Thursday, 8 December 2016

Fuzzy science Mike

One of the podcasts that I really enjoy listening to is Ask science Mike. At the moment he is doing a speaking tour in the United States, to promote his new book Finding God in the Waves - which I like by the way.

In his most recent podcast he is as interesting,  witty, thought-provoking and yet fuzzy as ever as he does a live show from Portland, Oregon.

Atheist question, would God exist if we didn't? He "thinks" no. He hopes, comtemplatively and mystically, "yes". The reason for this apparent dissonance is because there are ways of understanding and experiencing and expression that cannot be explained by empiricism. I have a feeling that Mike might need to de-fuzzy a bit what he describes as "existence". At one point in the Portland show, he clearly states that Superman and Batman don't exist. Not "don't exist in the real world", they simply: "don't exist". What about his psychosocial models? Do they exist? What about the inexpressible mystical experiences? Do they exist? Does his memory of what happened to him on the beach exist? Does my idea of Batman exist (in my mind and in millions of minds)? Surely the answer is "yes" to all these examples? The problem then is that there are things that exist - most things in fact - that exist about which no-one has any idea, like each individual blade of grass in the field or photon of light that goes anywhere except towards our tiny planet. God, according to Mike's confessed pantheistic definition of God, cannot exist without the universe he sustains.

Funnily enough, and I would be surprised if he knew it yet as he probably is not as insanely interested by the Trinity as me, this role reversal has been attempted in theology quite a bit already. In recent times, various theologians have attempted ways of understanding the Trinity or the cross of Christ in such a way as to make God dependant on his creation and its failure - even on man's sin. People have asked the question: is God essentially a saviour, or did he incidentally become one when his creation got itself into a pickle? There is then a popular current that says yes, voluntarily so, God has submitted himself in a sense to a state of dependence on what he has made. Science Mike's conclusions are remarkably in sync with that Trinitarian movement.

He speaks with surprise at his popularity among Calvinists. He really is not a consistent Trinitarian though, so I'm not sure what he is criticising when he says that "God who sends his son to be murdered as a sacrifice to himself, and that sacrifice is himself to himself", when the alternative of incarnational love sounds like a pure, no-distinctions modalism! A couple of times in the past, he has attempted an answer to his audience about the Trinity which does not come close to satisfying me that he is really engaging with it - except that it is mysterious, and mystery is good. For instance, in this episode he states (4'20" approx.) that "God is a [one] being" (my emphasis), yet when discussing the Trinity elsewhere, I have heard him go to a completely different extreme and say that God is three beings. To be honest, I don't think he knows what he really thinks about the Trinity, which to be fair, is probably the position of most folk.

Answering a question about Otherness: I didn't like the way he dealt with this. Followers of this blog know that I love distinction, the ultimate one of which is that between the Father and the Son. If there is no space between those two, then there is no room for love between them. It is love that binds persons distinct in their personhood together. But all too quickly, because of our experience of conflict through difference and intolerance of difference, Mike wants to immediately go for pure unity. He cites research done on even the most introverted of folk, who must have contact with others, as we are social animals. This research is only half the story, however. We are also made for distinction. Fusional relationships have been shown in the social sciences to be harmful in child-parent relationships to the child's sense of autonomy and responsibility.

Finally a hilarious moment in this episode that made me laugh out loud: Science Mike prayed as a kid Satan would accept Jesus into his heart. Solved problem of evil! Actually, that reminds me of when I was a kid and my parents taught me about the existence of the invisible Satan character, and I threw him a punch! Great how as kids we already want to kick evil in the teeth.

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