Does Science Show Agnostics are Right?
March 19, 2010

According to this article in The Province, one of the world’s foremost neuroscientists soon will discuss with top theologians how the brain simply cannot comprehend the existence God.

  • “We will never be able to answer the existence of God,” said Georg Northoff, research director of Mind, Brain Imaging, and Neuroethics at the University of Ottawa’s Institute of Mental Health Research this week. … “There is a limit because of the way the brain functions…” and that’s the price we pay for consciousness.
  • “I would never deny the feelings (of the faithful),” said Northoff. “But what I would deny is that the content of his feelings, God in this case, exists independent of him. That is something that is beyond his knowledge.”

The article goes on to mention that…

  • “[E]ven a transcendent sense of holiness … ultimately emanates from a big, wet, physical brain trapped in a hard skull.”
  • “The brain is built to focus entirely on the threats and pleasures of its immediate environment … and can never escape to see the larger picture.”
  • “It cannot see beyond its own life without dying. It cannot even look at itself without ending up in a surreal fractal loop of the mind examining itself, examining itself as it examines itself ad infinitum.”

My take: For ages, common wisdom has declared that science itself may not be able to grasp philosophical details…that’s why we have philosophy. But more and more these days science and philosophy are returning to their pre-modern roles, when the division between them was blurry. That division is once again getting more and more blurry as we realize how many philosophical principles, once off-limits to hard science, can be explained — or at least interrogated — by science.

Whether discussing the origin of the universe or the mechanics of belief, scientific methods of inquiry have been applied and have been found beneficial for our collective wisdom. But still that last bastion of philosophy stands firm, awaiting the crash of scientific inquiry: God.

But the whole point of this is not to say that science can reasonably disprove the existence of God or the precious reality of God for individuals. It just asserts a principle we should all confront ourselves with at least occasionally: We cannot know for sure. Either way.

And this doesn’t stop me from searching. It only reminds me that I will be able to see only so far.

Why Can’t Blogs Be Scripture Too?
February 15, 2010

A few weeks ago I was corresponding with an old friend who reads my blog, and I commented that I do not write the things I do merely to push buttons. I share the thoughts I do because I am a pilgrim seeking truth at a variety of costs. Pilgrims are voluntary exiles. In at least one sense, I may be seen as an exile from the villages that once gave me shelter and food and care. And to be clear, those villages did not necessarily kick me out. I left. I’ve been compelled, from both within and without, to set out on my own journey.

So this is what I write about, and I have a very personal stake in my words. The things I write affect, on one level or another, my relationships with friends and family, and I am very aware of that. But this will not stop me, because I have to write through my process. I also journal, so I try hard to spare you from unnecessary roughness, but I am still very honest. …Now, I’m not sure why I just wrote all that, but I just want to reassure you that I do think hard about what I write. Anyway…

I’ve been drifting in a current of thoughts this week. So many seemingly different streams that occasionally converge but more often pass me through a variety of environs. The one thing these streams all have in common is that they all are intensely personal, and most of them have to do with questions of religion. But today I’ll just share this one, and I’ll make it short:

Why is the Canon Closed?

Why do we only consider the current Christian Bible to be the ultimate authority on all things we (must) believe? Why can’t we accept newer revelations to be just as valid? Why hasn’t the church officially re-opened the set of scripture to include anything later than say, 200 AD? Or, as one of our great writers once put it…

“Why should not we have … a religion by revelation to us, and not a history of theirs? The sun shines today also … Let us demand our own works and laws of worship.” — Emerson

Since A.D. 397, when the Third Council of Carthage declared in what is known as the “African Code,” the Christian church has “considered the canon of the Bible to be complete; if it is complete, then it must be closed. Therefore, we cannot expect any more books to be discovered or written that would open the canon again and add to its sixty-six books.” (source here)

I am familiar with a standard argument that, for one, there is a logical necessity for a closed canon. If someone at some point did not say “Okay, that’s it, case closed…” humanity might somehow find it increasingly difficult to separate “Divine” or “Inspired” from merely “inspiring.” I also realize that the topic was hotly debated over other councils. So, at least for the first millennium, it wasn’t exactly a clean-cut issue. And my question is certainly nothing new. But the fact remains that most Christians today never question the very letters they claim to base their entire lives on.

Obviously, if the church included into the canon everything that anyone considered to be divinely inspired, we would have a ridiculously thick volume of crap. And another problem is that I also take serious issue with thousands of Christians blindly following anything any self-proclaimed prophet tells them to. So my question really isn’t so much, “Why can’t blogs be Scripture too?” as much as it is a question of, “Why must we believe only those things agreed upon before modern times?” Who has right to give more leverage to the writings of Paul than to, say, Martin Luther King Jr.? And who has the right to say which human-written letters accurately reflect God’s wishes and commands and which do not? Who really knows? And why can’t we admit that no one really knows, not even ancient councils of scholars?

This is not the first time I’ve wondered this. And I know I’m not the only one asking this. But I’m a little more aggressive than I used to be. Not because I’m desperate or even just ornery, but because I really want to have an answer that is not just a “Don’t argue with ancient scholars” deflection.

I could ramble on, and there are certainly more questions like this swirling around in my head…they’ve been swirling there for years…but I’ll stop here for now.

Does anyone else have any thoughts like this? I’d especially like to hear from those who faithfully trust every “jot and tittle” of the Bible but who may still occasionally wonder about this foundational assumption. Anyone? (As for me, I think we should create a petition: “Re-Open the Canon!”)

Of course, hundreds of years of persecutions, inquisitions, and state-approved crusades didn’t exactly encourage a trend of questioning Christian authority. And that’s not even including all those things that happened before America was founded. 😉