Book Review: The Varieties of Scientific Experience

Carl Sagan’s new book, The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God, is easily one of my favorite books. Dr. Sagan’s description of the cosmos opened up for me an interest I will undoubtedly cherish for the rest of my life. He describes nebulae, star formation, comets, galaxies, planets, star clusters, and darkness. One of my favorite quotes is about the vast nothingness of space.

“The universe is mainly made of nothing, that something is the exception. Nothing is the rule. That darkness is a commonplace; it is light that is the rarity…We must remember that the universe is an almost complete and impenetrable darkness and the sparse sources of light, the stars, are far beyond our present ability to create or control.”

Carl died more than 10 years ago. In 1985 he gave a series of lectures exploring the boundary between science and religion. His widow, Ann Druyan, felt that in the wake of September 11 and the attacks on the teaching of evolution that it was time to publish those lectures. Her search for the transcripts led her to one of the 1,000 filing cabinets in the archives at Cornell University.

I’ve long been mystified as to why people of “faith” give so little thought to how the world their god created actually works. In his first lecture Carl asks,

“If a Creator God exists, would He or She or It or whatever the appropriate pronoun is, prefer a kind of sodden blockhead who worships while understand nothing? Or would He prefer His votaries to admire the real universe in all its intricacy?”

In lecture two Dr. Sagan explains why it is decreasingly necessary to invoke god as an explanation for natural phenomenon.

“So as science advances, there seems to be less and less for God to do. It’s a big universe, of course, so He, She, or It could be profitably employed in many places. But what has clearly been happening is that evolving before our eyes has been a God of the Gaps; that is, whatever it is we cannot explain lately is attributed to God. And then after a while, we explain it, and so that’s no longer God’s realm. The theologians give that one up, and it walks over onto the science side of the duty roster.”

Also in chapter two he puts to bed the idea of many that dinosaurs were on the ark with Noah (that this requires an explanation at all is embarrassing). Even if one discounts the several methods of aging using radioisotopes all one has to do is look at the sedimentary layers. Humans bone fossils have never been found among dinosaur fossils…period!

One of the most interesting arguments in the book is in the fourth lecture and is about humans being created in the image of god. After a lengthy discussion about evolutionary processes Dr. Sagan wonders how humans would look if designed and created as opposed to evolving over time through the processes of random mutation and natural selection.

“What do we mean when we say we are made in God’s image? Do we, for example, imagine that God has nostrils and breathes? If so, what does He breathe? Air? Where is the air? Air with oxygen in it? No other planet in the solar system has oxygen except the Earth. Why restrict God to very few places? Why would He need nostrils? What about a naval? Would God have a naval? What about hair? What about a vermiform appendix? What about toes? Toes are clearly the result of our ancestors’ life in the canopy of the high forest, swingin from branch to branch. Very good to have four limbs that can hold on to trees. We just happened to have the toes in this particular transitional moment. Big toe is good for balance; little toe is not good for very much at all. It’s just an evolutionary accident. Vermiform appendix? Likewise good for nothing. It’s just on its way out.”

Religious dogmatism and faith are dangerous. Why? Because, as Carl notes, “the more likely we are to assume that the solution comes from the outside, the less likely we are to solve the problems ourselves.” Also, religious devotion causes people to close their minds and resist new ideas. They have, they believe, infallible answers.

“Instead of this, what we need is a honing of the skills of explication, of dialogue, of what used to be called logic and rhetoric and what used to be essential to every college education, a honing of the skills of compassion, which, just like intellectual abilities, need practice to be perfected.”

“How can we find the truth is we are not willing to question everything and to give a fair hearing to everything?”

“Why is there no commandment exhorting us to learn?”

This book is great! It’s poignant and smart yet easy to read. Most of the arguments against god and religion I’ve read in books by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett. Dr. Sagan’s thorough and beautiful descriptions of the universe are fascinating. Since reading this book I’ve visited WSU’s observatory, purchased powerful binoculars (Kirsten actually bought them for me), and subscribed to Astronomy magazine. The universe is grand and marvelous beyond the boundaries of my comprehension.

Thank you Carl and thank you Ms. Druyan for this excellent book.

17 Comment

  1. Look, that’s all very well. I might even be the only person who read your post from top to bottom.

    But here’s what I want to know: Where the hell do you find the time to do all of this *reading*?

