Saturday, December 29, 2012

Pain, hope, and grace in Les Miserables

I love Les Miserables, as previous posts testify.
My family and went to see the latest movie version.
I thought it was excellent.
The movie version definitely has a different character to the musical. The cinematic drama gave a grander portrayal of the poverty, desperation, pain, suffering, and army brutality. On the other hand, some of the actors singing their lines did not have the musical and emotional intensity of the musical.
Again I was struck again and again by the message of grace, forgiveness, and peace in the life of Valjean, in contrast to the legalism and self-righteous internal torment of Jabert.

A highlight was Anne Hathaway's rendition of "I dreamed a dream". The pain, the forlornness, and lost hope was in stark contrast to the romanticism of some musical renditions. I was overcome with the brutality of men towards women.

Friday, December 28, 2012

What did C.S. Lewis believe about evolution?

Everyone likes a good C.S. Lewis quote to bolster their argument.

On Biologos David Williams has a great series of blog posts Surprised by Jack about C.S. Lewis considering his views on Scripture, Genesis, the Fall, and Evolution. It challenges our views of Lewis [why are conservative evangelicals so infatuated with this Anglo-Catholic?] and examines what he actually believed rather than what we might wish he believed.

Here is an extract of the post about evolution, which first discusses how Lewis overall accepted the science of evolution.
What Lewis did believe to conflict with Christian faith was what he called the great “Myth” of “Evolutionism” or “Developmentalism.” But this is not the same as evolutionary theory per se. “[We] must sharply distinguish between Evolution as a biological theorem and popular Evolutionism or Developmentalism which is certainly a Myth,” he writes in his essay "The Funeral of a Great Myth.” 
Lewis believed that the great myth of “Evolutionism” conflicted not only with the Christian faith, but with Reason itself, undercutting the grounds for believing in human rationality and, therefore, in any human rationale that could be offered for believing in Evolutionism in the first place. According to Lewis, Evolutionism’s chief premise, namely, Naturalism, invalidates human reasoning itself, amounting to “an argument which proved that no argument was sound—a proof that there are no such things as proofs—which is nonsense.” “All possible knowledge…depends on reasoning,” he writes in chapter III of Miracles. “We infer Evolution from fossils: we infer the existence of our own brains from what we find inside the skulls of other creatures like ourselves in the dissecting room.” All sciences, including evolutionary science, depend upon the validity of human inference for their own validity. “Unless human reasoning is valid no science can be true.” Naturalism, however, with its grand Myth of Evolutionism explains all of reality, including human reason, in terms of non-rational natural causes and effects, reducing all human reasoning to being no more than the accidental byproducts of chance, matter and time, and thereby undercutting the validity of reasoning itself.
 This important distinction between evolutionary science and evolutionism [a philosophical perspective] has also been stressed by Tim Keller.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Jesus on the waterfront

My family and I watched the classic movie On the Waterfront.
I particularly liked this scene, of a moving speech by a priest [based on Father John M. Corridan], highlighting Jesus identification with the oppressed.

It was nice to see a Hollywood movie which portrayed clergy and Christian faith in such a positive manner. But, that was 1954!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Is there a scientific basis for a rational world?

I have been enjoying re-reading Paul Davies' 1992 book, The Mind of God: the scientific basis for a rational world.

I was struck by the sub-title. I remain to be convinced that there is any scientific basis for the apparent rationality of the physical world.
Can science really provide a justification for or understanding of why the material world has an inherent rationality?
From the point of view of science, the world just IS. Science just works.

Indeed Davies explores this question in a 2007 New York Times Op-ed piece Taking Science on Faith. This received a strong negative reaction from prominent atheists.

Redemption through literature

My wife and I enjoyed watching the French movie My afternoons with Margueritte.
It highlights the importance of relationships, the power [for good and ill] of parents, and the value of literature.


Monday, December 24, 2012

A scientist reflects on Christmas

The Apostles Creed contains a helpful summary of what I believe about Christmas. It begins:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty,       the Creator of heaven and earth,       and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord:Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit,   born of the Virgin Mary,
Wow! That sounds strange. Can a scientist really believe that?

Is it hard to believe in the miracles associated with the birth of Jesus Christ?
Was Jesus mother Mary really a virgin?
Was the baby conceived by the Holy Spirit rather than by a human father?
What is the real mystery of Christmas?
Why is Christmas a gift?

In the process of answering these questions I hope to engage you with several ideas.
First, Scientists don't have all the answers. We don't understand everything. There are mysteries in science that are as profound and as difficult to believe as those described in the Apostles Creed. Second, the great mystery of Christmas is the gift from God of Jesus. Emmanuel, God is with us.

So why do I say that scientists struggle to understand some things in science?
A great mystery is why does science work at all? I find it is truly amazing that using our brains we can discover the inner workings of atoms, what happened in the first three minutes of the universe, and the molecular basis of genetics. Furthermore, some of our scientific understanding of physics, chemistry, and biology is so reliable and powerful that we can produce amazing things like laptop computers, GPS, new drugs, and test-tube babies!?

In my field, theoretical physics, a big question, is why can mathematics be used with such success to describe physical laws?

Eugene Wigner received a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963. Wigner also wrote a famous essay with the title, ``The unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences". The concluding sentences are often quoted. Wigner says,
It is a miracle that mathematics can be used to describe the laws of physics. This is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve.
Note Wigner uses the words miracle and gift.

Before discussing the miracles and mystery of Christmas, I want to say a little more about some mysteries in science. I do this because it is common to dismiss out of hand Biblical miracles such as the virgin birth and the resurrection of Jesus, claiming that they are scientifically impossible. But is this really justified?
 One thing we have learnt from modern science is that sometimes what we think ``makes sense" or what we may intuitively think is  ``rational" or ``reasonable" can actually be false.

Quantum theory is one of my passions. I have a really fun job where everyday I get to use quantum theory to try to understand  properties of new materials. When I went to university I thought if I understood quantum theory I would understand the meaning of life. Quantum theory is the most successful theory in all of science. It can explain properties of everything from atoms to DNA. It can predict the outcome of experiments to an accuracy of 10 decimal places. It is like if I had a computer program which could tell me what a strangers credit card numbers are. This resounding success shows that scientific truth is not just a matter of personal opinion.

However, you should not think everything in science is certain. Quantum theory raises as many questions as it answers. In spite of the success of the theory, there is no consensus on its interpretation. There more than ten different interpretations of quantum theory. These interpretations are so different that they do not even agree on how many universes there are, nor whether external reality even exists! So we have both certainty and ambiguity in science.

