Posted by: gcarkner | October 31, 2017

Thomas Heilke on the Crisis of Democracy The Truth About Democracy

(The Greeks)



Which of the Following Values are Important to Democracy?

  • Rule of Law and an Impartial Judiciary
  • Human Rights and Fair Access to Trial and Good Representation
  • Fair Representation and Moral Accountability of Political Leadership
  • Freedom of the Press
  • Freedom of Speech
  • Separation of Church and State
  • Right to Protest and Assemble, to Publicly Debate Key Issues
  • Concern for the Common Good
  • Peace and Civility
  • Moral Leadership Employing Wisdom
  • A Constitution
  • Fair Elections
  • Fair Access to Higher Education
  • Sound Religious Foundation for Political Discourse
  • Proper and Fair Taxation System and Wealth Distribution
  • Access to Good Healthcare What is Democracy? Jonathan Haidt NYU & Jordan Peterson U of T on the need to preserve debate within the university in order to preserve democracy.

Spectator Article by Public Intellectual Sir Jonathan Sacks

Bibliographic Resources:
Political Agape: Christian Love and Liberal Democracy
Next Four Recommended by PhD Political Science student in Queens Belfast, Jamie Pow.
  • Achen, C. & Bartels, L. (2016) Democracy For Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
    • I think this is one of the most important contributions to the study of democracy over the last decade. It makes for pretty uncomfortable reading: with empirical evidence, the authors really challenge some of our assumptions about the things we expect elections to do. It’s a good diagnosis of some of the problems with (a narrow focus on) electoral democracy, but sadly it doesn’t consider many substantive solutions.
  • Van Reybrouck, D. (2016) Against Elections: The Case for Democracy. London: Random House.
    • This isn’t an academic work. It channels some of the criticisms of electoral democracy made by Achen & Bartels, but it’s very accessible and makes quite a persuasive (and counter-intuitive) case for supplementing traditional institutions with more extensive citizen-based decision-making.
  • Dahl, Robert A. (1989) Democracy and its Critics. London: Yale University Press.
    • This is a seminal piece by one of the greats of Political Science. It charts the course of democracy through a series of ‘transformations’ from the city state through to the nation state. It provides a very nice exposition of the various elements of ‘democracy’ and the different ways in which democratic principles can be applied to systems of government.
  • Lijphart, A. (2007) Thinking about Democracy: Power Sharing and Majority Rule in Theory and Practice. Basingstoke: Routledge
    • Lijphart has been one of the key theorists on democracy as power-sharing (as opposed to the exercise of majority rule). His work significantly influenced the development of Northern Ireland’s political institutions as a form of conflict management, but his work has had a great deal of influence in a range of conflict and non-conflict contexts.

Rowan Williams, Faith in the Public Square; The Truce of God.

Jurgen Habermas, Three Normative Models of Democracy.

Jurgen Habermas & Joseph Ratzinger, Dialectics of Secularization.

David Lyon & Van Die, Rethinking Church, State and Modernity: Canada Between Europe and America.

Roger Trigg, Free to Believe: Religious Freedom in a Liberal Society, Theos Think Tank, London , 2010

Jean Bethke Elshtain, Sovereignty: God, State and Self.

Glenn Tinder, The Political Meaning of Christianity.

Jacques Ellul, Propaganda.

Gary Haugen, Just Courage.

Screen Shot 2017-11-21 at 6.51.06 PM

James K.A. Smith, After Modernity?: Secularity, Globalization, and the Re-enchantment of the World.

______________ How (Not) to be Secular: reading Charles Taylor. Eerdmans, 2014.

John Stackhouse Jr., Making the Best of It: Following Christ in the Real World.

Paul Marshall, Religious Freedom in the World.

____________ Blind Spot: Why Journalists Don’t Get Religion.

Richard John Neuhaus, The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America.

St. Augustine, City of God.

Charles Taylor, Hegel and Modern Society; (plus two books of papers Philosophy and the Human Sciences); A Secular Age. Harvard, 2007; Sources of the Self; The Malaise of Modernity.

_____________ A Secular Age.

John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory.

Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: a sociologist reconsiders history.

David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: the Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies.

Peter Berger, The Sacred Canopy.

Craig Gay, With Liberty and Justice for Whom?

Jim Wallis, The Great Awakening: Seven Ways to Change the World.

Heclo & McCloy, Religion Returns to the Public Square.

Robert Dahl, On Democracy.

Os Guinness, A Free People’s Suicide.

Margaret Somerville, The Ethical Imagination.

James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: the tragedy, irony and possibility of Christianity in the late modern world.

Nicholas Wolterstorff, Understanding Liberal Democracy: essays in political philosophy.

________________ Justice: Rights and Wrongs.

Lewis Smedes, Mere Morality.

Ronald Sider, Just Politics.

Donald Hay, Economics Today.

Paul Johnson, A History of the Modern World.

Jens Zimmermann, Incarnational Humanism: a philosophy of culture for the church in the world: Humanism and Religion: a call for renewal of Western culture.

Walter Bruggemann, The Prophetic Imagination.

D. Stephen Long, The Goodness of God: theology, the church and the social order.

Dennis Hollinger, Choosing the Good: Christian Ethics in a Complex World.

Jimmy Carter, Talking Peace.

John Redekop, Politics Under God.

Peter J. Leithart, Between Babel and Beast: America and Empires in Biblical Perspective (Theopolitical Visions).

George Grant, Technology and Empire.

Angus, Dart & Peters (eds.) Athens and Jerusalem: George Grant’s Theology, Philosophy and Politics.

Ron Dart, The North American High Tory Tradition.

Oliver O’Donovan, The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology(part of a multi-volume series)

John Owen, Clash of Ideas.

Posted by: gcarkner | October 17, 2017

Jonathan Sacks on Globalism and Religious Violence

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, philosopher, theologian, politician, one of the UK’s top public intellectuals, former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregation of the Commonwealth 1991-2013. Baron Sacks will be brought to us by video.

The Dignity of Difference: the Critical Moral Contribution of Religion in our Globalized World

Wednesday, October 25 @ 4:00 p.m. Chemistry D200, 2036 Main Mall, UBC

Online Location:


Dr. Olav Slaymaker, Professor Emeritus Geography, UBC; Dr. Jason Byassee, Professor of Hermeneutics and Homiletics, Vancouver School of Theology.


