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About jonbirch

animator, illustrator, character designer, graphic designer. music producer/recording musician. co-owner of PROOST. proost.co.uk
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54 Responses to 733

  1. LizLong says:

    I wish that we could all just say that we disagree but lets not let that get in the way of loving each other, maybe then we could be living the way jesus did things, and on a personal view i reckon i use all three ways to understand! The world looks more interesting that way, thanks for the awsome cartoons :)

  2. ED... says:

    I don’t understand.

  3. Laura says:

    Darn. Ed beat me to it

  4. fergie says:

    is it ok if i just don’t feel like understanding?

  5. Rich H says:

    The question is, understand what?

  6. Laura says:

    Oi. need another panel that says “blogging is the way to understand” ;-)

  7. subo says:

    judging by the dull colour of their clothes, fashion is not for the serious minded, sadly

    – there is though, the Alan Partridge ‘Casual Clothes’ show in his Paris trip

  8. Miriworm says:

    Trinitarian understanding at last! :-D

  9. JF says:

    Science for a factual understanding of our world.

    Feelings (or spirituality) for an understanding of who I am, who my fellow human is, and a sense of our place in the world

    Sorry, what was the third one?

  10. nomieenerd says:

    all three pointsofview lead to God…

    maybe, i think someone was talking abuot that a couple of nights ago, in a prayermeeting – funny he WASNT a christian – he just ‘loved the fact all three ways of thinking end up with God’ [he was a mathamatition]

    answered prayer regarding his willingness to accept Gods realness <3

  11. JF says:

    nomieenerd – how does science lead to God?

  12. nomieenerd says:

    i dont know, i think he was talking about maths and thinking about ‘life’ or something in a completely mathsy sciency way, and it lead to God, i have NO idea myself, but he was a mathematician, and he was said it did…

    im not sure what i think…

    i was just so pleased that a nonchristian ‘liked’ thinking about things leading to God…

    AND he was talking freely about it…

    made my heart sing <3

  13. Sophie says:

    surely some kind of combo is good?

  14. JF says:

    nomieenerd – sounds rather vague? Does “like thinking” = “belief” = “faith”?

    I could almost go along with the argument that maths & science can lead to God, but it would take a bit of discussion of terminology to make that fit. Certainly not a statement to accept at face value. But I still don’t see what religion adds to understanding on this or any other issue.

    Sophie – yes, that’s it… namely a combo of Science & Feelings!?

    I guess my point is whether spirituality comes under Feelings or Religion. Personally I believe that Science deals with the objective. Feelings / Spirituality deals with the subjective. I believe Religion is a man-made mechanism that has sprung up out of man’s misguided attempts to link and understand both together.

  15. nomieenerd says:

    no, not necessarily – but its a step in the right direction me hopes!

    where some people wouldnt talk about thinking about God, at least this guy wants to talk about it – it wasnt just talking, he was explaining things, i didnt understand the jragon, but he really had been THINKING about stuff…

    and thoughts about God, and the relevance of God in ANY direction, must be a good thing yes?

  16. Caroline Too says:

    I’m really not certain that ‘understanding’ is actually terribly helpful in working out
    how to live

    we simply can’t understand God, (s)he’s infinite

    by and large understanding tends to lead to trying to be ‘control’ of things/events, which is
    generally unwise and unhelpful

    ‘understanding’ is a social construction and tends to blind us to the possibility of other
    interesting and helpful activities like:

    sensing, intuiting, noticing, attending to, experimenting, connecting…

    our understanding of ‘understanding’ tends to be very individualistic… I would
    want us to explore more relational activities…

    sorry, rant over :-)

  17. JF says:

    I’ve never heard understanding put in such a negative light before. To understand is not to control. For myself, I would say that most of the understanding I have gained has led me to the acceptance of things which I cannot control.

    But if we’re talking about the interface of understanding and control, we need look no further than any major religion, all of which have tried to control “understanding” for centuries, even to the point of denying true scientific understanding as it emerges. It is still going on.

    I really think Understanding is a positive thing to strive for. I worry for anyone who might say “I don’t want to understand, I just want to believe!” Where might that lead!?

  18. chaino says:

    logos pathos ethos?

  19. beatthedrum says:

    isnt the trite answer

    Jesus is the way to understand.

    The rest is just about him anyway

  20. dennis says:

    are we not informed “to lean not on our own understanding”?

