Friday, August 7, 2009

Gary A Kent Photography Website

Take a look at my photography website at for snippets of my philosophy along with some terrific photos.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Literally Literal

There is no such thing as the literal truth of the Bible. Even the word "literal" itself is subject to interpretation. Do you mean it in the dictionary definition sense or in the legal sense?

All language is metaphor. We are taught in grammar school that "the word is not the thing." Yet, when we apply words in a sentence, we use the words as if they were "the things". If we apply words according to their definitions, we tell a little story about it. The definition is itself a restatement of the word in terms of more words which themselves have definitions. Ultimately, we tell stories about our words that are so far from the actual truth or experience of them that they cannot be regarded as other than metaphor.

The Bible was revealed by God to its authors in such a way that it would be understandable to illiterate ancient peoples. Most of the Bible was handed down from generation to generation in the form of the spoken word or in song. Even after it was finally written down it was subject to alteration, for it was copied dozens of times. Undoubtedly the scribes made errors. No human is perfect.

Then there is the problem of language. We do not have the original texts of the Bible, for the most part. Even if we did, we would have to read them as translations. Actually, we read translations of translations of translations. These are interpretations or substitutions of one metaphor for another in the hope that the basic meaning still will get through.

God chose His words carefully so that ancient listeners and readers would understand and not be confused. He knew that we, as modern literate readers with the benefit of greater knowledge and understanding, could approach the Bible's choice of phrases and wording with the sophistication of informed readers. We are informed by our knowledge of different cultures, of the intricacies of language and by science. God trusts us to be able to use our brains to see past the simplifications and, yes, sometimes the oversimplifications, of biblical accounts.

The sequence of events in, say, Genesis, are laid out in artistic format that would not confuse the ancient listener or reader. The timelines are logical to the illiterate mind but may make little sense to us "moderns" if taken literally in the light of our more advanced knowledge. And, just because events may be listed in a certain order does not necessarily imply that the Bible insists that they actually occurred in that order. It just makes for more orderly prose that might be better understood by the uneducated mind.

God wants us to use our brains and our knowledge to interpret the Bible. Why else would He have given us such big heads? So, the Bible story of creation, for instance, is a skeletal, simplified, perhaps oversimplified account of how things came to be. With the knowledge which God's gift of science to us provides, we can flesh out the skeleton and build an account that is closer to the "literal" truth.

With this in mind, we can see that the Bible's timeline is strongly condensed in Genesis, the presentation of the sequence of events is tailored for illiterate farmers and nomads and much is left out. With our knowing this, God trusts us to see His real purpose and perceive His true Word.

This means that the signs and signals of science can be reconciled with the biblical account of, say, creation in Genesis, for example. And for literary purposes it is not necessary to insist on technical accuracy anyway. The bottom line is whether God manages to get His ideas across.

My bottom line is that there need not be any contradiction between the commonly accepted truths of science, including natural selection, astronomy, cosmology or geophysics and Genesis or any other part of the Bible. God made us Responsible. This means that He charges us with the task of using our boney heads.

He did not evolve for us our big brains for nothing.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Chapter Zero - - RED FLAG

In my early college years I told myself that I must leave the Church for science. I said it didn't matter because I could always return. But I wanted to live free and unencumbered, ready to explore the plains and rivers of reality, the mountains and valleys of truth, seeking certainty in knowledge and with no baggage of belief to weigh me down. I wanted to live life so fully that I might actually get tired of it. And if I did tire, I knew the Church would take me back without question or recrimination.

So I left on my long journey, my sabbatical, full of hope and confidence.I went so very far and I did incredibly witness so much that I can hardly remember it all. The verdant jungles of great national laboratories beckoned. Rivers of worthy data gushed from my computers as they dammed the experimental flows from my own custom built, sophisticated instruments in my lab at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. Mountains of information crossed my desk as I planned my teaching course-work, prepared research efforts, detailed lecture material and secured my research laboratory notes for the dissertation that would never be written.

In the mean time, in the cool valleys of science research libraries all over Chicago, I rested peacefully and drank deeply of the sparkling spring waters that nourished the very ground of all human innovation. I was supremely happy.

But, things must change. The mean temperature of the universe is 3.2 degrees Kelvin. Earth bakes at 284 K. Only for a perfect crystal at absolute zero does time stop. When inevitable disappointment turned to disaster, I found I could not consummate my studies for the Ph.D. in chemistry that I had worked for since my second year of high school.

But I still had hope.I founded a commercial analytical laboratory that was subject to U.S. government regulatory enforcement whims. After five years I had to close it because the frenzy of fear surrounding the infamous asbestos hysteria abated. The E.P.A. stopped emphasizing remediation of this form of environmental contamination. Markets for my lab's services evaporated in the flames of the new rage against radon pollution of indoor air.

I gave my noble quest to do science one more try in the name of pure knowledge and of my alma mater when an unusual new opportunity arose in the pharmaceutical world for an inorganic analytical chemist like me. But, I was hired only as window dressing to run a show laboratory for the approbation of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Once the time for impressing the government bureaucrats had passed, my services were no longer needed. My expertise could be outsourced to any of a number of consulting laboratories. Only earnest proprietary drug firms maintained facilities in my area of analytical prowess (chemical microscopy). This was a generic pharmaceutical firm that was not really serious about aggressively pursuing quality.

