The Problem with Miracles

Once upon a time, I was at a religious retreat. I’m not sure where exactly; I think it was Camp Guggenheim, wherever that may be. My whole class went there (I attended Catholic schools). I don’t remember all the events, and classes, and workshops that went on. One of them, though, I do remember.

I remember they divided our group of students into two groups. One of the groups was supposed to come up with reasons in support of the Bible and Jesus and why you should believe in them. The other was supposed to come up with reasons AGAINST believing in the Bible or Jesus. The point of the exercise was to prove that reason can’t decide such an issue; you have to rely on faith. I’ve never been big on faith, but that was the lesson.

I don’t remember all the reasons that were given back and forth, I just remember I was in the group that was supposed to give reasons against. I came up with one. I said, “All miracles can be explained by science.” The other group said something like, “How can you explain multiplying loaves of bread or walking on water?” And thus they claimed their victory for that point.

But not really. If I were in the same situation now, I would ask, more precisely, “How can you be sure that there is no scientific explanation for absolutely every miracle?” Once upon a time, rainbows were believed to be miraculous. Now, we have a scientific explanation for them. Walking on water? Doesn’t that defy the laws of gravity and physics? Well, the thing about science is that it is continuously evolving and changing and improving. What was regarded as impossible one day is regarded as real and explained the next. Eclipses were terrifying miracles of great significance in ancient times. Now we know that they are just the interposition of the sun and moon in alignment with Earth. So, if science keeps explaining more and more wonders, who is to say that it won’t eventually explain the multiplication of loaves or the walking on water? If you view science as total and complete (which it most emphatically is NOT), you will view those miracles as inexplicable. But if the scope of science is always increasing, as is its explanatory power, explanations of such things may be just around the corner.

Maybe psi-phenomena are real. Maybe a sufficiently well-trained psychic could walk on water. After all, I have read reports (anecdotal only, of course) of levitations, so maybe it is possible and inherently explainable. We’ve explained a lot of other mysteries in this universe; why not miracles?

The point of all this? Don’t base your Faith on miracles alone. That can very likely lead to disillusionment and disaster. Find something stronger to base it one.

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Muslims In America

I don’t quite know how to introduce this topic. It is somewhat delicate. Are all Muslims terrorists? Obviously not. But it is my impression that most terrorists are Muslim. There seems to be a sickness in the Islamic Faith that needs to be treated. As an outsider, I can’t remedy it. All I can do is jump up and down, rant and rave, and point at it. It is the Muslims who must fix and reform their Faith. And it is indeed in need of reform.

To those that say the terrorists have nothing to do with real Islam, I think you might be being deliberately naive. I seem to recall that one of the heads of ISIS (I think he is now dead) had a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies from one of the most prestigious Islamic Universities in the world. That speaks volumes to those willing to listen. Likewise, most of the terrorists claim to be Muslims and they point to the Koran to justify many of their atrocities. Does the Old Testament have “questionable” passages? Yes, but neither Christians nor Jews are currently killing witches nor are they stoning adulterers. Islamic extremists, on the other hand, are currently waging jihad against the “Great Satan” in significant numbers.

What do we do about it?

Currently, there are about 3.3 million Muslims in the U.S. I don’t have a problem with any Muslim provided he/she renounces Sharia Law, female genital mutilation, honor killings, and, of course, suicide bombing. Sharia Law is incompatible with the U.S. Constitution. The other acts listed are barbaric and should be universally condemned—and they usually are. Furthermore, such practices should not be protected by the 1st amendment, no matter what the relativists say. If they are protected, we need a serious discussion about that and perhaps even a constitutional amendment to change that. I mean, if we have spell out that killing in the name of religion is not protected by our laws, where are we?

Politics in a Nuclear Age

We all dread confrontations between nuclear powers, and rightly so: Several countries on this planet have within their arsenals the capacity to destroy the entire planet themselves, or, at the very least, trigger a confrontation that leads to its destruction. This is no laughing matter.

North Korea is a nuclear power. And it is also a rogue nation bent on causing problems on the global scene. There is no doubt that the U.S. arsenal is far superior and numerous, but North Korea still has nukes. They also have a stunningly vast arsenal of conventional weapons. As a result, between Seoul and Tokyo, they are effectively holding 60 million people hostage.

