Interviews Everywhere

I do a lot of interviews, but I've had several recently that I especially enjoyed. I'm posting them here for any of you who may be interested in what we discussed--they all cover topics I frequently get emailed about.

I talked about the philosophical and practical implications that science has for Christianity with the folks over at This was a really nerdy talk, and more theological/philosophic than my usual fare. For those of you who've asked me about those kinds of discussions, this one is for you.

My friend Lanny Donoho and I sat down to talk about the science of prayer and meditation, as well as practical tips to try mindfulness. That conversation wandered into faith, doubt, and how the church and best help those who are working out what they believe.

At the End of the Day Podcast asked me about the science of gender and orientation in the light of LGBT equality and the modern church. I really learned a lot from the hosts of the show, and I think it's a great listen for anyone who wants to dig deeper into the science of attraction and what it means for people of faith.

Of course, there's a brand new Ask Science Mike today (The Apocrypha, Death, and The Day The Sun Stood Still), and The Liturgists Podcast just released a really popular episode on The End of the World.

photo credit: podcast via photopin (license)

My website is a safe place for people whose beliefs about God are changing. Many are recovering from spiritual abuse or trauma. Please remain civil and kind in the comments section at all times.

Axioms About Faith

PSST! I wrote a whole book about doubt and the science of learning to love God again after losing your faith. It's called Finding God in the Waves. Click here to learn more.

This post is going to be nerdy, but it's been widely requested. I can't put it off any longer without starting a riot among my most loyal listeners and readers. It probably won't be interesting if you don't need it, but I've found that people who need these ideas find them fascinating–even refreshing.

These are my axioms of faith. An axiom is a premise so evident as to be accepted as true without controversy (according to Wikipedia). To that note, everything on this list is something I can support with mainstream science. This is a form of faith for empiricists and skeptics–the people who need evidence to support any belief.

Some of these are more developed than others. My axiom for God is an example of one I can defend well. My axiom for sin on the other hand, could reasonably be disputed by a philosopher. It's reasonable, but far from perfect.

This system isn't perfect, but when the way you know God is crumbling (or already dust), this can be a scaffold that supports you as you build a new model for the Divine. Even in my case, these axioms don't incorporate all I believe. I'm leaning towards an Eastern Orthodox view of salvation these days, but I can't back that empirically. It's a matter of faith.

The Axioms of Faith are a ladder. The starting point is complete religious and spiritual unbelief. Each step moves you toward some form of Christian belief and practice–but never an orthodox Christian faith. There's nothing in these axioms about Christ as an exclusive means of salvation, for example. Nor is there anything about heaven or hell–the afterlife is unfalsifiable at this point.

For me, these were a fence against my most intense doubt. My ability to deconstruct and analyze every experience led me to doubt the nature of my encounter with God in the weeks after it happened. So did new insights or learnings from science, and new arguments against belief in God. This list is my search for answers in the face of The Mystery–all those things we don't know about how we got here and the why behind it all (if there is any "why" at all).

Faith is AT LEAST a way to contextualize the human need for spirituality and find meaning in the face of mortality. EVEN IF this is all faith is, spiritual practice can be beneficial to cognition, emotional states, and culture.

God is AT LEAST the natural forces that created and sustain the Universe as experienced via a psychosocial model in human brains that naturally emerges from innate biases. EVEN IF that is a comprehensive definition for God, the pursuit of this personal, subjective experience can provide meaning, peace, and empathy for others.

Prayer is AT LEAST a form of meditation that encourages the development of healthy brain tissue, lowers stress, and can connect us to God. EVEN IF that is a comprehensive definition of prayer, the health and psychological benefits of prayer justify the discipline.

Sin is AT LEAST volitional action or inaction that violates one's own understanding of what is moral. Sin comes from the divergent impulses between our lower and higher brain functions and our evolution-driven tendency to do things that serve ourselves and our tribe. EVEN IF this is all sin is, it is destructive and threatens human flourishing.

