Thursday, December 31, 2009

Is charging interest sin?

My son and I are continuing to read through Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. A passage in the chapter on Social Morality got our attention:
There is one bit of advice given to us by the ancient heathen Greeks, and by the Jews in the Old Testament, and by the great Christian teachers of the Middle Ages, which the modern economic system has completely disobeyed. All these people told us not to lend money at interest: and lending money at interest - what we call investment - is the basis of our whole system.
This is certainly challenging. But there are some subtleties that should be kept in mind. First, the Old Testament passages seem to be mostly concerned about charging interest to the poor and needy and/or Israelites. Second, the church banning the charging of interest has a long and troubled history which is nicely recounted on the Wikipedia entry on Usury. For example,
Lateran III decreed that persons who accepted interest on loans could receive neither the sacraments nor Christian burial.[3] Pope Clement V made the belief in the right to usury a heresy in 1311, and abolished all secular legislation which allowed it.[4] Pope Sixtus V condemned the practice of charging interest as "detestable to God and man, damned by the sacred canons and contrary to Christian charity."[4]
On the other hand, I agree with Lewis [and the Global Financial Crisis provides significant empirical evidence!] that we have a problem. God wants us to forsake greed and be concerned with justice and equity.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Theologians vs. Eyewitnesses to the Word

In Chapter 3 of Evangelical Theology: An Introduction, Karl Barth clarifies how evangelical theology is related to the biblical witnesses to the Word of God.
The position of theology, ..., can in no wise be exalted above that of the biblical witnesses. The post-Biblical theologian may, no doubt, possess a better astronomy, geography, zoology, psychology, physiology, and so on than these biblical witnesses possessed; but as for the Word of God, he is not justified in comporting himself in relationship to those witnesses as though he knows more about the Word than they. He is neither a president of a seminary, not the Chairman of the Board of some Christian Institute of Advanced Theological Studies, who might claim some authority over the prophets and apostles. He cannot grant or refuse them a hearing as though they were colleagues on the faculty. Still less is he a high-school teacher authorized to look over their shoulder benevolently or crossly, to correct their notebooks, or to give them good, average, or bad marks. Even the smallest, strangest, simplest, or obscurest among the biblical witnesses has an incomparable advantage over even the most pious, scholarly, and sagacious latter-day theologian.
You can read the full passage in context here. This is third lecture in a series of five he gave at University of Chicago and Princeton Theological Seminary towards the end of his career. I don't think some of his audience would have been too enamoured with such a view.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

War is hell

War embodies hate, fear, killing, violence, deception, betrayal, death, injustice, confusion, suffering, and abuse of power.
War is hell.

A song which captures some of the tragedy and consequences of war for those fortunate enough to survive is I was only 19 (A walk in the light green) recorded by the Australian band, Redgum in 1983. The chorus is:
And can you tell me, doctor, why I still can't get to sleep?
And night time's just a jungle dark and a barking M16?
And what's this rash that comes and goes, can you tell me what it means?
God help me, I was only nineteen.
This song about Vietnam veterans had a significant historical influence, recounted on the Wikipedia page.

Monday, December 28, 2009

University mottos

Writing the previous post reminded me of the shield of Princeton University (where I did my Ph.D) because of the open Bible with Old and New Testament written in latin.

Aside, the latin motto at the bottom can be translated as "Under the protection of God she flourishes."

Contemplating the mottos of great universities is an interesting exercise. A few years ago Northwestern University in Chicago (where my wife and I met) went through considerable angst, turmoil, and debate concerning their motto and seal, but kept with the old one which is based on Philippians 4:8 and John 1:14.

Barth on the canon

The Old Testament canon is a collection of those writings which prevailed and were acknowledged in the synagogue. Their content was so persuasive that they were recognised as authentic, trustworthy, and authoritative testimonies to the Word of God. Evangelical theology bears witness of the Old Testament with the greatest earnestness and not merely as a sort of prelude to the New Testament. The classic rule is Novum Testamentum in Vetere latet, Vetus in Novo patet: The New Testament is concealed within the Old, and the Old Testament is revealed by the New. As long as theology preferred to neglect this rule, as long as it was content to exist in a vacuum by claiming exclusive orientation to the New Testament, it was continually threatened by cancer in its very bones.
Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction, p. 28.

Aside: the "classic rule" in latin is attributed to Augustine.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The physics of Santa Claus

On a lighter note at Christmas. Does Santa exist? Here are some rough calculations that estimate what it would take. An alternative perspective is here.

The mystery of Christmas

We should be wary of separating form and content. The miracle of Christmas is that Jesus was "conceived by the Holy Spirit" and "born of the virgin Mary". This is the form. The content is the mystery of Christmas: the incarnation, "the unio hypostatica, the genuine unity of the true God and the true man in the one Jesus Christ."

These are the main ideas I got from re-reading the chapter, The Mystery and the Miracle of Christmas, in Dogmatics in Outline, by Karl Barth.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Pivotal virtues

I was fascinated to read in Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis his chapter on The cardinal virtues ["cardinal" means pivotal]. They are prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice. Lewis mentions the three theological virtues but does not state what they are (faith, hope, and love). I have to confess that this schema was all new to me (or more likely I had completely forgotten since I had an Anglo-Catholic upbringing) and so I found the Wikipedia entry on the subject very enlightening.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Theology in the university?

What is the role of theology in a university, particularly a secular one?

Perhaps, to remind other academic disciplines that they are based on presuppositions and these may be questionable.

On his blog per-Crucem-ad-Lucem, Jason Goroncy has a nice post on this subject which contains some quotes from Karl Barth (who for more than 20 years was a Professor at University of Basel).

When reading the quotes bear in mind that in the English translation "science" is used for "wissenschaft" which could also be translated as "academic discipline".

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A masterful summary of the Old Testament

Theology responds to the Word which God has spoken, still speaks, and will speak again in the history of Jesus Christ which fulfills the history of Israel....

