October 26, 2010

A Tale of Two Trees part 3 – The Greater Good

Posted in Terminology tagged , , , , , at 9:42 PM by E. M.

ONE OF THE GREAT INTELLECTUALS OF OUR TIME

There were two trees in the Eden narrative.  We’ve looked at the Tree of Life in the last two posts, now we need to examine the other, more infamous tree – the Tree of the Knowledge of God and Evil.  Eating the fruit of that tree led to Original Sin, and death.

Why would gaining knowledge of good and evil result in death for Adam and Eve?  In order to answer that, we need to understand what “good” and “evil” are.  In this post, we will define “good”.

Like “love”, good and evil are highly subjective terms.  Adolf Hitler, a universal archetype of evil actually thought that his actions were good for the German people.  There was a time in the history of this country wherein many people thought it was evil to free slaves and allow them human rights.  Then there are those who contend that the only “good” is the belief that no one can know what is good, and the only evil is the belief that evil exists.  Traditionally, these people had been known as “illogical, dope-smoking, hippie morons”.  Today they are called “intellectuals”.

Fortunately, we know that absolutes exist, which means that there are absolute standards for good and evil.  Those absolutes could only be set by someone who has all the information in existence.  As we have seen, that “someone” is the First Cause of existence, whom we call God.

So how does God define good and evil?

When using the Bible to define terminology, it can be helpful to use something that theologians call “the law of first mention”.  It basically contends that there is usually great significance in the first time a term is mentioned in the Bible.   The first time that “good” is used in the Bible is Genesis 1:3-4

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness.

In fact, the first seven times the word “good” is used in the Bible is in the creation narrative of Genesis 1.  With that in mind, I would postulate that good should be strongly associated with creation, and the working Biblical definition of “good” is “that which creates”.

God is described throughout the Bible as “good”, which means “God creates”.  This of course fits with Genesis 1.

However if we leave the definition at that, it creates a problem (no pun intended).  The opposite of creation is destruction.  Yet the Bible often shows that God destroys.  In Genesis 6, God destroyed the world with a flood.  Throughout the Old Testament God destroys the enemies of Israel.  The Bible is also filled with prophesies of God destroying the world completely at the end of the dispensations.

We know that contradictions do not exist.  So how can God be “good” if He also destroys?

Well, lets look at the long-term results of the destructions I just mentioned.  The Flood of Noah destroyed all the unrepentant evil in the world and allowed man a fresh start.  The destruction of Israel’s enemies resulted in the continuation of the Jewish race and the eventual birth of Christ.  The destruction of the world at the end of the dispensations will usher in a new world completely devoid of evil.

So it seems that the short-term destruction that God caused was necessary in order to create favorable situations in the long-term.

With this understanding, the definition of “good” is the idea of “that which creates in the long-term”.  Good can include short-term destruction if that destruction is necessary for long-term creation.

An interesting exercise would be to go through the Bible and substitute the idea of “that which creates in the long term” everywhere you find the word “good”.  I think you will see that it fits pretty consistently.

The ultimate expression of good would be something that perpetually creates in the long-term.  We are actually quite familiar with an example of a system that was designed to perpetually create.  The cells of our bodies constantly reproduce and repair.  We call this system life.  Life perpetually creates.  Life is not only “good”, eternal life it is the ultimate expression of good.  Jesus summarizes this idea in John 12:24-25.

Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

Next time we will examine the Biblical meaning of “evil”.

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June 2, 2010

The Humble God

Posted in How to be Right tagged , , , , , , at 12:08 PM by E. M.

The key to becoming like God is to be righteous.  We become more righteous by becoming more right.  The best way to become more right is for someone with all the information in existence (God) to guide us.  We can only accept that guidance if we are willing to be contrastive, otherwise known as humility.  But if the key to righteousness is humility, and God is completely righteous, then is God humble?  Does God think contrastively?  I say yes.

I believe that our entire history on this planet is the process of God contrastively proving that His plan for our righteous is the correct one.

