Saturday, November 22, 2008

"I wind experiences around myself and cover myself with pleasures and glory like bandages in order to make myself perceptible to myself and to the world, as if I were an invisible body that could only become visible when something visible covered its surface."

-Thomas Merton

Friday, November 21, 2008


In A Secular Age, Charles Taylor describes the differences in the Western world between the year 1500 and the year 2000. He describes the year 1500 as an age of Enchantment, when people believed that fulfillment was found outside of themselves, and saw non-human entities (angels, evil spirits, relics, icons, etc.) having causal influence over their lives. The year 2000, on the other hand, is marked by progress in the sciences and a greater understanding of the world in which we live, leading to an age of disenchantment. No longer do people believe that angels or evil spirits have any sort of causal influence on their lives, and fulfillment is found within the mind. There are no spirits bringing weather patterns as a result of sin or charity, only the laws of nature describing normal occurences.

For the most part though, Christians still believe in outside causal influences. Only now we cannot hold these beliefs naively, as Taylor would say. A Christian can watch the weather channel and see hurricanes forming along with the atheist. So what does it mean to say that a hurricane is sent as judgment on a city, or to pray that a hurricane not hit? Are certain hurricanes somehow injected with purpose, while others are simply the right mixture of weather patterns and waves?


I want to become reenchanted with the world, but not with any sort of ignorance. To stand in awe of the God who created the stars, while understanding and acknowledging the natural existence of stars themselves. When I was little, I would see with ultimate wonder the beauties of nature as a sign pointing to the creator of nature. And I was a great philosopher then. All children are great philosophers. It only takes a seven year old son repeatedly asking his dad "why?" for every answer the dad gives him about why things are the way they are to see that. It's only when we become older that we become satisfied with simple answers and forget that our questions might actually be bigger than that.


It is one thing for a scientist to tell you the history of cellular organisms, but another thing for the philosopher to tell you the purpose of cellular organisms. As Christians, we have to have open ears, wide eyes, and thoughtful mouths with our dialogue partners in the sciences and philosophies. Because purpose is still extremely important, and that means we still have a place at the table.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Descartes' Skull

This is the skull of Rene Descartes. Across his forehead is a Latin poem celebrating his genius, as well as an accusation of theft written in Swedish. Descartes believed that the mind and body were completely separate things, and the irony of his skull being separated from his bones has been noted by several sources.

But anyway, the skull of Rene Descartes is now kept under lock and key at an anthropology museum in Paris, Musee de l'Homme. In 2005, Russell Shorto went to this museum to see the skull for himself. The director of conservation led Shorto to the basement, where he took the skull out from its box where it is currently kept and presented it for his viewing...

"Voila le philosophe."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Carry The Weight

The new Denison Witmer album, Carry the Weight, is out. I just got it but haven't been able to listen to it much yet.

When I first moved to Pompano Beach in 05 (post Katrina), Denison's last album, Are You a Dreamer?, came out. I drove all around that afternoon and couldn't find it anywhere. Finally, at one record store an employee told me they had been given a promo copy of the album. He gave it to me, with the promise that I wouldn't tell anyone. That cd was so valuable to me that when I got to Brad and Mandi's apartment for Bible Study later that night, I actually brought it inside with me.

Sometimes I would listen to that album at night time while I read Celebration of Discipline or Orthodoxy. That was an incredible year of openness and discovery in my life, embracing Richard Foster and G.K. Chesterton and the emergent church. And Denison's music was the soundtrack to all of that.

"When did we decide that life had to be
All facts and checks, that we lost mystery?"

Thursday, November 13, 2008

New Books

A few new books that I'm really enjoying or have recently enjoyed:

Born Standing Up - Steve Martin
Descartes' Bones - Russel Shorto
The Best of All Possible Worlds - Steven Nadler
Warranted Christian Belief - Alvin Plantinga

Since college I had written Descartes off as a guy with one pithy phrase ("I think, therefore I am") and an outdated idea ('ghost in the machine'/soul-body complete distinction). But I've recently realized how important Descartes is for modern philosophy, and Descartes' Bones is an excellent history of the man and his philosophy, really well written by New York Times columnist Russel Shorto. Nadler's book is a sequel of sorts to the Descartes book, as it traces his line of thought and the reaction to it through three important philosophers (Malebranche, Liebnitz, Arnauld). I'm a big fan of both of these books, and they are both extremely accessible, historical, fun accounts to read.

I have a few areas of study that I want to try to blog about soon, such as whether God intervenes in life and what that might look like, and whether we actually have distinct, immaterial souls. So I'm going to try to work on that.

Oh, and the Steve Martin book is amazing. Makes me appreciate his stand-up way more than I already did.