....this history speaks of a God who calls his own people to himself. Outof a tribal community which exemplifies all mankind, he calls his own people by acting upon it and speaking to it as its God and treating and addressing it as his people. The name of this God is Yahweh: "I am how I will be" or "I will be who I am" or "I will be how I will be." And the name of this people is Israel, which means- not a contender for God, but - "contender against God." The covenant is the encounter of this God with this pepole in their common history. The report of this history, although strangely contradictory, is not ambiguous. This history speaks of the unbroken encounter, conversation, and resultant communion between a holy and faithful God with an unholy and unfaithful people. It speaks of both the unfailing presence of a the divine partner and the failure of the human partner that should be holy as he is holy, answering his faithfulness with faithfulness. While this history definitely speaks of the divine perfection of the covenant, it does not speak of its human perfection. The covenant has not yet been perfected. Israel's history, therefore, points beyond itself; it points to a fulfillment which, although pressing forward to become reality, has not yet become real.
Ah this point, the history of Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, commences....
Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction, pp. 20-21

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Just Christmas gifts

If like me you are affluent and have affluent relatives who need little and it is hard to buy gifts for them, here is an idea: the TEAR Christmas gift catalogue.
Basically, on behalf of the gift recipient you can select from a range of things for more needy people in the two-thirds world. Gifts range from $5 to $5,000. Examples include school supplies ($5), a goat ($50), clean drinking water ($20), ......
Gifts are tax-deductible too!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Evangelical theology is modest, free, critical, and happy!

In 1962 Karl Barth gave five lectures at the University of Chicago.They were later published in Evangelical Theology: An Introduction.

In the first lecture he defines "evangelical" theology as that which considers the "God of the Gospel":
the theology to be considered here is the one which, nourished by the hidden sources of the documents of Israel's history, first achieved unambiguous expression in the writings of the New Testament evangelists, apostles, and prophets; it is also, moreover, the theology newly discovered and accepted by the Reformation of the sixteenth century.
Evangelical theology is a "science" in the sense that it seeks "to apprehend a specific object and its environment in a the manner directed by the phenomenon itself". This "theological science" has four specific characteristics: it is modest, free, critical, and happy!
Evangelical theology is modest theology, because it is determined to be so by its object, that is, by him who is its subject.
It is a free science because it
"joyfully respects the mystery of the freedom of its object and which, in turn, is again and again freed by its object from any dependence on subordinate presuppositions."
Evangelical theology is an eminently critical science, for it is continually exposed to judgement and never relieved of the crisis in which it is placed by its object, or, rather to say, by its living subject.

Evangelical theology is concerned with Immanuel, God with us! Having this God for its object, it can be nothing else but the most thankful and happy science!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hoodwinked by Kant?

My family recently watched the animated movie Hoodwinked, based on the tale of Little Red Riding Hood. The story is retold from the perspective of each of the major participants: Red, Granny, Wolf, .... I laughed a lot and so I strongly recommend it.

But my dear wife, suggested I blog about the profound philosophical issues it raises. All of the participants interpreted the same series of events in a very different way because they under their own set of assumptions and prior experiences. So it illustrates a point highlighted by Immanuel Kant (and often overplayed by many of his "followers"): we don't have direct access to the noumenon (thing in itself) but only the phenomenon (what we perceive). Hence, we should be wary of the "truth" we construct. However, don't let this hoodwink you into relativism or a social constructivist view of knowledge. Note that in the movie after all the participants shared and compared their perspectives they were able to revise them and agree on the true nature of the events, at least to the extent that enabled them to move forward. This is the way good science proceeds

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The rush to judgement

Commentary or judgementary?
What should be the focus of columnists, op-ed pieces, and letters to the editor? I recently began to notice how often the focus of these pieces appears to be to pass judgement on others. It does not matter whether the media is tabloid newspaers, blogs, or distinguished columnists in the New York Times.
It does not matter whether the topic is Tiger Woods, a 13 year old girl who wants to sail around the world, a teacher who has an affair with a student, a Prime Minister who swears at his staff, or bankers who receive large bonuses, ...
Everyone is quick to judge the morality of both public figures and private citizens, and often to condemn them.
I find this ironic because we are meant to be living in an age of relativism and tolerance. But, actually it shows that we all do have a strong sense of right and wrong and justice. We also have an innate tendency towards self-righteousness and an inflated view of the value of our own opinions. So it concerns me that our desire to provide and devour "judgementary" is not tempered by humility, grace,or consideration for the families of those concerned.
Judge not and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; ...
For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you....
You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye....
Luke 6:36,37,42

Monday, December 14, 2009

The gospel in art

From my parents I inherited a copy of a beautiful "coffee table" book, The Living Gospels of Jesus Christ, which contains J.B. Phillips translation of the four gospels, interspersed with many colour plates of art (from all eras and styles). For example, in Luke 5, Simon Peter sinks to his knees and beseeches Jesus, "Keep away form me, Lord, for I'm only a sinful man!" This is illustrated with Raphael's `The Miraculous Draught of Fishes.'

The book is out of print. But you can buy second hand copies here. This might be a great Christmas gift for someone who enjoys fine art.

The personal cost of justice

Last night I watched a DVD, Flash of Genius with my wife and son. It is based on the true story of Robert Kearns, inventor of the timing device that helps your windshield wipers work intermittently. Although Kearns had the patent, Ford "acquired" one of his working prototypes and used the design in their cars. He took them to court and eventually won, but at a cost....
He lost his wife and was estranged from his six children for much of their childhood.

It is a great movie and raises lots of issues worth discussing. Unfortunately, it confirms my worst fears about how large corporations operate. It also shows how driven men can achieve much but can also expect their families to suffer for their ambition.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Am I ir-rational?

I previously posted about how the meaning of the word fundamentalism has changed significantly from its origins.

I contend that in everyday useage and public discourse the adjectives "rational" and "irrational" are used in a manner that is inconsistent with their meaning. They seem to be largely used as labels to affirm or ridicule particular opinions. This is particularly true in the "new atheism" where it seems that the claim "faith is irrational" is usually taken more as an assumption that is not worth discussing because it is so obviously self-evident.

When am I "rational"? I would say if I clearly state my assumptions and the evidence for them and then carefully consider the logical implications of them. Furthermore, I need to be open to changing those assumptions or having my reason corrected if it is in error.

When am I "irrational"? If I am unwilling to acknowledge my assumptions or debate the basis for them. If I am unwilling to consider the possibility of errors in my reasoning. If personal experience and emotions drive my assumptions and arguments.

There are many subtle issues here. I just hope this posts may help us all think twice before we apply the label "rational" or "irrational".

