↑ Log In to contribute
Brian (8)

January 2015 Meeting

Date is Thursday 29th January. Venue is the Ness's place - 747 East Seaham Road. The driveway is a 600m 4WD track so don't come in your low-slung porsche.

The agenda is yet to be finalised.

Brent (9)

Opening Meeting Notes

Each group member was asked what questions they would like to investigate. The responses included but were not confined to:
  • Brian mentioned God's properties, Judgement and Hell, The Hiddenness of God, Problem of suffering.
  • Craig: How is god presented by the church - can that be true.  The Bible - does it help?
  • Georgia: Will god destroy people who don't follow Jesus, pray believe, baptise etc.
  • Elliot: The mystery and wonder of life was mentioned and how from a Christian framework the existence of God is foundational to it.
  • Stacey Doesn't care whether God exists. She believes because she wants to. Deeply religious people do bad stuff and opposite - so does goodness come from God?
  • Max - wants to explore transcendance connection. Feels sure that God exists. What about those personal moments when you perceive that you are part of something non-physical - something transcendent. (my words as I try to recall what you said Max)
  • Yolo - cliches that don't add up but stifle the real questions. Why do religious people persist with the pat answers to tough questions.
  • Becoming aware of religion as a negative thing and separating it from faith.
  • One member said she swings between criticising christians and feeling remorse for this. Questioned when a loved one died, is there life after death.
  • AdamWhy are we here - where does hope come from - why do I want to keep living? What was I created for? If there is eternity - what's the point of this life. Adam also asked, if the purpose I present to others is not reason enough to live in their mind, is there a bigger purpose then?
  • Nate: Surely the sunset was made by god - but then how can there be a god? What's life for?
  • Peter - maybe the whole story of God and Jesus is to be taken less literally - how do we interpret it?

Brian (8)

Agenda for 29 Jan meeting??

Agenda for the 29 January meeting:

It seems to me that when a churchgoing person starts to feel uncomfortable with their system of beliefs - that discomfort relates mainly to some sort of difficulty or inconsistency in they way their church or the bible describes God’s nature or purposes. People in this situation do not wake up one day and decide to change their mind about the existence of God.
If this person continues to find further difficulties and inconsistencies (which they cannot resolve) they will probably ultimately start questioning God’s existence itself.
So, in this scenario, issues of God’s nature/purposes arise before issues around his existence.
Based on the opening meeting our members seem to me to (roughly) fit this description.

SO I am proposing that we pick one area of God’s apparent nature which is causing difficulty and start bouncing it around at the next meeting?

What do people think?

Personally, for example, I have problems with God’s justice. We are told he is a just God - yet quite a few of the church doctrines seem to contradict this. I have similar issues with the related doctrines of God’s judgement.

Please give us your views.

If you concur with my approach, then please suggest some specific areas of difficulty which you would like discussed.
If you disagree, then please suggest an alternative agenda for our initial meetings.


Brent (9)

A Start On Justice

Thanks Brian. This topic is an excellent starting point in my view. I have put together a brief and somewhat rambling summary of the issues surrounding God's justice. I'd love it if some of you readers could chime in. please follow and contribute to the discussion here.

Max (3)

Meeting this week

Howdy all
Twas a good chat last week, thanks Brian and Brent for getting the ball rolling.
Due to a change of availability of some members, those who were present voted to move the regular meeting to Wednesday's 7pm-9pm starting this week. Apologies to those who negatively affected by this unforeseen but necessary change.  
For those who missed out last week, there will be a chance to catch up this Wed 4th at the Morris' - 30 Rees James Rd Raymond Terrace. 
Look forward to seeng y'all then.  


Brian (8)

February 18th meeting - Free Will

We meet at Brent's place at 0700 this wednesday 18 Feb.
The agenda is:
1. What do we mean by Free Will?
2. What alternatives are there to free will?
3. What does traditional christianity say about free will?
4. If we have genuine free will does this satisfactorily explain why there is suffering in the world?

Brent (9)

An introduction to Free Will, Determinism and Sovereignty

Hi folks I have added some thoughts to get the ball rolling here.

Brian (8)

4th March Meeting - Topic not finalised yet

We meet at the Ness's place this wednesday 4th March. The topic is yet to be finalised. Max has suggested we keep going on free-will. See the thread at "Nature of God/Sovereignty and free-will". I am happy with this topic unless there is mass protest or mass desire for something else

By the way other topics on my personal list (not in order of priority) would be:

How can evil and God be coexistent? Evil as in human evil.

How can suffering and God be co-existent? This is suffering caused by forces outside human control.

How do we justify the concept of Human Rights (or animal rights) if God does not exist?

I think we should try, as a group, to agree on the basic properties of God (i.e. define God). If we do not do this then we cannot sensibly debate a whole lot of useful stuff - like Greg’s question “Does God have limitations?" You cannot work out whether a being has limitations until you can agree what being we are talking about.

