Posted by: gcarkner | January 19, 2023

Michael Ward, University of Oxford, UBC Lecture


English Literary Critic & Theologian

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

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

View Talk on our YouTube Channel


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


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

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

Bibliography on C.S. Lewis Oeuvre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by: gcarkner | January 3, 2023

Hope for a New Year 2023

New Year’s Resolutions/Good Habits for Life Enhancement

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

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

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

A Big Welcome to New UBC Postgrad Students!

“By the Powers of Good” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by: gcarkner | December 10, 2022

Transformative Moments of Epiphany

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Mary Encounters Something Wholly Other

Luke 1: 26-56

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

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

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

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

Descent by Malcolm Guite

They sought to soar into the skies

Those classic gods of high renown

For lofty pride aspires to rise

​But you came down.

You dropped down from the mountains sheer

Forsook the eagle for the dove

The other Gods demanded fear

But you gave love

Where chiselled marble seemed to freeze

Their abstract and perfected form

Compassion brought you to your knees

Your blood was warm

They called for blood in sacrifice

Their victims on an altar bled

When no one else could pay the price

You died instead

They towered above our mortal plain,

Dismissed this restless flesh with scorn,

Aloof from birth and death and pain,

​But you were born.

Born to these burdens, borne by all

Born with us all ‘astride the grave’

Weak, to be with us when we fall,

​And strong to save.

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

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

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Mary Shares the Profound News with Cousin Elizabeth

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

Annunciation by Malcolm Guite

We see so little, stayed on surfaces,

We calculate the outsides of all things,

Preoccupied with our own purposes

We miss the shimmer of the angels’ wings,

They coruscate around us in their joy

A swirl of wheels and eyes and wings unfurled,

They guard the good we purpose to destroy,

A hidden blaze of glory in God’s world.

But on this day a young girl stopped to see

With open eyes and heart. She heard the voice;

The promise of His glory yet to be,

As time stood still for her to make a choice;

Gabriel knelt and not a feather stirred,

The Word himself was waiting on her word.

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

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

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

Edwin Muir The Incarnate One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas Readings Eternal Seasons: a Liturgical Journey with Henri Nouwen

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

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

Posted by: gcarkner | December 2, 2022

Gord’s Christmas Reads 2022

Rebekah Eklund, The Beatitudes through the Ages.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tim Keller, Forgive.

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

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

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

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

Bruce Waltke, Proverbs: A Shorter Commentary.

Craig Keener, I Peter: A Commentary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by: gcarkner | November 26, 2022

Music for Advent & Christmas

A group of people playing instruments

Description automatically generated Best Classical Christmas Music Carols from King’s College, Cambridge Mozart’s Christmas Masterpieces Classical Christmas HalidonMusic King’s College Choir: Nine Lessons and Carols O Holy Night, King’s College Choir

Nola Shantz MA piano & voice Traditional Christmas Songs, HalidonMusic (Mozart, Corelli, Beethoven, Bach)  The Piano Guys Christmas Playlist (creativity in overdrive)

Ruth Haley Barton Reflection, First Sunday of Advent

Posted by: gcarkner | November 17, 2022

Incarnation, Identity & Spirituality

Many people today claim to be spiritual but not religious. They know that their inner person needs care and attention, but they are not big on formal religion. So says Lethbridge sociologist Reginald Bibby in  The Emerging Millennials. Many people today are on a journey or search for their spiritual home; some have come to an existential identity crisis within this journey. Though successful at work, they remain restless and deeply unhappy. This can be very confusing and disorienting. I hear these stories from students all the time. Some successful, well-published faculty experience them as well, even university presidents. Sometimes we focus so heavily on science, business and technology (STEM subjects) that we neglect the very important issues of the ‘soul’ (our inner being). This can lead to terrible anxiety and deep inner pain. Often, it becomes a personal crisis. Where does one turn for wisdom under such circumstances?

Is there a possibility of re-enchanting our world, celebrating the physical and material, but realizing that there is more to life than mere matter, reproduction, sustenance and survival. We need wisdom to explore these delicate phenomena, to work towards wholeness and human flourishing. In my new book, I am exploring this journey, out of nihilism and into robust meaning–a quest for fuller reality and true fulfilment: the deeper life. Don’t we all long for epiphany, insight or revelation at different junctures in our lives? When is that breakthrough coming as I suffer with anxiety? I want to say that if you are in this place, it is OK; in fact, it is a good sign that you are getting in touch with something significant that makes you more human. Don’t ignore the stirrings, the longings in your heart. They are saying something important. Our desires are often deeper than we think: they cannot be satisfied with more stuff, entertainment, travel or more accomplishment. Don’t be blinded by science and work, even excellence, wealth and academic prizes. What if there is a source of goodness, meaning, hope and beauty beyond the universe, but deeply relevant to our everyday existence? Wouldn’t that be great to encounter, to discover?

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

These days, we obsess over trying to reinvent, assert, advertise ourselves, but to what end. Some of the greatest writers of all time (Augustine, Dostoevsky, Blaise Pascal, G.K. Chesterton, T.S. Eliot, C.S. Lewis, Boethius, Thomas Acquinas, Alvin Plantinga) understand that a human person does not actually self-exist but is derivative, part of a bigger picture, a larger drama in play. We need a deeper critique of culture, a more robust story to make sense of things, one that captures our full humanity. Humans need to grapple with their sources and with their destiny or calling. What narrative am I now in? Is this universe for or against me? Are we somehow lost in the cosmos? How do we get home (Ulysses)? Why do we have this deep need to be genuinely loved for ourselves and not just for what we accomplish, or what others can gain/steal from us? Why do we long for community and communion with a soulmate or group to authenticate and relax us, someone who matters, who understands us? Who or what can we really trust? Is life an adventure or just something to endure? Riveting questions indeed, worthy questions.

Charles Taylor on the Idea of the Self.

Abraham Heschel talks about the need for I-Thou dialogue to help us in this existential quest for meaning and hope for the future (See also Martin Buber). This quest seems to be an attempt to ground ourselves, our identity, in something bigger. He reflects on Abraham and Moses who, through no fault of their own, were dramatically confronted with the presence of the divine. They learned from this encounter that love is prior to power. This had a large impact on their purpose in life, their sense of calling and identity. It changed the very course of their lives. There is a dramatic breach in the silence. Remember when you cried out in the night amidst your angst and unanswered questions, “Is there anyone there?” “Does anyone care?’ In a lightning bolt of insight, these leaders in making learned that God has not given up on us, that the divine is personal and wants a personal relationship with us, wants to partner with us for the good of ourselves and others. I assure you, we can get unstuck, escape our loop of cynicism, resentment and despair. If we long for love, Augustine said, that’s because it has been there all along, grounding reality. It’s not a fantasy. We need not continue feeling an exile from the universe.

“Throughout history, those who live for something greater than themselves and greater than worldly desires have contributed immensely to the advancement of education, culture, and the common good. For those who accept the offer of “infinite joy”, contentment is obtained, and a powerful purpose for living is found.” (P. M. Gould, Cultural Apologetics, 79)

In the New Testament, Jesus carried a similar but even more profound message. He claimed to be an epiphany of God in human flesh and blood, the wisdom of the invisible God revealed in the history of ancient Israel. He claimed that there is a God of love behind this universe. We are not victims of cosmic gamesters, karma, tricksters, cold materialistic determinism or fate. He claimed that our existential angst could be dealt with. We can be healed and made whole spiritually. We can find that great love we long for. There is an ultimate source of our longings and desires for more. Someone sees our worth, really cares about us, for us, as an end. We can find our home, our identity, in God. Life is about gift, goodness and grace, other-orientation, not mere accumulation/consumption, survival and self-interest. There exists a whole ‘economy of grace’ below the financial economy of production and consumption, bartering and exchange. Jesus’ life opens a meta-critique of all that we are now striving for in contemporary, late modern culture. It is a rich picture of reality that includes rather than excludes. At the end of the day, we all have a critical theory. The world is not perfect, we know it in our bones. Towards an Incarnational Spiritual Culture is my critique which ends in the hope of a more robust and resilient identity and a re-enchanted world. We have a real future available, but we have to step into it bravely. The Incarnation is that kind story and incarnational spirituality offers that kind of identity.