  21. Andy M says:

    I would say that science points to God, in a way. Because God gave us our world to explore, to cultivate. He gave us to universe to explore. There is so much in the universe that is awe inspiring. God gave it all to us. Science is most often an exploration, whether it is exploring the tiniest atoms, or the largest of galaxies.

    Point is, the universe God created for us, points us towards him. That doesn’t mean that everyone who sees it will find him, but it is our longing for God that drives our passion to explore.

    (And just to clarify, I do not mean that God’s existence can be proven scientifically. Science works within the dimensions of our world, but God is beyond our world. Not outside of it, but also not of it. So it is reasonable to say that God, being God, cannot be scientifically proven, measured, etc.)

    I would say that we should strive for understanding, but that we should not hold out for understanding as a basis for faith. If faith in God requires understanding, then we would never have faith in God. But having real faith in God may lead to greater understanding.

    @JF, I’ve never heard anyone say, “I don’t want to understand, I just want to believe!”. I doubt there are many people at all who would say that. But anyone who did say that, I would say they have a misunderstanding about the meaning of “understanding”, and “believing”. A person like that at worst just wants a non-challenging belief system that doesn’t require any effort from them, which is no belief system at all really. Its like a scientist who expects answers to come without performing tests.

  22. Caroline Too says:

    JF (#17)

    you make my point quite well, ‘understanding’ is always shaped by intellectual fashions,
    it is a way of controlling us…

    Of course it is not only religions that seek to control our understanding… just think of the
    phrase “free market capitalism” and then link it to the way that the market (supposedly objective
    and free of bias) made the rich even more fabulously rich and the poor poorer!

    I don’t say that understanding is bad, just that it’s not as helpful as we have tended to think since
    the bias of rationalism took over wester thought in the 18th century.

    oh, and by the way, I didn’t champion the idea of believing without understanding.

  23. JF says:

    Andy M, I find your first point more than a little disingenuous. I agree that science points to the complexity of the universe, but science stops well short of saying “it was made by God” or “it was not made by God”. Believing that God made the universe is a step you have to take on the basis of faith, completely independently of science. Science does not point to God, just as it doesn’t rule God out.

    To say he made the world ‘for us’ is a further such step.

  24. JF (14),

    I like your definition of religion as a man-made mechanism, but not sure about the misguided bit.

    Was blogging today about religion as a technology (won’t inflict it on you – my name links to my site if you’re interested!). So it seems to me quite easy to say that religion can be misguided, like a nuclear weapon system, or positive, like x-ray technology (see how I steer off the whole nuclear power thing!). But religion itself is neutral.

    That’s not to say that it wouldn’t find something good, or that particular manifestations of it might not become obsolete as better technology comes along. Just that, as it exists, it patently has the potential to serve some kind of use…

    What do you think?

  25. JF says:

    Well, Caroline Too, I am the first to agree the so-called free market system is extremely imperfect, but then it doesn’t claim to be anything other than a man-made attempt to give sense & shape to some aspects of the world. It makes no claim to offer the ONLY path to eternal existence, nor to have a monopoly on truth, nor that it alone has the right to receive and disseminate messages from an unseen force at the centre of the universe. Nor does it suppress scientific discovery on pain of death.

    Capitalism is a flawed market model whose influence can negatively affect our perceptions and environment, but it just does not have the inherent mendacity of any organisation which is at pains to deny its man-made roots, with centuries of obfuscation-by-design to its name.

    Scientific understanding, in its pursuit of truths, transcends any ‘intellectual fashion’.

    I agree that spiritual understanding may be more susceptible to the exigencies of our times (or ‘intellectual fashion’, as you put it). But we are, after all, temporal creatures, living in a changing world.

  26. Caroline Too says:

    JF you wrote:

    “Scientific understanding, in its pursuit of truths, transcends any ‘intellectual fashion’”


    The very notion of ‘doing science’ is a part of a particular ‘intellectual fashion’!

    It became a dominant way of thinking/understanding in the west during the 17th-18th centuries and it started to struggle to keep it’s dominance in the late 20th century. It’s delivered many good things for humans, but also some disasters that are currently in the making..

    as to your idea, that free market capitalism does’t claim to have a monopoly on truth, have you heard some of the neo-cons talk?

