An Easter Garden

Garden Cover Art

Garden Cover Art

Our latest work with The Liturgists is out now! I'm thrilled to introduce you to Garden, a collection of songs and movements designed for Easter. This is the most gratifying work I've ever been a part of, and I hope you are blessed by it as much as I have been. http://www.theliturgists.com/garden

Garden is also available on iTunes and Bandcamp.

My Reading List

I've been asked to recommend books on science, religion, and the intersection of the two a few dozen times this week. I thought it would be easier to make a post aggregating this list for anyone who is interested. This was a hard list for me to build–there are very few books I agree with completely, but almost every book I read teaches me something I enjoy. The books listed here either had a lot to teach me, or taught me one or two really powerful ideas.

God & Science

How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist - Andrew Newberg M.D. Few books have influenced me as dramatically as this one. I'd been searching for a researched based insight into how humans experience God for months, and was building my own model bit by bit. Little did I know, Andrew Newberg had a book that would revolutionize my understanding of how humans experience God.

When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God - Tanya Luhrmann. This is another foundational book for me–a deep, anthropological examination of faith in America.

A History of God - Karen Armstrong. A solid overview of how human societies grew to understand God overtime. I found the section on Sufism particularly interesting.

The "GOD" Part of the Brain - Matthew Alper. Among other things, this is an excellent overview of why humans are so oriented toward belief in God and the supernatural.

The Psychology of Religion - Ralph Hood, Jr. More of a reference than a read in my case, this book is an expansive look into, well, the psychology of religion.

The Righteous Mind - Jonathan Haidt. A fantastic examination of why religion and politics are so polarizing, even among people who are kind and reasonable.

God

What We Talk About When We Talk About God - Rob Bell. Is God an antiquated notion, rooted in ancient mythology? Rob argues that God is not only timely, but ahead of humanity, pulling us forward.

Love Wins - Rob Bell. Does God send people to Hell? In one of the most controversial religious books of our time, Rob makes a case for a different view of the afterlife.

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff - Christopher Moore. Fictional and fantastic account of the life of Christ as told by his childhood friend. Be warned: This book will deeply offend you if you are a traditional Christian, unless you have a dark sense of humor.

Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith - Ann Spangler. We often read scripture through modern, Western eyes. This book is an introduction to considering the Bible and the Gospels in the context they were written.

Why Christianity Must Change or Die - John Shelby Spong. An introduction to Christian non-theism. I highly recommend this to anyone interested in the teachings of Christ, but turned off by supernatural faith claims.

Religion for Atheists - Alain De Botton. An interesting look at how to approach religious for nonreligious persons.

Surprised by Hope - NT Wright. A Theologian challenges the traditional views of heaven, the afterlife, and the call of the Gospel. It'll be a stretch for secularists, but may be interesting to people believe in God as a being, and accept that Jesus is God's son.

Sin Boldly - Cathleen Falsani. An experiential look at the way the story of grace presented by the gospel subverts the human tendency toward vindictive justice.

A Year of Biblical Womanhood - Rachel Held Evans. What happens when a progressive, modern woman tries to live her life in accordance with Biblical principals and edicts? A funny, touching story.

Blue Like Jazz - Donald Miller. A series of essays whereby Donald Miller comes to terms with an ancient faith in a modern world. One of my all time favorite books.

Inspiration and Incarnation - Peter Enns. The Old Testament is difficult for many Christians as it raises a number of thorny ethical problems. Enns works to reconcile this by describing the Bible as fully divine and fully human, like Christ. A great read for any believer, while very uninteresting to secularists.

Letters from a Skeptic - Gregory and Edward Boyd. A series of letters between an agnostic father and a newly Christian son.

What is the Bible? - Rob Bell. A blog series describing the usefulness and power of scripture in the modern world. A great read for anyone who's ever said, "Why does the Bible matter anymore?"

Science

Pale Blue Dot - Carl Sagan. One of the most beautiful science books ever written. In it, Carl Sagan explains the vastness of the Cosmos and it's implications on man's self centeredness.

