Wednesday, September 29, 2010

John Piper on Spiritual Gifts Today (and Especially Prophecy)

I'm thankful for John Piper's views on spiritual gifts as being for the church today. Here's Piper talking about this, from here.

“I am one of those Baptist General Conference people who believes that “signs and wonders” and all the spiritual gifts of 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 are valid for today and should be “earnestly desired” (1 Corinthians 14:1) for the edification of the church and the spread of the Gospel. I agree with the words of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, preached in 1965:

“It is perfectly clear that in New Testament times, the gospel was authenticated in this way by signs, wonders, and miracles of various characters and descriptions . . . . Was it only meant to be true of the early church? . . . The Scriptures never anywhere say that these things were only temporary — never! There is no such statement anywhere.” (The Sovereign Spirit, pp. 31-32)

. . . I want to argue in this section that the New Testament teaches that spiritual gifts (including the more obviously supernatural or revelatory ones like prophecy and tongues) will continue until Jesus comes. The use of such gifts (miracles, faith, healings, prophecy, etc.) give rise to what may sometimes be called “signs and wonders.” Therefore, signs and wonders are part of the blessing we should pray for today.

There is no text in the New Testament that teaches the cessation of these gifts. [emphasis mine] But more important than this silence is the text that explicitly teaches their continuance until Jesus comes, namely, 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 . . . .
. . . Both of these phrases (“seeing face to face” and “understanding as we have been understood”) are stretched beyond the breaking point if we say that they refer to the closing of the New Testament canon or the close of the apostolic age. Rather, they refer to our experience at the second coming of Jesus . . . .

This means that verse 10 can be paraphrased, “When Christ returns, the imperfect will pass away.” And since “the imperfect” refers to spiritual gifts like prophecy and knowledge and tongues, we may paraphrase further, “When Christ returns, then prophecy and knowledge and tongues will pass away” . . . .

Therefore, 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 teaches that such spiritual gifts will continue until the second coming of Jesus. There is no reason to exclude from this conclusion the other “imperfect” gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. Since these include miracles, faith, healings, etc., with which we associate “signs and wonders,” there is clear New Testament warrant for expecting that “signs and wonders” will continue until Jesus comes.

Now add to this conclusion the forthright command in 1 Corinthians 14:1, and you will see why some of us are not only open to, but also seeking, this greater fullness of God’s power today. This command says, “Make love your aim, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.” And it is repeated twice: “Earnestly desire the higher gifts” (12:31); “Earnestly desire to prophesy and do not forbid speaking in tongues” (14:39).

I wonder how many of us have said for years that we are open to God’s moving in spiritual gifts, but have been disobedient to this command to earnestly desire them, especially prophecy? [emphasis mine] I would ask all of us: are we so sure of our hermeneutical procedure for diminishing the gifts that we would risk walking in disobedience to a plain command of Scripture? “Earnestly desire spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.”

I have come to the point of seeing that the risk lies in the other direction. It would be a risk not to seek spiritual gifts for myself and my church. [emphasis mine] It would be a risk not to pray with the early church, “Grant your servants to speak your word with boldness while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through your holy servant Jesus.” Disobedience is always a greater risk than obedience.

Much of my experience disinclines me to “earnestly desire spiritual gifts,” especially the gift of prophecy. However, I do not base my prayer for such spiritual empowering on experience, but on the Bible. [emphasis mine] The Scripture is sufficient for all circumstances by teaching us the means of grace to be used in all circumstances. And I agree with Martyn Lloyd-Jones that one of the means of grace needed in our day is the extraordinary demonstration of power by signs and wonders. Here is what he said:

“What is needed is some mighty demonstration of the power of God, some enactment of the Almighty, that will compel people to pay attention, and to look, and to listen. . . . When God acts, he can do more in a minute than man with his organizing can do in fifty years.” (Revival, pp. 121-122)

Wittgenstein, Toulmin, and Hawking

Philosopher Carlin Romano has a nice article on Hawking and Mlodinow's The Grand Design in The Chronicle of Higher Education ("Cosmology, Cambridge Style: Wittgenstein, Toulmin, and Hawking"). The bullet points are...
  • Many scientists take Hawking's side; others do not.
  • Hawking admits: you can't prove God does not exist.
  • "Hawking's orotund pronouncements about God are, to be charitable, simplistic." Philosophical Cambridge showed that a long time ago. Ludwig Wittgenstein and Stephen Toulmin "inoculated us against the naïve view that science shows God does not exist and is irrelevant to cosmology."
  • Their message? "Scientists eager to delete God exceed their job description."
  • Romano spends time discussing Wittgenstein's belief in God and his religious, Christian faith. It involves trusting the "historical narrative." I think it would be interesting to compare Wittgenstein's understanding of faith and giving himself over to the Grand Narrative of Christianity with N.T. Wright's understanding of the Grand Narrative. Romano gives a nice little synopsis of what has been called "Wittgensteinian fideism."
  • Wittgenstein sought to preserve "the integrity of a nonscientific form of understanding." Wittgenstein didn't think his views would persuade a "typical western scientist." But Stephen Toulmin was not typical.
  • Many years ago, in the last century, I studied philosophy of science with Harold I. Brown. What a great privilege that was for me, even though I did not realize it at the time! Brown introduced me to Stephen Toulmin who was, at that time, teaching at the University of Chicago. Toulmin, upon being influenced by Wittgenstein, morphed from being confident in "the scientific method" to a rejection of "the unitary notion of scientific methods. "There is no universal recipe for all science and all scientists," asserted Toulmin, "any more than there is for all cakes and all cooks. ... Much in science ... cannot be created according to set rules.""
  • "Toulmin, in Wittgenstein's Vienna (Simon & Schuster, 1973), embraced Wittgenstein's skepticism toward science as deliverer of a unique, objective account of the world. He argued that such skepticism requires us to police science's positivist ambitions: Wittgenstein's "philosophy aims at solving the problem of the nature and limits of description. His world-view expresses the belief that the sphere of what can only be shown must be protected from those who try to say it."
    As a result, Toulmin, like Wittgenstein, never overvalued science. Science simply devises pragmatically useful descriptions. Rejecting "the naïve extrapolation of scientific concepts into nonscientific contexts," Toulmin extended his maturing vision to cosmology—Hawking's main concern."
  • Hawking has ignored philosophy-of-science developments as he focuses on such hypotheses as splintered string theory and the vaunted M-theory of everything. "Ironically, as some reviewers have pointed out, it is he who seems not to have kept up with philosophy. Hawking insists that any notion that is "incompatible with modern physics" must be wrong. But the history of science's errors and misconceptions shows that extraordinary confidence to be unjustified. In arguing for a cosmology that's not exclusively scientific, Toulmin warned that the "disciplinary specialization of the natural sciences can no longer intimidate us into setting religious cosmology aside as 'unscientific.'"" (Emphasis mine)
  • In conclusion, "Wittgenstein's and Toulmin's Cambridge antidote to Hawking's smugness about God and philosophy combines analytic acuity, mastery of scientific history, and, at times, pure art."
I found Romano's entire essay worth reading, and especially fascinating to me, reminding me of Dr. Brown's use of Wittgenstein and Toulmin as regards the history of science.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Testing Religious Knowledge; Teaching Religion in Public Schools

How much do you know about religion? Take the Pew Forum's 10-question pop-quiz here.

The Pew Forum has administered a 32-question survey to 3400 Americans and found them woefully ignorant on the subject. Boston U's Stephen Prothero writes: "In this, the first major study of religious literacy among American adults, Americans as a whole flunked, answering correctly 16 of 32 questions about Christianity, the Bible and the world’s religions - for an embarrassing score of only 50 percent."