  27. cooperton says:

    Interested that people don’t seem to think science/maths don’t can lead to God. I recently had to do an assignment about my worldview. I ended up doing it on the premise that Maths = God. This is what I wrote (sorry, it’s a bit lengthy for a normal reply!):

    Maths is everywhere, in all things, making things work, giving them beauty.

    Most people say they’re rubbish at Maths. Bit throw them a ball to catch and suddenly they can be calculating multiple variable, simultaneous differential equations at such speeds that the most powerful computers in the world cannot come close to competing. You don’t have to be a mathematician to catch a ball, and neither do you need to be a theologian or Christian to engage with God and spirituality.

    People usually don’t like Maths because it’s taught in a boring way, and so they think it’s just about calculating correct answers using confusing techniques. They never get to hear the stories or see the beauty it brings or how it can transcend. The story of the ‘invention’ of the number zero, for example, is fascinating (it first turned up in India, possibly because as Hindus they were happy with the idea of a void, of nothingness. Apparently the West thought this was the work of the devil at first). And as with catching a ball, people aren’t shown they’ve already got it.

    Being able to prove Fermat’s Last Theorem may be more complex or advanced maths than ‘1 + 1 = 2′, but that simple sum, that any child could do, is still fully maths; there’s nothing un-mathematical about it or less mathematical than Fermat’s Last Theorem. Therefore no level of maturity or stage of faith is better than any other; they are all equally valid.

    Talking of proofs, when I was at university there were two ways I could learn a theory and its proof – by rote, which only had limited use, or by actually understanding it. Then you wouldn’t need to remember it – it would just flow, and you could apply it more easily.

    I tend to think the goal is to get the correct answer, that that’s the only thing of value. Yet of 183 questions Jesus was asked, he actually only answered the grand sum of…wait for it…3. But our maths teachers would try and drum into us that we needed to show our working out. Having the right answer was worthless without the working out; that was where the business happened, where the maths was. Our hidden persuaders (those things that influence our thoughts and actions without us realising it) can be like mistakes we make in our working out – it may mean the final answer is out, but there’s still ‘marks’ that can be made from the working out. And we may judge people by their final ‘answer’. But we don’t know their working out, their journey, their hidden persuaders. Therefore we can never judge people.

    The working out is one example of the importance of journey (Jesus said he was ‘the way’. What if ‘way’ was translated as ‘journey’? Then Jesus is the journey, not just the destination). Another example of journey is provided by fractals, those shapes where you can keep on zooming in, deeper and deeper, for infinity. Such is the nature of truth, the nature of God. You can never fully arrive, never fully know. And the deeper you journey in, the further you see there is to go.

    Another example of journey is the number Pi. It’s decimal places are infinite, so there’s always more to know and learn. It also means we can never precisely give the area or circumference of a circle if you know its radius. It’s an example of why Jesus could never give a complete description of what the kingdom of God is, only saying it’s a bit like this or a bit like that.

    Then, of course, there’s the beauty of Maths – the glory of a flower, the uniqueness of a snowflake, the simplicity of the golden ratio – all beautiful because of maths. And that is why Maths = God.

  28. jonbirch says:

    interesting discussion.
    science is discovery.
    feelings are a response.
    religion is ordered belief.
    poor definitions probably… all three get intermingled too. some scientists feel strongly about darwinism and hold religious views on the topic. some religious people deny what science has revealed to be undeniable through feelings informed by their beliefs. some religious people are scientists and see an ordered universe, they call the creative thrust ‘god’. others see an ordered universe and think of it as chance. both often feel very strongly about it.
    atheism is a very definite faith stance.
    religion is about control very often, but then so many of our constructs are. turns out, even our hallowed democracy is about control. there’s a shock! :-)

  29. jonbirch says:

    nice post cooperton. :-) fractals and chaos theory utterly fascinate me… pattern within pattern and seemingly endless… variables so vast it looks like there is no pattern to the outcome, but there is.
    it is in these things that my belief in god finds itself.

    btw. love your take on ‘the way’…

    and another btw… anyone else staggered by how many human faces there are on the planet and each one different? :-?

  30. JF says:

    Jon – What do you say to the argument that atheism is in fact the ‘null hypothesis’ stance from which the theistic faith stance is an unsubstantiated departure… i.e. “Don’t ask ME to prove the non-existence of something that YOU have dreamed up”. Else surely non-belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster is also a faith stance?