A Brief History of Time - Stephen Hawking. This book literally made me dizzy the first time I read it. You will know more about the nature of reality on grand scales if you read this.

The Selfish Gene - Richard Dawkins. An incredible look into the mechanics of Natural Selection, The Selfish Gene redefined biology. It's a big deal.

Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier - Neil deGrasse Tyson. If the question is, "Why explore space," the answer lies in this book.

A Universe From Nothing - Lawrence Krauss. A guided, head-spinning tour of the most recent insights quantum physics and cosmology and how they relate to our origins. Krauss is a prominent critic of religion, but his physics is truly world-class.

Free Will - Sam Harris. Do humans have Free Will? Neuroscientist and spiritual atheist Sam Harris makes an excellent case that we do not.

The Rocks Don't Lie - David Montgomery. A geologist looks into the flood account in Genesis.

Trends in Faith

Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics - Ross Douthat. Douthat explains his premise that the splintering of religious dogma and subsequent conflict are weakening the American experiment. Even if you disagree with the premise, this book offers a fascinated glimpse at how we arrived at our current faith landscape.

The Great Evangelical Recession - John S. Dickerson. A pastor/journalist crunches survey and trend data and comes up with a troubling forecast: the longtime decline among mainline Protestant Christianity is spreading to Evangelicalism.

God is Alive and Well - Frank Newport. A data based case that religion is beneficial, and that faith in God has never been stronger. The sections on the benefits of faith are powerful, thought many of the conclusions seem like an overreach.

Why I am no longer a Christian - YouTube. This series of YouTube videos is the personal account of a man leaving faith. His journey is very close to my own, and his recommended reading is great.

Easter with The Liturgists

We started The Liturgists with an ambitious (insane) goal of releasing a new liturgy every month. Our first release was Vapor, and we've been really blessed watching people respond to it. I've been especially pleased with the tremendous diversity represented in people who've experienced Vapor. We've seen an awe-inspiring variety of denominations and traditions within the Christian Church, but we've also heard encouraging words from people who aren't sure exactly what they believe about God or what the story of Jesus means to them.

It's all very exciting, but it's a brand new month. April is here and it's time for the next liturgy: Easter. I'm thrilled to tell you that our Easter liturgy will be out next week from today, on April 8. We've worked really hard on this release, and I hope you're going to love it as much as we loved making it.

The piece has three movements, each with a meditation and a song. Amena Brown, Rachel Held Evans, and Rob Bell deliver the meditations that take us through Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of the Easter story. There's something for everyone, both in the form of affirmation and a challenge to see life with new eyes. Working with Michael Gungor, Amena, Rachel, and Rob to create this work is some of the most gratifying work that I've ever done.

If you never fail, you aren't trying hard enough. Another goal for The Liturgists is to include a guided prayer or meditation as part of every release. We heard from a lot of people who found our Centering Prayer exercise helpful, and we really aimed high for Easter. Unfortunately, we couldn't get this meditation done in time to include in this month's liturgy--but we're excited to include a guided meditation in next month's release, and we're planning a larger meditative liturgy a little later in the year.

Easter is the most significant time of the year for people who follow the teachings of Jesus. We've done our best to offer you beautiful, evocative art worthy of this season. And for those who aren't sure what they believe about a story involving a man risen from the dead, we hope you'll find this work to be thoughtful and encouraging as well.

Thanks for being a part of our work.

God and Atheism Q&A

Yesterday's post about God really lit up my email inbox. My readership is pretty diverse in terms of religious beliefs (or lack of religious beliefs), so questions/comments come from all over the map. Here are a few of the most commons ones, with corresponding answers.

There is no need for religion. Anything religion offers is available via other means. The world would be better off without religion.

There is no need for ice cream. Ice cream doesn't offer anything unique nutritionally. People who binge on ice cream become obese. The world would be better off without ice cream.

There is no need for kites. Kites don't offer anything unique recreationally. Any fun you have with a kite could be had via different means. People who fly kites all the time get fired from their jobs. Kite enthusiasts sometimes make fun of people who fly remote controlled planes. The world would be better of without kites.