Prothero makes an appeal for mandatory religion courses in public schools. He writes:

"In "Religious Literacy," I described our collective religious ignorance as a civic problem of the first order. How to hold politicians who pin their public policies to the Bible without knowing something about that text? And how to make sense of religious conflict in the Middle East without knowing something about Judaism, Christianity and Islam?...

...From time immemorial, and for better or for worse, human beings have been motivated to act politically, economically and militarily by their gods, scriptures and priests. Without making sense of those motivations, we cannot make sense of the world.

It is time to address our national epidemic of religious illiteracy. I have called in the past for mandatory public school courses on the Bible and the world's religions to remedy this problem. The time for such courses is now."

I've had a number of opportunities to speak on worldviews and comparative religions at Monroe High School in my community. (Michigan) My experience is that students want to learn and talk about such things. Given the massive influence religion has, has always had, and will always have on our world, it seems a no-brainer to proactively teach it in public schools.

Monday, September 27, 2010

While Gingrich Says Obama Acts "Kenyan, Anti-Colonial," What Does a Real Kenyan Anti-Colonialist Think? A Conversation with Novelist Ngugi wa Thiong'o

While Gingrich Says Obama Acts "Kenyan, Anti-Colonial," What Does a Real Kenyan Anti-Colonialist Think? A Conversation with Novelist Ngugi wa Thiong'o

Kenya On My Mind

I am "thinking Kenya" this morning. I'll arrive in Nairobi Oct. 21, stay there a few days, then travel west to Eldoret and the Rift Valley. There I'll be speaking and teaching at a pastor's conference for leaders from Kenya and Uganda.

This week I'm getting vaccinations for yellow fever, polio, hepatitis A & B, + anti-malarial medication to take with me.

I'm reading about Kenya - using Lonely Planet's guide. It's very good, and puts me in a mood of excitement. What a beautiful, amazing country Kenya is!

Eldoret is home and training area to Kenya's famous and elite long-distance runners. (Remember Kip Keino?)

The currency in Kenya is the shilling. One American dolar equals approximately 80 shillings.

I read the Daily Nation, Nairobi's newspaper. In today's DN there's an interesting article called "The Top 25 African Writers." At the head of the article there's a picture of Kenya's most famous writer, Ngugi wa Thiong’o. I just ordered Thiong'o's Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature. Having done Ph.D work in linguistic semantics and neurolinguistics I will probably agree with Thiong'o's thesis that when, in a colonialist act, a foreign language is imposed on indigenous people, there is more going on here than learning a new language. With the new foreign language comes an entire history and power structure. So, the imposition is great, and devastating to a culture. Needed: decolonizing the African (and Kenyan) mind.

17 hours from take-off in Detroit to touchdown in Nairobi. Not bad when compared to the 25-hour trip to Bangkok a year ago.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Real Jesus-Followers Never Need to Be Coerced or Tricked Into Ministry

Torrey Pines, San Diego area
This morning at Redeemer, in the context of preaching Matthew 28:16-20, I gave our people a handout called Getting Involved in the Jesus Movement at Redeemer. I prefaced this by sharing what this handout is not about. My experience in the church is that often, when a pastor gives a handout like this, he's giving it to recruit people into various ministries. People think "Here comes the paper - the pastor wants us to sign up for something again."

That wasn't my purpose this morning. I said, "This is not about you signing up to be in some ministry. But this is for all who signed up for the Jesus Movement, and Jesus in Matthew 28 commissions all of you to go out and do the Kingdom stuff in the world, making disciples of all cultures and sub-cultures ("nations"; in Greek, ethne - ethnic groups [not "nation-states]). My handout was about how I now see the Jesus Movement at Redeemer. It was for all who have already enlisted in that Movement and want to forward it. For such real Jesus-followers, the fact that their Savior has called them to "Go" is enough. No coercion, guilt-manipulation, or trickery is needed.

At this stage of my life in Christ I feel less concerned than ever to pressure into supplying manpower for church programs. Real "church" is neither an entertainment center nor "institution"; rather, it's a Movement. People like myself who joined the Movement as a result of the experiential redemptive activity of their Lord Jesus do not have to be coerced to advance the Kingdom. But some need help and direction as to how where and how to plug in. As a pastor I need to disciple Jesus-followers in that direction.

What a relief, as a pastor, to be in a family like Redeemer! We have so many people who love Jesus and are creatively seeking God for ways to be part of the disciple-making movement.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Jesus Movement at Redeemer

Here’s how you can become involved in the Jesus Movement at Redeemer.

First, remember our Mission:

The Mission of Redeemer Fellowship Church is the mission of Jesus.

• To advance the Kingdom of God

• To push back the kingdom of darkness

• To heal the sick

• To deliver the oppressed

• To raise the dead

• And to proclaim the Good News of Jesus and God’s Kingdom

Anything that strengthens or furthers or adds to the mission is potentially valuable.

You can be part of the mission in the following ways.


 Join my e-mail prayer team. Write me at and request to be placed on the e-prayer team.

 Join our Prayer Ministry Team.

Get equipped for the mission

o Take Full Life in Christ

o Take Redeemer Ministry School classes

o Attend the equipping events planned ahead (e.g., Randy Clark’s School of Healing and Impartation)

o Lead a Home Group; be in a Home Group (contact me if you want to lead a group)

o Go to Friday nights at Newport Beach Café and hear many different Redeemer people preach and lead worship

Assist in and contribute to our Mission outreaches

o Soup Kitchen (Tuesday and Saturday nights)

o Godworks Food Pantry (coming soon!)

o FLC – India

o NightLight Bangkok (the Dieselberg’s) • Sell NightLight jewelry

o Mercy House

o Chris & Lori Bajkiewicz


o Raise money and support for any of these and others.

Start a short-term fund-raising effort for one of our outreach ministries - • Contact me with your idea.

Serve in an area of ministry within Redeemer

o Children’s worker/teacher (disciple our kids!)

o Royal Rangers

o Sunday morning nursery worker

o Youth worker/teacher

o Ushers

o Caring for our building and grounds

o Visual arts

o Worship team

o Flags and banners

o Prayer team

o Office help

You have something to add to the Jesus Movement at Redeemer. Abide in Jesus. Get equipped. Serve. Reach out. Love. Give. Rejoice!

If you want to talk with me about any of these please give me a call.

Christian Hipsters

Christian hipsterism - beer drinking, Jon Stewart-watching, Thomas Kincade-avoiding, art museum-imbibing, intellectually rigorous (at least trying to be), Sartre-reflecting (actually reading L'Etre et Le Neant??? - l'Être et le nÉant de sartre et dans la thÉorie de la relativitÉ restreinte ), Radiohead/Arcade Fire earbudding, fair trade coffee-sipping, tobacco smoking, Toms shoes-wearing, thrift store-shopping, Steinbeck-reading, cool-walking, Bible-studying, Jesus-loving, hip-Kingdom people of God.

Well, way back in the early 70s I was an ex-drugging, bell bottom-wearing, long-hairing, psychedelic Jesus-loving, flower-bearing, sandals-walking, VW-vanning, C.S. Lewis-quoting, Wittgenstein-reading, Larry Norman-listening, beard-growing, street-witnessing, rock guitar-playing, caffeine-guzzling, peace-loving, tie dye shirt-flaunting, folk-singing, groovy-Kingdom God child.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Non-boring, Amazing Jesus

Tree in Monroe
 It was 1990. I was teaching at a theological seminary in Singapore. Albert Kang, one of the leaders of the seminary, was sitting with me at a "steamboat" luncheon (aka "hot pot"), when he leaned towards me and said words that have never left me: "The Church is a movement, not an institution." Oh yeah. That's right!