From Dialectic to Dialogue, Conflict to Collaboration, Alienation to Engagement

Read More…

Posted by: gcarkner | October 16, 2017

History Scholar Peter Harrison on Science and Faith

Think Again about the History of Science with Oxford History Scholar Peter Harrison

Posted by Philosopher  James K.A. Smith for the Colossians Forum on December 5, 2011       Reposted here with some edits and additions by gcarkner Oct 16, 2017

Introduction: Often science and theology, or science and religious faith, are presented as a conflict battle royal. Case in point is the New Atheist tribe of Richard Dawkins et al. This is in fact a caricature of the relationship, a superficial myth that has captured many a mind today. The famous anthropologist Yuval Noah Harari has a similar problem in his Sapiens: a brief history of mankind. In a blog post, he wrote off all religion as post-truth. He used the broadest brush, and the poorest scholarship, to condemn religion as wishful fantasy. This is frankly unacceptable and crass. People should be warned about such gross speculations and extreme statements. Academics with overreach should be held accountable.

A common myth about modern science is what the philosopher Charles Taylor in A Secular Age calls “a subtraction story.”  According to this widespread myth, scientific enlightenment was a triumph over religious belief.  The relationship between the two is construed as dichotomous: either reason or faith; either science or theology.   In short: more science, less religion. Science comes into culture and religion takes the exit.

This myth has been roundly criticized as a false dichotomy. Consider, for example, Templeton prize winner Alvin Plantinga’s recent Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism.  More importantly, historians of science have pointed out that this false dichotomy is simply not true to how science emerged in the West.  Far from being a detriment to scientific exploration, a number of scholars have pointed out that it was precisely Christian theological concepts–and especially those that emerged during the Protestant Reformation–that propelled empirical investigation of nature.  So science wasn’t a way to lose one’s faith; it was Christian faith that compelled scientific exploration.  We shouldn’t simply confuse the history of science with the rise of naturalism and scientism (David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God).

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 4.37.21 AMHowever, the story is complicated and complex.  And no one helps us appreciate that more than Peter Harrison, Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at the University of Oxford.  A historian of science with training in philosophy and theology, Harrison has an uncanny ability to appreciate the theological nuances at stake in emergence of science in the seventeenth century–and how this was informed by theological shifts in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.  Harrison is not content to generically speak of “religion;” he zooms in to consider the specifics of different Christian theological traditions and their impact on the emergence of what we now call “science.”

For example, in his masterful book, The Bible, Protestantism, and the Rise of Natural Science (Cambridge University Press, 1998), Harrison deftly shows how it was a shift in biblical hermeneutics that gave rise to a very different way of “reading” nature that we now associate with the scientific method.  In The Fall of Man and the Foundations of Science (Cambridge University Press, 2007), drawing on careful analysis of theological and scientific texts, Harrison argues that what motivated close empirical investigation of nature was a deep sense of how much how knowledge had been corrupted by the Fall. In both of these studies, Harrison goes beyond simple notions of a Creator to explore the specific theological doctrines that impacted the emergence of science in the West.  Indeed, his work has influenced us here at The Colossian Forum and we encourage folks to acquaint themselves with Harrison’s work.  And in some ways, we see our emphasis on the specific riches of the Christian theological tradition for engaging science as an extension of his work.

Peter Harrison holds a PhD from the University of Queensland and Master’s degrees from Yale and Oxford. He began his academic career at Bond University on Australia’s Gold Coast, where for a number of years he was Professor of History and Philosophy. In 2006 he was elected Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at the University of Oxford. During his time at Oxford he was Director of the Ian Ramsey Centre and a Fellow of Harris Manchester College. In 2011 he assumed directorship of the Centre of the History of European Discourses at the University of Queensland. A Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, he was a recipient of a Centenary Medal in 2003. He was the 2011 Gifford Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh and is a Senior Research Fellow in the Ian Ramsey Centre at Oxford. In 2013 he received a DLitt from the University of Oxford.

Harrison is best known for a number of influential writings on religion and the origins of modern science. He has argued that changing approaches to the interpretation of the bible had a significant impact on the development of modern science. He has also suggested that the biblical story of the Fall played a key role in the development of experimental science. His earlier work traces changing conceptions of religion in the West. Harrison contends that the idea of religions as sets of beliefs and practices emerged for the first time in the seventeenth century.

Major Publications

See also Colossian Forum Science, Faith and Culture

This argument is carried further in my 2016 volume The Great Escape from Nihilism: rediscovering our passion innate modernity. ~Gordon Carkner

Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 5.43.31 AM

See also Freedom All The Way Up: God and the Meaning of Life in a Scientific Age by Chris Barrigar (Ph.D. Philosophy, McGill)


Posted by: gcarkner | September 27, 2017

Gallery 2.0 Dialogue

Answering Your Questions About Faith in a Secular Age

See also Ten Myths about Christianity by Michael Green & Gordon Carkner

Nihilism Fails to Honestly Engage Evil and Suffering   ~Gordon Carkner PhD~

Author of The Great Escape from Nihilism

The problem of evil and suffering is one of the toughest for people of all worldview persuasions. Yet, it can be our teacher in moral growth and discovery of meaning if we dare to dig deeper into the human condition, if we dare to think about it in the proper moral horizon. A bitter response to personal tragedy or an abusive relationship easily emerges: “Trust no one!” If a trusted friend, colleague or relative committed the unseemly act, the hurt individual can opt for retreat and a refusal to ever trust again. We heard a prayer request this week: “Help me to learn to trust that there are some good people out there.” One’s emotions disengage and commitments can become ever so tentative, nervous and cautious. It could also be a strong temptation for  a person who has had a life-altering injury, like a severed spinal cord or serious Iraq War injury. The problem of coping is especially true of someone who was abused as a child in their innocence; the emotional scars are often carried well into adult life and can be debilitating. Tragedy like this can break our narrative and our spirit, dash our hopes and dreams. We die inside.

The Scream by Eduard MunchPeople respond differently to hurt and tragedy as we know from our great works of art such as Victor Hugo’s classic Les Miserables: someone will write a poem or song; others will start a foundation. And yet others will settle for resentment or rage against God, parent, the system or the regime; this person tends to demonize others or institutions. They go inside and stew their hatred, and often become an abuser in their own turn. This is often the crucible in which cynics, rebels, career criminals, dictators and suicide bombers are shaped. Such a response is quite understandable, but it is not a solution, nor is it a direction of healing. We believe that the trauma is much accentuated and intensified if one has nothing transcendent to hold onto, no one to share the pain with, if one espouses Nihilism as a stance on the world. This is to give up on grace itself, a kind of existential death, a death of meaning and human purpose.

