Posted by: gcarkner | January 13, 2018

Recovery of Identity through Virtue

 The Power of Virtue to Transform and Empower

What kind of people do we aspire to be? What will help us persevere amidst challenges and tragedies and show resilience for the long haul? What kind of things which we think, say and do will make us stronger, focused, more effective? How do we locate ourselves in relation to the good? What do wisdom, courage and hope, benevolence and love, moderation, self-restraint and frugality, patience and gratitude have to do with academia and with everyday life? Can we live well if we live and love virtuously? Our virtue will inform our academic vision, and our vision shapes our goals and actions day to day, and cumulatively this impacts creation and society. Virtue involves our desires and emotions, disposition and attitudes, our stance towards and within the world. There is an art, a joy, a creativity, a finesse to virtue. To embrace virtue involves living deeply, prayerfully, circumspectly, hopefully, expectantly.

A moral virtue is an excellence of character, developed by conscious choices over time and thus for which we can and should be praised, that disposes one to act in such a reasonable way to avoid extremes, to act in short as a sage would act. ~ Aristotle

Here are some examples of virtue that leads us into taking responsibility for ourselves and our world from Steven Bouma-Prediger, For the Beauty of the Earth.

  • Respect & Receptivity: If life in all its diversity is a gift from a benevolent Creator, we should respect its innate, intrinsic and precious value—its creational integrity. Biodiversity (a rich and full flourishing fittedness) is an intended result of God’s wise and orderly creative activity. We as human creation are only one species among many and we should cultivate the earth in harmony with other creatures, so that we can all sing a symphony of God’s praises together (Psalms 104; 148). In other words, other creatures count morally or have moral standing; we have the same God-loved home, and are interdependent with other God-loved creatures on this planet and it is our obligation to respect and manage it well. The virtue principle is to act to preserve diverse kinds of life and the opposing vice is conceit to ignore or disdain other creatures, or just use/or abuse them for our appetites or pleasure. Conceit has no genuine interest in another and will if necessary violate the integrity of the other through a lack of regard. Another different vice would be to worship the other creatures through an excess of reverence. Receptivity is a form of hospitality, which acknowledges our interdependence with the creaturely other; self-sufficiency is the vice that says we don’t have need of the other.


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


  • Humility and Honesty: Humility speaks to the art of being responsible, unpretentious and aware of one’s limits; it recognizes that we humanoids are both finite and faulted; we should act cautiously and move slowly with a view to the consequences of how we consume and live with others. The vice is hubris or overweening pride, an exaggerated self-confidence. Honesty means to be without guile or duplicity (perversion of truth for personal gain); it entails that we will act with forethought. It opposite is Deception a cunning misrepresentation often fuelled by envy and spite in order to see enemies harmed and humiliated.


  • Wisdom and Hope: Wisdom is an excellence of intellect, developed over time, that allows one to live the good life (150). It originates in the fear or worship of God. It is sound practical judgment based on uncommon insight honed through long experience and informed by cultivated memory. Assumption: it is God’s will that the whole of creation be fruitful and flourish and not just humans. We should act in such a way that the ability of living creature can maintain themselves and reproduce. Foolishness is the position of habitual lack of sound judgment, to act as if the earth is endlessly exploitable. Hopetrust oriented forward in time rooted in God’s promises, a yearning for shalom. Despair is the absence of any expectation of a good future; it leads to the sickness unto death of Kierkegaard.


  • Patience and Serenity: 152 assuming a belief is Sabbath rest for land humans and animals, it is a principle of rejuvenation. It takes the long vew and shows a calm forebearance. We should act in such a way that the creatures under our care are given their needful rest. The vice is impetuousness, an impulsiveness based on fear of the future that drive to gratify our desires in the immediate moment. Serenity is an unruffled peacefulness, an inner calm amidst chaos rooted in a assurance of God’s grace.


  • Benevolence and Love: Benevolence is willingness to promote the well-being of another plus a feeling of affection for the other. To love the earth means to serve and cultivate it and protect it from harm (to be earthkeepers). It involves recognition of God as the real owner and we humans as the tenants, those who tend the earth gardens. If we love God’s good creation, we will not exploit or pillage it; we will nurture it. This may seem strange, but it is biblical (Genesis 2:15). The ecological tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico should actually break our hearts.