"Church" is not about committees arguing over whether to carpet the sanctuary and, if so, what kind and color the carpet should be. Real "Church" is not about maintenance. Jesus did not come to maintain the status quo. Real "Church" moves and flows, led by the Holy Spirit, changing direction as the Spirit guides. "Institutional" churches are dying precisely because they are that; viz., "instutional." 40 years ago I signed up for a Movement, not an Institution. As far as I can tell I'm still in the Jesus Movement, the now-moving of God's Spirit, and it is exhilarating!

None of the original 12 ever complained that following Jesus was boring. They did complain of other things, but never that. The thought "What is He doing now?!" did often come into their minds. Re. "boredom": "boredom" is not having nothing to do; "boredom" is finding no meaning in what one is doing. A Christian could be on every church committee there is and be very bored with it all, as well as very burned-out-spiritually-deep-fried-to-a-crisp.

I like what one 35-year-old Jesus-follower from California said re. this: "Christians have become political, judgmental, intolerant, weak, religious, angry, and without balance. Christianity has become a nice Sunday drive. Where is the living God, the Holy Spirit, an amazing Jesus, the love, the compassion, the holiness? This type of life, how I yearn for that." (In David Kinnaman, unchristian, 35)

Me too. Put down the books about Jesus and return to the Big 4 - Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John, and you'll have a Barthian epiphany as the strange new world of Jesus opens up before you.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Randy Clark Conference Registration at Redeemer

Randy Clark brings his School of Healing and Impartation to Redeemer Jan. 12-15, 2011.

For information + registration click here.

(Thanks Josh B!)

God Helps Us to Live the Way God Asks Us to Live

Dome of the Rock, Temple Mount, Jerusalem
 Atheist Peter Singer of Princeton and Christian theist John Hare of Yale dialogue on: "Moral Mammals: Does Atheism or Theism Provide the Best Foundation for Human Worth and Morality?" (In Dallas Willard, ed., A Place for Truth, 169-194) Give props to them both for an intellectual, calm, non-psychologizing non-ad-hominem-circumstantial (yay!!!) discussion.

I like Hare's answer when asked "How do you understand the role of Jesus Christ and his life and teachings for an understanding of morality? In thirty seconds, please."

Hare responds: "Jesus is a model for me of how human life should be, of giving his life for others and reaching out to the weakest. But if it's just a model, and this is Kierkegaard's point, it produces despair, because I don't seem to be able to live that way by my own resources. So it's important to me that with the model comes the power to live that way. God actually helps us to live the way God asks us to live." (191-192)

Very well said - as good as one could do in 30 seconds! In Hare's statement we have the following Christian truths:
  • Real Jesus-following (as distinguished, e.g., from Islam) is not about following rules, or viewing the Bible as a rulebook.
  • On one's own one cannot live like Christ.
  • As we abide in Christ we receive resources from God to live such a life.
  • See John chapters 14-16.
Re. Singer, I like his atheism in the sense that, on atheism, Singer makes sense. He carries himself well in dialogues like this. However, since nobody's perfect, consider Singer here as he comments on the story of the withered fig tree.

"Then there's the incident of the fig tree. Jesus saw a fig tree and asked for some fig and was told there were no figs. One of the Gospel accounts says, "Because the time of figs was not." It wasn't a useless, barren fig tree; it just wasn't the season for figs. But Jesus cursed it, and the next day the disciples come past it and say "Look, it died." That seems a very petulant act, I have to say." (Ib., 193)

Not at all, of course. Singer's surface-reading of the story leads him to casually and mistakenly dismiss it as "a petulant act" by Jesus. To understand this begin with N.T. Wright. (Here, e.g., 421 ff.)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

P (R/N&E) Is Low

I ate this fig and portabella mushroom pizza in Boston.
Tonight I'm reading Science and Religion: Are They Compatible, a dialogue by Alvin Plantinga and Daniel Dennett. I just finished Plantinga's opening statement. I'm going to here explain his claim that naturalism is incompatible with evolutionary theory. But first I must note that Plantinga is simply brilliant and so very funny. I love his playfulness and sense of humor.

Naturalists are, for the most part, materialists about human persons: "a human person is a material object through and through, with no immaterial self or soul or subject." (17)

Let N mean naturalism, let E mean current evoutionary theory, and let R mean the proposition that our cognitive faculties are reliable.

Plantinga then reasons:

1. P (R/N&E) is low. (Read this as: "The probability of R, given N & E.")
2. One who accepts N&E and also sees that 1 is true has a defeater for R.
3. This defeater can't be defeated.
4. One who has a defeater for R has a defeater for any belief she takes to be produced by her cogbitive faculties, to include N&E.
5. Therefore N&E is self-defeating and can't be rationally accepted. (I.e., naturalism is incompatible with evolutionary theory.)

See pp. 17-21 for Plantinga's defense of these premises. At the heart of this is the idea that "natural selection doesn't give a fig for true belief just as such. It rewards adaptive behavior and punishes maladaptive behavior, but it doesn't cafre aboutr truth of belief; as Patricia Churchland says, "Truth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost." (19)

Dennett responds to this, Plantinga responds back, the Dennett again, then Plantinga one more time.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Power of Music (& Why the Taliban Wants to Banish It)

I've been slow-reading Jeremy Begbie's Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music. It's time to make a post. Begbie is Research Professor of Theology at Duke Divinity School.

In his intro to the book Begbie writes of the power of music. I'm now thinking of when I was a campus pastor at Michigan State University and the massive offensive lineman Tony Mandarich was there. Mandarich used to listen to Guns 'N Roses music before he ran onto the field to play the game. That music empowered him. I was listening to Tracy Chapman's incredible "Revolution" song recently and felt like running out into the streets to change the world. This summer when I was sitting for hours on the shores of Lake Michigan I was listening to Bruce Cockburn, and his passionate lyrics and melodies were interpreting nature and life for me. As a musician myself I have no doubt that music has "power."

Begbie writes that "few doubt that music can call forth the deepest things of the human spirit and affect behavior at the most profound levels. Anyone who has parented a teenager will not need to be told this - study after stufy has shown that music often plays a pivotal part in the formation of young people's identity, self-image, and patterns of behavior." (15-16)

I wrote a song that was sung at my wedding. But I had it recorded, because I would not have been able to sing it to Linda on that day without totally losing it.

Music relieves factory workers of boredom and fatigue, "warriors forget their fear and rush into battle, and the mentally ill are helped to health." (16)

I've listened a lot to the music of Arvo Part. It haunts me, it makes me want to cry. It's on my mp3 player, ready to play when I need a metaphysical readjusting. 

Begbie writes: "Polish sacred music played a key role in the solidarities that eventually overturned communism. It is small wonder that some totalitarian regimes have been extremely nervous about music (the Taliban administration in Afghanistan sought to ban virtually all music because of its perceived social dangers) and that others have unashamedly harnessed it precisely because of its influence (the Nazis, for example). Any Christian who cares about the good of human society ought to be concerned with what kind of power music might possess and how such power might be used responsibly." (16)

After my son David died listening to U2's "One Tree Hill" was part of my healing. For the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein "the slow movement from Brahms' third Quartet pulled him back from the brink of suicide." (16) Sting has said, Music "saved my life. It saved my sanity." (16)

"Music," said George Steiner, is "a preferred medium for expressing religious meaning." (16) Steiner writes:

"Music and the metaphysical, in the root sense of that term, music and religious feeling, have been virtually inseparable. It is in and through music that we are most immediately in the presence of the logically, of the verbally inexpressible but wholly palpable energy in being that communicates to our senses and to our reflection what little we can grasp of the naked wonder of life... It has long been, it continues to be, the unwritten theology of those who lack or reject any formal creed." (In Begbie, 16-17)

Begbie cites, for example, "the fierce crucifixion symphonies of James MacMillan." (17) OMG...  my soul bleeds out, as I listen to MacMillan's "Christus Vincet"...  or his "Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachtani?" (Both songs are on his "7 Last Words From the Cross.") Begbie gives us six pages on MacMillan. (176-182)

It's hard for me to listen to some of the songs on Glen Hansard's "Once" soundtrack since I was playing it a lot at the time our dog So-Fee had to be put down.