Creative writer Robert Farrar Capon speaks about the need in An Offering of Uncles. He notes that we all need someone trustworthy other than our parent to confide in, to help us grow up–an uncle or auntie. Most people begin to see imperfections in their parents in their mid teens, if not before. Cynicism can suddenly blind an adolescent to any good in adults. At its worst, cynicism projects the problems and insecurities of the teenager onto others or the world. Friends often are their only solace in this painful space. Counselling may be required to address the imbalance, but a healthy person cannot reside long in that space of resentment. It is unstable ground.

We are alerted to this danger by brilliant psychiatrist, Dr. Scott Peck famous for his Road Less Travelled; People of the Lie; and A Different Drum. He points out that most human neuroses start with the refusal to face the hard realities of life, to deal with pain and brokenness in healthy ways. Mental health comes from facing reality at all costs. Most mental illness starts with a refusal to accept and go through one’s pain, an escape into fantasy of some sort, a refusal to grapple with the complexity of life and relationships. We need to own our pain and work through it; avoidance leads to counter-productive side effects.  We have to find that deeper honesty about our brokenness, and face the pain and pollution we also contribute to society and the violence we perpetrate upon creation. The cynic, in the quest to avoid more pain, settles for the emotional cancer of  bitterness and resentment. Cynicism is a sickness, a tricky defence mechanism to protect oneself against further and deeper hurt. Worldview author James Sire once wrote: “The strands of epistemological, metaphysical and ethical nihilism weave together to make a rope long enough and strong enough to hang a whole culture.”  Jordan Peterson is a Gateway Drug to Christianity

Evil and suffering need not crush us, but we will need a worldview big enough and sophisticated enough to handle it fruitfully, a proper horizon of meaning to deal with the complexity of our emotions, our ambivalence. Peter Kreeft talks about this in the opening chapter of his profound book Making Sense Out of Suffering. Some worldviews he claims are useless and even harmful. But courage and conviction are required to face off with evil and work through our pain. Psychologist Victor Frankl revealed some profound human insights from his experience at the Auschwitz concentration camp. The survivors were those who were able to find meaning in their suffering and maintain a strong view of the future (hope of a resolution), a bigger purpose or frame to their lives. The others fell victim to the evil games of the guards, lowered themselves to animals and died miserably. One freedom that Frankl observed amidst the misery is this: the survivors held tight to their freedom to choose their attitude to the terrible circumstances, the freedom to remain human inside. Some of them gave their last crust of bread to a friend to maintain their compassion, their humanity. We once visited the Dachau death camp with a group of Waterloo and Windsor students, and took the time to let the tragedy of this terrible Western nightmare sink in, rattle the soul and make us weep over this narrative of Nihilism and will to power, this crushing of the weak and the vulnerable. They often experienced an infinity of meaninglessness.

We have a powerful illustration of choices we face today in the play,Les Miserables, by French playwright Victor Hugo. We recently viewed the movie version. This story depicts the power of forgiveness to transform the tragic, miserable prison life of Jean Val Jean into a productive life where he in turn acts as a redemptive agent for others. He allows himself to be reinvented in the most amazing way, carrying with him a sincere empathy for others who struggle under the machinations of an unjust society in nineteenth century Paris. The rescued prisoner becomes the rescuer. But there was a crucial moment where he had to choose between bitter hatred and resentment, over against redemption into a life of compassion and wholeness. His choice of this stance towards the world is contrasted by the virile vengeance of Policeman Javert who is only concerned to hunt down Jean Val Jean over a decade or more and punish/oppress him once again. In the end, Javert commits suicide because he cannot cope with a world where forgiveness is an option. He has become a true cynic, a consistent Nihilist. His heart died; there is no space for compassion, mercy or forgiveness. He self-destructs, even though given several opportunities to change. The picture painted of these two options are staggering in their implications and their life instruction.

Present Tense: The other day we were talking with the father of a current political science student. He was recalling that his son was becoming disillusioned with the fact that so many fellow humanities students didn’t care about the big life questions anymore. Nihilism can strike hard among the brightest minds in the humanities. They were settling for cynicism. J.I. Packer & Thomas Howard wrote about this in their constructive vision Christianity: the True Humanism: “Cynicism is the disposition to believe that truth-claims cannot ever be trusted, that virtue, however apparent, is never real, and that hopelessness is the only real wisdom. As a state of mind, it is a child of disappointment.” This is all too common in today’s university communities. Is it because we are taught by Nietzsche that we are to give up discernment and embrace good and evil equally as the only intelligent stance? This would entail a bigger tragedy of the soul, a tragedy of culture, a tragedy of the intellect. Even Nietzsche worried that we would become insects or lose all culture, all value in the West. Who has cannibalized these young minds and hearts? Who stole their dreams of a better world, better relations?

We want to protest! Nihilism will not carry the future; it is deaf to our pain and suffering; it has no discernment for good and evil or justice; reason is exploited by will to power; it is a spiritual dead end which ends in an abyss. This is nowhere, no future.  In a terrible, gut wrenching illustration of this, Joseph Goebbels and his wife murdered their own young children with suicide pills in the Berlin bunker as the war was coming to the end; they saw no future outside of their false dream of National Socialism. They along with Hitler committed suicide and had their bodies burned. Ashes was the end product of their vision. They showed us that we had entered a Dark Age of the Enlightenment in the twentieth century.

Christian faith does offer an alternative. According to Anthony Thiselton’s major thesis in New Horizons in Hermeneutics, it is a transformational experience for the individual. Rather than being trapped in or reduced to its situatedness, the self can have a fresh experience of being human. Job can choose God over the nihilist advice of his narrow thinking advisors. The forces of society, economy, and interest-groups are real, but can be transcended. Biblical resurrection offers the possibility of re-centering the self, of re-constituting the self as Jesus was re-constituted at the resurrection after the most terrible brokenness. The Christian is a new creation, a renewed earthling. By this transcendent philosophical turn, the late modern self is thereby set free from its victimization, free to move into the future in a fresh way, by means of God’s grace. There can be healing from damage done in the past. David Kelsey and Frances Young ascribe to biblical texts as Christian Scripture, the capacity to shape a person’s identity so decisively as to transform them ( quoted by A. Thiselton, New Horizons in Hermeneutics, p. 604).

Christian theology agrees with many poststructuralist thinkers that the human self can fall victim to the forces which overwhelm it, damage it, imprison it and manipulate it. Human speech can be distorted and subverted by a manipulative sub-text and lies can be marketed as the truth. But, from the vantage point of Christian revelation and faith, a far wider and larger range of inter-personal relations (a horizon including the transcendent), worlds of language and external forces serve to change, to transform or to reconstitute self than those of social, political and economic forces alone. The game is actually bigger than the here and now immanent frame. These larger spheres provide us with optimism that the self can transcend the circumstances and to recover from the hurt and even to recover the past itself–to experience narrative healing. The re-connection with the past can also provide needed perspective on deeper currents in one’s life and lessons for the future. There is hope for substantial healing at all levels.