—Incarnational spirituality is rooted in profound underlying dynamics: the unity of Creation and Redemption; the unity of Old  and New Testaments (biblical covenant-narratives); the unity of Christ and the Church. The New Testament makes the amazing claim that Jesus is, in the flesh, the wisdom of God and the power of God (I Corinthians 1: 24), the nexus and integral relationship of faith and reason. As divine Logos (John 1: 1-4), he is the transcendent word made flesh, the underwriter of all human thought and language. Truth ultimately is found in a person, a presence, not a mere philosophy. It contains the most significant hope of reuniting the word (common human discourse) and world (universal brother/sisterhood) in the late modern age.       

~Dr. Gordon E. Carkner, PhD in a dialogue between Michel Foucault and Charles Taylor on the moral/spiritual self.

Author, blogger, YouTube Webinar Producer, Meta-Educator with UBC Postgraduate Students

Diversity Skill Set & Wisdom for Dialogue

  • Able to pursue ideas amidst diversity and think for yourself.
  • Champion a continual search for the truth, and disagreement with lies and deception, propaganda, poor scholarship.
  • Beware: too much choice can be harmful to one’s psychological and sociological wellbeing.
  • Don’t buy into relativism or subjectivism (unfortunately, too many Canadians, Europeans and Americans do just that). It cannot be lived well—definitely not good for human flourishing–promotes division and conflict.
  • Remember that your personal opinion might be poorly examined and ill-informed, weak empirically, bigoted or seriously biased.
  • Celebrate high values/virtues/ideals: honesty, trustworthiness, compassion, decency, respect for life, good environmental stewardship, taking responsibility for your behaviour and for others (inclusive humanism).
  • Shun dishonesty, cheating, abuse, exploitation, theft, fraud, plagiarism, things causing emotional pain and suffering to others, the not-so-good or dark side of human character.
  • Ask yourself what leads to a truly good life? Make plans in that direction.
  • Learn to distinguish between good, better, best decisions. Not all theories or worldviews are of equal value. There is a hierarchy among the moral goods. Identity is interwoven with ones morality and spirituality.
  • Think about the longterm consequences of your actions and decisions, including the unintended ones.
Posted by: gcarkner | November 3, 2022

Conversion, Faith and Social Conditioning

In this webinar, Meta-Educator and author Dr. Gordon E. Carkner in Vancouver, Canada examines the critical question of the influence of social conditioning on the choice of a faith or a philosophical perspective/worldview. He shows that we all need to think more critically about what we believe and why. Rather than acquiesce to the social conditioning of our tribe, we should examine evidence, be open to dialogue, and never stop thinking until we get to a reasonable faith that sets us free into a responsible lifestyle. He encourages us to lean into a position of integrity and he also offers great resources to pursue this task. Great webinar for dialogue with a friend. What are your assumptions?

The challenge to each of us is not to passively acquiesce in our own social conditioning, nor to join an academic cheerleading squad of a cool philosophy professor. No one wants to be made out to be a fool. Complacency produces a stifling, dangerous religious or anti-religious bias. Oh yes, there is all that self-righteous indignation as well. Instead, the better approach is to think through the meaning of life and critically examine your current assumptions. Do you like where they take you? This applies to all worldview perspectives. Once examined, do commit yourself vigorously, consistently, but by all means…   

Never Stop Thinking!

—Rapprochement between Faith and Reason:

—Peter Kreeft’s top ten books:   

Freedom, Identity and the Good

See also The Great Escape from Nihilism by Gordon E. Carkner

We are missing paradise; we long for wholeness, the meaning of life beyond mere biological  existence, happiness, joy, fulfilment.

Constitutive language can open new spaces for human meanings and identity: new terms, new expressions, enactments, new fields of articulacy and how to recognize and bring to expression new domains of meaning. The disciplined languages of objective description suitable for science are comparatively late achievements of human culture.  In light of all this, it is clear that the regimented, scientific zone can only be a suburb of the vast, sprawling city of language, and could never be the metropolis itself.  (Charles Taylor, The Language Animal)

Posted by: gcarkner | October 18, 2022

UBC Lecture with Daniel K. Williams

Daniel K. Williams 

Professor of History, University of West Georgia.

How Should Christians Think about Partisan Politics?

October 25, 2022 @ 4:00 PM

Recording of the Event:

Review of Politics of the Cross:


Does it matter how Christians think about political proposals that touch on moral issues such as poverty relief, racial justice, immigration, abortion, marriage, sexuality, and other matters that relate to biblical principles and human dignity?  What happens when Christians disagree with each other on these issues?  Is one political position or political party more “Christian” than another?  In this session, Dr. Williams will explore the recent history of Christian political activity and the reasons why political disagreements among Christians have become more heated lately.  He will then look at some ways to transcend partisan thinking and pursue Christian principles in the political sphere that should challenge those on both the left and the right.


Daniel K. Williams received his PhD from Brown University in 2005. He is a professor of history at the University of West Georgia and has taught there since 2005. He was the William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion in Public Life, James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, Princeton University, 2011-12. Dr. Williams’ research focuses on the intersection between politics and religion in modern America. He is author of numerous articles and books including: God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right. Oxford University Press, 2010 which was the recipient of the 2011 Phi Alpha Theta Best First Book Award; The Election of Evangelical Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and the Presidential Contest of 1976. University Press of Kansas, 2020; and The Politics of the Cross: A Christian Alternative to Partisanship. Eerdmans, 2021 (the theme of this presentation). 

Bibliography for this Topic:

Next in GFCF Series

Thursday, January 26, 2023 @ 12 noon: Dr. Michael Ward, Black Friars, Oxford                                                                         

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

Posted by: gcarkner | October 8, 2022

A Rapprochement Between Faith & Reason

Mythology Currently Haunting the Relationship between Fides et Ratio

The Discourse on Faith and Reason Revised

Athens in Dialogue with Jerusalem

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We suggest that our current state of skepticism in Western late modernity stems from a significant confusion about the relationship between various types of faith and certain types of reason. There is more than one type of reasoning or knowledge, and more than one type of faith. Alasdair McIntyre notes three massively different paradigms of reason in Three Version of Moral Inquiry: pre-modern, modern and postmodern. This important insight helps us understand the breadth of discourse at our universities. Faith is also a multivalent concept and applies equally to the hard sciences as well as relationships or the study of Holy Scripture or one’s personal spiritual journey and quest for meaning. There are several assumptions that have to be made in all these cases which cannot be proven by science. These are meta-scientific, yet crucial for our work in various disciplines. They are part of our hermeneutical grid or framework.

We need a critical assessment of current metaphysical, epistemological and anthropological assumptions in order to find liberation from the Nihilistic world picture that has taken us captive. We propose that it is possible to think critically and wisely within a different framework or horizon. We can discover a richer understanding of reason, belief and life itself. The larger horizon of reason gives it its fecundity or fruitfulness.

