On a branch
a cricket, singing.
Issa (Japan, 1763-1827)
[translated by Jane Hirshfield]
From the web site From Spiritual Poetry – 22 poems about spirituality and enlightenment, selected and with comments by Jane Hirshfield [http://www.poetryfoundation.org/features/articles/detail/68606].
I am posting a thought on Darwinian evolution. There is already quite a lot of material on this subject on this site. This week I am sharing a thought which might help as a way in for teachers or pastors who wish to gain, and hence offer to others, a brief impression of the big picture.
Last term I was privileged to be invited to give a sermon in Exeter College chapel here in Oxford. Here I am posting an extract from that sermon, with minor modifications to fit it to the blog format.
I began by talking about the fact that we all find it hard to know how to talk about God. Two ways which don’t work are as follows. First there is a rather obviously muddled way, in which people talk about something that has the appearance of being like other entities, only bigger and more powerful, located somewhere called ‘heaven’. Secondly there is an attempt to be more careful, but which often fails to carry real weight. This is when people speak in a more philosophical way, bringing in terms such as ‘omniscience’ and ‘omnipotence’, but all held at arm’s length, so that it all seems a bit artificial, like a word-game.
(the extract begins here)
The Bible is recognized by very many people as the most important written text in existence, the “greatest treasure this world affords” as it says in the coronation service for English monarchs. But this does not mean all these people come to the same conclusions from what they read. This is because there is more than one way of understanding how to learn from the Bible. I will describe this in terms of three metaphors, and, as an illustration, apply them to the consideration of same-sex marriage.
This week I decided to write about something I feel strongly about, but I am going to try to keep the tone light. The issue I have in mind is the attempt to forge a marriage between science and atheism, as if the former implied the latter, or as if science was more naturally compatible with atheism than with theism.
The attitude I am promoting in this blog is to admit that what passes for “religion” in the world is a mixed bag, some of it bad, terrible; some of it good, wonderful. It runs to both extremes (and so does atheism). I have also offered other words as a help to get at what “religion” is meant to be about. I have offered the word “reconnection”, for example, which I got from Brian McLaren’s helpful book, “Naked Spirituality”. My own favourite word for it is “recognition”. You can see a longer definition on the Home page of this blog.
In this post I want to comment on the practice of demonizing religion. To “demonize” is to portray as wicked or threatening, and the term is especially appropriate when this is done thoughtlessly or automatically, as if it is an agreed thing.
This post is to complete a sequence about pain and suffering and how we respond. I didn’t want to leave this as a purely philosophical issue. Indeed the substance of my last post was that this is not an area that is correctly addressed that way. Our practical response is more important than any philosophical point-scoring. So here I will first briefly repeat the conclusion so far, and then add a final point.
This is the second part of a presentation of a philosophy paper by Peter van Inwagen. You can find the first part here.
In the first part, I presented van Inwagen’s specific reaction to a certain specific argument. This argument presents the claim that the pain of the world gives a prima facie case for the hypothesis that the ultimate source of the world is indifferent to it. Van Inwagen replies simply by showing that the case fails because the premises do not entail the conclusion. However, this discussion is unsatisfactory as it stands because it is too dry. It doesn’t really grapple with the problem of pain. It grapples only with the structure of a certain logical (or illogical) argument.
[Image credit: C. Henze/NASA Ames Research Center]
The announcement of gravitational wave detection has made me decide to postpone the second part of the presentation of Peter van Inwagen’s paper that I began in my previous post.
I was very pleased and excited to hear the news from LIGO last week: the first direct detection of gravitational waves. These waves are sometimes called waves in spacetime itself, though one can equally well regard them as waves in a gravity field which extends throughout spacetime. However you see it, their detection opens up a new era in astronomy. In a loose comparison, it is as if up to now we have been able to see the universe, and now we are beginning to be able to hear it too.
I have been reading a paper by Peter van Inwagen, called “The problem of evil, the problem of air, and the problem of silence”. It is published in Philosophical Perspectives 5: 135-165 (1991) and you can find a copy at the following site, which gives a useful collection of van Inwagen’s papers:
Peter van Inwagen wrote the paper in response to Paul Draper, Pain and Pleasure: An Evidential Problem for Theists, Nous 23, 331-50 (1989). It considers the argument that the nature of the world, with all its pain and suffering, indicates that the source of the world is indifferent to it, or, at least, that this is more likely than that such a source cares about the world.