The afterlife is AT LEAST the persistence of our physical matter in the ongoing life cycle on Earth, the memes we pass on to others with our lives, and the model of our unique neurological signature in the brains of those who knew us. EVEN IF this is all the afterlife is, the consequences of our actions persist beyond our death and our ethical considerations must consider a timeline beyond our death.

Salvation is AT LEAST the means by which humanity overcomes sin to produce human flourishing. EVEN IF this is all salvation is, spiritual and religious actions and beliefs that promote salvation are good for humankind.

Jesus is AT LEAST a man so connected to God that he was called the Son of God and the largest religious movement in human history is centered around his teachings. EVEN IF this is all Jesus is, following his teachings can promote peace, empathy, and genuine morality.

The Holy Spirit is AT LEAST the psychological and neurological components of God that allow God to be experienced as a personal force or agent. EVEN IF this is all the Holy Spirit is, God is more relatable and neurologically actionable when experienced this way.

The Church is AT LEAST the global community of people who choose to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. EVEN IF this is all the church is, the Church is still the largest body of spiritual scholarship, community, and faith practice in the world.

The Bible is AT LEAST a collection of books and writings assembled by the Church that chronicle a people group's experiences with, and understanding of, God over thousands of years. EVEN IF that is a comprehensive definition of the Bible, study of scripture is warranted to understand our culture and the way in which people come to know God.

May this scaffold support you as it supported me.

My website is a safe place for people whose beliefs about God are changing. Many are recovering from spiritual abuse or trauma. Please remain civil and kind in the comments section at all times.

A Quick Note About Email

Hi friends,

I've been blogging for over 10 years, but I've never had an email list until recently. Email is a big deal. People guard their inboxes, and for good reason. Email is still one of the most widely used, valuable forms of human communication.

I set up an email list when so many people asked me about it that it was easier to set one up that it was to explain why I didn't have one. It's been great. A lot of people subscribe everyday, not many unsubscribe, and most people open the emails they get from me. But as my work has grown, I've been plagued by a daily worry: "Am I sending too much email?"

This may strike you as a trivial thing to worry about, but I consider it a privilege that people follow my work at all. The last thing I want to do is saturate people with too many messages or something they aren't interested in. Now that I have a blog, plus podcasts, events, and more, I don't know how to tell who in my audience is interested in what.

So I asked.

I sent an email asking people to fill out a two question survey. Here are the results:

  1. The amount of email you get from me is...
    • just right (92%)
    • too little (4%)
    • too much (4%)
  2. What should I send you? (rounded to the nearest 5%)
    1. Everything you do, but as a once per week email. (40%)
    2. Everything you do, as it happens (30%)
    3. Blog posts and special announcements only (20%)
    4. Ask Science Mike and special announcements only (15%)
    5. Only special announcements. (5%)

This was really helpful information, and thank you to the thousand people who responded! Of course, these answers mean I have to change the way my email lists works. Until today, my email system automatically sends any new blog post that come out every day, ignoring Ask Science Mike completely. That means most weeks, I send one email, but some weeks two or three.

Here's what's new:

Now, the email system will send a weekly email on Thursdays that includes any new blog posts and the latest episode of Ask Science Mike. 40% of the list likes that and I want to err on the side of sending less email.

If you belong to one of the other categories, don't worry. I've set up different groups in my email system and you can pick the messages you want to receive. Just look at the bottom of any email you get from me for this message, "You are in control of how much email you get from me, and how often. Click here to update your email preferences."

I'll send special announcements and local events to everyone, but if you only want to follow my blog, or only follow my podcast, or want to get everything as soon as I release it, you can select that option.

And if you're not on my email list, I'd love to have you. You can join at the bottom of this post.

Peace, love, entropy,
Science Mike

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My website is a safe place for people whose beliefs about God are changing. Many are recovering from spiritual abuse or trauma. Please remain civil and kind in the comments section at all times.

Do the Work

Lately, people think I've got a plan. They believe I'm executing a carefully crafted playbook. I host two podcasts. I write a blog. I do a lot of interviews and speak at a lot of events. I'm working on a book.

I have no idea what I'm doing.