There's truth in both of those statements. The world would be fine without ice cream or kites. And yet, I love ice cream–it's my favorite treat. There's something about the way the coldness of the ice cream interacts with the fats and flavors in a way that is magical. We don't make and consume ice cream out of need, we make it because we enjoy it. The same is true of kites–I've spent some incredible spring days standing in a field with my daughters, marveling at how high our kite is flying. This experience is a great opportunity to spend time together and learn how the world works.


There is no need for Twitter. Anything you can communicate on Twitter can be communicated via other means. Twitter is distracting, and limiting. Also, Twitter allows uninformed opinions and hate speech to spread freely. The bad of Twitter outweighs the little good, and the world would be better of without Twitter.

There is no need for rice. Rice doesn't offer anything unique nutritionally. Rice is mainly consumed by people in poor economies, and is inferior to the nutritional options in more developed nations. The world would be better of without rice.

Again, there is some truth to those statements. Twitter is used to spread misinformation and hate. It does distract us–it's like having a text message conversation with the whole world. Unlike ice cream or kites, people don't usually love Twitter. Yet millions of people use Twitter–even though there are other communication options. Somehow, the technical architecture of Twitter intersects with the people that use it to create a means of communicating that is interesting and compelling enough that millions of new people join Twitter every year.

Who's really passionate about rice? It's a pretty unremarkable food. Yet rice can be grown in vast quantities relatively inexpensively and without specialized farm equipment. It allows a basic human need for nutrition to be filled, even in countries that can't support other grains at scale.

Like ice cream and kites, religion brings many people joy.
Like ice cream, religion is often abused.
Like Twitter, religion can build unique and interesting communities.
Like rice, religion addresses basic human needs.

Modern humanistic atheism is a bit like sushi: a luxury belief system enjoyed by the educated and wealthy of the world. You can't have sushi without excellent sanitation and specialized chefs, and you can't have atheism without an educated populace with the time to ponder intangible things unrelated to daily survival.


Why can't people just be atheists? Why prop up religion?

They can! This series is for people who desire God. If you are a happy atheist, great. I defend your right to be an atheist, and I work against people who discriminate against you based on lack of belief.

But New Atheism and antitheism trouble me. I think critical thinking and skepticism are helpful and should be promoted–and I'm thankful for the work of skeptics in highlighting this. Yet, there are claims from these communities that are dogmatic, and poorly supported by evidence.

"Belief in God is harmful."
"We'd be better off without religion."

These two claims are dogmatic and unsupported by data every bit as much as young earth creationism--and people support them with the same righteous zeal. Belief in a loving God has been demonstrated to be beneficial to health, cognition, and behavior. Likewise, I don't see adequate evidence to support the idea that violence, discrimination, tribalism, poverty or greed would be eradicated or reduced if humanity suddenly gave up faith.

As I've written before, the true enemy of peace and progress is authoritarianism. Religious and secular authoritarian movements have been the source of incredible oppression and violence in human societies.

Can't you see that your words enable fundamentalists?

No. Fundamentalists don't care for me. In the eyes of a fundamentalist, an atheist is simply a lost person who doesn't know any better, but I've been called a false teacher, false prophet, and heretic so many times that I've lost count.

Anyone who says I enable fundamentalists must not know very many of them.

I will give you some credit though. I do acknowledge that fundamentalism also has measurable benefits–few belief systems can reform behavior so quickly, and few offer such certainty about the world. Human brains crave certainty, so an unchallenged fundamentalist enjoys tremendous peace and happiness when compared to other belief systems.

I also know and love many fundamentalists who accept me as a friend, albeit with the disclaimer that they disagree with me on almost everything.

Fundamentalists aren't unique to religion. There seem to be a growing number of secular fundamentalists. Like religious fundamentalists, they want everyone else to accept their beliefs. Like fundamentalists, they devote incredible energy into forming communities of like minded people, and then "preach to the choir."

