How Many Circles?

July 6, 2019

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

The one-circle person 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 person. It is his worldview.

The two-circle person 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 person also believes the universe usually operates by physical causes and effects. Miracles are not claimed to explain everything. They do not necessarily resort to a God of the gaps. Miracles would be viewed as something rare, that is why they are by definition wondrous. But the two-circle person 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 person sometimes thinks that his one circle worldview is to be identified with the scientific enterprise. But the two-circle person can do science as well. In fact, science grew up in the midst of two-circle thinkers — the Christian west. The two-circle person 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 person will sometimes unknowingly borrow from the two-circle person. 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 people will even wistfully talk about the Christ of faith even though they believe Jesus of Nazareth is moldering 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 person. I’ve not ruled the evidence as out of bounds. In your life, how many circles?


How Do You View Your Time on Earth?

December 28, 2015

Eastern religions believe in a cycle of birth, death, and reincarnation. This cycle is called samsara. In such a view, karma (which is a word which means deeds) determines the next reincarnation. Good (deeds) karma result in a better reincarnation; bad (deeds) karma result in a worse reincarnation. One does not necessarily come back as a human being in this view, but the cycle continues.

The goal of eastern religions is liberation from the cycle of samara. In some forms of Hinduism, the escape is to merge with Brahman, ultimate reality. In Buddhism, nirvana is the escape from samsara, and it is achieved when one loses all desires. Suffering and desire are the ultimate problems for Buddhism. Individuals who believe in samsara may not expect to merge with Brahman or reach nirvana from this life. In their view, it may take many lifetimes.

Materialists believe that nature is all that there is. Eventually the universe will run down, but the universe may oscillate and start again. (I would point out to the materialist that it takes a great deal of faith to believe that.) Human beings, however, end at death. We may retain the memory of someone, but this view rejects life after death. For the materialist, history is linear, but there is no overarching purpose to it. In the end, everything dies.

The Christian also views history as linear. God is the Intelligent Designer of our universe. God is also the Lord of History. God’s purpose will ultimately be fulfilled, because we live in a meaningful world filled with purpose. Human beings begin at conception, but death is not the final word. The spiritual or immaterial part of us exists beyond death. We will face the judgment of God. Our life of faith or lack of faith will determine our eternal destiny.

How we view history and human life is a spiritual matter. Our worldview will determine many of our decisions in this life. For Eastern religions, life is like playing a video where the player has an infinite number of times to reach the final level. For the materialist, there is no final level, and only one chance at life. Life is to be lived, but there are preparations for the next life.

For the Christian, God has created a beautiful and wondrous world. The brokenness that is in it is due to the sin’s entrance into the world. We go about life earning a living and raising a family just like many Hindus, Buddhists, and materialists. But we believe that this life is a place of decision for the life to come. (Romans 2:8-10) The life of faith prepares us for the presence of God for eternity. The lack of faith prepares us for the absence of God for eternity.

How do you view your time on earth?

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” — C.S. Lewis


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.