Nihilism is extremely pessimistic about possible restoration of the self. There is much ado about playing the victim. This can be a form of escapism from taking responsibility for one’s life or for one’s social responsibilities. It can even become a power-wedge itself to separate people into virulent opposing camps. It is actually quite counter-productive re: healing, renegotiation of trust and true freedom. Nihilists, narcissists, white supremacists, kleptocrats, racists often want others to suffer for them. Lots to ponder here.

~Gordon E. Carkner, PhD, Dissertation: The Search for Identity in Late Modernity: a dialogue or dialectic between two prominent philosophers: Michel Foucault & Charles Taylor

See the new 2016 book by Gordon Carkner which addresses head on our modern day cultural and personal nihilism. Beauty will not save us. The right kind of faith is the answer if we are brave enough and persistent enough to explore it to its depths. This is a book to rock your world: The Great Escape from Nihilism: rediscovering our passion in late modernity. (2016)


See Globe & Mail article on Judy Graves, Vancouver Homeless Advocate, for an alternative to Nihilism, someone who “kicks at the darkness until it bleeds daylight”. It is her faith that is her moral driver. Human suffering inspires her to visit the homeless under the Cambie Street Bridge to see if she can help.

Duke Philosopher Alex Rosenberg offers a good example of how scientism and philosophical naturalism actually leads to nihilism. Nihilism seems to be bad for the mind as well. See his February 1, 2013 debate with William Lane Craig at Purdue:

See also my post on Higher Education, Truth & Power:

Andy Crouch, Playing God: redeeming the gift of power. (IVP, 2013) Major alternative discourse to Nihilism.

Miralsov Volf, Exclusion and Embrace.

Philip Yancey, Reaching for the Invisible God.

Scott Cairns, The End of Suffering: Finding Purpose in Pain.

Antony Flew, There is a God: How the World’s most Famous Atheist Changed His Mind

Peter Kreeft, Making Sense Out of Suffering.  Debate Between Richard Dawkins and Rowan Williams @ Oxford Union

Dr. Ravi Zaccharius on Incoherence within Atheism

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Jens Zimmermann, Incarnational Humanism. Read the notes to his his lecture “The Creative Challenge of Christian Humanism” on February 27 at 4 pm in Woodward IRC Room 5 UBC.

Gulag Work Camp Siberia


English: Auschwitz I concentration camp

English: Auschwitz I concentration camp (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Question #1  The Presence of Evil and Suffering Pushes Us to Deeper Thinking: Is it a barrier to belief in a benevolent/good God?  

Many people think that the problem of evil, with the suffering it brings, is a barrier to belief in God. Let’s face it; this is a big concern, one that leads to much skepticism and troubled waters in one’s faith. Philip Yancey (Finding the Invisible God) thinks it the major apologetic challenge for God and Christian faith, although William Lane Craig claims that philosophers no longer worry about it. The New Atheists have much commentary on the topic; they want the suffering to stop as well. Let’s take it to a bit deeper level because, for most of us, it is a problem or at least a point of confusion. The current conflicts in various parts of the world exemplify the problem. There is much wisdom to be garnered as we grapple with such major human concerns.

Aldous Huxley wrote:

In the form we have posed it, the Riddle of the Universe requires a theological answer. Suffering and enjoying, men [women] want to know why they enjoy and to what end they suffer. They see good things and evil things, beautiful things and ugly, and they want to find a reason–a final and absolute reason–why these things should be as they are.

Here’s how the logic of the discussion often proceeds:

1. A God who is infinitely good and loving would not want evil to exist.

2. A God who is all-powerful could remove all evil, if he so desired.

3. Therefore, if God is both good and all-powerful, there would be no evil. The sounds forceful and convincing on surface.

4. But evil continues in the world. Evidence for this is in the news every day. That bugs everyone, both believer and skeptic!

5. Therefore, God (at least a good and all·powerful God) cannot exist. So atheists like Bertrand Russell conclude.

This argument is superficially convincing. But it has one major flaw. The third point does not follow logically from the first two. All that is required, if God were both good and all-powerful, is that evil would not exist forever. God would at some point have to deal with evil and remove it from his creation. It would require a final reckoning, or settling of the accounts. Those of us who have been hurt want justice.

The argument thus stated does not recognize the grace of a merciful God. It fails to take into account the love, patience and compassion God has extended to us, his creatures, in delaying the removal of evil from the world (and compensating people for their suffering). There would have to be morally sufficient reasons for permitting evil and suffering.

Let’s try a thought experiment: Suppose God were to immediately wipe out all evil. Where would we stand? Would not all humanity be destroyed? For which one of us is free from evil? No one. Do we not all contribute to the evil and suffering of our world at some level? Far from remaining an intellectual problem “out there”, evil is a moral, existential problem within each of us. It is terribly anthropological–finding its way into our hearts, motives, judgments and actions. We are busted. We have tracked down the enemy and it is us. We humans need to own our part in the drama of evil. And if simple eradication were the only answer, we would have no hope. Most of us want a second chance; cold justice would be clean, but devastating.

But the choice may not be quite so stark: i.e. between inescapable evil and immediate eradication. There is a third alternative, and this is the heart of the Christian message: God became man in Jesus Christ and took upon himself the total, cumulative weight of all the world’s evil and suffering. Jesus died to solve the problem of evil and violence, and to break its back, its power over us (Rene Girard, I Saw Satan Fall Like Lightning). And when on the cross he cried in anguish, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46), something happened that is beyond human understanding.

God himself experienced the depths of the problem of evil more intensely than any of us could possibly know or withstand, so that he could free us from the trap, the cycles of evil, war, oppression, malnutrition, destruction of life and property, and self-harm. Os Guinness capture it:

As God became man in Jesus Christ, he was no Whitehall or Pentagon chief, making quick flying inspections of the front line, but one who shared the foxholes, who knew the enemy fire. No other God has wounds.

God was not interested in simply eliminating evil if that meant getting rid of his entire creation in the process; shockingly however, the Bible claims that he did consider it. Instead, he offers us a way out, the way of forgiveness of our guilt, and the renewal and transformation of our broken lives and suffering world. It offers amazing hope, an unexpected turnaround. We are also offered meaning in our suffering.