And then there's the thing about worship. Over the past 40 years as a Jesus-follower there have been a small number of worship songs (among bazillions of them) that have simultaneously broken and elevated my heart before God. When it happens, when it hits, it's non-discursive experience time. Such music is, for me, anointed by the Spirit of God, and speaks to me in ways that sermons and books cannot. Sometimes it heals. Sometimes in and through and by it I see sub specie aeternitatis.

Bono & U2 write "One Tree Hill" in honor of their friend Greg Carroll who died in a motorcycle accident. In the recording studio Bono felt he could only do one take of the song. It was too emotional, too power-filled, for him to do it again.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Friday Nights at Newport Beach Cafe - Worship + Word

Check out the new website (thank you Ben!) about our Friday Night worship/preaching thing at Newport Beach Cafe.

Tonight - Joy Bergesen leading worship; Darrell Brown preaching.

Draw Me After You - Let Us Run

This Sunday evening, Sept. 19 at Redeemer, Holly Benner will be starting a women's class at church called Draw Me After You, Let Us Run. If you fall in the age bracket of 18-134, you are welcome to join us! This Sunday we will be kicking things off with a guest speaker. Danielle Bilen (daughter of Gary and Linda Wilson) will be sharing her testimony of how God took her from a life of self-hatred to a life of embracing the identity God gives. She'll talk about these things and more. Her story is powerful! Please join us from 6-8 pm in the sanctuary.

Bring your Bible and notebook/journal. You're welcome to bring friends. Child care will not be provided because the hope is that this will be a night out for all who come and that each of you will be free to receive and fellowship.

Marriage Conference at Redeemer with Craig Miller

Linda and I, and Darrell and Holli Brown are excited to announce our coming Marriage Conference.

WHEN: Nov. 5-6 (Fri evening; Sat. until around 6/7)

OUR SPEAKER: Craig Miller, director of Masterpeace Center for Counseling and Development in Tecumseh. Craig has also written an excellent book on marriage - When Your Mate Has Emotionally Checked Out: Radical Steps to Transform Your Relationship.

More details to come! (Location, conference cost, etc.)


Administrative Director, Speaker, Therapist

For thirty years Craig has been counseling with individuals, families, and couples in both medical and mental health settings. He has served as the Director of Social Work at Herrick Memorial Hospital in Tecumseh, Michigan, and currently is the co-founder, Administrative Director, and a therapist for MASTERPEACE.

Craig continues his passion for helping people through his syndicated radio talk show "Insights From the Heart" (North American Broadcasting Company), TV program, Better Life Spotlight (WLMBTV-40) copyrighted material, National speaking in the USA and Canada with PESI Education Seminars and Cross Country Education, and his books: "When Feelings Don't Come Easy" and "When Your Mate Has Emotionally Checked Out."

Craig has been speaking in churches and to the general public with topics such as, Finding the Joy of Christ in a Hurting World and Living with an unemotional mate. He speaks with professionals with topics such as, Integrating Faith Based Principles with Clinical Mental Health Issues: A Christian approach for improving treatment outcomes. For information about his speaking engagements, books, and DVD material log on to:

Over the years Craig has learned the unique ability to successfully combine his skills as a Christian and mental health practitioner to bring healing and restoration to the spirit, mind, and body. Craig desires to work with each person, couple, and/or family to receive emotional and physical healing to bring restoration of your heart and relationship, renewal of your soul and revitalization of your faith.

More on The Shallows

CNN has a nice article on Nicholas Carr's The Shallows. For me this was a good read. From the CNN article...
  • Carr says: "Like many people, I've spent a lot of time using the net and other digital technologies over the past ten or fifteen years, and I've enjoyed the many benefits those technologies provide. But I came to realize, some time in 2007, that I was losing my ability to pay deep attention to one thing over a long period of time. When I'd sit down to read a book, for instance, I was only able to sustain my concentration for a page or two. My mind would begin to crave stimulation and distraction -- it wanted to click on links, jump from page to page, check email, do some Googling. The habits of mind the net encouraged had become my dominant habits of mind. That's when I began to do the research that led to the writing of 'The Shallows'."
  • The argument at the heart of "The Shallows" is that that the changes Carr felt in his own mind are happening much more broadly throughout society.
  • The way we think is shaped by the tools we use to think with. Carr: "This was true of the map, the alphabet, the clock, and the printing press, and it's true as well of the internet. The net encourages the mental skills associated with the rapid gathering of small bits of information from many sources, but it discourages the kind of deeply attentive thinking that leads to the building of knowledge, conceptual thinking, reflection, and contemplativeness. So, as with earlier intellectual technologies, the net strengthens certain cognitive functions but weakens others. And because the neural pathways in our brain adapt readily to experience, the changes occur in the actual cellular wiring of our brains."
  • So should we be worried? "It depends on what you value about the human mind," says Carr. "Some people love the constant stimulation the net provides, and don't much care about the loss of more solitary, contemplative ways of thinking. For them, it's not a problem at all. Other people -- and I'm one of them -- believe that while it's important to be able to skim and scan and multitask, our deepest and most valuable thinking requires a calm and attentive mind. If you exist in a perpetual state of distractedness, you'll never tap into the deepest sources of human insight and creativity."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

To Admire the Logic of Atheism Is Neither to Attack Atheism Nor to Agree With Atheism

(For my MCCC Logic students)

Today I was invited to travel to Wayne State University to listen to Peter Singer speak. I would have loved to do that, but my schedule did not permit it. When I came to my Logic class this evening I thought I'd use Singer's reasoning from his atheist worldview as an example of good logical thinking. In this regard Peter Singer is someone I admire. I am not an atheist, so obviously I'm in disagreement with Singer about his worldview. But were I an atheist I'd be listening to Singer's reasoning. What I admire about Singer (and other Nietzschean-type atheists) is their logic of atheism. For example, here atheist Richard Dawkins refers to Singer as having "one of the most logically thought-out ethical systems in the world."

In this interview with Dawkins Singer states that not all human beings have a right to life. Watch the entire interview to see what he means by that and how he arrives at that controversial conclusion. Which, by the way, Dawkins finds supremely logical. Singer also clarifies what he means by referring to humans as essentially and only "animals." He also talks about what is "special" about humans and what is not "special" about humans. Singer says we must get over the idea "that we are an especially created species."

Atheism is a worldview. As such, certain thoughts logically follow. For example, it follows, on atheism, that there is no Creator God. Really, this is evident by definition. If there is no Creator-God, then there is no "creation." Note, then, that an atheist who talks about nature as a "creation" has borrowed an idea from theism that does not fit within atheism.

Philosophical naturalism also fits within atheism. Which means: "nature" is all that there is. There are no non-natural or super-natural events.

With nature being all there is, Singer's thinking about humans seems to follow logically. Dinesh D-Souza describes this as follows.

