Friday, August 31, 2012

Has science made religion obsolete?

Every year University of Queensland where I work runs a Research Week to showcase and promote research. I was very happy to see that one of the two public seminars to be given will be by Professor Peter Harrison on "Has science made religion obsolete?". Full details of the public lecture on Monday September 17 are here.

An earlier post this year reviews a very stimulating lecture by Peter that I heard.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Interview on emergence

A few years ago I was interviewed by the Centre for Public Christianity about emergence, science, and Christianity. At first the interview was just available on a DVD that they sold. However, I was happy to learn from my daughter that you can now watch the video online.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Compassion and acceptance

In Bangalore last week Robin and I visited Accept, a ministry to people with HIV/AIDS. This includes a hospice and a children's home. Their website has several challenging articles about practicing compassion and mercy, including one by John Piper and by the founder Raju K Matthew.

Australia's future political leaders in training?

Most Australian politicians cut their teeth when they are students at university, as they struggle for power in "student unions". These are meant to provide student services such as food outlets, counselling, clubs and societies.... Sometimes these are multi-million dollar enterprises and significant funds get spent on the student politicians pet political causes. This seems to be universal, regardless of the political persuasion of the students. The left and the right are just as bad. Furthermore, some of the "antics" and "tactics" used to get elected or stay in power are hardly characteristic of the noble forms of western democracy. It is power at any cost and by any method.

The above is tragically illustrated in a disturbing article in today's Australian Uni acts on student union poll amid political bias claims concerning recent events at the University of Queensland where I work.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A symbol of hope for democracy

On a recent flight I watched The Lady, which depicts the life, marriage, and politics  of Aung San Suu Kyi.
I really liked it, finding it extremely moving. I was at the point of tears several times.
Integrity, sacrifice and conviction are the most important qualities in political leaders.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Vignettes of Sri Lanka

Culture is a set of uncontested assumptions and expectations about the way things should be and people should behave. A blessing of travelling is realising that other countries are different. Sometimes these cross-cultural encounters can be amusing and endearing and other times they are unsettling.

duty-free shopping before customs at Colombo airport sells large refrigerators, ovens, ...
encountering an extremely political statement in a context that I don't normally encounter such statements...
a dead body washed up on the beach... no one seemed to care or want to get involved....
crazy tuk-tuk [3 wheeled taxis] drivers....
walking through a slum on the beach front...
a menu offering "a pot of Nescafe"...
selling baked goods out of a tuk-tuk....
miscalculating the exchange rate by a factor of 2.5 and thinking everything was rather expensive for such a poor country...
kids from a slum playing with homemade kites on the beach..
a KFC delivery motorbike...
losing my cashcard in an ATM machine..... getting it back several days later...
more crazy tuk-tuk drivers...
in the middle of a seminar a man came in and handed out coffees and sweet rolls...
visiting an orphanage....
our taxi driver stopped mid-journey so he could visit a Buddhist temple we passed by...

For vignettes of a previous trip to Serbia see here.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Science involves faith

One reason I do not like the dichotomy: science versus Christian faith is that it implies that science does not involve faith.

This issue is also nicely discussed in Priyan Dias' paper: Are science and religion really different?

Scientists have faith. They believe/trust/hope:
  • The universe is ordered. There are laws of nature to be discovered.
  • These laws are independent of time. They are the same yesterday, today, and forever. 
  • These laws are independent of geographic location. They are the same in Brisbane, Bangalore, Paris, on the surface of the sun, and in a galaxy millions of light years away.
  • Other scientists are trustworthy and present their results with objectivity and integrity.
  • Well designed experiments give results that are independent of the observer.
These foundational beliefs are not without "evidence". The history of science has shown these to be "reasonable" beliefs. Science does work! However, these working assumptions cannot be "proven".

I wonder whether the day to day practise of science by individuals and groups requires greater faith than the assumptions above. The daily practise is not necessarily supported by as strong as history and evidence as the broad sweep of successful science. Individual scientists of average ability and with modest resources have the hope/faith/confidence that their own investigations will produce reliable knowledge. They stake considerable time, energy, and reputation on it. Yet it is not clear to me that such faith is necessarily any more justified than aspects of Christian faith.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Joining the flock in Bangalore

Today Dr. Atul Aghamkar and his wife Suman kindly took my wife and I to their church, Emmanuel Church, in Bangalore. The sermon included a discussion about the sheep metaphor for God's people. Distinct characteristics of sheep are:
they easily wander and get lost,
they like to be clean [unlike pigs which wallow in the mud],
they belong in flocks,
they need a shepherd to guide and protect them,
they are harmless,
they are used for sacrifices [cf. Romans 12:1],
they are useful and productive...

The church pew bulletin had a moving and challenging text by the pastor, D. Paul Augustine. He challenged the congregation to apply Matthew 9:36-38 and to have the  compassion of Jesus towards people from the North East of India who are currently fleeing Bangalore and other southern cities from fear.

Hope for the hopeless in Bangalore

Today my wife and I walked down the road from SAIACS where we are staying to visit The Home of Hope. This amazing ministry takes destitute people off the streets of Bangalore and keys from them. Many are disabled, dying, orphaned, or have mental health issues.