    I mean, like, you’ve got a job AND *kids*. Do you have a full-time maid or something?

  2. Steven, you may be the only person to visit the post. The content is probably heretical to many and thus reading it would constitute a sin.

    The Rhetoric is mainly for me. I use it to organize my thoughts, project my philosophies, and improve my writing skills. It’s also a good sandbox for web development. Any comments received are huge bonuses that I appreciate very much.

    I carry a book with me almost everywhere I go. I read during lunch or at the barber shop ;) I always have a few books “on deck” and a long reading list.

    I do have a job, kids, and a super hot live-in maid ;)

  3. And if she’s reading this, you might have even just scored a few points. Hi Kirsten :-)

  4. “Religious dogmatism and faith are dangerous.”

    I can understand why some people would say this but ‘religious dogmatism’ and ‘faith’ are two different things. Religious dogmatism describes people who JUST KNOW they have the answers and won’t listen to reason. Faith is the looking to a higher power to fix the problems we cannot while using the common sense given us to take care of the problems we can. Hopefully, we will have been observant enough to know the difference.

    I have not widely read Sagan or Asimov. I have been too interested in books that deal more with philosophy, psycology, or just plain fiction. I have to admit, though, that the heavens amaze me. In searching out truth, I have learned that most people and religions are far to self centered and see God in pygmy form.

    I was struck by the vastness and power of it all one night on my way back to camp in Panguich, Utah from Zion National Park. I had passed through a long tunnel and came to the top of a mountain. It was about midnight. I stopped beside the road. This is a notoriously lonely place and that night the sky was crystal clear. The only thing manmade that could be seen was our car, the road, and (if you looked really hard) an aura to the west that would have been the lights of Las Vegas. The only unnatural sound was the occasional tick of the car manifolds cooling down. The stars were shining with extraordinary brilliance in a parabolic arc from horizon to horizon. The pinpricks of light scattered through the inky blackness could not be described nor photographed. I stood there for almost an hour, just looking from one constellation to another, realizing that I was seeing far less than 1% of the vastness or depth of space. It made me feel so microscopically small, yet I felt so priviledged to be there. So much on this earth, and even space, is polluted by people. We have so many man made things, we have shaped the earth to fit our supposed needs, and we have even set up telescopes, put machines on other solar objects, and named and described many of the stars.

    Yet standing there that night I realized I could never fathom how insignificant earth and man really are. Is there a God? I think so. Is he what most men think? A famous man once said, “If there was no God, man would have to invent him.” The philosopher must not have been very important, for I can’t remember his name. I think the god most men worship is, to a large degree, of their own making. By their actions they say he is far too small for their lives to be influenced by Him in a real, meaningful way. It would be easy for something as small as man to look into space and say it is too large for God to have created it. However, to look into space and think God is big enough, strong enough, old enough, and wise enough to create and organize the emptyness, the vastness, and put living creatures within it scattered across unmeasureable distances…that takes faith. Not faith that makes me wonder how but makes me wonder why. Not faith that makes me ‘proud to be a church member’ but faith that make me question why I even exist and how the fact that I do exist should guide my life. It is faith that gives me hope that some time in the future, in another dimension, I will find answers instead of questions.

    Many of the great astronomers were religious men. Some time in the future religion and science must reach the same conclusion. They are just getting there from different directions.

    As an aside note…sometimes I like to play mind games. The name is one of them. Later clues will follow. Due to this fact the email address is a bit vague right now. I was sorry to hear you will be leaving Wichita. You will be missed! I hope you keep up the Rhetoric…I could become a big fan!

  5. @buried – To argue your point about religious dogmatism and faith would be pointless since it’s purely semantical and we agree on more than we disagree. Faith, however, is not looking to a higher power, it is believing–in a higher power perhaps–in something for which there is no evidence. It’s one thing to hope there’s a god and completely another to have faith in one.

    Based one your comment I’d guess you’re more deist than theist. The scientists who will admit to being “religious” are usually deists. Very few, as a percentage, are theists who believe in the monotheistic Judeo-Christian-Islamic god worshiped by billions of people around the world.

    You’ve got me wicked curious! I appreciate your comment. It’s nice to know people read my posts. Your comment certainly helps motivate me to be more active on The Rhetoric. Thanks =)

  6. Does any learning institution offer a degree in Deiology? Lots of them offer courses in Theology. And would a deist be monodeistic or polydiestic?

