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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Saturday, August 20, 2005

God's Existence

(Note: Kevin is a childhood friend whom I have known since 5th grade and through high school).

Hi, Kevin:

I thought the Episcopalian lady sidestepped the real issue: is there a God? (See http://www.npr.org/takingissue/20050803_takingissue_origins.html).
She simply assumes there is one and doesn't deal with it at all. I agree most with the Roman Catholic view as far as the issue of creation and evolution go but I sympathize with the Evangelical view because his essential point is that the way society does ethics is influenced either by godless materialism or it is guided by transcendent moral absolutes (as much as that is possible from a human perspective at least).

Our Jewish rabbi made one statement that I wholeheartedly agree with: "In fact, the only unacceptable position in this debate between the Intelligent Design folks and proponents of Darwin is the one that insists there is no room for both of these positions in our classrooms, homes, hearts and minds." The trouble with the idea that separation of church and state means religion cannot be discussed publicly is that it is a far cry from the original idea that there should be no church supported by state or federal taxes. We should be free to discuss whatever we want whenever we want, even if we happen to be public school teachers. Why is it that Christians and other religious folk are silenced by the government while homosexuals and atheists have free reign to push their ideas under the guise of "tolerance"? Translation: we won the propaganda war.

The fact is we do have brains, as our Jewish friend pointed out. As you so wisely pointed out, science cannot answer transcendental questions since it is limited to what can be observed or inferred from direct experiences from our five senses and the empirical method. This means that science cannot comment intelligently on the existence or non-existence of an ultimate, intelligent being we call God.

At the risk of seeming too disagreeable, let me just comment on your view of the possible existence of an intelligence in the universe. It seems to me that so far as we know the universe is limited in size, finitude, and space. There seems to be an end to space and time at some point or horizon or other. Your idea seems at first a plausible one. However, from a theological perspective an ultimate being by definition has no limitations. God would not be limited to one location no matter how vast that might be, including the universe. God by definition is omnipresent at every point in time and space and history. He in fact transcends space and time. God is also infinite in knowledge.

From a theological perspective, God cannot be one and the same with the material universe because by very essence God is pure spirit. He transcends mere materialism and in fact He created the material universe as we know it. In other words, history had a beginning which God infinitely precedes. When time ends, God will be neverending. To make God one with materialistic existence is to take the position known as "pantheism" or "panentheism (God is in everything)". Personally, I don't believe in "transcendental" experiences because by your own admission such experiences are ineffable and hence meaningless. And even those who do believe in such experiences wind up trying to relate their experience to us in words. So such experiences are not ineffable in an absolute sense at all.

So the real question is this: if there IS a God, how would we know it? Christianity answers that basic and fundamental question this way: God reveals Himself in general revelation and in special revelation. General revelation would be what we can observe in nature (read creation). Romans 1:19-20 says that God has made it plain to us that He exists because we are here and there is a universe we can observe (along with the invisible beings like angels and other invisible forces in nature).

Romans 1:19-20 (NIV)19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.[1]
[1] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

This brings me to the second way that God reveals Himself to us: special revelation. Not only does God just reveal Himself generally to everyone by way of the manifest universe but He also specifically reveals Himself to us by the apostles and prophets in writing. This means that God speaks plainly to some who were chosen as individuals who would communicate God's revealed will to the rest of us. Their words are recorded in a Book we call the Bible. Furthermore, the final revelation of God to man is the sending of His eternal Son who assumed a true human nature and form and literally became one of us, being born as a child and going through all the transitory changes of life that we experience, including physical death.

Maybe you find it hard to swallow the idea of special revelation. I'm not sure I understand it all that well either, even after studying formally in seminary. But just from a common sense point of view it follows that if there is a supreme being who is intellient and possesses the attributes of omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotence and omnibenevolence, it would follow that such a God would reveal Himself to his creatures in a way they could comprehend Him. Man would seem to be the penultimate creature who is created with intelligence, sentience, morality, and emotion. The Bible says that we are created in God's own image and likeness. Since God has no physical body (other than when Christ became incarnated as one of us), the image and likeness has to include attributes that are analogous to God's own being. We are like God because that was what He intended. It follows that God would therefore communicate to us in baby talk (compared to His own infinite intelligence and intellectual knowledge). That baby talk we call Holy Scripture. All we know about God and His Son, Jesus Christ, is given to us in Holy Scripture.

