Sunday, July 28, 2013

Its all in the name

My wife and I enjoyed watching the movie The Namesake. It chronicles the life of a young man who is born in the USA to Indian immigrants and given the name Nikolai Gogol, after a Russian novelist. The story line centers around Gogol's attitude towards his name and how that reflects his closeness or distance from his family. The movies highlights the powerful interplay of family, culture, and personal identity. It portrays a very positive view of marriage and family.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A computer scientist on his Christian faith

Donald Knuth is one of the most distinguished computer scientists in the world. He is also a Christian and in 1999 gave six lectures about science and faith at MIT. These were published as a book, Things a computer scientist rarely talks about. He also published a book 3:16 which has a commentary on all the 3:16 verses in the Bible.

In 2009 he fielded questions about science and faith at Google headquarters. It is a bit quirky, slow and rambling but it is worth the effort.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Seeing the world through very different eyes

My wife and I enjoyed watching the movie Temple Grandin. It is a semi-autobiographical account of the life of an autistic woman who was responsible for innovations in the treatment of animals in the livestock industry in the USA.

The trailer nicely illustrates just how differently she sees the world.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Is there nothing to it?

In Australia in August there will be three public events Life, the Universe, and Nothing, featuring Lawrence Krauss, an atheist cosmologist, and William Lane Craig, a Christian apologist.
A previous debate between the two is on YouTube and the transcript is here.

Some earlier posts critiqued some of Krauss' views.

A heart for the poor

I found the TEAR conference on A Heart for the Poor in May very challenging.

Here is a copy of the talk given by Charles Ringma. He nicely and simply gave the clear mandate from the Bible and from history for Christians to be actively involved in helping and caring for the poor in a constructive manner.

I also attended a workshop on "Vocation, Profession, and Mission," given by Dave Andrews. Some of the material is in his article Vocational Professionals. The opposite of an amateur is not a professional but a mercenary!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Integrating the Gospel with academia and service

The past few years I have learnt a lot and been challenged greatly by my Christian friends in the developing world. One example was last year I visited the North Delhi Intercollegiate Evangelical Union. They recently completed an "Intensive Summer Study" that consisted of meeting 4 hours a day for 6 weeks. The participants were required to purchase and read ten books that covered a wide range of topics from systematic theology to post-colonial theory. My wife and I followed the daily process on Facebook and on the blog. I found the commitment level particularly challenging given the cultural context of minimal resources, extreme pressure to succeed professionally, and an educational system based on rote learning and specialisation rather than analysis and integration.

Perhaps a key word describing the goal, process, and outcome is integration: integration of faith and practice, integration of worship and life, integration of the Gospel and academic disciplines, integration of ethnic diversity, integration of mission with service,....
Integrity is all about integration.

In the affluent and arrogant West we have much to learn from others living in very different circumstances.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Does a university education corrode Christian faith?

A common view, particularly in the USA is that attending a secular university is harmful to the faith of Christian students. But, is this view actually supported by data? It seems not. The relevant data and its interpretation is discussed in this blog post.

A related question is: does studying science decrease the religious faith of undergraduates?
A common view is that the answer is yes. However, the data suggests otherwise. In contrast, studying the humanities can have a negative effect on religious faith. For US universities the relevant research paper is here.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Child sponsorship is effective in alleviating poverty

I am a big fan of Compassion, including their child sponsorship programs.

I also believe that aid and development programs aimed at alleviating poverty need to be critically evaluated. Indeed, it is painful to acknowledge that some are not just inefficient or ineffective but can even be counter-productive. This is an important message of the wonderful book Poor Economics that my son and I just finished reading. The point is made from a Christian point of view in When helping hurts that my wife has read.

Hence, I was very interested to see the results of an extensive and independent study by a team of economists of the effectiveness of Compassion's programs. The study
Does International Child Sponsorship Work? A Six-Country Study of Impacts on Adult Life Outcomes was published in the Journal of Political Economy. Here is the abstract:
Child sponsorship is a leading form of direct aid from wealthy country households to children in developing countries. Over 9 million children are supported through international sponsorship organizations. Using data from six countries, we estimate impacts on several outcomes from sponsorship through Compassion International, a leading child sponsorship organization. To identify program effects, we utilize an age-eligibility rule implemented when programs began in new villages. We find large, statistically significant impacts on years of schooling; primary, secondary, and tertiary school completion; and the probability and quality of employment. Early evidence suggests that these impacts are due, in part, to increases in children’s aspirations.

Messy American history

Were the founding fathers of the USA Christian?
What should the role of Christian scholars be in the church?

These questions are nicely addressed an interesting post In God We TrustA July 4th Conversation on the Historian’s Vocation & the Church  on the Emerging Scholars blog.
I learnt some history I did not know, particularly about the Deist beliefs of the legendary George Washington.

One idea that is highlighted is that history is messier and more complicated than many of us would like to admit. If we acknowledge this we may have to give up some of our cherished ideas about who we are and where we are heading.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The mystery of healing and the gift of life

My family enjoyed watching the movie Awakenings. It is based on a true story of the partial temporary healing of patients in a strange catatonic state. The movie highlights the mystery of some illness, the hope of healing, the inadequacies of hospitals and health professionals, and what it means to be human and to be alive.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Why doesn't Australia allow recent refugees to work?

Kathleen Noonan had an excellent column Refugees have always added colour to our communities in the Courier Mail [Brisbane's tabloid newspaper] on saturday.
She raises a troubling and important question of the Australian government: why aren't recent refugees allowed to get jobs?