According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Saturday, October 15, 2011

India's Narayanan Krishnan Feeding the Homeless



















Want to get involved? Check out the Akshaya Trust Web site and see how to help.







Madurai, India (CNN) -- Narayanan Krishnan was a bright, young, award-winning chef with a five-star hotel group, short-listed for an elite job in Switzerland. But a quick family visit home before heading to Europe changed everything.

"I saw a very old man eating his own human waste for food," Krishnan said. "It really hurt me so much. I was literally shocked for a second. After that, I started feeding that man and decided this is what I should do the rest of my lifetime."

Krishnan was visiting a temple in the south Indian city of Madurai in 2002 when he saw the man under a bridge. Haunted by the image, Krishnan quit his job within the week and returned home for good, convinced of his new destiny.

"That spark and that inspiration is a driving force still inside me as a flame -- to serve all the mentally ill destitutes and people who cannot take care of themselves," Krishnan said.

Krishnan founded his nonprofit Akshaya Trust in 2003. Now 29, he has served more than 1.2 million meals -- breakfast, lunch and dinner -- to India's homeless and destitute, mostly elderly people abandoned by their families and often abused.

"Because of the poverty India faces, so many mentally ill people have been ... left uncared [for] on the roadside of the city," he said.

Video: Akshaya Home

Krishnan said the name Akshaya is Sanskrit for "undecaying" or "imperishable," and was chosen "to signify [that] human compassion should never decay or perish. ... The spirit of helping others must prevail for ever." Also, in Hindu mythology, Goddess Annapoorani's "Akshaya bowl" fed the hungry endlessly, never depleting its resources.

Krishnan's day begins at 4 a.m. He and his team cover nearly 125 miles in a donated van, routinely working in temperatures topping 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

He seeks out the homeless under bridges and in the nooks and crannies between the city's temples. The hot meals he delivers are simple, tasty vegetarian fare he personally prepares, packs and often hand-feeds to nearly 400 clients each day.

Krishnan carries a comb, scissors and razor and is trained in eight haircut styles that, along with a fresh shave, provide extra dignity to those he serves.

He says many of the homeless seldom know their names or origins, and none has the capacity to beg, ask for help or offer thanks. They may be paranoid and hostile because of their conditions, but Krishnan says this only steadies his resolve to offer help.

"The panic, suffering of the human hunger is the driving force of me and my team members of Akshaya," he said. "I get this energy from the people. The food which I cook ... the enjoyment which they get is the energy. I see the soul. I want to save my people."

The group's operations cost about $327 a day, but sponsored donations only cover 22 days a month. Krishnan subsidizes the shortfall with $88 he receives in monthly rent from a home his grandfather gave him.

Krishnan sleeps in Akshaya's modest kitchen with his few co-workers. Since investing his entire savings of $2,500 in 2002, he has taken no salary and subsists with the help of his once-unsupportive parents.

"They had a lot of pain because they had spent a lot on my education," he said. "I asked my mother, 'Please come with me, see what I am doing.' After coming back home, my mother said, 'You feed all those people, the rest of the lifetime I am there, I will feed you.' I'm living for Akshaya. My parents are taking care of me."

For lack of funding, the organization has been forced to halt construction on Akshaya Home, Krishnan's vision of a dormitory where he can provide shelter for the people he helps. Despite the demands and few comforts his lifestyle affords, Krishnan says he's enjoying his life.

"Now I am feeling so comfortable and so happy," he says. "I have a passion, I enjoy my work. I want to live with my people."


Want to get involved? Check out the Akshaya Trust Web site and see how to help.






What About Intelligent Design? Part 2


by rjs5
April 14, 2011
A couple of weeks ago I posted on the book by Karl Giberson and Francis Collins The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions and posed a few questions… specifically What arguments against evolution do you find convincing? Why? and What arguments would you like to see discussed on this blog (in future posts)? A number of comments asked questions and made requests for future posts. These questions could be grouped into two general categories – theological questions and scientific questions. The theological questions centered primarily on sin, death, and what it means to be human. These are key questions – and we will return to them in future posts.

The scientific questions centered on evidence for evolution and on the objections and alternatives raised by the proponents of Intelligent Design. Questions were raised about the issues of time, the reliance on millions or billions of years for processes to occur, the complexity of biological systems (and they are exquisite and beautifully complex), self organization, the development of species, and the concept of irreducible complexity. Again, these are all important questions.

