Thursday, August 21, 2014

A suffering question

Yesterday I heard an excellent talk, "Why suffering?" by Dan Paterson, as part of Jesus Week at UQ.
He began with a moving personal account of a family tragedy that has shaped his own questions and struggles. Christianity does not provide answers that are completely satisfying, either intellectually or emotionally. Yet it is important to compare it to the alternatives. He then considered what different world views [Buddhism, Hinduism, and Atheism] say about suffering. He then asked a crucial question:

How does getting rid of the Christian God made any more sense of suffering, or given any more grounds for hope?

Much of the material in the talk is presented in a series of four blog posts.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Jesus and climate change

This week is Jesus Week at University of Queensland. Several student christian groups sponsor a series of talks that aim to stimulate people to ask "Who is Jesus?"

Today I attended an excellent talk by John Cook, "Jesus and Climate Change". A similar talk can be watched here. John is founder of the blog, Skeptical Science. He first described why he cares about climate change. It is not just an environmental issue but a social justice issue. The people who have contributed least to global warming are those who will be affected the most. Furthermore, people in these poor countries have the least resources to adapt to the human induced changes [droughts, rising sea levels, increased flooding, ...].
John then discussed how Biblical passages such as Matthew 25 and Amos 5, challenged him as a Christian to be concerned about justice for the poor.
Cook's Christian commitment surprised one columnist in the Guardian.

Recently John was lead author of a paper

Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature

that concluded that 97 per cent of the 11,000 plus scientific papers published in the past twenty years supported human-induced global warming. This paper was tweeted by President Obama and led to a very funny and effective skit by John Oliver!

Monday, August 18, 2014

The ugly face of globalisation

The New Rulers of the World, a documentary by John Pilger, is worth watching. It considers the impact of globalisation on Indonesia, beginning in the 1960s. The complex mix of corrupt dictators, sweat shops, CIA, multinational corporations, the World Bank, and oppressive debt has created a quagmire of violence, inequality, and injustice.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

An excellent book on apologetics

My son and I are reading through Mere Apologetics by Alister McGrath.
It is an excellent introduction to apologetics. The most impressive thing is the warm and positive tone. McGrath is excited about the gospel of Jesus. It is good news! But, there can be significant cultural and intellectual obstacles to people seeing this. Yet these people are made in the image of God and are to be respected and engaged with in a warm and gracious manner.

It is also refreshing that McGrath does not get bogged down in debates about the relative merits of different form of apologetics: evidentialist vs. presuppositionalist vs. experiential vs. dialogic.

To give you the flavour here is the outline of Chapter 6,  "Pointers to faith: approaches to apologetic engagement" nicely considers the following "clues"

1. Creation - the origins of the universe
Why did the universe and life have a beginning?

2. Fine-tuning - a universe designed for life

3. Order - the structure of the physical world
Why does science work?
Why is mathematics so unreasonably effective at describing the natural world?

4. Morality - a longing for justice
How can morality have a basis without God?

5. Desire - a homing instinct for God
Why do we long for something better?

6. Beauty - the splendour of the natural world

7. Relationality - God as a person
Why is it that we find the most meaning, fulfilment, (and pain) in human relationships?

8. Eternity - the intuition of hope

I don't find any one of these clues in isolation that compelling. However, put together they point to something significant. Furthermore, the Bible does provide coherent answers to these questions.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Mental health talks for scientists

In the past year I have given several talks to group of scientists about mental health issues. The most recent talk is described here on my science blog.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Barth on science and Philistines

 I encountered this choice quote from Karl Barth in a nice paper, "How Nature and Beauty can bring scientists and theologians together,'' by Greg Cootsona.
Theology as a whole, in its parts and in their interconnexion, in its content and method, is, apart from anything else, a peculiarly beautiful science. Indeed, we can confidently say that it is the most beautiful of all the sciences. To find the sciences distasteful is the mark of the Philistine. It is an extreme form of Philistinism to find, or to be able to find, theology distasteful. The theologian who has no joy in his work is not a theologian at all. Sulky faces, morose thoughts and boring ways of speaking are intolerable in this science. May God deliver us from what the Catholic Church reckons one of the seven sins of the monk–taedium–in respect of the great spiritual truths with which theology has to do.
Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 2.1, page 658.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Suffering does not make sense

Why is there evil? Why is there suffering?

I recently read Vinoth Ramachandra's excellent book, Gods that fail: Modern Idolatry and Christian Mission. In the chapter about creation he states
Evil itself is left unexplained in the Bible, for perhaps the very good reason that it is  inexplicable. The moment we 'explain' it we have related it to a meaningful framework within which it now 'makes sense'. But the whole point of evil is that it does not make sense. It is insane, an absurd intrusion into God's good creation. To explain it is to explain it away.That is why every attempt o explain evil... only ends up trivialising evil...
A chapter,  "Job and the Silence of God", draws on a commentary by Gustavo Gutierrez. Vinoth concludes
The God of the Bible gives us no theoretical answer to the mysteries of evil and suffering. I suspect that no `answer' is possible, for evil in God's good world is a monstrous absurdity, an insane affront to One who is perfectly holy, true and loving. It is an enemy to be confronted and defeated, not a problem to be solved. Suffering and evil are so deeply embedded in our experience of human life that, in the attempt to turn them into intellectual problems for philosophical analysis, we may well lose a major key to their understanding, namely empathetic involvement in the suffering of others.