At some point we should go through the main arguments from natural theology. In particular: 1. First cause/cosmological; 2. Fine Tuning; 3. Mind/consciousness; 4. Morality; 5. Reason/Desire/Cognition; 6. Science; 7. Origin of life; 8. Revelation and 9. the Resurrection. Some of these would take more than one session.

How does Genesis 1:1 relate to science’s view of the birth of the universe through to Humanity?

How should we classify the bible and why? Is it simply a collection of historical documents - to be treated as any other such documents? Or is it God's word? Or is it a mix of the two?

Pick a specific apparent biblical contradiction and look at it in detail to see in what way it is contradictory and whether this contradiction can be reasonably overcome. Seems to me that the idea of biblical inerrancy requires there be zero contradictions in the texts.

Perhaps we should create a single list of potential topics for future discussion - where all members can list their preferences.

Max (3)

More great questions

Thanks Brian for beginning a list of possible topics for discussion. I agree on the need to explore the nature/attributes of God as a base from which to examine apparent contradictions. Sadly I will miss this weeks gathering but look forward to following up where the nights discussion leads. 

Brian (8)

Another response to the Stephen Fry interview

John Dickson from CPX has written an interesting response to Stephen Fry's fiery dismissal of God based on the fact of suffering in this world. 
See http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2015/02/18/4182058.htm
Perhaps we could discuss this at the meeting?

Brent (9)

A Great Discussion

That link you posted Brian was a great read. In my opinion, there was far more useful content in the discussion that followed than in the article itself. There is plenty of it too. If you've got the time people, it's a lot of fun.

An undercurrent of the article and the discussion is the Bible. God is discussed mostly as the being described by certain Bible passages. The lengthy discussion about Job should be fixed by discarding the book as historical incredible. There is no need to justify what God does in the book of Job because it's a just a story.

This freedom to regard different sections of the Bible as having different purposes as well as differing levels of authenticity, seems to be essential for a plain discussion of the concept of God from a philosophical stand point. And it was the atheist party that introduced the story of Job if I recall.

The call to the mystery of God is always repellant to me. It is such a discussion closer. If you can't understand, then why bother arguing. You've turned logic and reason into some kind of naive hope.

So the problem of evil and suffering is a good one to discuss on Wednesday.

Brian (8)

April 29th Meeting


We are being experimental this time on a number of fronts:

The Venue: We are trialling a public venue. This may be more convenient for some people. Raymond terrace seems the most central spot so we have chosen the Raymond Terrace Bowling Club ( http://www.rtbc.com.au/RTR/contact ).

Time: 6.30 for 7. Please try to be there by 7. Feel free to make use of the bistro and bar while we talk.

The format: We are trying a modified format. The idea is that one person researches and presents a particular viewpoint on a contentious topic. Then a second person presents an opposing view. This is followed by an open discussion /debate on the views presented (or any alternative views anyone may have).

The topic: Brian will present arguments for the viewpoint that "God's intention is for us to live life - and die - in a state of uncertainty regarding his existence and purposes." Brent will present opposing views - "that certainty is available", based on Biblical sources.

We also hope there will be time to bounce around a few other possible innovations designed to make the evenings more fruitful for members.

Cheers for now

Brian (8)

May 13th Meeting

We meet at Maksi's at 7 this Wednesday to discuss the question:

What is Wisdom?

Rather than start from scratch we will begin with the answer given by Margaret Plews-Ogan in the attached (below)  short essay. We will unpick and evaluate her viewpoint/arguments as a pathway to working out our own answers.

It may be useful but - certainly not necessary - if you could read the essay before the meeting.

Please let Maksi know if you will be attending.

Cheers Brian

What Is Wisdom?
By Margaret Plews-Ogan
March 26, 2013

We are not provided with wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can take for us, and effort which no one can spare us.- Marcel Proust (In Search of Lost Time Vol. II: Within a Budding Grove, 1919)

Proust was on to something.  I think there is profound truth to the notion that it is only through our own experience that we gain wisdom.  I also believe that there are certain kinds of experiences that are particularly suited to the development of wisdom.
Take a moment and think of someone whom you consider wise.  Perhaps it is a revered spiritual or political leader, a grandparent or one of your high school teachers, maybe a pastor or a college professor, or perhaps, as one medical student expressed, it is the person who cleans the hallways of the hospital at night.  What qualities or behaviors make you think they are wise?  Finally, how do you think that they got so wise?

