Above all, do not attempt to use science (I mean, the real sciences) as a defence against Christianity. They will positively encourage him to think about realities he can't touch and see. There have been sad cases among the modern physicists. If he must dabble in science, keep him on economics and sociology; don't let him get away from that invaluable "real life". But the best of all is to let him read no science but to give him a grand general idea that he knows it all and that everything he happens to have picked up in casual talk and reading is "the results of modem investigation".
Sunday, May 31, 2009
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Quantum physics is fertile ground for strange ideas, especially at the interface of science and theology. Ben Myers and I wrote a paper, published last year in the journal, Science and Christian Belief, that sought to explore parallels and differences between the epistemological issues associated with quantum physics and Karl Barth's theology. Perhaps, a more accessible summary is this talk I gave in Melbourne at an ISCAST conference.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
"arguably the greatest composer in the history of Western music and a man whose staunch Lutheran faith informed his life, his career, and his view of music. He believed that music was a "refreshment of spirit," as some of the title pages of his works stated. He believed that music was a powerful tool for the proclamation of the gospel, as his cantatas, Passions, organ chorales, and other compositions clearly show. And ultimately, he believed that music brought glory to God, as the initials SDG (Soli Deo Gloria, "To God alone be glory") at the end of most of his scores bear witness."The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul. —J.S. Bach
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Revelation provides an example of a theological concept (and reality) that is not simply reducible to history, scripture, culture, religion, or sociology. God cannot be described and understood in purely human terms.
Barth states, “Revelation in the Bible means the self-unveiling, imparted to men, of the God who by nature cannot be unveiled to men.” He then expounds [Church Dogmatics I/1, pp. 315, 320, 324] this statement from three points of view, with a particular emphasis on the significance of the name of God, YHWH and of Jesus. God is Himself both in concealment and “in manifestation, i.e., in the form of something He Himself is not.” Anthropomorphic concepts such as:
“His arm, His right hand….. are not just [all too human] descriptions and representations of the reality of Yahweh; they are themselves the reality of Yahweh…. He has objectivity for those to whom He is manifest. Religious science usually defines concepts used in this way as hypostases, i.e., realities of the one God which are both distinguishable and yet also indistinguishable from Him.”
“this revelation of the name (Exodus 3:13ff.) is in fact, in content, the refusal to give a name, for “I am that I am” can hardly mean more than that “I am He whose true name no one can utter.” …But under this name, God does reveal himself to His people, i.e., He begins, as Exodus 3 instructively shows, to have dealings with Israel through the announcing by Moses of its deliverance out of Egypt.”
“the picture which the New Testament itself sets before us is that of the self-disclosure of this Father in which He is not the Father but the Son, the historical figure of this Man on His way from Bethlehem to Golgotha, the ‘name’ of Jesus. Again, the concreteness and actuality of the self-unveiling of God for man, and the enigma of the self-distinction in God Himself which makes this self-unveiling possible, has not just increased quantitatively here in comparison with the Old Testament.”
Hence, Revelation cannot be reduced to a historical event. In Revelation we find at the same time the greatest identification and the greatest difference between the person of God and the event of revelation.
Monday, May 25, 2009
Atheists: No God, no reason, just whining,
What atheists don't seem to realize is that even for believers, faith is never easy in this world of injustice, pain and delusion. Even for believers, God exists just beyond the scrim of the senses. So, atheists, how about losing the tired sarcasm and boring self-pity and engaging believers seriously?The article got some very strong negative reactions from atheists. Some claimed the LA Times should not have printed it, as it was so filled with "hate". The response from P.Z. Myers (who Allen singled out in her article) is interesting. It is so filled with sarcasm, caricatures, and simplistic generalisations, that to me it only supports Allen's point.
So what do I consider are some hallmarks of rational discussion and argument?
- Absence of anger, sarcasm, abuse, ridicule,...