How evil will finally end is just as mysterious as its origin; perhaps no adequate account can ever be given. Nevertheless, we are set free from the dilemma of hating God and the depression of wallowing in grinding depths of despair. The biblical narrative envisions the ultimate triumph of good (sourced in an infinitely good, loving Father) over evil, because God acts dramatically on our behalf. There is a way of escape from evil’s machinations, its seductions, and our rage against it.

As it turns out, God both desires and is able to solve the problem of evil, to bring  justice to those who are harmed by it. It is a tremendous gift to us that we can also be part of the solution. We can benefit immensely from his grace and patience. We can turn from evil, resist evil in ourselves and embrace the good (Romans 12). So much of the biblical Psalms and the wisdom of Proverbs speak strongly into this situation. But it requires transcendence, because we are incapable of defeating evil in our own strength.

The ball is in our court. We must take stock of ourselves if we are not to further contribute to the problem, and commence joining the cleanup crew of a polluted world. We each need radical change (transformed posture/new outlook), and this is what Christianity offers at its core. God has already acted, and is making a way out of evil, war and violence. He has paved the way for peace and forgiveness and reconciliation. Now it is our turn to step up to the challenge, and step into what Dostoevski called the river of love, and find redemptive meaning in our suffering (Scott Cairns, Peter Kreeft). Mother Teresa was quoted: “The greatest evil is the lack of love and charity, the terrible indifference to one’s neighbour who lives at the roadside assaulted by exploitation, corruption, poverty and disease.”

Rather than walking out on God in the midst of suffering and evil, we recommend leaning hard into God for his wisdom, help and rescue. We need to turn our back on it and get as far away from evil as possible. The we need to set a high goal on the good. This is a deeper and more fruitful approach to life. If we dare to love, we will most certainly suffer. The deeper question is what can we learn from our disappointments and suffering and how can we reduce the suffering and evil in our circle of influence? Kudos to those who turn terrible tragedy into a will to change society for the better: people like Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr..

~Gord Carkner & Richard Middleton

See also Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts: a dare to live fully right where you are.

Globe & Mail Interview: An Atheist’s Defence of Religion  Dr. Alvin Plantinga top philosopher of religion speaks on “Does Evil Disprove God?”

References: Philip Yancey, Reaching for the Invisible God; Peter Kreeft, Making Sense Out of Suffering; Desmond Tutu, Hope and Suffering; Scott Cairns. The End of Suffering: finding purpose in pain.

UBC’s English professor Dr. Dennis Danielson did his PhD on the top of Milton & the Problem of Evil, and wrote the book Milton’s Good God. He is in a dialogue on the topic in the GFCF Archives

See also N.T.Wright’s excellent DVD on Evil; Dostoyevski’s works Brothers Karamazov and The Idiot.

C.S.Lewis, The Problem of Pain.

Paul Copan’s book and talk, Is God a Moral Monster?

GCU Value Note: We include rather than avoid suffering in our discourse–suffering not as a mistake, or a sign of God’s indifference–but as something God deeply identifies with and cares about. God cares deeply about the emotional problem of evil. Clearly Good Friday represents the depth of his concern. Suffering can be used to teach us for our good and help us discover a deeper calling in life; it offers a challenge to our individualistic self-sufficiency, and teaches us compassion for others who suffer.
 Engaging suffering fruitfully adds meaning to our existence. See the discourse on suffering in Kelly Monroe Kullberg, Finding God After Harvard.

See also University of Toronto’s clinical psychologist Jordan B Peterson’s Series on the Bible: He speaks much about the issue of suffering in human experience.

Read More…

Posted by: gcarkner | September 25, 2017

Shame, Vulnerability and Courage

Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

Brené Brown, Sociologist

Casandra Brené Brown (born November 18, 1965) is an American scholar, author, and public speaker, who is currently a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social WorkOver the last fifteen years she has been involved in research on a range of topics, including vulnerability, courage, shame, and empathy. She is the author of three #1 New York Times bestsellers: The Gifts of Imperfection (2010), Daring Greatly (2012), and Rising Strong (2015). She and her work have been featured on PBS, NPR, TED, and CNN. Brown’s new book is called Braving the Wilderness(2017).

Popular TED Talk

See also the field of Positive Psychology which includes therapy about the search for meaning.

Some Quotes to Spark Your Imagination

Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.

Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.

Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.

If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.

Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.

When I look at narcissism through the vulnerability lens, I see the shame-based fear of being ordinary. I see the fear of never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be lovable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose.

Read More…

Posted by: gcarkner | August 16, 2017

Welcome to Graduate Christian Union (GCU)

 Welcome to UBC Fall Term 2017

We exist to help you reach your full potential as a graduate student and to discover your fullest self within a supportive community. You can help us build a creative network among postgraduate students at UBC. We respond to those pursuing the deeper life, those who want to grow in personal character as well as academically.  Come join us at our regular Thursday evening study or Gallery 2.0. Share your passion and your curiosity to grow in new ways this academic year. GCU and its affiliated partners work hard to help you build a good overall learning curve and a healthy self-worth. There are many people who believe in you and your future.

Make sure you check the Regent College Bookstore (University Blvd. @ Wesbrook Mall) for intellectual treasures beyond your imagination!


Welcome to Graduate Christian Union

We Provide Opportunities to Expand Your Horizons

GCU begins its  program in September with a Dinner Reception on Wednesday, September 13 at 6:00 pm at the home of Professor Ed and Anne Jull, 1828 Western Parkway, at UBC. We enjoyed meeting so many good people at the GSS Clubs Fair on Friday, September 1, 3-5 pm. Graduate Student Centre. We sponsor discussion groups, retreats, films, speakers and fun outdoor hikes in the local mountains. We like international food and fun. GCU is a little bit like the UN with friends from around the globe. Write to to RSVP for the dinner reception, or if you want to be regularly informed about our activities and resources to enhance your experience at UBC. All of us are on a journey both academically and spiritually. We hope that GCU can add fun, wisdom and colour to that adventure. You have so much to offer to UBC and to other students, things from the heart of your passion. The group loves to explore important questions that lead to curious investigation and new discovery. We have just released a book last fall written by our staff support worker Gordon Carkner which gives the spirit of GCU and the forums GFCF. We think you will benefit from it as a personal resource for inspiration. The book is called The Great Escape from Nihilism: rediscovering our passion in late modernity. Available at the UBC Bookstore in philosophy and in the UBC library.

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Joined by his wife Ute,, and a brilliant, earnest group of UBC faculty, Gordon loves to hear stories from around the world and he enjoys the art of engaging Christian faith with culture and with science. GCU is all about dialogue, discussion, support and mutual stimulation, building ideas into positive action for the common good. We work hard to help you navigate UBC with class and to reach your goals.

