Monday, July 30, 2012

Introducing Moltmann

In this video Richard Bauckham gives a nice short (8 minute) and accessible introduction to the theology of Jurgen Moltmann. He emphasizes that the Theology of Hope was not really just about eschatology but rather how eschatology shapes all of theology and visa versa.


This is part of a Video Timeline project at St. John's College, Nottingham.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Global warming and social justice

This coming Friday, The Centre for the Study of Science, Religion, and Society at Emmanuel College at the University of Queensland is hosting a talk Climate change and the Weightier Matters by John Cook.
He is the founder of the very popular website Skeptical Science which addresses global warming skepticism.
Here is the abstract for John's talk:

Climate change is typically framed as an environmental issue: “save the planet!”  Even among the Christian community, it is often framed along similar lines as a creation care issue. However, another important aspect of human-caused global warming is social justice. Those who contribute least to global warming are the most impacted by its impacts and the least able to adapt. This makes it highly relevant to core Christian values such as the ‘weightier matters of justice, mercy and faithfulness’. The importance of social justice is further emphasised in Biblical passages such as Matthew 25 and Amos 4. Climate action is not reserved for those concerned about polar bears and mother nature. Rather, it is an issue deserving of serious consideration by those motivated by the love of Christ who commands us to love ‘the least of us’.

I heard him talk last year at a Physics Department colloquium and so am sorry I will miss this talk due to being en route to Sri Lanka.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Reading Genesis historically and literally

I really liked this video.
What does it mean to read Genesis "literally" and in its historical context?
I think that N.T. Wright in the last few minutes is absolutely brilliant about how some "modern" readings miss the whole point and impoverish the text. But, it is a bit like what Barth says....

I thank Matt Cardier for bringing the video to my attention.
It is produced by the Biologos Foundation and appears to be a nice condensation of several longer videos they have produced.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

God's atomic police

Today I read a fascinating article A Cold-War Folly? by Nina Byers, a Physics Professor at UCLA. She describes a course entitled Nuclear Power: Power plants and weapons of war that she teaches UCLA undergraduates. Part of the course deals with the different views of physicists to the use of nuclear weapons, both during and after WWII.

One of the leaders of the Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb during World War II was Arthur Holly Compton, who had won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1937. He also chaired the committee of physicists that recommended dropping the bombs on Japan, dismissing contrary opinions of other prominent physicists, nicely summarised by Byers.

It is interesting to read his perspective on the role of nuclear weapons after the war. I find it somewhat bizarre and scary.

Compton wrote an essay, “The Moral Meaning of the Atomic Bomb,” published in a collection, Christianity Takes a Stand: an approach to the issues of today, that was published in 1946. He wrote,
It is now possible to equip a world police with weapons by which war can be prevented and peace assured. An adequate air force equipped with atomic bombs, well dispersed over the earth, should suffice… we must work quickly. Our monopoly of atomic bombs and control of the world’s peace is short-lived. It is our duty to do our utmost to effect the establishment of an adequate world police… This is the obligation that goes with the power God has seen fit to give.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The wisdom and knowledge that matters

I am reading through 1 Kings which recounts the life of King Solomon. He was reknown for his great wisdom, learning, and knowledge. It is striking to me that the character of this quite different to what we associate with wisdom, learning, and knowledge today. It certainly does mention his knowledge of the natural world (1 Kings 4):

29  And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore,30 so that Solomon's wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt. ....  33 He spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall. He spoke also of beasts, and of birds, and of reptiles, and of fish.34 And people of all nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and from all the kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom.

But, Solomon's request to the LORD was:

 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?”
(1Kings 3:9) 

After he passed judgement concerning the two women claiming to be both the mother of a child:

28 And all Israel heard of the judgment that the king had rendered, and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him to do justice.

In relation to the Queen of Sheba. "Solomon answered all her questions; there was nothing hidden from the king that he could not explain to her."
(1 Kings 10:3).

Her response is noteworthy:

 Blessed be the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel! Because the Lord loved Israel forever, he has made you king, that you may execute justice and righteousness.”

Knowledge of the natural world and traditional scholarship (philosophy, literature, history,...) is valuable. But, the real "wisdom" that matters to God is the justice and righteousness of God. This "wisdom" makes worldly wisdom look "foolish".

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Resources for teaching science and theology

In teaching it is important not to re-invent the wheel. One can save lots of time and do a better job by making use of resources (books, videos, articles, course outlines, ...) from others who have taught similar courses.

In two weeks I am heading off to Sri Lanka to teach a one week intensive Masters level course on Science and Theology. Here are a few of the resources I will use.

The video from the Test of Faith.

Some of the Faraday papers.

Unnatural enemies: an introduction to science and Christianity by Kirsten Birkett. This excellent introduction is now available as an e-book for just $5.

A Users Guide to Science and Belief by Michael Poole. This covers the basic issues at a basic level and is beautifully presented.

Chapter 3 of Gods that Fail by Vinoth Ramachandra (a Sri Lankan).

I also think it is important to introduce students to resources that they may actually use [both due to availability and suitability] themselves in their own ministries.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

In what sense was Barth's theology "scientific"?

