apartheid. There is a flaw in the reasoning that we will inevitably have to confront. (53)

Dogmatic relativism suits our independence-hungry spirit perfectly well. Its presuppositions, though, and also its consequences, contradict our common vision of humanity…. Humanity thus becomes fragmented into individuals radically differentiated from one another by divergent paths–each person’s “good” being nothing more than than the destination that he has set for himself. Through this very divergence, the other is kept from becoming one’s fellow man. Relativism takes away all meaning and the raison d’être of empathetic consideration and compassion in the sense of “suffering with,” which which seems so natural….This inner certitude obscurely convinces us that a valid “good” does exist for the entire species, that is, independent of our sovereign will. Relativism which makes of each of us a species unto himself, as if to be preserved on Noah’s ark, contradicts our most profound convictions. This is why it is not viable. (57)

In short, the contemporary era cannot be defined by the absence of moral references, but by the rejection of an Evil and the apologetics of a Good that are taken for granted and detached from any idea of objective truth that might give them legitimacy….The attitude signals a refusal to go looking for such foundations, for fear of actually discovering them. Contemporary man postulates not the emptiness of truth, but the danger of truth. His agnosticism is of a new sort, born not of conviction but of fear…. The contemporary era tells the tale of a veritable flight from truth. (58)

Good & Evil

Definition of Evil: the Greek concept of diabolos–“he who separates, divides through aversion and hate; he who makes unjust accusations, denigrates, slanders; he who envies, admits his repugnancy.” The absolute Evil identified by our contemporary takes the form of racism, exclusion or totalitarianism. The last in fact appears as the epitome of separation, since it atomizes societies, functions by means of terror and denouncement, and is determined to destroy human bonds (examples: apartheid and xenophobia. See How Fascism Works by Jason Stanley). (61)

Definition of the Good: For contemporary man, the notions of solidarity and fraternity, and the different expressions of harmony between classes, age groups, peoples, are still associated with goodness. The man of our time is similar to the man of any time insofar as he prefers friendship to hate and indifference, social harmony to internal strife, peace to war, and the united family to the fragmented family. In other words, he seeks relationship, union, agreement, and love, and fears distrust, ostracism, contempt, and the destruction of his fellow…. The good has the face of fellowship, no matter what name it is given, be it love, the god of Aristotle, or the God of the Bible. (62)

The certitude of the good finds its guarantee in the attraction it induces. The separation of the diabolos occurs constantly, but one day or another it will be pursued by mortal shame…. By experience, we know that evil lies in the excesses of [a particular] good. That is why we refuse to search for the rational foundations of the good, why we voluntarily allow our conception of the good to remain purely instinctual. (62, 63)

In the wake of the 2016 American election, and the obvious political tensions dividing Europe today, much has been written about the terrifying divide – seemingly chasmic in proportions – separating the citizens of the Western world. The bulk of that writing has sought to describe that division in political terms, as a conflict over immigration or free trade. Delsol’s book points, convincingly, to a more frightening possibility: that the citizens of the Western world now no longer share a common vision of the good. ~Philip Clark in a Review of Icarus Fallen


Posted by: gcarkner | October 23, 2018

Bob Doede on Technology, Humanity and the Future


Anyone who carefully pays attention to the arc of western cultural thought and practice since the rise of modernity will discern a progressively intensifying and spreading pursuit of abstractions as the most trusted means of representing reality and accessing truth. The increases in our power to intellectually grasp and materially control nature, eventually brought with it stupendous gains in human standards of living for a good portion of Earth’s growing population. Yet, in recent decades, it has dawned on many that these improvements in material standards of living came with an unanticipated price: viz., a rather steep and almost unbearable reduction of the existential meaningfulness of life.