Saturday, December 12, 2009

From theology to ideas to politics

At the Cite conference last week, the plenary speaker Daryl McCarthy reminded me of two distinguished intellectuals and statesman who strove to have their lives, philosophies, and policies shaped by their theology. The Wikipedia entries on Charles Malik and Abraham Kuyper are fascinating reading. Amongst many other things Malik was a President of the General Assembly of the United Nations and Kuyper was a Prime Minister of Holland.

Famous quotes are:
"Oh, no single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: 'Mine!'"
Abraham Kuyper
The university is clear-cut fulcrum with which to move the world. Change the university and you change the world.
Charles Malik

Friday, December 11, 2009

C.S. Lewis on morality

In Mere Christianity, (Book 3, Section 1) Lewis argues we should talk about moral rules and obedience, rather than moral ideals and idealism:
Perfect behaviour may be as unattainable as perfect gear-changing when we drive; but it is a necessary ideal prescribed for all men by the very nature of the human machine just as perfect gear-changing is an ideal prescribed for all drivers by the very nature of cars.
He emphasises the multiple dimensions to morality. It is not just concerned with human relationships.
Morality, then, seems to be concerned with three things. Firstly, with fair play and harmony between individuals. Secondly, with what might be called tidying up or harmonising the things inside each individual. Thirdly. with the general purpose of human life as a whole: what man was made for:

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Conference on the church and the academy

The details of the second Annual Australasian Conference on the Church and the Academy have been announced. The first one was a great success.
It will be held in Brisbane again and the dates are June 29 to July 2. So, reserve the dates and submit a paper!

There are two excellent plenary speakers: Robert P. Gordon (Regius Professor of Hebrew at Cambridge) and Markus Bockmuehl (Professor of Biblical and Early Christian Studies at Oxford).

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The tension of the Gospel

Yesterday I heard John Dickson speak at the National Training Event of the Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students. He spoke about the bloodline of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. He emphasized that Jesus' lineage highlights twin themes of the Gospel: the Lordship of the Messiah King and the latitude of God's grace for all people.
The first is illustrated by the fact the Jesus is descended from Abraham and David.
The second is highlighted by the inclusion of Tamar (victim of incest), Rahab (a prostitute), Ruth (a Moabite), Wife of Uriah (an adulteress), and Mary (unmarried pregnancy).

Rahab and the Emissaries of Joshua (17th Century)

We must keep these twin themes of the Gospel in tension, the Lordship of Christ and the latitude of his grace. John conjectured that indiv
iduals have a natural tendency to an overemphasis on one over the other. Those who overemphasize the Lordship of Christ become
self-righteous, but need to be friend of sinners. In contrast, those who overemphasize grace may have casual attitudes about the use of money, of sexual morality, and are reluctant to confront or face conflict.

Keeping these twin themes in constant tension is at the heart of the Gospel and the heartbeat of the Christian life.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Is eating chocolate cake sinful?

My wife and I love chocolate cakes such as "mud" cake, but I sometimes
have a moment of conscience about ordering a cake at a restaurant which is entitled "Chocolate sin cake". This is not because I am worried about the calories (Joules to the SI-correct!) but because the name seems to promote the misconception, "if its good it must be sinful".

What is sin? A simple and helpful definition that can be easily remembered is sin is our

The consequences of sin is ultimately broken relationships, injustice, pain, suffering, self-destruction, death. There is nothing good about this....

The angel told Joseph, "you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins,"
(Matthew 1:21)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

McGrath on Calvin and science

Alister McGrath recently gave a seminar at the Faraday Institute for science and religion in Cambridge, Calvin's contributions to the emergence of modern science. He pointed out, it was Calvin’s particular way of handling Scripture that was important in allowing natural philosophy to pursue its exploration of God’s universe without being distracted by the idea that the Bible was given to teach science. As Calvin wrote in his Commentary on Genesis, remarking on Chapter 1:

“Nothing is here treated of but the visible form of the world. He who would learn astronomy and other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere.”

You can listen to (MP3) or watch the lecture (streaming) from the Multimedia page of the Faraday Institute.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

What then shall we do?

This morning I read through Luke 3:1-22. This is an incredibly rich passage. John the Baptist is warning of both the coming Judgement and announcing the arrival of Messiah. Both are intertwined and announced as "good news". Is John also pointing to how Judgement and Salvation come together at the cross?

The painting below is from the Isenheim Alterpiece by Gruenwald. A copy hung in Karl Barth's office for much his career.

The crowds, tax collectors, and soldiers each asked John, "What then shall we do?"
It is interesting and challenging that John's answers to all involve the just aquisition, use, and distribution of money and property!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Give thanks!

Non-U.S. readers may not realise that today is the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S. Since my wife is from the U.S. we always celebrate the holiday. I am now full of turkey and pumpkin pie.
It is a great holiday because unlike Christmas and Easter it has not been commerialised.
The Wikipedia entry tells the history.
give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus
1 Thessalonians 5:17

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Living a life of grace

After I saw the movie, Amazing Grace about William Wilberforce and the drive to end slavery I read the companion biography by Eric Metaxas. Both are brilliant. The book is particularly challenging because it shows that Wilberforce and the Clapham group had incredible dedication, perseverance, political nous, single mindedness, generosity, and a willingness to sacrifice even their health for the cause of abolition.

I warmly recommend both the movie and the biography.

It is also interesting to look at Wilberforces own best seller:
A practical view of the prevailing religious system of professed Christians, which went to 20 editions! You can download a copy free here.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Faith of a theoretical physicist

Previously I posted about a book in which a group of leading Dutch scientists describe how they relate their personal faith to science. I said it would be nice to have an English translation. Carlo Beenakker, a Professor of Theoretical Physics in Leiden, sent me a link to the English translation of his chapter in the book.

Teaching theological students to think critically

Geoff Thompson sent me a helpful and stimulating article, "What 'Great Cloud of Witnesses'? Isn't My Own Religious Experience Enough?'' by Robert J. Sherman from Bangor Theological Seminary.

The article is mostly about how to engage seminary students with "a critical and constructive examination of their views and hinders their understanding of theology as an undertaking of and for the Church." The biggest obstacle to this is suggested to be "Acculturation in American Religious Privatism and Individualism". (Wow! I love that Section title):
Because so many students have come to their beliefs privately and experientially, they can construe the "catechetical" and/or the "critical/constructive" examination of those beliefs as a personal affront, even attack..... They are unaccustomed to any sort of detached probing of their beliefs, unaware that those beliefs may have diverse historic antecedents and unwilling often to recognize that their eclectic mix may have internal tensions and incoherencies.
The article is not just critical and negative though and discusses pedagogical strategies Sherman has used to address these issues.