This frustrates me to no end. Both Christianity and Humanism have incredible value. Christians follow Jesus–a man who taught that self sacrifice was essential, and that God cared for the poor and the afflicted. Humanists believe that there is no salvation for humanity other than what humanity can make for itself. This belief should drive action toward alleviating the suffering and poverty that is so pervasive in our world. This is why I often label myself a Christian Humanist.

Instead, the Church spends enormous energy and resources looking after itself. Somehow, the Great Commission is translated into constructing buildings and creating programs that serve the faithful, along with lobbying politically to protect the interests of the Church.

Atheists, humanists, and secularists often claim to be a step forward for humanity–a better way of knowing and doing. But what I see the most is atheists trying to make more atheists. Like the Church, secularist movements try to spread their beliefs and lobby for political protection. There's nothing wrong with that; atheists are genuinely discriminated against today. The problem is that the movements promoting atheism exhibit the same type of tribalism that religious movements have exhibited. That's why people keep calling atheism a religion.

We'd all be better off if Christians and Secularists stopped trying to win the verbal argument and started demonstrating why their world-views are so great by actually make the world a better place.

We're all born atheists. Religion is indoctrinated, not natural.

A massive study conducted by researchers at Oxford disagree. We are born with a predisposition toward supernatural beliefs, a bias toward purpose-based explanations, and a majority of persons–including secularists in secular societies–profess belief in some form of life after death.

We aren't born scientists or skeptics either. Humans are born with a messy, conflicting set of biological impulses. Without education and socialization, we would be clever, brutish primates.

I haven't seen any data that supports a claim that we're born atheists. I can't understand why people who profess to be skeptics accept this idea so easily–aside from the fact that one of the primary drivers of human belief is social identity.

You seem to really value science, but what about history?

Secular history is a science, but one with much less certainty than physics. All sciences are uncertain--only math offers proof. But physics is much more firm than history, which in turn is more firm that psychology.

What about Jesus?

I am a Christian. The call of my life is to follow Christ. Although God is the foundation of this series, Jesus is the crescendo. I am unapologetically a Jesus person. The conclusion of this series on doubt will be about Jesus.

But, I'm also an empiricist. I believe based on evidence. Evidence leads me to value mysticism, and in mysticism I encounter Christ. All that to say, my faith is unconventional.

What about the Bible?

I love the Bible and read it daily. I'll probably do a post or two on it, but Rob Bell's series on the Bible is better than anything I'm going to write. If you want to know how I approach scripture, Rob's writings on scripture are the closest thing I've seen to my beliefs.

What about the Church?

I will absolutely do a post on the Church in the future. I am a member of the United Methodist Church in good standing. I am under the teaching and authority of a pastor, and the accountability of a congregation...

...and I love it.

If you've got more questions, just hit me up on Twitter or drop me a line.

God: The Creator

This is Part 8 of my series on Doubt. You can access the whole series here.

So far in this series, we've talked about why people doubt, and the dangers that can come with telling your community about those doubts. We've imagined life with and without God. We've tackled the idea that belief in God is delusional (it's not), as well as the idea that religion does more harm than good in the world (it doesn't). We've talked about the limits of human knowledge, and the assumptions people make to believe anything. Most recently, we talked about how some people (like me) believe that the conflict between science and faith is unnecessary.

All of that has been a long introduction for this next couple of posts. Let's talk about God, and if God exists or not.

Everything in this series rests on God. Without God, the Bible is just a collection of ancient mythologies and amped-up historical accounts. Without God, Jesus is just a guy who probably lived and had some interesting ideas attributed to him. The entire Christian experience hinges on the existence of God.

Is God real? We can't answer that without asking another question: Which God?

When people talk about chairs, all parties pretty much agree on the criteria of what makes a chair a chair. There is no global conversation about what is and is not a chair. That's not true when people talk about God. A lot of time is spent either using different meanings interchangeably, or debating about which definition is the correct one. 