  • Justice and Courage: Justice, a central feature of human flourishing, is the disposition to act impartially and fairly; it implies respect for the rights of others. In Isaiah 24, justice is intimately tied to the health of the land; sociall justice and ecological health are bound together. We are enjoined to act so as to treat others, human and non-human fairly. Courage is the moral strength in the face of danger, tenacity in the face of opposition, a stubborn persistence in the face of adversity. Often it takes tremendous courage to sustain justice.

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

See also David Brooks, The Road to Character.

Our lives often follow either of two dramatically different routes:

  1. expedience, pleasure now, entitlement, short cuts morally, take all you can get and run, immediate self-gratification. This route can lead to nihilism (loss of self) or tyranny.
  2. sacrifice, work hard for a better future, delay gratification, focus on the greater good, think about others, share, take responsibility. This is the route to a higher freedom, a legacy life. You are saving up for a better future self (a university education, a better marriage, a better reputation, a better world).
Posted by: gcarkner | January 8, 2018

Late Modernity and its Prospects

Learning from an Analysis of Late Modernity

The irony of late modernity is that, just when we thought we were most  free, we discovered that we were actually in chains of a culture of nihilism and cynicism, anger and resentment. We dare to know the truth about our situation, and to think critically about it. We also long to experience life in its fullness and abundance, to live with passion towards the good. We want to discover our calling and make a meaningful contribution. We have discovered that nihilism is a seductive trap, with false promises that cannot deliver. Radical individualism is out of touch with reality, it does not sustain, and cynicism self-destructs. Nihilism leaves us homeless, fearful, deceptive, suspicious, isolated, and morally frozen.

Ultimately, it is a form of anti-humanism, working against our best interests, as well as the best interests of others. The great escape from nihilism, as we have articulated it, is a committed process. It moves us out of naïveté into maturity. We have been on a spiritual journey that requires both map (a new paradigm) and compass (wisdom, discernment, interpretive skill). We do have the choice of a robust alternative, an upward trek towards virtue, which is at the heart of human flourishing and meaning. With some help, we can recover a fresh consciousness, an effective individuality in relation to the good, to agape love, and to community. We can live from the depth of character, rather than stroll superficially as flâneurs, aristocrats of style, or reduce ourselves to technical performers, a mere cog in the big economic machinery. Read More…

Posted by: gcarkner | January 4, 2018

GCU Winter-Spring 2018

 Grad Christian Union, Winter/Spring Term 2018

We exist to help you reach high as a graduate student and to find your truest self. GCU is a network of believers and seekers, a friendly learning community providing mutual support and dialogue. We include those pursuing the deeper life, meaningful character formation, those who want to grow in personal/emotional intelligence as well as in academic skill. We would be excited to meet you and hear about your journey, your passion and your areas of curiosity and joie de vivre. Join us at upcoming activities which include social outings, study group and special lectures. I’d be happy to meet personally over coffee as well. ~Gord

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Welcome to New Opportunities to Expand Your Horizons

 Welcome to UBC if you have just started your program.  We begin January with our study group on Tuesday, January 16 at 7 pm at our home 277 West 16th Ave., Vancouver (just east of Cambie), in the book of II Corinthians, continuing our theme of Incarnation and the New Covenant. We start with an introduction to Paul’s invention of Christian theology with top scholar N.T. (Tom) Wright. GCU sponsors discussion groups, retreats, films, speakers and fun outdoor hikes, some ski trips, in the local mountains. We like international food and fun. GCU is like a little UN with friends from around the globe. Write to 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 as you travel with new companions. Success in grad school is aided by a good support group–walking through your challenges with others. You have much to offer to UBC and to other students, things from the centre of your passion, questions that lead into curious investigation. We have just released a book written by our staff support worker Gordon Carkner which gives the spirit of GCU, and we think that you will benefit from it as a resource. It is called The Great Escape from Nihilism: rediscovering our passion in late modernity

GCU helps you navigate 

Joined by his wife Ute, and a number of UBC faculty interested in supporting graduate students, Gord loves to hear stories from around the world and he enjoys the wonder of engaging our Christian faith with culture and with science. In one sense, we drill down into the ancient Christian heritage of the university.  Ute has expertise in spiritual formation and intercession. Contact her for prayer about your issues. We work hard for you! GCU is all about dialogue, discussion, probing good question and personal growth, keeping us on the cutting edge.