God, in the classical sense, asks humans to the table of reason, he proposes intellectual hospitality and dialogue. He asks them to test his wisdom and revelation against the reality of their lives and their best thinking, against their deepest aspirations and worst fears and anxieties. He asks them to pay attention to reality by all possible means, at all levels, to come to grips with the mystery of their humanity and the mystery of being itself. Brilliant biochemist turned philosopher, Michael Polanyi (see a separate post on his work), revealed that faith is operative at all stages of scientific research and discovery, both theoretical and experimental science. For Polanyi, scientific inquiry is above all a practice best understood as a kind of craft. Philosophical theologian Jens Zimmermann has added significant and accessible insight on this subject of science and the humanities in his recent publication: Hermeneutics: a very short introduction (Oxford University Press, 2015). The big issue is how we frame our convictions and thoughts, plus the kind of stance we take on reality, towards ourselves and other people, the world at large.

We want to face the hard question: Are we entering a post-truth society where spin doctors, tweets and fake news producers are taken seriously, despite the ‘facts’, where rage gives us an audience? Some are buying into this stance. This is fideism combined with blind loyalty and cult-like tribalism. Oxford scholar Terry Eagleton would call it the ideology of the aesthetic.The current attempts towards a pure reason or pure faith are really impossible to actualize. In fact, there  are no pure domains of reason or faith. They are intertwined. One cannot get rationalism without the other extreme: fideism. Both rationalism and fideism are abstract categories and don’t exist in real life. Sadly, rationalism seems to need good faith to be reduced to fideism for its very survival. For example, Nietzsche claimed that all the way down there are only interpretations; on the opposite extreme, positivists claim that there are only facts (especially scientific ones). Our YouTube Channel

What should we believe about faith and reason whatever our starting point or prejudgments? It is perhaps a life-long quest to understand the nuances of this faith-reason, knowledge-religion relationship. Nothing is more important for balance in our lives and our thinking inside and outside the university. Accomplished philosophical theologian Duke University scholar D. Stephen Long helps our quest giving us much to ponder in his profound book Speaking of God: theology, language and truth. Stephen was a past guest speaker at UBC in the GFCF series. I have chosen some priceless quotes below from Stephen and other great scholars and scientists to help us re-imagine a truce between faith and reason. It may even lead to a re-enchantment of the world and a renewal of culture.                              

Here are ten of the most common myths (misconceptions) about the relationship between reason and Christian faith. Perhaps it can help awaken us from our studied naivety, our intellectual slumber, our received prejudgments. These assumptions need to be re-examined  as to their cogency and coherence, their soundness, their plausibility. It is critical that we transcend the hard, abstract (often confusing) categories of fideism and rationalism. Both are a form of harmful dogmatism that leads people in the wrong direction intellectually and personally. Let’s face it, there are good ways to reason and bad ways to reason (talk to a professor of logic), and this matters immensely today. The following misconstruals are commonly believed, even by PhDs who are well published, and some of the top public intellectuals.

Ten Myths about Faith & Reason

In response, we appeal to some of the sharpest minds to examine and confront these confusions. In the end, clear thinking does matter. The unexamined assumption can lead one astray, even into harm’s way, and into violence. It is no accident of history that many of the top modern universities, (e.g. Harvard, Queen’s, McGill, Oxford, Cambridge, Princeton, the Sorbonne) have deep roots in the Christian faith, have been inspired by such faith (John O’Malley, Four Cultures of the West; Kelly Monroe Kullberg, Finding God at Harvard). Their campus mottos reveal this fact. Religious belief is no friend of ignorance nor the enemy of knowledge. Christian faith involves the mind as well as the heart and the body (the whole person), reason as well as intuition, attention to facts and interpretation, all types of human perception. It employs the full human linguistic capacity (Charles Taylor, The Language Animal). See for example the pursuit of wisdom in both science and theology in Tom McLeish’s Faith and Wisdom in Science. (OUP 2014) Psalm 110:10 says: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

Below, we take a stance/position of intellectual openness in the pursuit of a reasoned faith and faithful, responsible, noble reasoning. I believe that with effort we can we handle the pursuit of knowledge wisely, astutely and carefully. Philosopher Paul Gould notes: “We find truth when our thoughts, beliefs, or statements correspond to reality, when we are rightly related to the way the world is.” The reasoning process involves several components, including (1) the reception of facts from sensation, reports of others (i.e., testimony), memory, introspection, or the imagination; (2) the perception of self-evident truths (including laws of logical inference); and (3) the arrangement of facts to arrive at new truths that are not self-evident. 

Myth #1. Faith and reason are inherently incompatible, or in opposition.

“Philosophy should be the love of wisdom that prompts persons to use reason in the quest for truth, goodness and beauty…. Philosophy and theology have distinct tasks, but those tasks cannot be delineated solely in terms of nature and or reason and faith.” ~D. Stephen Long (statement about non-overlapping magisteria)

“The question of God… is one that can and must be pursued in terms of the absolute and the contingent, the necessary and the fortuitous, potency and act, possibility and impossibility, being and nonbeing, transcendence and immanence…. Evidence for or against God, if it is there, saturates every moment of the experience of existence, every employment of reason, every act of consciousness, every encounter with the world around us.” ~David Bentley Hart, philosopher, writer

 “As I try to discern the origin of that conviction [that the universe is orderly], I seem to find it in a basic notion discovered 2000 or 3000 years ago, and enunciated first in the Western world by the ancient Hebrews: namely that the universe is governed by a single God, and is not the product of the whims of many gods, each governing his own province according to his own laws.  This monotheistic view seems to be the historical foundation for modern science” Melvin Calvin, Nobel Prize for Biochemistry  (Chemical Evolution. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969, 258).

“Reason itself, and the deliberative processes that govern rationality, point to a reality ‘outside of the box,’ a world governed by truth and not mere survival instincts. The world is ontologically haunted by a self-existent, immaterial cosmic mind. As C. S. Lewis has said in Miracles, “To admit a cosmic mind is to admit a God outside Nature, a transcendent and supernatural God.” (Paul Gould, Cultural Apologetics, 137)

See Prayson Daniel’s Blog post on Max Planck:  Science and Religion

Clarification of the Concept of Faith

Faith is not wishful thinking, or the opposite of evidence, nor is it anti-science. Faith is a critical, reasonable trust (chairs, cars, doctors, bankers, husbands, mentors, professors). Clearly with all the scams today, good faith and bad faith must be discerned. But we cannot live without faith.

Good faith is a positive, hopeful openness to the fullness of reality and all the knowledge that is there to be apprehended (E.F. Schumacher, A Guide for the Perplexed; Jens Zimmermann, Hermeneutics: a very short history). It is the opposite of cynicism and reductionism, naïveté or paranoia about will to power. Of course, the object of our faith makes all the difference. We should never take a ride home from a drunk driver. In fact, current cultural superstitions, fantasies and self-deceptions are the enemy of good faith. They keep us from facing reality (Matthew B. Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head). We don’t want to build our lives on intellectual or personal sand. Popular Canadian author David Adams Richards (God Is, p.154) writes, “Faith is important because all of mankind’s other concerns are actually unsolvable without faith.” Cynicism will not solve problems; it folds its arms in a cold, self-righteous stance.

Charles Taylor has much to say about how science does not logically exclude religion or replace it in Chapter Fifteen of A Secular Age. I have a YouTube presentation of this point called Charles Taylor and the Myth of the Secular. People can discover faith within a secular or immanent frame. They can reach out of their immanent box towards the transcendent. He exposes the prejudices of a Closed World System that closes its doors to faith in anything beyond time-space-energy-matter concerns (the transcendent). David Bentley Hart (The Experience of God) and Thomas Nagel (Mind and Cosmos) do a brilliant job of deconstructing the presumptions of Naturalism with its false assumptions about science and religion.