My wife, Robin, does not share my  passion for quantum physics. Yet Robin does like Schrodingers cat! This cat is a logical outcome of the most successful theory in all of science. The cat is in a quantum state such that the cat is dead and alive at the same time. It is not one or the other. It will only be definitely one or the other is you look to see which one it is. So looks can kill!
If you are confused and think this doesn't make sense then you have got the point. If you think you understand it then you don't! This confusion should humble us. Science does not have all the answers.

Given that science involves such strange ideas it is not hard for me to believe in the miracles in the Bible such as the virgin birth. At UQ I am not the only other scientist who believes this. Indeed, each week I meet with several other science professors to read the Bible and pray together.

So what is the significance of the miracles of Christmas?
They actually point to the mystery of Christmas.

In the Old Testament book of Isaiah there was a prophecy
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel [God is with us]
Isaiah 7:14
What is the meaning and significance of God being with us?
Well we all crave empathy for our situation and life experiences. When we have strong life experiences, both good and bad, we love it when another person can come along side us and relate to our experience.
God loves us so much that he wants to completely identify with us; to show perfect empathy with our frail humanity. God is saying, "I am with you. I am there for you. I understand. I have been through this to."

Furthermore, God took the initiative. We did not take the initiative. That is why Jesus was conceived not by a man, but by God.

So God became a human.
Jesus was truly human and truly God.

But how can this be?
This is the real mystery of Christmas. It is a paradox that I don't claim to completely understand. But just as I can accept quantum physics as true, I can accept this tension, that Jesus was fully human and fully God.

But understanding the miracles and mystery of Christmas cannot be separated from the miracle and mystery of Easter.

The baby became a man, Jesus Christ, who taught us who God is and how we can live in relationship to God. Jesus died on the cross to take away the penalty we deserve for our disobedience towards God. How are we disobedient? We ignore God. We do what we want.
Jesus death conquered sin. He rose from the dead to show his power over death and to enable us to rise from the dead to eternal life.

Returning to the Apostle's Creed which summarises this:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
       the Creator of heaven and earth,
       and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit,
   born of the Virgin Mary,
   suffered under Pontius Pilate,
   was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
The third day He arose again from the dead.
To end I want to rephrase the quote I gave earlier from  the theoretical physicist Wigner,
``The miracle of Christmas, of the Immanuel
[God being with us] for our salvation is a wonderful gift
which we neither understand nor deserve.''

Something Australians cannot understand about the USA

Superficially Australia and the USA are similar: they are both prosperous English-speaking Western capitalist democracies. However, there are deep and profound cultural differences rooted in the vastly different historical origins of each nation. These differences are reflected in different attitudes to authority, national leaders, government regulation, foreign policy, welfare, compulsory voting, health insurance, ....

One issue which marks this cultural divide is the attitude to gun control. Most Australians, particularly those who have never lived in the USA, simply cannot understand why so many people in the US are opposed to gun control. This cultural divide was nicely discussed in the Weekend Australian article Split hints at nation willing to look the other way on guns.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The slow car ride to equal pay for women

Today in Western countries it is pretty much taken for granted that men and women get paid the same amount for doing the same job. [This doesn't mean that there still aren't subtle inequities and prejudices. But, that is another issue.]
Hence, it is hard to appreciate that this is a very recent phenomenon.
For example, in the UK the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1970 but only came into force in 1975!
[Don't you love the way politicians do this...]

I enjoyed watching the movie Made in Dagenham which is partly based on the historical events leading to the Equal Pay Act in the UK.

I thought it did particularly well at portraying the way that authorities/oppressors/rulers seek to divide, frustrate, and wear down those fighting them.
On the down side, I think there were a few too many cute hairdo's and dresses.

Husband to wife: "This is what happens when you go on strike. You end up yelling at each other."

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Barth on creatio ex nihilo

It is sometimes debated whether science and Genesis 1 is consistent with the Christian doctrine of creatio ex nihilo [creation out of nothing].

I found it interesting to see what Karl Barth says in the context of his exegesis of Genesis
It is clear enough that there is a chaos; that creation is "somehow" related to it; that it plays its part even in the later history which begins with creation; and that there too there are definite encounters between it and God. But there is no such thing as a "reality of chaos" independently confronting the Creator and His works, and able in its own power as matter or a hostile principle to oppose His operations. 
It may well be that the concept of a creatio ex nihilo, of which there is no actual hint in Gen. 1-2, is the construct of later attempts at more precise formulation. But its antithesis - the mythological acceptance of a primeval reality independent of God - is excluded in practice by the general tenor of the passage as well as its position within the biblical context.
Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 3.1: The Doctrine of Creation, page 103.

Hence, Barth argues that creatio ex nihilo is not explicitly supported by Genesis. However, he stresses that Genesis stands in conflict with its antithesis.

Monday, December 10, 2012

What would John Wesley think?

Protestant church schools in Australia are a complex and "fascinating" phenomena. Many of the older ones are extremely wealthy, charge high fees (of the order of $20,000 per year for tuition), and have high-flying corporate figures on their boards.
What I did not know until recently was the extra-ordinary renumeration packages of some principals (heads of school).

There has been considerable media coverage about the recent sacking of the principal of Methodist Ladies College in Melbourne. This arose due to conflict over alleged discrepancies of payments of the renumeration. This past weekend School for Scandal was the cover story of the Weekend Australian Magazine which describes all the intrigue and conflict in more detail than you probably want to know.

I have no interest or comment on the justice of the dismissal.
The questions no-one is even asking is
Is it appropriate that the head of a church school should be paid more than half a million dollars per year? 
What does this say about the values of the head and the school board? 
According to the Weekend Australian article, "parents launched a Rosa Storelli Fairness page on Facebook, where an anonymous supporter of the board used the pseudonym "John Wesley" to counter their claims."

I find this ironic and tragic given the frugal and humble lifestyle of John Wesley.

Is scientific knowledge forbidden fruit?

An interesting and important question about Genesis and the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" concerns what is the nature of this knowledge?

Here is Karl Barth's commentary:
What does "knowledge of good and evil" mean? The expression is obviously too concrete to allow us to accept the interpretation of Wellhausen (Prolegomena, p. 300 f., etc.) that its reference is to science and our general knowledge of things. Indeed, if this were so, it would be impossible to see why God should prohibit this to man and thus prohibit progress from childish ignorance to culture, or why the saga should regard this progress as deadly. For this reason other writers (e.g., Delitzsch) have thought in terms of the problem of progress from childish innocence to moral decision. Knowledge of good and evil characterises intellectual maturity and moral decision.
Church Dogmatics 3.1, The Doctrine of Creation, p. 285

I found Julius Wellhausen's perspective intriguing (and ultimately misplaced), particularly because he is best known as the first main proponent of the Documentary Hypothesis.
To me equating this "knowledge" with modern academic knowledge is just reading into the text modern (particular German modernist academic) preconceptions and concerns. Wellhausen's view reflects poorly on his scholarship.