I remember in high school reading a book by C.S. Lewis called "Mere Christianity." It's not a perfect book. However, I found it extremely appealing because Lewis offered a moral argument for God's existence. I found that particular argument compelling. If there is no God, there is no judgment. Atheists would say that morality itself is a human convention invented for practical reasons. But if we know that there is no God to whom all will ultimately answer, what is to restrain wicked men from doing terrible wickedness to masses of people? Genocide and war are basically neutral and only have moral implications if we accept there are moral absolutes and a God. Hitler, for example, didn't believe in God and could justify to himself the genocide of six million Jews based on the idea that there is no Judge.

Western civilization and modern democracy are in fact built on Christian ideas. John Locke's idea of a social contract comes from biblical ideas like the dignity of every individual human being and that all of us are created in the image and likeness of God. Without Christian theism totalitarianism is just around the corner.

I don't have a direct pipeline to heaven. I am not infallible. I could be wrong. But based on logic, reason, intuition, and both general and special revelation, I feel that I am rationally justified in believing there is a Creator and, furthermore, that Creator has revealed Himself to us in Jesus Christ and in Holy Scripture.

There are those who are determined not to examine the Christian view but I suppose that's what grace is about. God sometimes brings illumination to those of us who seem least likely to accept it. I recently heard that Anthony Flew, an atheist on the forefront of the atheist intellectual attack for the past couple of decades, became a theist (though not a Christian theist) after examining the argument for intelligent design of the universe. Flew has argued against the intelligent designer theory for years but I think, after reading and interacting with Michael Behe's theory of intelligent design, he became convinced that there is indeed a God.

I'm a terrible sinner, Kevin. I've failed God many times. In fact, I'm not all that intelligent. I have not figured it all out either. But I do think that I can have an informed faith that seeks further understanding without becoming a blind fideist or a dogmatic fundamentalist (even if I come off that way sometimes, hehe).

God bless you,

Charlie


----- Original Message -----
From: Kevin D. Marsh
To: Charlie Ray
Sent: Friday, August 19, 2005 10:27 PM
Subject: Emailing: 20050803_takingissue_origins
After reading them all I would say the Episcopal writer and the rabbi make the most sense to me. Collection of data, formulating a hypothesis from that data, devising the means to test that data, and a willingness to discard a faulty hypothesis for a better one is at the heart of the scientific method. While science has helped us understand much more of the history of the earth and the life on it, there are some questions we still do not know how to subject to scientific inquiry. Such as a belief in intelligent design and a belief in random chance. Both equally a matter of opinion to science for the simple reason that neither belief can be tested objectively.

Personally, I believe there is intelligence in the Universe. Maybe intelligence is the Universe. And I think this intelligence is expressed in matter. How is this done? Don't ask me, I just work here. See the Front Office for details. If there is anything to string theory then all that we consider real and solid is just so much gossamer anyway. Thoughts may be the most real artifacts of all. But it is just a belief of mine and I won't try to justify it nor convince anyone else to share it since I can't prove it. I suspect it is a lot like transcendent experience. Until you have one, you don't know. Once you do, words don't suffice. Trying to explain yours to someone who hasn't had one is like trying to explain rainbows to a man born blind.

I used to find the idea of a Spirit in the fabric of reality exhibiting intelligence and personality hard to swallow. Then I realized two things. First, If I can have intelligence and personality, why couldn't the larger world of which I am a part exhibit these qualities? Secondly, it occurred to me I don't even know what intelligence and personality really are. Despite the fact that psychologist devise tests to gauge these things, I have never heard a definition that seemed complete and meaningful. I finally decided to quit worrying. Maybe we aren't built to see the whole picture. But if we live long enough, I bet we will. What is "long enough"? I don't know. Ask me after this life. Or, check back in another 10,000 years and see what answers those people may have to questions we don't even know enough to ask.

Kevin

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