I wonder if indirectly the article is also providing an argument for faculty at theological colleges to be engaged in original research and publication. This engages them in the process that Sherman strives to engage his students in.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

An amazing Creation

Last night I went to the much anticipated (at least by me!) performance of Haydn's Creation by the Queensland Symphony and the Canticum Chamber Choir. I was relieved to find it was in English not German.

It was fantastic! There is no substitute for a live performance with good acoustics. Maybe I was sitting in an acoustic "sweet spot" in the concert hall. The clarity of the diction and symphonic notes was wonderful.

As Adam and Eve reflect on the amazing created world in which they have been placed, the chorus breaks forth:
Hail, bounteous Lord! Almighty, hail!
Thy word call'd forth this wondr'rous frame.
Thy powe'r adore the heav'n and
earth; we praise thee now and evermore.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Not understanding the atonement

This morning my son and I went out for breakfast and discussed a Chapter in C.S. Lewis, Mere Chrisitianity. We are up to Chapter 4, Book II, The Perfect Penitent. Which discusses the subtleties associated with understanding the atonement (i.e. what Christ's death achieved and how it did it). Lewis writes:
The central Christian belief is that Christ's death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. ....
Theories about Christ's death are not Christianity: they are explanations about how it works....
Jeans or Eddington [distinguished scientists of Lewis' time who also wrote popular books]. What they do when they want to explain the atom, or something of that sort, is to give you a description out of which you can make a mental picture. But then they warn you that this picture is not what the scientists actually believe . What the scientstists believe is mathematical formula.....
A man can eat his dinner without understanding exactly how food nourishes him. A man can accept what Christ has done without knowing how it works: indeed, he certainly would not know how it works until he has accepted it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The miracle and mystery of Christmas

Tomorrow night I am giving a talk, A Scientist ponders the Miracle and Mystery of Christmas at a Christmas Gingerbread House making event organised by my church. Here is a copy of the current version of the talk. I may try to simplify it. Any suggestions welcome.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A marriage with lawlessness?

The sermon at church yesterday was on 2 Corinthians 6, and wrestled with the application of the verses:
4 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16What agreement has the temple of God with idols?
I think important and difficult applications that I need to wrestle with as a Christian are:

To what extent to I accept my investments (including superannuation) being placed in companies which exploit workers, produce immoral products, or perform acts that I personally believe are wrong? (see here for more discussion)

How much effort do I make to buy products that have been produced in a just manner, where workers are paid fair wages? (see here)

What level of financial debt is acceptable? When do I become a slave to debt?

The Theology of Mary (Poppins)

My daughter brought to my attention this humorous post on Ben Myers blog, a song about Martin Luther, sung to the tune of the famous Mary Poppins song.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Are you a fundamentalist?

It is fascinating (and disturbing) how words and their meanings get "hijacked" and changed. A classic case is Fundamentalism. The Wikipedia entry does a great job telling the story.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Chancing the existence of God

Following up on a previous post about Paul Ewart's paper in Science and Christian Belief.
Paul kindly brought to my attention a summary of the paper published in the Guardian Online and so accessible (both electronically and intellectually) to a broader audience, Why God needs chance: The reality of chance isn't a robust argument for atheism. It might even be necessary for God's existence

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How to publish a paper in a theology journal

Hopefully this post will generate some discussion. There are certainly people more qualified than me to answer this, but to some faculty and research students at theological colleges, this is a mystery.
Any wisdom or foolishness I have is based on the following experience:
  • having published more than one hundred papers in scientific journals
  • having recently had a paper accepted in Scottish Journal of Theology (which at least according to the Australian Research Council has an A* rating)
  • observing some energetic (and successful) young staff at theological colleges
It is not rocket science. Basically, just do it!

Here are a few hopefully helpful and concrete steps.
  1. Write a draft of your paper.
  2. Choose a journal. A good indication of a suitable journal is where are many of your references are from. Only publish in international peer reviewed journals. They should be available electronically and major theological colleges and secular universities should have subscriptions. Otherwise your readership may be very limited.
  3. Put the article in the format of the journal.
  4. Ask a colleague who has published in the journal (or a similar one) to read and give feedback on the paper. Make appropriate changes.
  5. Submit the paper.
  6. The most likely responses are: a. outright rejection or b. resubmit with some changes
  7. If a. make appropriate changes and submit the article to a less prestigious journal.
  8. Keep repeating the steps 2. to 6. until the paper is accepted in some journal.
  9. If b. bend over backwards making any suggested/required changes from the editor and/or referees.
  10. Never give up.
Any comments?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Responding to Creation

I really looking forward to hearing Haydn's Creation performed by the Queensland Orchestra and the Canticum Chamber Choir in two weeks.

The libretto is a brilliant synthesis of the text of Genesis 1-2, Psalm 19 and 104, and Milton's Paradise Lost. Program notes from a New York Philharmonic performance, including parallel German and English libretto texts are available here. I have a CD recording which uses the version of the English libretto, updated by Robert Shaw and Alice Parker.

This morning I enjoyed listening to the beginning. After recounting various acts of creation there is a solo and/or chorus. For example,

What wonder doth his work reveal
to heavens host in joyful throng,
and loud resounds throughout the skies
the praise of God and of the Second Day.

And loud resounds throughout the skies
the praise of God and of the Second Day.
As a scientist who ponders and marvels at the physical world this should be my response to what I see. That is the most important way to relate science and theology!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Creation and redemption in Isaiah

To me much of Biblical scholarship gets bogged down in debates about authorship and dating of different books. Although, there is some role in these questions the danger is it can distract one from understanding, appreciating, and applying the actual text. Furthermore, I contend that adopting a specific position is not necessary for the latter.