Since the rise of information sciences in the 1940s, our fondness for abstractions has expressed itself most emphatically in a number of cultural domains: for example, our culture’s growing preference for digitality over analogue, for algorithm over observation, for informational effigies over empirical realities, and for data-structures over concrete physical presences. This obsession with bloodless abstractions finds its ideological epicenter today in a computational variant of functionalism that has dominated the cognitive sciences for the last four decades. Quite generally, the cognitive sciences view the mind as essentially an information processing software running in, on, and through the brain’s neuronal connectivity, which both receives input from the hardware peripheries of the body’s senses and which also outputs commands to the body’s hardware motor peripheries. Computational functionalism provides the conceptual sub-structure upon which most articulations of transhumanism directly rely.

Posted by: gcarkner | October 2, 2018

Innovation, Integration, Convergence

I’ve recently found a copy of Christian Scholarship in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Thomas M. Crisp, Steve L. Porter and Gregg A. Ten Elshof (Eerdmans, 2014).

Elizabeth Lewis Hall, a US psychologist who works at Biola, writes a chapter in this book called “Structuring the Scholarly Imagination: Strategies for Christian Engagement with the Disciplines” (pp. 97-124). This article has helped me begin to define what integration means for me and what it might mean for those I seek to encourage. You can also get a lot of the content through this video:

In brief, Christian faith can contribute to your motivation for studying, the epistemology you use when you study, the content of what you study, the process by which you study, or the outcomes of your study. Lewis Hall understandably gives more attention to content than the others. She explains that sometimes faith can tell us what study questions are worth entering into, and sometimes it can provide a broader (biblical, moral, or eschatological) framework in which to contextualize the answers we find. Sometimes faith can fill in the gaps in (i.e., complement) the answers we find. For instance, science can perhaps describe a phenomenon but not determine its purpose or meaning.

5 Ways Faith can relate to Scholarship: Motivation, Epistemology, Content, Process, Outcomes

These can be subdivided and Lewis Hall provides a typology of modes of Christian engagement with scholarship on p. 118. Near the end of the article, she explains how that, even if every Christian scholar sought integration, it would look differently in different disciplines, in different institutional contexts. Maximal integration is probably only possible when the scholarly community is also a worshiping community. She suggests a continuum of disciplines according to the intensity or frequency of Christianity’s bearing. At the latter end are disciplines that have the most to do with interpretation and the nature of humanity, those closest to the centre of human existence. This is where we relate to God and also where sin affects us most drastically. I suppose that those are the disciplines, like philosophy, where you could imagine a credible academic conference focused especially on Christianity’s relationship to the field of study.

What I liked best in Lewis Hall’s approach is that it leaves us with so much to say to those who are in the disciplines near the beginning of this continuum, say, perhaps, aquaculture or metallurgy. For them, and indeed for all scholars, a Christian motivation for studying is pertinent. Are we studying as an act of gratitude for what God has done for us? Are we motivated by love for the world that God so loves? A Christian process of study is also important. Are we studying in a generous, hospitable, loving manner, and are we striving towards the interdependence that the Scriptures say characterizes the Body of Christ? For the more interpretive, human-nature-focused disciplines, Christian outcomes matter greatly. Are the applications we make from our study likely to provide benefit to human lives – and particularly to the lives of the most needy?

I offer this brief review hoping that it will prompt further discussion about what integration means,

Stephen Ney PhD English Literature

UBC Vancouver, Canada

Posted by: gcarkner | September 27, 2018

The Robots Are Coming?

Martin Ester, PhD ETH, Zurich, Switzerland, Head of School of Computing Science, SFU

Martin Ester Research Interests:

  • Data Mining in Social Media
  • Recommendation in Social Media
  • Opinion Mining from Online Product Reviews
  • Data Mining in Biological Networks
  • Discovery of Cancer Markers from Gene Expression and Variation Data

Posted by: gcarkner | August 19, 2018

What’s New in GCU

Professor Alister McGrath, “God, Science and the Meaning of Life: C.S. Lewis and Richard Dawkins”

