Sunday, July 31, 2011

An unfulfilled scientist

Can science reveal meaning and purpose to us? Can science give a sense of peace, contentment, or fulfillment?

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar  was a famous astrophysicist. He won the Nobel prize in physics in 1983, for work that led to the concept of black holes. The whole December 2010 issue of Physics Today was devoted to Chandrasekhar, marking the centenary of his birth. 
There is a fascinating interview with Chandrasekhar which appears at the back of the biography, Chandra by K. C. Wali. Here are a few extracts:
SC: In fact, I consider myself an atheist. But I have a feeling of disappointment because the hope for contentment and a peaceful outlook on life as the result of pursuing a goal has remained largely unfulfilled.
KW: What? I don't understand. You mean, single–minded pursuit of science, understanding parts of nature and comprehending nature with such enormous success still leaves you with a feeling of discontentment?
SC: I don't really have a sense of fulfillment. All I have done seems to not be very much.
KW: Don't you think that is common to everybody. 
SC: Well that may be, but the fact that other people experience it doesn't change the fact that one is experiencing it. It doesn't become less personal on that account.
SC: What is true in my own personal case is that I simply don't have that sense of harmony which I'd hoped for when I was young. I've persevered in science for over fifty years. The time I've devoted to other things is miniscule.
This contradicts the view of another atheist scientist (and Physics Nobel Laureate) Steven Weinberg who suggested the only meaning that can be found is in doing science. (See this earlier post).

The above interview features in a talk Scientists and their Gods by Fritz Schaefer.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Christ and Culture revisited

The saturday morning reading group I am in finished Miroslav Volf's Exclusion and Embrace and has moved on to other readings. Today we looked at a chapter from Christ and Culture Revisited by Don Carson. The book is an assessment of the typology introduced by H. Richard Niebuhr in his influential 1951 book, Christ and Culture.
The chapter gives a nice accessible and succinct summary of the 5-fold typology Niebuhr introduced. According to Wikipedia Niebuhr's typology is,

Christ against Culture. For the exclusive Christian, history is the story of a rising church or Christian culture and a dying pagan civilization.
Christ of Culture. For the cultural Christian, history is the story of the Spirit’s encounter with nature.
Christ above Culture. For the synthesist, history is a period of preparation under law, reason, gospel, and church for an ultimate communion of the soul with God.
Christ and Culture in Paradox. For the dualist, history is the time of struggle between faith and unbelief, a period between the giving of the promise of life and its fulfillment.
Christ Transforming Culture. For the conversionist, history is the story of God’s mighty deeds and humanity’s response to them.
I think one could make a similar typology to characterise different Christians attitude towards science.

Aside: One think I learnt was that Reinhold Niebuhr and H. Richard Niebuhr were different people (albeit brothers). The former's Wikipedia page makes fascinating reading.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Gospel is bad news to the self-sufficient

Since this week I gave two talks based on Acts 17:16-34, I have followed my wife's honoured practice of seeing what John Piper has to say on the passage! He has a nice sermon Why God Cannot Be Served But Loves to Serve which focuses on verses 24-25
The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; 
Piper makes two main points about the fact God is not Served by Human Hands.
1. It is bad news to the self-sufficient (particularly the morally "upright")
2. It is good news to the weak.

1. Was bad news to Saul (before he became Paul) because, "His whole identity hung on serving God with resolve and strength and rigor and accuracy and beyond all his contemporaries. This was his identity. This was his boast and significance."

Piper links the Acts passage to Mark 10:45, "Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." Piper states:

God is so great and so self-sufficient that he cannot be served as though he needed anything, and his Son Jesus Christ is so great and so valuable that his death in our place is a sufficient ransom to pay all our debt to God. The question is, will we believe this, and will we receive God's service of us as the most precious gift in the world? Believing. Receiving. Not serving. That's the posture of a person who is right with God. God sets us right through the death of his Son in our place and we receive this right standing, this peace and acceptance and hope not by working for God, but by trusting in his work for us.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Discovering God?