I will illustrate my point with a specific case. Brueggemann appears to take the position of Deutero-Isaiah (i.e., there were two authors of Isaiah and that the second part, ch. 40-66 was written during the exile, a helpful summary is on the Wikipedia page). In discussing YHWH, the God Who Creates [chapter 4, in Theology of Old Testament], he has a really nice section on The Context of Exile, which reads (p. 149-150):
In the Old Testament, creation faith receives its fullest articulation in Isaiah of the exile. [See, for example, Carroll Stuhlmueller, Creative Redemeption in Deutero Isaiah, 1970)] In the context of exile, Israel faced a twofold crisis that invited Israel to despair and to abandonment of its confidence in Yahweh. The concrete ground for the despair is the formidable reality of Babylonian military-political power. Behind that visiible authority, however, is the legitimating power of the Babylonian gods who guaranteed the regime and who appear to be stronger than the counterpower of Israel's own God....
... It is testimony to Yahweh's work as Creator that counters the ostensive power of Babylon.
[1Thus says the LORD,
the Holy One of Israel, and the one who formed him:]
12 I made the earth
and created man on it;
it was my hands that stretched out the heavens,
and I commanded all their host.
13 I have stirred him up in righteousness,
and I will make all his ways level;
he shall build my city
and set my exiles free,
not for price or reward,"
says the LORD of hosts.
(Isaiah 45:12-13)
But actually, these insights are actually independent of when this passage was written. One could rewrite Brueggemann's paragraph as

In the Old Testament, creation faith receives a full articulation in Isaiah's prophesy concerning the exile. In the context of exile, Israel would face a twofold crisis that invited Israel to despair and to abandonment of its confidence in Yahweh. The concrete ground for the despair would be the formidable reality of Babylonian military-political power. Behind that visible authority, however, would be the legitimating power of the Babylonian gods who would guaranteed the regime and who might appear to be stronger than the counterpower of Israel's own God....
... It is testimony to Yahweh's work as Creator that counters the ostensive power of Babylon.

Randomness and purpose II

Paul Ewart points how "Disorder and chaos arising from chance are often seen as destructive and randomness per se as evidence that there is no purpose in the universe." But he uses examples from physics to argue that chaos can be constructive and chance to be consistent with meaning and purpose.

I agree. Randomness is actually necessary for biomolecular functionality including optimising the rate of specific chemical reactions. If you want a very technical discussion see the discussion in a recent talk that I gave at a scientific workshop in Germany.

In the book, Biological Physics: Energy, Information, and Life, Philip Nelson begins each chapter with a question. Chapter 4 begins with

Biological question: If everything is so random in the nanoworld of cells, how can we say anything predictive about cells?

Physical idea: The collective activity of many randomly moving actors
can be effectively predictable, even if individual motions are not.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Randomness and purpose

I have started reading Paul Ewart's great article, The Necessity of Chance: randomness, Purpose and the Sovereignty of God. Before discussing the article here are a few old thoughts:

We should be cautious about deducing that a particular phenomena is “random” and therefore “meaningless” or “without purpose.” This has been discussed nicely by Leo Kadanoff in a Physics Today article with regard to the implications of chance and probability playing a role in evolutionary theory. Deterministic dynamics at one strata can lead to apparently stochastic or random dynamics at the next highest strata. Conversely, stochastic dynamics at one strata can lead to deterministic laws at the next strata. An example of the first is Brownian motion. The motion of individual molecules which interact with a larger particle (such as a dust particle) is deterministic at the atomic level but when viewed through a microscope the large particle appears to move in a random walk. An example of the second case is how the random motion of individual atoms in a gas leads to deterministic laws such as the ideal gas equation of state. Kadanoff states,
“Wherever we have looked most seriously, we have seen phenomena that can be described by simple models of lawful behaviour, endlessly repeated, without discernible purpose or goal. .... this is a cold and amoral description of reality. ....However, to apply this picture to the entire universe requires a tremendous extrapolation. Such an extrapolation can have only the strength of a metaphor. ...As a scientist, I can say that we do not have (and probably cannot have) any evidence to show that nature is just a set of laws operating without purpose or goal. But as a person, I find the metaphor congenial.”

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Test of faith materials available down under

Test of Faith is a new resource (Book, DVD, Study guide, and Leaders Guide) which explores major issues about the relationship between science and Christian faith. It is now available in Australia at Koorong books

Monday, November 2, 2009

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Miracle of True Freedom

I just read the chapter in Karl Barth's Dogmatics in Outline, concerning the Holy Spirit. Here is the (dense) introductory summary:
When men belong to Jesus Christ in such a way that they have freedom to recognize His word as addressed also to them, His work as done also for them, the message about Him as also their task; and then for their part, freedom to hope for the best for all other men, this happens, indeed, as their human experience and action, and yet not in virtue of their human capacity, determination and exertion, but solely on the basis of the free gift of God, in which all this is given to them. In this giving and gift God is the Holy Spirit.
Other snippets:
Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom..... To receive the Spirit, to have the Spirit, to live in the Spirit means being set free and being permitted to live in Freedom.....

The fact that there are Christians, men who have this freedom, is no lesser miracle than the birth of Jesus Chrsit of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, or than the creation of the world out of nothing.
But there must be no misunderstanding: the Holy Spirit is not a form of the human spirit.....

When it happens that man obtains that freedom of becoming a hearer, a responsible, grateful, hopeful person, this is not because of an act of the human spirit, but solely because of the act of the Holy Spirit. So this in other words, a gift of God. It has to do with a new brith, with the Holy Spirit.

Friday, October 30, 2009

What is filioque?

Ben Myers has a fascinating (and appropriately hard hitting) post, Why I (still) confess the filioque?
Unfortunately, Ben never defined filioque. However, it became clear from the context and the wikipedia entry:

Filioque, Latin for "and (from) the Son", was added in Western Christianity to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. This insertion emphasizes that Jesus, the Son, is of equal divinity with God, the Father, while the absence of it in Eastern Christianity emphasizes that the Father is the only one cause of the two other persons.

Et in Spiritum Sanctum, Dominum, et vivificantem: qui ex Patre Filioque procedit.
(And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A scientific perspective?

Sir Fred Hoyle, was a very influential astronomer who I mentioned in a previous post about the anthropic principle. He is best known for his contribution to understanding nucleosynthesis (particularly how carbon is produced in the collision of 3 helium nuclei) and for his vocal opposition to the "Big bang theory", a term he actually coined.