Overview Graduate Christian Union Fall 2017

GCU Study Group Begins Thursday, September 21, 7:00 pm @ 277 West 16th Ave. (2 blocks east of Cambie Street on the north side) The Full Implications of the Incarnation.  Take the #33 or #99 B-Line Bus to Cambie. Easy going discussion/discovery style. We are open to any and all of your questions, musings and stories.

Gallery 2.0 Dialogues–start Friday noon September 29 with Dr. Tim Huh from Sauder School of Business. Find the GCU sign on the table and friendly interlocutors.

Dr. Craig Mitton, School of Population and Public Health, October 20

Canadian Thanksgiving Dinner Celebration: Thursday evening, October 5 @ 6 pm

RSVP by Tuesday midnight.


GFCF Scholarly Lecture Series: First one with UK Public Intellectual Baron Jonathan Sacks, Wednesday, October 25 @ 4:00 pm in Chemistry D200. The Dignity of Difference: Positive Moral Contribution of Religion in a Globalized World. 

GCU is here to help you enhance your UBC grad experience

  • Building a Christian Voice within in Academia: faith and reason in collaboration.
  • Discover Great Resources to support your thinking, research and broaden your horizons: theological, philosophical, historical, justice, etc.
  • Hospitality, meals, celebrations, friendship, collaboration.
  • Scripture Study Plus on theme of the Full Implications of the Incarnation (Thursdays at 7:00 pm). Starts with tea and dessert at 277 West 16th We add in TED talks, documentary clips, music, your creative input and questions.
  • Support, problem-solving and mentorship from UBC faculty members.
  • GCU Blog ( reaching students in 92 countries. Join UBC faculty, students, international writers, and GCU staff: spark a conversation and promote creative writing.
  • New 2016 Book for the GCU/GFCF Vision: The Great Escape from Nihilism: rediscovering our passion in late modernity by Gordon E. Carkner, Ph.D. It gives you some history of our dialogue and debates over the years.
  • Apologetics Training/Resources: Learn about constructive dialogue with a friend.
  • Prayer and Spiritual Support: Prayer meeting on Wednesday mornings on campus. Contact Ute Carkner Cell: 778.840.3549
  • Join our Listserv for GCU weekly updates: Gord Carkner, GCU Staff

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

GCU is interdisciplinary and international, it creates a lively conversation as people bring their wealth of knowledge, experience and expertise to the table. They also bring their heart, humour and their joy to community. Let’s get to know each other and explore new horizons together during this important formation journey of postgraduate education. Looking forward to hearing your story and your aspirations for grad school. If you are exploring the Christian faith for the very first time, you are welcome to join our dialogue.


Join us on a nature hike!

The Full Implications of the Incarnation  Our theme this term is an intriguing investigation into the biblical narrative about incarnation, probably the most important distinction in the Christian faith. We will drill down into a variety of passages, Old and New Testament, to discern the big picture. I have been researching this issue over the summer, but even for a much longer time, took a course on the subject from a very bright Chicago professor, Daniel Treier of Wheaton College. My thinking has been enriched and expanded as well as empowered. I have also been writing about the contrast between Gnostic religion versus the incarnation. All this was striking and quite informative, and it put al lot of things into perspective. The full implications are staggering and far reaching for many disciplines, not just theology. So I invite you to join GCU in this vital dialogue and help towards the writing of a book on the subject. There indeed are exciting possibilities for the road ahead in 2017-18. Here’s a key quote from Dr. Jens Zimmermann, a strong advocate of incarnational thinking and living:

Christ the creative wisdom of God, and God’s active Word in creation, is enfleshed in the temporal-historical dimension of our world as the concrete Jewish Messiah, Jesus the Christ…. This is the Word through whom all things were made, and the Word hid in the eternal bosom of God, the Word who spoke through the prophets, the Word whose mighty acts defined the history of Israel. In Jesus the Christ, this Word has become flesh, and the eternal has become temporal, but without ceasing to be eternal…. In Christ temporality and eternity are conjoined…. In the incarnation, creation, the world, time and history have been taken up into the God-man, who is the center of reality…. Faith and reason are inseparable because their unity is in Christ. (J. Zimmermann, Incarnation Humanism, 2012, 264-5)

One more scholar, University of Virginia noted sociologist James Davison Hunter, clarifies how it impacts our lives:

If, indeed, there is a hope or an imaginable prospect for human flourishing in the contemporary world, it begins when the Word of shalom becomes flesh in us and is enacted through us toward those with whom we live, in the tasks we are given, and in the spheres of influence in which we operate. When the Word of all flourishing—defined by the love of Christ—becomes flesh in us, in our relations with others, within the tasks we are given, and within our spheres of influence—absence gives way to presence, and the word we speak to each other and to the world becomes authentic and trustworthy. (J.D. Hunter, To Change the World 2010, 252)

We have discovered in the incarnation a new transcendent-immanent horizon of vast and deep meaning as servants of the Word made flesh. This opens reality to us in fresh and amazing ways to a new fullness.

All the fragments of reality, all the words, are drawn to him as metal shavings are to a magnet. He is the primordial Word before all words—the Urwort—who as sharing in the divine essence is also an Überwort [super-word], the alpha and omega…. In the flesh he speaks words, fragments themselves which are cast out like a net to gather the original fragments, turned away from their telos by misused human freedom, leading them not to destruction, but to fullness. But it is a new fullness, one that will pass through the ultimate purification of the Word’s entering the dead silence which knows none of the creative tension of word-silence, that mutedness which is death. All of the words of His life, all that he would express of the One Who sent him, are gathered into that inchoate cry from that fixed point at which life’s speech collapses into silence…. Yet the Father raises this now formless Word to transformed life, sending the Spirit through this silent Word to begin to transform this silent Word back into the words that will transform all creation…. And so the Christian life begins after all the words of creation have been gathered up into the one Word Jesus Christ. (R. Gawronski, 2015, 188)

Looking forward to a great year of discovery and growth,

~Dr. Gordon E. Carkner, GCU Staff


Quotes from UBC Professors

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

~Dr. Craig Mitton, PhD

Associate Professor

School of Population and Public Health

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

~Dr. David Ley

Professor Department of Geography

University of British Columbia

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

~Dr. Dennis Danielson

Professor of English

University of British Columbia

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

~Dr. Bé Wassink

Instructor, Materials Engineering

University of British Columbia

Posted by: gcarkner | August 3, 2017

GFCF Lecture Schedule for 2017-18

Dr. William Newsome, Department of Neurobiology

Stanford University School of Medicine

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Wednesday, January 31, 2018 @ 4:00 p.m. Irving Barber Learning Centre 261 –