I would like to start a discussion that touches on these issues – but I would like to start the discussion not with science, but with philosophy.

Why do you think Intelligent Design is an appealing concept – either to yourself or to others?

What is intelligent design arguing against and what is it arguing for?

I have a book, Intelligent Design Uncensored by William Dembski and Jonathan Witt, that was sent to Scot by the publisher. Scot passed it on to me. This book is a discussion of various ideas in Intelligent Design, but one thing seems clear from the tone and tenor of the argument. The motivation for Intelligent Design is not scientific, it is philosophical and theological. The opponent is philosophical naturalism. At the end of the book, summing up the arguments, Dembski and Witt write:
This book began with a question: Are the things of nature the product of mindless forces alone, or did creative reason play a role? The question is fundamental because so much hinges on it. Are humans worthy of dignity? Are they endowed with certain unalienable rights? If humans are the mindless accident of blind nature, entering and exiting the cosmic stage without audience, in a universe without plan or purpose, what right do we have to puff ourselves up and talk of human rights and human dignity, of meaning or value or love? In such a cosmos, love is but a function of the glands, honor and loyalty nothing more than instincts programmed into us by a blind process of random genetic variation and natural selection. Such a cosmos is ultimately meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

At the heart of this book is a conviction rooted in reason and evidence: the evidence of nature points away from such a pointless universe and toward a universe charged with the grandeur of a design most remarkable. (pp 153-154).
This is a sentiment with which I agree. I am a Christian because there is evidence within creation for a creator. The heavens declare the glory of God. The intricacy of a biological cell and the formation of a child likewise declare the glory of God.

Giberson and Collins also agree with the sentiment behind this paragraph. The statement coming out of the Theology of Celebration Workshop last November emphasized this point. The term scientism encompasses the philosophical naturalism that motivates Dembski and Witt.
In contrast to scientism, we deny that the material world constitutes the whole of reality and that science is our only path to truth. For all its fruitfulness, science is not an all-inclusive source of knowledge; scientism fails to recognize its limitations in fully understanding reality, including such matters as beauty, history, love, justice, friendship, and indeed science itself.
But is opposition to philosophical naturalism enough? It seems to me that the intelligent design movement, at least as described in this book, is not so much a search for intelligent design as it is an argument against evolutionary mechanism in creation. The way to undermine philosophical naturalism, they seem to feel, is to undermine evolutionary biology. The second chapter, entitled The Design Revolution, places the blame for philosophical naturalism on Darwin and his theory, at least it places much of the blame here. “Ground zero” notes Dembski and Witt “in the controversy has been intelligent design’s challenge to modern Darwinism. This is because Darwinism is the lynchpin of modern materialism.” (p. 24). Later chapters develop the theme, chapters with titles like The Poison of Materialism, Breaking the Spell of Materialism, and The Book of Nature, Lifting the Ban.

In future posts I will consider some of the positive arguments for design, most importantly Michael Behe’s proposal for irreducible complexity. But today I would like to pose a question about the necessity, or even the wisdom, of a strategy for combating philosophical naturalism that uses as a main thrust negative arguments against evolutionary biology.

Is it important to undermine evolution and the theory of evolutionary process that has grown out of Darwin’s early observations? If so why?

About a month ago Kathyrn Applegate posted a reflection on a disagreement between Richard Dawkins and Craig Venter, and the way this disagreement was presented by William Dembski: Dueling Scientists and the Tree of Life: Analyzing the ID Response. The issue here isn’t that Dembski disagrees with evolution and supports intelligent design, but that he twisted the event to support his point. A couple of years ago I posted on Tiktaalik roseae and Friends again concerned with the way scientific evidence was presented, inaccurately and selectively, in the desire to undermine evolutionary biology. In my series on Stephen C. Meyer’s book Signature in the Cell most of my concern with the book was with the rhetoric and the rather loose method of dealing with the sophisticated arguments for evolution and the arguments made in origin of life research. One of the features of Intelligent Design Uncensored that disturbs me is again negative argument against “Darwinism” using rather loose methods of engagement. The science is not treated fairly.