- Respect for others and their points of view, even when we strongly disagree
- A desire to understand preceding attempting to be understood
- Ackowledgement of subtleties of interpretation and evidence.
- Thoughtful engagement with scholarly work, especially primary sources
Sunday, May 24, 2009
But, one thing I had reservations about was a statement concerning antimatter:
The Word of God, the second Person of the , expresses the rationality and wisdom of God. The world that God made has deep harmonies because it was made by him and expresses him. In the Word, the wisdom of God, physical order (the positron) and mathematics hold together in harmony. Antimatter exists because it reflects within nature the harmony of God's mind, and the harmony between the persons of the Trinity.
This reminded me of some of the material in Alister McGrath's The Foundations of the Dialogue between Science and Religion (1998), of which I wrote a critical but appreciative review.
Chapter 2 contains a section (pp. 69-73) which discusses the fact that symmetry plays a major role in quantum theory. This might be of some theological interest because Aquinas argued that observed symmetries reflect the perfection of God. McGrath suggests that this interest has been offered a ``new lease of life'' because of the recent current interest in supersymmetry in theoretical physics. Later in the book (p. 181), in the context of the use of analogies in theology McGrath states:
It is important to pause here, and note the importance of the way in which the growth of ``supersymmetry'' theories have posited a fundamental relationship between various aspects of modern physics. The doctrine of creation, puts such relationships on a secure intellectual footing, suggesting that a correlation exists within the created order prior to its being discerned through human investigation.Some of my concerns about this discussion of supersymmetry and this last point, in particular are, in order of increasing importance.
i. It is not at all clear that superstring theories will ever be tested experimentally because they would require particle accelerators bigger than the size of the earth. Hence, we may never know whether superstring theories really describe the created order rather than being just beautiful mathematical constructions.
ii. If supersymmetry really is an underlying symmetry of the physical laws of nature, the universe itself would still have only exhibited perfect supersymmetry (equal numbers of photons and photinos) during some incredibly short time, like the first 10 to the power -41 seconds, after the beginning of the universe. However, in the world in which we now live the supersymmetry is ``broken'', i.e., that is far from perfect. There are an ``astronomical'' number of photons in the universe but so far we have not found a single photino. Won't such imperfection present problems to Aquinas' argument?
iii. A statement by a theologian that theories based on symmetry are on a ``sound intellectual footing'' because of the doctrine of creation can be easily mis-interpreted as an endorsement of a specific scientific theory and is problematic. Wasn't that the source of Galileo's problems?
Saturday, May 23, 2009
`Since the beginning of history,' Langdon explained, 'a deep rift has existed between science and religion. Outspoken scientists like Copernicus-'It appears that since the original edition, Copernicus has been replaced with Giordano Bruno, at least in my 2001 Corgi paperback edition. Why the change?
`Were murdered,' Kohler interjected. `Murdered by the church for revealing scientific truths. Religion has always persecuted science.'
How did Copernicus die? He died following a stroke.
How were his theories received by the Roman Catholic church? What did Copernicus believe about the Bible? Wikipedia has detailed and well-referenced entries on Copernicus and Bruno. Here are extracts from the Copernicus entry:
So, not only was Copernicus not murdered by the church, but it seems some church leaders were actually very receptive to his ideas. And it was only sixty years after his death that the church opposed his work.
Some years ago word reached me concerning your proficiency, of which everybody constantly spoke. At that time I began to have a very high regard for you... For I had learned that you had not merely mastered the discoveries of the ancient astronomers uncommonly well but had also formulated a new cosmology. In it you maintain that the earth moves; that the sun occupies the lowest, and thus the central, place in the universe... Therefore with the utmost earnestness I entreat you, most learned sir, unless I inconvenience you, to communicate this discovery of yours to scholars, and at the earliest possible moment to send me your writings on the sphere of the universe together with the tables and whatever else you have that is relevant to this subject ...