There are atheists who lack belief in any God or gods.
There are Atheists who assert that there is no God.
There are antitheists who assert belief in God is harmful.
There are nontheists who are atheists, but don't like the baggage of Atheism.
There are agnostics who say they don't know who God is.
There are Agnostics who say that they don't know if God is real, but don't think anyone else can know either.
There are ignostics who say everyone makes too many assumptions about God.
There are pantheists who say that the Universe is God.
There are panentheists who say that the Universe is God plus more.
There are Deists who say God is what made the Universe, but that God does not intervene in the Universe anymore.
There are Nontheists who say that God is real, but beyond any human understanding or definition.
There are theists who say that God is a being with specific will, agency, and a plan for humanity.
Among theists, there are many opposing ideas about God. The world's three largest religions all point toward the God of Abraham, but they disagree wildly on God's character, and what His (or Her) plan for humanity is. All the world's theistic religions are subdivided into countless sects that disagree about  God.
We can't forget polytheists who believe that there are many gods out there.

"Which God," turns out to be a very big question. Let's start the same place the Bible does: the origin of everything.

Singularity

As far as we can tell, there was a time when the word “before” had no meaning. Whatever there was before there was a before is completely beyond our understanding today. We have a word for what happens when the math of how we understand reality breaks down: singularity. The singularity state is deeply strange. We don’t think there is any time in singularity, although some scientists disagree. There is no light, matter, gravity, or any of the other things we are familiar with. Our current understanding is that all the forces in physics were just one unified force. Matter, energy, and whatever makes up matter and energy, it seems all was one.

When you are in a singularity state, big is small and small is big. Space is compressed so tightly that the forces that usually govern the behavior of the tiny particles that make up atoms and forces have an effect on a cosmic scale. This is very fortunate–without it we probably would not be here today.

“Formless and void” is as good a phrase as any to describe what was before there was.

Scientists have all kinds of hypotheses about what caused this state. First, there’s an idea that nothing is so unstable that it automatically creates something, and that this something is so energetic that it inflates forever. Sometimes little pockets of this something slow down enough to make a Universe, sort of like a bubble in a pot of boiling water.

Another idea is there are infinite Universes stacked atop each other like membranes of film, which sounds funny because how can things that are infinite in 3 directions stack at all? These Universes can stack because the stacking happens in additional dimensions that are curled on top of themselves. Sometimes these membrane Universes touch each other and you get a Big Bang in each of them.

If that gives you a headache, you are perfectly normal. On the other hand, consider a career in theoretical physics if the idea comes naturally to you.

Science may seem contradictory that you can have two different ideas about the same event, but that’s how it works. These ideas are just hypotheses–ideas put forward by someone on an educated hunch. Science works because no one will accept a hypothesis unless it is verified by an experiment or observation in the real world. The results of this observation have to be recorded, and you have to tell people how they can make this observation on their own. You publish all that and then other scientists review it, and confirm or reject it with other experiments, which are also reviewed. Most hypotheses don’t survive this scrutiny. 

Occasionally, a hypothesis is tested so thoroughly that it is proven, and you get a Law. Other times, it becomes part of a large body of work that helps us understand the world better. These larger understandings are called Theories, and they change the world. The Theory of Gravity, The Theory of Evolution and the Big Bang Theory are all so well supported by evidence that you can base further work on them. Theories are so well supported with data that you can trust them, and whatever problems they have describing reality are widely known in the scientific community.

However nothing became something, our tiny Universe was filled with immense levels of energy. It was unimaginably hot, enough to annihilate anything that exists in the Universe today at a fundamental level. When the Universe started to grow, it grew at an incredible rate–a process called Cosmic Inflation. The singularity expanded faster than the speed of light. We've found the first direct evidence for Inflation this week in the form of gravity waves. Gravity waves were first proposed by Einstein, and we finally imaged them in 2014.

Those of you who know a bit about science will cry, “foul,” at all this inflation talk. Nothing can travel faster than light in our Universe. That’s true, but we’re talking about space itself–the fabric of the Universe. Even as a singularity, the Universe was still infinite in all directions, it’s just that space itself was compressed. When space is compressed in this way, conventional matter and energy can’t exist. Mere moments after the singularity started to rapidly expand, our Universe was made of something called quark-gluon plasma, and we built the Large Hadron Collider specifically to reproduce those conditions on a very small scale.

