Thursday, January 31, 2013

Seminar in Bangalore

This Saturday morning I am giving a public seminar at SAIACS in Bangalore.
The first talk will be a general introduction to the relationship between Science and Christianity. My emphasis will be on making a distinction between the content of scientific theories and knowledge and philosophical perspectives that are attached to them.
I will then show some of the first Test of Faith video.
My second talk will be about the Higgs boson, which is popularly (and mistakenly) known as the "God particle."

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Made in the image of God II

An earlier post considered are being made in the "image of God" endows all humans with distinction. Each is to be respected and valued, regardless of social status, education, sex, or religious belief. This is not derived from the American Constitution but rather from interpreting the Genesis text in its social and historical context.

This defines how we should relate to one another. But also how should I act? Being made in God's image also means that I am God's representative or ambassador [just like the ancient statue of a king represented the king]. I am not representing myself, my tribe, or alien forces or interests.

Hence, I am to conduct myself in a way that honours God and to be an advocate for his concerns: love, justice, peace, faithfulness, and righteousness.

More insight is also gained by all considering other Biblical uses of the "image of God". The second commandment forbids making and worshiping "graven images". An "image" of stone or wood is a perversion and a lie [Isaiah 44:20]. It does not represent the living God. But some idea of what God is like is by considering humans, who are made in his image. We are not to worship the human image. But they are an acceptable representation, reflecting some of the wonder and glory of God, their Creator.
The perfect representation of the Creator is Jesus Christ. Colossians 1:15 says Jesus is the "image of God".
The image of the Babylonian ruler King Nebuchadnezzar that was to be respected and honoured. (Daniel 3).

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A scientist looks at the end

Tomorrow I am giving a talk "The end of the universe: contrasting scientific and Biblical views" at El Bethel church in Bangalore.
Here are the slides.

I may also show a clip from the Test of Faith video.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

In what sense are humans made in the image of God?

Genesis 1:27 says
So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them.
Over the centuries there have been a multitude of interpretations as to what this actually means. Is it mostly to do with physiology, rational capacities, sexuality, relationality, morality, emotions, something else, or some combination?

Vinoth Ramachandra discussed this at some length at the class I was involved with at Lanka Bible College two weeks ago. I found his perpective very helpful and challenging.

One should read this passage in the cultural and political context of the ancient world in which is was written. Then conquering kings would establish their rule and authority over regions by placing statues of themselves in conquered territory. These "images" of the ruler were to be respected by his subjects. To disrespect the image was to disrespect the ruler. Subjects showed honour and respect for the king by showing honour and respect for the statue.

Every human, whatever their sex, race, social standing, nationality, religion, or morality, is made in God's image. They are God's representative on earth. We are to respect, value, and honour them. If we do not show respect to another human we are actually showing a lack of respect to God, YHWH, the Creator of the universe.

Another side to the "image of God" is that, just like the statue, humans are God's representative or ambassador. Hence, we are to live in ways that honour and represent God (not ourselves) to others.

Barth, science, and theology

This tuesday I am giving a Doktorklub talk at SAIACS based on a draft of a paper "Karl Barth's Doctrine of Creation: implications for the dialogue of science and theology."
[Comments welcome].

The Doktorklub is a new forum and mode of delivery for me. I am looking forward to experiencing it. Here are the guidelines I was given:
The Doktorklub is a forum for faculty and doctoral students to listen to and then respond with questions and comments, to a paper. Usually, we prefer papers that are works in progress (not published, though hopefully heading for publication). 
Also, we prefer our presenters to read their papers rather than lecture or talk about the paper. This is to facilitate discussion. We provide the speaker about 45 minutes to read select portions of their paper, or the whole paper if there is time. There will be an additional 45 minutes by the floor to ask further questions and/or comment on the paper.
As a scientist I am used to a very different mode of delivery: a straight 45 minute powerpoint presentation summarising the work with a few minutes for discussion and questions at the end.
[Indeed here are the powerpoint slides from such a presentation of this work].
On my work blog I previously posted about this culture difference from the humanities.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The why and how of publishing in academic theology

My wife and I are currently visiting the South Asia Institute for Advanced Christian Studies (SAIACS) in Bangalore, India. Robin is teaching a module for some of the women.
Much of the time I will be working at the nearby Indian Institute for Science.
On thursday I will do a short workshop for SAIACS faculty and doctoral students on the Why and How of Publishing, focusing on academic journals.
Broadly most of the issues are similar to those for publishing in science, e.g., to get mentoring and never give up!
Here are the draft slides of my talk.

Any comments welcome.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

How to write a good essay

Here are a few of the key ingredients for an effective essay for a college/university class.
Unfortunately, many student essays miss one or more of these ingredients.
  • Have a single main point/idea/opinion. Clear state what it is. Your goal is to convince the reader that you are right; or at least, that your opinion is worth considering.
  • Provide an argument and evidence to support your main point.
  • What do scholars say about your opinion? Do they agree or disagree? Why?
  • Show that you have read widely in researching your essay, with a focus on the most influential academic authors (not bad internet sites). This should be demonstrated by quoting these authors and citing them in your bibliography.
  • Don't plagiarise. Never copy text of other authors, without referencing them. Use your own words.
  • Polish your essay. Writing is hard work. Edit. Rewrite. Spell check. Get someone else to read it and give feedback. Proofread.
For much more detailed discussions see

Writing in College from Joseph Williams and Lawrence McEnerney at the University of Chicago

10 steps to writing an essay is from Tom Johnson at the American University in Cairo.

Science and Christianity lectures II

Here are the slides for the lectures I gave in Colombo yesterday and today.

