Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Uncomfortable wealth

Last sunday night I gave a sermon at Unichurch in Brisbane on James 5:1-6.
Here are the slides.
For me this is a very uncomfortable passage.

To illustrate the issue of paying fair wages to workers I showed a clip from this video (beginning at 10:30).

Sunday, June 5, 2016

An excellent book on the theology of science

I have just finished reading the wonderful book Faith and Wisdom in Science by Tom McLeish. I think it may be one of the best (advanced) books about the relationship between science and theology.
Next monday night I will lead a discussion about the book at the monthly theology book club I am a part of.

Maybe the book partly resonates so much with me because like me, McLeish is both a theoretical condensed matter physicist and a Christian.

To get some of the flavour of the you can look at the associated blog which links to several reviews and a few videos where McLeish discusses the book.

The book is rich and highly original. Here are just a few ideas that I thought were particularly valuable.

Science should be be viewed as a richly human scholarly endeavour that should not be divorced from the humanities. Here he draws heavily on the classic book Real Presences by the literary critic George Steiner, who suggests

"Only art can go some way towards making accessible, towards waking into some measure of communicability, the sheer inhuman otherness of matter..."

McLeish takes this as a departure to explore that this is actually what science should really be about.

We should not think about "theology versus science" or "theology and science" but "a theology of science" and "a science of theology".

The book of Job, rather than Genesis, should be the starting point for a theology of science.

Science involves pain and love and worship. Science should be about "a meaningful reengagement  and reconciliation with nature".

Science today has lost this richness due to being instrumentalist and seen solely as a means of "wealth creation".

Drawing from a report about the safety of nanotechnology, McLeish considers several popular narratives for science, identified by the philosopher, Jean-Pierre Dupuy

1. Be careful what you wish for - the narrative of Desire
2. Pandora's Box - the narrative of Evil and Hope
3. Messing with Nature - the narrative of the Sacred
4. Kept in the Dark - the narrative of Alienation
5. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer - the narrative of Exploitation.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Science: what has love got to do with it?!

Science raises theological questions.
An important example is:
Why does science work?
This is not a question that science can answer. All it can say is that science works; and very well, often.

This week I realised there is another interesting question.
Why do scientists love what they do?
 It goes far beyond the joy of a successful businessman or plumber. There is sometimes something "religious" and "mystical" about scientists devotion and pleasure in their work. Furthermore, many young scientists are willing to work long hours, often with less financial reward and job security compared to other options available to them. Why do they do it?
Again, this is not a question that science can answer. But, theology does address.

Three different recent events brought this question to mind.

First, the atheist scientist Sean Carroll has just published a book The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself. He advocates a "religion" called poetic naturalism. A good critique of the book is by another atheist scientist Peter Woit. The relevant point here is that it highlights how even for atheist scientists there is something deeply religious about science.

Second, last week I saw the excellent movie, The Man Who Knew Infinity which nicely illustrates some of the joy and mystery of discovery in mathematics.

Finally, and most importantly I am finishing reading the wonderful book Faith and Wisdom in Science by Tom McLeish. He has a whole section entitled "Love" in the chapter, "A Theology of Science".
By "love" he means "the super-rational .... emotionally engaged delight in, and action to sustain the well being of another."
Love, pain, and perseverance cannot be separated.
"Above all it is a love that seeks to understand."
New scientific theories "need to loved into being".
He gives the example of the novel (and for long controversial) concept of reptation in polymers.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Science and the Bible talk

Tomorrow evening I am giving a talk at the FOCUS (Fellowship of Overseas University Students) group at University of Queensland.
Here is the current version of the slides. 
I am looking forward to a lively question and answer session after the talk.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

When did you last hear a politician give a speech like this?

One that questioned the value of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of the health of a country.
Indeed, it is extraordinary that the speech below was given by Robert Kennedy in 1968 when he was running for President of the USA.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The question no one is game to ask

... except for raging grannies.
Why do we need endless economic growth?

My wife and I watched the documentary, "Two Raging Grannies".
You can buy it on Vimeo.
Two Raging Grannies from Faction Film on Vimeo.

Here is the theme song from the Raging Grannies activist group.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Learning about global inequality and hunger

Today my wife organised a hunger banquet (similar to those designed by Oxfam) for a group of friends. Guests were randomly assigned to one of three groups of people:
1. high income (15% of the world, living on more than $10K per year),
2. medium income (25% of the world, annual family income of $1-10K),
3. low income (60% of the world, less than $3 per day).

The different groups are then served appropriate meals:
1. steak, vegetables, and soft drink
2. rice and beans, water with a purifier
3. one cup of rice each, dirty water

You then discuss the associated feelings and issues, before moving to discussion of (local and global) initiatives we can be involved with to address poverty, hunger, and social injustice.

I found it quite confronting and illustrative. What was striking was, as the host, how much time my wife had to spend preparing and serving the food for the small number of "wealthy" guests. The other guests did not get much attention. This was quite representative of how the global economy is oriented towards to keeping affluent Westerners happy.