I recently had a conversation with one of my brothers. He was a little hawkish on the matter—not because he’s a bloodthirsty barbarian, but because he has a number of very practical, well-reasoned points. Basically, if we do nothing, nothing will change. North Korea will continue to increase its armaments, including its nukes, so that dealing with them in the future will be even more difficult and dangerous. High-end estimates of their arsenal currently put it at sixty warheads. How many will that be in ten years? 100? 200? 600? Those are increasingly frightening numbers. And don’t forget, the populations of Seoul and Tokyo aren’t likely to pull up stakes and just wander away in the intervening years. They’ll still be under an increasingly deadly threat of annihilation. And if that’s not enough, consider other nuclear-powers-in-the-making, like Iran. They’ll be watching how we deal with North Korea. If we can do something effectively, we might disabuse Iran of the notion that its nuclear program is worth pursuing. Finally, there is the population of North Korea itself. Don’t we have some humanitarian concern to free them from a dictator?

To be honest, I don’t know how to resolve the issue. Maybe our military can do something, but … I’m just not comfortable with that idea. So much could go wrong.

The problem is: science. Or knowledge. Or technology. Whatever you want to call it, it is spreading across this planet and growing in leaps and bounds. Sooner or later, if we don’t figure something out, every country on this planet will have the means to develop nuclear weapons. And that’s not a situation likely to promote the health of this planet. We need some method of dealing with rogue nations or even other nation with whom we have severe moral disagreements, whatever they may be.

The carrot? Or the stick? The carrot? Or the stick?

In my view, nuclear weapons are just too treacherous to mess with. They eliminate the stick. So, we are left with a carrot. What can we use?

I had a notion the other day that maybe we should do something like the United Nations, but instead of every nation on the planet, only allow democracies to join. Under this umbrella, formalize a joint agreement to pursue the development of Space. Currently, most nations have their own space programs, each one at its own level of progress. If we join forces with other serious powers based on democratic principles we can develop a carrot designed to wean rogue nations like North Korea away from their more sinister ways. If all the democracies of the globe are sharing technology, research, and what-have-you amongst themselves, but not with bad actors, we will quickly outdistance such bad actors in technological development and thereby create an incentive for the reform of such nations. Because nuking them, just isn’t a good option.

Anyway, that was my thought, and I thought I’d share.

The Statue Controversy

The country probably isn’t looking for the input from a crazy man, but here’s my two cents anyway on the Statue Controversy.

Trump was right. Statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are now coming under fire because the two men owned slaves. Yes, many of our Founders owned slaves. But it’s worth pointing out that these same Founders gave us the documents and the philosophical groundwork that led to the eventual freeing of said slaves. History consists of a series of steps taken by mankind, a gradual evolution of thought and moral theory. We can agree that slavery belongs on the trash-heap of history; yet, at the same time, we should recognize the historical context in which the Founders lived. At the time, slavery was accepted throughout most of the world. You can’t expect radical change overnight. As I said, moral evolution takes place only in small individual steps.

Sure, men like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, but that is not the reason we remember them. No, we remember them for the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution of the United States, and the founding of this nation. All men (and women) are sinners. Clearly, they had faults. I think it is worth remembering that. Maybe we should take a step back, take a breath, and just agree we will honor people for their achievements and not their failures. We cannot demand perfection from our heroes. If we do, we will quickly find their ranks emptied.

Consider Martin Luther King Jr. He was a great Civil Rights Hero. But he also committed adultery. Are we going to tear down his statue, and cease celebrating his holiday because his failures are offensive to many of the Christian Faith, as well as (I think) Jews and Muslims? What about Feminists? What is their view of MLK Jr? Granted, adultery is not as serious a sin as slavery, but do we want to “honor” an adulterer? I say yes, because he achieved great things.

Do yourself a favor and ignore the failings of long dead men and women. Remember them for their achievements and contributions not for their faults. Otherwise, we may find ourselves in a world without heroes. How dreary a place that would be.

Trump

Donald Trump was not my first choice for President of the United States. But he was elected. Now that he holds the office, the bias of the media against him is very clear, so much so, I feel inclined to point something out.

According to my phone, the current GDP of the U.S. is about 19.4 trillion dollars while the current national debt is about 20 trillion dollars. In other words, the debt exceeds the GDP by over one-half trillion dollars. That’s roughly the GDP of Argentina or Taiwan (the excess of our debt, that is). I barely understand the economics of the problem (my training was in philosophy and math, not economics); all I know is that it is immense and I would have no idea how to deal with it, if I were POTUS (thankfully, I am not).

Donald Trump is a business man. A very successful business man who has earned over a billion dollars. That is a staggering accomplishment. So much so, he might actually have the skills to fix our debt situation. If he can’t, or if he doesn’t, I honestly don’t think we’ll get another chance. Now that the debt exceeds the GDP, the problem will get worse and worse at an increasing rate. Indeed, the mathematics of interest rates is usually exponential in nature. Everyone should be familiar with such from high school. An exponential curve is one that increases faster and faster the farther along it goes (My math is rusty; it might be geometric in nature; regardless, it’s still bad).