So what does Barth himself think?
He first emphasises how ones view should be shaped by other Old Testament passages about "good and evil". After a survey he concludes
The question frequently raised whether we are to understand by "good and evil" what is morally right and wrong, or useful and useless, or pleasant and unpleasant, cannot be answered as though these were alternatives. The Old Testament concepts of tobh and ra' embrace all these things in the instances adduced. To know good and evil is to know right and wrong, salvation and perdition, life and death; and to know them is to have power over them and therefore over all things. The Genesis saga in its account of the fall, and in agreement with the rest of the Old Testament, undoubtedly tells us that man has seized this knowledge and power to his own undoing, and that he must now live in the possession of this knowledge and power.
Church Dogmatics 3.1, The Doctrine of Creation, p. 287

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A distortion of vocational calling

My son and I are just finishing reading Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung. I thought the following paragraph in was quite insightful about work and careers.
Unfortunately, we’ve turned the idea of calling or vocation on its head. The Reformers emphasized calling in order to break down the sacred-secular divide. They said, if you are working for the glory of God, you are doing the Lord’s work, no matter whether you’re a priest or a monk or a banker. But we’ve taken this notion of calling and turned it upside down, so instead of finding purpose in every kind of work, we are madly looking for the one job that will fulfill our purpose in life. 
(p. 103)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A vacuous legacy for theology

The notion of a vacuum (i.e. empty space) is an important concept in physics.

Today I learnt (from an article in the American Physical Society News) that the word vacuum first entered the English language in a theological treatise written by Thomas Cranmer in 1550.
Thus it is evident and plain, by the words of the Scripture, that after consecration remaineth bread and wine, and that the Papistical doctrine of Transubstantiation is directly contrary to God's word....
Natural reason abhorreth vacuum, that is to say, that there should be any empty place, wherein no substance should be. But if there remain no bread nor wine, the place where they were before, and where their accidents be, is filled with no substance, but remaineth vacuum, clean contrary to the order of nature.
"A Defence of the true and Catholick doctrine of the Sacrament of the body and blood of our Saviour Christ : with a confutation of Sundry errors concerning the same"

I think Cranmer's theology was correct. But, clearly his science was wrong. Physical vacuums can and do exist. Perhaps, another caution from history about the dangers of theologians and preachers pontificating about science (pun intended!).

Monday, December 3, 2012

Augustine on science

Given that he lived, more than a millenium before the rise of modern science I would have thought that Augustine would not have not had much to say about science or the relationship of science and Christianity.
However, I recently learnt this was not the case and that he had some important, perhaps timeless, insights. Even in his time there were some who conflated their theology with some scientific "theory".
Here is one quote, brought to my attention by Luke Glanville.
Whenever I hear a brother Christian talk in such a way as to show that he is ignorant of these scientific matters and confuses one thing with another, I listen with patience to his theories and think it no harm to him provided that he holds no beliefs unworthy of you, O Lord, who are the Creator of them all. The danger lies in thinking that such knowledge is part and parcel of what he must believe to save his soul and in presuming to make obstinate declarations about things of which he knows nothing. 
Augustine, Confessions, Book V, page 96.

The context is nicely discussed in a post on Eureka Street by Andrew Hamilton. Prior to becoming a Christian Augustine was engrossed in Manichaeism but became intellectually  dissatisfied with the elaborate and unjustified astrology associated with it. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

An annotated bibliography on natural science, evolution and creation

David Ussery is an Associate Professor of Systems Biology at the Danish Technical University. He is a Christian, with a fundamentalist church background, who eventually rejected the young earth creationism he was brought up with.

Between 1988 and 2001 he compiled an annotated bibliography of 386 books on Natural science, evolution, and creationism. By 2001 he had actually read 187 of the books, which is rather impressive.
He has written a fascinating journal describing his background, thoughts on reading some of the books, and debates with young earth creationists.

The books cover a wide range of topics, perspectives (Christian and non-Christian, liberal and conservative), publication dates, and theological and scientific sophistication.
The bibliography is worth at least scanning. Some of the terse comments are quite insightful. It makes one appreciate the incredibly diverse literature which is available and often overlooked.

Finally, on the Biologos Forum Ussery has a critical and helpful review of Michael Behe's book The Edge of Evolution.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Barth on zoology in Genesis

Here is part of Karl Barth's reflection on Genesis 1:20-21 about the creation of bird and sea life.
There is as little zoological interest in this account as there is botanical in v. 11 f. or astronomical in v. 14 f. For instance, the question whether what we call amphibians are to be classed with fish, or whether insects are to be classed with birds, is quite irrelevant from the standpoint of this passage. It would thus be childish to press against the saga the question whether birds ought not to be classified with land animals in view of the fact that they too are warm-blooded creatures, and build their nests and brood and find nourishment on the earth. 
At this point, as at others, the Church fathers can only obscure what the passage is really trying to say when in their commentaries and sermons they try on the one hand to make use of all the natural science of their day, and on the other to attach to its constituent parts the most diverse edifying and naturalistic allegorisings: a greedy man being typified by the predatory fish; ideal nuptial love and fidelity by the viper and muraena; .......; the godlessness of worldly wisdom, etc., by the owl with its fear of light, etc. (Ambrose, Hex. V) 
If we are to understand the passage we must turn our backs resolutely on all scientific or pious considerations and look only in the two directions which it indicates, namely, the depth of the ocean and the height of the atmosphere, to learn that in these spheres too God has creatures and witnesses to His Word, so that when we look in these directions we need not feel strange or frightened, for here too and particularly God has creatures and witnesses to His Word in the form of independent living beings which are very unlike and yet very like man himself, who has been called to live in obedience to the same Word.
Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 3.1: The Doctrine of Creation,  page 173

Monday, November 26, 2012

The poverty of proverbs

The Old Testament book of Proverbs contains much wisdom about life: relationships, money, work, speech,...
It can provide comfort and inspiration as we strain to achieve our Western middle class goals and aspirations.
But, perhaps we skim too easily over verses such as the following.
The fallow ground of the poor would yield much food, but it is swept away through injustice. 
Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor. 
Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him. 
It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud. 
Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed. 
Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered. 
The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender. 
Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor. 
Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty. 
Do not rob the poor, because he is poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate, 
Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse. 
Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Does this sound like a modern political speech?