By then Copernicus' work was nearing its definitive form, and rumors about his theory had reached educated people all over Europe. Despite urgings from many quarters, Copernicus delayed with the publication of his book, perhaps from fear of criticism — a fear delicately expressed in the subsequent Dedication of his masterpiece to Pope Paul III. Scholars disagree on whether Copernicus' concern was limited to physical and philosophical objections from other natural philosophers, or whether he was also concerned about religious objections from theologians.
At original publication, Copernicus' epoch-making book caused only mild controversy, and provoked no fierce sermons about contradicting Holy Scripture. It was only three years later, in 1546, that a Dominican, Giovanni Maria Tolosani, denounced the theory in an appendix to a work defending the absolute truth of Scripture. He also noted that the Master of the Sacred Palace (i.e., the Catholic Church's chief censor), Bartolomeo Spina, a friend and fellow Dominican, had planned to condemn De revolutionibus but had been prevented from doing so by his illness and death.
Arthur Koestler, in his popular book The Sleepwalkers, asserted that Copernicus' book had not been widely read on its first publication. This claim was trenchantly criticised by Edward Rosen, and has been decisively disproved by Owen Gingerich, who examined every surviving copy of the first two editions and found copious marginal notes by their owners throughout many of them. Gingerich published his conclusions in 2004 in The Book Nobody Read.
It has been much debated why it was not until six decades after Spina and Tolosani's attacks on Copernicus's work that the Catholic Church took any official action against it. Proposed reasons have included the personality of Galileo Galilei and the availability of evidence such as telescope observations.In March 1616, in connection with the Galileo affair, the Roman Catholic Church's Congregation of the Index issued a decree suspending De revolutionibus until it could be "corrected," on the grounds that the supposedly Pythagorean doctrine that the Earth moves and the Sun doesn't was "false and altogether opposed to Holy Scripture."
On the other hand, Bruno was definitely condemned to death by the church. But, was it for his scientific views? The wikipedia entry on Bruno expands on the subtleties involved:
I took a fascinating visit to the relevant Vatican Secret Archives webpage and also found the following statement of Bruno:
Some authors have characterized Bruno as a "martyr of science," suggesting parallels with the Galileo affair. They assert that, even though Bruno's theological beliefs were an important factor in his heresy trial, his Copernicanism and cosmological beliefs also played a significant role for the outcome. Others oppose such views, and claim this alleged connection to be exaggerated, or outright false.
According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "in 1600 there was no official Catholic position on the Copernican system, and it was certainly not a heresy. When [...] Bruno [...] was burned at the stake as a heretic, it had nothing to do with his writings in support of Copernican cosmology."
Similarly, the Catholic Encyclopedia (1908) asserts that "Bruno was not condemned for his defence of the Copernican system of astronomy, nor for his doctrine of the plurality of inhabited worlds, but for his theological errors, among which were the following: that Christ was not God but merely an unusually skilful magician, that the Holy Ghost is the soul of the world, that the Devil will be saved, etc."
However, the webpage of the Vatican Secret Archives discussing the document containing a summary of legal proceedings against him in Rome, suggests a different perspective:
"In the same rooms where Giordano Bruno was questioned, for the same important reasons of the relationship between science and faith, at the dawning of the new astronomy and at the decline of Aristotle’s philosophy, sixteen years later, Cardinal Bellarmino, who then contested Bruno’s heretical theses, summoned Galileo Galilei, who also faced a famous inquisitorial trial, which, luckily for him, ended with a simple abjuration."
Firstly, I say that the theories on the movement of the earth and on the immobility of the firmament or sky are by me produced on a reasoned and sure basis, which doesn’t undermine the authority of the Holy Sciptures […]. With regard to the sun, I say that it doesn’t rise or set, nor do we see it rise or set, because, if the earth rotates on his axis, what do we mean by rising and setting[…])Congratulations, if you read this far! This post took longer than I originally thought because it turned out so much more complicated [and richer] than I anticipated. But, isn't that the way science, history, theology, and life often are!