New Grad Students, Welcome to Canada and UBC

Find us on Instagram: gcuevents

Free pdf copy of The Great Escape from Nihilism for new GCU participants

Share your passion; meet new friends; explore fresh ideas

GCU Study Question of the Week: How does agape love help us to overcome evil with the good? Romans 12

Adventure Lies Ahead

Graduate Christian Union (GCU) exists to help you reach your full potential as a graduate student and to find your best self. You can help us build a network and a friendly learning community among students. We are pursuing the deeper, richer life; we want to grow in hope, character and faith as well as academically. We would be delighted to meet you and hear about your journey, your passion and your areas of curiosity. This is a group of curious and fun people from around the globe. Join the adventure. We host people from many denominations and many countries.

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Fall Study Begins September 18  Investigating the Power of Agape Love: a Wager

  • Can such a love show us the path to the heart and depth of meaning, an exit from our despair, an entrance to a whole new stance towards self and the world, through a strong transcendence?
  • Could this be the light at the end of a tunnel that we humans have been seeking for a thousand years, the troika of faith, hope and love?
  • Can such love wrestle our fears, anxieties and insecurities to the mat?
  • Is this the space in which we can discover the truth, overcome our alienation from the truth, address the root of our incessant restlessness, and discover a resolution to our current crisis of identity?
  • Is agape perhaps the hub of all virtues and values, the preeminent virtue in our hierarchy of values?
  • Loyola Philosophy Professor Paul Moser is a profound thinker and writer on this topic: “God’s agape love directed at the human conscience is a deep invitational call to an existential depth.” Could this be a fundamental calling in life, the source of untold meaning and purpose?

 Tuesday, September 18 at 7:00 p.m., 277 West 16thave. (just two blocks east of Cambie on north side of street). Come through the gate by the mailboxes, down the walk and up the stairs. Warm greetings await. From campus, take #33 bus (16thave./Shoppers Drug exit) or #99 B-line (Cambie exit). Call or text Gord 604.349.9497 if disoriented. Google maps can help.


Other Features of the GCU Community Life

Faculty Mentors

On Campus Discussions

Evening Study/Discussion/Investigation

Cool Lectures



Prayer Support: Wednesdays with Ute

Thought Provoking Articles in GCU Blog

Great Resources

Ideas Exchange over Coffee

Faith & Culture Discussions

Meet an International Artist


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Connect with GCU: (Gord); (Ute) We would love to meet you and share about the opportunities available in this outreach to UBC graduate students. It is a lot to navigate a higher degree and we want to help. Enjoy the information, inspiration, resources and articles found in this Blog.

Eight Habits of Effective Graduate Students
  • Builds a strong relationship with their supervisor, solidarity with colleagues
  • Deals with anxiety before it builds up too much–gets professional help if necessary
  • Has a life outside of work: social, church, friendship, volunteer work
  • Takes good notes on research, cataloguing things well, for good retrieval when writing up
  • Reads outside of one’s discipline for enlightenment and creativity
  • Meets people from other disciplines and takes time to adore a child or pet a cat
  • Sleeps a sufficient amount (~8 hours), not in the lab; gets sufficient exercise and engages nature
  • Cultivates a spiritual life to build meaning and perspective–personal flourishing
  • Develops good presentation skills, verbal and visual

Key Books to Change Your Life, Shape Your Outlook

Check out the Regent College Bookstore, best in the West (Westbrook at University)

David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God.

James Houston and jens Zimmermann (eds.) Sources of the Christian Self.

Jim Wallis, The (Un)Common Good.

Gordon Carkner, The Great Escape from Nihilism.

Jens Zimmermann, Incarnational Humanism.

Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection.

James Sire, The Universe Next Door.

David Brooks, The Road to Character.

Jonathan Sacks, Not in God’s Name.

Miraslov Volf, Flourishing.

 James K. A. Smith, You Are What You Love.

Charles Taylor, A Secular Age.

Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head.