so long as it [the country] enjoys material prosperity, and the glory of victorious war, or, better, the security of peace, why should we worry?   What concerns us is that we should get richer all the time, to have enough for extravagant spending every day, enough to keep our inferiors in their place.  It is all right if the poor serve the rich, so as to get enough to eat and to enjoy a lazy life under their patronage; while the rich make use of the poor to ensure a crowd of hangers-on to minister to their pride; if the people applaud those who supply them with pleasures rather than those who offer them salutary advice; if no one imposes disagreeable duties, or forbids perverted delights; if kings are interested not in the morality but in the docility of their subjects; if provinces are under rulers who are regarded not as directors of conduct but as controllers of material things and providers of material satisfactions, and are treated with servile fear instead of sincere respect. 
The laws should punish offences against another's property, not offences against a man's own personal character.  No one should be brought to trial except for an offence, or threat of offence,  against another's property, house or person; but anyone should be free to do as he likes about his own, or with his own, or with others, if they consent.  There should be a plentiful supply of public prostitutes, for the benefit of all those who prefer them, and especially those who cannot keep private mistresses.  It is a good thing to have imposing houses luxuriously furnished, where lavish banquets can be held, where people can, if they like, spend night and day in debauchery, and eat and drink until they are sick; to have the din of dancing everywhere, and theatres full of fevered shouts of degenerate pleasure and of every kind of cruel and degraded indulgence. 
Anyone who disapproves of this kind of happiness should rank as a public enemy: anyone who attempts to change it or get rid of it should be hustled out of hearing by the freedom-loving majority:  he should be kicked out, and removed from the land of the living.
This "tongue in cheek" parody could be of many politicians in the Western world, both conservative or liberal, as they pander to our pagan whims and aspirations. 

However, this was was actually written 1600 hundred years ago by Saint Augustine as a parody of the pagan vision of Rome.
It is in City of God, Book II, Chapter 20.

Reading Augustine's City of God II

I enjoyed last weekends reading and discussion of Book II of Augustine's City of God. A few overiding impressions I was left with.
Paganism has little to offer.
You cannot build a society and community without justice.
Here are a few section headings which give the flavour of Augustine's argument.
Calamities befell the Romans when they worshipped the pagan gods before Christianity displaced them
Pagan gods had no moral teaching for their worshippers; in fact pagan rites were full of obscenities 
The conclusions of philosophers are ineffective as they lack divine authority. 
The Romans ought to have realised that gods who demanded obscene shows in their worship deserved no divine honours

Cicero and Scipio are invoked to press the point that one cannot have a commonwealth [=weal of the community] without justice. A community is
``not any and every association of the population, but "an association united by a common sense of right and a community of interest" (De Rep)''
The vicissitudes of history depend not on the favour or opposition of demons, but on the judgement of the true God. 
The evil spirits encourage crime by giving it the authority of their supposedly divine example.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The nightmare boss

My family have been watching BBC series The Brittas Empire on DVD.
It is ridiculous but amusing.
I am not sure it has much real social commentary. Perhaps, it is occasionally lampooning managerialism and bureacracy.

I think it is much better than The Office; I find both the US and UK versions tedious.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Are these gods worthy of worship?

This gives a nice overview of the Enuma Elish.
The contrast with Genesis is striking.
The gods get irritated at their noisy children. They are violent and in conflict. The sun and moon are gods; and lazy ones at that.
The earth is collateral damage from a heavenly battle.
Man's sole purpose is take care of the menial tasks the gods find tiresome.
Evil, chaos, and conflict is the reality.
Nothing is ever said to be intrinsically "good."

The violent chaotic creation of the Babylonian gods

This week I am in a study group that is going to contrast the Genesis creation accounts with the Babylonian myth, Enuma Elish. The goal is to have a greater appreciation of the Genesis accounts and the world that they directly addressed.
Here are a few preliminary observations.

The six days of creation in Genesis can be compared to the six generations of gods.
1. Tiamat and Apsu
2. Lahamu
3. Kishar
4. Anu
5. Ea
6. Marduk

There are some parallels [and significant differences] between the Babylonian gods and on what happens on the individual days. The main point is that the God of Israel, is greater and more powerful than these Babylonian gods.

1. Apsu is the god of water and Tiamat is the god of primeval chaos and associated with the sky and earth.
In Genesis, on the first day God creates the heaven and the earth, and overrules the formless void/darkness/watery chaos.

2. On the second day, God separates the waters to make sky and oceans.
Marduk slices Tiamat in two to make the land and sky.

6. Marduk makes man. In Genesis God makes man on the sixth day. But, Marduk makes man as a slave so that the other gods can rest. This is in striking contrast to Genesis where God rests, man is not a slave (but is meant to enjoy creation), and later humanity is instructed to rest.

Enuma Elish is concerned with the six generations of God.
Genesis is structured around eleven passages beginning with 'elleh toledot "these are the generations of" [Adam, Noah, Noah's sons, ....]

Overall there is a striking contrast. In the Enuma Elish, there are many competing gods. They are in conflict with one another. There is chaos, intrigue, and a lack of purpose. Humanity is subservient to the whims of these gods.
In contrast, in Genesis there is ONE supreme and all powerful God. Furthermore, this God is the one who has a covenant relationship with Israel. Humanity was created intentionally and has intrinsic merit and value.
The God of Genesis is so much greater than these fickle, struggling, overbearing, and immoral Babylonian gods.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

You don't have to be Einstein to understand this

Since October a message and set of photos including those here has gone viral on emails and blog posts with the following quote which is attributed to Albert Einstein.

"I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots."

I think the point is valid and the pictures are endearing [or pathetic or alarming?] and don't need to be backed up by the supposed authority of Einstein.

There is a further problem that there is no concrete evidence that Einstein ever said this. No source is provided. I did a search in The new quoteable Einstein and it yielded nothing.
In a similar vein see Out of all those quotes attributed to Einstein which ones are really his? How can you tell?

The issues this raises are similar to those in my earlier posts
John Piper plays chinese whispers with Einstein
Urban legends about science and religion

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Is Australia just a colony of the USA?

One thing that disappoints me about all Australian governments is the way they are so subservient to the USA government and "American" foreign policy and military interests. This was well illustrated during the Vietnam war.

Mr Harold Holt with President Lyndon Baines Johnson during the latter’s visit to Canberra on 21 October 1966. ‘All the way with LBJ’ had been President Johnson’s election slogan and Harold Holt’s use of the phrase during his visit to Washington in June 1966 created controversy in Australia.

 We sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan just because we were scared to say no to the US. Just because our interests aligned in WWII does not mean they do now. I also question the ongoing belief that in the long run violence/war solves rather than acerbates the complexities associated with terrorism and regional ethnic conflicts.

I was pleased to see that the former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating gave a speech last night questioning Australia's focus on pleasing the US rather than building harmonious relations with our Asian neighbours.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Biblical time is not scientific time

Genesis discusses the beginning of time. Furthermore, Genesis 1:14-18 describes the creation of the sun and the moon and implicitly the associated ordering of daily life.
What does this mean? How should we think about time?