Here is the current version of the slides for a talk, "Is the End of Science the Beginning of Discovering God?" that I will give tonight as part of The God Experiment series.
I first consider John Horgan's book, The End of Science which suggests that science cannot find The Answer. I then consider different possible responses to the successes of science: Hubris, Despair, Wonder, and Worship. I then look at Paul's address in Acts 17 where he proclaimed that the "unknown God" has a purpose and plan for humanity. We cannot claim ignorance but must carefully consider the person of Jesus Christ.
Comments welcome.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Advice to skeptical inquirers

I recommend the book, The Reason for God, by Tim Keller. It is well written, balanced, highlights key issues, and uses a good selection of references.
The chapter, "Science has disproved Christianity" is excellent. I thought the following paragraph was particularly poignant:
Since Christian believers occupy different positions on both the meaning of Genesis 1 and on the nature of evolution, those who are considering Christianity as a whole should not allow themselves to be distracted by this intramural debate. The skeptical inquirer does not need to accept any one of these positions in order to embrace the Christian faith. Rather, he or she should concentrate on and weigh the central claims of Christianity. Only after drawing conclusions about the person of Christ, the resurrection, and the central tenets of the Christian message should one think through the various options with regard to creation and evolution.” 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Does Science Disprove God?

Here is the current draft version of the slides for my talk in The God Experiment series in Melbourne tomorrow.
Comments welcome.

The End of Science is the Beginning of Theology

In 1996, John Horgan, a journalist with Scientific American, published a book The End of Science: Facing the Limits of Knowledge in the Twilight of the Scientific Age. The book received a lot of attention and was widely criticised, particularly by members of the scientific community. In the book he describes interviews with an impressive cast of scientific leaders, including Roger Penrose, Stephen Jay Gould, Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn, Edward Witten, David Bohm, Philip Anderson, Lyn Margulis, Murray Gell-Mann, ..

Here is the main point of the book (p. 6)
Optimists who think they can overcome all these limits [of scientific knowledge] must face yet another quandary, perhaps the most disturbing of all. What will scientists do if they succeed in knowing what can be known? What, then, would be the purpose of life? What would be the purpose of humanity? ... 
Given these troubling issues, it is no wonder that many scientists whom I interviewed for this book seemed gripped by a profound unease. But their malaise, I will argue has another, much more immediate cause. If one believes in science, one must accept the possibility - even the probability - that the great era of scientific discovery is over. By science I mean not applied science, but science at its purest and grandest, the primordial human quest to understand the universe and our place in it. Future research may yield no more great revelations or revolutions, but only incremental, diminishing returns.
Much is revealed by the chapter titles, Introduction: Searching for The Answer. The last chapter is Scientific Theology, or the End of Machine Science. The Epilogue is The Terror of God. In the latter he describes how his despair led him to his own personal mystical experience. Here are a few extracts:
At the heart of reality lies not an answer, but a question: why is there something rather than nothing? The Answer is that there is no answer, only a question.... The world is a riddle that God has created in order to shield himself from his terrible solitude and fear of death. ....
...everything comes down to God chewing his fingernails. This belief even gives me a strange kind of comfort. Our plight is God's plight. And now that science - true, pure, empirical science- has ended, what else is there to believe in?
I warmly recommend the book. It is well written and fascinating reading. Much of it I do not agree with (especially "The Terror of God" idea). But, it to me it clearly illustrates that Science does not have The Answer that some so desparately seek within it. Science ultimately raises existential questions. Why are we here? But, we must look outside Science to find the answers.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The public and private face of atheism

Yesterday, my son and I read and discussed two chapters in Loving God by Charles Colson. In chapter  5, Just another book? he discusses his encounter with the prominent atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair. She was eager to denounce the Bible but would not touch it of hold it in her hand when Colson offered it to her to show him passages that supported her arguments. This encounter took place during a debate between Colson and O'Hair arranged by David Frost, but was never televised. [I searched on YouTube but could not find it. Anyone know if it is online?].