Posted by: gcarkner | August 18, 2018

Alister McGrath @ UBC on September 19, 2018


Professor Alister McGrath 

Andreos Idreos Professor of Science and Religion,

Director of the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion, Oxford, Gresham Professor of Divinity

Probing the Viability of Natural Theology for the Twenty-first Century. 


Wednesday, September 19, 2018 @ 12:00 noon

Woodward (IRC) Room 3


Are there viable pathways from nature to God? Natural theology is making a strong comeback, stimulated as much by scientific advance as by theological and philosophical reflection. There is a growing realization that the sciences raise questions that transcend their capacity to answer them—above all, the question of the existence of God. Alister McGrath examines the apparent “fine-tuning” of the universe and its significance for natural theology. Exploring a wide range of physical and biological phenomena and drawing on the latest research in biochemistry and evolutionary biology, McGrath outlines our new understanding of the natural world and discusses its implications for traditional debates about the existence of God. He develops a rich Trinitarian approach to natural theology that allows deep engagement with current intellectual and moral complexities. He will pose some key questions for discussion.


Alister McGrath is the Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at the University of Oxford, and is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading theologians. After an undergraduate degree in chemistry and a doctorate in molecular biophysics from Oxford, McGrath turned to the study of theology. He has a special interest in the relation of science and religion, and has published widely on this topic. As a former atheist, McGrath has an especial interest in the “New Atheism” of writers such as Richard Dawkins. McGrath’s bestselling books include the market leading Christian Theology: An Introduction (6th edition, 2017) and the award-winning C. S. Lewis—A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet (2013). Areas of reflection: Science and religion; natural theology as a legitimate field of theological reflection, and as a framework for furthering the dialogue between science, religion, and literature; critical realism in science and theology; the theological utility of scientific philosophies of explanation; theological models of engagement with the natural sciences, especially those of T. F. Torrance and Emil Brunner; the application of biological models of evolution to cultural contexts, especially the development of Christian doctrine; the “New Atheism”; “two cultures” issues, especially defending the value of humanities in a scientific culture.


Alister’s presentation was superb. I have thought a lot about natural theology and yet Alister had something new to say about its re-emergence in this decade with a refreshing nuance. He also said it with style and without a wasted word. The energy in the room was palpable and every question was well directed. Alister’s responses were so good that the energy never left the room. ~Professor Emeritus Olav Slaymaker, Geography

Posted by: gcarkner | July 15, 2018

Summer Retrospective on Peterson

Executive Hotel Vancouver Airport,

7311 Westminster Highway,

Richmond, B.C.

August 5 @ 4:00 p.m.

 Recovering Moral Agency in Jordan Peterson in Dialogue with Charles Taylor

JP Recovery of Moral Agency 

Transcendent Turn to Agape Love  PP 2.0 Meaning & Suffering

Faith is not the childish belief in magic. That is ignorance or even willful blindness. It is instead the realization that the tragic irrationalities of life must be counterbalanced by an equally irrational commitment to the essential goodness of Being. It is simultaneously the will to dare to set your sights on the unachievable and to sacrifice everything, including (and most importantly) your life. You realize that you have, literally, nothing better to do.  ~Jordan Peterson


Jordan Peterson is perhaps one of the most admired and controversial psychologists alive today. Ironically, the more people attack him, the more popular he becomes.

The Peterson phenomenon reveals not only a deep political polarization within society, but also a serious existential crisis in the West.

Given these intense feelings around Peterson’s stance, the International Network on Personal Meaning (INPM) has decided to offer a dispassionate, measured and critical review of Peterson’s book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos as a part of their Biennial Meaning Conference.

Dr. Paul T. P. Wong and Dr. Gordon E. Carkner will answer questions such as: Why is Peterson’s book a runaway bestseller? How can these 12 rules transform a life and improve society? In an age of accelerated change and uncertainty, why are Dr. Peterson’s views a promising and hopeful way to build resilience amidst life’s inevitable challenges?