Myth #2. Reason does not involve faith at any level of its operation.

“Modern rationalism makes us choose truth against beauty and goodness. Only a permanent, living unity of the theoretical, ethical and aesthetic attitudes can convey a true knowledge of being.” ~D. Stephen Long on the relationship of the culture spheres

“Philosophy has its limits, but it must be redeemed, and a place must be made for it within the gift we receive in sacred doctrine. Philosophy has its own integrity when it does not exceed its proper limits and seek to police the questions asked. The limits Wittgenstein placed on philosophy for the sake of a life worth living is similar to the limits Acquinas put on philosophy for the sake of the Christian life as a way of following Jesus into the truth of God.” ~D. Stephen Long Francis Collins “Why is it hard for scientists to believe in God?”

“Understanding the nature of reason is central to our conception of human existence. We have to resist a narrow conception of human rationality that excludes religion as irrational because such a view cripples our ability to analyze correctly the current state of Western culture. As Rodney Stark has argued in his book The Victory of Reason, Christianity’s ability to combine faith and reason with a progressive view of human nature laid the foundation for Western science and technological progress…. Building on Judaism, Christianity also allowed for the concepts of human dignity, personhood and individuality that have decisively shaped Western views of society…. Neither the best nor the worst features of modernity are comprehensible without the transformative influence of Christianity on Greco-Roman culture. Without religion, the West would not be what it is, and without understanding the religious roots of Western culture and their continuing influence on Western thought, we lack the self-understanding necessary to address our current cultural crisis.” (J. Zimmermann, Incarnational Humanism, 2012, 25 & 26). Prize winning American historian Tom Holland (Dominion) agrees.

Albert Einstein once observed that “science can help human beings attain some of their goals; science cannot, however, supply the goals.” This comes by way of transcendence of physical matter: Mind transcends brain.

See Roy Clouser, The Myth of Religious Neutrality; An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories (rev. ed.; University of Notre Dame Press, 2005).

Faith underlies rationality: In this view, all human knowledge and reason is seen as dependent on faith: faith in our senses, faith in our reason, faith in our memories, and faith in the accounts of events we receive from others (history). Accordingly, faith is seen as essential to and inseparable from healthy rationality (Alvin Plantinga, American notable philosopher).

“A theology of science — situates our exploration of nature within a greater task. Science becomes, within a Christian theology, the grounded outworking of the ‘ministry of reconciliation’ between humankind and the world.” ~ Tom McLeish (2014). Faith and Wisdom in Science, 209.

Myth #3. Modern reason has made Christian faith redundant; faith is a primitive and weak disposition of our medieval ancestors.

“The certainties which the church has received as a gift require its participation in humanity’s “comom struggle” to attain truth. The human search for truth, which is philosophy’s vocation, is not set in opposition to theology’s reception of truth as gift. What we struggle to understand by reason we also receive by faith. No dichotomy exists between the certainties of faith and the common struggle by human reason to attain truth. … the truths humanity seeks by common reason (philosophy) and the certainties of faith can be placed over against each other such that each illuminates the other and renders it intelligible until the two ultimately become one, which is of course what the incarnation does in reverse. The concretion of the one Person illumines the natures of both divinity and humanity. Faith seeks reason and reason assists faith. They mutually enrich each other.” ~D. Stephen Long

 “The common belief that . . . the actual relations between religion and science over the last few centuries have been marked by deep and enduring hostility is not only historically inaccurate but actually a caricature so grotesque that what needs to be explained is how it could possibly have achieved any degree of respectability.”  ~Colin Russell, Reputable UK Historian of Science.

“Science is simply incapable of supplying answers in the realm of ethics, theology, and the purpose of life. In dealing solely with observable and measurable phenomena, modern science actually has nothing to say about love, compassion, beauty, self-centredness, altruism or cruelty. It concentrates on secondary causes and questions. Unfortunately, some scientists conclude that since the scientific method cannot handle non-material matters, they have little legitimacy in a university curriculum. They argue that because non-material issues cannot be scientifically proven, there is no point in investigating primary causes and questions. From within their closed system of reasoning this may make sense, but they gloss over or ignore the most important questions of human existence…. Even the most brilliant scientist, after all, has no inherent competence in ethics or other non-scientific matters.” ~John R. Redekop, Respected Political Scientist, Wilfrid Laurier University and Trinity Western University.

What if, as Oxford mathematician John Lennox says, faith in a transcendent God helps make better sense of human experience, human reason and science itself?

It is idle to talk always of the alternative of reason and faith. Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all. ~G.K. Chesterton (1908). Orthodoxy.

For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.  – Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers. He is an astronomer who worked for NASA.

This subtraction view of secularity is contested by top Canadian McGill University philosopher Charles Taylor in his Templeton Prize winning book, A Secular Age (especially Chapter 15, “The Immanent Frame”).

“The change I want to define and trace is one which takes us from a society in which it was virtually impossible not to believe in God, to one in which faith, even for the staunchest believer, is one human possibility among others. I may find it inconceivable that I would abandon my faith, but there are others, including possibly some very close to me, whose way of living I cannot in all honesty just dismiss as depraved, or blind, or unworthy, who have no faith (at least not in God, or the transcendent). Belief in God is no longer axiomatic. There are alternatives. And this will also likely mean that at least in certain milieux, it may be hard to sustain one’s faith.”
~Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, 2012. 

Oxford Mathematician & Philosopher John Lennox in a Debate with Richard Dawkins

Myth #4. Faith is a credulous assent to unfounded premises, a belief in something that is untrue or at least suspect.

“Faith not only seeks and presumes reason, it converts it. Every account of reason assumes something beyond it, some enabling condition that makes it possible but cannot be accounted for it within its own systematic aspirations… Likewise faith can never be pure; it will always assume and use reason even as it transfigures it.” ~D. Stephen Long on the interdependency of faith and reason

“There is a difference between seeking to know things for the sake of knowledge itself and being willing to undergo renunciation to be possessed by truth.” ~ James Houston, Joyful Exiles

“Newton argued that the regulation of the solar system presupposed the ‘counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful being’ and indeed hoped that his Principia would convince the thinking person of the existence of a Deity.” ~John Lennox, Oxford Mathematician/Philosopher

Clearly there exists both good faith and bad faith. Believing a lie or promoting a falsity, as in a Ponzi scheme, for the sake of an advantage or con is bad faith. Sophism is the application of good rhetoric in bad faith (disingenuous). Evidence is vitally important to good faith; clarity, consistency, coherence and unity are important to good faith. Exposing fantasy, superstition or Gnosticism is an essential goal of good faith. One needs good faith/integrity in signing a major contract for a merger of two companies, or entering a marriage. Faith is a form of knowing that can go beyond the evidence but should not contradict it, or be hopelessly uncritical or unexamined. Does the Christian narrative have resonance, or make good sense of our experience? Is it both plausible and desirable? That’s a key question. ~Dr. Gordon Carkner, philosophical theology, meta-educator UBC postgraduate students.

Because God is the God of the universe there is, at the deepest level, no secular learning for Christians. There is no secular subject matter. Indeed, in this perspective the only secular learning is the effort of these scholars and students who deny the existence of God. Second, there is no area of human existence or history which lies outside the realm of Christian inquiry. Third, the church has much to offer the university because it challenges the university to acknowledge the historic and continuing contributions of Christianity and to establish inclusive curricula. Fourth, the university has much to offer the Christian because it helps them to develop critical thinking, to enlarge their understanding of options, to improve learning skills, and to approach intellectual pursuits systematically and efficiently. ~John R. Redekop, Emeritus Professor of Political Scientist Wilfrid Laurier University and Trinity Western University(In this light, see also John W. O’Malley, Four Cultures of the West.)