The life story of O'Hair is a fascinating and tragic one. She gained notoriety in the USA for  being the plaintiff in the landmark 1963 decision of the Supreme Court which banned teacher led prayers in public schools. [BTW, I would agree with this decision from both a theological and legal perspective]. O'Hair later founded American Atheists, from which she was accused of embezzling millions of dollars. She was eventually abducted and murdered in a gruesome manner by one of her employees.

A great irony is that her son, William Murray [on whose behalf she filed the lawsuit] became a Christian in 1980. His mother disowned him (in a particularly scathing manner). He eventually became a Baptist minister, and is now an advocate of (very) conservative political causes in the USA [BTW: most of which I would not be sympathetic too]. He wrote about his chaotic childhood and his mother's moral failures.

Comparing simplicity, profundity, and obscurity

Something can be profound, but still simple. Brilliant minds have the ability to take profound truths and present them in a simple (but not simplistic) manner. [See this earlier post, The Childhood Simplicity of Karl Barth]

Sometimes profound truths are obscure. However, obscurity is not necessarily a measure of profundity. It may be just a measure of nonsense! I remember this being apparent in a fascinating review The Shrink from Hell of a critical biography of the French psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan. He was (is) a darling of some postmodernists, and widely criticised, particularly by scientists for his attempts to justify his psycho-analytical "theories" using advanced mathematical concepts.

This post was prompted by reading the chapter, Take Up and Read in Loving God, by Charles Colson. It describes the conversion of Augustine. Colson gives a paraphrase of The Confessions of Augustine,  "Under Ambrose's influence, the simplicity of Scripture has begun to sound like the simplicity of profundity."
The closest I could find to this in the Confessions (chapter V, section 8):
... we are too weak by unaided reason to find out truth, and since, because of this, we need the authority of the Holy Writings, I had now begun to believe that thou wouldst not, under any circumstances, have given such eminent authority to those Scriptures throughout all lands if it had not been that through them thy will may be believed in and that thou mightest be sought. For, as to those passages in the Scripture which had heretofore appeared incongruous and offensive to me, now that I had heard several of them expounded reasonably, I could see that they were to be resolved by the mysteries of spiritual interpretation. The authority of Scripture seemed to me all the more revered and worthy of devout belief because, although it was visible for all to read, it reserved the full majesty of its secret wisdom within its spiritual profundity. While it stooped to all in the great plainness of its language and simplicity of style, it yet required the closest attention of the most serious-minded -- so that it might receive all into its common bosom, and direct some few through its narrow passages toward thee, yet many more than would have been the case had there not been in it such a lofty authority, which nevertheless allured multitudes to its bosom by its holy humility. I continued to reflect upon these things, and thou wast with me. I sighed, and thou didst hear me. I vacillated, and thou guidedst me. I roamed the broad way of the world, and thou didst not desert me.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

How should we respond to scientific success?

Until Newton came along the heavens (i.e. stars in the sky) were a mystery and their relationship to earthly events was unknown. Not surprisingly, astrology was influential. But the success of Newton (and Laplace) at showing that the same laws applied to both the earthly and celestial realm led to a philosophical earthquake, and ultimately the Enlightenment. People became confident that humanity would soon explain and understand everything. It was just a matter of finding and implementing the right method.

This leads to a critical issue: Should scientific success lead to wonder and humility or does it naturally lead to hubris?

These thoughts were partly prompted by reading Isaiah 40 this morning which includes:

12Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
   and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure
   and weighed the mountains in scales
   and the hills in a balance?
13Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD,
   or what man shows him his counsel?
14Whom did he consult,
   and who made him understand?
    Who taught him the path of justice,
   and taught him knowledge,
   and showed him the way of understanding?

This may be saying that contemplation of the natural world should lead to humility, particularly when it comes to gaining a real understanding of deeper issues of truth and justice. This is certainly not the direction that Enlightenment thinkers went with the initial (modest) successes of science.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Who should you invite to speak at your conference?