    Actually, I tend to be both Deist and Theist. I know it doesn’t seem like a person could be both, but it is entirely possible and even probable.

    As far as the the cosmos is concerned, I am definitely a deist. The common thought is much like a clock, that God has wound it up and it is ticking down of it’s own accord in a programmed manner. Possibly, God is “winding it up” in a not yet completely created system. Either way, I feel God has put it in motion and really doesn’t exercise an effort to further alter it. Once created, it runs on autopilot doing what it was created to do. I know this fits with the “big bang” theory and have no problem with that.

    It is in God’s relation to mankind that I tend to be a Theist, but only partially. I believe the Bible view of God creating man, though it is open to many interpretations. I believe man was “created in God’s image” as a distinct body, soul, and spirit. I DO NOT believe that God looks like man, nor could all of God be contained in a body! (John 4:24) Freud also described this, defining it as the body, the ego, and the id. Some philosophers are dichotomous rather than trichotomous, but I am reasonably convinced that I could support the three part view in a debate.

    This is the area that I am definitely a Theist. I believe that God is concerned and involved in mankind and really, personally cares about his creation. I think he takes an active role in the activities of man, and I really think prayer makes a difference. (That is a completely different discussion) Considering the universe, it would be the apex of arrogance for us to think we are the ONLY creatures in the cosmos that God has created and cares about. No doubt there are untold numbers of other worlds out there with life on them but separated by a great gulf of blackness.

    As for world events I tend to be more a Deist, though it must be said with reservation. This is, I believe, where the philosophy came from. It involves the idea that God created earth, populated it, and it is winding down to a stop within a certain time frame. My belief is that God created man with a will, much as He has a will. Will includes self determination, meaning man has the ability to choose his path with God or without God. As such, it guarantees that a certain progression will be followed of thought, knowledge, desire, labor, success, pride, envy, war, and destruction. This progression can be seen in personal lives, history of nations, and eventually, the history of mankind. The basic philosophy is Deistic, though I think man can control his own destiny (Theistic).

    For finding people look to the West
    and your results will be the Best
    High and low you may look
    I’m not in the Gunslinger book

  7. There is an academic degree in deology, it’s called philosophy ;)

    Your ideas are all over the place. I don’t think you know whether you’re a deist or theist (or even what the words mean). The moment you believe a god is anthropomorphic you are a theist. Period.

    You provide no evidence to support your several beliefs except for flimsy logical arguments. If you believe in the efficacy of prayer tell me why (without resorting to anecdote). And if you believe we have a material ego please explain how you could believe such a preposterous idea. Give me something to chew on instead of rhetorical meanderings.

    I’m still puzzled–yet curious–about your identity.

  8. You are right, there is a degree in Deiology! I just hadn’t thought about it. Specifically, metaphysics and logic.

    Yes, my ideas do seem all over the place. I stated that in some areas I am a Deist and in some I am a Theist. I believe I can support these ideas. I am sorry if I only have flimsy logical arguments but after all, this is a blog, not a disertation. It is a bit like trying to write a good novel in 1000 words or less.

    I said I am a Deist with regard to the cosmos. The cosmos is predictable. It is reason-able. Everything acts together as a well oiled machine with predictable results. A planet at point B will be at point C in x number of days because it was at point A y number of days ago and it’s trajectory can be expected to continue. If it does not the force that changed the trajectory can be determined and explained.

    I cannot hold this view of humanity. Simply put, man is not a reasonable creature! He is an emotional creature! Man has a body, mind, and conscience (often called other names) that are often at war with one another. The results are what we usually call character, or lack of it. But either way, no matter how far the imagination is stretched, humans cannot be called reasonable or predictable. A reasonable human male would work hard in school to learn as much as he can, take good care of his body, keep his moral life pure, and marry a girl that is wealthy, with the genetic makeup of a healthy, long living individual. They would move to a pleasant climate and work together at their endeavors. So I have to ask, “How many men drink like a fish, marry the darling of the prom that barely passed her classes, live in a dump and have 8 bratty kids?” But the majority of men do not look past the appearance. A Deist has to respond, “What good is a staircase if the attic is empty????”

