History vs. Science as enquiry into Truth
Nov 22nd, 2007 by teragram

Zoomie’s most recent post, though only tangentally related, reminded me of a topic I wanted to blog.

As I was thinking about arguments I could have used in that debate*, I realised that “theological enquiry” (for want of a better phrase) is much more like historical enquiry than it is like scientific enquiry (for one thing, much of it is historical enquiry). Many of our peers have somehow been convinced that if science doesn’t show it, then you can’t know it (for any useful value of “know”). That’s not actually the way they live though. Not only do they accept the word of people they trust, but they also believe the history books.

We all know that science must be open to revision based on new evidence, but history is open for debate in quite a different way. It’s okay for us to have differing opinions on historical events even though it actually only happened one way. In a sense, this is because we have accepted that we are working with limited evidence. Within science, the reputation and trustworthiness of the source of any given claim has very little relevance. Experiments can be repeated by other teams in slightly different circumstances to see if the same results are obtained. You can’t re-run the fall of the Roman Empire. Either you were there, or you weren’t (I’m assuming you weren’t).

Historians differentiate between primary evidence (effectively eye-witness accounts), secondary evidence (close in time and relation to the event), and tertiary evidence (usually interpretations of primary and secondary evidence). They must also try to account for the reliability of the witness in question. Should we take Caesar’s account of the gallic wars literally, or can we assume that he was trying to portray a particular angle for his own aims? The historian is treading on much less sure ground, but that doesn’t make her work irrelevant or useless.

When we enquire into the nature of God we are often asking historical questions: “Did Jesus really rise from the grave?”, “Did Jesus actually walk on water?”, “Did many of the first Christians really give up their lives for what they believed?”. Many of our other questions are historical in a much more personal way: “Does God answer prayers? Can I believe the accounts of other people who claim their prayers were answered, and can I believe my own memories of answered prayers?” Historical questions have to be answered with the right methods. Who are the people on whose testimony we are relying? How reliable are they? What can we assume about their agendas and contexts? How close to the event were they? Is there a contradictory testimony? Can we come up with alternative (viable) explanations? And so on.

Well I’m not sure I’ve made my point very clearly, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.


* Just because I’ve decided not to participate, doesn’t mean I can stop thinking of arguments I would have used 🙂

Cillian Murphy as a model for Christians?
Aug 13th, 2006 by teragram

I don’t know whether or not Mr Murphy is a Christian, but for the sake of this post it doesn’t matter. I want to talk about his character in the Wind that Shakes the Barley. For those who haven’t seen it yet, there are spoilers below, so you might prefer to see the film before you read this.

In John chapter 6, Jesus tells a synagogue: “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.”

Some disciples found this teaching so repugnant that they left and “no longer followed him.” If they had understood what He meant, would they have found it any less disturbing? Jesus didn’t use the imagery lightly. The idea of eating His flesh is repugnant. Gaining sustenance from His death is disturbing! But that’s what we Christians do. We gain eternal life by accepting Jesus’ death. That is no small thing.

So where does Cillian Murphy come in? His character in the Wind that Shakes the Barley is called Damien. At one point in the film Damien is ordered to kill a young man who informed on his column. Damien turns to a friend and says: “this Ireland we’re fighting for … I hope it’s worth it”, and then he shoots the young man he’s known from childhood.

This event becomes extremely important for Damien’s later decisions. Referring to it, he tells his girlfriend “I’ve really crossed the line”. Towards the end, when Damien is explaining why he can’t accept the treaty, he makes it clear that the shooting is an important part of his reasoning. Once he had gone so far as to kill that young man he couldn’t settle for anything less than he’d started out fighting for. One way to look at it is that he had crossed a line, but it doesn’t quite capture what I’m trying to get at. Think of it this way: in order to justify that act to himself at the time, and now, he must know that what he is fighting for is worth it. He couldn’t say that this treaty was worth it.

I need to be careful here, and point out that I am not saying, by any means, that we must make ourselves worthy of Jesus’ sacrifice. What I am saying is this: I, by becoming a Christian, accepted something repugnant, radical, and shocking – Jesus’ death for my sake. I cannot now accept anything in my life which is inconsistant with that, or I make a mockery of it.