It is fascinating that he wrote the following in the introduction to a scientific paper he published in 1948 in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society [a leading scientific journal]

[left click to see larger text]
It is interesting that he openly acknowledges his "aesthetic objection" to the universe having a beginning. But is this scientific?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Science and faith in Holland

Cees Dekker is one of the world's leading scientists, performing ground breaking work on nanotechnology and molecular biophysics. He is also a Christian and recently edited a book (in Dutch) Geleerd en gelovig: 22 wetenschappers over de God die hen inspireert ("Learned and religious: 22 scientists about the God who inspires them" according to Google translate!)

I look forward to seeing the English translation of the book!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Practicing what you preach

Leigh Trevaskis gave me a nice review article, Theological Intrepretation after Barth from the Spring 2009 Issue of The Journal of Theological Interpretation, by Hans Madueme. It gives a thoughtful review of three books, two of which explicitly consider Barth's exegesis of Scripture.
One quote I found particularly interesting and valuable was:
We begin with Barth's strengths. First, his commitment to exegesis is astonishing. Any criticism of his doctrine of Scripture would do well to acknowledge that, functionally, he practiced a remarkable kind of biblicisim.
Later I hope to mention a few things I disagreed with (or at least found puzzling) in the article, partly relating to its discussion of how the Atlantic ocean divides discussions of the significance of history, and the value/problems of debates about inerrancy.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Moderating postmodern influences

I was a bit disappointed with the last section I read of Bruggemann's Old Testament Theology. I think he may be too influenced by postmodern voices. A few general comments/claims, heavily influenced by my experience in science.
  • Culture and personal experience will undoubtedly influence anyones reading of the text but they are not determinative.
  • Acknowledging the existence of a plurality of voices and opinions and readings is not the same thing as affirming the validity and value of all their perspectives.
  • "Hegemony" is not all bad. God instituted governments to punish evil and protect the innocent. Similarly, because not all perspectives have equal merit and value, those in positions of influence have a responsibility to limit how much those they teach are exposed to alternative views.
In science we do not spend semesters teaching students theories that we believe are wrong based on substantial evidence.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Culture = uncontested assumptions

These past few days I have moved backwards and forwards a couple of times across the "border" between Germany and France. There is no longer any physical border but there is certainly a significant culture one. It isn't just language. Consider what and how much they eat for breakfast!

What is culture? Why do we experience culture shock?
One definition I heard many years ago when I lived in the U.S. was that culture is a set of assumptions that are accepted without question. Culture determines what is right, valued, important, and normal. Whether it is how to greet friends or strangers or at what time one should eat dinner.

Being in a new culture can be good (and difficult) because it makes us realise how we think and do things is not the only way. Hopefully, this leads to more flexibility and humility on the traveller and strangers part.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Looking forward to the end

Today I am working at the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies. Tonight I am going to Strasbourg to give a talk for a GBU group there. Here are the English and French versions of the slides. Isabelle Veldhuizen and Paul King kindly translated the slides. The talk will be in English with translation by Christopher Sinclair, who teaches English at the University.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The end of science and the end of theology

Here is a rough outline of some of the ideas I am working on for the talk I will give for the GBU in Strasbourg tomorrow night.

What does science say about the fast and the future?
Everything has not always been the same.
Everything will not stay the same.
Specifically, science tells us
  • the universe had a beginning
  • time has a direction
  • life on earth will not be sustainable forever
  • the universe itself may end
What does the Bible say about the future?
I plan to look at Acts 17:22-31 and 2 Peter 3:1-13 which illustrate the following points:

Everything has not always been the same.
Everything will not stay the same.
Specifically, the Bible tells us:
  • the universe had a beginning
  • history is heading towards the end of the universe
  • God will judge with perfect justice and righteousness
  • God wants us to repent
  • Jesus' death and resurrection gives Christians confidence of their redemption.
  • Christians are to wait patiently in expectation for Jesus return

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Science and faith look at the future

Next week I am giving a talk for the GBU in Strasbourg, that will explore the questions;

Past, present, future: what does science tell us?
As a Christian, how do I view the future?

Two of the ideas I may explore include:

Based on present observations and physical laws scientists say something about the past (the history of the universe) and try to predict the future including the end of the universe [la fin du monde?]. But any predictions science can make about the end are of limited relevance to our present lives. We will all be dead before they happen!

Based on the past [Jesus death and resurrection] Christians have a hope for the future [Jesus return and their redemption and resurrection] which changes how we view and live in the present [forgiveness, joy, perseverance, faith, and hope].

Can science see the future?

Since the laws of nature appear to be independent of time, many scientists believe they can predict the future. The second law of thermodynamics tells us that the entropy of the universe is increasing. This means that the quality of energy available to do work is decreasing. Everything is moving towards a more uniform temperature. In the 19th century some physicists anticipated the "heat death" of the universe.

This idea captivated modern culture and was featured in a novel La Fin du Monde (The End of the World) published by Camille Flammarion in 1893. The figure above is a woodcut taken form the novel. Flammarion was also responsible for having Foucalt's pendulum, reinstatlled in the Pantheon.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

La science a-t-elle enterrée Dieu?

Here is the current French version of the talk I am going to give tonight to the GBU group at Ecole Centrale in Paris. Hopefully, before then I will add a slide about examples of grace and redemption in Les Miserables.

Ignorance gives way to genius?

Today I visited the Pantheon in Paris. It illustrates a national and public struggle between church and state, faith and reason, science and religion.
The title of the post is that of a cartoon I found in a really nice book I bought about the Pantheon. Unfortunately, I could not find an image online..

Here are a few quotes from the English version of the official brochure:
The Pantheon: From Christian baslica to temple of the nation

On two occasions the enormous sanctuary reverted to being a place of Christian worship before finally becoming a civic temple in 1885, with the funeral of Victor Hugo [author of the novel, Les Miserables].

Foucalt's pendulum demonstrating the rotation of the earth, was first installed in the monument in 1851. It was removed prior to the future Napoleon III returning the monument to religous use, and then replaced by Camille Flammarion during the government's anti-clerical drive on the eve of the law separating Church and state, passed in 1905.
A video about the pendulum ends with a stirring speech from the Minister for Education at the time the pendulum was restored.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Recommended Conference

In December there will be an important new conference for the Christian academic community, in Canberra, Cite1.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Biblical response to indigenous land issues in Australia

Dr. Peter Adam, is Principal of Ridley College in Melbourne, and one of Australia's leading preachers and Bible scholars. I blogged previously about the great talk he gave at the AACC conference about John Calvin's contribution to education.