 Of Two Minds: A Neuroscientist Balances Science and Faith


The ‘central dogma’ of neuroscience is that all our behavior and mental life—including our sense of a conscious, continuing self—is inextricably linked to the biology of the brain.  Neuroscience ‘explanations’, therefore, tend to account for mental phenomena such as thought, emotion and belief in terms of the basic elements of cellular communication within the brain—action potentials, synapses and neuromodulation.  Such mechanistic accounts, which appear increasingly powerful, have been cited as evidence that ‘folk psychological’ explanations of behavior—including beliefs, values and faith—will be replaced ultimately by deeper and more accurate neuroscientific explanations.  In contrast, I argue that the deepest and most accurate accounts of behavior necessarily involve multiple levels of explanation.  Within neuroscience itself, the best explanations are inherently multilevel, appealing simultaneously to behavioral, circuit-level, cellular and genetic insights.  Outside the domain of neuroscience proper, human behavior depends additionally on multiple levels of social and cultural organization and insight.  Each level of explanation complements and corrects, but does not replace, the others.  More than ever in our world, beliefs, values and faith matter.


William “Bill” Newsome is the Harman Family Provostial Professor, Vincent V.C. Woo Director of the Stanford Neuroscience Institute and Professor of Neurobiology at Stanford University. His PhD is from California Institute of Technology. He is the recipient of numerous honours and awards including being elected to membership in the American Philosophical Society, the Dan David Prize and being elected to Membership in the National Academy of Science. His research aims to understand the neuronal processes that mediate visual perception and visually guided behaviour.


Wednesday, March 14, 2018 @ 4:00 p.m. – Expert Medical Panel Discussion on Mitigating the Addiction Crisis

  • John Koehn, Addiction Medical Practitioner, New Westminster, Royal Columbia Hospital, completed a Fellowship under Dr. Evan Wood, BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS
  • Jay Wong, Psychiatry Resident UBC—St. Paul’s Hospital, Providence Health.
  • Jadine Cairns, Nutritionist, Children’s Hospital, Specialist in Eating Disorders
  • Gabriel Loh, Doctor of Pharmacology UBC—Clinical Coordinator Pharmacy Proctice, Richmond Hospital, Vancouver Coastal Health, Clinical Assistant Professor UBC

Interesting Interview with Dr. Robert Lustig University of California San Francisco, author of The Hacking of the American Mind

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Posted by: gcarkner | June 6, 2017

What Does Information Teach Us?

 Is Information a Sign of the Transcendent?

Here’s something to tease the cranium. We are all part of the Information Age and this amazing internationally wired world. We hear about massive amounts of metadata. But information is neither matter nor energy. It is something else entirely. The highest density of information is found in for example, DNA as a code, as well as more ubiquitously in nature. Embryonic development is a kaleidoscope of information activity. The laws of nature contain incredible amounts of information. A large variety of human reason is based on much information that we often take for granted. Information involves purpose or meaning, language or signs, semantics, syntax, statistics, mathematics and exists at many levels. It comes close to the notions of constraint, control, communication, knowledge, data, form, education, understanding, perception, representation, entropy. Information is also a multi-billion dollar industry. And information has large moral and political implications. Below we examine a key aspect/dimension of information as it relates to our worldview, social imaginary or interpretive grid on reality. It contains strong hints within itself and its very nature.

Essential Laws (Characteristics) of Information

  1. Matter cannot create something non-material.
  2. Information is a non-material entity.
  3. Information is absolutely vital to regulate the material medium or realm. We cannot function without it or imagine a world without information and lots of it. We study it, parse and analyze it incessantly; we count on it every day in every realm of life and work.
  4. Information cannot originate in space or thin air via itself, sui generis. It actually needs a source.
  5. No information exists without being coded in some fashion (binary code, words, mathematics, graphs, etc.). This is essential to make it usable, shareable and powerful. It can also be encrypted to protect who receives or has access to particular information like our bank account PIN.
  6. All codes result from intentional choice by a person with intelligence and rational capacity.
  7. Thus, codes require intelligent input or programming from outside the system, as per a computer. All computers are programmed by individual persons or groups of people.
  8. No new information emerges without an intelligent sender or creator/inventor/artist at its ultimate source.
  9. All chains of information can be traced back to an intelligent life source. This is a very significant fact.

Plausible Logical Conclusions

  1. There must be a transcendent (beyond time-space) source and sender of information, producing immense input into the world system (universe) from beyond the material realm, since matter itself cannot produce information.
  2. This sender must be supremely intelligent; the top sender/source must have command of huge amounts of information.
  3. Therefore, this sender must be essentially omniscient/supremely knowledgable regarding information needed in the world, needed to run the world and maintain its order–an essential part of its infrastructure.
  4. Also, this sender must be eternal, because information was needed in the whole history of the universe and beyond its origin. It could not have emerged by itself at the origin of our universe.
  5. This sender must be intensely purposeful and supremely powerful to manage and direct all this information creatively, fruitfully and productively. Otherwise there would be much more chaos and a lot less order to the universe. Meta-data is the tip of the iceberg of such mega-information.
  6. The sender must be a non-material component (aka spirit) of all reality. The sender must transcend physical reality, and cannot be reduced to it or its evolution over time.
  7. The Judeo-Christian Bible is a higher level of information than mere mathematics; all levels of information occur in the Bible. Hints of such a transcendent sender of information is attested to in Scripture: Psalm 14:1; John 16:30; Revelation 18; Psalm 90:2; John 4:24. John 1 speaks of the Word or Logos that was there at creation, the Word that appeared and communicated to humans throughout history, the Word that revealed itself in the person Jesus Christ. He claimed to be part of a Trinity of divine Persons
  8. Science has its appropriate boundaries (David Bentley Hart). For example, it can answer the What questions, but does not pretend to answer the ‘Who or Why questions’ (purpose) behind all that exists and this massive amount of highly organized and specialized information. Therefore, we can conclude that philosophical materialism is insufficient as an explanation (philosophers Thomas Nagel and Alvin Plantinga). We cannot accept the two common myths (wrong assumptions): a. the universe is composed solely of matter and energy (plus anti-matter); b. atheistic evolutionism’s view that information derives from the material sources alone, ie. that it emerges out of raw energy-matter. It does no such thing. See Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies.
  9. Therefore, we must be open to the idea of a transcendent personal Creator beyond the time-space-energy-matter realm, who sourced, purposed and authored the world and input all this immense store of information, without which we ourselves and the universe could not flourish or even exist. There is at the end of the day a poetry to the world of information that we enjoy.