Karl Barth suggests insight is gained by contrasting the Genesis account with the Babylonian myth, the Enuma elish.
Nor must we abstract from Gen. 1:14f. the fact that the history which it has in view, the content of the time which sun, moon and stars are created to measure, is not something indefinite, but the specific history of salvation which commences with the creation of light and receives its direction and purpose from the God of Israel. The relation of the creation of the heavenly bodies to chronology, and to that extent to history, is not unknown to the Babylonian myth, according to the fifth tablet of the Enuma elish.
But it is to be noted that in this case a metaphysical problem seems to be set in the forefront with the creation of the heavenly bodies. The sidereal world is supremely the abode of the great deities Anu, Enlil and Ea. And because the fundamental idea of Genesis is completely lacking, i.e., the separation of day from night as the action of sun and moon constituting time as day, all the emphasis falls, again with the precision of natural science, upon the phases of the moon dividing time into months- something which is not even mentioned in the present passage (note the complete absence of "month" in v. 14).
It is obvious that in the two accounts there is not merely a different chronology but a different conception of time. And it is to be noted that the specific biblical concept of time breaks through even where it is emphasised, as in Ps. 104:19, that God made the moon to divide the year. The day and time and history envisaged in Gen. 1:14f., and the reason why the luminaries shine from the firmament upon the earth to give signs and seasons and days and years, is made clear in v. 18, where day and night are again expressly interpreted as light and darkness. 
How does this effect the daily orientation and focus of humanity? Barth contrasts a preoccupation with this material world with a focus on the Creator and Covenant God.
The signs of the sky are of no value for the man who is merely concerned at random to orientate himself with the help of compass, clock or calendar, and to become the subject of any earthly history. They are of value only for the man whose day, season and history are to consist in his participation in the separation of light from darkness, because the God who separated light from darkness has created him in and as His own image, and because he was born and is called to be God's partner in this covenant.
Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics III.1: The Doctrine of Creation, p. 163-4

Scientific time and time without reference to God are both uniform and everlasting. Biblical time is ultimately eschatalogical. Humans live in it, are accountable for how they live in it, and must face judgement and eternal realities.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Will I or won't I?

My son and I have started reading together the book Just do something: a liberating approach to finding God's will by Kevin DeYoung.
There is an nice review by Tim Challies on his blog. He succinctly summaries the main points.

In some ways the book may be particularly helpful for the children of parents who need to read Ross Campbell's How to help your twentysomething get a life and get it now.

The book also reflects the social and personal problems which result from the affluence and aspiring upper middle class [that means probably means you!] of much of the church in the Western world.

The paragraph below gives the gist and tone of the book:

“So go marry someone, provided you’re equally yoked and you actually like being with each other. Go get a job, provided it’s not wicked. Go live somewhere in something with somebody or nobody. But put aside the passivity and the quest for complete fulfillment and the perfectionism and the preoccupation with the future, and for God’s sake start making some decisions in your life. Don’t wait for the liver-shiver. If you are seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, you will be in God’s will, so just go out and do something.”

Monday, November 12, 2012

Barth's non-scientific reading of Genesis

In discussing the first few chapters of Genesis Karl Barth suggests a balance must be found. One has to be wary of "historical", non-historical, and scientific readings. The texts need to be allowed to speak for themselves and kept in the larger context of the Old Testament.
The exegesis of these passages has ... to be on its guard against two errors to which easy access is far too often conceded. 
First, it must not overlook or explain away the fact that these texts deal with genuine events and not with timeless, metaphysical, or physical explanations of the world. It is true, of course, that God is the only actively operative Subject of these events, and that they include the beginning of time in which they also take place. This clearly distinguishes them from the later biblical histories. They are very definitely pre-historical. But this does not alter the fact that here too we have narratives, that no timeless truth is presented or proclaimed, but that accounts are given of once-for-all words and acts. 
If we will not accept this fact, then in respect of these passages we may well become entangled in the dilemma in which Augustine obviously found himself towards the end of his Confessions (XI, 3; XII, 18, 23, 31), so that he finally had to assume that these passages have many different senses, one of which may well be identical with that which according to his Neo-Platonic metaphysics he regarded as a true description of the timeless relationship of God to His creature. And if we take the same view, but like Basil and Ambrose (in their Hexaemera), and many modern apologists we are more interested in physics than metaphysics, we shall think it necessary to help the narratives by clothing what we think are the far too naive and scanty words of the Bible by the fulness of our own natural science with which we seek to harmonise them, as is also the case in qu. 65-74 of the Summa theologica I of Thomas Aquinas. But either way the biblical history of creation, which claims to be concrete history, is quite unable to say what it wants to say and thus to mediate any profitable perception. 
The other mistake which has to be avoided is that of a lack of attention to the connexion between the biblical histories of creation and what follows in the Pentateuch and the rest of the Old Testament.

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics III.1: The Doctrine of Creation, page 64

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Economic and cultural shifts in rural Queensland

I am spending most of today in Warwick, a small town outside Brisbane. My wife is at a Council meeting of the Queensland and Northern NSW branch of CMS.
I noticed something striking and sad.
Most of the shops and restaurants on the main street are virtually empty. These appear to be largely locally owned and unique to Warwick.

In contrast, if you walk inside the shopping mall, also located on the main street, it is incredibly crowded and busy. Unfortunately, it looks like any other Australian shopping mall and comprise corporate franchises from the usual cast of characters...
I fear that in ten years only the shopping mall will be left.
I fail to see how this can be a good thing.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Should I do this?

Ralph Winter was a distinguished missiologist who was responsible for a number of initiatives that arguably significantly changed the practices and policies of Western mission agencies (e.g a concern with unreached people groups). According to Wikipedia one of his favourite sayings was:

Never do anything others can do or will do, when there are things to be done that others can't do or won't

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Keeping sin simple

The Weekend Australian carried a thoughtful and provocative column Sports pick a sin, any sin .. give themselves a free run at all the others, by Simon Barnes and originally published in the Times (London) under a different title.
He points out how sports (and implicitly society at large) don't want to deal with moral complexity: the "moral maze" is replaced with a "moral motorway" where there is just one deadly sin. Everything else is fine. But if your opponents commit the one sin [racist language in football, doping in cycling] then you have the right to destroy them.

An earlier post considered another column by Barnes with a similar theme.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Reading Augustine's City of God

I have posted before about the theology reading group I am in. We meet every second saturday morning for about 90 minutes and discuss a chapter from a book we are reading. We have just started City of God by Augustine.

