God and the Great Googling

Throughout my college years I was told I often came across as condescending. This was never an intentional attitude, but the result of an extremely declarative way of speaking. When I believed something, I would pronounce it with the air of utter conviction. People called it condescending. I always preferred convinced.

And then Google came along and let much of the air out of my inflated opinions. Suddenly convicted pronouncements could be instantly fact-checked for accuracy. No one enjoyed undermining my rather numerous assertions of infallible truth more than my brother, Chad. He had a smart phone way before I did and took great pleasure in deflating my completely plausible diatribes. I would make a pronouncement and he would whip out his iPhone, calmly revealing my error (with a really smug look on his face, I might add). And even I couldn’t argue with Google.

Arguments that I used to dominate with the sheer volume and dogmatic confidence suddenly wilted under the suffocating light of truth (which was really annoying).

Today I am much less blustery (depending on who you talk to) but still keenly aware of this tactic of discourse.

Working as the Communications Director for a non-profit that routinely tangles with mainstream scientific reporting, I often deal with reporters who make vague pronouncements loudly, often, and without much interest in whether what they are saying is true or not.

And I find that this scientific condescension is not just targeted at those who question current agricultural practice, medical treatment options, or environmental policies. Media reports about religion are increasingly filled with condescension and outright antagonism.

And this antagonism goes beyond the historical battle between creationists and Darwinists. As science arrogantly marches into areas that it doesn’t fully understand, like genetic manipulation, religious objections are increasingly met with scorn and derision. In any arena where science butts up against religion, the media increasingly dismisses the latter as naïve, misinformed, and even dangerous.

Now, as a Christian, I know that I have something much better than Google to deflate these condescending windbags. My Bible clearly elucidates the truth about where we all came from and where we are going. It lays out the principles that govern man, his world, and the cosmos as a whole. It clearly establishes the limits of human scientific understanding and its relation to God.

Paul puts it this way:

“For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.” 1 Cor. 3:19

But how do you convince a group who refutes that the Bible is anything more than a cultural artifact? Sure, I could point out that everything that the Bible has ever predicted has happened (something no scientific theory has ever managed). I could demonstrate the positive influence that this book has had upon civilization (when much of science has done the opposite). I could point out that if they are right and we are all just a random evolution of matter that even discussing these issues is pointless because our lives (and hence our arguments) mean absolutely nothing.

I guess perhaps the best thing I can do is cling to my faith, pronounce it proudly whenever possible, share with any who will listen, live it out joyfully, and trust that the ultimate fact-checker will one day reveal all truth, whether skeptics care to believe it or not. My Bible tells me that a day of judgment is coming (the Great Googling for purposes of this post) and I believe and declare this emphatically and expectantly. And I stand by this fact regardless of what your smartphone says!

Take that Chad (love you bro!).

PS- Here’s a headline for all you scientists- there is life on other planets. Google:
Ephesians 3:10

God’s Equations

I once read a book detailing the history of Albert Einstein’s famous general theory of relativity. It was the work of his life. His attempt was to develop a theory that would be useful to cosmologists in mapping space and time. He wanted to develop a model of the universe that would explain the data of mathematicians and astronomers.

In reading this book, “God’s Equations,” I was struck by a quotation in which Einstein said that through an understanding of math and science, we could get closer to knowing God. Most mathematicians and scientists have long forgotten this point, that their work and the work of theologians is one and the same- reaching out for the one unifying principal of the universe-God.

Very few people in history, in fact very few scientists, have ever fully understood the complexity of Einstein’s theory. Those who have understood it have been overwhelmed by the beauty and harmony of the formula. I don’t understand the formula. I barely can grasp a layman’s description of the formula, but I do understand the awe that scientists have felt in studying the formula.

