3 questions, 3 answers

In a room full of people discussing and debating ultimate issues, at the end of these discussions and debates there would be very few people left in the room, as Francis Schaeffer put it so well. The more we think about ultimate issues, such as atheism, evolution, the Big Bang, or the meaning of life, the more we are apt to see interconnections among ideas, especially if we are contemplative types.

If you’re like me, you might imagine John Hick, Richard Dawkins, Charles Darwin, Stephen Hawking, Alvin Plantinga, Francis Schaeffer, and Loren Eiseley among many others, men and women, including ourselves discussing these things.

Imagine that Richard Dawkins, Charles Darwin, Stephen Hawking, John Hick, Alvin Plantinga, and Francis Schaeffer are the last six people in the room. Imagine further that three were asking questions and three were giving answers. Who would be asking and who would be answering?

Finally, imagine them being asked to come up with three questions and three answers. What would they be? What would you come up with?

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Proof of simplicty or genius?

It goes without saying that I am no Einstein.

But do you remember this:

einstein1

or this?

einstein2

Simplistic expression isn’t necessarily a sign of genius.  For example, if I met the person who came up with the first so-called “christian” bumper sticker announcing, “Jesus on board” I think I might punch them in the nose.

Real intelligence, like Einstein showed, is the ability to take something extremely complex and to express it in simple terms. Genius, like Einstein showed, is the ability to logically or mathematically reduce something extremely complex into syllogisms or formulas.

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Posted in apologetics, philosophy

Did the Creator of Communication Communicate?

(This continues the argument of “A Philosophical Argument for the Christian God“)

1. Predictions prove creator is speaking.

2. “The Book” predicts the coming of the “Eternal One”

Descendant of Abraham & Sarah – Gen 12:2-3 ; 17:15-17 ; 18:18. Fulfilled in Matt 1:1 ; Lk 3:33 ; Acts 3:25.
Descendant of Isaac – Gen 17:19. Fulfilled in Matt 1:2 ; Lk 3:33.
Descendant of of Judah – Gen 49:10. Fulfilled in Matt 1:3 ; Lk 3:33.
Descendant of David – Isa 9:7. Fulfilled in Matt 1:6 ; Luke 3:31.
Birth-Place in Bethlehem, Israel – Mic 5:2. Fulfilled in Matt 2:1 ; Lk 2:4-7.
Time of ministry specified – Dan 9:25. Fulfilled in Jesus – (see discussion above).
Born of a virgin – Isa 7:14. Fulfilled in Matt 1:18 ; Lk 1:26-35.
Flees to Egypt; returns to Israel – Hos 11:1. Fulfilled in Matt 2:14-15.
A prophet like Moses, with miracles, authority over Scripture – Deut 18:15. Fulfilled in Jn 6:14; 1:45 ; Acts 3:19-26.
Enters Jerusalem triumphantly, as a King, riding on donkey – Zech 9:9. Fulfilled in – Jn 12:12-14; Matt 21:1-11.
Rejected; dies for our sins – Isa 53:3-5,9,12. Fulfilled in – Jn 1:11,29; 8:46; Heb 4:15; Jn 15:23-25; Matt 8:16-17.
Crucified, mocked, lots cast for clothing – Psa 22:6-8,16-18. Fulfilled in – Matthew 27:32f ; John 19:16f.
Bones not broken – Psa 34:20. Fulfilled in – John 19:33-37.
Side pierced – Zechariah 12:10. Fulfilled in – Jn 19:34.
Body not decayed, Resurrection – Psa 16:10; Isa 53:11. Fulfilled in Matt 28; Mk 16; Luke 24; John 20; Acts 1; 1 Cor 15.
Ascends into heaven – Psalm 68:18. Fulfilled in Lk 24:50-51 ; Acts 1:9-11.

Therefore creator is speaking in “The Book”.

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The Cosmic Orphan (part 7)

An essay by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)
The Encyclopaedia Britannica (15th ed. Propædia ed.)

The essay will be posted here in several parts.

Molecular biologists have begun to consider whether the marvelous living alphabet which lies at the root of evolution can be manipulated for human benefit. Already some varieties of domesticated plants and animals have been improved. Now at last man has begun to eye his own possible road into the future. By delicate excisions and intrusions could the mysterious alphabet we carry in our bodies be made to hasten our advancements into the future? Already our urban concentrations, with all their aberrations and faults, are future-oriented. Why not ourselves? It is in our power to perpetuate great minds ad infinitum? But who is to judge? Who is to select this future man? There is the problem. Which of us poor orphans by the roadside, even those peering learnedly through the electron microscope, can be confident of the way into the future? Could the fish unaided by nature have found the road to the reptile, the reptile to the mammal, the mammal to man? And how was man endowed with speech? Could men choose their way? Suddenly before us towers the blackest, most formidable bridge of our experience. Across what chasm does it run?