Then, let's back up for a minute.  What exactly is wisdom?  Truth be told, wisdom is not so easy to define in the abstract.  Why is that?  It may be, in part, because we understand wisdom in the context of a life, of decisions and actions, so it is difficult to define in the abstract.  This is, in part, why psychologists and sociologists have done research on wisdom by studying people who are exemplars of wisdom. This is not as easy as it might seem, because one of the characteristics of wise persons is humility, so a wise person is unlikely to say that they are wise.  Often, then, we identify these people by having other people nominate them, and it is interesting who gets on those lists. It can range from the Dalai Lama to Abraham Lincoln to Oprah Winfrey.
The other reason wisdom might be difficult to define is that wisdom actually has many dimensions.  I imagine that if I polled all of you about what qualities you selected as wise, we could create a long list of answers. Researchers have actually confirmed this, and the list includes things like compassion, ability to see the big picture, to put things in perspective, to see things from many points of view, to be able to reflect on and rise above one’s own perspective.  Wisdom is different from intelligence.  Intelligence seeks knowledge and seeks to eliminate ambiguity.  Wisdom on the other hand, resists automatic thinking, seeks to understand ambiguity better, to grasp the deeper meaning of what is known and to understand the limits of knowledge. (Sternberg).  Monika Ardelt is a modern wisdom researcher who has put all of these into a 3 dimensional model of wisdom: cognitive, reflective and affective.   The cognitive dimension includes the desire to deeply know and understand things, including the limits of our knowing.  The reflective dimension represents the capacity for self-reflection, and the capacity to see things from many perspectives.  The affective dimension of wisdom is empathy and compassion.  So, a wise person is one who desires to deeply understand things, who is humble and aware of the limitations of knowing, who can see things from many perspectives and avoids black and white thinking, and who radiates compassion.

Does Adversity Make Us Wise?
But how do we become wise? Think about that person that you identified at the beginning of this essay.  How do you think they got wise?  This question takes us back to Proust.  If no one can hand us wisdom on a silver platter, and we must discover this for ourselves through our own experiences, our own journey, what kind of experience might be the best teacher?  I would argue that for all the downsides of adversity, just like necessity is the mother of invention, adversity is the seedbed for wisdom.  What better teacher of compassion than one’s own experience of suffering?  How better to learn humility than to make a mistake?  And what better to discover the deeper meaning of one’s life than to face a circumstance that forces you to focus on that which is of most value to your life?  An unexpected turn of events is likely to help us to understand the ambiguity and uncertainty in life, and the limitations of our own perspective. But what evidence do we have that adversity can lead to wisdom?
When researcher Judith Glück and colleagues asked subjects to describe a situation in which they acted wisely, compared to a peak experience, they found that the wisdom situations more often involved difficult or negative events, implying that wisdom perhaps develops through the experience of adversity. Pascual Leone and colleagues described these challenging situations as “ultimate limit situations,” circumstances that “cannot be undone and are nonetheless faced with consciousness and resolve…situations like death, illness, aging, …absolute failure…uncontrollable fear.”  Psychologists Tedeschi and Calhoun have been studying this positive response to trauma for the past ten years, a phenomenon they call post-traumatic growth.  We’ve all heard of post-traumatic stress, but these researchers noted that when asked about how trauma might have changed them for the better, people began to describe the positive ways in which they had changed because of what they had lived through.  This complex set of changes fall into five domains: increased appreciation of life, warmer relations with others, recognition of new possibilities for one’s life, a greater sense of personal strength, and spiritual development.
Tedeschi and Calhoun suggest that trauma induces a disruption in our understanding of ourselves and the world (our schema) and that disruption forces us to re-work our understanding of ourselves and the world, resulting in learning and growth with the potential for wisdom as the final result. In the Wisdom in Medicine project we were interested in this question of whether moving through a difficult circumstance in a positive way can result in wisdom.  We studied patients who had coped with chronic pain, and physicians who had made a serious medical error. When asked what they had learned and how they had changed for the better because of their experience, they used the language of wisdom.  They talked about having increased compassion for others, increased capacity for forgiveness and humility, an increased desire to understand things, but also a deeper understanding of the ambiguous nature of things, and becoming more aware of the limitations of our knowledge.