Singer "argues that we are not creations of God but rather mere Darwinian primates. We exist on an unbroken continuum with animals. Christianity, he says, arbitrarily separated man and animal, placing human life on a pedestal and consigning the animals to the status of tools for human well-being. Now, Singer says, we must remove Homo sapiens from this privileged position and restore the natural order. This translates into more rights for animals and less special treatment for human beings. There is a grim consistency in Singer's call to extend rights to the apes while removing traditional protections for unwanted children, people with mental disabilities, and the noncontributing elderly."

Note that, for Singer, not to do this is to be guilty of "specieism" (a term he helped popularize). At the end of the Dawkins interview Singer defines "speciesism" as "an attitude of prejudice towards beings because they're not members of our species."

D'Souza writes, in admiration of Singer: "Singer, virtually alone among their numbers, is uncompromisingly working out the implications of living in a truly secular society, one completely purged of Christian and transcendental foundations. In Singer, we may be witnessing someone both horrifying and yet somehow refreshing: an intellectually honest atheist."

Note that this does not serve as an attack on atheism. Were I to attack the worldview of atheism it would not look like this. Rather, it is an explanation of the logic of atheism, as displayed by Singer the atheist. Were I an atheist, I would be thinking in the same way.

Praying Pancakes?

I confess two things:
  • I very much like Mike Bickle's ministry and his International House of Prayer (IHOP).
  • I also too much like pancakes (International House of Pancakes).
Today we found out that IHOPancakes is suing IHOPrayer over the rights to the acronym "IHOP." Here's the story in the Kansas City Star.

No one's asking me for advice, but I think if I were at IHOPrayer I'd change our name. God is more than big enough to handle it.

98.6% of Today's College Students Have Never Heard of Sufjan Stevens

This week I took a poll in my two Logic courses. The question: "Who has heard of Sufjan Stevens?" Out of 70 students only 1 student raised his hand. That student, as he raised his hand, looked around in wonderment and disbelief as he realized he was the only one familiar Stevens.

Thus 1/4% of today's college students have heard of Sufjan Stevens.

Where Is This?

The first person to guess what this is a picture of wins a Finger of God dvd. To be picked up on Sun. morning. I took it in Monroe.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Deep Rational Beauty of the Universe

Flowers on our back porch
I finished Hawking's The Grand Design over the weekend.

Bill Craig suggests I read his chapter on Hawking in Reasonable Faith. So I kindled this one and read it last evening.

I just read physicist John Polkinghorne's beautiful essay "God and Physics" in God is Great, God is Good. Here's a few Polkinghorne quotes.
  • "In Western thinking bout the nature of reality there have been two particularly influential traditions: materialism and theism." (65) Yup. These are the two worldviews I am interested in. My interest in something like pantheism is socio-cultural only. I don't study pantheism or Deepak Chopra in my quest for a coherent worldview.
  • "The universe that science explores has proved to be profoundly rationally transparent to our inquiry and endowed with a deep rational beauty." (Ib.) I love that sentence, and the idea behind it! My many theistic scientist friends would love it, too.
  • Polkinghorne asks: "Why is it the case that some of the most beautiful patterns that the mathematicians can dream up in their minds are found actually to occur in the structure of the physical world around us?" Note that this is Polkinghorne the particle physicist of Cambridge University who "worked on theories about elementary particles, played a role in the discovery of the quark,[1] and researched the analytic and high-energy properties of Feynman integrals and the foundations of S-Matrix theory.[5] While employed by Cambridge, he also spent time at Princeton, Berkeley, Stanford, and at CERN in Geneva."
  • "The feeling of wonder at the marvelous order of the world is a fundamental experience in physics and a fitting reward for all the labor involved in research. In a word, one could say that physics explores a universe that is shot through with signs of mind. Thus the laws of physics seem to point beyond themselves, calling for an explanation of why they have this rational character. It is intellectually unsatisfying simply to treat them as brute fact." (67)
  • (One more P-thought for now) "The deep intelligibility of the cosmos can itself be made intelligible if behind its marvelous order is indeed the mind of its Creator. The theist can say that science is possible precisely because the universe is a creation and scientists are creatures made in the image of their Creator, the God whose role is not simply to initiate the big bang but continuously to hold in being a world endowed with rational structure. Materialism just does not explain enough." (Ib.)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Many of Today's Scientific Beliefs are Wrong

A very long time ago, when I was an undergraduate philosophy student, one of my philosophy professors said something that has never left me. He said: "The history of science is the history of error." Surely there is truth in that statement. A lot of the biology of two hundred years ago is now considered false. Will people not say the same two hundred years from now? Can anyone believe that the science texts of today will be used in the distant future? Of course not.

Which means we now have scientific statements/claims that are considered true which are not, in fact, true. Should that certainty bother anybody? Perhaps those who place their faith in science should tremble.

Anthony Gottlieb, in The Economist, thinks so. He asks: "If science is careful scepticism writ large, shouldn’t a scientific cast of mind require one to be sceptical of science itself?"

Watch this: "At the end of her book “Science: A Four Thousand Year History” (2009), Patricia Fara of Cambridge University wrote that “there can be no cast-iron guarantee that the cutting-edge science of today will not represent the discredited alchemy of tomorrow”. This is surely an understatement. If the past is any guide—and what else could be?—plenty of today’s science will be discredited in future. There is no reason to think that today’s practitioners are uniquely immune to the misconceptions, hasty generalisations, fads and hubris that marked most of their predecessors. Although the best ideas of Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Boyle, Darwin, Einstein and others have stood the test of time and taken their place in the permanent corpus of knowledge, error remains inherent in the enterprise of science. This is because interesting theories always go beyond the data that they seek to explain, and because science is made by people. Examples from recent decades of scientific consensus that turned out to be wrong range from the local to the largest possible scale: acid rain was not destroying forests in Germany in the 1980s, as it was said to have been, and the expansion of the universe has not been slowing down, as cosmologists used to think it was."

What about those infamous "peer-reviewed" scientific articles? Gottlieb writes:

"Most laymen probably assume that the 350-year-old institution of “peer review”, which acts as a gatekeeper to publication in scientific journals, involves some attempt to check the articles that see the light of day. In fact they are rarely checked for accuracy, and, as a study for the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think-tank, reported last year, “the data and computational methods are so seldom disclosed that post-publication verification is equally rare.” Journals will usually consider only articles that present positive and striking results, and scientists need constantly to publish in order to keep their careers alive. So it is that, like the late comedian Danny Kaye, professional scientists sometimes get their exercise by jumping to conclusions. Historians of science call this bias the “file-drawer problem”: if a set of experiments produces a result contrary to what the team needs to find, it ends up filed away, and the world never finds out about it.

In a recent book, “Wrong: Why Experts Keep Failing Us—And How to Know When Not to Trust Them”, David Freedman, an American business and science journalist, does a sobering job of reviewing dozens of studies of ignorance, bias, error and outright fraud in recent academic science. He notes that discredited research is regularly cited in support of other research, even after it has been discredited."

Gottlieb concludes: "It’s a fair bet that many of today’s scientific beliefs are wrong, but only your grandchildren will know which ones, and in the meantime, science is the only game in town." It's the only game in town when it comes to understanding nature, but there are some other games to play (history, ethics, religion, et. al.). And, contrary to Steven Hawking's claim at the beginning of The Grand Design, philosophy is alive and well, too.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Economist's Unfavorable Hawking Review

The famous double slit "buckeyball" experiment
The Economist has a not-so-favorable review of Hawking and Mlodinow's The Grand Design.

