Saturday, June 13, 2009

It was Jimmy Night last Wednesday at the mission

It was "Jimmy night" Wednesday night at the mission, and, per usual, Jimmy Roughton came with something fresh to say that made rousing and interesting points.

The best of it was well into his talk when Jimmy told us about how being a Christian positively affected his life, giving him happiness, hope and joy.

Less persuasive were things he said early on in his sermon about the lives and thought processes of non-Christians, or non-ripe Christians who didn't (yet) have a close, personal relationship with Christ and weren't joyfully anticipating their afterlife in heaven.


Pascal's wager

As he does often, Jimmy evoked one of his variants of Pascal's Wager. Last night, he did so near the beginning of his talk, citing Pascal explicitly. Pascal's Wager is this: "Even though the existence of God cannot be determined through reason, a person should wager as though God exists, because so living one has everything to gain, and nothing to lose."

Jimmy's variant involves wagering that God exists (and that Christianity is The Way) because it is the reasoned bet. He tells the mission congregants that they lose nothing by becoming Christians, and very potentially have everything to gain by being in heaven for an eternity. Faith, Jimmy tells us, is what you choose to believe.

The best argument against making the wager is one that I make: "I'm not at liberty to choose what I believe. My beliefs choose me. I endeavor to be open to whatever seems true." Daniel Dawkins expands on this argument writing that "Pascal's Wager could only ever be an argument for feigning belief in God." In addition, according to Dawkins, an omniscient God would presumably see through the deception.

Jimmy told us Wednesday night that we must choose to believe something with respect to God. Even choosing nothing is a choice. Fence-sitting agnosticism, he told us, is the only impossible position. With respect to God, we are compelled to reach a determination, if we think on the matter; it is an issue of infinite importance.


Christianity and science

But beyond saying there was more than a twinkle of a chance that God exists, Jimmy disparaged science-based and other non-believer arguments against God's existence, and told of conclusive evidence of God's/Jesus's existence which should convince even the most hard-hearted science lover.

He said that science has shown that the universe and earth were so perfectly suited for humans that surely it is evident that only a designer [God!] could make this so. If the orbit of the earth was off track "by only an inch" human existence would be made impossible.

I think what Pastor Jimmy is alluding to, here, is the idea that the forces of nature seem carefully atuned to make the universe possible, that it can only have happened by design.

Holmes Ralston makes this point in his paper "Shaken Atheism,"

Both astrophysicists and microphysicists have lately been discovering that the series of events that produced our universe had to happen in a rather precise way—at least, they had to happen that way if they were to produce life as we know it. ...

Astronomer Fred Hoyle reports that his atheism was shaken by his own discovery that in the stars, carbon just manages to form and then just avoids complete conversion into oxygen. If one atomic level had varied half a per cent, life would have been impossible. "Would you not say to yourself . . . 'Some super-calculating intellect must have designed the properties of the carbon atom, otherwise the chance of my finding such an atom through the blind forces of nature would be utterly minuscule' ? Of course you would. . . . The carbon atom is a fix.
The arguments against the fine-tuning designer may sound less likely to many people, but they are more convincing to me.

One argument against is the "Inverse gambler's fallacy" which posits that of course we only exist where life is possible for us. Because a man takes shelter from the rain in a cave, instead of staying out in a field where he would remain wet, doesn't mean the cave was created for the man. Or, if you're looking to catch a fish, you don't search in trees; you search in the place that fish can exist, in a body of water. In may be that the universe we exist in is the one that came after a million "failed" universes where life couldn't manifest.

Another argument against the fine-tuning designer is that the incubation of a universe, likely, necessarily involves a balancing of the forces of nature. Superstring theory [or one of its cousin string theories or M-Theory], which most astrophysicist think is valid, is most accommodating to this idea. The basic elements of matter and energy are string-like and vibrate, thus, these elements resonate with one another, creating harmonies and disharmonies. Thus from this interaction, the forces of nature are forged together.

A third argument is that mind and matter interpenetrate each other. Thus being constituents of one another, each only could exist in league with the other. As Buddhism's Heart Sutra tells us, "Form is emptiness, emptiness is form. Form is not other than emptiness; emptiness is not other than form."

A fourth argument addresses the element of "life as we know it." In other universes, with different laws of nature, life would be different. In a different universe, where carbon molecules weren't possible, life might exist in combinations of other molecules, including ones that could only come into existence on this other universe.

Jimmy also told us the resurrected Christ, witnessed by 500 people, was one of the most verified events in history. [A good article, detailing the evidence of Christ's resurrection, is "Evidence for the Resurrection" by Josh McDowell.]

The case against the resurrection of Christ, in other than a body of light, is made by Richard Carrier in a long article "Why I Don't Buy the Resurrection Story," made from a series of lectures he gave.

You make the call. It seems to me that people who have the proclivity to be True Believers read the Bible as being true and constantly and consistantly self-affirming until the truth of it seems obvious and absolute. True Believers are highly respectful of authority.

Skeptics read about the history of the Bible, including evidence of how it was written, and see why those who examine ancient documents relating to it think it might be fiction in significant part, and know politics was in play in the assembly of the books that make it up. Skeptics are much more inclined than True Believers to trust in science since skeptics appreciate the truth-seeking nature of scientific methods with its peer review and welcoming of tests and examination of any seeming 'established truths.'


What being a Christian is like for Jimmy Roughton

In the last part of his sermon, Jimmy explained to us what being a Christian was like for him.

He mentioned first the importance of having a home, which is poignant for a chapel full of homeless people. Then, he told us about his recent circumstance being on the road evangelizing while staying in a motor home. He missed the comforts and familiarity of his own house.

Then, Jimmy talked about being in his own home with the items and arrangement of things that he knew. And, he talked about coming home from being on the road and how happy he was to, again, have the companionship of his beloved wife. Being Christian, he and his wife are servants of each other; their love is heightened.

Jimmy then talked of his intimate relationship with Jesus and how it brought him profound joy.

He told us about how he often imagines what heaven might be like, where good and goodness always abound. He saw himself in heaven or on the new earth engaged in work given him by God that benefitted others. THIS was his true home, not the 'worldly' world we know.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Nagarjuna said...

"I'm not at liberty to choose what I believe. My beliefs choose me."

In his extraordinary book "The Wisdom of Insecurity," Alan Watts writes this about the notion that we can compel ourselves to believe in Christian myth in order to save or comfort ourselves:

"Once there is the suspicion that a religion is a myth, its power has gone. It may be necessary for man to have a myth, but he cannot self-consciously prescribe one as he can fix a pill for a headache. A myth can only work when it is thought to be truth, and man cannot for long knowingly and intentionally "kid" himself."

June 15, 2009 at 7:07 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Interesting, Nagarjuna. I know that the last few years has been a bonanza of effort and accomplishment in exegesis of the Bible and pulling together all the scraps of physical evidence to understand what was going on up two-thousand years ago, thereabouts.

Science is encroaching on and undermining perceived Biblical truths. The lights are getting turned on in the cave.

June 16, 2009 at 8:24 AM  

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