Dr. Gordon Carkner will elucidate Peterson’s claim that spiritual truth, rooted in enduring ancient myths and wisdom literature, is just as important for wellbeing as scientific truth. Dr. Carkner will explain why a spiritual worldview is critical to grappling with Peterson’s project.

Dr. Paul Wong will explain the 12 rules and introduce psychological exercises based on these rules. He will also examine Peterson’s radical view that one cannot flourish without embracing the reality of suffering and aiming high towards a better future.

Brief Biographies

Paul T. P. Wong, Ph.D., C.Psych., is Professor Emeritus of Trent University and Adjunct Professor at Saybrook University. He is a Fellow of the APA and the CPA, and President of the International Network on Personal Meaning and the Meaning-Centered Counselling Institute Inc. Editor of the InternationalJournal of Existential Psychology and Psychotherapy, he has also edited two influential volumes on The Human Quest for Meaning. A prolific writer, he is one of the most cited existential and positive psychologists. The originator of Meaning Therapy and International Meaning Conferences, he has been invited to give keynotes and meaning therapy workshops worldwide. He is the recent recipient of Carl Rogers Award from Div.32 of the APA and a member of a research group on Virtue, Meaning, and Happiness funded by the Templeton Foundation.

Gordon E. Carkner holds a Ph.D. in philosophy of culture (University of Wales, 2006). Dr. Carkner works at the University of British Columbia as a meta-educator and campus chaplain, where he seeks to both complement and engage the regular discourse among graduate students and faculty. Gordon is a visionary, passionate about dialogue on salient questions of meaning and identity, faith and culture.  His project extends to his role as team leader in the interdisciplinary UBC Graduate and Faculty Christian Forum Lecture Series—a dialogue on faith and academic concerns. His recent publication, The Great Escape from Nihilism (2016), thematically parallels Peterson’s book, offering a critique of Western culture amidst the search for identity in late modernity. His research and writing interests lie in questions concerning freedom, identity and the good, secularity, worldviews, and philosophical anthropology.

Jordan Peterson: A Five Part Blog Series from Psychology Today; The Concept of Identity (Part I)

Identity Politics and Polarization (Part II)

Peterson’s Psychology and Philosophy of Life (Part III)

The Controversial Sparks and the Emergence of the 100 Foot Wave (IV)

What the Peterson Controversy Means for Our Culture (V)

Peterson raises the Big Life Questions that are often missing or trivialized in our educational and friendship experience. He is unafraid to go where others fear to tread. His genius is the understanding that suffering and tragedy are at the nexus of it all, that we ignore the religious questions to our peril, that science is great but not sufficient for human wellbeing, that we humans are more complex and mysterious than we can imagine. Ancient wisdom is a precious thing in his estimation; we need great epics, great stories to inspire us, to bring our feet back to terra firma, and make sense of our lives, shape our passion, develop a vision. The Bible is the foundational story of Western civilization, so worth finding out how it can help us understand ourselves; it is a key part of our narrative, like a wise parent or grandparent, full of sage advice. But fundamentally, he is calling us to authenticity: to embrace, invest in, speak and live the truth in our post-truth age, to aim for the good, and even the greater good, the common good. He has faith in the goodness of Being. This produces alignment and coherence through all aspects of our lives, over time. He invites us into a sacrificial, heroic quest to live robustly, abundantly, fruitfully, to make our contribution. Like Russian author Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, whom he much admires, he believes that we are not in this world to pursue happiness, to be entertained, but for moral growth , to grow in the virtues, to become attentive and take responsibility for our part in the human big picture. This offers a more hermeneutical outlook or social imaginary, one which authenticates human subjectivity and the quest for purpose and meaning. We discuss this in more detail below. Philosopher Bernard Lonergan has parallel concerns in his Principles of Self-Transcendence.