Dan Brown and Richard Dawkins do not wish to engage with subtleties and shades of gray. For them, it is simple:
Since the beginning of history ...... a deep rift has existed between science and religion. Outspoken scientists .....Were murdered .... by the church for revealing scientific truths. Religion has always persecuted science.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, ......, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be.It seems Eagleton is haunted by the "new atheists". He recently gave the D.H. Terry lectures at Yale University (they can be viewed here), which have been published as a book, Reason, Faith, and Revolution. Extracts of Eagleton's own synopsis of the book are:
So read the New Testament and be challenged!
Religion has wrought untold misery in human affairs. For the most part, it has been a squalid tale of bigotry, superstition, wishful thinking, and oppressive ideology. I therefore have a good deal of sympathy with its rationalist and humanist critics. But it is also the case, as this book argues, that most such critics buy their rejection of religion on the cheap. When it comes to the New Testament, at least, what they usually write off is a worthless caricature of the real thing, rooted in a degree of ignorance and prejudice to match religion’s own....
It is with this ignorance and prejudice that I take issue in this book. If the agnostic left cannot afford such intellectual indolence when it comes to the Jewish and Christian scriptures, it is not only because it belongs to justice and honesty to confront your opponent at his or her most convincing. It is also that radicals might discover there some valuable insights into human emancipation, in an era where the political left stands in dire need of good ideas. I do not invite such readers to believe in these ideas, any more than I myself in the archangel Gabriel, the infallibility of the pope, the idea that Jesus walked on water, or the claim that he rose up into heaven before the eyes of his disciples.
If I try in this book to “ventriloquise” what I take to be a version of the Christian gospel relevant to radicals and humanists, I do not wish to be mistaken for a dummy. But the Jewish and Christian scriptures have much to say about some vital questions—death, suffering, love, self-dispossession, and the like—on which the left has for the most part maintained an embarrassed silence. It is time for this politically crippling shyness to come to an end.
The book has generated considerable interest, indicated by the response to Stanley Fish's column on May 3 in the New York Times. I will try and write more about that soon.
But what should we make of a man, Himself unrobbed and untrodden on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on other men's toes and stealing other men's money? Asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give of his conduct. Yet this is what Jesus did. He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offences. This makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin. In the mouth of any speaker who is not God, these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivalled by any other character in history.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Although there are points where my perspective is significantly different, I think it is quite balanced and perceptive. Here are a few quotes:
The[Reason] project [recently launched by Sam Harris] aims ‘to spread scientific knowledge and secular values in society’ and ‘to encourage critical thinking and erode the influence of dogmatism, superstition, and bigotry in our world.’ It is not hard, given the list of backers, to see what that means: doing battle with religion....
Important though such issues are, the Reason Project’s supporters would probably agree that they pale in comparison with the use (or generally, abuse) of religious dogma to justify suppression of human rights, maltreatment and murder. To the extent that those are in the project’s sights, it should be applauded. But with Dawkins (The God Delusion) and Christopher Hitchens (God Is Not Great) on board, one can’t help suspecting that the Almighty Himself is the prime target.
What the Reason Project has in its favour is philosophical rigour. That may also be its failing, because it looks unlikely to venture beyond those walls. Like most utopian ideas, atheistic absolutism works so long as it ignores what people are like and remains in a cultural and historical vacuum. Logical neatness and self-consistency is, unfortunately, not enough.
Sadly, when that is pointed out – as for example when the Royal Society’s former director of education Michael Reiss suggested that it was best to understand religiously motivated delusions such as creationism as world views rather than as mere ignorance that the right information would set right – scientists tend to react badly. Reiss, a biologist and an ordained Christian clergyman, was forced to resign, I suspect because some scientists found a whiff of relativism in his remarks.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
The first chapter, contains a very elegant argument (observation) which he summarises as:
First, …human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it.This is the argument that Francis Collins found so compelling, and led to him to re-assess his atheism. I also think this more persuasive and significant than arguments in the realm of natural theology. This is because attempted justifications for the Gospel from natural theology are disconnected from the nature of humanity and our need of redemption.
