Category Archives: Theology

“If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move.” Is it true?

FaithThese words were Jesus’ words, taken from the Bible in Matthew, passage 17:20. But no this is not a religious post. If you remove all the dogmas and biases of our time, Jesus was a philosopher, and one with many interesting points of note. One of these points was that we have power over nature.

Today we know that we have power over nature. We collectively employ industrial level technologies to reshape our environment. Indeed where once upon a time humans looked upon nature with fear and awe, today we look upon it as much with a sense of caution, reservation and a fear not that it might hurt us, but that we might hurt it too much. However this wasn’t Jesus’ point. This power referred to above is indirect; for it involves usage of tools. Jesus argued that we have direct, mental power over nature. My question to you is whether or not this is true.

The scientific method of experimentation and empirical support is still relatively modern in human history. Despite early examples of the experimental method in works such as those of Alhazen (an Arab scientist of the 10th and 11th centuries AD), it was not until Francis Bacon, and later others such as Galileo and John Locke, that the experimental method of modern science came to the fore. It was a huge change in human thought, shifting our thought from hypothesis, meditation and deduction towards empirical evidence evaluated with sensory experience. But more recent shifts have taken place.

The study of physics today is divided between the observed and unobserved, and for this very reason more and more of quantum science cannot be judged by sensory experience. What makes this so is that the very act of observation changes what happens at the quantum level. This was evidenced by the Quantum Slit Experiment, which showed that individual electrons could follow multiple different avenues of potential at the same time. So for example if you fired a single electron at a board with two slits in it, it would actually go through both. Of course this baffled scientists, because it defies the rules of classical physics. double_slit_experimentSo they put a camera next to the board to see what happened. And lo and behold, the electron started behaving exactly as the scientists would have expected. It stopped behaving like a wave of potential, and started behaving like a single piece of matter, going through only one slit.

Quantum physics therefore seems to suggest that everything exists in potential, and it’s only when something is observed that one single thing can be perceived, which accords with our view of the world. Furthermore, many experiments performed with simple random selections of binary data (0s and 1s) from the 60s to today have found that our hopes seem to affect the probabilities in a real way i.e. if we hope for more 1s then there is a higher probability that more 1s will show up. Of course this seems like nonsense to us, because once again it defies the rules of classical physics. If it were true that we had such mental power over reality then why wouldn’t we see more signs of it? If a crazy person, or someone on drugs, believes they can fly, why can’t they actually fly?

The only explanation I can find or think of for the division between quantum and classical realities is that the very act of observation requires interaction with the experiment. To measure the position of an electron for instance, you must somehow change the electron. And if we heard of anyone doing anything that defied the rules of classical physics then we would have heard about the act i.e. observed it, and therefore influenced it with our own doubts.

How observation changes reality is unknown. It’s not as simple as saying that said observation requires us what-ifbouncing a photon off of the electron, since in theory this would have happened anyway. Indeed it seems as though there is an exchange of information at play, and that both we and the electron are somehow entangled and communicating information between one another instantaneously. In other words we are literally telling the electron how to behave. Since at the big bang all things, even space and time, were part of a singularity, we can suppose that all aspects of the universe are still entangled today. So therefore, if all observers believed a certain thing, would that thing happen? If everyone woke tomorrow believing that gravity didn’t exist, would we all float off into space?

Is there a time and a place for the good Samaritan?

I was told of the social experiment below by an American Priest. As he told it it had a very clear message about our priorities. And it struck me because this is a message I was brought up with, but also a message that my experience has led me to reject. What do you think?

100 Priests in various locations were told to teach the parable of the good Samaritan (where 2 Jewish religious men passed by a man in need, but a Samaritan, believed to be less good than the Jews, stopped to give help). 50% of the priests were given a new time last minute, so that they had to rush to their classes. And along the way for every person was an actor pretending to be in need of help. The experiment showed that we are far less likely to help when in a rush, and the message behind the story is that we need to re-order our priorities such that we do take time to help, even if that interferes with other parts of our schedule. Do you agree? Or like me do you believe there was a weakness in this argument?

Is it wrong to judge God?

Owen had his Baptism a few days ago. As an atheist I struggled to make the vows. But my wife’s Christian, as are both of our families. So I willingly went through with it all, and it was a beautiful day. I even managed to get some history in by organizing the service in one of only 2 remaining Puritan chapels (think Oliver Cromwell). And I plan to introduce him to all religious teachings in any case.

Now however, I’m reading biblical stories to Owen at his bed time (presents from the godparents). This I absolutely do not mind doing, but I’m now half way through Genesis and I haven’t found a single passage where I don’t find myself judging God (sorry to say in a negative way). If this God truly exists, I would not worship Him. In fact I’d be tempted to try and find an alternative so I could fight Him. Now for an Atheist this isn’t so surprising. But am I right to think that I can make such judgements on a deity worshipped by millions? Further, am I right to write this post? Or where such blasphemous issues are concerned, and especially ones where I could offend so deeply, would I be better keeping my mouth shut?

Is man fallen (in sin)?

St Augustin said that man was born into sin and incapable of saving ourselves I.e going from the city of man to the city of god without being lifted there by God. Sounds quite radical no the face of it. But there was a lot of reason in his argument. In today’s language one would probably say that man is selfish because we try to make the world in our image. We view things subjectively, not objectively. And we are not capable of standing behind rawl’s veil of ignorance. Put in such a modern way would you be inclined to agree or disagree with Augustin’s assessment?