It is a robust defense of the Christian faith in the context of pagan and political hostility and instability. It presents a model for engagement with both the Bible and the surrounding cultural context. 
Today we discussed Book I. Augustine counters the claim that Christianity undermined the Roman empire leading to the fall of Rome in 410 at the hand of the barbarians.

He points out how non-Christians were spared from atrocities because they found shelter in Christian buildings. Given this what grounds do the opponents of Christ have to criticise what actually saved them. Furthermore, the same household gods failed to save the Greeks so why would they save the Romans.

Augustine critiques several historical Roman figures [e.g. Lucretia, Regulus, Cato] who were held as models of virtue.

There is a detailed discussion of the morality of suicide. It cannot be justified, even as a way to avoid terrible suffering and violence.

Suffering should challenge a Christian to humility, reflection, and repentance. Sometimes God uses suffering to expose sin and to rebuke. In contrast, the Romans have learnt little from their downfall, being ever so eager to return to their sinful lifestyle, particularly embodied in the theatre.

Augustine emphasizes the eternal perspective of the Christian. Nothing that happens in this life, including atrocities against the body, can damage the eternal soul and resurrected body of the Christian.

It may have been written 1600 years ago but it still resonates with issues of today.

Peacemaker training

These past two saturdays my wife and I joined a group of people from our church to receive training in helping people resolve conflict. The training was run by Piecewise, an Australian offshot of the US group Peacemaker Ministries started by Ken Sande, the author of The Peacemaker.
I highly recommend the training. It was very helpful, particularly the role plays.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Christian view about climate change II

John Quinn has an excellent article Finding truth in the climate change debate in the latest issue of CASE magazine. It is part of a whole issue on science.
The quarterly magazine is published by the Centre for Apologetic Scholarship and Education at New College, University of NSW in Sydney. You have to subscribe to read it.

Quinn encourages Christians to be humble acknowledging their limited technical expertise and to actually read accessible scientific summaries [such as one from the Royal Society] rather than listening to their favourite political commentator. He says
My view is that people ought to be skeptical when politicians and commentators present minority scientific views with fervour, and use these views as a justification for inaction on an issue with potentially catastrophic consequences.
Like John Cook, Quinn also emphasizes how Christians should be concerned that those who will suffer most from climate change will be the poor in developing countries.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Universities and mission

Ralph Winter was a highly influential missiologist. In 2007 he gave a paper Learn from our Mistakes to a group of Asian mission leaders. He lists various mistakes made by Western mission organisations in the twentieth century. Here is the first one. Winter gives no justification for his view. More on that below.

The Mistake of Starting Bible Schools, Not Universities
The Student Volunteer Movement [I wonder if this is confused with the World Student Christian Federation], in which John Mott [who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1946] was a leader, is noted for the number of universities that it established around the world. The missionaries who went to China made sure there was a university in every province of China. However, in later years Evangelicals, who had never been to college, went out across the world and established Bible schools, Bible institutes or theological schools that either replaced or ignored the university tradition. In the last 50 years the majority of American mission agencies have not founded a single university. 
The curious thing is that, even though Western missionaries cannot be given credit (except in the earlier period) for establishing universities, the hundreds of thousands of national leaders who have been a product of Western mission agencies have been able to see what the missionaries could not see. They have recognized the great influence of the university pattern. As a result they have taken the initiative to found over 40 universities in the last 40 years. I myself was, somewhat accidentally, part of the founding of an evangelical university in Guatemala, which now after 40 years has 37,000 students. No missionary can be given any credit for the founding of this university. In my case I merely stood up for a photograph of the founding board of directors two weeks before leaving the country to be a professor at Fuller Seminary. 
Why is it that missionaries have not realized that Bible schools, no matter how high the quality of instruction and curricula, simply do not represent the global mainstream of the university pattern? In the last 100 years in the United States 157 Bible institutes eventually, after sixty or seventy years, have converted over to colleges and universities. Why haven’t missionaries applied the same practical wisdom in their work overseas? This has been a serious strategic mistake. We can at least be glad that national leaders have taken the initiative to found universities without the help of Western missionaries.
Why does Winter think this is a mistake?
My guess is that Winter realises that universities train leaders and give them a world view and the world view and values of the leaders ultimately shapes a culture and a nation.  Furthermore, well educated graduates in science, education, medicine, engineering, and economics with a servant heart can be involved in transforming communities and building nations. Bible college graduates cannot do that.

A concrete example of what Winter is talking about occurred recently in Tanzania. Australian missionaries have been involved there, particularly through CMS, for more than 100 years. Yet, only a few years ago St. John's University was started completely on the initiative of national leaders in the Anglican church.

The problem one has to face though is the historical trajectory chronicled in George Marsden's  The soul of the American university: from Protestant establishment to established unbelief

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Questions for reading Genesis

A home group at our church recently went through the Test of Faith video series. People found it helpful and stimulating.
To follow up this past week we looked at the first three chapters of Genesis.

First we watched an excellent video Science and Genesis from Biologos.
Then we read Genesis 1-3 and discussed the following questions:

How do these chapters describe God?

How do they describe the natural world?

How do they describe humanity?

How do they describe the relationship of God with humanity?

How do these chapters fit into the rest of Genesis?

How do these chapters relate to the rest of the Old Testament?

How do these chapters relate to the New Testament?

What literary genres are present here?
Poetry, history, parable, myth, law, science, journalism, polemic?

What do I learn about thinking and acting in a manner that is pleasing to God?

These questions are adapted from the book of Tremper Longman III, How to read Genesis (IVP, 2005)

Friday, October 26, 2012

The role of science in missions

Ralph Winter was a highly influential missiologist. In 2007 he gave a paper Learn from our Mistakes to a group of Asian mission leaders. He lists various mistakes made by Western mission organisations in the twentieth century. It is worth reading in full. For now, I just post one mistake I thought was particularly interesting.
The Mistake of Assuming Science Is a Foe, Not a Friend 
When I was a young person, missionaries were showing science films 2,000 times per day in the non-Western world. The Moody Institute of Science films were shown even more widely in America. Many times in history Christian scholars have recognized that God has revealed Himself in “Two Books,” the Book of Nature and the Book of Scripture. As Psalm 19 indicates, the Book of Nature does not even need to be translated into the world’s languages.
Every missionary must take with him to the mission field both a microscope and a telescope if we are to properly glorify God. Even more important is the need to take to the field a true reverence for the glory of God in Creation. This requires a substantial knowledge of nature. Science is the study of God’s creativity. Art is the study of man’s creativity. 
We cannot truly expect educated people to accept Christ if our hymns in church reflect no awareness of anything discovered in nature in the last 400 years, or if our young people are being led astray by recent and superficial theories that the world is only 6,000 years old. That is an improper reading of Genesis 1:1, as well as a reckless ignoring of thousands of honest Evangelicals who are outstanding scientists.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Moltmann's journey to Jesus