I got my copy yesterday and read the first 100 pages (out of 180). I expect to post my thoughts when I finish the book.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

5 Questions for Stephen Hawking

On his website William Lane Craig has a podcast responding to Stephen Hawking's new book (The Grand Design [GD]) in which Hawking claims that the God hypothesis is unnecessary to explain the origin of the universe. Bill says:
  • He doesn't (at the time) yet have Hawking's book, so it would not be fair to comment on something he has not read.
  • From the media presentations of Hawking's book it appears Hawking says nothing new in this book that he has not already said in his best-seller A Brief History of Time. (BHT)
  • In BHT Hawking claimed that modern science allows no place for a creator of the universe. In BHT Hawking used quantum gravity to explain how the universe came into being from nothing. Then, he uses the many-worlds hypothesis (multiverse theory) in order to explain away the fine-tuning of the universe.
  • Bill encourages us to first read his book Reasonable Faith where he interacts with Hawking's BHT. 
  • In light of that ask the following questions as you look at Hawking's GD.
  • #1 - What new developments, what new theories, are featured in Hawking's new book? If there's nothing new in GD that's OK. The question then to ask is: How has Hawking responded to criticisms of his earlier work? There have been many responses, in the literature, to Hawking's earlier claims. Does he now, in GD, respond to those criticisms, and if so, how?
  • #2 - "With respect to the clai that the universe cae into being spontaneously from nothing, Professor Hawking writes, in the Wall Street Journal article: “As recent advances in cosmology suggest, the laws of gravity and quantum theory allow universes to appear spontaneously from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist." What we need to ask Priofessor Hawking is: How is the word 'nothing' being used in these sentences?" Does he mean literally "nothing" in the sense of non-being? If he is using "nothing" in this metaphysically correct sense, then he needs to explain how "being" can arise from "non-being." Bill says: "If there is truly non-being, there is no quantum gravity; there's nothingness, and nothingness cannot be contrained because nothingness isn't something - it is non-being." Why, then, should a universe such as ours pop into existence from "nothing?" Why not "root bear," or "Beethoven?" If Hawking is using "nothing" in this philosopically correct sense, then his statement "the laws of gravity and quantum theory allow universes to appear" is, on the face of it, self-contradictory. Hawking must be claiming that there is some sort of "quantum state" exists, out of which our universe came. If so, then Hawking is using the word "nothing" to refer to this quantum state. But then there is "something," and Hawking has not explained the origin of the universe from "nothng."
  • Hawking writes: "Our universe seems to be one of many, each with different laws. That multiverse idea is not a notion invented to account for the miracle of fine tuning. It is a consequence predicted by many theories in modern cosmology. If it is true it reduces the strong anthropic principle to the weak one, putting the fine tunings of physical law on the same footing as the environmental factors, for it means that our cosmic habitat—now the entire observable universe—is just one of many." But it's not enough to siply posit the many-worlds hypothesis. What reasons are there to think that the many-worlds hypothesis is a better hypothesis than a single cosmic Designer? Craig asks: "In particular, what mechanism is there that explains the many-worlds hypothesis; what mechanism brings these many worlds into being? When we identify that mechanism, we need to ask is it fine-tuned as well?" This is Q#3 - If this mechanism that explains the many worlds hypothesis is itself fine-tuned, then fine-tuning has not benn explained, it's just been pushed back a notch.   
  • Q#4 - "We also need to ask Professor Hawking the question: What evidence is there that these many worlds, if they exist, are random in their constants and quantities? If the constants and quantities are just repetitive in these many worlds, then they do nothing to explain the fine-tuning of the universe." "What reason is there to think that these constants and quanitites are randomly ordered across the many worlds? And why should we think that these worlds are infinite in number rather than finite in number?"
  • Q#5 - How does Hawking respond to Roger Penrose's objection to the many-worlds hypothesis? Penrose, a colleague of Hawking, says that "if we are just a random member of a world ensemble, then it is incomprehensibly ore more probable that we should be observing a much different universe than the one we in fact observe. Therefore our observations make it overwhelmingly more probable that there is no world ensemble... Penrose argues that this appeal to "many worlds" and the anthropic principle is "worse than useless" in explaining the fine-tuning of the universe." We should ask, how does Hawking respond to Penrose's objections to the many worlds hypothesis as an explanation of the universe's fine-tuning?
(I'm expecting my copy of GD to arrive today!)

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Redeemer Ministry School Begins Next Week!

Redeemer Ministry School begins next week!

Here's some information for full-time RMS students.


Fall 2010 Schedule

WEEK ONE – Sept. 12-16

Sunday morning, Sept. 12 – Introduce RMS 2010 class.

Sunday afternoon, Sept. 12 – 5 PM - Picnic at John & Linda Piippo’s home (2739 North Custer, Monroe – across from Munson Park)

Monday, Sept. 13 – 10 -1, at the church building. Lunch together (our treat).

Tuesday, Sept. 14 – Worship at 9 AM - Meet with Jim & Denise Hunter – on “Building Community.”

Wednesday, Sept. 15 – We meet at Jim & Denise Hunter’s home for worship at 9 AM. Then, more community building.

Thursday, 9 AM – worship at the church building.

9:30 – 1 - Spiritual Formation - John Piippo (11-11:30 – we break for a bite to eat)

5 – 8 – Kingdom of God I – Jim Collins (at the church building)

Friday Evening, 9 PM – midnight – Worship & Word at Newport Beach Cafe


Mondays – no classes

Tuesdays – Worship – 9-9:30 AM
- Spiritual Formation (John Piippo) – 9:30 – 1

Wednesdays – Worship – 9-9:30 AM
- Worship I (Holly Benner) – 9:30 - 11

Thursdays – Worship – 9-9:30 AM
- Bible Study Methods (Josh Bentley) – 9:30 – 1
- Kingdom of God I (Jim Collins) – 5-8 PM

Fridays – Worship – 9-9:30 AM
- Worship I (Holly Benner) – 9:30 – 11
- 9 PM – Midnight – Newport Beach Cafe

Thanksgiving Break (no classes) – Nov. 22-26

Fall Trimester ends – Friday, Dec. 10

Monday, September 06, 2010

Hawking's Miscontrual of God tells me Stephen Hawking's The Grand Design has been shipped. I look forward to reading it myself. Hawking is getting a lot of attention these days. Physicist Sean Carroll tweets that "Stephen Hawking could say ‘ice cream is delicious’ and get massive media coverage." So when he declares that philosophy is dead and God is unnecessary to understand the universe's existence it's big media news.

So, Hawking declares the defeat of the Fine-Tuning Argument for God. But Hawking on "God" is surely questionable, as this quote from Grand Design indicates. Hawking writes:

“Some would claim the answer to these questions is that there is a God who chose to create the universe that way. It is reasonable to ask who or what created the universe, but if the answer is God, then the question has merely been deflected to that of who created God. In this view it is accepted that some entity exists that needs no creator, and that entity is called God. This is known as the first-cause argument for the existence of God. We claim, however, that it is possible to answer these questions purely within the realm of science, and without invoking any divine beings."

Oh my...  The question of who or what created God is incoherent if, as theistic philosophers argue, "God" is to be defined as a necessarily existent being that did not begin to exist. If a being did not begin to exist then it is nonsense to ask about who brought that being into existence. Christian theism has viewed God as such an eternal being. Therefore to claim that God created the universe does not set off some infinite causal regress.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Reading Hawking's Grand Design With Some Friends

Matt Holladay & I have ordered Stephen Hawking's The Grand Design. We're reading together and then wil get together over coffee to discuss it. For me it's one of those books I need to read for myself, especially since it challenges (seemingly) the Fine-Tuning Argument for God's existence, and argument I and others continue to find persuasive.