Second, … they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
I agree that the problem has gotten worse. I think contributing factors are:
- the rise of postmodernism in humanities departments
- a backlash from scientists against postmodernist excesses has further marginalised the humanities within universities,
- the values of economic rationalism have led to universities being more focused on commercial outcomes and job training rather than scholarship,
- the free exchange of ideas, and the intellectual and cultural development of students.
The book reviewer, Peter Saulson discusses how it is unfortunate Sokal has been unable to have any meaningful engagement with the failures of modernism or with the subtleties which more thougthful postmodernists wrestle.
There is a nice Editorial and Commentary in Nature Physics. In the latter, Mark Buchanan dialogues with an essay on the topic by Clive James,
The humanities are literally the 'human-ities'; immersed in the lives of people within human cultures, celebrating individual human perspective and experience, and necessarily resisting any universal or objective perspective. In contrast, science always seeks the universal and objective. Inspired rather than alarmed by the Copernican revolution, it aims to determine the Universe (as far as possible) from a non-human perspective, undistorted by emotion and desire.To me, this ties in with an ealier post, Why History does (and does not) matter. It underscores why the Bible is just as relevant today, historical criticism has limited relevance, and there is no need for theology to beholden to the latest scientific developments.
One of the things this implies, as James points out, is a crucially different perspective on history in the humanities and in science. Science can for many purposes forget history and focus on the present, for scientific advance and the technology it creates can alter our world beyond recognition in less than a generation. In contrast, and apart from the rapid and ceaseless alteration of superficial style, the core matter of the humanities changes only as fast as the deep nature of people and human life changes, which isn't fast at all.
.... differences are so set in the subject matter of the two cultures — one exploring everything human, and the other aiming for what is outside the merely human — that it is difficult to imagine the two cultures ever coming together. Even so, scientists remain human, and artists live in a world described by laws of inspiring beauty. There will always be innumerable points of contact.
On the other hand, I think Buchanan is overlooking the real gulf and communication difficulties between scientists and scholars in the humanities. I will expand on this soon....
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
What is the dialogue (or conflict) between?
When discussing the relationship between science and Christianity, a number of different terms are often used:
1. science and theology
2. science and faith
3. science and religion
I strongly prefer 1. to 2. and 3. Why?
"Science and theology" is appropriate because (as Barth emphasized) both
are concerned with the study of an object, and use methods, concepts, and language appropriate to that object. I think this phrase puts the two on more of an equal footing as intellectual endevours, albeit different ones.
I wonder whether 2. and 3. are unnecessarily conceding ground and slanting the debate. I think that "science and faith" is easily mis-represented as a dialogue between the rational and irrational, and between evidence and wishful thinking. In a lecture to the 1992 Edinburgh International Science Festival, Richard Dawkins claimed:
Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence... Faith is not allowed to justify itself by argument.Whereas I think both science and theology involve faith and "rationality", albeit of a different nature.
My problem with "science and religion" is that I dont think Biblical Christianity is a religion! Religion and theology are distinctly different. Religion is man seeking after God and trying to earn God's favour. The Gospel is God seeking after man and giving the free gift of favour.
Religion often means ritual, superstition, and legalism.
I think parallel issues would apply to the alternative titles
science and literature
science and romanticism
science and mythology
Sunday, May 10, 2009
Furthemore, the questions the text asks us are much more unsettling than the questions we may ask of the text.
Saturday, May 9, 2009
CERN, the particle physics laboratory, featured in the novel has a web page which details the many scientific errors in the novel.