Biologists tell us that in the fullness of times more than ninety percent of the world’s past species have perished. The mammalian ones in particular are not noted for longevity. If the scalpal, the excising laser ray in the laboratory, were placed in the hands of one person, some one poor orphan, what would he do? If assured, would he reproduce himself alone? If cruel, would he by indirection succeed in abolishing the living world? If doubtful of the road, would he reproduce the doubt? “Nothing is more shameful than assertion without knowledge,” the great Roman statesman and orator Cicero once pronounced as though he had foreseen this final bridge of human pride–the pride of a god without foresight.

After the disasters of the second World War when the dream of perpetual progress died from men’s minds, an orphan of this violent century wrote a poem about the great extinctions revealed in the rocks of the planet. It concludes as follows:

I am not sure I love
the cruelties found in our blood
from some lost evil tree in our beginnings.
May the powers forgive and seal us deep
when we lie down,
May harmless dormice creep and red leaves fall
over the prisons where we wreaked our will.
Dachau, Auschwitz, those places everywhere.
If I could pray, I would pray long for this.

One may conclude that the poet was a man of doubt. He did not regret man; he was confident that leaves, rabbits, and songbirds would continue life, as, long ago, a tree shrew had happily forgotten the ruling reptiles. The poet was an orphan in shabby circumstances pausing by the roadside to pray, for he did pray despite his denial; God forgive us all. He was a man in doubt upon the way. He was the eternal orphan of my father’s story. Let us then, as similar orphans who have come this long way through time, be willing to assume the risks of the uncompleted journey. We must know, as that forlorn band of men in Judaea knew when they buried the jar, that man’s road is to be sought beyond himself. No man there is who can tell the whole tale. After the small passage of 2,000 years who would deny this truth? [My comment:  Jesus did so and proved it by rising from the dead.]

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Posted in philosophy

The Cosmic Orphan (part 6)

An essay by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)
The Encyclopaedia Britannica (15th ed. Propædia ed.)

The essay will be posted here in several parts.

Scientists have found that the very symbols which crowd our brains may possess their own dangers. It is convenient for the thinker to classify an idea with a word. This can sometimes lead to a process called hypostatization or reification. Take the word “Man,” for example. There are times when it is useful to categorize the creature briefly, his history, his embracing characteristics. From this, if we are not careful of our meanings, it becomes easy to speak of all men as though they were one person. In reality men have been seeking this unreal man for thousands of years. They have found him bathed in blood, they have found him in the hermit’s cell, he has been glimpsed among innumerable messiahs, or in meditation under the sacred bô tree; he has been found in the physician’s study or lit by the satanic fires of the first atomic explosion.

In reality he has never been found at all. The reason is very simple: men have been seeking Man capitalized, an imaginary creature constructed out of disparate parts in the laboratory of the human imagination. Some men may thus perceive him and see him as either totally beneficent or wholly evil. They would be wrong. They are wrong so long as they have vitalized this creation and call it “Man.” There is no Man; there are only men: good, evil, inconceivable mixtures marred by their genetic makeup, scarred or improved by their societal surroundings. So long as they live they are men, multitudinous and unspent potential for action. Men are great objects of study, but the moment we say “Man” we are in danger of wandering into a swamp of abstraction.

Surveying our fossil history perhaps we are not even justified as yet in calling ourselves true men. The word carries subtle implications that extend beyond us into the time stream. If a remote half-human ancestor, barely able to speak, had had a word for his kind, as very likely he did, and just supposing it had been “man,” would we approve the usage, the shape-freezing quality of it, now? I think not. Perhaps no true orphan would wish to call himself anything but a traveler. Man in a cosmic timeless sense may not be here.

The point is particularly apparent in the light of a recent and portentous discovery. In 1953 James D. Watson and Francis H.C. Crick discovered the structure of the chemical alphabet out of which all that lives is constituted. It was a strange spiral ladder within the cell, far more organized and complicated than 19th-century biologists had imagined; the tiny building blocks constantly reshuffled in every mating had both an amazing stability and paradoxically, over long time periods, a power to alter the living structure of a species beyond recall. The thing called man had once been a tree shrew on a forest branch; now it manipulates abstract symbols in its brain from which skyscrapers rise, bridges span the horizon, disease is conquered, the Moon is visited.

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The Cosmic Orphan (part 5)

An essay by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)
The Encyclopaedia Britannica (15th ed. Propædia ed.)

The essay will be posted here in several parts.

“This is a fairy tale,” protested the Orphan. “I am here, I will look in the mirror.”