Dr. Adam recently gave a public lecture, Australia - whose land? a call for recompense, which has attracted some attention.

For Brisbanites, Dr. Adam will be repeating the lecture tomorrow night, Monday October 12, at the Queensland Baptist Centre, 53 Prospect Rd, Gaythorne.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Richard Dawkins in Brisbane

I just heard that Richard Dawkins will be in my home town in March 2010, giving a talk as part of the Brisbane Writers Festival. He is also speaking at the 2010 Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne. Australians who have doubted Dawkins existence, as in this humourous YouTube video, The Dawkins Delusion, will have a chance to examine the evidence for themselves.

After The God Delusion was released I was asked to give this talk several times.

Redemptive acts

Last night, my family and I went to a performance of Les Miserables. It was FANTASTIC! I loved it. [BTW, the lyrics are here].
One thing I really noticed was the many acts of grace and redemption that occur. One I had missed before was when Valjean turns himself to free an innocent man being held for a crime Valjean committed. Valjean sings:
Who am I?
Can I condemn this man to slavery
Pretend I do not feel his agony
This innocent who bears my face
Who goes to judgement in my place
Who am I?
Can I conceal myself for evermore?
Pretend I'm not the man I was before?
And must my name until I die
Be no more than an alibi?
Must I lie?
How can I ever face my fellow men?
How can I ever face myself again?
My soul belongs to God, I know
I made that bargain long ago
He gave me hope when hope was gone
He gave me strength to journey on
This caused me to think of how the innocent man, Jesus, took the penalty, that we the guilty deserve.

Friday, October 9, 2009

A distinctly Christian hope for the future

Here is another quote from chapter 20 of Karl Barth's Dogmatics in Outline, which gives an detailed analysis of each phrase of the Apostle's Creed.
`... To judge the quick and the dead.' If we wish to understand aright here, we must from the start repress certain pictures of the world-judgement, as far as we can, and make an effort not to think of what they are describing. All those visions, as the great painters represent them, about the judging of the world (Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel), Christ advancing with clenched fist and dividing those on the right from those on the left, while one's glance remains fixed on those on the left! The painters have imagined to some extent with delight how these damned folk sink in the pool of hell. But that is certainly not the point.

Question 52 of the Heidelberg Catechism asks: ` What comfort hast thou by the coming again of Christ to judge the quick and the dead?' Answer: `That in all my miseries and persecutions I look with my head erect for the very same, who before yielded Himself unto the judgement of God for heaven...' A different note is struck here. Jesus Christ's return to judged the quick and the dead is tidings of joy. `With head erect,' the Christian, the Church may and ought to confront this future. For He that comes is the same who previously offered Himself to the Judgement of God. It is His return we are looking for. Would it had been vouchsafed to Michelangelo and the other artists to hear and see this!
I find this helpful and challenging. It shows our innate tendency to self-righteousness and puts the focus on Christ and what he accomplished on the cross. The hope it highlights connects past, present, and future.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A bird flys home

Occasionally I have mentioned Mike Bird's blog. I was delighted to read his announcement that he is returning from Scotland to Brisbane (where I live). I think Mike will be a big boost to theological scholarship in Australia and look forward to finally meeting him. He lists 8 goals for his new job at Bible College of Queensland. I took particular note of:

(3) proving that evangelicals really can learn something from Karl Barth

I think he will find some kindred spirits here.

Why are we here?

What is The Anthropic Principle?
Wikipedia gives a very nice and detailed discussion.
Although proposed in 1973 by Brandon Carter, I think it obtained wider prominence (and respectability) after a 1979 Nature paper by Martin Rees (now The Astronomer Royal) and B. Carr.

The basic idea is that the fundamental physical constants of nature are "fine tuned" so that life can exist. What do we need to get lots of carbon?

Changing the ground state energies of helium, berylium, carbon, and oxygen by as little as four per cent would produce a universe with insufficient carbon and oxygen.

Carbon is produced by the simultaneous encounter of three high speed helium nuclei. This collision is very unlikely and will only produce carbon if there is a "resonance" at a particular energy. Fred Hoyle predicted this in 1953 and it was discovered later experimentally.
Although Hoyle was an atheist, he said "a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology."

If the gravitational constant was slightly larger stars would burn too rapidly. If it was slightly smaller stars would not be massive enough to produce heavy elements (iron, etc.).
If the strong nuclear force constant was slightly smaller hydrogen would be the only element in the universe. If it was slightly stronger nuclear fission would occur less frequently and there would be fewer heavy elements.

If the charge on the electron was smaller atoms consisting of electrons bound to nuclei would not exist. If it was larger it would be too hard for atoms to bond together to form molecules. Without molecules there would be no biochemistry!

Is all this "fine tuning" just a coincidence?
Should we be surprised since if it were not true we would not be here to talk about it?

Suppose you face a firing squad of one hundred expert marksman and they all miss! What is your response?

This is amazing. How could such an improbable event happen?
This isn't amazing because if they did not miss I would be dead and so would not be here to think about it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Trusting science to save us?

Jacques Monod was a very distinguished French biologist who shared the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. In some ways he was a predecessor to Richard Dawkins. He was a very gifted writer who wrote a popular book arguing that science necessarily led to atheism. Here is a widely cited quotation from the conclusion of his popular book:
``Where then shall we find the source of truth and the moral inspiration for a really scientific socialist humanism? Only, we suggest, in the sources of science itself,..... it is the conclusion to which the search for authenticity necessarily leads. The ancient covenant is in pieces; man at last knows that he is alone in the unfeeling immmensity of the universe, out of which he emerged only by chance. Neither his destiny nor his duty have been written down. The kingdom above or the darkness below: it is for him to choose.''
Jacques Monod, Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modem Biology, trans. Austryn Wainhouse (New York: Knopf, 1971), p. 167

In response, I quote another atheist Nobel Prize winning scientist, Phil Anderson, who wrote in a very famous anti-reductionist article, More is Different:
``we have yet to recover from that [arrogance] of some molecular biologists, who seem determined to try to reduce everything about the human organism to ``only'' chemistry, from the common cold and all mental disease to the religious instinct.''