To get an idea of just how bad these errors are consider this. The novel has a page at the beginning entitled FACT, which states:
Antimatter is the most powerful energy source known to man. It releases energy with 100 per cent efficiency (nuclear fission is 1.5 per cent efficient). Antimatter cereates no pollution or radiation, and a droplet could power New York City for a full day.In response, the CERN site states:
The inefficiency of antimatter production is enormous: you get only a tenth of a billion of the invested energy back. If we could assemble all the antimatter we've ever made at CERN and annihilate it with matter, we would have enough energy to light a single electric light bulb for a few minutes.But my favourite blooper in the novel is Dan Brown's description of the heroine by the CERN director,
She's a bio Entanglement Physicist. She studies the interconnectivity of life systems. Her work ties closely with her father's work in particle physics. Recently she disproved one of Einstein's fundamental theories by using atomically synchronized cameras to observe a school of tuna fish.[page 69, 2001 Corgi edition]
This is complete scientific gooblygook, comparable to that found in What the bleep do we know, on which I wrote a previous post.
A very long list of other errors, mostly geographical and historical, can also be found here.
Enjoy the book. Enjoy the movie. They are great suspense.
But learn your science and church history elsewhere....
The movie trailer looks very exciting. It ends with Tom Hanks saying, "This is the truth." No. This is a great story which may lead the uncritical viewer to believe the myth that science and Chrisitianity are incompatible.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Franz Josef Haydn (1732-1809).
The libretto is a brilliant synthesis of the text of Genesis 1-2, Psalm 19 and 104, and Milton's Paradise Lost. I have a wonderful CD recording which uses the version of the English libretto, updated by Robert Shaw and Alice Parker. Here is some:
In shining splendour, radiant now the sun bestrides the sky;I sometimes (naively) think that if everyone read Genesis 1-3, along with Barth's detailed exegesis in Church Dogmatics 3.1, and listened to this music that most of the controversy about the relationship between science and the Bible would dissipate very quickly.
a wondrous, joyful bridegroom,
a giant proud and glad,
he runs his ordered course
With softer steps and wistful shimmer,
steals the moon through still enshadowed night.
The boundless vaults of heaven's domain
shine with unnumbered magnitude of stars.
And the sons of God rejoiced in the Fourth Day
in chorus divine, praising God's great might, and saying:
The heavens are telling the glory of God;
with wonders of his work resounds the firmament.
I am puzzled that the commentary that comes with my CD states, the composition is "a document of Enlightenment religious beliefs and attitudes." I fail to see how this is the case, given the fidelity to the Biblical text.
I am quite excited that in Brisbane in November the whole work will be performed by the Queensland Orchestra and the Canticum Chamber Choir. (I just hope it is not in German.)
Listening will be better than trying to sing to my dear wife:
Now is our duty well fulfilled;
our maker have we duly thanked.
Now follow me, companion of my life!
Thy guide I'll be, and every step
wakes new delight within my breast,
shows wonders everywhere.
Then surely thou shalt know
what boundless realms of joy the Lord hath given us.
His praise we everymore,
him serve with heart and mind.
Come, follow me! Thy guide I'll be.
Monday, May 4, 2009
Both physics and the Bible address questions about the origin of the universe, the direction of time, where we are heading, and the end of the universe.
How should we compare and contrast the two pictures?
A few years back Greg Clarke and I wrote a short article discussing these issues.
Sunday, May 3, 2009
After a sermon in a parish church where Barth had been preaching one Sunday, he was met at the door by a man who greeted him with these words, "Professor Barth, thank you for our sermon. I'm an astronomer, you know, and as far as I am concerned, the whole of Christianity can be summed up by saying, `Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.' Barth replied: "Well I am just a humble theologian and as far as I am concerned the whole of astronomy can be summed up by saying, `Twinkle , twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are.' "John D. Godsey, Reminiscences of Karl Barth.
Saturday, May 2, 2009
Collins has just launched a new web-based project, the BioLogos Foundation, with the mission:
Faith and science both lead us to truth about God and creation. The web site is worth checking out. It includes a blog, Science and the Sacred. There is an interview with Collins about this project on the Christianity Today website.