Wisdom and Courageous Choices
Of course, not everyone who suffers through a difficult experience comes out with something positive.  In fact, you could argue, adversity is just as likely to make someone bitter, angry, cynical and entrenched as it is to make them compassionate, humble, more able to see things from other’s perspectives. So I will argue that it is not just adversity, but rather adversity plus the right matrix and the inner capacity to use that difficult experience in a positive way that leads to wisdom.
We asked the Wisdom in Medicine exemplars  “what helped?”, what made it easier for them to move positively through their difficult experiences?  Here’s a summary of what they told us.  Having a community, someone they could talk to, to tell their story, was important.  Cultivating gratitude and positive emotion, quiet reflection (whether meditation, mindfulness, prayer) was helpful.  Doing something positive, which often involved doing things for others, was helpful.  And having a moral or spiritual grounding helped to guide them through this process and helped them to “do the right thing” when it was hard.
There was something else surprising in the data.  As researchers we experienced an ah ha moment as we painstakingly combed through the data.  All of the exemplars had at one point made a choice, a conscious, deliberate choice to pursue something that was hard.  It may not have been what they really wanted to do, and certainly not something they thought would necessarily end up well.  But it was something they felt they had to do to set things straight.   They chose, in many cases, the harder course of action.  They chose to face their circumstances face on.  We say, they “stepped in”.  They may have decided to apologize to a patient or family, to go into a room full of intense judgment.  It might have meant that they had to face their addiction, or take control of their health.  At some point they made a courageous choice to make a difference in their own lives.
But how did these exemplars have the courage and the capacity to make these choices?  I believe that the matrix in which we experience these difficult circumstances has a lot to do with how we move through them.  Researcher John Meachum talks about a wisdom atmosphere as being one in which doubts, uncertainties and questions can be openly expressed, and ambiguities and contradictions can be tolerated, so that individuals are not forced to adopt the defensive position of what he calls “too confident knowing”.
So, the next obvious question is, assuming that we think wisdom is worthy of pursuing as an individual, or a society, how do we foster wisdom?
I believe that we can, if we are intentional about it, foster an atmosphere of wisdom, in ourselves and in each other, and I believe it will help us along the path to wisdom when we face difficult circumstances.  When we foster compassion, empathy and forgiveness, in ourselves and in others, we are opening up the possibility for wisdom.  When we foster the capacity for self-reflection in our children, or our community, we are creating the matrix for wisdom to develop. When we foster gratitude, wisdom is likely to follow.  When we accept the complexity and ambiguous nature of things, and refuse to accept a simplified black and white explanation, we are increasing the likelihood of wise decisions.   Wisdom does not arise out of the easy, simple parts of our lives.  Wisdom lives in the most messy, hard, complex and painful of our experiences.

Rumi has some important advice.  In his poem The Guest House Rumi suggests that “this being human is a guest house”.  We need to welcome each guest, “even if they’re a crowd of sorrows who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture.”  He implores: “Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond”.
(Note: References are included in links in the article.)

Questions for Discussion
How might our educational system change if it was wisdom rather than knowledge that we were trying to develop in our children?
For those who are parents, how might your parenting foster wisdom in your children?
Can people be wise in one context and unwise in another, or is wisdom a deeper attribute that, once gained, is visible in all contexts?
Extracted from   https://www.bigquestionsonline.com/content/what-wisdom


Brent (9)

Wed 10th Meeting at Corina and Brent's

Friends, last weeks discussion was on the topic of Sexuality, various ideas that have been presented throughout history and today. It was a very interesting, especially as we asked questions along the lines of , "Do our sexual relationships and sexual activity suggest that there is something transcendent about us or the opposite?" The meeting was recorded, but there was a fair amount of personal information shared, which is why the audio file has not been uploaded here.

If you'd like a copy of it, please ask, and bring a USB stick to copy it onto.

This coming Wed - 10th June - the meeting is at out place at Medowie. We had not set a topic for discussion, but I'd like to suggest one that had not been previously on the list of possible topics.

I have often wondered about the Christian view of the future. There is supposed to be this climactic, apocalyptic end of all things. Many people die and the old earth is destroyed, to make way for a new one. There's a lot of drama and fear and cataclysms.

If this is not the end for our planet Earth, then what is the future like for humanity? In terms of the age of the earth and the solar system, few species last very long at all. Will humanity die out?

So what will  things be like here in 100,000 years or 1 million years? What will things be like here before the end of my children's lives when world population will peak at about 11 Billion?

I stumbled upon a Ted Talk by Hans Rosling and looked further into a project of his called gapminder.org where he encourages his readers to have "a fact-based world view". He does many excellent videos where he studies world trends through statistics. I'd like to show you one, about an hour long called "don't panic".

For me this information is particularly relevant to our questions about god's existence and his/her nature. If god set this system up and let it run it's course and gives us freedom, and if we are as the Matrix suggested like a virus that consumes our environment to the point where it can no longer sustain us, then the whole affair seems to have been a bad plan - quite cruel to ever begin.

And if this is not the case, then what are the alternatives?

Cheryl (2)

Missed a good discussion

Hi, John & I will be there tonight.
It sounds like we missed a great discussion last week.
Are you going to show the Ted talk tonight?

Brent (9)

Showing a Different Video

Dear Cheryl,

I will be showing one of Han's videos tonight but not the Ted talk mentioned above. It is another video from his own site - hosted on Vimeo called "This World Don't Panic" see that here

Another excellent video of his that I watched today on world health is here  It is well worth the 37 minutes and his answers to a few final questions right at the end are excellent too.