First Lecture of 2018

Screen Shot 2018-01-04 at 3.46.31 PM Bill Newsome on State of Neuroscience Bill Newsome on Free Will


Posted by: gcarkner | December 11, 2017

Christmas Reading

Christmas Reading Suggestions

Scot McKnight, The Hum of Angels: Listening for the Messengers of God Amon Us. Waterbrook.

Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. Vintage; and The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom.

Terry Glasprey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Story Behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music and Film. Baker

Michael Rota, Taking Pascal’s Wager: Faith, Evidence and the Abundant Life. IVP Academic

Marina Nemat, Prisoner of Teran: a Memoir. Penguin (International Bestseller)

Tim Keller, Making Sense of God: an Invitation to the Skeptical.

Sandra Maria Van Opsal, The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World. IVP

Steven Backhouse, Kierkegaard: A Single Life. Zondervan

Stephen Bauman, Matthew Soerens & Issam Smier, Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis. Moody

Miraslov Volf, Flourishing: why we need religion in a globalized world. Yale University Press

Jonathan Sacks, Not in the Name of God: Confronting Religious Violence. Schocken. Piano Guys Christmas


Pastors and Christian Leaders

Christopher Wright, How to Preach and Teach the Old Testament for All its Worth. Zondervan 2017

Kevin Vanhoozer, Biblical Authority after Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity. Brazos

Oliver O’Donovan, Entering into Rest: Ethics as Theology, Volume 3

Gordon T. Smith, Institutional Intelligence: How to Build an Effective Organization.

Preston Manning, Faith, Leadership and Public Life: Leadership Lessons from Moses to Jesus.

Richard Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels. Baylor University Press.


Perhaps you will attend a Handel’s Messiah concert at this time of year to revive your sense of wonder at the nature of the Christmas celebrations. You want to rise above the pressures of wants from your kids and the consumeristic greed, the stresses of entertainment. One of the grand pieces in this phenomenal production is the oratorio “Unto Us a Child is Born”. This powerful, stirring  piece of music is based on a prophetic passage in the Hebrew Bible, Isaiah 9: 2-7, rooted in a poem delivered 600 years before the birth of Christ. Christians have taken this as a predictor of the coming Messiah. They own it as a statement about the prophetic child, a royal agent. He would be a Wonderful Counsellor, someone filled with wisdom about how life and relationships work; a Mighty God, a champion with authority to bring change for the good into the world; Everlasting Father, someone benevolent who knew the end from the beginning, who had a unique, eternal perspective on our lives and our troubles;  a Prince of Peace, someone who would sort out the injustices and remove oppression, who will level the playing field, and promote reconciliation. It speaks of the presence of Yahweh with his people, a presence of renewal and reformation, in a time of transition to a new cultural ethos. This prophetic child would bring Light, Joy, Freedom, and Peace.


Posted by: gcarkner | December 7, 2017

Bill Newsome Speaks on Neuroscience and Faith Bill Newsome on State of Neuroscience Bill Newsome on Free Will    Bill Newsome, a similar talk given in recent years.


Posted by: gcarkner | December 3, 2017

Advent Investigations

Advent Investigations Reframed

Advent speaks of God’s coming to be with us, a presence to fill the void of absence. Our world is so often typified by will-to-power, nihilism, with wandering souls, broken dreams and fragmented lives. But there is no greater claim among all the religions and philosophies of the world than this: God took on a human body and spent time with us, dwelt among us. It entails his most dramatic revelation, his greatest speech-act.  Angelic hosts burst into glorious song to announce the event. O Holy Night!

Just at the right time, high time (kairos), he comes to dwell in incarnate flesh: pulsating corpuscles, arms and legs running to greet us, face filled with compassion, hands breaking bread to feed the masses. Here lies the grand invitation to counter nihilism, search into the deeper things of life, reach higher for a transcendent encounter, to ponder the big questions of meaning, purpose and identity. We must put our best philosophers and scholars, poets and scientists to work on this investigation. What’s this that is happening to us, to our world? What’s the meaning of this virgin birth, this epiphany of grace, this gift, this cosmic event, this explosion of the human and divine imagination? Advent is that and more.