Yes, it is persuasive. I've had students in my philosophy of religion courses turn from agnosticism and atheism to theism after being presented with it.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Redeemer Ministry School - 9 Months That Will Change Your Life

Redeemer Ministry School's 2010-2011 school years begins Sept. 12 with a picnic at our home. Here are some testimonies from three of our 2010 RMS graduates.

"Before RMS I didn't understand how to be in a relationship with Christ. I wanted Him to tell me what to do, so I could just do it. I knew I should spend time with Him, but I didn't really understand why it was so important. I began to depend on other people who were in relationship with Christ for my direction in life. I was constantly searching out others for a "word" so I could just do what He wanted me to do. This left me anxious and fearful anytime my life presented options or obstacles.

During the 9 months of RMS, I dedicated myself to the school and to Christ. I did what was asked of me though I didn't expect much to change. Slowly, I began to understand that what I had (and wanted) before with Christ wasn't a relationship. I began to hear Him speak again. He challenged me, loved on me, and even joked with me!! Through the excellent guidance and teachings of the staff, I began to see my God in a whole new way. I began a relationship with Christ and it is still growing and evolving today. Though I still have struggles and failures, I have found the peace that passes understanding."

- Holly Holladay

"RMS has provided me with things I didn't even know were missing from my life. It gave me a safe place to ask hard questions, a family with which to share what I was learning and experiencing, and a solid contextual understanding of the Bible. Any of the teachers alone is worth spending nine months with, but all of them together is a year worth marking down as red letter. Each class builds off the others to provide a continual, daily renewal of intimacy with, knowledge of, and love for the Creator who wants nothing more than to call me His own. I found myself wanting to go to class, not because the teachers are magnificent, but because, more often than not, God showed up for class too."

- Emma Stokes

"The most remarkable gift of RMS was spiritual discipline. While I was prepared for a return to academic discipline, the surprise was that a real effort toward implementing the values we were being taught
played a significant role in the process of inner changes. The flower on this Vine was a true, intimate relationship with God for the first time in my life. Our Father delights in giving us so many good gifts;
discernment, insight,peace, steadiness, self-revelation, strength of spirit. But they are only available to us through intentional, quiet interaction with Him on a daily basis. This relationship can't help but seep into every other area of life, and in the invasion, He conquers, tears down, and heals. I can joyfully and truthfully speak
out the reality that I am not the same person I was the first day of RMS; the changes started on the surface and went into the very fabric of my spirit. It remains the single most rewarding and enriching experience of my life!
Thank you, RMS Professors & Staff.

- Patt Busenbark

"Get Low": The Futility of Self-atonement & the Need for Final Cleansing

Last evening Linda and I saw "Get Low" at The Michigan Theatre in Ann Arbor. It's a beautiful story about the futility of self-atonement and the need for forgiveness and redemption. Robert Duvall plays a real-life 1930s Tennessee hermit who plans his own funeral, which he attends while still alive. Duvall is an amazing actor. Bill Murray plays the sleazy undertaker, and Sissy Spacek plays the woman who is ambivalent about knowing the dark secret hidden in the old hermit's soul. We loved this movie!

Forgiveness and cleansing before one dies - we're all searching for it.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Stephen Hawking's New Book Attacks the Fine-Tuning Argument

The Big Bang was the inevitable consequence of physics, claims Stephen Hawking in his new book The Grand Design. Science thus renders redundant the role of God as creator. That is, according to Hawking, God is not needed to explain the origin of the fine-tuned universe.

I picked up this story yesterday and, for $2, purchased a 24-hour subscription to The London Times which initially reported it. Here is the London Times article.

Modern physics leaves no place for God in the creation of the Universe, Stephen Hawking has concluded.

Just as Darwinism removed the need for a creator in the sphere of biology, Britain’s most eminent scientist argues that a new series of theories have rendered redundant the role of a creator for the Universe.

In his forthcoming book, an extract from which is published exclusively in Eureka, published today with The Times, Professor Hawking sets out to answer the question: “Did the Universe need a creator?” The answer he gives is a resounding “no”.

Far from being a once-in-a-million event that could only be accounted for by extraordinary serendipity or a divine hand, the Big Bang was an inevitable consequence of the laws of physics, Hawking says.

“Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist,” he writes.

“It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going,” he finds.

Professor Hawking’s book is a significant breakaway from previous views he has published on religion. In A Brief History of Time, he was accommodating of religious beliefs, suggesting that God as Creator was not incompatible with a scientific understanding of the Universe. “If we discover a complete theory, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we should know the mind of God,” he wrote in the 1988 bestseller.

In his new book, The Grand Design, published on September 9, a week before the Pope’s visit to Britain, he sets out a comprehensive thesis that the scientific framework leaves no room for a deity.

In the book, co-authored by the American physicist Leonard Mlodinow, Hawking deconstructs Sir Isaac Newton’s belief that the Universe could not have arisen out of chaos due to the mere laws of Nature, but must have been created by God.

Hawking writes that the first blow was the confirmed observation in 1992 of a planet orbiting a star other than our Sun. “That makes the coincidences of our planetary conditions — the single Sun, the lucky combination of Earth-Sun distance and solar mass — far less remarkable and far less compelling as evidence that the Earth was carefully designed just to please us human beings,” he writes.

Not only other planets, but whole other universes, known collectively as the multiverse, are likely to exist, according to Professor Hawking, who until he retired last year held the same post as Newton, Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge. If God’s intention was to create mankind, then these many untouchable worlds would surely be redundant, he suggests.

Richard Dawkins, a biologist and fierce proponent of atheism, welcomed the book, describing it as Darwinism for the very fabric of Nature, not just the creatures living within it. “That’s exactly what he’s saying,” said Professor Dawkins. “I know nothing of the details of the physics but I had always assumed the same thing.”

However others, such as Professor George Ellis, an emeritus professor at the University of Cape Town and President of the International Society for Science and Religion, were less impressed. “My biggest problem with this is that it’s presenting the public with a choice: science or religion. A lot of people will say, ‘OK, I choose religion, then’ and it is science that will lose out,” he said.

In the book, Professor Hawking also suggests that philosophy as a science is dead but intriguingly leaves open the prospect of life in other universes.

He predicts that physics is on the brink of writing a theory of everything, a single framework that can entirely explain the properties of Nature. Such a theory has been the holy grail for physicists since the time of Einstein but until now it has been impossible to reconcile quantum theory, which explains the sub-atomic world, with gravity, which explains how objects interact on the cosmological scale.

Professor Hawking suggests that M-theory, a form of string theory, will achieve this goal. He writes: “M-theory is the unified theory Einstein was hoping to find. The fact that we human beings — who are ourselves mere collections of fundamental particles of nature — have been able to come this close to an understanding of the laws governing us and our universe is a great triumph.”

While agreeing that advances in theoretical physics were impressive, others argue they had little to contribute to a debate about the possible existence of God.

Frank Close, a theoretical physicist at the University of Oxford, said: “Given the vast numbers of stars in our known Universe, God’s efficiency may already be called into question: if the sole aim was to create you, me and Stephen Hawking, would not one solar system have been enough? I don’t see that M-theory adds one iota to the God debate, either pro or con,”

Rather than being a single master equation, Professor Hawking suggests that M-theory will be a “whole family” of theories existing within a consistent theoretical framework. Much like the way different maps — political, geographical, topological — can map a single region without contradicting each other, M-theory will map different aspects of the material world.