No one is more surprised by the traction my work is getting than I am. So, when people ask me "How do you find blog readers," or "How can I get more podcast listeners," I don't know what to say. It's as much a mystery to me today as it's ever been.

I don't think anybody knows what they're doing. All the people we think of as successful or influential, as far as I can tell, are mystified at how their work finds an audience.

This mystery is not absolute, because I can track the changes in my life to some specific changes in behavior, and I've noticed these behaviors are common to everyone I know whose work has scale.

1. What you do today beats what you might do tomorrow.

We humans are natural dreamers, and we like to plan out a path that will give us the most reward for the least effort. We work on and refine ideas in our heads endlessly. We imagine our book, or our podcast, or our hit record.

Stop doing that.

There's nothing wrong with dreaming, but people can't hear your dreams. You have to wrestle your dreams from the ether and into form. You have to sit down and type, or record, or sculpt.

You'll hate a lot of what you make. The first fruits will look and smell funny. That's ok. Your failure to produce something you like is exactly what teaches you to make something that you do like.

So dream, dream big, but work on turning those dreams into a work every single day. Don't talk about writing, or read about writing. Write.

2. Make what you need.

Despite all the myriad media options today, there is something you wish existed that does not. Some different sound in music, or some discussion or story. You want to read a story about two computers that fall in love but can't have babies. You want to hear a song that features an accordion/banjo backing tracks.

On a deeper level than taste, what's missing in the world? What story is untold? What downtrodden community needs a hand?

Congratulations, it's your job to make the thing you want. No one else will. You may find that when you build a daily discipline of making things, more ideas come to you. Write them down–you may miss them later.

3. Talk about what you love and what breaks your heart.

Forget marketability. Don't look at the trends. What makes you tick? What wakes you up? What turns you on?

That's what your work should be about. The more specific the better. I love neuroscience and Jesus, so I talk about those things a lot. I like the poetry of cosmology. It doesn't matter how weird it is–the more I love it the more people respond to it.

One of the most popular episodes of The Liturgists Podcast is about an obscure theory of human consciousness. That episode gets passed around like candy, and I've met some amazing people because of it.

4. Give it all you've got.

This is the big one. You have to want it–and I don't mean acclaim, or popularity. You have to need this work to come to life. It has to be life or death. It has to be on your mind as you fall asleep and there when you wake up.

Everyone wants to make an impact, but few are willing to pay the price. I constantly turn down invitations from good friends to do fun things. I don't watch television. I get up early and stay up late.

I do the work. Every day.

That means I miss out on a lot. I have a full time job, and I'm married with kids. So, that means I have to cut almost everything in my life that isn't The Work. I am part of community, and that community fills me with the essential essence I need to keep going.

But, I am 100% committed to The Work. If you call me and want to hang out, I usually can't. I have work to do. I can't relax until I've done the work that day. I give myself the seventh day to rest, but otherwise it's go time.

That doesn't mean I'm busy. Quite the contrary, I've cut almost all the “busy work” from my life. When it's time to work, I unplug. Texts, calls, and emails can wait. Many don't require a response at all. Others need a response: “no.” Getting more done, ironically, actually means doing less. I'm not talking about working yourself into exhaustion, or doing it all. I'm talking about letting go of everything you have to in order to have the time and energy to do the work that matters.

Guess what? There is no more peaceful sleep than the sleep that comes with getting it done. When you know you wrestled ideas from the ether and put them into form, that you are singing your part on the great chorus of life, you sleep like an old dog in front of a fire.

Are you ready to put it out there? To make what you need? To tell the world about what you love, and what breaks your heart? Can you do the work today, and not put it off to tomorrow? Are you willing to give up whatever it takes to make your ideas into real work?

The audience will show up the day you stop caring if they do. Make the work you have to make, and then it will work for you.

If you'd like to get started, read The War of Art. More than anything else, this book taught me how to get the work done.

photo credit: Artist via photopin (license)

My website is a safe place for people whose beliefs about God are changing. Many are recovering from spiritual abuse or trauma. Please remain civil and kind in the comments section at all times.

