How Many Circles? How Many Circles?

April 18, 2014

I had a professor who spoke of the one circle man and the two circle man. He would draw a circle on the chalkboard for the one circle man, and two circles that overlapped a bit for the two circle man.

The one circle man is the person who believes that nature is all there is. The single circle represents the physical universe. If you attempt to talk to the one circle person about a miracle, for example, the resurrection of Jesus, he has ruled such things out of bounds. He will say such things cannot happen. No amount of evidence will be convincing. because he views the universe as a closed system. That’s all there is. He is a one circle man.

The two circle man believes in the natural universe but also believes in a spiritual realm and the existence of God. Or, if not certain about God, he is at least able to grant the second circle as a possibility to be reasoned about. If you attempt to talk to the two circle person about a miracle, for example, the resurrection Jesus, he is willing to consider the evidence.

The two circle man also believes the universe usually operates by physical causes and effects. Miracles are not claimed to explain everything. Miracles would be viewed as something rare, that is why they are by definition wondrous. But the two circle man doesn’t rule them out of bounds by definition. He is open to the possibility that God can intervene in this world and do something instantaneously that cannot be explained by natural causes and effects.

The one circle man sometimes thinks that his one circle worldview is to be identified with the scientific enterprise. But the two circle man can do science as well. In fact, science grew up in the midst of two circle thinkers — the Christian west. The two circle man believes that this universe is orderly and understandable, because the Creator made us with senses and minds that correspond to that reality and lead us to true knowledge about the world around us.

The one circle man will sometimes unknowingly borrow from the two circle man. He will talk about the pursuit of truth and moral values and even meaning, failing to realize that those things to have substance must come from the other circle — the circle he denies.

Some one circle men will even wistfully talk about the Christ of faith even though they believe Jesus of Nazareth is mouldering in the grave. Their one circle life doesn’t allow for a resurrection, no matter the witnesses, no matter the prophecies, and no matter the tremendous transformations that occurred.

I’m a two circle man. I’ve not ruled the evidence as out of bounds. In your life, how many circles?

The Ghost in the Machine

July 26, 2013

The problem with materialism as a world view is that it reduces what it means to be human. If we are no more than a biological machine, can we trust our thoughts? Are our actions a matter of free will? Some evolutionary biologists have in fact embraced determinism. Is there a self that goes beyond the programming of the electrochemical impulses of our bodies?

Reductionism is a fine intellectual game to play, but it is very difficult to live consistently. An episode of the British crime show, Inspector Lewis, illustrates the tension. Detective Inspector Robbie Lewis is the no-nonsense policeman. His partner is Detective Sergeant James Hathaway. Hathaway is the intellectual who provides the show’s dialogue with the needed literary or classical music reference. Before becoming a detective. he had been a theology student at Cambridge. In the episode, “Fearful Symmetry,” there are two exchanges that I found intriguing.

A young Oxford student has been killed, and the detectives must visit the lab of Dr. Ezrin, a biologist.

Hathaway: What do you actually study here, Dr. Ezrin?

Dr. Ezrin:The parts of the brain relating to learning. – how data is imprinted and stored in the memory. Anything you’ve ever felt is down to microscopic variation in the electrochemical balance in here (pointing to his brain). Everything we are – love, hate, anger, jealousy, desire…

Hathaway: And the soul?

Dr. Ezrin: Sorry, there is no ghost in the machine. When the machine stops, we stop.

Later the detectives learn that after an affair Dr. Ezrin has been stalking a woman who has a connection to their murder case. He has even broken into her apartment.

Lewis: You’re aware, Dr. Ezrin, that stalking is an offense?

Dr. Ezrin: I’m not a stalker. Look I went to her place once or twice … just as a… I don’t know. I was jealous.

Hathaway: Those electrochemical impulses can be a nuisance.

Hathaway’s quip accents the problem of reductionism. None of us explain our behavior away by saying my electrochemical impulses made me do it. Especially when we are in the wrong, we give reasons why in this case, our behavior is allowable and understandable. All of us in conversation assume that there is a self that is above the electrochemical impulses going on in our brains. Historically, that self is called the soul. All of us behave as if there is a “ghost in the machine” despite what we may say intellectually.

Wallets that Never Wear Out

June 21, 2013

Wallets, billfolds, purses – we probably all have one. They are the place where we put our money, credit cards, driver’s license and ID cards. They are necessary things that take a tremendous amount of wear and tear.

Wallets wear out. I can remember the transfer from a worn out one to a new one. The old wallet’s leather was worn and discolored. It had never quite recovered from the amusement park water ride. Emptied it looked kind of like a shed snake’s skin – still having some of the shape of its former occupants, but looking very lifeless.

But worse that wearing out – money disappears from them at blinding speed. I’m reminded of Proverbs 23:5: “Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle” (NIV).

How would you like a wallet that never wears out? It’s a special wallet that never loses its contents. Is it some special new super cowhide with SuperGlue inside? No, this special offer isn’t found on the shopping channel, but from Jesus himself.

And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Luke 12:29-34, NIV

It’s a paradox. What I give as a Christian is what I truly get to keep. What I accumulate for myself will ultimately go to another, “naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart” (Job 1:21). Thomas Fuller states another paradox, “Riches enlarge rather than satisfy appetites.” Somewhere along the way, I must learn that satisfaction and contentment come from another source than more things. As Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Do I have an eternal wallet or simply one that will wear out?