A cardinal rule of organising a conference or seminar series is that you should only invite speakers who you have personally heard speak before. Otherwise, you may be unpleasantly surprised by either the content of what is presented or by the quality of delivery.
The story below concerning Karl Barth illustrates this issue. It is actually one of the most endearing stories from Bruce McCormack's seminal work, Karl Barth's Critically Realistic Dialectical Theology: Its Genesis and Development, 1909-1936.
Barth was not the first choice as speaker....those who did not know him thought of him as a follower of Leonhard Ragaz...
A more unsuitable choice for a speaker at a Religious Socialist Conference could scarcely have been found. The people gathered at Trambach had come to hear an explanation of Religious Socialisms; what they received was a sustained assault on its foundational principles.
Bruce McCormack, p. 196
You can read the full text here.

The God Experiment

Next week I am going to Melbourne to give three talks in a series The God Experiment for the Geelong Christian Union at Deakin University. The talks are entitled:

Does Science Disprove God?

Is the End of Science the Beginning of Discovering God?

A Scientist looks at the End of the World

Each talk will engage with Biblical passages, with a particular focus on Acts 17:16-34, which recounts Paul's visit to Athens and his speech on the Areopagus. [This is the subject of some earlier posts].

Does Science disprove God? No. But, it also does not prove his existence. Due to its practical naturalism Science is silent about the existence of God. Hence, we need to look outside the natural sciences to find whether there is a supernatural being, what is the character of this being (if it exists), and whether the being has acted in human history. I wish to proclaim this "unknown God" as the God who raised Jesus from the dead. More to follow...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Reducing reductionism to irrationality

Francis Crick is best known as the co-discover with James Watson of the structure of DNA and of the hypothesis of the genetic code. This was the beginning of a whole new field of science, molecular biology. Given this scientific success perhaps it is not surprising that Crick was a passionate reductionist. Later in Crick's career he turned to neuroscience and wrote a popular book, The Astonishing Hypothesis: the scientific search for the soul. In it he makes the classic reductionist claim (p. 3):
"You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules"
In response John Polkinghorne writes that Crick's agenda is 
ultimately suicidal. If Crick’s thesis is true we could never know it. For, not only does it relegate our experiences of beauty, moral obligation, and religious encounter to the epiphenomenal scrap-heap. It also destroys rationality. Thought is replaced by electro-chemical neural events. Two such events cannot confront each other in rational discourse. They are neither right nor wrong. They simply happen… The very assertions of the reductionist himself are nothing but blips in the neural network of his brain. The world of rational discourse dissolves into the absurd chatter of firing synapses. Quite frankly, that cannot be right and one of us believes it to be so.
John Polkinghorne, One World, p. 92.

I thank Lewis Jones for bringing these quotations to my attention. They are discussed in more detail by John Lennox, in God's Undertaker: Has science buried God?
On a lighter note, these issues are also discussed here.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Can you see the forest or only the trees?

My article Emergence: the whole is greater than the sum of the parts is now available on the Test of Faith website.

The violent overthrow of liberal Western theology

 Today I finished reading Miroslav Volf's Exclusion and Embrace and we have our last discussion group on it. The last chapter "Violence and Peace" took the discussion in directions I did not anticipate. First, he looked at the implications of the book of Revelation's portrayal of God's justice and judgement being implemented violently. I find the following paragraph  fascinating and challenging (and hard to argue against).
My thesis that the practice of nonviolence requires a belief in divine vengeance will be unpopular with many Christians, especially theologians in the West. To the person who is inclined to dismiss it, I suggest imagining that you are delivering a lecture in a war zone (which is where a paper that underlies this chapter was originally delivered). Among your listeners are people whose cities and villages have been first plundered, then burned and leveled to the ground, whose daughters and sisters have been raped, whose fathers and brothers have had their throats slit. The topic of the lecture: a Christian attitude toward violence. The thesis: we should not retaliate since God is perfect noncoercive love. Soon you would discover that it takes the quiet of a suburban home for the birth of the thesis that human nonviolence corresponds to God’s refusal to judge. In a scorched land, soaked in the blood of the innocent, it will invariably die. And as one watches it die, one will do well to reflect about many other pleasant captivities of the liberal mind.
M. Wolf, Exclusion and Embrace, p. 304