“Of course it is a fairy tale,” said the scientists, “but so is the world and so is life. That is what makes it true. Life is indefinite departure. That is why we are all orphans. That is why you must find your own way. Life is not stable. Everything alive is slipping through cracks and crevices in time, changing as it goes. Other creatures, however, have instincts that provide for them, homes in which to hide. They cannot ask questions. A fox is a fox, a wolf is a wolf, even if this, too, is illusion. You have learned to ask questions. That is why you are, an orphan. You are the only creature in the universe who knows what it has been. Now you must go on asking questions while all the time you are changing. You will ask what you are to become. The world will no longer satisfy you. You must find your way, your own true self.”

“But how can I?” wept the Orphan, hiding his head. “This is magic. I do not know what I am. I have been too many things.”

“You have indeed,” said all the scientists together. “Your body and your nerves have been dragged about and twisted in the long effort of your ancestors to stay alive, but now, small orphan that you are, you must know a secret, a secret magic that nature has given to you. No other creature on the planet possesses it. You use language. You are a symbol-shifter. All this is hidden in your brain and transmitted from one generation to another. You are a time-binder, in your head symbols that mean things in the world outside can fly about untrammeled. You can combine them differently into a new world of thought or you can also hold them tenaciously throughout a lifetime and pass them on to others.”

Thus out of words, a puff of air, really, is made all that is uniquely human, all that is new from one human generation to another. But remember what was said of the wounds of evolution. The brain, parts of it at least, is very old, the parts laid down in sequence like geological strata. Buried deep beneath the brain with which we reason are ancient defense centres quick to anger, quick to aggression, quick to violence, over which the neocortex, the new brain, strives to exert control. Thus there are times when the Orphan is a divided being striving against himself. Evil men know this. Sometimes they can play upon it for their own political advantage. Men crowded together, subjected to the same stimuli, are quick to respond to emotion that in the quiet of their own homes they might analyze more cautiously.

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The Cosmic Orphan (part 4)

An essay by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)
The Encyclopaedia Britannica (15th ed. Propædia ed.)

The essay will be posted here in several parts.

When in following years scientific experiment and observation became current, a vast change began to pass over Western thought. Man’s conception of himself and his world began to alter beyond recall. “‘Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone,” exclaimed the poet John Donne, Bacon’s contemporary. The existing world was crumbling at the edges. It was cracking apart like an ill-nailed raft in a torrent–a torrent of incredible time. It was, in effect, a new nature comprising a past embedded in the present and a future yet to be.

First, Bacon discerned a mundus alter, another separate world that could be drawn out of nature by human intervention–the world that surrounds and troubles us today. Then, by degrees, time depths of tremendous magnitude began, in the late 18th century, to replace the Christian calendar. Space, from a surrounding candelabrum of stars, began to widen to infinity. The Earth was recognized as a mere speck drifting in the wake of a minor star, itself rotating around an immense galaxy composed of innumerable suns. Beyond and beyond, into billions of light years, other galaxies glowed through clouds of wandering gas and interstellar dust. Finally, and perhaps the most shocking blow of all, the natural world of the moment proved to be an illusion, a phantom of man’s short lifetime. Organic novelty lay revealed in the strata of the Earth. Man had not always been here. He had been preceded, in the 4,000,000,000 years of the planet’s history, by floating mollusks, strange fern forests, huge dinosaurs, flying lizards, giant mammals whose bones lay under the dropped boulders of vanished continental ice sheets.

The Orphan cried out in protest, as the cold of naked space entered his bones, “Who am I?” And once more science answered. “You are a changeling. You are linked by a genetic chain to all the vertebrates. The thing that is you bears the still aching wounds of evolution in body and in brain. Your hands are made-over fins, your lungs come from a creature gasping in a swamp, your femur has been twisted upright. Your foot is a reworked climbing pad. You are a rag doll resewn from the skins of extinct animals. Long ago, 2,000,000 years perhaps, you were smaller, your brain was not large. We are not confident that you could speak. Seventy million years before that you were an even smaller climbing creature known as a tupaiid. You were the size of a rat. You ate insects. Now you fly to the Moon.”

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The Cosmic Orphan (part 3)

An essay by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)
The Encyclopaedia Britannica (15th ed. Propædia ed.)

The essay will be posted here in several parts.

Long ago, however, in one of the Dead Sea Scrolls hidden in the Judaean Desert, an unknown scribe had written: “None there be, can rehearse the whole tale.” That phrase, too, contains the warning that man is an orphan of uncertain beginnings and an indefinite ending. All that the archaeological and anthropological sciences can do is to place a somewhat flawed crystal before man and say: This is the way you came, these are your present dangers; somewhere, seen dimly beyond, lies your destiny. God help you, you are a cosmic orphan, a symbol-shifting magician, mostly immature and inattentive without humility of heart. This the old ones knew long ago in the great deserts under the stars. This they sought to learn and pass on. It is the only hope of men.