In Scripture, faith involves placing trust in what you have reason to believe is true. Faith is not a blind, irrational leap into the dark. So faith and reason cooperate on a biblical view of faith. They are not intrinsically hostile. ~J.P. Moreland, Christian philosopher

Wonder (awe) rather than doubt is the root of all knowledge. Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement … get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed. ~Abraham Joshua Heschel

Critical realism is the attempt to find a middle way between the heroic optimism of the failed modernist search for certain truth, and the intellectual pessimism that so often leads postmodernism into a slough of relativistic despond.” ~ John Polkinghorne and M. Welker (2001). Faith in the Living God: A Dialogue.

Myth #5. Reason is a pure, disinterested obedience to empirical fact; methodological naturalism implies and requires belief in philosophical naturalism.

Tom McLeish in his fine book, Faith & Wisdom in Science, reminds us that science over its long history has a more complex culture than is often understood today (52, 53). Here’s his meta-perspective:

  1. Doing science is very old, even back to the ancient world of Greece and Rome.
  2. Science is a deeply human activity.
  3. Science is more about the imaginative and creative questions than it is about method.
  4. Science can be painful, entailing an immense amount of work.
  5. The relationship between ‘faith’ in all of its connotations and ”science’ is a long and rich one. The deeper we we have probed into its roots, the clearer becomes the theological background to every aspect of [science’s] nature. See Gregory of Nysa or Robert Grsseteste

“Naturalism, alone among all considered philosophical attempts to describe the shape of reality, is radically insufficient in its explanatory range. The one thing of which it can give no account, and which its most fundamental principles make it entirely impossible to explain at all, is nature’s very existence. For existence is most definitely not a natural phenomenon; it is logically prior to any physical cause whatsoever…. In fact, it is impossible to say how, in terms naturalism allows, nature could exist at all.” ~ David Bentley Hart, Philosopher (Key book: The Experience of God)

“Note that I am not postulating a ‘God of the gaps’, a god merely to explain the things that science has not yet explained.   I am postulating a God to explain why science explains; I do not deny that science explains, but I postulate God to explain why science explains.  The very success of science in showing us how deeply ordered the natural world is provides strong grounds for believing that there is an even deeper cause for that order”.   The issue here is that, because God is not an alternative to science as an explanation, he is not a God of the gaps.  On the contrary, he is the ground of all explanation, the very ground of being: it is his existence which gives rise to the very possibility of explanation, scientific or otherwise.” ~Richard Swinburne, top Oxford Philosopher. Swinburne examines the credibility of Christian faith using Bayes Theorem of Probability.

Oxford Physicist Ard Louis speaks on Science and Scientism

“An admirably severe discipline of interpretive and theoretical restraint [modern empirical science] has been transformed into its perfect and irrepressibly wanton opposite: what began as a principled refusal of metaphysical speculation, for the sake of specific empirical inquiries, has now been mistaken for a comprehensive knowledge of the metaphysical shape of reality; the art of humble questioning has been mistaken for the sure possession of ultimate conclusions. This makes a mockery of real science.” ~Philosopher David Bentley Hart reflecting on the ideology of scientism

Alvin Plantinga raises major questions about the compatibility of materialistic naturalism with science (Where the Conflict Really Lies, 2012, especially Chapter 10)

Comparing Creativity in Science and the Arts

Renaissance Thinker Tom McLeish, in his brilliant book The Poetry and Music of Science:

  • Challenges the obvious assumption that science is less creative than art and illustrates the contrary (contra C.P Snow’s ‘Two Cultures’)
  • digging down to a foundational core of science and humanities
  • Treats art and science on an equal footing and shows their interplay
  • Shows the points of contact between science and music, literature and visual art
  • Draws on historical and contemporary examples to provide a broader understanding
  • Brings medieval philosophy and theology to bear on current questions of creativity
  • Discusses the conscious and non-conscious mind involved in a breakthrough
  • Reports on individual conversations with artists and scientists and provides personal perspectives on their personal creative processes
  • Illustrates with rich and detailed examples such as a close reading of mathematics and music
  • Offers a rich conversation within academia and beyond–a wellspring of issues for dialogue and reconciliation

Four Stages of Creation: Ideation, Incubation, Illumination, Verification

“Art and science must both reassure and trouble, call on extension of both seeing and hearing, must both distance and immerse…. Art and science share the same three springs of imagination. The visual image offers perspective, insight, illumination. The written and spoken word bring the possibility of mimesis through the textual, the experimental, and the narrative form for the story of creativity itself. The wordless depths of number, the musical and mathematical draw on the ancient insights of the liberal arts at the limits of comprehension. These are the trinity of disciplines and of modes of creation that transport our present longings for a fruitful and a peaceful home in the world, toward a future in which we are less ignorant, wiser in our relationship, but no less caught up in the wonder of it.” (T. McLeish, The Poetry and Music of Science, 336, 339)

Myth #6.  Reason is morally and ideologically neutral, the same for all thinking human beings, therefore universal—unifying society.

“Science and theology do indeed take the entirety of nature as a fit subject of their narratives. There really only is one world, and our minds are the locus of both meaning and explanation within it…. In Judaism and Christianity the universe itself carries theological weight as our human environment–with both positive and painful consequences. Keeping science and theology at arms length artificially limits their domains of discussion–and this is inconsistent with the range of both of them. This is why for example, science cannot be value-free, nor a discussion of values science-free. ” (Tom McLeish, Faith and Wisdom in Science, 168)

“The good characterizes a public, successful performance of truth; it refuses fideism….Truth is an activity, a judgment inextricably linked to the good, and therefore to moral transformation. When I am pursuing truth I am pursuing goodness…. This truth both an undying fidelity and love, and at the same time a generosity towards others. By refusing to subordinate itself to ‘power’, understood as willful self-assertion, it best serves the tradition of democracy.” ~D. Stephen Long, Duke University theologian

Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor’s contention is that the power of materialism today comes not from scientific “facts”, but has rather to be explained in terms of the power of a certain package uniting materialism with a moral outlook, the package we call “atheistic humanism” or exclusive humanism. (C. Taylor, A Secular Age, 569) It works off an ontological thesis of materialism: everything which is, is based on “matter”, without explaining why this is taken as true.

“Intellectual virtues” are the deep personal qualities or character strengths required for good thinking and learning. To better pinpoint the concept, consider: What do we tend to associate with good thinking and learning? One familiar answer is knowledge. Good thinkers often know a lot; at a minimum, they aren’t ignorant. Another familiar answer is raw cognitive ability. Good thinkers also tend to be intelligent or to have a reasonably high IQ.

Good thinking and learning have a character-based dimension. They require the practice of qualities like intellectual carefulness, perseverance, honesty, humility, attentiveness, and thoroughness. These are intellectual virtues.

Read Alasdair McIntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality?; also see Roy Clouser, The Myth of Religious Neutrality; An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories (rev. ed.; University of Notre Dame Press, 2005).

All science is both theory and value-laden as Michael Polanyi notes in his book Personal Knowledge. It is personal knowledge held passionately by persons. Without a code of virtues and ethics, science could not be considered reliable knowledge.