Friday, July 15, 2011

Don't blame, Don't complain

I thank Jonathan Burnside for bringing this campaign to my attention. It features Lori Palatnik, a Jewish educator.

Hollywood glamorises marital fidelity

My wife and I recently watched the movie, Did you hear about the Morgans? starring Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker.
The story is lame (but amusing), the characters are wooden, the acting is mediocre....
But, it does have something that is shockingly redeeming about it. It is a Hollywood movie that shows the pain and hurt that infidelity causes. Furthermore, "working" on your marriage and forgiving and accepting your spouse is a good idea.

This is rather ironic since the "sexy" co-stars are usually cast in roles that celebrate and glamorise infidelity and immorality.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Crucial issues in the science-religion debate

Christopher Benson has a helpful post Two Crucial Issues in the Religion-Science debate: Biblical hermeneutics and philosophy of science.
I agree these are probably the two crucial issues:
How do you read the Bible?
What do you think science can and cannot do? Do you accept its practical naturalism?
The post includes some discussion of the book Science, Creation, and the Bible by Carlson and Longman that I am reading.

Renouncing evil while embracing it

Do you reject Satan?
I do.
And all his works?
I do.
Do you reject sin, so as to live in the freedom of God's children?
I do.
Do you reject the glamor of evil, and refuse to be mastered by sin?
I do.
Do you reject Satan, father of sin and prince of darkness?
I do.
Do you believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth?
I do.
Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?
I do.
Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?
I do.

This is part of the Catholic liturgy for a child baptism. The questions are asked by the priest and the responses are by the parents and the godparents.

I watched the classic movie The Godfather (1972) with my son (16) and daughter (18). I feel the climax of the movie occurs towards the end in a powerful segment which shows flashes between two scenes. The first scene is of the baptism liturgy as Michael [the central character] becomes the godfather of his nephew. The alternating scenes are of the murders of Michael's rivals [heads of other crime families] by his henchmen. Michael has become a godfather and The Godfather.
To me this powerful juxtaposition vividly displays our human tendency towards hypocrisy. We can mouth religious words renouncing evil but at the same time live while intricately enmeshed in a world of evil.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Confronting the mysteries of the created and moral order

I am back into reading Science, Creation and the Bible: Reconciling Rival Theories of Origins by Richard F. Carlson and Tremper Longman III. A really nice and helpful feature of the book is that before looking at Genesis 1 and 2, they examine other biblical texts with creation themes. This may be one of the strongest features of the book. Passages they examine in detail include Isaiah 40, Job 38-41, various Psalms and New Testament passages. Here is part of what they say about Job:
In referring to the cosmic order and the animal creation, God does not simply give Job some scientific information. Instead, God asks Job to consider the mystery and complexity of the created order that God himself fashioned, and to learn important principles from that. The point is that the natural order of the universe parallels the moral order in many ways, some of the natural order being beyond human understanding. Some aspects seem hideous, futile, wasteful, or fearsome, but all represent the work of a wise God who intentionally made the cosmos in the way it is for his own purpose. (p. 87)
The authors reference p.481 of David Clines article on Job in the New Bible Commentary.
A more detailed summary and discussion of this part of the book is in a post Creation and World View at Musings on Science and Theology [which mirrors posts on Jesus Creed]. [I cannot figure out who the author rjs is.] In particular, they discuss how these passages may force a rethinking of some Christian concerns about whether predatory and wasteful aspects of evolution are inconsistent with Biblical notions of creation.
The Lord answering Job out of the whirlwind, William Blake.
Plate 13 of Illustrations of the Book of Job