Anyway, the point is that it will reach a point where the debt will be increasing faster than the GDP is growing. At that point, it becomes impossible to pay off the debt and collapse is inevitable. I don’t want to live through an economic collapse and neither should you nor members of the media.

So, with that in mind, I think a more conciliatory tone toward POTUS should be used; or, if not conciliatory, perhaps less paranoid. So, media, put your ink-stained sabers away for the moment and give the president a break. I don’t think he is as crazy as you make him out to be, if for no other reason than that we did not have a nuclear war with North Korea.

Neo-Nazi’s and Christianity

With what has been happening/happened in Charlottesville in Virginia with the Neo-nazis and Anti-fa groups, I find myself pondering an important question: how should I, as a Christian, respond to such groups? Let’s just take the Neo-nazi movement. I’ve heard plenty of media pundits unceremoniously condemning the Neo-nazis as “evil.” Not a difficult proclamation to make, but let’s examine that a little.

In my view, Adolf Hitler was one of the worst people to ever live. He ranks with Stalin and Mao among a few select others. He is responsible for millions of deaths. Was he evil, through and through, though? Did he have any redeeming qualities? If he did, I’m sure they were outweighed by the evil he committed. Instinctively, I hear the word “Nazi” and I think “evil.” Yet, part of me thinks that perhaps if one dug deep enough one might find some tiny—and very lonely—kernel of light buried within the sludge. Ultimately, I can’t make such a claim for sure; final judgment of Hitler’s soul rests with God.

Then, there is Jesus.

What did Jesus do in His life? He approached “sinners” in an attempt to save them. Tax collectors (many of whom were corrupt) and prostitutes. Was there anyone Jesus condemned? Yes. The scribes and Pharisees for hypocrisy and arrogance. Yet, He spoke to and offered salvation to Nicodemus, a Pharisee, because Nicodemus was a rare exception: a Pharisee who treated Jesus with genuine respect.

So, how would Jesus deal with Neo-nazis? Would He condemn them? Or would He try to save them? I don’t think I can answer those questions with certainty because I am not Jesus, far from it. But I have been raised in one of the Faiths He started and have, to a certain extent, been molded by His teachings.

In that light, I think the most appropriate response to the Neo-nazi is to try to save them, first. Engage them in argument, being as respectful as you can manage (yes, I know it is difficult being “respectful” to someone you disagree with so vehemently), and try to disabuse them of their misguided (yes, I know, “misguided” is an understatement) notions. It may be futile, and probably is, but you should at least try. As they say, love the sinner, not the sin. Rebuke the evil, but still try to save.

All of this, of course, changes the moment the Neo-nazi picks up a weapon. The point is to try to get to them before it reaches that point.

Reflections On Infinity

Yes, this has absolutely nothing to do with my usual topics of discussion … well, God is supposed to be infinite, so maybe there is a connection. Anyway, I’m interested in the concept of infinity. How well do we understand it? For myself, I know it gives me a headache every time I try to think about it. Sometimes I think it’s the coolest thing ever discovered. Other times I think it’s just a mental trick, a mathematical miscalculation.

One of the coolest things is the fact that there is more than one type of infinity. And I don’t just mean the distinction between the infinitely large and the infinitely small (infinitesimal). That’s a cool distinction to make. But even cooler is the fact that there is more than one infinite number. Without getting bogged down in the mathematics of it, there are more points on a line segment than there are integers. And the number of points on a line segment are not the largest infinite number. There are an infinite number of infinite numbers. There’s a whole field of mathematics devoted to things like this called “Transfinite Set Theory.” For myself, I lack the background to give a full discussion of Transfinite Set Theory; I only know a few bits and pieces—enough to recognize that it is a really cool subject.

But is it all based on a mental trick? We get our first inkling of infinity when we learn to add and realize there is no last number. Then you start finding paradoxes, like Xeno’s Paradoxes of Motion and a few other mathematical such things. Wherever infinity comes up, our understanding balks and fails.

Is the universe infinite? From what I gather from the scientists I’ve spoken to, the answer is no. But a good portion of them think math is a game, anyway. They might be right, and, if so, infinity may be the perfect example of such a contention.

What about God? If He exists, He is supposed to be infinite. In fact, He is supposed to be The Infinite. The final ultimate infinite number/being whatever. The Universal Set itself, or what have you. And, I guess, that adds to part of the mystery and our curiousity about the subject.