Incarnation Mystery: We have touched him with our hands, rubbed shoulders, felt his robust embrace, dined together, listened to his wisdom, felt his care. Mary sings, “Things hidden for centuries have become so clear. Insight and justice have set up a new epistemology, a new way of knowing and being, a new world where love rules. Infinite meets finite good and ushers in peace; a new future is born. Our people have longed for this for centuries in our wildest dreams and deepest depths. Once we could only hope for such things. Now they are tangible and real.” How do we discern such grand experience?

Cognitive Barrier: The proud and cynical skeptics, who want to treat such evidence for God like a laboratory investigation, cannot see the light in Advent, cannot discern the import of the storyline, cannot understand why scholars would travel the globe to investigate the signs. Handicapped by moral blockage, our cynics cannot receive divine love; they are deaf to the announcement of joy unspeakable; there is no feeling of wonder at the Advent Miracle. “Show me the hard data; bring us fire from heaven. Show us the cognitive bullet that explains, the hermeneutical key to unlock the episode. Adults must face the harsh reality of meaninglessness.” Instead, they find only fantasy, obscurity and confusion; they walk away from incarnate signs without knowing the profound significance of their loss. Time to read another book from the New Atheists to bury our guilt and refuse the mystery of a special newborn that may be the hinge of history. They settle for absence. Are we late moderns looking for God in all the wrong places and then carelessly claiming he doesn’t exist and is irrelevant to our human dreams? Do we have the wrong methodology, a dysfunctional hermeneutic?

Cognitive Hope: As a counterpoint to this skeptic’s dilemma, Loyola philosopher Paul K. Moser reframes the approach: “Are we humans in a position on our own to answer the question of whether God exists, without our being morally challenged by God?” This draws on the ancient Hebrew prophetic tradition: God hides from the proud and reveals himself to the humble and teachable, those with the open heart and the imagination of a young child. Revelation involves encounter: divine cognitive grace engaging stony hearts. What kind of person will discover God, feel divine presence and experience holy communion, hear the angels announcing the birth and recognize what it means?  What kind of approach will improve our sight and hearing? To seek out God is morally loaded and humanly humbling. Courage, humility and perseverance is required.

Evidence for God is no spectator sport where we treat him as a laboratory experiment; rather, it requires the seeker to submit to someone as authoritative Lord, and to undergo examination. The pure in heart and the righteous will see God. Ah, there’s the rub: No magic cognitive bullet to answer all questions or provide the right hermeneutical key. Our wise philosopher Dr. Moser informs us that we need kardiatheology the right motivation of the heart to deal properly with the hidden God, who is shy and hides from our arrogant attitudes, our attempts to control the ultimate experiment. We desperately need healing from our cynicism in order to see and perceive, to engage fruitfully a holy and loving God. These investigations after all are not just about the first cause or the evidence of a designer in a fine-tuned universe. We will need to seek him on his terms, to attend to his approach. The Divine Fox sets the parameters for discovery and the rules of engagement. The Wexford Carol

Indeed, what if the fundamentals are not cosmos, nebulae and galaxies, matter and energy, time, space and motion, protons and electrons, but rather love, joy, peace and goodness, I-Thou relationship, purity of inner self. How do we filter the cosmic noise, the cacophony of human skepticism, and hear his voice calling to us? Come everyone who is tired and stressed, hungry and exhausted and I will give you rest, peace, and healing. Handel’s Messiah captures the grand theme, the deep hope, the phenomenal drama of the divine-human story.

God will show up when atheists stop their cynical rant and attend more carefully to his initiatives. The investigation is recalibrated. His agape love is directed at the human conscience is an invitational call to existential depth; we experience disclosure in the midst of transformation. Grace works like this. Agape offers an enlightening love that shines divine light on our inner depths and motivations. This methodology will help us recognize him as King of kings, Lord of lords, Prince of peace, God of gods, Immanuel.

Moser captures the essential life-or-death question: “Are we sincerely attending to the divine call via conscience and experienced agape in a way that leads us before the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus where we can become part of his new creation?” This is an investigation worthy of several PhDs. How do we respond to this incarnational gift, this intersection with the divine, of heaven come to earth? Will we agree to his conditions in this preeminent investigation, and approach like a child in openness to epiphany? God will speak if we listen and respond; he will come; he will invite us into trinitarian communion, to learn more than our imaginations could ever fathom.

~Gord Carkner, Advent Season 2017 Piano Guys Christmas

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.

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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

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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.

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