Welcome to the first Friday Mailbag. This is a new thing where I answer questions submitted on the "Ask Mike" page. If you've got a question about technology or the intersection of science and faith, submit a question and I'll answer it in a future column.
The first question submitted was from my friend Ryan who asked, "I am curious about what you use to aggregate your social media, though. You used Buffer for awhile, but don't seem to anymore. How do you keep up with your Facebook, web page, and whatever other social internetting you do?"
I have a really complex social media strategy: I share things I like. For a while, I tried to pick things other people would like, and that was terrible. I am awful at knowing what other people will like. When I decided to just share the things I think are amazing, insightful, funny, affirming, or profound people started liking/sharing/favoriting much more. Inevitably, the posts I think will get a lot of traction do nothing at all, and the posts that I think no one will be interested in get tens of thousands of views or more.
I have a full time job, but people tend to interact the most during business hours. So, I still use Buffer to share content. Buffer makes it really easy to just add things you like to a list and then have it shared automatically on your social profiles over time. I tend to do liking, commenting, and other interaction on my lunch break or other break times. I don't use Buffer if I just have a thought or something really timely. In that case I post the old fashioned way.
That's a pretty scatter-shot strategy, but it works. I think the fact that I don't over plan anything is why it works.
Our next question is from an anonymous reader.
"Mike, I recently read your AT LEAST, EVEN IF axioms posted by Michael Gungor in his blog. In short, I am wondering if there was a typo.
"Prayer is AT LEAST a form of mediation...."
Is that supposed to say mediation or meditation? If meditation, it seems a fair claim to make. If mediation, how is prayer necessarily at least mediation, and mediation of what sort?
Also, by saying prayer ""can connect us to God,"" what does that mean? (I am keeping in mind that you have defined God as at least the natural forces that created and that sustain the universe -- how can we know that prayer connects us to that?)
You caught a typo. The axiom should read "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 emotional benefits of prayer justify the discipline."
Meditation, not mediation. Some people believe prayer can involve mediation, but that's beyond the scope of the axiom. The second part of your question is how prayer can connect us to "the natural forces that created and sustain the Universe," but that ignores the really critical second part of the axiom: "as experienced via a pychosocial construct rooted in evolved neurologic features in humans."
My axioms are designed for people who find the arguments of naturalism compelling. Science is based on methodological physicalism, and the empirical approach to truth doesn't leave a lot of room for the immaterial or the supernatural. For someone like me, that standard of evaluating claims is very destructive toward religious faith.
In order to have a relationship with God that survives my own doubt, I had to arrive at an understanding of God that could survive my own skepticism. I allow for the idea that God can be much more than my basic definition, hence AT LEAST.
Back to your question. We can prove scientifically that the experience humans have with God is distinct from fantasy. Religious transcendence is associated with seizure like activity in the left hemisphere of the brain. When Christians talk to God, the same part of the brain that is active when talking to a friend is active during prayer. EVEN IF God is just something in the human brain, prayer connects us to that construct in a powerful way.
For those who believe God is much more than my basic understanding, these axioms allow a person who is scientifically minded to pursue God through religious community, prayer and study of the scriptures. In that case, God can reveal more than empiricism can prove to an individual.
It's not for everyone. There are happy, well adjusted atheists and secularists. Likewise, many believers don't struggle with this kind of existential doubt. Even so, I've had dozens of face-to-face conversations and thousands of messages from people who find themselves torn by science and faith. For many of us, this way of approaching God preserves community and allows us to hold onto the faith that is vital to how we relate to the world.