Lecture on Christian roots of modern science [slides are courtesy of Denis Alexander, Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, Cambridge].

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

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.

We also watched the excellent video Genesis and Science.

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

The law vs. legalism in Les Miserables

I found this post Les Miserables and the Law of God on the Desiring God blog particularly helpful.
Javert was not obsessed with the Law of God but rather unjust French laws.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Science and Christianity lectures

Here are the slides from the first two lectures for the course in Colombo.


Significant issues in the dialogue between science and Christianity

I have given these lectures before, but I am continually working at trying to simplify the language to make them more accessible to those with little background in science. The suggestions of my lovely wife have been a great help.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Putting scientific and philosophical questions in perspective

Why is the sky blue?
Why are the laws of physics the way they are?
Why did God make the universe this way?
Why does God allow children to suffer?

What does love have to do with physics?

This is a powerful video about a dynamic physics teacher with a handicapped son.
He puts the "why" questions in perspective?

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Covenant service in Sri Lanka

What does Christian service look like? Should it be easy or hard? Should it be fulfilling or frustrating?

Today Robin and I attended the annual Covenant Service at Kollupitiya Methodist Church in Colombo. Until today I was unfamiliar with this traditional methodist service, which was introduced by John Wesley. I particularly appreciated the following preamble to the Covenant Prayer:

All: we are yours, Lord. We reverence you. We dedicate ourselves to your service. 
Pastor: in so giving ourselves to the Lord, we affirm that we will heartily embrace what he has appointed us to do, both corporately and personally. 
Let him appoint you to your work. Christ has many services to be done; some are more easy and honorable, others more difficult and menial.
Some are suitable to our inclinations and interest; others are contrary to both
. In some we may please Christ and please ourselves, as when he requires us to feed and clothe ourselves.
Indeed, there are some spiritual duties that are more pleasing than others; as to rejoice in the Lord, to be a blessing and praising God.
These are the sweet works of a Christian. But then there are other works, wherein to please Christ is to deny ourselves.
Find what it is that Christ expects of you and then give yourselves totally to his will, without bargaining and without reservation.
All: make us what you will, Lord, and send us where we are to go. Let us be vessels of silver or gold, or vessels of wood or stone; as long as we are vessels of honor we are content.
If we are not the head, or the eye, or the ear, one of the nobler and more honorable instruments, then let us be the hands, or the feet, as one of the lowest and least esteemed of all the servants of our Lord.
Pastor: Lord, place us in your kingdom in the roles you have designed for us.
People: Lord, make all of us your servants.
Pastor: in exalted places, or humble places.
People: let us be full; let us be empty.
Pastor: let us have all things; let us have nothing.

Video of my Higgs boson talk

A few months ago I have a talk
The Higgs boson: scientific reality vs. the media hype 
for the Centre for Science, Religion, and Culture at Emmanuel College UQ.

Here is the video and the Powerpoint slides.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Exploring Science and Christianity in Sri Lanka

On monday I start teaching a one-week intensive M.Div course on Science, Christianity, and Philosophy at Lanka Bible College Centre for Graduate Studies in Colombo.

I am very happy that local experts Professor Priyan Dias and Dr. Vinoth Ramachandra are going to join me in teaching the course.

In some of the course I will be making use of material from the Test of Faith video series.

A Christian view of climate change III

Thomas Ackerman is a Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Washington.
On his website he has several articles he has written about climate change from a Christian point of view.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

John Grisham rediscovers his form

I was a great fan of John Grisham's earlier legal thrillers such as The Firm. I think The Testament was his best, particularly because of the Christian themes. However, I have been disappointed with his last few legal thrillers. They have been quite predictable and at times depressing and preachy. I have not cared at all for Grisham's foray into other genres.

But, I was delighted to read The Racketeer. It is has several quite unpredictable turns.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Is Dawkins a fundamentalist?

There is an interesting article in the Guardian Peter Higgs criticises Richard Dawkins over anti-religious 'fundamentalism'

Higgs [of Higgs boson fame] is an atheist, which he attributes to his upbringing. It is interesting that at Oxford Higgs was a Ph.D student of Charles Coulson, who I imagine would have been a great role model of a Christian intellectual.

I thank Matt Cardier for bringing the article to my attention.

Falling off the compromise cliff

This morning I read a New York Times opinion piece Liberalism's $400,00 problem. I don't think it offers much significant insight. But, what it did not say was significant, and highlights how serious the problem is. People have completely lost perspective.

The  USA [and the rest of the world] is in limbo because of a bitter ideological debate about whether someone who earns $400,000 is "rich" and should be taxed at a particular rate [35% versus 39.6%]. Or should the threshold be $250,000? or one million?

I have three concerns.

1. Tax rates for a very small percentage of the population has become a central issue. This shows how increasingly politics, particularly in the USA, is completely controlled by the rich [or the wannabe rich] and their concerns.

2. Politics is the messy "art" of government and getting things done. This requires compromise. Rigid ideology, no matter how well meaning and well thought out, can be destructive of the broader longer term interests of society.

3. Grow up! Get some perspective! Does it really matter? $250K or 400K? Just make a decision and stick to it! A mark of an immature individual [whether a teenager or an insubordinate employee] is they get fixated on small insignificant and imperfect decisions that they don't like. They want to keep revisiting the issue, debating it, and trying to overturn it. Time and energy is then wasted that could have been spent on weightier matters.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Significant insignificance

This is a nice talk with stunning visuals which captures some of the grandeur and immensity of the universe.
It amplifies the paradox: We humans are minute in length scale but immensely significant in God's eyes.