Several years ago Chad and I went on a trip to Europe. We spent a few days in the Swiss Alps in the little town of Gimmelwald, which is as close to heaven as I have ever been. We hiked up majestic mountains drinking ice cold glacier water straight from the streams. We walked through giant fields of wildflowers serenaded by the clank of cowbells. It is a place of harmony, unspoiled by pollution, overpopulation, waste, development, and all the other scars upon the land. You can see the immense glaciers which melt throughout the summer, you see the rock that these glaciers have ground into fine mineral rich dust, you see the fields nourished by these glaciers, the cows feeding on those fields, fertilizing those fields, the locals taking only what they need. You see a world in harmony and balance, the way that I believe God intended the world to be. I remember the awe that I felt in seeing that world.

Today, I awoke at 5 a.m. I drove to the Inner Harbor through the slums that surround Johns Hopkins. I drove down dark streets strewn with trash. In the predawn darkness, the homeless were already milling about, begging, scrounging, stealing. The bus stops were occupied by those who depend on others to deliver them to their minimum wage jobs.

As I drove through the cold, dark streets of the city, I thought about that trip. I have been to heaven and I have seen hell. I know there is a God because I have watched the beauty of a waterfall cascading down a sheer mountain cliff in Switzerland. I know there is a devil because I have seen a man reduced to living in a pile of trash on the steps of city hall, his only hope clutched inside a brown paper bag.

God developed certain rules for governing the universe. Objects in motion will stay in motion, unless acted on by an outside force. Gravity exists and exerts its will. A pretty girl will always get better service at a hardware store.

We can choose to understand the equations that govern the universe and realize that they make our lives better or we can ignore them. We are given that choice. We can choose to see rules as a hindrance to our freedom, or a means to maintain a balanced and healthy life.

God created the world and it was good. He told us to be good stewards of that gift. But we, particularly in America, have ignored that mandate. We have subtracted without adding and we shake our hands at the sky asking why it has gone to hell.

We tolerate a world where so much is controlled by so few. We pollute and destroy without thought of tomorrow. We spend as if there will be no tomorrow, no buyer’s remorse.

One of God’s most basic equations is this- for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction (otherwise known as Newton’s Law of Motion). The apostle Paul said it this way, ‘you shall reap what you sow.’

Our book attempts to demonstrate this concept. We see, primarily through the character Gadreel, that action without forethought does not preclude consequence. Jumping without looking doesn’t make the rocks below disappear. Gravity will pull you down whether you choose to acknowledge its presence. It’s in the equations.

HOW v. WHY

I have taken a few days off from the blog to work on a new business venture, a mobile kiosk that will soon be moving through the streets of Baltimore, spreading joy and dispensing vanilla lattes. As I was working on adapting the plumbing and electrical systems, a thought occurred to me- you can’t run water through a wire, but you can run electricity through a pipe.

 

This rather profound thought occurred to me as I was wiping the water that had just burst from a pipe out of my eyes, realizing that I had failed to turn off the electricity. Luckily, I did not electrocute myself, but I did learn something- morons shouldn’t mess with plumbing.

 

I also realized that sometimes, we as humans, attempt to use a wire to funnel water. We use the wrong tools to build the birdhouse. We use the wrong lens when examining a problem.

 

Let me give you an example- my brother (the real brain behind the book) is a doctor, is engaged to be married and will soon be a first-time father. As a doctor, he needs to look at a problem that a patient brings from a detached, scientific perspective. However, if he uses this same perspective in dealing with his fiance’, he might experience the following:

 

[fade in on couple getting dressed for dinner party]

 

Honey. Does this dress make me look fat?
Well, dear. Given that you are pregnant, your body is storing higher levels of glycogen, thereby increasing your bmi, so technically you are fat. The dress really has nothing to do with it. 

[zoom in on crying girl and fade out]

 

In other words, you can’t use your medical school training to comfort your pregnant fiance’. You need to use different paradigms when examining different types of problems. You can’t use philosophy to work out a scientific problem. You can’t use science to work out a philosophical problem.

 

This is because science answers one specific question- how? Philosophy and religion, on the other hand, don’t offer the necessary framework to understand how. They are meant to help discover why. Part of the problem that exists between science and religion is that too often scientists forget that they don’t have the why tools, and philosophers sometimes mistakenly believe that are able to reason out the how.