What have we observed that might be buried as the Dead Sea Scrolls were buried for 2,000 years, and be broken out of a jar for human benefit, brief words that might be encompassed on a copper scroll or a ragged sheet of vellum? Only these thoughts, I think, we might reasonably set down as true, now and hereafter. For a long time, for many, many centuries, Western man believed in what we might call the existent world of nature; form as form was seen as constant in both animal and human guise. He believed in the instantaneous creation of his world by the Deity; he believed its duration to be very short, a stage upon which the short drama of a human fall from divine estate and a redemption was in progress.

Worldly time was a small parenthesis in eternity. Man lived with that belief, his cosmos small and man-centred. Then, beginning about 350 years ago, thoughts unventured upon since the time of the Greek philosophers began to enter the human consciousness. They may be summed up in Francis Bacon’s dictum: “This is the foundation of all. We are not to imagine or suppose, but to discover, what nature does or may be made to do.”

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The Cosmic Orphan (part 2)

An essay by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)
The Encyclopaedia Britannica (15th ed. Propædia ed.)

The essay will be posted here in several parts.

“Papa,” I said in the evening by the oil lamp in our kitchen. “Tell me how men got here.” Papa paused. Like many fathers of that time he was worn from long hours, he was not highly educated, but he had a beautiful resonant voice and he had been born on a frontier homestead. He knew the ritual way the Plains Indians opened a story.

“Son,” he said, taking the pattern of another people for our own, “once there was a poor orphan.” He said it in such a way that I sat down at his feet. “Once there was a poor orphan with no one to teach him either his way, or his manners. Sometimes animals helped him, sometimes supernatural beings. But above all, one thing was evident. Unlike other occupants of Earth he had to be helped. He did not know his place, he had to find it. Sometimes he was arrogant and had to learn humility, sometimes he was a coward and had to be taught bravery. Sometimes he did not understand his Mother Earth and suffered for it. The old ones who starved and sought visions on hilltops had known these things. They were all gone now and the magic had departed with them. The orphan was alone; he had to learn by himself; it was a hard school.”

My father tousled my head; he gently touched my heart. “You will learn in time there is much pain here,” he said. “Men will give it to you, time will give it to you, and you must learn to bear it all, not bear it alone, but be better for the wisdom that may come to you if you watch and listen and learn. Do not forget the turtle, nor the ways of men. They are all orphans and they go astray; they do wrong things. Try to see better.”

“Yes, papa,” I said, and that was how I believe I came to study men, not the men of written history but the ancestors beyond, beyond all writing, beyond time as we know it, beyond human form as it is known today. Papa was right when he told me men were orphans, eternal seekers. They had little in the way of instinct to instruct them, they had come a strange far road in the universe, passed more than one, black, threatening bridge. There were even more to pass, and each one became more dangerous as our knowledge grew. Because man was truly an orphan and confined to no single way of life, he was, in essence a prison breaker. But in ignorance his very knowledge sometimes led from one terrible prison to another. Was the final problem then, to escape himself, or, if not that, to reconcile his devastating intellect with his heart? All of the knowledge set down in great books directly or indirectly affects this problem. It is the problem of every man, for even the indifferent man is making, unknown to himself, his own callous judgment.

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The Cosmic Orphan (part 1)

An essay by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)
The Encyclopaedia Britannica (15th ed. Propædia ed.)

The essay will be posted here in several parts.

When I was a young lad of that indefinite but important age when one begins to ask, Who am I? Why am I here? What is the nature of my kind? What is growing up? What is the world? How shall I live in it? Where shall I go? I found myself walking with a small companion over a high railroad trestle that spanned a stream, a country bridge, and a road. One could look fearfully down, between the ties, at the shallows and ripples in the shining water some 50 feet below. One was also doing a forbidden thing, against which our parents constantly warned. One must not be caught on the black bridge by a train. Something terrible might happen, a thing called death.

From the abutment of the bridge we gazed down upon the water and saw among the pebbles the shape of an animal we knew only from picture books–a turtle, a very large, dark mahogany-coloured turtle. We scrambled down the embankment to observe him more closely. From the little bridge a few feet above the stream, I saw that the turtle, whose beautiful markings shone in the afternoon sun, was not alive and that his flippers waved aimlessly in the rushing water. The reason for his death was plain. Not too long before we had come upon the trestle, someone engaged in idle practice with a repeating rifle had stitched a row of bullet holes across the turtle’s carapace and sauntered on.

My father had once explained to me that it took a long time to make a big turtle, years really, in the sunlight and the water and the mud. I turned the ancient creature over and fingered the etched shell with its forlorn flippers flopping grotesquely. The question rose up unbidden. Why did the man have to kill something living that could never be replaced? I laid the turtle down in the water and gave it a little shove. It entered the current and began to drift away. “Let’s go home,” I said to my companion. From that moment I think I began to grow.

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