    However, the progression of the world fits into the mold of predicting the end from the beginning. The earth, being part of the cosmos, can be predicted to act and react in a certain way. Man’s nature being what it is demands that we predict that he will aspire to greater things, then be consumed by greed and envy, eventually destroying the product of his labor and his environment.

    The references to the cosmos “wound like a clock” came about from Deist thought influenced by Isaac Newton and his hypothesis of gravity. I also believe that Immanuel Kant expressed many of the same arguments I do in his “A Critique of Pure Reason”. It has been argued, both in previous and modern times, whether he was a Deist or a Theist. However, he is generally considered to be in the Deist camp. Thomas Jefferson was a Deist, though he recognized great value in the life of Jesus. Many of the founding fathers of our country were considered Deist, including Ben Franklin and George Washington, and they expressed faith in the providence of God. I lay no claim to being anywhere close to the intelligence of Kant, Jefferson, nor Franklin but I find solace in others far greater than I examining a philosophy and finding that it needs to expand a bit to fit the times and circumstances of their lives. Through this process ideas are tried and proven.

    I thank you for this blog. It has been a while since I have delved into philosophy and I appreciate the opportunity to express and further examine the foundation of my beliefs.

    Until next time,
    I am buried in the book

    For Mr. King killed me,
    When curiosity made me look

  9. @buried – Now that was better ;)

    The more we understand the cosmos and natural laws the more they are predictable. No argument there.

    Homo sapiens, being intelligent, are highly unpredictable quite simply because they have the capacity to decide to do things that, as you stated, are not in their best interests. This is a product of their intelligence.

    I have two minor points of contention. First, what is a moral life and how can that life be “pure”? This is an idea invented by governments and religions to suppress the weak. Second, marriage is another invented institution that serves no useful purpose and is not “reasonable”. Homo sapiens are not naturally monogamous (if you don’t believe me look around). Marriage is a one-size-fits-all legal arrangement that is most unreasonable and illogical.

    You are correct in stating that many of the world’s greatest minds have been deists. Einstein, also, was a deist. That doesn’t prove there is a god. The predictability of the cosmos doesn’t prove their is a god. We simply do not know what happened before the big bang or what force initiated it (this may prove to be the wrong question). It is a huge logical leap (with no evidence) to insert a god of any kind into that equation…but it can’t be disproved. Simply stated, an honest deist must be agnostic about their deism and be an atheist. Deism is something I can respect because it is romantic, rejects the supernatural, and doesn’t require faith.

    I’m still waiting for your defense of theism ;)

  10. Hmmmm, this is getting a bit in depth. Now I am supposed to define prayer, defend morality, marriage, theism, and prove there is a god.

    I think I will have to commune with the Watcher from the Other Dimension for a while on this one. (hint)

    Prayer: I will leave for another treatise. Prayer is vastly different for a Deist and a Theist. It might be a rather lengthy discussion.

    Morality: I don’t think I could do a better job than Immanuel Kant. His description of The Moral Law and Categorical Imperative are commonly accepted grounds on which moral law is based. To quote another oft maligned book, though it be a great work of literature, the moral law is succinctly defined in the Holy Bible, book of Galatians, chapter 5, verse 14.

    Marriage: It definitely serves a useful purpose. It is much more convenient than prowling south Broadway a couple of times per week. (Yes, I am familiar with Wichita.) What marriage lacks in variety it more than makes up for in safety, timeliness, and happiness. Not to mention I have a great deal more influence on how my children manage their lives if I am actually present from the point of birth to adulthood. The level of monogamy in homo sapiens is as variable as their individual personalities. I won’t get into that one too much. I will only say that, in many cases, if a man is NOT monogamous after marriage and is found out, he would probably argue that the monogamous arrangement is VERY reasonable and logical after his wife and his lover’s husband gets through with him!

    On Deism, Theism, and atheism, or “how do I prove there is (no) god?” Deism and Theism are both derived from the same root word (Deism from Latin, Theism from Greek), as is atheism (by adding an A in front of it). How can a Deist, whose very name means god, be honest and deny there is a god? How does he communicate that? Does he say, “Yes, I don’t believe it?”

    Theism is even easier to prove, but in the process you prove that a true atheist cannot possibly exist. Let’s make an assumption here on prerequisites of god. A god must be intelligent, autonomous, and powerful.