Quark-gluon plasma is strange. Little bits of matter and energy appear and are annihilated really quickly. The things we associate with reality aren’t possible. There are no atoms, molecules or other large scale matter. Even light is absorbed or annihilated. Our Universe was hot and chaotic for it’s first 380,000 years, but after that something remarkable happened. Space had spread out enough for the Universe to cool and for the first time our Universe was transparent to light.

I love how this bit of physics echoes a more ancient creation account: "Let there be light."

The first light was very bright. Everything in all directions was much brighter than any star today. This event, more than any other, allows us to determine the age of the Universe. We took a picture of it. No seriously, we did. I get asked a lot how we could take a picture of something that happened before galaxies, stars and planets existed. The answer is simple: the sky is a time machine.

Light is really fast, but 186,000 miles per second doesn’t cover much ground on a cosmic scale. Things in space are really far away, so it takes quite a while for light to reach us from other objects in the Universe. When you look at the moon, you see the moon as it was 1.3 seconds ago. The Sun is about 8 light-minutes away, so when you look at it, you are looking 8 minutes into the past.

When view through a telescope on Earth, Saturn appears as it was over an hour ago.

When view through a telescope on Earth, Saturn appears as it was over an hour ago.

When I look at the rings of Saturn in my telescope, I’m looking about 80 minutes into the past.
The Voyager I probe is 17.5 light hours away. If aliens appeared in front of it, we wouldn’t know for 17.5 hours, and if we immediately sent a signal back they wouldn’t hear from us until 35 hours after they appeared by Voyager.

When I look at Proxima Centauri, one of the stars nearest to our own, I roll the calendar back 4.2 years.

If I turn my look at Orion’s belt, I see it’s stars as they were 736, 1,340, and 915 years ago. The light I see in the sky left those stars long before America was a nation.

Orion's Belt

Orion's Belt

Andromeda is the closest major galaxy to our Milky Way, and looking at it takes you back 2.5 million years–long before humans appeared on Earth.

Andromeda Galaxy

Andromeda Galaxy

The deeper you look into the sky, the farther back in time you go. And now you see how we can take a picture of the Universe 13.8 billion years ago. The oldest thing we can see is Cosmic Background Radiation, the echo from the moment our Universe was transparent to light for the first time. Two scientists measured it on accident while building a radio telescope–they thought it was an equipment malfunction.

Their accidental success lead to more intentional efforts (and a Nobel Prize). Our next attempts to sample our origins were done with ground based telescopes and balloons. These efforts were exciting, but they couldn’t give us a 360º, high resolution image. It’s tough to look at space from Earth as the atmosphere and the planet itself are constantly getting in the way.
In 2001, we launched a probe called WMAP. It was aimed for an orbit on the far side of the moon at something called Lagrange 2, which is a spot in space where the Sun’s gravity and Earth’s gravity cancel out. From this vantage point, WMAP had a clear view of the whole sky, and took a remarkable image: a baby picture of the whole Universe.

If you take anything from all this, please note that there is tremendous evidence to support an old Universe that started as a singularity. WMAP and later missions show us images of the Universe when it was less than 400,000 years old. Gravity waves take us back even further: to the first moments our Universe started to expand. This is what makes Young Earth Creationism and other literal interpretations of Genesis dangerous to belief–people who become science literate are forced to choose between evidence and God.

At Least

Physicists and astronomers tell us the Universe transformed from something singular and unfathomable into what we see today over immense time scales. When we talk about singularities, we start to bump up against the limits of human insight. For all our impressive accomplishments, any single human brain holds only a small, limited model of reality–of which that brain's consciousness is given just enough to operate in the world.

We don't understand anything completely, and you can observe this because our models fail. Anyone who's bounced a ball only to have it jump in an unexpected direction has seen the limits of their model of "ball" and "floor." When something surprises you, that's a difference in observed reality and your mental model. We don't have complete knowledge of our friends, parents, spouses, or children. We're even surprised by our own actions–there are mysteries in our own minds and bodies.