 

In the Fallen Angel Trilogy, we attempt to use both. I hope we don’t electrocute ourselves in the process.

Please Don’t Use the R Word

Recently I was contacted by a publisher who is interested in the book. Consequently, I am undertaking a major rewrite of Tail of the Dragon. This involves incorporating a new storyline of about 10,000 words, while simultaneously cutting about 30,000 words from the current edition. (note-anyone who purchased the first edition can email me to receive a free copy of the new book after publication)

 

I’ve decided to give a sample of some of the new story line (Quemel’s rebellion). Your feedback is welcome-

 

Chapter 5
Nuriel’s Fractal stood at the heart of the academy campus, it’s position and size indicative of the importance of the work done at the facility. Inside this spectacular structure, researchers wrestled with the language of the Kings, mathematics. The monolithic edifice was a functioning example of the quest to decipher its intricacies. The slowly rotating stack of ellipses was the physical manifestation of a logarithmic formula developed by an ancient mathematician named Nuriel. His famous solution resulted from his work attempting an explanation of the presence of fractal geometry in the shell of mollusks. The building was a massive model of the infinitesimally minute layering of calcium that served as home to the King Snail, one of the little ironies that its inhabitants found so endearing about the place.
During construction of the enormous fractal, its namesake perpetually patrolled the site, causing numerous delays. A story from that period claimed that Nuriel personally tore down three stories of the incomplete research center because the rotation was off by a few nanometers. He told the project manager that any variations from the formula, no matter how minute, made the structure a farce and a degradation of the perfection of fractals.
The inscription above the massive curving entry read “slow the course-bright the path.” This was rumored by students to be a subtle joke on the trail left by snails, but Barmen believed it to be a critique of the well publicized delays that had plagued its creation.
Penemue’s office was located on the ground floor, appropriate given how important his work had been to the development of this department. His old friend was considered by many to be the foremost scholar in several branches of mathematics. His research in the area of harmonics helped quantify the way that music worked to alter physical states. His book, “Harmonic Healing,” was still used by the health sciences school nearly a millennium after its publication. But it was his expertise in encryption that Barman was hoping to use.
“Oh, Barman, good,” Penemue exclaimed as he walked through the door. The frantic looking angel guided him to a wooden chair, depositing with a soft shove. “Look up there and let your vision relax.”
Barman’s eyes moved to the swirling mass of images that swirled just beyond his friend’s outstretched finger. At first he could detect nothing but streaks of colored light moving in a haphazard motion.
“What am I supposed to be seeing?” He began.
“Shh. Just relax. Don’t look at anything. Just try to take in the whole field at once. If you focus on any one thing, you won’t see it. Oh, I should write poetry,” his friend muttered, chuckling to himself.
Barman tried to do as directed. He stared at the roiling mass of colors, observing the whole mass, but kept picking out particular streaks, involuntarily following their arc until he lost them in the tangle. He closed his eyes and opened them again, conscious to avoid being drawn to the movement. But there was still nothing there.
“Anything now?” Penemue asked.
“Nothing,” Barman answered, attempting to keep the irritation from reaching his voice.
“Try this,” he said, rubbing something dark on the end of Barman’s nose.
“What did you put on me?” he asked, bunching his lips and trying to extend his nose to see. Then he saw it. Just beyond the black smear at its tip he could clearly see the image of a black swan flying gracefully before the backdrop of an immense waterfall. The sun glinted on the regal bird’s ebony wings and offered a startling contrast with the ebbing blues and whites of the crashing water.
“It’s a black swan,” he said, amazed that he hadn’t seen any of this.
A light lit up the room and the image disappeared. Penemue took some antiseptic smelling towelette and rubbed it across his face, causing him to sputter and swat his friend’s arm.
“Welcome Barman. It has been a while. Can I get you something to drink?” he muttered sarcastically.
“Don’t be such a baby, Barman. I am trying to help you.”
“And how are you doing that?” he asked.
“By showing what we need to decipher the message,” Penemue answered.
Barman thought back to his request to see his friend. He had made no mention of the letter and certainly hadn’t indicated that he needed help decoding it.
“My job is to weigh probabilities. Your word choice, time frame, and vagueness led me to deduce that you have some sort of communique that needs to be deciphered as part of your work.”
“I asked for an appointment at your earliest convenience,” Barman replied.
“Exactly. So I was right,” he said and nodded before continuing. “The image of the swan was visually encrypted. I ran it through a filter that disrupts the visual spectrum. By refocusing your attention you were able to see it.”
“I have absolutely no idea what you did or how that relates to my letter,” Barman said, retrieving the prisoner’s correspondence from his satchel.
“With codes, the message is right there. The secret is discovering the key that reveals it. The key for my little demonstration was the angle of the eyes. With encryption the solution usually depends on two separate keys, one private and one public. Both are needed to decode what is hidden. Often decryption involves mathematics, but not always.” Penemue picked up the letter and studied it intently. Barman related the story of its origin as he did.
“So he wasn’t able to touch the parchment at all?”
Barman shook his head, relating the guard’s story about the meetings.
“Well, the good news is that the cipher can’t be that complicated. The bad news is it’s very well constructed. He avoids much repetition, so finding patterns will be difficult. I’m going to need as much information as I can get on this prisoner in order to have a chance of figuring this out.”
Barman dropped a thick folder on the desk and turned to leave.
“We are running out of time on this. You know how to reach me when you have something,” Barman said as he strode into the hallway.