    I think, therefore I exist. I can control my thoughts, desires, actions, and environment, therefore those around me acknowledge that I exist. I can move and have the strength to enforce my will, therefore those around me bow to my existence and will. Therefore, I am a god! And since we have proven that I am a god, then gods exist and atheism is an impossiblilty. Since said god has the power to enforce his will upon others the natural assumption would be that he will do what he can do and Theism is thus proven.

    Wow, that was easy!

    Oh, you wanted proof of a larger, more encompassing God of the Universe. Hmmm. That is going to take some thought. It is time to go wander the wonderous pages of Wikipedia….

  11. Atheism is a rejection of theism and has nothing to do with deism; atheism and deism are not mutually exclusive.

    You can’t prove the existence of anything (other than an abstraction) by sheer logic.
    You can’t prove that something that has effects in the physical world exists except by methods that are at least partly empirical.
    –Daniel Dennett in Breaking the Spell

    Your ontological argument fails this miserably.

    There are no morals which are universally accepted. It is arrogant, therefore, to speak of a pure moral life because it’s always relative to what you think is moral. This is a huge problem with religious people; they think they’re good and we’re bad (this is perhaps an unfair generalization, but I experience it daily).

    You’ve confused marriage with a stable and committed relationship. The two couldn’t be more different. It’s so obvious I’m not going to argue it here except to agree with you that a stable and committed relationship is good for everyone involved.

    Deists don’t pray because they don’t believe their god (they rarely call it that) is anthropomorphic or interested in humanity (or even aware of it). I know why theists pray; I prayed for thirty years. You cannot prove that prayers are answered or that miracles occur. They may have meditative value but that’s the extent of their efficacy.

  12. This is becoming more about semantics than about substance. I think you have answered several questions in your own writings, and I mostly agree with your observations.

    Dividing between marriage (the ritual) and a stable relationship, for example. In my mind I was defining marriage as a stable, committed relationship. In that sense, “marriage” does not need a license, approval (other than the 2 parties involved), nor any of the trappings and rituals that are commonly associated with it in our society. Society tends to add to the complexity of a thing, forcing it to conform to a set of guidelines or rules that are “acceptable” to others, but have little or nothing to do with the institution itself. Hence, we get a “married couple” with a house in the suburbs, 2 children, a car and an suv, maxed out credit cards, fights about work or bills 4 days per week, recreation on Saturday, go to the right church on Sunday and look pious, then start the cycle over on Monday.

    Another good example of society gone awry is the tradition of holiday rituals. People admire the garland and decorations on the Christmas tree and declare it’s beauty. They delight at the flashing lights bouncing artificial moonbeams around the room. GIVE ME A BREAK! They have destroyed a living thing, taken it out of it’s environment, turned it into a fire hazard in their own home, only to throw it out as trash to take space in the landfill in a few weeks. And they have the unmitigated gall to think they are doing a good thing if they recycle it in a lake as a habitat for fish! (Now dismounting soapbox. BEFORE I get into the weightier matters of religious tradition.)

    The moral life is much the same way. Only Kant, in his convoluted but precise manner, could define “morality” so succinctly. I highly recommend perusing the pages of http://www.philosophypages.com/ph/kant.htm
    particularly his treatise on moral law and the categorical imperative. He does an excellent job of stripping away the trappings of society and getting to the heart of the matter.

    You have already answered a couple of the tenets of prayer. I would not have thought you were 30 years old. You have that wonderful boyish nature that makes you seem 27 or 28, and I think you will look 28 when you are 50! Fate has surely shined brightly upon you. I should be so lucky….

    My defense of Theism did not fail! It simply did not meet your standard for the definition of God. To that I can offer nothing. If there is an all knowing, all seeing God, proving it is one of the magical questions of life. That is such that I know of no way of proving there is. However, neither do I know of an empirical way to prove there is no God! This is doubly true of the Deist definition of God.

    So it becomes a bit like the old Viking headstone. When his shipmates buried the old man and marked his grave they carved Norse symbols on one side of the stone and Christian symbols on the other. They were covering both sides of the question, so to speak.