The Times also published a rebuttal article by Jewis Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Here it is.
Stephen Hawking is wrong about the existence of God. He has simply refuted his own earlier mistaken theology

What would we do for entertainment without scientists telling us, with breathless excitement, that “God did not create the Universe”, as if they were the first to discover this astonishing proposition? Stephen Hawking is the latest, but certainly not the first. When Napoleon asked Laplace, two hundred years ago, where was God in his scientific system, the mathematician replied, Je n’ai pas besoin de cette hypothèse. “I do not need God to explain the Universe.” We never did. That is what scientists do not understand.

There is a difference between science and religion. Science is about explanation. Religion is about interpretation. Science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things together to see what they mean. They are different intellectual enterprises. They even occupy different hemispheres of the brain. Science — linear, atomistic, analytical — is a typical left-brain activity. Religion — integrative, holistic, relational — is supremely a work of the right brain.

It is important for us to understand the misinterpretation Professor Hawking has made, because the mutual hostility between religion and science is one of the curses of our age, and is damaging to religion and science in equal measure.

The best way of approaching it is through the autobiography of Charles Darwin. Darwin tells us that as a young man he had been impressed with the case for God as set out by William Paley in his Natural Theology of 1802. Paley updated the classic “argument from design” to the state of scientific knowledge as it existed in his day.

Find a stone on a heath, says Paley, and you won’t ask who designed it. It doesn’t look as if it was designed. But find a watch and you will think differently. A watch looks as if it was designed. Therefore it had a designer. The Universe looks more like a watch than a stone. It is intricate, interlocking, complex. Therefore, it too had a designer, whose name is God.

Darwin, in a simple yet world-transforming idea, showed how the appearance of design does not require a designer at all. It can emerge over a long period of time by, as we would put it today, an iterated process of genetic mutation and natural selection. So the Universe is not like a watch, or if it is, the watchmaker was blind. QED.

But whoever thought the Universe was like a watch in the first place? The scientists and philosophers of the 17th and 18th centuries: Newton, Leibniz, Laplace, Auguste Comte. What was wrong about Paley’s argument was not the theology but the science on which it was based. Good science refutes bad science. It tells us nothing at all about God.

Professor Hawking has done something very similar, except that this time he plays both parts. He is both Paley and Darwin and, with great legerdemain and panache, Hawking II, the good scientist, has brilliantly refuted Hawking I, the poor theologian.

Hawking I was the person who wrote, at the end of A Brief History of Time, that if we found science’s holy grail, a theory-of-everything, we would know “why it is that we and the Universe exist”. We would “know the mind of God”.

This is so elementary a fallacy that it is hard to believe that Professor Hawking meant it. We would know how we and the Universe came into being — not why. Nor, in any but the most trivial sense, would we “know the mind of God”. The Bible is relatively uninterested in how the Universe came into being. It devotes a mere 34 verses to the subject. It takes 15 times as much space to describe how the Israelites constructed a sanctuary in the desert.

The Bible is not proto-science, pseudo-science or myth masquerading as science. It is interested in other questions entirely. Who are we? Why are we here? How then shall we live? It is to answer those questions, not scientific ones, that we seek to know the mind of God.

Hawking II has now refuted Hawking I. The Universe, according to the new theory, created itself. (This reminds me of a joke I heard as an undergraduate about a smug business tycoon: “He is a self-made man, thereby relieving God of a grave responsibility.”) Should you reply that the Universe must be astonishingly intelligent to have fine-tuned itself so precisely for the emergence of stars, planets, life and us, all of which are massively improbable, then the answer is that there is an infinity of universes in which all the possibilities and permutations are played out. We struck lucky. We found the universe that contained us.

I first heard this theory from that brilliant and wise scientist, Lord Rees of Ludlow, President of the Royal Society. He too, as he explains in his book Just Six Numbers, was puzzled by the precision of the six mathematical constants that define the shape of the Universe. So unlikely is it that the Universe just happened by chance to fit those parameters that he, too, was forced to suggest the parallel universes hypothesis. If you hold an infinity of lottery tickets, one of them is going to win.

That is true, but not elegant. The principle of Occam’s razor says don’t multiply unnecessary entities. Given a choice between a single intelligent creator and an infinity of self-creating universes, the former wins hands down.

But let us hail a scientific genius. Professor Hawking is one of the truly great minds of our time. Two thousand years ago the rabbis coined a blessing — you can find it in any Jewish prayer book — on seeing a great scientist, regardless of his or her religious beliefs. That seems to me the right attitude of religion to science: admiration and thankfulness.

But there is more to wisdom than science. It cannot tell us why we are here or how we should live. Science masquerading as religion is as unseemly as religion masquerading as science. I will continue to believe that God who created one or an infinity of universes in love and forgiveness continues to ask us to create, to love and to forgive.

Lord Sacks is the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth

Here's another Times response, from Sept. 2.
When it comes to religion, Stephen Hawking is the voice of reason. Not for him the polemical style that has propelled Richard Dawkins to the fore of national consciousness in the God debates. His argument is likely in the long term to be more dangerous to religion because it is more measured than The God Delusion.

His book A Brief History of Time was on bestseller lists for four years, one reason being his agnosticism on the possibility of a creator God.

He wrote: “However, if we discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable by everyone, not just by a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we should know the mind of God.”

He later confessed that he had almost cut the last sentence. He has now moved to a point where far from wondering whether science might one day reveal the mind of God, he believes that science and religion are irreconcilable. He said: “There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, [and] science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works.”

Later this month, the Anglican convert to Catholicism, Cardinal John Henry Newman, will be beatified by the Pope in Birmingham. This is a ceremony made possible thanks to a miracle of healing for which no scientific explanation could be found. Another miracle is needed if Newman is to take the final step towards sainthood.

Hawking would consider this miracle wishful thinking. “The universe is governed by the laws of science,” he said. “The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws.”

Hawking has a rare ability to make us believe that we can understand difficult ideas, with or without a God.

Religious belief systems, in which people attempt to shape God into a mould of their own design, will be threatened by this book. But faith will continue beyond the day that a scientist explains the root of Hawking’s “spontaneous creation”.

At the atheist summer camps supported by Dawkins, children try to show that unicorns do not exist. They learn the difficulty of finding proof for the non-existence of being.

People of faith the world over will read this book and marvel. Then they will pray, not because faith is logical, but because it works.

In today's London Times there are more articles and responses.

What do I think?
  • I just broke down and ordered the book, to be released Sept. 7. ($15.40)
  • Hawking claims that, given the existence of gravity, "the universe can and will create itself from nothing." (quoted here) What's odd about this idea is that if gravity exists prior to the universe then the universe is not, literally, created out of "nothing."
  • If Hawking is reneging on his intimation of "the mind of God" in A Brief History of Time then, as Sacks suggests, "Hawking II has merely refuted Hawking I."
  •  Re. the Sacks idea above, physicist Paul Davies is quoted in today London Times as saying:
    ‘The idea that before the Big Bang there was some big supernatural beast ready to light the touch paper? Nobody believed that anyway’. (The "touch paper" being "gravity.")
  • Richard Dawkins is claiming yet another victory in the God debate. He states (in the London Times):  “Darwinism kicked God out of biology but physics remained more uncertain. Hawking is now administering the coup de grace.” But note that Dawkins has not yet administered the first blow, if by that one means the philosophically ignorant God Delusion.
  • I'll be teaching the Fine-Tuning Argument for God's existence in a few weeks in my Philosophy of Religion class at MCCC. Hopefully I'll have Hawking's book in hand and will have reviewed it. I am assured that many responses from a number of scholars are forthcoming.
  • Issues of what "science" can pronounce and what it cannot pronounce remain. So the "limits of science" discussion will be relevant here.