  31. jonbirch says:

    haha! i love the flying spaghetti monster argument! :lol:
    atheism i don’t believe really exists. everybody places their faith somewhere… everybody. i don’t know much about the history of atheism… seems that all human history includes faith in something, so atheism is actually the departure historically speaking. i love science, me. doesn’t help me know my wife, but i love it.

  32. Cate says:

    I read this in a novel, and don’t have background knowledge or anything behind it, but I thought it was cool…

    ” ‘Quantum physics says that when your situation is unknown…you actually exist in all places at once until someone finds out for sure by observing you. So instead of one clear reality, there’s a smear…This idea that all probabilities exist as a wavefunction until an external observer looks at – and therefore collapses – the wavefunction is called the Copenhagen interpretation.’ ‘Are there other ways?’ ‘Yes. There’s the many worlds interpretation. In a nutshell…the many worlds interpretation suggests that all the possibilities exist at once , but that each one has its own universe to go with it…If you imagine the primordial particle: the thing that went “bang” fourteen billion years ago, that particle should be just like any other particle. It would have its own wavefunction – a series of probabilities about where it was and what it was doing. So what we know of quantum physics suggests that unless an external observer showed up and observed the exact state of the particle, its wavefunction would not collapse…An observer external to the universe must be God…That’s the Copenhagen principle applied to the original particle. If you reject that you’re left with the many-worlds interpretation, which would suggest there is no external observer and no collapse. Instead, all the probabilities exist “out there”‘” From The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas

    So…in this novel’s argument – science can lead to to believe in an external force outside the universe or parralel worlds by applying quantum physics to the big bang. I thought it was interesting. Sorry I cut so much out, but it is quite a long passage and they go into quite basic explanations for the people like me out there!

  33. janetp says:

    So why do we have so much difficulty understanding?

  34. Pat says:

    I think people like Polanyi, Kuhn and Feyerabend have pretty comprehensively deconstructed the idea that science is ‘neutral’ – Scientific understanding is just as conditioned as any other type and the pre-existing commitments of any particular scientific community will play a role in determining what questions it asks, what data it gathers and how those data are interpreted. So…not much different to what happens with different religious communities really :-)

    I don’t think ‘discovery’ is the exclusive domain of science Jon – but I guess to really tease this out we’d need to get to a layer underneath and discuss what ‘knowledge’ actually is – and whether it pre-exists and is ‘discovered’ or whether it’s created………and what any of that might mean for science, feelings and religion :lol:

  35. AnneDroid says:

    I love maths and science and have often craved their use in worship as I do think they point to the wonder of our creator God – I get sick to death of the claim of many atheists that you must basically choose between science and faith. I once got a physics teacher friend to do a little talk on the amazing anomalous properties of H2O as part of a worship service!

  36. Andy M says:

    I see your perspective, but I would disagree. I absolutely believe that the universe points to God. But that doesn’t mean that you should expect his blatant signature, like “GOD” written out with the stars.

    You seem to be of the opinion that there isn’t anything in the world that gives any evidence of God’s existence. I respectfully disagree. I think that the uniqueness of the planet earth, and the uniqueness of life on planet earth, and the uniqueness of humanity within life on earth, itself points to God. The odds of life just appearing out of nothing, or some odd mixture of chemicals, is so ridiculous that it is mathematically unscientific to think of it that simply, let alone that it would lead to humankind which is so far removed from the rest of the animal world that it is unlikely in the extreme that we just randomly mutated into what we are.

    Just think. If you were walking along and you found a computer. Are you going to believe that it was some kind of natural formation, that it evolved or whatever into that complex configuration of circuitboards, wires, etc.? A single cell is more complex than any computer, but yet so many people believe that it just formed into what it is from nothing. That takes more faith than my faith in a God that shaped the universe and life on earth.

    Does it “prove” God without any question, no. Like with many things, science often uses probability to estimate what is fact or not. In my opinion, it is far more likely that God created the universe than just randomness. You can hold a different opinion, thats perfectly fine. But probability is significant.

    It just seems to me that many athiests and scientists want God to have made some giant neon sign giving them “proof” of God, and when that doesn’t show up they declare boldly that God doesn’t exist. That is a very unscientific claim.

    And at the very least. God is a much more complex and elegant idea than something as odd as a flying spaghetti monster. A child could come up with that, but the God of the Bible is such an oddity considering all other religions of the world that it seems very unlikely that anyone would have dreamed it up. But I won’t get into that. Other people have made that argument better than myself.