    So where can you find God? I have referred to man as a god, and in some ways he points to a higher power. The book of Hebrews defines faith as the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”. In some men, if you strip away the trappings and traditions of religion and society, you can see a life that is influenced by a feeling of responsibility to a higher being. I tend to see that in your life, and not only from this blog. You are known as a good, responsible worker in your cubicle. You have developed a good reputation not for doing the flashy things that get noticed but for doing the right things, day after day, and being dependable. You were that way before you moved to your current position. You question things, and aren’t satisfied until you have reasonable, provable answers. Honestly, I was surprised to find your speculations on this blog. I would have thought you were the average “married family” man with a spare child. : )

    Your blog has been a breath of fresh air. I am enjoying this!

    Find me in King
    deep in his retorts

    Not in his novels
    But in his shorts

  13. Okay, so we agree about marriage. I couldn’t agree more about the ridiculous ways we celebrate holidays in this country!

    There is no proof for the existence of God. That’s where faith comes in. You just gotta believe and not ask too many questions. Bullshit! But hey, different strokes, right? What can be disproved are claims about the physical world made mostly by monotheists. Is the world less than 10,000 years old? Did humans evolve from lesser forms? Was the earth flooded as described in the Bible? Does religious belief increase a person’s “morality”? Is prayer effective? Do miracles occur?

    There is really no way to disprove the existence of God (deist, theist, or any other). But that’s okay. The burden of proof is always on the person making the claim. The pious have failed miserably in their attempts to prove their claims. There isn’t a shred of evidence that prayer works, that there is an afterlife, that any miracle has ever occurred, or that god created anything. There are, however, mountains of evidence disputing these claims.

    I would love to see the day when all people abandon their faith and become rational. Scientific achievement would accelerate as intelligences increased. Faith, as I have said before, hinders free thought. However, there are some benefits to the fantasy. Belief in the afterlife consoles people who face death and those who’s loved ones have died. And faith in a higher power helps people cope in difficult times. On the other hand, it also paralyzes people from taking positive actions in their life because they’ve “given their life to god” and abandon personal responsibility.

    Your comments at the end of your last post are very kind. Thank you. This has been enjoyable for me too.

    We worked at Learjet together. I think I got that ;) I think you’ve been referring to Stephen King. I rarely (ever) read fiction and Google searches haven’t helped. Tell me this, how did you find The Rhetoric?

  14. I found The Rhetoric from a link when you posted to the Eagle web log. I don’t even remember what the post was about right now.

    I see beauty in God’s formation of the cosmos in such a way that He can neither be proven nor disproven. Yet every known civilization has some form of worship of a deity. (It could also be said that every known civilization has had some form of alcohol or mind altering drug). Most have a belief in the afterlife in one form or another. All civilizations that I know of have a basic belief in one form or another of 6 of the 10 commandments (those that relate to mankind). i.e. “Thou shalt not kill.” can be taken a variety of ways. In tribal civilizations it could relate to “thou shalt not kill my brother or fellow tribesman, but it is a desireable thing to kill the fellow from the tribe over the hill and eat his brains for strength and wisdom”.

    As such, I see a little bit of God in every human being. I have to admit, though, that with some you have to look REALLY HARD and think a LONG TIME before the spark is perceived!

    We know that Learjet aircraft exist. There is a service center to work on them. That implies that there are blueprints to build Learjets, an engineer to draw the blueprints, and a creator with a vision to direct the engineers. It is easy for us to see this because we have a history that is unquestionable with accurate dates.

    The history of mankind is much more vague and undocumented. As a fact we know very little, if anything at all, of the early history of mankind. I recently viewed the exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls in Kansas City. This, described as a magnificent find, is the oldest known fragments of the Hebrew “bible”, dating back a few years earlier than 200 BCE. Those few characters on paper proved that the commonly known books of the old testament (at least parts of them) were correctly transmitted through the ages until around 1100 CE when the next oldest known manuscripts exist.

    And yet mankind’s history goes back so many thousands more years than the Dead Sea Scrolls, without so much mention as to their daily tasks, their ways of government, or their views of philosophy.

    There is no question that mankind exists. However, somewhere or other the blueprint became blurred and the engineer left out some important specs, so to speak. But the creature with the free will definitely exists. I am not a literalist in viewing many of the stories of the bible. I think many of them MUST be taken metaphorically. I prefer to call it thinking outside the box. I will spend plenty of time in the box after I am dead. I would rather do my thinking now, while I am still able. If the afterlife proves to be a pleasant revealing, my questions will be answered. If not, what have I lost? Nothing. Actually, I will have gained, because I will have understood myself and my surroundings better while I can do something about it. I owe it to myself and to those whose life I come in contact with. The unexamined life is the wasted life.