Christians should value and defend science as an enterprise

It is good to see influential Christian leaders defending science (in its true sense as a powerful but fallible method of systematically gaining reliable knowledge about the material world). Phillip Jensen just wrote a good piece In Defence of Science on the Sydney Anglican website. [I thank my wife for bringing this to my attention].
My only reservation is that there is a sentence about global warming that could be mis-interpreted. But, the first comment by Dave Lankshear addresses that well. Here are the last two paragraphs of the article:
Christians are concerned for truth and so should value and defend science as an enterprise. It is a way of thinking and discovery that accepts gladly disproof of our views on the basis of evidence.  As such it is opposed to censorship and open to listening to alternative views. It is open to reason and more concerned with arguments and evidence than institutional authority and tradition. It may not be perfect, nor does it claim to give exhaustive or even final knowledge but it is the most honest, open way forward that humans have developed.
However, when groups with particular vested political interests use science to promote their view, it is science itself that comes under attack. When ‘evolution’ and ‘intelligent design’ are weapons in the hands of atheists and theists, it is very hard to weigh accurately the evidence. When catastrophists and sceptics discuss global warming, the truth is lost in politics and sadly for us, science itself gets a bad name.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Accountable to who?

An important issue for any organisation is accountability, transparency, and integrity. Arguably,  Christian organisations should have even higher standards than secular organisations because we do not deny the "total depravity of man", value good "stewardship", and "servant leadership."
There are some very useful and practical papers on how some of this can be implemented at the Christian Leadership Alliance. Some of these articles reflect a wealth of experience that can save a lot of pain and waste, arising from unknowingly repeating mistakes others have made and learnt from. Here are just a few articles I read.

Level five accountability

Checklist of governance options for non-profit boards

Ten common hiring mistakes

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The paradox of the Kingdom of God

My son and I have started reading through Loving God by Charles Colson. I first read the book a quarter of a century (!) ago. It is a great series of motivational stories. Here is quote (p. 25) we read today that I thought was helpful and challenging.
It is not what we do that matters, but what a sovereign God chooses to do through us. God doesn't want our success; He wants us. He doesn't demand our achievements; He demands our obedience. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of paradox, where through the ugly defeat of a cross, a holy God is utterly glorified. Victory comes through defeat; healing through brokenness; finding self through losing self. 
Of course, our success-mad, egocentric culture cannot grasp that critical truth. It is understandable only wen the false values that obsess us are stripped way, somethings in the midst of our most abject failures. Surely that was so in my life, ....

Simple instructions that are hard to follow

cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
seek justice,
correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow’s cause.

Isaiah 1:16,17

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Ideological idolatry

 The New York Times has a good Op-Ed piece by David Brooks, The Mother of All No-Brainers, concerning current debates about taxation, government spending, and debt in the USA. Here are a few extracts:
The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms.... 
The members of this movement do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities. ...
The members of this movement have no sense of moral decency. ....
The members of this movement have no economic theory worthy of the name. ....
But to members of this movement, tax levels are everything. Members of this tendency have taken a small piece of economic policy and turned it into a sacred fixation. They are willing to cut education and research to preserve tax expenditures. Manufacturing employment is cratering even as output rises, but members of this movement somehow believe such problems can be addressed so long as they continue to worship their idol.
Read the full article to find out who the members of the movement are.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

What should we do?

Luke 4 reports the following interactions at the beginning of Jesus ministry:
10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
 11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
 13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
 14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?
   He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”
This concern of Jesus for the poor and needy and for justice and integrity is recounted in the movie The Year of Living Dangerously. It is quoted by the character [the dwarf photographer Billy Kwan played in an Academy Award winning role by Linda Hunt] who is the social and moral conscience of the other characters. He is the eyes of justice in the movie.