Alcoholic Angels

Did you hear the one about the drunken angel? Apparently no one has. I was amazed that of all of the rather controversial items that we take on in the book, the issue that generated the most push back was the concept of angels drinking.

There are several characters in the novel who have a taste for yayin. Although it is never explicitly stated, it is inferred that this is some type of wine.

While to me this seemed like a minor point of controversy, [after all we endorse a version of the big bang, we  imagine angels using wormholes, we conceptualize a network through which dark energy is continually recycled, we even have angels mining the material of quasars] many of the earliest reviews contained questions about drinking in heaven.

Here is our answer: perhaps angels never tasted wine in heaven; however, the fact that Lucifer, an angel living in heaven, was able to be tempted to reject God and was able to convince a third of the angels to follow suit seems to indicate a level of temptation in heaven.

If there is no temptation, there can be no choice. Sin needs opportunity in order to exist.

Sin is most often the misapplication or perversion of a good thing. Food is good; gluttony is bad. Sex is good; promiscuity is bad. Football is good; the Dallas Cowboys are bad.

So an angel walks into a bar and orders a martini…

* I would have given proper attribution to the picture above, but found it in several locations and wasn’t sure who to attribute it to. If it is yours, thanks!

The Trouble With Time

The concept of time has been a point of contention between philosophers and scientists for thousands of years. To this day many different ideas about the nature of time exist.

Sir Isaac Newton believed that time was a fundamental structure of the universe. This realist view postulates that time is a real thing that people and events move through.

Immanual Kant argued that time is a mental framework which allows us to experience, rather than a real thing. It is a means for us to organize and understand the world, much like language.

Einstein developed the idea that time is dependent on the spatial reference of the observer. It is this theory which opens the door for ideas like time travel or relativistic travel (theories that we utilize in the book).

I believe that all of these ideas are partially true. And in the book we use these different definitions of time in order to explain some of the ways in which science and religion both fail to see the bigger picture.

Here is an example:

Monotheists are adamant in arguing that God created the earth in six literal days. Scientists are equally adamant, although much less exact, in arguing that  it had to take billions of years for the earth to form. This is because both sides are choosing to define time in a very Newtonian way (which is ironic since monotheists believe that God is omnipresent and most scientists embrace the theory of relativity).

While I might not be able to perceive time in anything but a realist view, except perhaps philosophically, I am rational enough to understand that my perception is limited. I can conceive that if there is an all powerful deity, he might not be subject to time the same way that I am.