God’s specific plan for our righteousness is called “salvation”.   It is the plan that He has had from the beginning, and its something that we will discuss in detail later in the year.

God’s plan is the right plan (because He’s God after all), but it’s not the only plan.  As we’ve seen in the last couple of posts, it is theoretically possible to become completely righteous by using contrastive thinking to get rid of all our wrong thoughts, and allow God to give us the right information to replace the wrong ones. Then as long as we choose to only do and say what God tells us for the rest of our lives, we could use our complete knowledge of righteousness to be completely just, and presto! We can walk up to God’s throne and say, “move over, there are two of us now!”

While this is theoretically possible, God knows that it is practically impossible, because only someone with a nature that is always and completely right and just would always choose to be right and just.  And of course man’s nature is NOT right and just.

With this correct information about our nature and our inability to always choose righteousness of our own volition, God could have rightly implemented his ultimate plan for us on a unilateral basis right after creation.   This would have been right.  But it would not have been just.

It would have been unjust not to allow man every reasonable opportunity and situation to take the righteous path of choosing God of his own free will, no matter how improbable.

If God would have unilaterally implemented his plan, man could justly ask, “well God, how do we know that your way was best?  If we’d been given the opportunity to do it on our own, how do you know we wouldn’t have chosen you?”

As long as there is even a hypothetical chance that man could choose righteousness outside of His plan, a just God has to allow man that opportunity.

As I said before, our entire history on earth is the story of man experiencing and living out God’s contrastive process.  Gaining an understanding of this process will help bring resolution to many of the questions and “mysteries” that many of us have about how and why God does things the way he does.

So far we’ve looked at why God has a contrastive process for our righteousness, next week we’ll examine how He does it.

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April 19, 2010

Creation – Something out of Nothing

Posted in What's the Point? tagged , , , , , , at 12:43 PM by E. M.

WARNING – this post is a bit longer than usual and its chock full of scientific stuff. Depending on how technical you are, it may take a couple of reads to sink in. I apologize in advance for any resulting aneurysms.

The physical universe is the result of a First Cause.  The First Cause is defined in the information source known as the Judeo-Christian Bible.  The Bible calls the First Cause “God”

Up until now, I’ve reduced the origins of the physical universe into immaterial concepts like “information” and “principles”, and described the universe itself in terms of its governing rules such as causality and thermodynamics.  But we don’t just experience the physical universe conceptually.  We can touch it, taste it, hear it, smell it, and see it.  Its fair to ask , when will I finally talk about the more tangible aspects of the universe ?(or how can you answer “what’s the point?” if you never get to the %&@$# point?!)

I hear you.  In this post I endeavor to give a practical answer to how the physical universe could come into being from the First Cause.  Once we reach the end of this post, hopefully you will understand why I had to give so much seemingly “vague” background information first

Now, according to the Bible, God simply spoke everything into existence – “And God said let there be light”, and suddenly light existed. (And God said, “let there be colon cancer”, and the first McDonalds opened).  This seems rather fanciful, but lets take a systematic approach with this and start at the beginning.

The basic building block of matter is the atom.  Everything we see, mountains, trees, oceans, even our physical bodies are made up of trillions of atoms too small to be seen without powerful scientific equipment.  As the picture at the top shows, an atom consists of a nucleus at the center, and one or more negatively charged particles called electrons that orbit the nucleus at high speeds.  The picture above is he common way atoms are presented because it makes them easy to visualize, but he proportions are WAY off.

The size ratio of the nucleus to the orbit of the electron is about 100,000 to 1.  In other words, if the nucleus were the size of the head of a pin, the orbit of the electron would be over 100 meters away.  If we were on a football field, and the head of a pin (nucleus) was at the 50 yard-line, the electron’s orbit circumference would be the end zones on either side!