  • Be Attentive: pay attention to what is happening around you
  • Be Intelligent: examine your assumptions, reflect, self-criticise
  • Be Reasonable: speak carefully and listen to others
  • Be Responsible: own your part in the greater scheme

Important Questions that Peterson Raises

How do we fight nihilism, scientism and totalitarianism? How do we re-enchant the world after the death of God in Western culture?

How do we get rid of our false/less noble self and embrace/move towards our ideal/best self?

Where do we find the metaphors, symbols and human models to inspire us and give us hope?

Why is sacrifice and delayed gratification important to our wellbeing and that of others?

How do we revive the human story of meaning and drama, purposeful and effective action, the battle between good and evil (inside and outside ourselves), as a key part of our current understanding of the cosmos?

How are consciousness and the material order linked, genuinely unified?

How can we tell the truth, listen to our conscience, and why is it often so difficult to do so? What are the consequences of living by the lie, by expedience?

Where do find the moral courage to do what we know is right, speak the truth, no matter the cost?

Why is religion important to our deepest self-understanding and our most noble pursuits?

How can we face the dark side of our character, our personhood, without hating self, becoming depressed or devastated? What can be done with this knowledge constructively?

How can articulate speech change the world? Why is freedom of speech something worth protecting?

Has Christianity given believers a pass on ethics (cheap grace), based on a false view of justification by faith?

Tale of Two Cities: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way–in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Thoughtful interaction with the work of Peterson by a scholarly PhD

Hermeneutical Keys to Peterson: a. Existentialism, a mixture of the atheistic and theistic kind (James Sire, The Universe Next Door, chapter 6.); b. Jungian myths and archetypes: Bible as mythopoetic stories filled with helpful archetypes, not as history or genuine facticity; c. Suffering and tragedy as a marker: a unifying and universal human experience. Meaning comes in reducing suffering; d. A binary relationship between Good and Evil: He encourages us to choose the Good, aim at the Good; e. Stoic Virtues can work in one’s own life, even in the face of the absurdity of the world; f. War against nihilism (moral relativism) and totalitarianism. We must balance between Chaos and Order; g. Consciousness, Being Awake and Alert,  is vital for human wellbeing.

Two Ways of Seeing/Reading/Understanding the World 

a. The Epistemological Way of Seeing:

The set of priority relations within this picture often tends towards a closed world position (CWS) within the immanent frame (Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, 2007, chapter 15). Its assumptions include proponents like Descartes, Locke, and Hume. Taylor calls this the modern buffered self. We find this approach rooted in Anglo-American philosophy. The connection between self and world is an I-It relationship.

  • Knowledge of self and its status comes before knowledge of the world (things) and others (cogito ergo sum).
  • Knowledge of reality is a neutral fact before the individual self attributes value to it.
  • Knowledge of things of the natural order comes before any theoretical invocations or any transcendence. Transcendence is often problematized, doubted or repressed—for example, in reductive materialism. This approach tends to write dimensions of transcendence out of the equation as a danger to wellbeing (superstition). Science morphs into scientism.
  • Human meaning is much harder to capture in this frame of reference—leading to disenchantment. It can cause alienation and lead to skepticism, or promote disengagment from a cold, mechanistic, materialistic cosmos.
  • Language is the Designative type (Hobbes, Locke, Condillac)—instrumental, pointing at an object, manipulating objects, and often in turn manipulating people as objects. It is a flattened form of language, which does not allow us to Name things in their depth of context, their embeddedness. Poetry, symbol, myth are missing. Scientific rationalism is dominant: evidence and justified belief.
  • Power and violence hides under the cloak of knowledge and techne: colonization, imperialism, war, environmental exploitation, Global North versus Global South. Hubris is an endemic problem.
  • Ethics is left to the private sphere of individual values, because of the fact-value split or dualism—moral subjectivism results. This often leads to loss of moral agency and nihilism, partly due to the loss of narrative and the communal dimension of ethics.
  • Human flourishing is a central concern within this immanent frame: reduction of suffering and increase of happiness/wellbeing. Health, lifespan, safety, entertainment, economic opportunity, consumer choice are key cultural drivers. This results in a thinself, focused on rights, entitlements, opportunities to advance one’s own personal interests.

b. The Hermeneutical Way of Seeing:

The working assumptions of this approach includes proponents like Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Gadamer, the later Wittgenstein, Charles Taylor and Jens Zimmermann. We find this approach rooted more in Continental philosophy. The connection between the self and the world is an I-Thou relationship.