For a more extensive philosophical dialogue of this sort, see The Great Escape from Nihilism by Gordon E. Carkner.

See also: David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, and Bliss.

Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies.

Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos.

Nancey Murphy & Warren Brown, Did My Neurons Make Me Do It?

Charles Taylor, The Language Animal.

p.s. This is roughly along the lines of the Transcendent Argument for God which can be found in a slightly different format at

See also the blog post David Bentley hart’s Provocative Take on Naturalism

Posted by: gcarkner | May 1, 2017

Ghost in a Machine? Identity Crisis?

The Ongoing Debate about the Relationship between Mind & Brain

(Self, Soul, Mind, Consciousness)

Professor William Newsome, distinguished neurobiologist from Stanford, will visit UBC and Lower Mainland January 29-31, 2018 to open up some of these questions.


Is there a ghost in the machine? Mind-Brain Debate

Richard Swinburne (Oxford), Raymond Tallis (Manchester),

Martha Robinson (University College London) & Dr Stuart Derbyshire (Birmingham)


William Lane Craig, The Materialist and the Mind


Professor Raymond Tallis debates RSA chief executive Matthew Taylor

Neuromania: can neuroscience explain human behaviour and culture?

See also the volume Carl Cramer, Explaining the Brain.


Four Principles of Self-transcendence from Philosopher Bernard Lonergan

Be Attentive

Be Intelligent

Be Reasonable

Be Responsible

Thomas Nagel’s Big Question in Mind & Cosmos.

1. He discusses the conflict between reductionist and antireductionist views of reality: he is convinced as a philosopher that physicalistic and naturalistic view of the human brain (and the universe) is fundamentally flawed.

“My aim is not so much to argue against reductionism as to investigate the consequences of rejecting it— to present the problem rather than to propose a solution. Materialist naturalism leads to reductionist ambitions because it seems unacceptable to deny the reality of all those familiar things that are not at first glance physical. But if no plausible reduction is available, and if denying reality to the mental continues to be unacceptable, that suggests that the original premise, materialist naturalism, is false, and not just around the edges.” (p. 15)

2. Nagel focuses on three different aspects of the the amazing world of mind: consciousness, cognition (mental functions such as thought, reasoning, and evaluation) and value. In each case, he explains why a reductionist explanation is inadequate. In the chapter on consciousness he writes:

“What kind of explanation of the development of these organisms, even one that includes evolutionary theory, could account for the appearance of organisms that are not only physically adapted to the environment but also conscious subjects? In brief, I believe it cannot be a purely physical explanation. What has to be explained is not just the lacing of organic life with a tincture of qualia but the coming into existence of subjective individual points of view— a type of existence logically distinct from anything describable by the physical sciences alone.” (p. 44)

“The existence of consciousness is both one of the most familiar and one of the most astounding things about the world. No conception of the natural order that does not reveal it as something to be expected can aspire even to the outline of completeness. And if physical science, whatever it may have to say about the origin of life, leaves us necessarily in the dark about consciousness, that shows that it cannot provide the basic form of intelligibility for this world.” (p. 53)

According to the reductionist point of view, every aspect of reality can be explained in terms of physics, chemistry and the initial conditions of the universe. The origin and development of life, consciousness, and the capacity of human beings to understand the universe via science can all be explained in terms of biochemical processes that are governed by the laws of physics and chemistry. For an alternative well-informed perspective, see Alister McGrath’s excellent work A Fine-Tuned Universe. Philosophy of mind and Christian theism (to name just two domains of human knowledge) has long held there are problems with this view of reality. From these disciplines the explanation is offered that nearly every aspect of the life of the mind is best explained by appealing to a comparable cause, another mind.

Other Scholarly Reading on Neuroscience, Philosophy of Mind & Religion

(in consultation with Dr. Judith Toronchuk, Biopsychology, Trinity Western University)

Barrett, Justin. Why would anyone believe in God? AltaMira Press, 2004.

Barrett, Justin. Cognitive Science, Religion, and Theology: From Human Minds to Divine Minds. Radnor, PA: Templeton Foundation Press, 2011; Born Believers.

Beauregard, Mario. Brain Wars: The Scientific Battle Over the Existence of the Mind and the Proof That Will Change the Way We Live Our Lives, Harper One 2012.; The Spiritual Brain: a neuroscientist’s case for the existence of the soul. (with Denyse O’Leary)

Brown, Warren S. and Brad D. Strawn. The Physical Nature of Christian Life: Neuroscience, Psychology, and the Church. NY: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Corcoran, Kevin. Rethinking Human Nature. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2006.

Green, Joel. Body, Soul and Human Life. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008.

Green, Joel, ed. What About the Soul? Neuroscience and Christian Anthropology. Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 2004.

Green, Joel and Palmer, Stuart. In Search of the Soul: Four Views of the Mind-Body problem. Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2005.

Hasker, William. The Emergent Self. Cornell University Press, 1999.

Jeeves, Malcolm, ed.  From cells to souls–and beyond: changing portraits of human nature. GrandRapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004..

Jeeves, Malcolm. Human Nature: Reflections on the Integration of Psychology and Christianity . Radnor, PA: Templeton Foundation Press, 2006.

Jeeves, Malcom.ed., Rethinking Human Nature: A Multidisciplinary Approach.Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011.

Jeeves, Malcom and Warren Brown. Neuroscience, Psychology and Religion. Conshohoken, PA: Templeton Foundation Press. 2009.

McNamara, Patrick. The Neuroscience of Religious Experience. Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Markham, Paul N. Rewired: Exploring Religious Conversion. Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2007.

Murphy, Nancey. Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies? New York, NY: Cambridge, 2006.

Murphy, Nancey and Warren Brown, Did MNeurons Make Me do it?: Philosophical and Neurobiological Perspectives on Moral Responsibility and Free Will. Oxford: Clarendon, 2007.

Newberg, Andrew and Mark Waldman, How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist. Ballantine Books, 2010.
Russell, Robert John et al (eds.) Neuroscience and the Person: scientific perspective on divine action 4. Vatican City State: Vatican Observatory, 1999.

Schjoedt, Uffe. “The Religious Brain: A General Introduction to the Experimental Neuroscience of Religion”, Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 21 (2009): 310-339.

Schloss, Jeffrey & Michael Murray (eds.) The Believing Primate: scientific, philosophical and theological reflections on the origin of religion.

Swinburne, Richard. The Evolution of the Soul. Oxford University Press.

Posted by: gcarkner | April 16, 2017

Resurrection by Peter Paul Rubens  An MIT Physicist, a Harvard Philosopher, and a New Testament Theologian Reflect on the Meaning of the Resurrection 

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