The VAST majority (99.99999~%) of an atom is…nothing.  Empty space.  Ok, so if the building blocks of matter are primarily empty space, then why do physical objects seem solid?  That’s because of the electrons. Due to their electric charge, they repel the electrons in other atoms and groups of atoms (molecules).  Remember in grade school when you’d have two magnets that would stick to each other because they had a different electrical charge, but when you’d turn one over the similar charge would make them repel each other?  Like that.

So then, when you have an object made of billions of atoms and molecules like the chair you’re sitting on, the repellant force of all those electrons is so great that it seems solid, when it encounters another object made of billions of atoms and molecules (like your butt).

The more electrons present in each atom, the more solid and dense an object seems, which is why iron, which has 26 electrons is more solid than water, which has 10 electrons, and which is more solid that helium, which has two.  But in reality, this “solidness” is an electro-magnetic illusion because, again, the vast majority of an atom is nothingness.

But wait, it gets worse.

An electron itself is almost without mass.  Electrons “behave” a lot like light (which has no mass).  Many scientists believe that the apparent mass that an electron has is only inferred form the electro-magnetic energy created from its fast orbit of the nucleus.  So in essence, the particle responsible for the phenomenon that makes objects tangible is not “real”

But wait, it gets even worse.

The nucleus (composed of particles called protons and neutrons) does have definitive mass.  Protons and neutrons are each made up of three sub-atomic particles call “quarks”.  Quarks are so small that they cannot be observed by scientific equipment.  We only know they exist based on secondary evidence.  This puts us in the crazy world of particle or “Quantum” physics.

Sub-atomic particles are unimaginably small – so small in fact that the laws of physics become fuzzy and cause these particles to behave very strangely.  The Copenhagen Interpretation and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle show that sub-atomic particles have no definitive independent locality or even existence when scientists are not observing them.  In other words, sub-atomic particles cannot be said to definitively exist unless an intelligent being is actively looking at them!  If that does not freak you out, then you didn’t understand it.

Quantum physics is so odd that it even disturbs the scientists who study it.  Niels Bohr stated, “Anyone who is not shocked by Quantum theory has not understood it.”

Richard Feynman said, “Of all the theories proposed in [the 20th Century], the silliest is Quantum theory…the only thing that Quantum theory has going for it, in fact, is that it is unquestionably correct.”

So in summary, what can we say about physical matter via the atoms that make it up?

  1. 99.9~% of it is nothingness
  2. Its physical tangibility is an electro-magnetic illusion
  3. The tiny fraction of 1% of it that actually is “real” doesn’t exist unless an intelligent being is thinking about it

So……….we know that the universe exists, but nothing in it is what we’d define as “real” on a fundamental level.  What do we do with this information?  Why, analyze it of course!

Do we know of anything else that exists and is immaterial, consists primarily of electronic energy, has a dramatic effect on what we call physical matter, and only exists as a product of intelligence?  We do.  We’ve discussed it before. Information!  Or more specifically thought.

Ok, brace yourself…The universe and everything in it  is nothing more than a thought in the mind of God! (granted, a really, really complex thought, but still…)

The metaphysical ramifications are staggering.  Everything we see as physical existence – stars, planets, mountains, oceans, birds, bees, flowers, trees, the Grand Canyon, and Disneyland, are all figments of God’s imagination (ok, I won’t blame God for Disneyland.  That’s just not fair).

Everything exists because God is thinking about it.  Including us.  (I wonder what would happen if God stopped thinking about it?  Never mind.  This post is theoretical enough as it is).

With this in mind (no pun intended), God speaking everything into existence is not so far fetched.  In fact, it kind of makes sense, especially if His spoken words correlate perfectly with His thoughts.

Think about dreams you’ve had at night or fantasies your created in your mind.  You dismiss them as not being real, but in essence, they work on the same principles as divine creation.

PLEASE note that I am NOT getting all New Age-y on you and saying that we can create or alter objective reality with our thoughts in the manner that books like The Secret (and some popular Televangelists) say you can.  We are not God.  We do not have the nature of the First Cause.