Friday, August 17, 2012

I DO have too much stuff

There is an interesting and challenging piece You probably have too much stuff in the Your Money section of the New York Times. It argues from a purely secular materialist point of view that people in the Western world are burdened by all the junk/possessions they accumulate and won't get rid of. They point out there is a purely financial cost to keeping all this stuff. Furthermore, it can take significant time and crowds out mental space...
For a Christian the imperative to "down size" and "travel light" should be even greater.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Seeking beauty and truth in India

Tonight I am giving a talk, "Searching for truth and beauty in science and in Jesus," to a group of scientists in Bangalore. The talk starts with looking at views of two prominent Indian scientists, Sudarshan and Chandrasekhar, and then moves to looking at John 1:1-18. The main point is the suggestion that the grace of God found in Jesus is an example of the beauty that Chandrasekhar discussed in art and science.
The slides are here.
I welcome comments, particularly from Indians.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Science and Theology in Sri Lanka: day 4

Lecture: Emergence and reductionism (slides)
[associated short article: The whole is greater than the sum of the parts].

Guest lecture: Professor Priyan Dias (Moratuwa University): Are science and religion really different? [related paper published in Science and Christian Belief].

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Science and theology in Sri Lanka: day 3

Lecture: The end of time: scientific and Biblical perspectives (slides)

Test of faith video (part 3). Through discussions of mind and brain this contains a nice introduction to the issue of reductionism and emergence.

Discussion of editorial: Science and theology in non-western contexts

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Science and Theology in Sri Lanka: day 2

Lecture on Christian roots of modern science [slides are courtesy of Denis Alexander, Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, Cambridge].
 (notes, slides part 1, slides part 2)

A sermon on Genesis 2 (slides). This is meant to illustrate how the profound theological truths of the text are really independent of any scientific interpretation.

Lecture introducing Big Bang cosmology and the Anthropic principle (slides). This reviews the scientific evidence that the universe is 13.7 billion years old.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Church in Colombo

Last night my wife and I really enjoyed visiting the English congregation of the Dehiwela branch of the Christian Reformed Church of Sri Lanka. (They also have Sinhalese and Tamil congregations).

The pastor Rev. Charles Jansz gave a passionate and encouraging exposition of John 2:1-12 (Jesus miracle at the wedding in Cana). One thing he pointed out was that the miracle was rather low key in the sense that there were no incantations or dramatic events. It is not clear when the water was converted to wine. But it did happen and was highly significant, pointing the disciples to increased faith in Jesus.
He challenged us to consider that there may be "miracles" happening around us that we just assume are "natural".
This struck me because of an issue I will be teaching this week. God can use "natural" processes to accomplish "creation" of the natural and living world.

Science and theology in Sri Lanka

Today I am starting to teach a one-week intensive M.Div course on Science and Theology at Lanka Bible College Centre for Graduate Studies in Colombo. Here is some of the course material.

Course profile including assessment.

A questionnaire to help me find out more about students backgrounds.

Sample exam questions

Possible essay topics

Lecture 1: Introduction (powerpoint slides)

Lecture 2: Significant issues (powerpoint slides)

This afternoon we will also watch the first part of the Test of Faith video.

I welcome feedback.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

An Indian scientist on science and religion

E.C.G. Sudarshan is a distinguished theoretical physicist, with an Indian background. Over the years he has written several articles about the relationship between science and religion. In 1988 he gave a talk Is modern science closer to religion? which has the intriguing conclusion below.
The end is an allusion to John 4 where Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well. It is a little puzzling that Sudarshan quotes Jesus as saying "the Lord should be worshipped in heart and in spirit." Most translations have Jesus saying, God should be worshipped in "spirit and truth".

Friday, August 3, 2012

The quest for beauty in science

S. Chandrasekhar was a very famous astrophysicist who featured in two earlier posts.
In 1979 he published an article in Physics Today, Beauty and the quest for beauty in science. It was reprinted in an memorial issue solely about Chandrasekhar.
It makes fascinating (but intellectually demanding) reading. The abstract is
Science, like the arts, admits aesthetic criteria; we seek theories that display a proper conformity of the parts to one another and to the whole while still showing some strangeness in their proportion.
He quotes Keats:
Beauty is truth, truth beauty that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
Later he states:
So far, my remarks have been confined to what we may all concede as great ideas conceived by great minds. It does not, however, follow that beauty is experienced only in the context of great ideas and by great minds. This is no more true than that the joys of creativity are restricted to a fortunate few. They are, indeed, accessible to each one of us provided we are attuned to the perception of strangeness in the proportion and the conformity of the parts to one another and to the whole.
I am considering using these quotes as a part of an introduction to a talk I have been asked to give by a Bible study group of scientists in Bangalore.

We can see beauty and truth in science. We should seek it elsewhere as well. Is there truth and beauty and mystery to be found in the Bible? in the life and teachings of Jesus? Do we perceive "strangeness in the proportion" (mystery) there?
Is there "conformity of the parts to one another and to the whole" (a coherent framework for understanding ourselves, God, and our place in the universe)?