 Science and Christian Belief has a fascinating article by Jurgen Moltmann, "From Physics to Theology - a personal story". It is based on a Faraday Lecture at Cambridge which you can watch here [Search under Moltmann]. He recounts living in a British POW camp without any hope and feeling shame for what Germany had done.
Then I read Mark’s Gospel as a whole and came to the story of the pas- sion. When I heard Jesus’s death-cry: ‘My God, why have you forsaken me?’ I felt growing in me the conviction: there is someone who understands you, who is with you in your crying to God, and who felt the same forsakenness that you are living through now. I began to understand the forsaken Christ, because I knew he understood me. He was the divine brother in need, the companion on the way who goes with you through this ‘valley of the shadow of death’, the fellow sufferer who carries you in your pain. I summoned up the courage to live again and was slowly but surely seized by a great hope for God’s ‘wide space where there is no cramping any more’. This perception of Jesus did not come suddenly overnight, but it became more and more important for me. I read the story of the passion of Christ again and again and discovered my little life story in his great story.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The end of the Week

I was really sad this past friday when I learnt that the Australian version of The Week went bust. I had plugged it before on this blog. It provided a very nice summary of news from Australia and around the world. As a subscriber each friday I enjoyed receiving my copy and dipping into it over the weekend.

In today's issue of The Australian there was an interesting analysis in the Business section. It put the demise in the context of the general decline and decreasing financial viability of magazines. I thought the following extract concerning the decline of Newsweek and Time was quite insightful:

Steve Waterson, who was editor of Time's Australian edition for 11 years (and is now a senior editor at The Australian), believes the newsweeklies' slide gathered pace when they began to displace their traditional news coverage with more and more opinion and analysis. 
"Time used to have about 300 reporters all over the world. They were extraordinarily good at getting the news and aggregating it for readers," he says.
"But as people turned to the internet much more they looked at the costs of that reporting and realised it was a major expense.
"Newsweek in particular seemed to have the vanity to think the brand would keep readers even when the actual newsgathering had diminished.
"The thought was that the quality of their analysis would make up for the lack of hard news, but that conceit was soon overtaken by the ubiquity of analysis on the internet. If you're interested in something, you can find a hundred people giving their opinions online for free, and some of them are big names."

Vanity and hubris lead to self-deception and ultimately to failure.
A general problem in life and warning to us all.

Not sure what I will do now. Maybe buy the Weekend Australian or subscribe to the Economist. Although the latter lacks Australian news. Alternative suggestions welcome. I still enjoy hard copy...

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Moltmann on science, theology, and the military

The latest issue of the journal Science and Christian Belief has a fascinating and stimulating article by Jurgen Moltmann, "From Physics to Theology - a personal story". It is based on a Faraday Lecture he gave at Emmanuel College (Cambridge, not UQ!) earlier this year. You can watch the lecture here.

Moltmann first gives the very moving story of how as teenager in the German army he ended up in an English POW camp searching for redemption, hearing the Gospel, and starting to read theology. I will post some of that later.

He then moves on to discussing Francis Bacon's notion that "[scientific] knowledge is power". He then makes the poignant observations:
Gaining power was, and is, a modern motive for the exploration of na- ture, but it is a very dangerous one. The twentieth century saw the politicisation of science as fascist and communist ideologies took possession of the sciences. The twentieth century also saw the militarisation of science during two world wars and the cold war that followed. The twenty-first century has brought us the economisation of science. Knowledge is not only power, but profit as well. These interests are alienating pure science from nature. Do we want to know nature for its own sake, seeking truth and correspondence with nature and finding what we have in common with nature? If so, the sciences are better preserved in fellowship with theology, than in the service of politics, economics and the military.                                                                     

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Christian view on climate change

John Cook gave a really nice talk Climate change and the weightier matters: A Christian view on global warming in August at the Centre for Science, Religion, and Society at Emmanuel College at UQ.
You can watch the whole talk and/or view the slides on his widely acclaimed blog skeptical science.

Of particular note and concern is the graphic below which shows that those who contribute the least to global warming (poor countries) will be those whose lives will be affected the most. This is a significant social justice issue that Christians should be concerned about.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

An ode to Australia

My wife and I watched the movie Red Dog. I found it quite endearing and amusing.

On a more analytical note, to me it also captured certain Australian cultural distinctives: the importance of mateship, beautiful wide open spaces, the challenge of the forbidding environment, a simple unsophisticated multiculturalism, the centrality of beer drinking in social interactions, disrespect for authority, crude masculinity, and a yearning for community ...

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Australia is "led" by student politicians

This week the Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard became an internet sensation when a video of her attacking the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, went viral.

There is a lot to be concerned about here, particularly the context of her speech. It all reflects extremely poorly on both Gillard and Abbott.  They have both failed to exercise servant leadership, act with integrity, and to take responsibility for government.

To me an article in the Australian, Players in a Risky Game by Tom Dusevic, appropriately takes all parties to task. Here is a small extract.

Stripped down to basics, this week showed that the political class is obsessed with "the game", petty point-scoring and the concerns of insiders, rather than the big issues the Australian people expect Canberra to focus on: productivity improvement, education reforms, better hospitals, broadband and roads, indigenous disadvantage or Australia's trading and security interests.... 
The debate in the capital, such as it is, amounts to a collective regression to the sound and fury of student politics (where many of today's leading players learned their trade and found their purpose). 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Following Jesus and leading amidst strife

There is a very moving and challenging article in Christianity Today Ajith Fernando: on the anvil of suffering about the long-time director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka.

Should you believe the media?

Media reporting of the discovery of the Higgs boson, highlights just how unreliable the information and interpretation contained in media reports about science can be. I tried to bring out this issue in my recent talk. Unfortunately, it is not solely the media's responsibility. Scientists may feed a slanted perspective to the media if amplifies the significance of their research results or their personal philosophical perspective.

David Cook pointed out to me that unfortunately, media portrayals of basic Christian beliefs can exhibit similar distortions. For example, all Christians believe the earth is 6,000 years old. Faith is blind: belief without any evidence. In Galileo's time, the Roman Catholic church was opposed to science and reason...

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Talk on the Higgs boson

On friday I am giving a talk The Higgs boson: scientific reality vs. the media hype at the Centre for Science, Religion, and Culture at Emmanuel College.
Here is a draft of the associated slides.
The talk features 3 videos.

The One Minute Physics video, the Higgs boson: part I.

The superconducting hula hoop. This is the demonstration of the Meissner effect in superconductors, which can be interpreted as photons acquiring mass due to physics similar to the Higgs mechanism (spontaneous breaking of a gauge symmetry).