James Sire in his very popular and helpful book, The Universe Next Door, demonstrates that ideology is at work in all viewpoints and discipline of academia including science. Our critiques and our reason are always implicated in a worldview. There is no such thing as a moral or ideologically neutral stance. The question is which ideology, and how does it stand up under scrutiny of the laws of logic: coherence, consistency, empirical justification, connection to reality, relevance. Whatever one’s worldview–Marxism, Atheism, Buddhism, Theism–one ultimately has faith in it and its plausibility, even if this is unconscious. Interpretation is always at work in our research and truth claims.

Also, in each area of research, there are very specific rules for good scholarship and if we do not obey them, we will never pass a PhD examination. Theories are also critical to the credibility of our research. The problems occur when a critical theory becomes an ideology: Marxism in late modern Critical Theory–social science.

Intellectual virtues, by contrast, are the character strengths of a good thinker or learner (e.g. curiosity, attentiveness, intellectual courage). While they intersect with moral and civic virtues in interesting ways, it is important to maintain a distinction between intellectual virtues and these other types of virtues.

Myth #7. Faith & reason exist as separate incompatible arenas; reason deals in physical causes only, while faith deals with supernatural/spiritual/magical causes.

“Polanyi probably criticised Popper, as most philosophers of science reject falsificationism.  Duhem and Quine showed, for example, that theories only make predictions when combined with a framework of background assumptions.  So when a prediction is false, the problem could be with the framework, not the theory itself.  Kuhn showed that all theories, even the best ones, are inconsistent with some of the data.  Hempel showed that many scientific statements aren’t falsifiable.  Bayesians (who are now the dominant group) reject Popper’s fundamental claim that theories are never probably true.  Popper is much more popular among scientists than among philosophers of science. Also, while there is disagreement among Bayesians and others, present views don’t allow such a sharp separation between science and religion.  Kuhn for example says that the present “paradigm” isn’t open to rational scrutiny, but shielded from criticism, and paradigm shifts are only partially rational.  Bayesians say that science depends on subjective judgements of plausibility in addition to logic and data, etc.”

-Dr. Richard Johns, Professor of Philosophy, Langara College, Vancouver, B.C.

“The church reminds the university that the two share a joint task–the preservation and accumulation of knowledge and the transmission of a common heritage. Both institutions need to rethink the past, question the present, and anticipate future revision of human understanding. Both need also to acknowledge that if they are faithful to their purpose, both will frequently find themselves in tension with society, in part for the same reasons: dissatisfaction with the status quo, challenging injustices, and raising controversial questions. Such commonality is to be expected given that both institutions emphasize the mind and both search for new insights. When the university acknowledges the limitations of the scientific method and the church concedes that it cannot provide final scientific answers, their two endeavours will increasingly overlap.” ~John R. Redekop, Political Scientist

Faith and Reason as Essential To Each Other: This is the Christian view that faith without reason leads to superstition, while reason without faith leads to nihilism and relativism.

Part of our task … is to awaken in others this innate longing for truth and  knowledge. We do this by arguing for the intrinsic worth of knowledge, that the pursuit of knowledge is valuable, pleasurable, and that every truth discovered, every piece of knowledge gained, illuminates the divine. Christians believe that all truth points to its source in Christ, the creator of all things.… We find truth when our thoughts, beliefs, or statements correspond to reality, when we are rightly related to the way the world is. Reason itself, and the deliberative processes that govern rationality, point to a reality “outside of the box,” a world governed by truth and not mere survival instincts. The world is ontologically haunted by a self-existent, immaterial cosmic mind. As C. S. Lewis has said in Miracles, “To admit a cosmic mind is to admit a God outside Nature, a transcendent and supernatural God.” ~Paul M. Gould, Christian Philosopher

It’s not just Christian scholars and pastors who need to be intellectually engaged with the issues. Christian laymen, too, need to be intellectually engaged. Our churches are filled with Christians who are idling in intellectual neutral. As Christians, their minds are going to waste. One result of this is an immature, superficial faith. People who simply ride the roller coaster of emotional experience are cheating themselves out of a deeper and richer Christian faith by neglecting the intellectual side of that faith. They know little of the riches of deep understanding of Christian truth, of the confidence inspired by the discovery that one’s faith is logical and fits the facts of experience, of the stability brought to one’s life by the conviction that one’s faith is objectively true.  William Lane Craig, philosopher

Of course, so much important human reasoning is not focused on the physical but on ideas.

Myth #8. Faith is the irrational belief in the opposite direction of where scientific evidence leads us.

“Faith adds less a material content to geology, physics, mathematics, evolutionary science, economics, etc., than the form within which they can be properly understood so that they are never closed off from the mystery that makes all creaturely being possible.” ~ D. Stephen Long

“There is no such thing, at least among finite minds, as intelligence at large: no mind not constrained by its own special proficiencies and formation, no privilege vantage that allows any of us a comprehensive insight into the essence of all things, no expertise or wealth of experience that endows any of us with the wisdom or power to judge what we do not have the training or perhaps the temperament to understand. To imagine otherwise is a delusion…. This means that the sciences are, by their very nature, commendably fragmentary and, in regard to many real and important questions about existence, utterly inconsequential. Not only can they not provide knowledge of everything; they cannot provide complete knowledge of anything. They can yield only knowledge of certain aspects of things as seen from one very powerful but inflexibly constricted perspective. If they attempt to go beyond their methodological commissions, they cease to be sciences and immediately become fatuous occultisms.” ~David Bentley Hart

“Living in a postsecular world means that secularism is no longer the standard for reasonable thought. If indeed it is true that Western culture continues to experience a crisis of identity and purpose, the dogmatic exclusion of sources of transcendent purpose (i.e. religion) seems unwise…. Such dogmatism is not secular thinking, if secular is taken at its root meaning of “this worldly”. Rather, the arbitrary exclusion of religion from reasonable discourse is secularist ideology, a fundamentalist rejection of all interpretation of the world, except the materialist one that excludes religion.”  (J. Zimmermann, Incarnational Humanism, 41)

“The most pervasive error one encounters in contemporary arguments about belief in God–especially, but not exclusively, on the atheist side–is the habit of conceiving of God simply as some very large object or agency within the universe, or perhaps alongside the universe, a being among other beings, who differs from all other beings in magnitude, power, and duration, but not ontologically, and who is related to the world more or less as a craftsman is related to an artifact….. Beliefs regarding God  concern the source and ground and end of all reality, the unity and existence of every particular thing and the totality of all things, the ground of the possibility of anything at all.” ~David Bentley Hart

Faith as addressing issues beyond the scope of rationality Faith Seeking Understanding as per St. Augustine: In this view, faith is seen as covering issues that science and rationality are inherently incapable of addressing, but that are nevertheless entirely real. Accordingly, faith is seen as complementing rationality, by providing answers to questions that would otherwise be unanswerable. This is true of many purpose, identity and meaning (why) questions. It offers a richer landscape to human rationality and includes the poetic, the story, the human narrative. See Alister McGrath, A Fine-Tuned Universe: the search for God in science and theology (2009) for a strong statement on complementarity of scientific rationality and theological reason; and Tom McLeish, The Poetry and Music of Science.

“The reasoning process involves several components, including (1) the reception of facts from sensation, reports of others (i.e., testimony), memory, introspection, or the imagination; (2) the perception of self-evident truths (including laws of logical inference); and (3) the arrangement of facts to arrive at new truths that are not self-evident.” ~ Philosopher Paul M. Gould

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Myth #9. Faith is seated in the emotions or sentimentality; reason is a non-emotional, cool operation of the disinterested mind.