I was delighted to receive my copy of Barth and Rationality: Critical Realism in Theology by D. Paul La Montagne, just published by Wipf and Stock (Cascade Books). The concluding section of chapter 6 has a nice summary of some of the key ideas:
Karl Barth’s dialectical theology is properly to be characterized as a form of critical realism. Dialectical theology understands its own place as a form of human thought as well as its primary object, God’s self revealing address to humanity, in a critically realistic manner. Dialectical theology in Barth exhibits, .... analogies to the following features of scientific realism... 
(1) It presumes the reality of the object of its discourse. This is why theology and science are both post hoc investigations into what is the case, rather than what must be the case. 
(2) It is post-foundational. 
(3) It is both critical and self-critical. Moreover, it acknowledges that it is the reality of the object of knowledge that forces us to be critical. 
(4) It finds that positive and negative knowledge are bound together in the act of knowledge. 
(5) It considers that knowledge is co-determined by the structure of our minds, our cultural antecedents, and the external reality to which we refer in our discourse. 
(6) The referential power of our discourse is founded upon the power of the reality to which we refer to be a cause of our knowledge. 
(7) It uses a referential, correspondence idea of truth. 
(8) It recognizes that our knowledge is always indirect and mediated. 
(9) It accepts that all our knowledge is fallible and dares to propound fallibility as a criterion of truth. 
(10) It uses hypothetical method for an investigation into an unknown object.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Does the end justify the means?

My family enjoyed watching The Conspirator, directed by Robert Redford. It recounts assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and the following military trial of Mary Surratt, accused as a co-conspirator of the plot.

The movie highlights how she did not receive a fair trial, being assumed to be guilty, and was a victim of political expediency. The Secretary of War rationalises her treatment by claiming the "greater good" of "preserving the Union." The end justifies the means.

There is debate about the extent to which Redford was trying to draw parallels to the  treatment of inmates of Guantanamo Bay by the US government. Here is an extract from one review:
In The Conspirator, Redford goes back to one of the only events in American history that tore at the country’s identity as violently as 9/11 did. And he demonstrates that what happened back then, during the trial of Mary Surratt, amounted to the squashing of rights, the twisting of protocol, the suspension of justice for “the sake of the nation.” Edwin Stanton, played by Kevin Kline, was the Secretary of War under Lincoln, and he makes the argument for why Mary must be found guilty (even though she is, at least in the movie, innocent). He becomes the film’s version of Dick Cheney, taking the low road of force over constitutional safeguard. And Aiken, the last-honest-man hero (played by McAvoy with a lively glint of moral passion), realizes that if he doesn’t fight this bureaucratic railroading, he’s colluding in the destruction of the American system, the American way. The movie’s message is: In America, the ends do not — cannot — justify the means. That, the film says, is the meaning of America. Redford clearly intends this message as a commentary on all the legally dicey things that have gone on in the aftermath of 9/11: the detaining of terrorist suspects, with little or no evidence, and with no representation or deadline, in the prison at Guantánamo; the underground use of torture techniques that violate articles of the Geneva Convention; the willingness to suspend the law for the sake of an anti-terror, we-fight-fire-with-fire absolutism.
There is also a nice review in The New Yorker, focussing more on the cinematography.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The poverty of affluence

The TEAR Australia monthly magazine has an interesting article Do we have enough? by Ross Gittins [long-time Economics Editor for the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper].

He points out that traditional economic theory is concerned with the problem of scarcity: there are only a finite amount of resources while we have infinite wants.

However, the real problem now in Western countries is one of abundance, which is associated with three important problems:

1. the huge expansion of economic activity is having a terrible effect on the environment.
It is no longer an infinite and "free" resource but finite one and there are significant economic costs associated with its degradation and depletion.

2. abundance exacerbates humankinds problem with self-control: diet, exercise, drug and alcohol abuse, and debt.

3. abundance leads to significant "resources being devoted to the socially pointless pursuit of social status through consumption."

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

War is hell IV

My family is back to watching Foyle's War. It chronicles the activities of a police detective during World War II in Britain. Each episode does not just involve a murder mystery. It also usually has a focus on some social or historical dimension to war-time Britain: mental health of returning soldiers, bootlegging, conscientious objectors, Nazi sympathizers, racism in US troops, government cover ups, repatriation of white Russian POWs, the role of the church,.....
Hence, I always find it quite educational as well as entertaining.

This one of the most impressive TV series I have seen. Yet, I also find it dark and tragic at times. It leaves no doubt that people are sinful and war is hell, even for the "victors" and those who don't see direct combat!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Proof texts for anti-intellectualism

In his book Think John Piper gives a detailed exegesis of two key passages that are often used to justify anti-intellectualism within Christianity

[Jesus said]
“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children"
Luke 10:21-24

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.
1 Corinthians 1:20-24

Piper's conclusion is that the real issue here is attitude, it not intelligence versus "simplicity" but rather pride versus humility. Children represent humility and dependance. Wisdom here represents the arrogance of Greek wisdom/scholarship which exalted man. There are intelligent people who are humble and "simple" people who are proud. It is also not an issue of educated versus uneducated.

The question is who is exalted: God or man? A key part of hearing and believing the Gospel means being humble enough to acknowledge that one cannot save oneself. Only God can save us.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The theological significance of the Higgs boson

is nil.

Yesterday's announcement of the much awaited discovery of the Higgs boson will lead to a lot of hype, including claims that it presents some problem for belief in God, and particularly in a Creator. The Higgs boson has even been dubbed "The God particle", largely as a marketing exercise.
I find this ridiculous. This discovery is of no greater theological or philosophical significance than most other important scientific discoveries: the structure of DNA, the Genetic code, pions, neutrinos, positrons, quarks, pulsars, Einstein's theories of relativity, .....

These discoveries just show that we can understand and describe the natural world. (Indeed, a truly amazing thing). Sometimes we can do this well enough that we can even predict the results of experiments, including the existence of new particle or a new planet. However, this success neither proves nor disproves the existence of a Creator. Science, by assumption, is methodologically naturalistic. These were the same issues discussed by Laplace and Napoleon, centuries ago.

An earlier post explored similar issues associated with the Higgs boson.