The Pink Panther strikes again

When I was a kid I really enjoyed the Pink Panther movies with Peter Sellers. But, I think the new Steve Martin ones are even better. I also think these are some of his best movies. In Australia Pink Panther 2 just came out on DVD and I watched it with my family. We were laughing hysterically. Strongly recommended, if you enjoy slapstick

Monday, October 5, 2009

Science and faith in France

Next week I am off to Europe for a work trip, visiting universities in France and Germany. In my free time, a student group Groupes Bibliques Universitaires (GBU) has invited me to give talks on the relationship between science and the Bible on three different campuses. Several years ago I gave similar talks for the GBU in Strasbourg. I had a translator and here are the slides from one of the talks.

In preparing for the talks I will be thinking a bit about the views of leading French intellectuals concerning the relationship between science, theology, and philosophy.

So here is one, a famous interaction between Pierre Simon Laplace and Napoleon. In A Short Account of the History of Mathematics, Rouse Ball states:
Laplace went in state to Napoleon to accept a copy of his work, and the following account of the interview is well authenticated, and so characteristic of all the parties concerned that I quote it in full. Someone had told Napoleon that the book contained no mention of the name of God; Napoleon, who was fond of putting embarrassing questions, received it with the remark, 'M. Laplace, they tell me you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its Creator.' Laplace, who, though the most supple of politicians, was as stiff as a martyr on every point of his philosophy, drew himself up and answered bluntly, 'Je n'avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là.' ("I had no need of that hypothesis.") Napoleon, greatly amused, told this reply to Lagrange, who exclaimed, 'Ah! c'est une belle hypothèse; ça explique beaucoup de choses.' ("Ah, it is a fine hypothesis; it explains many things.")
I agree with Laplace!
I don't think Laplace was saying that God does not exist. And Stephen Hawking agrees!.
Laplace is making the important point that the scientific method involves a practical naturalism. The success of this method neither proves nor disproves the existence of God.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Did the elder Niels Bohr stop thinking outside the box?

Ben Myers posted a nice sermon by Kim Fabricus for university students. It features a fascinating story about an undergraduate student giving "creative" answers to a standard physics exam question. The punch line is:
[The examiners] asked the student if he knew the standard answer to the question. “Of course,” he replied. “But I am fed up with high school and university teachers trying to tell me how to think.”

And the name of the student of this perhaps apocryphal story? Niels Bohr, the Danish physicist who won the Nobel Prize for his contributions to quantum theory.
On reflection, there is great irony here, because later in life, Bohr himself "told people how to think", in ways that I consider significantly impeded a range of scholarly endevours.

First, the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, seems to have been accepted by physicists largely by the force of Bohr's status and personality, rather than by its scientific merits. This is chronicled by James T. Cushing in, Quantum Mechanics: Historical Contingency and the Copenhagen Hegemony

Second, this "hegemony" led to a dismissal of Einstein's objections to quantum theory and slowed the development of theory and experiments to test the foundations of quantum physics. John S. Bell was a "rebel" who pursued implications of the Einstein, Podolsky, Rosen paradox alone in the 1960's. His work and Aspect's experiments in the early 1980's eventually led to the whole new field of quantum information and many new interpretations of quantum theory.

Third, Bohr made many highly speculative statements about the implications of quantum theory to other disciplines (including politics and religion) that were accepted uncritically and used inappropriately by some postmodernists. Mara Beller, has chronicled these excesses in a provocative Physics Today article "The Sokal Hoax: At Whom Are We Laughing?", and a book, Quantum Dialogue: the making of a revolution.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Core movie themes? Deliverance and redemption

Several years ago in a sermon, a friend Steve Merritt, claimed that almost all movies centre around the concept of either deliverance or redemption.
At the time this seemed an over-generalisation but then my family discussed it and agreed that many of the movies we had seen did fit this classification. What do you think?

Hence, I was intrigued when I saw this quote from Steven Spielberg, on directing Schindler's List:
In all great drama there's redemption. Without redemption there is no hope. And the one thing I'm never going to give up on is hope... That's the person I am and I can't survice without that in my life.
[I saw the quote in an article about the movie, Defiance, in a VideoEzy catalogue]

What are the greatest acts of deliverance and redemption known?
The Exodus in the Old Testament
The death and resurrection of Jesus in the New Testament

Friday, October 2, 2009

Is there a role for theology in a secular university?

Ben Myers blog just featured Geoff Thompson's comments about the role of research in theological colleges. Ben also mentioned the following quote from an article by Bruce McCormack on theology in secular universities:
“The justification for a faculty of theology in the university lies in its willingness to bear witness to an eschatological disclosure of the ultimate foundation of all the disciplines and, in so doing, to the meaningfulness of all disciplines in spite of their inability to demonstrate their foundations…. [T]heology serves the other sciences best when it acts as a disruptive influence; when it reminds the other sciences of their inability to demonstrate their ultimate presuppositions…. If faculties of theology could learn once again to perform this function, they will truly deserve their place at the table. If they do not, if they continue to allow theology to be transformed into metaphysics or reduced to anthropology, well, we ought not to be surprised if theology loses its place altogether.”
—Bruce L. McCormack, “Theology and Science: Karl Barth’s Contribution to an Ongoing Debate,” Zeitschrift für dialektische Theologie 22 (2006), p. 59.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Are scientists suppressing the truth?

Expelled! No Intelligence allowed is a documentary about Intelligent Design that generated significant controversy in the US. It is about to be shown in some commercial movie theatres in Australia. The movie synopsis is:

Big science has expelled smart ideas from the classroom... What they forgot is that every generation has its Rebel! That rebel, Ben Stein (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Wonder Years) travels the world on his quest, and learns an awe- inspiring truth... that educators, scientists and philosophers are being ridiculed, denied employment, and even fired – for merely believing that there might be evidence of "design" in nature. Many are being ostracized for proposing that perhaps life is not just the result of accidental, random chance. This thought- provoking documentary not only forces us to question what we have been taught but challenges us to ask, "What else is being kept from us?" Ben says "Enough" – And NOBODY messes with Ben.

Here is a critical and thoughtful review of the movie by one Christian scientist, Jeffrey Schloss.

Iwill just add a couple of points.

I am a Christian and a scientist who works in a secular public university. Yet, I am unaware of the systemic "silences" and "persecutions" that the movie claims occur in the scientific community.

The best way to get ahead in science is to overturn some reigning theory or paradigm. This is what ambitious young scientists are trying to do all the time. Consequently, there are no "closed ranks" or "conspiracies of silence".