Does Christian faith measure up to the standards of reason? Always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you for the reason behind your hope. (I Peter 3:15) This is the field of apologetics and philosophical theology. Naturalism some say negates the existence and validity of reason itself. Naturalistic materialism tells us that minds evolve from non-rational, blind, mechanistic processes. The phenomenon of intentionality is at odds with naturalism. There also is the problem of a foundation for human worth and rights, which atheist Duke University philosopher Alex Rosenberg highlights. On the contrary, we would expect a perfectly rational and good personal being to spread his joy and delight by creating a world full of epistemic, moral and aesthetic value. For in such a world, it is possible to love, know, act, and create. If theism is true, mind is both prior to matter and the cause of matter. See Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies.

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“We may define “faith” as the firm belief in something for which there is no evidence. Where there is evidence, no one speaks of “faith.” We do not speak of faith that two and two are four or that the earth is round. We only speak of faith when we wish to substitute emotion for evidence. The substitution of emotion for evidence is apt to lead to strife, since different groups, substitute different emotions.” ~Bertrand Russell, atheist philosopher

“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.” ~Thomas Nagel, Atheist Philosopher

“God alone has necessity in and of himself. That is, if the word “God” has any meaning at all, it must refer to a reality that is not just metaphysically  indestructible but necessary in the fullest and most proper sense; it must refer to a reality that is logically necessary and that therefore provides the ultimate explanation of all other realities, without need of being explained in turn…. God is absolute being as such, apart from whom nothing else could exist, as either a possibility or an actuality…. It is God’s necessity, as the unconditional source of all things, that makes any world possible in the first place.” ~David Bentley Hart

“In another important respect, still related to the scope of inquiry and learning, Christianity and the university share an agenda. To a large degree both address societal problems, express moral outrage when warranted, believe that many problems can be solved, and insist that society can and should be improved. Both frequently express a sense of responsibility and undertake societal activism. Over the years the areas of intentional involvement have included literacy, health care, social housing, immigration reform, assistance to refugees, care for the blind and aged, the preservation of historical records and documents, promotion of the arts, and much more. In many of these activities, I suggest, it has been the church and at times even government, rather than the university, that has taken the lead. There is no ultimate incompatibility between the two; the basic assumptions of Christianity and the basic assumptions of the university, including its emphasis on scientific methodology, are fundamentally complementary, not contradictory.” ~ John R. Redekop, Political Scientist

Faith as based on Warrant (Alvin Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function): In this view, some degree of evidence provides warrant for faith. To explain great things by small. To find coherence within a worldview that holds to the supernatural or transcendent. Empirical and historical evidence can also be involved. Warrant is a very important concept of credibility. Evidence for the resurrection would also be a key example.

Faith and Reason are like two wings of the human spirit by which it soars to the truth. ~Pope John Paul II

Truth Calls; Reason Guides

Myth #10. Good reason requires a materialistic universe; materialism is a basic fact of deductive logic.

” There simply cannot be a natural explanation of existence as such; it is an absolute logical impossibility. The most a materialist account of existence can do is pretend that there is no real problem to be solved (though only a tragically inert mind could really dismiss the question of existence as uninteresting, unanswerable, or intelligible).” ~David Bentley Hart

“It would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense; it would be without meaning, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure” ~Albert Einstein

Christian spokespersons, thus, actually perform a praiseworthy role when they insist that there must be openness to supernatural sources of knowledge and that a particular methodology ought not to delineate the limits of reality. Christians argue with credibility, I suggest, that a healthy, heuristically productive skepticism, which lies at the heart of scientism, must also be applied to the scientific method itself. Consistency requires nothing less. ~ John Redekop, Political Scientist

Leading Philosopher Alvin Plantinga argues that naturalism (which includes materialism) is in conflict with evolution, a main pillar of contemporary science. The argument centers on the status of our cognitive faculties: those faculties, or powers, or processes that produce beliefs or knowledge in us (e.g. perception, memory, a priori intuition, introspection, testimony, induction). His argument concerns the question of the reliability of  cognitive faculties (reliability of cognitive content)if we espouse naturalism and unguided evolution together. The probability is very low. Can we get to true belief, reliable knowledge by this path? Again it is an argument from coherence (or rather, in this case, incoherence). See Plantinga’s Where the Conflict Really Lies, Chapter 10.

Charles Taylor on the Myth of the Secular:

Reductive materialism is a major philosophical problem in contemporary academia. One can study constitutive components (physics and chemistry) of a larger reality such as biological life, but this is never a fulsome explanation. The real danger is that methodological reduction  morphs into ontological reductionism in the mind. This is a dangerous logical non-sequitor.

NASA Astronomer Jennifer Wiseman doesn’t see the many unanswered questions of space or the enormous nature of our universe as a reason to doubt her faith. Instead, she sees it as a reason to strengthen it. … “Let us praise God for the Universe and let us praise God for the gift of science that lets us explore and understand our Universe.”

 Can Matter be Creative?  by Philosophy Professor Richard Johns, Langara College

It is commonplace to compare living organisms to human technology. William Paley, for example, compared organisms to watches, in virtue of containing parts with obvious purposes that meshed together to produce a functioning whole. Richard Dawkins compared bats to spy planes, bristling with advanced technology. Also note that biologists consider human technologies such as cell phones and airplanes to be products of evolution, since their creators are themselves such products.

While life and technology are similarly functional, their origins are thought to be very different. The development of new technologies requires that engineers understand the problem to be solved, and have knowledge of physical laws, the properties of materials, and so on. In short, creative engineering requires understanding. This is especially crucial when solving very difficult problems, which may take many generations of engineers. The Wright brothers, smart fellows though they were, could not have made a supersonic jet. Solving the problem of supersonic flight required a long cumulative process of somewhat gradual improvements, involving many people, who each had to understand the successes as well as the limitations of earlier designs.

Evolution on the other hand is not an intentional process, according to the standard evolutionary theory (SET). (SET refers rather loosely to contemporary versions of the ‘Modern Synthesis’, or ‘Neo-Darwinism’, developed in the 1940s by Fisher, Haldane, Wright, etc.) Evolution is a purely physical process on this view, and no thought or understanding is involved, until perhaps humans arrive on the scene. Nevertheless evolution is often described as a ‘creative’ process, on account of the fantastic technologies it has produced. I will argue, however, that no physical process can be creative in the required sense.

Engineers have, we might say, a ‘bias’ towards functional structures. If you produced a vast number of structures randomly, all with the same probability, very few of them would be functional. Very few would ‘do something useful’, such as walking, swimming, flying, detecting remote objects, producing light, generating electric currents, etc. Random processes are therefore unlikely to produce anything functional. Engineers however don’t produce objects randomly. They’re much more likely to produce a functional object than a random process would be.

Can physical processes have a similar bias toward functional structures? Evolutionary biologists say, “Yes indeed!” (Richard Dawkins is especially clear on this point.) Were this not the case, evolution – a physical process – could never have produced the complex life we see around us in so short a time.

Here’s the difficulty. The process of evolution must have a strong bias toward making new functional structures, or it cannot explain life as we find it. On the other hand, the laws of physics themselves have no bias toward functionality. The laws of physics are very simple and symmetric, and have been shown to produce only objects that are either simple and repetitive, or complex but random-looking and haphazard (or a mixture of the two). Such objects are never functional to any significant degree. A bias toward functionality arises only, SET claims, with the first appearance of a self-replicating entity, whose descendants differ from one another in minor ways. This leads to a struggle for existence, a competition for resources among these variants, and an automatic ‘selection’ of the more functional types.

So SET is committed to four claims:

  1. (i)  The laws of physics have no bias toward producing ‘technology’, or functional structures.
  2. (ii)  The process of evolution, which begins with the appearance of self-replicators, has a strong bias toward functionality.
  3. (iii)  Evolution is a purely physical process.
  4. (iv)  The spontaneous appearance of a self-replicator may be improbable, but it isn’t fantastically improbable (or evolution would require a miracle to get going).