Simon Conway Morris, Professor of Paleaobiology at Cambridge University, briefly discussing why he is a Christian.

I welcome any comments.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Why would a scientist be a Christian?

A group from my church is going through the Test of Faith video series. I think it is an excellent introduction to exploring the relationship between science and Christianity. Much of it is based on interviews with leading scientists who are Christians and some theologians who have backgrounds in science.

The website also has some excellent resources.
I liked this brief interview with Simon Conway Morris (Professor of Evolutionary Palaeobiology at Cambridge University) about why he is a Christian.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

What should motivate Christian ethics?

Christian ethics is the human reaction to the coming of Christ into this world and is an anticipation of his future in the new world. That is why every good Christian ethics ends in doxology, so as with the praise of God to intensify the cry of hope, "Amen, come Lord Jesus!" (Rev. 22:20). For in Christian ethics it must be clear that, we do not make use of God in order to change the world, but we change the world in order to enjoy God, as Augustine said.
Jurgen Moltmann, Ethics of Hope, page 229

Friday, October 5, 2012

Can atheism be detrimental to science?

A common caricature of religion is that it is opposed to science and has even hindered the development of science. The New Atheists certainly promote this view.
A previous post discussed why most modern historians disagree with this caricature.

One might ask an alternative question.
Is atheism always good for science?
Have there been historical examples where atheist ideology has been opposed to scientific progress?
Helge Kragh has a nice paper The Universe, Cold War, and Dialectical Materialism
which discusses a significant example in the former Soviet Union. Although, it was at the centre of many advances in theoretical physics, research in big bang cosmology was opposed because it was considered to be "religious" and opposed to Marxist-Leninist theory.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A life lived in fear is a life half lived

This is the key line in the movie Strictly Ballroom. I first saw it many years ago after it first came out in 1992, but watched it again this week with my family.
It says something about Australian culture. But, I am not sure what...
It also shows how parents should not try and live their lives through their children..

The trailer below captures some of the passion. But, to an Australian the American accent is hilarious and spoils it...

Monday, October 1, 2012

Nike ministry

Just do it!

This is something I have been challenged by the example of Christians I have met in the developing world.

In the affluent Western church it seems that new initiatives require planning, policies, fund raising, formal approval, hiring and training full-time paid staff, meetings, administrative staff, offices, more fund raising, buildings, organisational structures, ....

These all may have some role in Christian ministry and mission in a Western context. However, I am struck [within my limited experience] by how in the developing world most of the above does not seem to constrain or determine what Christians do. If there is a need to start an orphanage, or plant a church, or grow a theological college, they will just do it. They don't seem too concerned about having a salary [let alone a good retirement fund!], staff with all the "right" formal theological education, or all the right policies.
They tend to just start things and then later as they grow try to put in place appropriate staff and structures.

The non-Western model encourages initiative, risk taking, sacrifice, and volunteerism. It is efficient and frugal, and reduces bureaucracy and careerism.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

A missed opportunity

I enjoyed watching The Iron Lady, a depiction of aspects of the life of Margaret Thatcher. She has the distinction of being the only female Prime Minister  of the U.K. and the longest serving one in the 20th century. She is also arguably one of the most controversial and divisive Western political leaders of the second half of the 20th century.

I have three concerns about the movie, listed in increasing order of importance. First, it jumps around an awful lot, making extensive use of "flashbacks". For people who don't know some of the history and the events depicted this is probably very confusing and superficial. Second, I think it is quite disrespectful and heartless to centre a movie around the possible dementia of a living person. Third, it is a missed opportunity to reconsider and evaluate the performance and legacy of such an influential and important political figure. One just hopes that the movie motivates audiences, particularly younger British ones, to learn a little about Thatcher and her policies. I found reading the Wikipedia page helpful. There are somethings to admire and appreciate and some things to be horrified at.

Why is the Higgs boson called "the God particle"?

Not for important scientific, philosophical, or theological reasons.

The term arose with a book entitled, The God Particle, published in 1993 by Leon Lederman, a Nobel Prize winning physicist and science writer Dick Teresi. Wikipedia states:
Lederman said he gave the Higgs boson the nickname "The God Particle" because the particle is "so central to the state of physics today, so crucial to our final understanding of the structure of matter, yet so elusive,"[5][6][7]but added that a second reason was because "the publisher wouldn't let us call it the Goddamn Particle, though that might be a more appropriate title, given its villainous nature and the expense it is causing."[5][8]
I would say Lederman, being an elementary particle physicist, overstated the importance of the Higgs boson. I would restate his claim as the Higgs boson is "central to the state of  elementary particle physics [just one sub-field of physics]  and some aspects of cosmology today, so crucial to our current understanding of elementary particles, yet so elusive."

Whether or not the Higgs boson exists is irrelevant to nuclear physics, atomic physics, solid state physics, biophysics, optics, thermodynamics, statistical physics, chaos, fluid dynamics, chemistry, .....

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Secularists oppose a truly secular state

Recent riots involving parts of the Muslim community in Australia have stimulated significant debate. I thought this Opinion piece by Paul Kelly, Editor at Large of The Australian newspaper was quite insightful and appropriate, reflecting on what it means for Australia to be a secular state. Here is an extract:

It is equally important, however, to acknowledge the secular state is under assault not just from religious crusaders but from secularists. In Australia today racist language is a taboo, yet attacks on religious belief are frequent and almost fashionable. 
The sanction extended to media displays of contempt for people with religious belief, notably Christianity, seems to reflect a new prejudice by people many of whom aspire to drive religion from the public square into the exclusively private realm. 
Perhaps they do not comprehend, but this is a direct assault upon the secular state and the terms of peaceful co-existence between the state and religion. In this concept, the state became neutral between believers and non-believers and neutral among different types of believers. 
Freedom of religion does not mean freedom from religion.

It is important to acknowledge that even the term "secular" was coined by Christians and used in a positive light by Augustine and Luther. That was something I learnt recently in a fascinating history seminar.

Science vs. Religion: Does anything change?

In his 1933 biography of Thomas Aquinas, G. K. Chesterton wrote words he intended as a retrospective but which are just as descriptive of the 1990s as of the 1860s. They could serve as a summation for Ronald Numbers' extraordinarily helpful book:  
"Private theories about what the Bible ought to mean, and premature theories about what the world ought to mean, have met in loud and widely advertised controversy, especially in the Victorian time; and this clumsy collision of two very impatient forms of ignorance was known as the quarrel of Science and Religion."
Mark Noll, in a  Review (published in First Things in 1992) The Creationists by Ronald Numbers,
The review is really worth reading, particularly as it provides such a nice summary of the book [which has since been updated and republished].