After these three major setbacks I began to reconsider my trek away from God and the Church. Perhaps it was time to return, I thought, but I had spent too much time thinking like a scientist to throw it all over now and blindly return to faith. I needed some rationale, some motivation. But, I could find no solace in the writings of apologists for faith whose works had already been considered and discounted. They all sounded lame and trite, almost canned and prefabricated, like a sermon that had been delivered for the four hundredth time. I needed something different, something new, something convincing and above all, something intelligent and challenging as well as inspiring.

C.S. Lewis offered some new insight, but I needed even more. There must be seeds of faith in the very science I had been studying, for scientists pursue truth and Truth is what I coveted. So I looked at what I had been taught and searched it for the most pertinent and profound veracities that I could find in all of modern science.

During my sojourn, my faith had shriveled and was crippled with the diseases of disuse. So I crawled around in the dust and found a few good pieces of nice wood, a couple of sturdy rods from which I could fashion strong trustworthy crutches. When I had finished my work, I set my tools, my instruments, on flat hard ground and used them to painfully climb to my feet. I stood, but I could not walk. I was amazed at what I saw from that so very slightly more lofty vantage.

From this surprising new perspective I can see just above the milling crowd to distant places that before I could not even imagine. One tall, fine man walks past in the distance. The crowd is parting in front of him and closing in behind, as though he is being propelled by the pressure of the multitude behind and attracted by the welcoming vacuum of clear perfect space in front. He seems to sense my presence and gently alters his trajectory toward me. As the humanity between us thins, I can see his kindly young face wears a wide new smile as if he had just been laughing.

He beams a moment, examines my peculiar stance and the odd pieces of furniture I had fashioned out of wood and twine. "It is good!" he declared.

I grinned. "Yes. It took a while, but now I am up again for the first time in years!"

"Now walk. Come to me. And cast down your crutches. They are indeed just a crutches!" Jesus commanded.

"Oh no, Sir, I have not taken a step for so long I have forgotten how!"

"Walk! Come to me. Throw away the lumber, you don't need it!"

There is something about a direct command from Jesus that cannot be ignored. I don't even want to. I hunch my shoulders, draw a deep breath and take one, slow, strangely painless step. Then the other foot follows. Suddenly I yield to an explosive urge to ditch the crutches. I walk!

After that, I came straight to Jesus, having journeyed almost thirty years. I walked to Him despite my atrophied muscle, my weakened bone. I followed Him with the crowd. I grew stronger, my legs carried me with growing vigor with each new step, stood straight with strength and stamina at every stride. Great Good God, I jumped for joy!

But I did not forget my crutches. I drew up a design. I describe my plan here in great detail. I offer it with this book of instructions. It will help get your head up above the crowd so Jesus can be seen, and He will see you! Then, at His command and only then, come to Him unaided, walking tall and strong with gladness, confidence and hope equal to my own.


I jumped for joy because Jesus made me free. We humans use the language of metaphor like this not only to tell inspiring stories like this but also to attempt the reverse: we strive to enslave God. We use words, dogma, doctrine, interpretation of scripture or religious commentary, and even prayer to try to gain control of That Which Cannot Be Controlled. The following section of this chapter will show how language can describe God approximately, but can never enclose His Essence. Only meditation, silent, unarticulated peaceful attention, can even approach God and this we can do only roughly. But even so, we hope our crudely articulated representations of God get better and better with time, over millennia. We trust that God's Revelation to us makes this happen.

Except in our insistent, articulating lexical minds which are slaves to inevitable bad logic, God is unlimited. God is, was and ever will be unbound, whether we like it or not. God does need to be liberated, however. He needs to be emotionally freed from the shackles we place on Him in our own minds and speech. He needs to be freed from the boundaries we place on Him in our irresponsible use of various kinds of languages. He needs to be freed from the wordy prison in which we put Him in order to make Him do as we please. We say He must be our servant or we will never let Him out of our logical dungeon. Sometimes, Christians even try to directly command God by saying “I bind Thee” in public prayer. If this all wasn’t so funny and foolish, it would be blasphemy.

God can be freed by acknowledging that nothing we can say about Him is perfectly certain or one hundred percent complete. The lexical and other linguistic boundaries we try to put on God do not exist. Due to their intrinsic indescribability their very non-existence poses questions and consequent answers that are contradicted only in the Residuum.

There is a sort of Heisenberg uncertainty about articulated statements pertaining to God (and about everything else, actually). Language and even the ideas they represent and the very mind itself generally act in a quantum physical way. If you want to know where a small particle is, you cannot know much about its motion. If you know its inertia, its tendency to move, you can never deduce where exactly it is. There is an uncertainty principle for language. The sum of all our uncertainties is enclosed by the Residuum.

Words and ideas, even images, can not only superpose, interfere and reinforce, they follow a law of irreducible uncertainty that is defined only by how much effort we are willing to put into refining them. There is a point where more effort and more description and more information become counterproductive to improved understanding. One more word, one more noticeable brush stroke, one more sigh raises more questions than it settles. God is freed when we open the door to His cage into the Residuum of the inexpressible and unexpressed plausible unknown.

The best way to open the door is to shut up. Dogma, ritual, doctrine and all artistic representations of truth are all fundamentally limited and uncertain. The time comes when it is appropriate only to be quiet. Conflict and violence over words reduces this time, expands the Residuum of Plausible Deniability. Silence in the presence of God is required or He will not be present. Still and peaceful apprehension must be employed to find Truth. Thus, we can free God and find God Unbound in the Residuum.

By now you may have noticed that the Residuum must constitute a sort of Christian Tao, a compendium of profound unanswered and unanswerable questions having a spiritual or existential component. The Residuum reverberates to quantum statements of Joseph Campbell’s take on Teilhard de Chardin.