  • Self is not the first priority: the world, society and the game/drama of life come first. We only have knowledge as agents coping with the world, and it makes no sense to doubt that world in its fullness. Taken at face value, this world is shot through with meaning and discovery.
  • There is no priority of a neutral grasp of things over and above their value. It comes to us as a whole experience of facts and valuations all at once, interwoven with each other.
  • Our primordial identity is as a new player inducted into an old game. We learn the game and begin to interpret experience for ourselves within a larger communal context. Identity, morality and spirituality are interwoven within us. We sort through our conversations, dialogue with interlocutors, looking for a robust and practical picture of reality.
  • Transcendence or the divine horizon is a possible larger context of this game. Radical skepticism is not as strong here as in the epistemological approach. There is a smaller likelihood of a closed world system (CWS—closed to transcendence as a spin on reality) view in the hermeneutical approach. In a sense, it is more humble, nuanced, embodied and socially situated.
  • Language use is the Expressive-Constitutive type (Herder, Hamann, Humboldt, Gadamer) The mythic, poetic, aesthetic, and liturgical returns. Language is rich and expressive, open, creative, appealing to the depths of the human soul. Language is a sign.
  • Moral agency is revived within a community (oneself as another) with a strong narrative identity, in a relationship to the good, within a hierarchy of moral goods and practical virtuous habits that are mutually enriching and nurturing. One is more patient with the Other, the stranger: hospitality dominates over hostility.
  • The focus of human flourishing is on how we can live well, within our social location—a whole geography of relationships that shape our identity, and which we in turn shape as well. This is a thick version of the self, open to strong transcendence, within a meaningful whole.

Peterson’s phenomenological approach (attention to actual human experience) seems to fit better the hermeneutical way of seeing, as he attempts to recover meaning and purpose, to re-enchant the world, to authenticate human subjectivity, drama, moral agency, purpose, consciousness and concientiousness (the deep things of the soul). He is trying like a collosus to span the two ways (respects neuroscience and evolutionary psychology as a limited discipline), but to recover meaning and moral agency, he leans towards the hermeneutical. Science is necessary but not sufficient for our psychological understanding; he pricks the bubble of scientism, the ideology. Culture scholar Jens Zimmermann (Hermeneutics: a very short introduction, OUP, 2015) opens our minds to the history, complexity, richness and breadth of the interpretive taskHe also shows that hermeneutics is operating in both the sciences and the humanities—they are not incommensurable.

One can also find some good interface with Peterson’s ideas of the good in the blog series Qualities of the Will, and Musings about Agape Love

Posted by: gcarkner | June 15, 2018

Welcome to UBC & GCU

New Grad Students, WELCOME to Canada and UBC

GCU, Graduate Christian Union exists to help you reach your full potential as a graduate student and to find your best self. You can help us build a network and a friendly learning community among students. We respond to those pursuing the deeper life, those who want to grow in character as well as academically. We would be delighted to meet you and hear about your journey, your passion and your areas of curiosity.

We will be at the GSS/Graduate Student Society Fair on August 30th

Fall GCU Dinner Reception Wednesday, Sept 12, @ 6:00 pm 1828 Western Parkway

Stay tuned for hikes in local area

Be in touch with us: (Gord); (Ute) We would love to meet you and share about the opportunities available in this outreach to UBC graduate students. It is a lot to navigate a higher degree and we want to help. Enjoy the information, inspiration and articles found in this Blog.

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