The conjunction of these claims is however in conflict with probability theory. The first claim entails that complex life is fantastically improbable relative to the laws of physics, too improbable to be a realistic possibility, even in billions of years. (In the Markov chain formalism that can be used to represent a physical system, it has very low ‘stationary probability’.) If this probability becomes much larger, upon the appearance of a self-replicator, then probability theory tells us that the appearance of a self-replicator must also be fantastically improbable, contradicting claim (iv) above. In technical language, if Prob(A) is some low number , but Prob(A | B) is some much larger value q, then Prob(B) is no greater than /q. In effect, the probabilities of events in a physical system are fixed by the laws of physics, and the initial state, and cannot change much thereafter. For an improbable event to become probable, an equally improbable event must occur first.

There is no possible escape to this problem, as long as the probability of functional organisms is indeed very low at the beginning of time. But to drop this assumption (i) commits us to the view that the laws of physics themselves have a very strong bias toward functional objects, including computers and bicycles. Apart from there being no evidence for this at all (and much opposing evidence), it would seem to remove the need for SET in the first place.

In summary, if evolution is a physical process, then it can produce living organisms only if the laws of physics and initial state are ‘pre-programmed’ (so to speak) to do so. There is no question of a physical process creating such a disposition toward technology on its own. Physical systems, whether deterministic or not, are ruled by their laws and initial conditions.

Insights on Critical Realism by Alister McGrath, Roy Bhaskar and Ernan McMullin

See Alister McGrath on Critical Realism : Roy Bhaskar on Critical Realism

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We have shown that there are many misconceptions about faith and reason today. The myths are often quite divisive and reductive–promoting misinformation, confusion and bad paradigms. We suggest a new trajectory for the contemporary university would be to work on the compatibility and serendipity of faith and reason: with a view to promoting good scholarship, whole personhood and robust faith. After all, Christianity gave rise to the modern university and its committed pursuit of critical thinking, knowledge and wisdom. Where is the wisdom in ditching faith in our great academic institutions today? It is counter-productive and self-contradictory. It creates an abstract, poorer, and psychologically unhealthy environment. Why not commit to a future of integration, inclusion, and mutual enrichment–a rapprochement between faith & reason. Reason & Faith need each other to be their best self. We believe that this is the direction to human flourishing (M. Volf, Flourishing). The search for home that we find in culture today undergirds the pursuit of goodness, beauty, truth and unity and finds it fulfilment in God. Home is a place to stand and a story in which to live, to discover shalom or wholeness. Home is a metaphor for the heart’s and the mind’s deepest longings. Home is a place to stand and a story in which to live (shalom). Cornelius Plantinga writes:

Shalom means a universal flourishing, wholeness and delight–a state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Saviour opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights.

(C. Plantinga Jr., Not the Way its Supposed to Be, Eerdmans, 1995, 10)

~Dr. Gordon E. Carkner, Meta-Educator with UBC Postgraduate Students, Author, Blogger, YouTube Webinar Producer

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Posted by: gcarkner | September 20, 2022

Beauty & the Imagination: Paul M. Gould

The imagination is crucial to how we experience, understand and act in the world. Philosopher Paul M. Gould notes about the imagination that it is: (1) a faculty of the mind; (2) it mediates between sense and intellect (i.e. perception and reason), the human mind and the divine mind; (3) it is a faculty for meaning and invention. It is crucial to our lives, playing a significant role in perceiving, creating, dreaming, meaning, judging, learning, and moralizing. Imagination helps us narrate our lives, serving as a guide to explore the various facets and dimensions of our longings, aiding us in drawing connections between art and our lives. We are in fact Homo Imaginus. We are captured by that which capture our imagination.

Without the imagination the mind lacks the ‘raw materials’ needed to judge something as true or false. The will possesses nothing to judge as worthy or unworthy of our devotion. (P. Gould, Cultural Apologetics, 74)

Beauty plays a key role in awakening us and sustaining our longing for what is true and good, awakening our longing for our spiritual home–which involves an epic journey as in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Beauty in a way calls us home. It awakens and transports us out of the mundane into the enchanted, brings heaven (divine presence) to earth (our lives).  “Beauty is a divine megaphone to rouse a disenchanted world.” (P. Gould, Cultural Apologetics, 104) We are called to love God with our whole being: including our aesthetic skills, sensibilities and perceptions, our creativity and inventions. We are talking about art, music, symbol, poetry, the beauty of creation and story: all are part of our aesthetic currency. But it can also be a blog, video, architecture piece, or a garden sanctuary.

Genesis 1-3 reveals God as an artist and gardener as Andy Crouch writes in his book Culture Making. The Maker was thrilled with his creation. We who are made in God’s image should be creators and cultivators of goodness, truth and beauty in what we make and how we attribute meaning, think and reflect. The most beautiful thing we can do is to locate our life in God’s story, his narrative of healing, redemption and re-enchanting the world. A life of self-denial and service to God and neighbour is a most beautiful phenomenon (Mother Teresa, MLK). Philippians 2:15 suggests that we are called to “shine like stars in the universe (our holiness and goodness, our values and virtues). Seekers who attend to divine speech see that meaning and beauty find their source ultimately in Jesus the Christ, the humble carpenter from Nazareth.

Artists curate beauty, aiding us in seeing reality as it is, painting the world in its proper light and helping us to see it as enchanted, mysterious and sacred. Artists help us to see and understand truth… We are moved to worship God, who is the source of all things…. Art and the imagination help us to see the meaning of the world, our lives and the things we make. (P. Gould, Cultural Apologetics, 103)

In a world of increasing loneliness, angst and darkness, authentic beauty calls and invites people to consider something beyond this broken world. Jesus took on our sin and ugliness, horror and pain of this world so we can find forgiveness, hope, healing and wholeness (Jimmy Myers). Beauty and goodness may be the first window for people to recognize the divine; sometimes we need to clean it. Jesus is the source of beauty, he lived a beautiful life. He taught sometimes with puzzles, metaphors, stories. We were meant to wonder, to delight in, to be in awe. Moses’ tabernacle was a divinely crafted model that pointed to a greater reality—mediating the very presence of God.

Art, as we know it, stands on the threshold of the transcendental. It points beyond this world of accidental and disconnected things to another realm, in which human life is endowed with an emotional logic that makes suffering noble and love worthwhile. Nobody who is alert to beauty…is without the concept of redemption—of a final transcendence of moral disorder into a “kingdom of ends.”  (Roger Scrutin, Beauty, 156)

Let’s cultivate the imaginative this academic year reasoning, writing and living at UBC. Let’s live large into our fullest possible reality (transcendent and immanent).

When we see the world as Jesus does, we see it in its proper light. We receive it as gift, as sacred. By perceiving the world as enchanted, we savor it, and find sustenance in it…. The path of return to God lies through creation itself. We can’t return to this God-infused reality by denying or devaluing the material world. All that God has made is good. All is intrinsically valuable and sacred, even as it is broken and bent…. Creation is haunted. Creation ushers us into God’s presence as we learn to see God in and through all he has made. (P. Gould, Cultural Apologetics, 83)

Dr. Gordon E. Carkner, Meta-Educator with UBC Postgraduate Students

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George MacDonald, Phantastes.

C.S. Lewis, Voyage to Venus.

Roger Scrutin, Beauty.

Andy Crouch, Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling.

J.R.R. Tolkein, Lord of the Rings

James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom.

Ralph C. Wood, Flannery O’Connor and the Christ-Haunted South Check out the books on art, literature, poetry and spirituality

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