Addicted to the Infinite Validation Machine

I had one of the first Blackberrys. I don't mean the Blackberry phone–I mean the two way pager. The only other person I knew who had one was my boss. We used to email each other saying things like, "I'm at a red light!"

I also had a cell phone, and a beeper. I wore them all on my belt in holsters, creating a nerdy version of Batman's utility belt. The ability to connect to anyone, anytime was empowering. Freeing even. I never had to fear missing out.

I had no idea the impact this technology would have on our culture. After a few years of constant connection, of constant pings, rings, and dings, I started to fray. My mind was overheating, and I couldn't relax.

My job requires that people can reach me–and for good reason. Important machines sometimes need my attention. But, the never ending barrage was killing me. I've always been a deep sleeper, but I found myself waking to every buzz of my "silent" devices.

I set up a series of disciplines that let me be available in the ways I needed to be, but also gave me the ability to focus and rest. I beat digital addiction and distraction. My life improved.

At least I did until I became Science Mike. Suddenly my phone rings, dings, and pings more than ever. However, now it isn't machines asking to be fixed, but people telling me they like my work. I'm part of this incredible community online of people who see the world much like I do, or at least walk a journey like mine.

So almost every ping brings good news.

Someone liked that post!
Someone retweeted that tweet!
Someone hearted that Instagram!
A bunch of people downloaded that Podcast and now it's in the Top 20!
Someone wants to book you to speak!
Someone whose work you've admired for years wants to talk on the phone!

Meanwhile, my amazing wife and children see me stare into glowing screens a lot. I don't just mean the necessary stuff–the recording of podcasts or the writing of articles and books. I mean the Addict has returned, and his drug is all that affirmation.

I set up all those boundaries years ago to protect me from stress. Now, I know that's not the only tug. Good things can addict you too.

This pull has dark roots. Fear.

I'm afraid a lot. I'm afraid if I don't reply to your tweets or comments you'll move on and stop supporting my work. I'm scared if some successful industry person gets my voicemail, they'll write me off. I'm scared if I'm not quick on the draw with potential events, they'll slip away.

I know this is nutty in my higher brain. But that Ancient Wolf in the limbic system doesn't trust so easily. It's kill or be killed. It's hunt or starve.

I've stopped practicing what I preach. I am not fully present in many conversations because I'm fascinated with the seemingly sudden success of my public persona.

I'm going to try these tips 2012 me came up with in the coming weeks. If you also wrestle with digital distraction addiction, try them with me.

  1. Delay connectivity when you wake up. One of the worst things you can do is start your day with email and texting. It's much better to wake up, eat breakfast and get dressed before diving into the digital demands of the day. This is critically important for making a plan of attack for your day instead of turning into an email-firefighter. If you like to read the news on something digital before or during breakfast, feel free. Just stay off social networks, email and SMS.
  2. Plan working blocks with limited connectivity. When I am working on large projects, I typically silence my cell phone. If I am working on my iPad, I'll often use Airplane mode to stop all distractions. When I am working on my Mac, I will keep email closed and only check it once per hour.
  3. Put the phone away at meals & meetings. If you are eating alone, avoid the temptation to socialize virtually. If you are eating with friends or coworkers, pretend you don't have a phone at all. This will actually benefit your employer! When you don't allow your mind to disengage a problem during lunch, you often prevent yourself from gaining enough distance and perspective to solve it.
  4. Make 30 minutes before bed a "no media" zone. If you want good sleep, you have to change your media habits. Social media and email speed up your thoughts, and prevent restful sleep. Television is not a good idea either. The best pre-bed activities are conversation and reading. Keep in mind that reading from a glowing screen is counter productive as you convince your brain it is midday based on lighting.

It was precisely when I felt most confident that I'd beaten smartphone addiction that I fell victim to it once again. This is a common cycle in humans, falling down when we stand most tall, and even our awareness doesn't always prevent it.

If you've got ideas on how to beat the Digital Itch, share them in the comments below.

photo credit: oh brother, via photopin (license)

My website is a safe place for people whose beliefs about God are changing. Many are recovering from spiritual abuse or trauma. Please remain civil and kind in the comments section at all times.