He points out that "What then must we do?" was used as the title of a book by Leo Tolstoy. It should also be pointed out that there was also a very influential 1901 pamphlet, What is to be done? Burning questions for our movement by Lenin. It was inspired by an 1863 novel What is to be done? by Nikolai Chernyshevsky

I really like the movie and recommend it. But, it does make me worry about the quality of the news we get from foreign correspondents who sit around in 4* hotels drinking and talking to each other.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The childhood simplicity of Karl Barth

13 Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people,14but Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven." 15And he laid his hands on them and went away.
Matthew 19
I have heard two versions of the story below. The biographical entry for Karl Barth in Christian History (published by Christianity Today) states:
When asked in 1962 (on his one visit to America) how he would summarize the essence of the millions of words he had published, Barth replied, "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so."
[I would be interested to hear of more documentation of this anecdote].

Was Barth naive? [Emil Brunner claimed Barth was naive (in the sense of Friedrich Schiller) in his review of the first edition of Der Romerbrief].

Or was Barth actually brilliant at simplifying theology down to its essentials? I think so. Indeed, a mark of many brilliant scientists is their ability to cut through minor technical details and develop "simple" models and concepts that clarify, unify, and give new insights.
"The main purpose of science is simplicity and as we understand more things, everything is becoming simpler.”  Edward Teller
This post was inspired by a nice paper given by Keith Birchley last week at a conference on the Church and the Academy. He explored the common "naivete" of Barth, Mozart, and Augustine.

Enjoy work and life

 I am currently reading through the book of Ecclesiastes. I love the wisdom it presents concerning the folly of most human endevour.
22What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? 23For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.  
24There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, 25for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? 26For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.
Ecclesiastes 2

Laughing is important too. Here is my favourite video of a real scholar in action.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Testing faith: an alternative reading of Job

What is real faith? Do I believe just because of the benefits to me [peace, comfort, hope, better relationships, sense of purpose, potential prosperity from following Biblical wisdom]? Or will I still believe even if I suffer materially and relationally?

Indeed, critics of religion such as Feuerbach, Freud, and Marx considered Christianity was not true and explained away the persistence of belief by claiming that there were hidden reasons people believed.

These were some of the questions addressed by Walter Moberly in a nice talk he gave at the conference on the Academy and the Church this week.
[Aside: all his talks were given while sitting and without Powerpoint. I found it intriguing and challenging that this uncommon delivery did not diminish the effectiveness or clarity of his talks.]

Moberly suggested the "Modern hermeneutics of suspicion are anticipated in the Biblical text; and so should be taken seriously."
Some would portray the narrative of Job 1-2:10 as describing a cosmic battle between God and Satan for the soul of Job. However, Moberly pointed out that the word "Satan" which appears in our English translations of this passage are misleading. The Hebrew (ha-satan) is a term with a definite article, not a name. "the satan" is a term akin to a prosecuting lawyer.
[It seems the devil is in the details!]

The text presents a stark contrast between self seeking and serving God regardless of the consequences (good or bad). Faith should not be motivated by self interest.
Job holds to God "for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health".
The "life of faith is a life of purification of motive and desire as well as of conduct."
The Patient Job, by Gerard Segners. Notice his wife on the right, urging him to abandon his integrity and curse God.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Facing depression together

Today I read through a small booklet (MiniZine!) Facing depression together.
Matthias Media is to be commended for publishing this booklet because it puts mental issues on the table [at least in Australian churches and Christian bookstores].

The booklet does not give suggestions for further reading about mental health issues but does encourage seeking professional medical help. [It does contain a review of Martyn Lloyd-Jones book Spiritual Depression, but points out "A more appropriate title would have been `Spiritual Discouragement'].
The articles from a 2009 issue of Christianity Today deal with the issue in a deeper and more thorough manner (see this earlier blog post).

Friday, July 1, 2011

Time management for academic clowns

I was asked to give a talk with the title, "Managing your time in the academic circus" at the conference on the Academy and the Church. At first I thought the title strange, but eventually I ran with the circus metaphor. Here are my notes.