  37. Pat says:

    Is humankind really ‘so far removed from the rest of the animal world’ do you think?

  38. jonbirch says:

    “I don’t think ‘discovery’ is the exclusive domain of science Jon.” me neither, pat… i think art and music and many other things are about exploration and discovery. heck! everyday holds new discoveries for me…

    …some of the are ‘re’discoveries of course, as my memory’s not the best… even when it comes to learning about myself, sadly.

    cooperton’s take on ‘the way’ is meaningful to me, because to journey leads to the possibility of discovery. i like that thought. :-)

  39. jonbirch says:

    i don’t think it is, pat. my dog knows loads of words, has learned human facial expressions to communicate and has a remarkably similar skeleton… that’s not to mention his emotion, anxiety and the fact we both have heart, lungs, liver etc.

  40. Kim says:

    Good thought Jon – I learn as much stuff from my dog as he does from me!

  41. ‘everybody places their faith somewhere… everybody’
    In Hinduism, atheism is regarded as a denial of self rather than of some exterior being.

    Miriworm #8 has it for me. We all use all three to a greater or lesser extent as our individual cultural/practical experience has taught us. That we have a trinitarian concept of God at all is attributable to this. No story of the universe has it all within it’s own constructs. We need WHAT, HOW and WHY working in conjunction to progress on the journey. The validity or predominance of one type of understanding over the other is personal preference and has throughout history seen ‘fashions’ come and go. The mistake is to believe utterly in one above the other, this is fundamentalism.

  42. jonbirch says:

    hmmmm… i guess that is a definition of fundamentalism. never thought of putting it like that.

  43. JF says:

    Cooperton (27) I enjoyed your post and some of the trains of thought it engenders, because I also love nature and seem to have an enquiring mind. But is the beauty and complexity you describe dependent on its origin? Say you were to meet a beautiful, wonderful, intelligent, loving child… would your perception of that child change if you were subsequently told that the child was a foundling and the authorities were still trying to trace the parents?

  44. Andy M says:

    Humanity is on a whole other level than the rest of the animals. You mention things that dogs or other animals can learn. They learn “words”, well they can learn that when you make that one sound that they should do this one action and they will get attention or a treat. A monkey learns that if they make this one gesture that you give them a banana. It is instinct, not learning. They don’t know that it is a “word” as a language, they just connect a sound to an action which gets them what they want or need. I heard someone say once, “I’d be impressed if the monkey taught me it’s language”

    Look at other things too. You don’t see any other animals having relational issues like feeling their mate just doesn’t love them enough. You don’t see animals contemplating meaning in life. You don’t see artistic expression in animals. The most primitive example of ancient humanity, cave art, is something completely unseen in any other species. Animals work by instinct, they need food so they hunt or gather, they mark their territory as a defense mechanism, etc. If we evolved, I would think that we would at least see some kind of tendency in other species to do at least some level of those things I mentioned above, but they don’t.

    That leads me to believe that humanity is not just different in terms of species, but of kind. We are a different kind of being. It isn’t that there aren’t similarities, it is that the differences are so vast.

  45. JF says:

    Andy M: I agree that we don’t need to re-hash existing arguments, such as the computer example. A quick trawl of YouTube for debates involving Dawkins or (my favourite) Hitchens will provide us with hours of more eloquent and engaging debate along these lines than we could achieve… and we probably wouldn’t end up agreeing about the result. I really do recommend Hitchens though!

    Yes, a child could come up with the Flying Spaghetti Monster. A child today could also create a more compelling account of the creation than bronze-age man did in the biblical texts. That child would probably mention the other planets, bacteria, the fragile balance of forces necessary for life to exist (not present on billions of other planets, nor on large portions of ours!). All these things escaped the authors of Genesis, even though the creator himself was dictating the texts. Any hint in the Bible of ANYthing which could not possibly have been known at that time would go a long way to give the biblical account some credibility as being the Word of that creator. What about all the things that God created ‘for us’, but which ceased to exist long before we arrived!? If this creation is all ‘for us’ and if we are the designated master species, surely God would have given us the best eyes, the fastest legs, and a skeleton designed for upright walking, rather than one which is still in the process of mutating from one previously suited to ‘all-fours’ movement. The differences are indeed vast! A lot of our physical attributes are absolutely third-rate compared to much of what is out there in the animal kingdom! Yet WE are in the image of God!!! No – we are simply arrogant, as a species, about our place in this world and for me it is science (and the honest contemplation of the thought processes like those Cooperton mentioned) that impel us to have a sense of humility about what we are.