Atheist and Agnostic Churches/Temples

In recent years the number of Atheists (believe there is no God, in the sense of an ultimate Being) and Agnostics (believe we cannot know whether or not God exists) have grown significantly, and the last couple of decades have seen churches founded for both religious groups. As this link shows ( there is also now discussion about buildings raised in the name of such religions.

Now if you read the comments on sites such as the one above you’ll see that mostly the reactions have been negative. But as an Atheist myself I completely agree with De Botton not only that Dawkin’s rhetoric has been symptomatic of a ‘destructive’ kind of Atheism, but also that there is a profound spiritual element to Atheism that should be celebrated and discussed. In fact I believe the case for spiritualism within Atheist beliefs is far stronger than the case for it existing within other major religions (with the exception of Buddhism, for which I would say there is a possible overlap with Atheism depending on your viewpoint). My reasoning for this is based on my answer to the following question:

Would you rather live in a world where you were created by one Being to accomplish one ultimate goal after which life would cease to exist or be utterly meaningless; or would you rather exist in a world where no one’s perception of value is any more important than anyone else’s, where everyone perceives wonder through their own eyes, and where everyone decides on not one but many purposes for themselves?

Surely the latter answer means more spirituality right, for rather than a rigid adherence to what you are being told from a certain source about a finite existence, you are exploring an infinite reality with wonder and purpose all around you.

Would you agree with me and De Botton about the merits of coming together to celebrate and discuss such spirituality? Or do you agree with Dawkins and most of De Botton’s critics that such efforts are futile, silly, and a waste of resources?

Post Judeo-Christian Society and The First Global Clash of Ideas

That we are moving into a post Judeo-Christian society demands that we look back at history, and see where this society is coming from.

Pre-Judean society did not make a distinction between creator and created. Egyptian, Mesopotamian and native American societies all personified the world. So if you asked them why the river took the route it did, or why it rose and fell every year, they would say that it was because the river decided to do so. And the entirety of existence was all therefore one. It’s perhaps the only real ‘grand unified theory’ of everything in history. There were gods, but many of them, and often existing within a kind of governmental system. So people accepted governments and despots as natural parts of reality. Forms of government were not discussed in a scholarly manner, because the way things were was seen to be the way they must be. It is perhaps no coincidence therefore, that societies with a history of this kind of thought became more inclined to tolerate dictatorships as the centuries wore on.

Why did society enter the Judeo-Christian phase? And why did it not in Native American society? Much of it was down to monotheism. For the first time in history societies began to distinguish between created and creator. Politics came to be the way it was not because it was the only way to be, but because religion was deemed to be truth, and government should emulate the truth. Native America did not change because the Bering Straits were long since closed, sealing off communication between the two major landmasses; and because only in one landmass did Judean thought and philosophies spread. That’s a grossly reductionist argument I accept, since this largely neglects the different path followed by eastern civilisations. But nonetheless it has been primarily theology that has shaped our ways of thinking throughout human history.

Indeed, ask yourself what was democracy to Ancient Greece. Rule by the people, yes; but not as we view it today. In fact the reason why democracy was so revolutionary at the time was not because it contradicted rule by an elite, but rather because its opposite was rule by god. Although the ‘divine right of kings’ is a relatively more modern concept, theology was always the major basis for civilisation. In Judeo-Christian society rulers were seen to have been chosen by God, whereas even in Ancient Greece and pre-Christian Rome (both of which were polytheistic), government also mirrored their theological beliefs.

One of the major differences between these polytheistic and monotheistic societies was as I mentioned before, that the latter made a distinction between creator and created. This is significant because in a sense we are returning to this state today, in which ever growing numbers of agnostics and atheists no longer separate the world into creator and created. Everything is once more together as it was before the advent of monotheism.

The major difference however, is that for the first time in history we are starting to see the end of using theology as a justification for the way we make civilisation and government. Huntington was right in a sense to label modern day tensions as ‘clashes of civilisations’. But further than that this is the first truly global clash between progressive and conservative forces. The progressive forces want to see a world that is no longer justified primarily on theological grounds, whereas the conservative forces wish to abide by tradition. It’s not about being for or against religion; simply the extent to which religion shapes human society.

>Are we (humans) any more than machines?

>In Shelley’s Frankenstein, first published in 1818, it was foreseen that man (Frankenstein) would be able to create life (the monster). This life, though abominable to Frankenstein, is fully able to feel and think as a human does. But of course this is fiction. Would it be possible in real life to create such a ‘monster’?

In previous posts we’ve talked about new research that has meant we now seem closer than ever to acheiving this goal. But what would we be able to achieve? Would we be able to create a biological machine that did what it was told and seemed devoid of what we usually call ‘life’? Or would such a biological machine be exactly like us? Are we merely complicated machines or is there something more, a soul perhaps? And if we’re merely machines then would it be possible to recreate any figure from the past, exactly as they were at the time? Would this not be just like recreating an old robot?

>Is existence, in all its entirety, good and proper? Or would you change things?

>This is a very difficult subject to put into words, and could get either an infinite number of different responses, or just complete confusion. But let me explain.

People often cite many problems with reality e.g. the problem of evil, death, misery etc. It is my belief however, that the science of reality is the way it has to be. In other words given the chance to end death I would not do it. But do you agree? If you were a supernatural, all-powerful God, would you change anything? If so, what? And why?

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