    I try to stip away the trappings and rituals of organized religion. If an incident happens and 10 people observe it, 9 of them will describe what happened. The philosopher among them will ask, “Why did that happen?” I attempt to be that philosopher. Most religions are built upon the actions of a person. They say the important part of a person’s life, and the route to “heaven”, is through certain actions and rituals. I cannot state how firmly I believe this is WRONG! My belief is that the key to understanding, and the key to religion, is not what we do but WHO WE ARE, not in our person but in our BEING! What we do is an outflowing of who we are. This philosophy can be seen in both Christianity and Judaism, if they weren’t so cluttered up by all the people who couldn’t buy a clue with a thousand shekels, yet are in charge of a denomination or synagogue.

    This leads to a faith that is rational. It is a faith that requires a man to examine his life focusing both on what his Creator requires of the attitude toward Him and what his Creator requires of the attitude toward the rest of creation. In no way does this dismiss me from personal responsibility. In fact, it forces me to embrace my responsibility toward myself, my family, my friends and the environment, and to embrace my responsibility toward the Creator as the greatest opportunity that can be given in life! True faith should not paralyze people, it should free them! The story of the apostle Paul describes this. Here was a man, a teacher, who was in the hierarchy of his religion on his way to Damascus to emprison those who worshipped a different way. During this travel he came face to face with his situation before the Creator and his life was changed. The next link in the narrative of Paul’s life describes him as travelling through the Roman world telling people they can ignore the trappings of religion, do away with their form of worship and find the freedom to be all they can be! He was, in fact, so inspired that he eventually lost his life because the Roman emperor preferred to be an item of worship and took issue with people being told differently! Socrates met his fate for the same reason in the Grecian empire some 450 years earlier for the same reason. His philosophy was questioned and he stood by his beliefs in the face of death.

    Faith in the afterlife can be comforting. Examining the creation develops a knowledge that death is as much a part of it as birth. If there is an afterlife, death is the door one must pass through to enter the next dimension. Faith also implies that there is a purpose for a person’s life. What is my purpose? I can honestly say, “I don’t know!” But faith determines that the whole is not revealed from the beginning. A part of my purpose will be revealed today, and if I build on my abilities and meet my responsibilities, a little more of that purpose will be revealed tomorrow. Much like a race, we prepare for the end but live each event a corner or a straight away at a time. If we fail in our responsibilities we end up in the pits. I think that is why faith is often seen as a crutch instead of a powerful force. Too many people have dropped out and prefer to be spectators because it doesn’t require much work or diagnosis of their problems.

    I didn’t mean for my name to be such a puzzle in the beginning. I am paranoid about posting my real name on the internet and use pseudonyms instead. It is far too easy to google a name and some of my posts would not be looked upon kindly by business leaders or politicians. (And I may need another job someday!)

    My true name soon
    I will reveal

    Mr. King used it
    in a story so surreal

  15. If I had to label you I’d say you’re definitely a non-denominational Christian theist.

    We exist and are complicated beings. That’s not proof of design. We’re not perfect (or even close to it). If we were designed it was by a totally incompetent designer. We are precisely the way one would expect us to be if we evolved the way evolutionary biologists say we evolved. That’s not difficult to understand.

    This is long and has moved off topic. If you’d like to continue this discussion please email me at brent@therhetoric.net.

  16. Yeah, I can do that.
    This subject needs to move on to something else.

    It is a sure bet that we are complicated beings. One of those nice things about being complex is that we like variety.

    And I see you have posted a couple of more book reviews.

    I hope you enjoyed the puzzle
    The answer soon will reveal

    I hope the book in question
    to your enjoyment will appeal!

  17. I’ve spent much of the evening reading all. of this discussion.
    From my perspective I rather enjoy the idea of a God who is
    watching over us and who cares if we live in a way that is pleasing
    to him, which I feel means with responsibility and compassion.
    No one can prove his existence or lack thereof. Once we cross the
    river we will find out but in the meantime the reward of such a life
    is its own reward. Far better to allow each person to decide these
    things for him or her self and not to act scornful if it is different
    than you have decided. A little respect if you please.

Leave a Reply