As most readers here know, I find the evidence for evolution overwhelmingly convincing. In Dembski and Witt’s book those Christians active in science, convinced by the evidence, are cast as compromisers, either deceived by or bullied into, assent to the consensus scientific approach. The book is difficult to read because of the demeaning rhetoric. Now those who write from the perspective of evolutionary creation are often guilty of the same offense – the rhetoric against others, including fellow Christians, damages the opportunity for real conversation. This is not a problem confined to one side of the discussion. But it is a real problem.

If you believe that evolution is not true, as Dembski and Witt do, what is the best way to go about making the point?

How should Christians approach these disagreements and issues?

What kinds of ethics should govern our engagement?

What About Intelligent Design, Part 1


by rjs5
September 9, 2010

I began a series last week looking at issues in theology and the impact that the evidence for evolution has on our theology. This series is based on a book of essays, Theology After Darwin (available from amazon UK or, as pointed out by a commenter on the last post, a search of Abebooks.com on author = Berry and title = Theology After Darwin will yield a USA-based source for a new copy of the book at a reasonable price. (HT PB)) The second chapter, written by Denis Alexander, carries the provocative title After Darwin: Is Intelligent Design Intelligent? For those wrestling with the ideas, or who want to understand why scientists and scholars are often skeptical of the intelligent design movement, this is a good even-handed source. It is short, clear, and to the point.

Denis Alexander is a molecular biologist with a Ph.D. in Neurochemistry. He is the Director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at St. Edmund’s College, Cambridge. Since 1992 he has been Editor of the journal Science & Christian Belief and currently serves on the National Committee of Christians in Science and as a member of the International Society for Science and Religion. He has published many scientific articles in the primary literature, something over 50, and has a good overall citation rate (i.e. other professionals read and interact with his professional scientific work). He has also published a book, Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose?, that presents his belief in the coherence of evolutionary theory with a biblical doctrine of creation. I have not read his book yet – but intend to get a copy and put it on my (ever growing) list.

Key to Alexander’s view is a robust understanding of the work of God in creation. Calvin, he notes, had such a view.
God’s activity in nature, Calvin taught, was continuous and complete. There were no ‘gaps’ which could be attributed to forces or agents outside of God’s immediate control. Nature was not autonomous. The Word or command of God was the only edict required to bring direction or purpose into inanimate matter. (p. 23)
The discussions of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth century departed from such a robust view, looking for evidence of God in design, in areas where natural mechanisms were demonstrably insufficient. In the face of naturalism and secular materialism concrete evidence for God appeared essential. As you read what follows consider the following questions.

What do you understand or mean by the term Intelligent Design?

Do you think Intelligent Design is a useful pursuit or field of inquiry?

Dr. Alexander covers a fair bit of ground in his survey of Intelligent Design. He looks at the roots of the modern movement in the writings of Phillip Johnson, William Dembski, and others. There is in this movement an express goal of overturning scientific materialism with its ‘damning cultural legacies’ and making a place for the supernatural, for God, at the table. According to Alexander:
Dembski has stated that ‘Intelligent Design is three things: a scientific research program that investigates the effects of intelligent causes; an intellectual movement that challenges Darwinianism and its naturalistic legacy; and a way of understanding divine action. Intelligent design therefore intersects science and theology’ (Dembski 1999a: 13 [Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology]). Understanding ID involves an appreciation of what these statements mean, and it is important that any critique is based upon the explicit claims made by ID proponents, and not on popular accounts, which are frequently unreliable. (p. 27)
I am in complete agreement with Dr. Alexander here. This is where we need to begin, with the explicit claims and strongest arguments of ID proponents. Along these lines Dr. Alexander interacts most completely with the ideas of Dr. Dembski and Dr. Behe who provide the intellectual and scientific base for ID. After describing the core ideas of ID, Dr. Alexander considers whether ID is science, but concludes that it is not a useful scientific endeavor. He suggests that is it has no useful explanatory power, it is not testable, and it is not falsifiable. As a Christian and a scientist he finds the lack of explanatory power particularly troubling:
As a Christian who believes in God as creator, I believe that everything that exists is the outworking of his creative purposes, and the scientific enterprise is only possible by a prior understanding of the creative order as intelligible. So picking out just particular bits of that created order as inferring intelligent design does not sound like an explanation for anything (p. 32).
As a molecular biologist he wonders how the proposal of irreducible complexity is even testable. One can posit irreducible complexity – but only demonstrate that a system is not irreducibly complex. Dr. Behe’s example of the bacterial flagellum is a good case in point. This is purported to be “irreducibly complex” yet after some 15 years of additional study we now know (the following paraphrased from p. 33) that a 10-protein sub-module acts independently to inject poison into other bacteria, another sub-module is a chemical pump to convert energy into work, homologues of most of the proteins (proteins encoded by very similar genes) carry out a range of different functions in other systems, and that evolution proceeds not merely by site mutation and selection, but by gene co-option and lateral gene transfer. This latter is an important point. The mathematical models used to demonstrate the “absurdity” of evolution as unimaginably improbable rely on inadequate description of the mechanism of evolution.