Here is an example from the book:
A deep voice interrupted his thoughts. A word rang out in the stillness. He did not recognize the word, but he somehow knew it. It was the word. The word of initiation that gave life. He couldn’t repeat it. As soon as it was spoken he could no longer hear it, but he saw it begin.

The great orb suddenly exploded in a dazzling display of light. The giant ball of gas became instantly alive with life-giving energy and heat. The immense glowing globe drifted off to the side and Ariel could see, in the newly brightened space, a much smaller sphere approaching. How was he seeing Gaia?

A voice answered inside of this own head.

‘You must understand that here and there do no exist for us. We are where we are and now we are creating a new world, a world that you helped prepare. You did well. This is a special creation. One that has been planned for a millennium and will be the site of a great and terrible chapter in the history of the Kingdom. In time the entire universe will come to realize that this creation marks a pivotal turning point. Many will be tempted to doubt the wisdom of this creation, but I ask you to have faith that it is for the greater good that we gather here today.’

What did this mean? How could this creation be both great and terrible? He was so excited to be witnessing this and so confused by what he was seeing and hearing. There was no here or there? What did that mean? Again the voice answered him inside his own head.

‘Some things you are unable to understand, but your faith is strong. We would ask that you continue to believe. We are not restricted by space and time the way that the created are. While you are here, in the throne room with us, these things do not apply to you either. You are literally in that small solar system in the Milky Way, but you are also here, securely seated in Mount Kol. You are going to witness a process that requires a week, but to you it will seem like minutes have passed. The word of creation has been spoken and that single word spawns all of creation, but we will try to explain it to you as we go.’

 

This scene comes from our conception of Gaia’s creation. We hope that it gives you an alternative way to consider some of the issues that science and religion fail to find common ground on.

God of Science

Religion that dismisses science lacks credibility. Science that dismisses religion lacks context.  This week the Dalai Lama hosted the 26th Mind and Life Conference in the hopes of improving the discourse between the religious and scientific communities.

This is, unfortunately, all too rare in the world these day, particularly in the west. Where buddhist monks have learned to educate themselves and engage with the scientific community, too many priests and pastors seem strangely dismissive of much that science has to say.

And western scientists seem to take some sort of repugnant pleasure in an institutionalized condescension toward all things religious.

I believe that often both sides fail to look for common ground and shortchange their respective causes in the process.

Tail of the Dragon is a very theistic enterprise. The book’s premise is that there is a God, who created all. But that God is a God of science. We do not dismiss concepts such as the big bang or evolutionary cosmology. We attempt to show how it is possible that the material that the earth is composed of could, in fact, be billions of years old, and could also have been formed by the word of God in six literal days.

Here is a quote from chapter one:

Creation itself was a perpetual condition, a never-ending ripple emanating from the utterance. The Kings spoke existence, and from that point of entry a continual well of creative force sprang. But that ongoing creative force differed from the initial creative act. That beginning came directly from the source, and it was Hasdiel’s job to detail that initiation.  Today, instead of a new galaxy, with its innumerable worlds and species, new fellow arella would be created.  Arella, as celestial beings and the direct servants of the Kings, were always prime creations, derived directly from the utterance.

I believe that I am a creation of God, but not directly. I am not a prime creation. God did not speak me into existence. Rather, he created the species that I have descended, and evolved, within. I was born through procreation. I have the color eyes, skin, hair, etc. that my adaptive genes have inherited. I don’t believe that I descended from an ape, but I do recognize that both species were created using very similar materials and genetic maps.

The book’s premise is that God initiated our species with an act of direct creation. From that direct creation, the species has continued recreating itself, adapting and adjusting as needed. God built in the genetic flexibility to allow us to adapt, because God is a God of science and uses scientific processes to accomplish his goals.

Much of what the church once taught is now thought of, even within the church, as superstitious nonsense (remember Galileo). And science understands far less than it tries to pretend (remember gravity). Until both sides forgo their arrogance and realize that we are infinity tiny creatures trying to comprehend a vast universe, both will lose the opportunity to learn from the other.