But then…what about us?  We’re different from anything else in known creation.  We have volitional will.  We can intentionally act apart from God’s will and initiate situations that He may not want to happen.  How and why did God create us this way?  I’ll tell you in one week…

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April 12, 2010

Love is a Three-Way

Posted in What's the Point? tagged , , , , , , at 9:21 AM by E. M.

The TrinityBased on human understanding, we know that the First Cause of existence is “right” and “just”; righteousness and justice describe the nature of the First Cause.   The Judeo-Christian Bible gives us more details about the First Cause (God).

Most of the characteristics that we attribute to God (merciful, holy, compassionate, all-knowing, all-mighty, etc.) are the effects of His nature.  But one of the most prominent characteristics of God in the scriptures as well as popular culture is “love”.  One of the first Bible verses kids learn is “God is love”.  If you asked the average person to describe God’s most prominent trait, they would most likely say that He is “loving” (followed by “really old”,  “really loud”, and “possessing an obscenely large beard”).

Even those who doubt or deny the existence of God acknowledge love as His defining characteristic.  On more than one occasion I’ve had some disgruntled person ask “If God is so loving, then why does He allow [universally acknowledged “bad thing”] to happen?”  (FYI – I will actually answer that question in two weeks)

So what exactly is “love”?  Asking that question leads to a diversity of subjective answers ranging from “a strong affection” to “about $50 an hour”.   But since we’re talking about God’s love, we need to go to the Bible to get His definition.

The first Biblical mention of the word love is in Genesis chapter 22, where God commands Abraham to take his precious son Isaac, whom he loves more than anything else in the world. . .  and climb to the top of a mountain and kill him as a sacrifice of faith.

Granted, on the surface this seems like an odd way to introduce the concept of love to the reader, but this event is intimately tied to the ultimate example of God’s love which is highlighted in the most famous verse in the Bible; John 3:16

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son so that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

According to many Biblical scholars, the sacrifice of God’s Son took place on the same mountain where Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac.  God stopped Abraham before he completed the sacrifice, but by being willing to faithfully carry it out, Abraham prophetically acted out God’s ultimate act of love.

These two defining “love” moments in the Bible have two important things in common; they involve sacrifice, and they are done for the benefit of another (for God in Abraham’s case, and for all of humanity in God’s case).

A sacrifice is the giving of a value without personally getting anything in return.

So, Biblically speaking, love is giving a value for the benefit of another without the expectation of getting anything in return. There’s more exposition on this idea here.

God’s love is not only crucial to answering, “What’s the point? (and we will finally get to that answer in 3 weeks.  I promise), it also has a defining impact on another vital aspect of God’s identity.

John 17:24 states that love existed before the universe itself.  That presents us with something of a problem.  From the definition we have, it looks like love requires the existence of at least two persons – the giver of love and the receiver.  We usually refer to this as a “relationship”, but the Bible does not use that word.  The Bible calls the love interaction a “fellowship”.  However this complicates things even more, because a definitive model of fellowship requires at least three persons, each loving another directly while receiving love indirectly from the third person.  (Here is a link that explains fellowship in detail).

So love existed before the universe and requires no less than three persons.  But we know that the only thing that existed before the universe is the First Cause.  There is only one logical solution to this dilemma: if the First Cause is love, and love requires at least three persons, then the First Cause must be three “persons”.

Once again, the Biblical description of the First Cause reflects this aspect of God’s nature.  The Bible gives implicit evidence that God is three persons – specifically called the “Father”, “Son”, and “Holy Spirit”.  This concept is called “The Trinity”.

The Father is called God throughout the Bible.  The Son is called God in John 1:1-14, 1 John 5:20, Titus 2:13, and Romans 9:5.  The Holy Spirit is called God in Acts 5:3-4, and 2 Corinthians 3:17-18.  All three are credited with the creation of the universe; The Father in Psalms 102:24-25 and Job 38, the Son in John 1:1-3 and Colossians 1:16, and the Holy Spirit in Genesis 1:2, and Job 26:13.  More detail on this subject is available at this site.