Over the last 15 years or so a large complex system, the bacterial flagellum, has been broken down into smaller systems, separable, although still moderately complex. Work is ongoing to understand the development of these smaller units. Understanding of some systems has progressed quite far, much work remains on others. How, Dr. Alexander asks, would ID have helped the scientific investigation? What progress could have been made?

Dr. Alexander also points out that scientific theories are useful for what they explain – as overarching syntheses of facts – not for what they do not explain.
If a theory leads to a fruitful research programme, as evolutionary theory obviously has, then anomalies will be kept on the back-burner, waiting to be sorted out and incorporated into the theory when their time comes. (p. 34)
and later:
Pointing out supposed difficulties in Darwinian explanations does not in itself count as an explanation for anything. (p. 34)
Much of the discussion of evolution within ID rests on an inadequate understanding of the progress of science and the progressive development and refinement of explanatory theories. Most theories, those with true explanatory power, are modified to incorporate new information and improve the quality of the explanation, but they are not regulated to the trash heap. Speculative ideas are, at times, so regulated – ideas like phlogiston and the aether. But Newtonian mechanics was not – relativity and quantum theory contain the insights from classical mechanics when objects of “ordinary” size move at “ordinary” speeds. The explanatory power of evolutionary theory is so great, that we can say with confidence that it will be refined, but it will not go away.

Is Intelligent Design a useful concept in other realms of thought?

Even if Intelligent Design is not science (a conclusion on which we can still disagree and debate) it may yet be useful in theology or philosophy – to combat scientific materialism. Dr. Alexander finds ID lacking in the realm of natural theology because it tends to view the world and God’s creative power as a two-tier entity. This he thinks, and I agree, is unfortunate. After quoting from p. 63 and p. 141 of Dembski’s 2004 book The Design Revolution Alexander continues:
Dembski envisages a biological world largely explained by ‘naturalistic mechanisms’ and ‘natural forces’, and against this backcloth ‘designed systems’ may be detected. Indeed, without such a backcloth, the rest of his argument would make little sense, since if the identification of designed entites is to be possible, then a non-designed ‘naturalistic’ backcloth is essential to facilitate the detection of the ‘designed’ components.

So the ID literature gives the impression that there is something inherently ‘naturalistic’ about certain aspects of the created order and not about other aspects, and such thinking appears to stem from a very inadequate doctrine of creation. In biblical creation theology, the natural order is seen as a seamless web of God’s creative activity. All scientists can do is describe the consequences of God’s creative activity to the best of their ability. … Science is definitely not a naturalistic enterprise for the Christian who is a scientist, but rather a cause for worshipping the God who has brought all things into being, including all the biological complexity of the world. (p. 39)
In this essay, and ending on this final note, Dr. Alexander has put in concise clear form many of my misgivings about the intelligent design movement. As science it is inadequate, as a critique of “Darwinism” it focuses on the wrong fronts, and as a natural theology it diminishes rather than glorifies the creative work of God.

Now I am not ruling out the possibility that God could have acted in some more direct fashion, not explicable in the ordinary course of events, especially at key points – origin of the universe, origin of life, and in some way to create humanity in his image. I certainly think that God has acted explicitly in history at times and places in accord with his plan, most notably, but not solely, in the incarnation and resurrection. But I don’t think it is, at least at present in the absence of some new idea, insight, or direction, useful to make this a hypothesis in scientific investigation. We should relax and go where the evidence takes us. And wherever it takes us, God is still creator.

Do you agree or disagree? Why?

Is Intelligent Design a useful concept and scholarly pursuit?

By the way – I also have Intelligent Design Uncensored by William Dembski and Jonathan Witt courtesy of IVP Books, and will read and post on this in the coming months.


If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net
If you have comments please visit What About Intelligent Design at Jesus Creed