Our intuition is remarkable at dealing at the scale of things larger than a grain of sand and smaller than a mountain, but it breaks down when dealing with very small and very large things. Our language reflects the limitations of human awareness. Ask a science teacher to explain electrons. Now ask a University professor. Next, talk to a physicist who specializes in quantum mechanics. They'll all explain electrons using analogies, and those analogies will reflect different understandings. Our knowledge of electrons has changed over time: they've been particles orbiting a nucleus, they've been clouds, they've been wave-functions that exist probabilistically. If you talk to someone who understands the mathematics of electrons really well, you'll probably see frustration in their face as they try to put into words what only math can adequately express.

There are no words for electrons. We have to use equations to explain them fully. The fidelity of language is too low to talk about our current understanding of electrons. Math has much greater precision to describe reality than any human language when describing the physical world. And that's just electrons.

We don't have any working knowledge of how gravity works on a quantum level. All the proposed mathematical models and theories have failed to find validation in the world's particle accelerators. We'll probably crack the gravity mystery in time, bit for know the fundamentals of gravity are unknown to our species.

Singularity is a whole new league of unknown. Language breaks down describing scales that are subatomic and cosmic, but math itself breaks down when you get to singularity. All sorts of variables start to approach and reach infinity–a bad sign when using math to describe the Universe. We don't have even a theoretical basis for observing anything beyond our observable Universe–spatially or temporally.

What does this all have to do with God? Almost all the world's religions call God, "The Creator". Most religions also say God is beyond our comprehension language–right before they use language to describe God. Most Christians would say that God is an all-powerful, all-knowing, benevolent being. But think of "In the beginning," from Genesis and the Singularity of The Big Bang Theory. What do terms like "being," "will," or "knowing" mean against that backdrop? Do you have will without time? Even the word "being" is linked to a particular state, and seems very limited compared to the tiny glimpse we see of our origins in the Singularity. When trying to explain God, I feel great affinity with the mystics who refuse to describe divinity with words. The Unchanging God makes more sense in physics that in Creationism!

Our models of reality (which is to say, our understandings about life) are provisional. We change the meaning of electrons as we learn more about them–and we haven't known about them very long. So, when I define God, I start by saying "at least." Physicists start any explanation of gravity with a disclaimer that our knowledge is incomplete, and so I do the same with God. My understanding of God is just that–my understanding, harvested from my limited knowledge of the world.

The other thing about my definition of God is I stick to things that I can prove and validate scientifically. Anything we take on faith is subject to erosion by doubt, and when I define God I need to start with something that will not be eroded by my own skepticism. If God is our creator, what can we prove about what created us? If God sustains us, what keeps the Universe together? This is the first definition I had for God after I returned to faith:

God is at least the set of natural forces that created and sustain the Universe.

As understandings of God go, this one is pretty easy to defend. If anyone complains that this definition of God is too limited, "at least" is an invitation for them to make a case to expand it. Others scoff and say that God must encompass the supernatural, but the Merriam-Webster dictionary comes to the rescue by offering this definition for God: a person or thing of supreme value.

I would argue that the "cause" for our Universe to exist and continue existing is a thing of supreme value. I can't think of anything of higher value. Everything important to us needs a universe to exist within.

I've been asked, "Why define God at all?" Some people want to follow God, but all the dominant understandings in our culture are either too ancient, and therefore against the findings of modern sciecne, or too numinous to be comprehensible. This has given rise to a part of our society that wants to know and experience God and spiritual community, but feels like they have to compromise their basic understanding of reality to do so. My definitions of God, or axiom, is for people like that. Modern people who believe science is right when it describes reality, but also have some life experience that connects them to something more trancedent as well. 

There's a reason that theistic religions outnumber deistic ones. Humans also experience God, and in ways that are more powerful and intimate than simple existing in the Universe. What does science have to say about those experiences? Where do they come from?

To grow our understanding of God, we'll have to study mystical experiences, and the human brain. For me, that start with Rob Bell serving the Eucharist.

This post generated a lot of questions and comments. I address the most common ones here.