    OK, you don’t see a lot of what we might readily recognise as ‘artistic expression’ in other animals, but just because a blackbird cannot pick up a brush or mix paints, that doesn’t make his song any less artful. We know little about birdsong, but we cannot yet rule out that much of it is simply free expression for its own sake. Never seen animals or birds dancing? It may be an extended/acted courtship ritual, but then what is most of our ‘art’ about? Rhetorical question.

    Did you see the “Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor” programme on BBC last week, demonstrating that we are not far removed from other mammals at all (if you can call 47m years “not far”)!? The theory of evolution is getting stronger all the time. The story of creation is looking more and more like bronze-age folklore. But of course the tautology just grows and morphs to encompass these new discoveries… “oh, it’s meant figuratively…”. Can someone point me to the post-bible edict from God which tells us which bits of the Bible are literal and which are “figurative”? No, because it is actually another example of evolution, as the tautology itself evolves to fit its environment.

    This is why children today can unpick the story of creation, or of Noah’s Ark, or of Jonah in the whale, as ‘revealed’ in the Bible. And they frequently do. At least Sunday School tends to spare kids the details of some of the more genocidal, despotic texts in the OT. I rarely see / hear Christian discussion of the biblical God’s commandments to destroy and murder (maybe Jon’s next cartoon 734 is a depiction of Old Testament God speaking?!), yet “God is Love” is a more familiar phrase. Much more palatable, because it fits better with our innate human sense of right & wrong.

    All I am saying is that I have read the Bible’s account of God creating the earth. I have read / heard some of science’s account (the bits I can understand). I know which I think provides the best basis by which to “understand” how the world came into existence. I know which one gives me the sense of humility about the place of humans in it. I am aware of statistics and how probability works (I gave a course in stats to some colleagues last week!) and to bring them into this debate as if they support the existence of God is entirely spurious. Yes, I do have a different opinion, partly BECAUSE nothing about the stats is ‘significant’ in favour of creation (not even God’s oddness!).

    If ‘creation’ points to the existence of the biblical God, the Bible itself would be unnecessary and bronze-age tribes the world over (all living within this creation) would not have all developed different theories about the origins of the planet and who/what controls the forces of nature.

    To follow on from my analogy at comment 43, it is as if a group of people (let’s call them “Group A”) has already decided, based on mere hearsay, who the child’s parents are. Group B is earnestly and honestly trying to identify the true parents but warns that its search is only just beginning. While the child is desperate to know its parents, Group A has unilaterally called off the search and would prefer to raise an emotionally damaged child than join the search for the truth. Although Group A’s talks a lot about “truth”, it turns out they are more interested in having control of the child.

    I still can only see a negative effect of Religion on Understanding, as it prescribes to its followers what they are to believe, before the evidence is even in, or deigns to actually misrepresent the evidence already collected.

  46. Andy M says:

    I didn’t realize that I was arguing for a literal 6-day creation. When I said “creation”, that isn’t what I meant. The bible was not meant to be a science book, so you can’t read it like one and expect to receive what you are looking for.

    When talking about what a child could come up with for a god or a creation story you are talking as if scientific details have to be present. The Bible is a story, not a science book like I’ve just said. But what child, or adult would come up with a story like with Jesus where “winning” involves dying, or losing? It is completely counter-cultural and as far as I am aware unheard of in other religions and belief systems around the world. It isn’t likely that any child or adult, historic or modern, would create that story.

    So, because the scriptures tell a story that might not fit modern scientific knowledge, you can throw it all out? That doesn’t make sense. Consider this, Jesus made a statement that said that the smallest seed was a mustard seed. Well we now know that that isn’t true. But even if Jesus knew that it was not, why would he confuse the people, whose current scientific understanding was that it was the smallest, when he was actually trying to make a completely different point? Jesus wasn’t giving a lecture on plants, seeds and how they grow, he was teaching something about people, and he used a seed as an example. Giving the correct example of the smallest seed would have just distracted and confused from his actual point.

    So we are sub-par in physical characteristics in comparison to many animals. So what? With all of our weaknesses, humanity is still the species that essentially rules the earth. If we are so sub-par, then why isn’t lions, elephants or something else the primary species in the world?