I win!
Jul 20th, 2006 by teragram

I’ve decided to fast from World of Warcraft until I get back from Canadia. Well it won’t be so much fasting while I’m away as not having access, but I’m giving it up voluntarily from now till I go away, so I don’t get to play again till I come back. See?

As a result of not playing this evening I fixed furiousthinking. Welcome back to the front page, yellowsnow :). Well, I fixed it by getting the latest version of planet, but that was hard! If you have any suggestions for layout, let me know.

Aaaannnyway. Don’t you think the idea of fasting from a computer game is interesting? Fasting from food is Not A Good Idea for me. Food affects my mood to an unreasonable degree, so just one day with three meals of two slices of toast puts me in a very strange humour altogether. It kind of defeats the purpose(s). I do want to fast though. The idea of giving up something that is not in-itself bad, for a fixed period, intrigues me. Every time you resist, it’s like a prayer. And the ways you’re tempted to give in remind you of the tricks of temptation that lead you to go against a decision you’ve actively made.

I re-read the Screwtape Letters yesterday, and it got me thinking about temptation (as it would 🙂 ). Giving in to temptation is giving up that little bit of autonomy. It’s like you didn’t make the choice, you gave in. I suspect that’s part of what God means by the need to kill the self to be truly free. Giving in to the demands of your hind-brain is not freedom, but choosing to do what a loving God asks of you, that really is! Meh, I’m not sure I’ve expressed that at all well, but I feel like I’m on the cusp of seeing it from a new angle. If I find a better way of phrasing it (and language is, after all, a bulldozer for thought) you will be the first to know, dear readers.


A niggling question
Jan 11th, 2006 by teragram

YellowSnow’s recent foray into theology has inspired me to post a question that’s been on my mind pretty much since I got here. Unfortunately, it’s not something I can offer an answer to just yet; at least, not one that satisfies me.

Why did God create this world at all? If He’s going to re-create the world in such a way that there will be no more tears, then why didn’t He just create it that way in the first place? My first instinct is that this world prepares us in some way for heaven, but that can’t be right. Each person’s experience is so different: some people never make it out of their mother’s womb alive, some people are surrounded by all that’s worst about this world, some surrounded by all that’s best. Since coming here I’ve seen people who live in such abject poverty that they can’t afford to wash their hair. I’ve seen slums that are, relatively speaking, well off – because the tents there are waterproof. And yet I grew up in such a different world. I don’t know what hunger is. I don’t know what it is to really have to work.

What I’m trying to say is: if this is some sort of preparation for heaven, why don’t we all get the same training?

Okay, so I guess the classic response to all that is: we brought this suffering on ourselves, in some collective sense, through sin. In heaven there will be no sin, and therefore no suffering. Well what will be different about heaven that will prevent sin, and why didn’t God just make this like that in the first place? We’ll still have free will, right?

Is the difference that we’ll be in God’s immediate presence, and that will prevent us from sinning? If so, then why did He go “walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Gen 3:8), so that Adam and Eve were able to hide from Him? If the answer to that is that He didn’t want to impede their free will, then I have to ask, will our free will not be complete in heaven?

I guess when it comes down to it, what I’m struggling with is related to predestination. If we are not palpably in the presence of God, can we really choose between spending eternity with Him, and spending eternity without Him? If we had experienced His immediate presence, would we choose anything else?

The idea that we as individuals have no part in whether we go to heaven or hell, that God made us to go to one or the other, doesn’t fit with my understanding of God. Our God “wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim 2:4). So the decision is, at least in some way, ours. But then, how can we make an informed decision about him in this life?

Why should this whole continent be so steeped in idolatry, so that so very few people even know who Jesus is? Are the people here able to make an informed decision between Jesus and they idols they grew up with? And are people in “the west” any better off? They’ve heard the stories, but how many of them have met God? Does hearing a distorted view of the Gospel count as hearing the Gospel? Had I ever really heard the Gospel before I understood it and accepted it?

Answers on a postcard to the usual address.


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