It bears mentioning that despite the Biblical evidence, several religious traditions strongly disagree with the idea of God being three persons for various reasons.  Fortunately I’m not religious, so I’m not terribly interested in why the idea of the Trinity runs afoul some religious traditions.

Yet and still, it is reasonable to ask why God is presented both as a singular mind AND three persons in the Bible.  How do we resolve this?  Well, if the Trinity is the First Cause, then all three persons must have the exact same nature – right and just.  If all three persons are always and completely right and just, then they are always and completely in perfect, harmonious agreement.  Thus they speak and act as one, whether presenting themselves individually as Father, Son, or Holy Spirit, or when they present themselves corporately as “God”.  What goes for one goes for all.  They only seem to differentiate in role and hierarchy, and they’ve all obviously agreed to assume and maintain their roles.

So we’ve added some significant depth to the identity of the First Cause that has hopefully deepened our level of understanding of the principles and providences that existed before the universe.  And that’s all well and good, but I have admittedly been dwelling in the realm of the theoretical and existential up to this point and said very little about the practical matter of the physical universe itself.

Yet all the things we see, hear, touch and experience are “real”, not theoretical and conceptual…right?  So enough about what the First Cause is, lets talk about the BIG effect.  What is the universe and how did the First Cause, well, cause it?  We’ll get into that next week.  The answers are guaranteed to surprise you, or your money back.

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February 22, 2010

Super. Natural.

Posted in What's the Point? tagged , , , at 1:00 AM by E. M.

NERD ALERT!!  The following post discusses themes that fascinate science geeks such as myself, but may bore, annoy, anger, or give migraines to normal well-adjusted people. Proceed with caution.

We’ve established Causality as a cardinal governing force of existence.  Causality states that every effect has a cause, and that cause is independent of and greater than the effect. We also saw that a finite system like our universe had to have an initial cause that was itself “causeless”,  meaning it had no preceding event.

What can we know about the First Cause of the universe? There are essentially two options: either the First Cause is natural (conforming to the proven laws of nature), or it is supernatural (occurring by means that somehow go beyond or exist outside of the natural scientific laws of the universe).

[This is where the really geeky stuff starts.  Hang in there.  I’ll try to make it as painless as possible]

The tangible stuff in the universe consists of matter and energy.  I’m going to focus on energy, as recent discoveries in particle/quantum physics regarding the nature of matter, specifically on the subatomic scale show that at the most primary levels, matter is fundamentally less substantial and measurable than energy [feel free to get an aspirin if you need one].  In other words, matter is fundamentally less “real” than energy.  This point will become even more important in an upcoming post I’m planning for April.

Among the primary natural laws that govern the universe in regards to energy are the laws of Thermodynamics.  The first law of Thermodynamics states that energy cannot be created or destroyed.  So if energy (and the matter it affects) cannot be created or destroyed in natural law, then one would have to conclude that the energy and matter in the universe have always existed and the universe in infinitely old.

The problem is that the second law of Thermodynamics essentially states that over time, the heat that energy produces dissipates throughout a system (this is called Entropy).  So then if the universe has always existed for infinity (which it must according to natural law) then entropy would be complete (all the heat energy would have dissipated) and the universe would all be the same temperature (cold).  This is called Heat Death.

This is obviously not the case.  So much so that scientists agree that our universe is finite and thus had a definitive beginning.  That brings us back to the original question about that nature of that beginning (cause) and presents a HUGE problem for proponents of the idea that the cause of the universe is a natural one.  At some point, matter, and energy did not exist, and then they came into being.

But the first law of thermodynamics tells us that it is IMPOSSIBLE for this to happen naturally.  But we know it did because…well we’re here aren’t we?  That leaves us with only one option.  However the universe came into existence; whatever the First (causeless) Cause was, it HAD to be supernatural (outside of established natural law).

Aside from being supernatural, what else can we say about the First Cause?  Stay tuned…

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