    Science also prescribes to its followers what they are to believe. The science that supposedly proves evolution or various other theories about the earth or humanity at the least are presented vaguely and poorly, with an arrogance that says, “You poor ignorant people, you must assume everything we scientists say is true without question” I’ve personally never seen a good argument for evolution that doesn’t avoid questions or make big assumptions. Maybe I’m wrong in my understanding of it, but science has to make its case just as much as the rest of us. And making it out that the science people have the answers and everybody else is just an idiot or ignorant, just isn’t helpful because there are many well-educated and intelligent people who disagree with evolution and various other hotly debated topics. So to assume that science doesn’t ever believe things before the evidence is in, is naive. Science depends on the reliability of those who perform it, and those people are human beings who are easily corruptible and/or can have their own presuppositions and prejudices.

    I said that creation points to God, maybe I should specify. Creation is not evidence to be used for the existence of God. But like a painting is from the work of a painter, so is the creation the work of God. The complexity and science of it shows the masterful work. I know you disagree, but I wanted to clarify.

    As far as your analogy, who says that a child will be emotionally damaged just because there is a question about who it’s parents are? Sometimes the pursuit of “truth” can do just as much damage in the long-term. Group A may turn out to be far better parents because they might focus on what a child needs like love and support in relationship, rather than constantly going through the trouble that many people go through in the search for their true parents. That kid would need to know that they belong and are loved regardless of who their parents are. My point is is that it may or may not be an interest in control over the child, your analogy has some assumptions that wouldn’t necessarily fit a situation like that.

    Personally, I don’t care what you think about it. I didn’t intend to get in here and argue about science. Believe what you want, and do your best to have a greater understanding. Christianity is ideally an understanding of the universe that wants to bring light to darkness, and understanding to where there is none. Just because some people have made it into some kind of dichotomy doesn’t make it true.

  47. Robb says:

    Interesting. I trained with a guy who gave up his funded PhD in physics at Oxford to train for ministry. He resolutely states that science is all about God.

    I love how we have changed the meaning of the word religion in the the post reformation protestant world. Amuses me greatly. Strange to see that many outside of the church don’t try to make the same protestant distinctions and lump all of the ‘spiritual not religious’ people straight back into the ‘religious’ category.

    Atheists can take the null hypothesis POV but rarely do. Or if they do they are largely unheard like my brother who just can’t be bothered. We tend to see/hear the rabid believers and proselytisers who want to grab headlines and create a following. These guys are for me as dull as rabid conservatives who hold banners and shout at catholic processions. “No popouri here! Stop worshipping idols! It says in scripture that you are going to Hell….”


    Still have no internet access so this is why I aren’t around. Sorry guys, not snubbing you, just moving house.

    Blessings dudes ;)

  48. Robb says:

    Gotta love the grammar in that last sentance!

  49. JF says:

    Hi Robb. Hope the move is going well.

    Glad you bring up the issue of a distinction between spirituality and religion. I think this distinction is also lost on some within the church too, by the way.

    I think if there was more public awareness of spirituality and that it’s (more than) OK to explore/feed it in public, I think the world would be a much better place.

    Let’s have a National Spirituality Week some time, run by a mixture of faith and non-faith groups! The atheists and agnostics could wear “We are spiritual too” t-shirts!

    It is clear to me however that any true change in public perception would require nothing less than a 12-week reality TV show or a Max Clifford PR campaign to bring about :-)

    Can’t blame your brother for not being bothered, by the way. It is always hard work arguing issues of conviction and belief, from either side. The extent to which one ought to preach one’s convictions to others is one of the things I am grappling with this very day: I have friends coming round this evening who I know from my long past in a fairly right-wing church. I know they will not pass up the opportunity to proselytise on at least one occasion during the evening and I know their convictions demand it of them. I am always keen to be accepting and respectful of what they say. I love them so much and do not want to sour many years of friendship. It is not that I ‘humour’ them; I know how deeply their convictions are held and respect that.

    I don’t shout at catholic processions either, but find that ASBO is a good place to put forward arguments / ideas and see peoples responses in a forum where everyone is involved of their own volition. I admit I don’t understand some or all of the posts on here (deficits in church language), but I guess I am less than lucid sometimes too!

