Friday, July 24, 2015

Environmental conservation and poverty alleviation are intertwined

 I found this video quite inspiring. I thank Ross van Vuuren for bringing it to my attention.

Wildlife conservation benefiting Kenya’s coastal poor from A Rocha International on Vimeo.
Low-income communities are dependent on a healthy environment for their most basic needs such as clean water, food, fuel and medicine. This video shows how families in one of the poorest communities in Kenya, who were over-exploiting their natural resources, are changing their practices and caring for their forests. Why? Because of ASSETS, an eco-bursary scheme which has enabled over 500 students to attend secondary school and involves them and their parents in environmental education. Colin Jackson, Conservation and Science Director of A Rocha Kenya, explains the origins and aims of ASSETS and its significance for some of the most wildlife-rich sites in all Africa.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

War, computers, history and hollywood

It is pretty rare that you have a Hollywood movie with a mathematician as the central character!
My son and I watched The Imitation Game. It is loosely based on the life of the mathematician Alan Turing and his involvement with cracking the German Enigma code in World War II. It is entertaining and engaging and highlights how poorly Turing was treated by the government.

Like most Hollywood movies "based on a true story" it is not historically accurate. Peter Woit is particularly critical because it has a simplistic representation of how the code was cracked. He suggests if you really want to know about Turing you should read the biography that inspired the movie. Previously, I posted about  Elizabeth: the Golden Age and its historical inaccuracies. The perspective of Cate Blanchett was:
"It's terrifying that we are growing up with this very illiterate bunch of children, who are somehow being taught that film is fact, when in fact it's invention. Hopefully though an historical film will inspire people to go and read about the history. But in the end it is a work of history and selection."

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Can one separate the sacred and the secular?

Or how does one distinguish the sacred and the secular?
How does one redeem society? Should Christians even bother?
Should Christians even make a distinction?

In the book, Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview by Albert Wolters
there are two helpful contrasting diagrams that illuminate these issues.
The versions below are taken from here.

The point here is that one should not make a sacred/secular distinction. Rather, a more helpful and appropriate category is whether things are done in harmony or conflict with good God's design, expressed in unfallen creation. The key question is then whether in a particular time, place, and context a specific thing [whether the church or sport] is being done in accord with God's good design.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Answering questions about Science and Christianity

Today I gave an informal talk about Science and Christianity with an extended question and answer session for the Stanford InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship group. Here are the slides, including many "backup" slides I did not use, but thought might be helpful for questions.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

What you say and what people hear may not be the same thing

One needs to be careful when speaking about controversial and sensitive issues, particularly in public.
Don’t assume that the hearers will receive your intended message.

Sometimes we are lazy listeners. We hear and interpret the message with respect to our own background, prejudices, and experience.
Sometimes we struggle to separate the message from the messenger.

Choose your words carefully. They sometimes mean different things to different people.
Creation, multiculturalism, evolution, liberal, fundamentalist, submission, modernism, literal, dogma…
Furthermore, I am not just talking about some narrow technical meaning, but rather positive or negative associations, depending on the audience.

Consider your social identity. It may colour whether your message can be received or considered credible.
For example, a university president has a salary of $1 million, yet tells students that due to financial pressures the university will no longer open the library on saturdays.
A white American pastor of an upper middle class congregration argues that Christians should not be concerned with poverty alleviation.

Whites making pronouncements about racism.
Men making pronouncements about sexual discrimination and harassment.
I am not saying it should not be done.
Just considerable caution, sensitivity, and realistic expectations are necessary.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

How might I move towards a Christian perspective on my academic discipline?

I am giving at talk/workshop with this title on saturday as part of the Write workshop for Christian academics, sponsored by the Centre for the Study of Science, Religion, and Society at Emmanuel College and the Simeon Network.

This will be a workshop in which participants will be encouraged to complete a questionaire to help them think about how they might work towards a Christian perspective on their own academic discipline. First, the assumptions, key concepts, dreams, successes, and failures of the discipline will be considered. Then, the issue of historical, sociological, and economic perspectives will be raised. A theological perspective might be developed using the key concepts of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation. Finally, a key question is, "How as a Christian should I practise the discipline?"

Here is the current version of the slides.

I welcome comments and suggestions.

Next week I will be giving a similar talk/workshop for the InterVarsity Graduate Christian group at Stanford.

Monday, July 6, 2015

A radical orthodox perspective on the life sciences

There is a challenging essay.
Love Your Enemies: Life Sciences in the Ecclesial-Based University by M. Therese Lysaught
Here are few extracts.
Genetics [and] .... the life sciences, ... are embedded within a context of violence. Political and military metaphors shape contemporary discourse about biomedicine and biotechnology. For many, and certainly for the media, clinical medicine through the auspices of biotechnology is engaged in a war against disease, disability, suffering, and death? Drawing on the history of the field of genetics and the Human Genome Project, as well as on the rhetoric surrounding medicine and biotechnology more generally, I will first seek to show how the current practice of the life sciences cannot help but to entangle us with war and the violence of the liberal democratic state. 
Moreover, the violence allied with science signals its underlying cause: a religious commitment to science as salvific: For Christians and institutions who are committed to nonviolence as a central component of discipleship and who locate salvation not in the hands of the scientific community but in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, these twin facets of contemporary science cannot but give pause. How then do we situate the life sciences in the ecclesially based university such that the disciplining that is part of their practice is consistent with our call to witness the Good News through lives of peaceableness? The beginning of the answer to this question lies, I will argue, in Christian attitudes toward death,...
The cartoon above is discussed at the beginning of the article. It was from a news article in Nature in 1989, featuring James Watson, then director of the Human Genome Project, wrapping himself in the American flag [where the stripes are now genetic strips], in order to persuade the US government it was in their national interest to fund the project.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Cricket, colonialism, and tax relief

My family enjoyed watching the movie Laagan; it is a feel good somewhat humorous Bollywood sports epic. It tells a fictional story of how in the late 1890s a group of Indian villagers are challenged by the local British colonialists to a game of cricket in order to decide whether they will have to pay triple or no land tax. It highlights the brutality, injustice, and greed of British colonial rule. There are also positive messages about community, caste, disability, and anger management.