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".