    From the little I know about atheism, it seems that the collective atheist view is relatively low profile because it is not ‘organised’ as such. Atheists do not necessarily have anything in common, if you think about it. To quote a recent bus ad campaign, I guess they are just getting on with their lives!

    Atheism, it seems to me, thereby operates more as a branch of philosophy (rather than the inherent ‘lifestyle’ implications of specific theist stances) and as such it is found represented or expressed in a relatively academic setting, such as literature or (university-sponsored) debates. These theist/atheist debates are then generally attended by people who may adhere to one or other side (rather than turning up with a truly open mind), but are at least open to the idea of a debate. That is fine.

    What worries me in this context is that much of the organised christian proselytising seems to specifically target vulnerable sections of society. I am at pains to state that I do not denigrate charitable work of any kind, whoever carries it out (it is our human duty to help whomever we can), but I have seen many examples over the years where Christian friends are involved in their spare time with the soup run, the street pastor scheme, or the third world development project, yet are clearly reticent to bring up and discuss their faith with their non-Christian work colleagues or neighbours. In my childhood, I wondered why our church sent missionaries to Africa and Eastern Europe when there were hundreds of non-believers living within half a mile of the church.

    I see this as a real intellectual challenge:
    1) When I presume to enter others’ ‘space’ to tell them of my beliefs and convictions, is the interaction on an equal footing, intellectually and in terms of ‘need’?
    2) When I help the poor and vulnerable, do I do so purely because they need my help, without another motive?

    I find it interesting to ponder whether blurring the distinction between 1 & 2 might constitute a cause for concern.

  50. Robb says:

    Wow JF – tonnes of meat in that post!

    Spirituality/Religion? I think what I am trying to say is that a distinction between the two is a modern concept and in the protestant world we have tried to divorce one from the other during the post enlightenment period. Having spent a few years studying religious studies and then going on to teach religious studies before joining the church it is a bit of an amusing concept. We see people try to define ‘spiritual’ people in many different types of ways. Usually I see it down the lines of personality type. In some settings an introvert is seen as ‘spiritual’ because they can sit and be quiet and everyone thinks that means that they are always praying. In others it is the person who can extomporise in open prayer for the longest time in the group that shows a ‘spiritual’ person – rather than someone quick witted who is has a bit of a gob on ‘em. Sometimes it is the person who has read ‘all the right books’ and ‘gives the best insight’ during bible study.

    On the other hand, the person who gets out of bed every morning and every evening to recite the psalms, read the bible and pray is deemed ‘religious’ as though it is ‘dirty’ to do each of those things and not a ‘spiritual activity’.

    Atheism? There are those who turn it into a belief system. Dawkins is the easy example because he likes feathering his own nest and getting on TV. He is the best example of the things he claims the religious do.

    Prosyletising? Now there’s another dirty word. Mission? Charitable acts with the intention of something in return (faith) are not charitable acts.

    “Why do you feed me?”
    “Because you need feeding.”

    There are some who do it as a prosyletising act but they are few. They are usually weeded out by the organisation if it is a good one.

    Go to Sheffield Cathedral and watch the Bish dish out soup to the homeless with no agenda. That is mission!

    I think people feel much happier talking about their faith out of context hense they travel. Problem is that that kind of ‘sharing the gospel’ doesn’t work very well. People want to hear it from their close friends.

    Probken is that when people become ‘church’ their friends become ‘church people’.

    I’m fortunate in that most of my friends aren’t church people. They are happy to accept me as me and then deal with the dog collar issue later. Having said that, until next month they’ll not have seen me in it. Perhaps then they will all desert me…

    …But if they were like that I wouldn’t have had them as friends in the first place ;)

  51. jonbirch says:

    jf & robb… what a stunning couple of posts.
    jf… there is so much interesting, thoughtful, debatable and humble thinking in your comment that i’m gonna have to reply over time. like robb, i hear a great deal of truth in your thoughts, share your fears and constantly grapple with similar things. thanks for the things you’ve brought up and the way in which you’ve brought them up. much appreciated. :-)

    robb… also, honest as ever. here’s to good friends loving us how we are. :-)

  52. jonbirch says:

    btw. i think there’s a lot of fodder in these comments for cartoons. very stimulating… thanks! :-)

  53. Robb says:

    Aw shucks. Now I wish I had proof read it for spelling punctuation and grammar *blush*

  54. Robb says:

    Maths as religion:

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