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TEP-PodcastCover-1024x1024Brian Cox wants the Large Hadron Collider to show him ‘the face of the cosmos’. But if that’s what you want, there’s a much better scientific method…

Episode 9 of The Evangelist’s Podcast: Science

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A VIDEO of a science talk from last year:

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Test patternOk boys and girls, today we’re going to do science. I know, I’m very excited too. If you want to join in at home here’s what you will need:

  • One rationally comprehensible universe.

Not just any universe. You’ll need to be particular here. It must be a rationally comprehensible, rationally ordered cosmos.  Not a chaos, a cosmos, I must insist on this point.

Next, you’ll need

  • One consistent set of discoverable laws.

Some of the boys and girls will claim that you don’t need the laws yet – science will produce them for you later. But that’s just silly, isn’t it children? You might not know the laws yet but you need there to be laws. And you need to trust that they’re out there and that you have ways of approaching them.

Thirdly, you’ll need

  • At least one rational scientist.

This one ought to go without saying, but you’d be surprised how often it gets left out of the ingredients list!

And finally – this is the one you were all waiting for…

  • A scientific method by which to proceed.

Now if you’ve been following us for a while, the good news is you’ll have a scientific method left over from yesterday’s activities. If you haven’t already got a scientific method, please don’t just “borrow” one from the other children. That really isn’t fair.  You should go back to the original episodes and build it up from first principles. A scientific method is made from very expensive ingredients, and if you haven’t bought them yourself, then using someone else’s method is stealing.

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So there you have it – the four ingredients you need to do science. Now before you all complain… before you all complain – yes I know… I know that none of you can afford the ingredients.  I’m sorry about that, but that’s the way it is.  When we’re dealing with such valuable things, there’s no way around it.

All I can say to you is this: If you want to do science – and I sincerely hope that you do – you can’t take shortcuts, you must have these ingredients. If you don’t have them – and you don’t – then you’ll have to ask Mum or Dad.

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Below you can watch Richard Dawkins speaking in advance of the 2011 KJV celebrations. He makes the case for being steeped ‘to some extent’ in the King James Bible.  If we don’t know the KJV we are ‘in some small way barbarian.’  But he ends by saying:

it is important that religion should not be allowed to hijack this cultural resource.

Notch it up as another Dickie Dawkins classic.  But before we laugh and point, let’s make sure there aren’t three fingers pointing back.

You see, because he’s talking about the bible the stupidity of his position is obvious.  Of course it’s ridiculous to view the bible as first a cultural resource that religion then hijacks.  Any fool knows that the bible is originally, purposefully and most meaningfully a religious text (or if you don’t like ‘religious’, say ‘spiritual’ or ‘theological’ or even ‘Christian’).  It is evident (but not to Dawkins) that the essence of the bible is appreciated only when it’s treated according to its true theological nature.  And that to read it through atheistic lenses is the real hijacking.

But Dawkins’ inability to appreciate the bible according to its true nature is only one more example of his inability to appreciate the world according to its true nature.  The whole atheistic project follows exactly the same line.  It says that everything is most ultimately a physical, chemical, biological, historical or cultural artefact, let’s not allow ‘religion’ to hijack it.  But to pretend you are honouring the world by treating it non-theologically is just as ridiculous as pretending to honour the Word by treating it non-theologically.

The only reason we don’t see its foolishness is because we have, to some extent, bought the double-decker atheistic approach.  When it comes to the world around us we pretty much assume along with the atheists that there are brute facts that are perfectly understood in non-theological terms and that we then work with this raw data to make our theological (or atheistical) pronouncements.  And even if we do dare to wear some theological lenses to view the world, we have a slight guilty feeling that maybe we are hijacking a properly non-theological reality.

But no.  You’ve got to begin by treating the Word theologically.  And you’ve got to begin by treating the world theologically.  And it’s best you do so in that order.

It’s those who fail to see the world according to its essentially theological character who hijack it.

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Here’s my first talk from Ask Eastbourne.

I ripped off stuff from Vaughan Roberts, Lee McMunn, Mike Reeves,  CS Lewis and probably others too!

 

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Audio  Video  Text  Powerpoint

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I believe the Bible is the word of God because in it God speaks.  This is not an unfortunate circularity.  At the end of the day nothing could convince me it’s God’s word except that God speaks.  You could tell me it’s great history, it’s logically coherent and displays incredible internal consistency as a library of books over many centuries.  Great, I believe all those things.  But that doesn’t make it God’s word.  The only thing that could authenticate the Bible as God’s word is if God personally speaks through it.  And at that stage I’m essentially saying that it’s God’s word because it’s God’s word.

Or to shift that argument to christology, I believe that Jesus is the Radiance of the Father’s glory because in Him I’ve met the glorious Father.  Yet this Father is met only in the face of the Son.  In other words, I know that Jesus is Lord because I see in Him the kind of Lord that only Jesus reveals.  There is a self-authenticating majesty to Jesus such that I say, along with Lord Byron, “If God’s not like Jesus, He ought to be.”  Jesus is the kind of God that I believe in – the kind of God that Jesus uniquely reveals.  He’s IT.  And I know He’s IT because, well, look at Him!  Jesus is Lord because Jesus is Lord.

At this point you’ll note how inter-related these two circularities are.  And also the integral role of the Spirit in both.  He brings us God’s written word with divine authority, illuminating Christ so that, in Him, we might see and know the Father.

Now “circular arguments” get a bad name.  For one thing it sounds like buying into them will trap you.  Actually, if you find yourself in the right Circle, you’ll finally be free.  The Circle of Father, Son and Spirit doesn’t limit you.  No these ultimate realities (because they really are ultimate) enable you to move out into the world all the wiser for knowing their Lordship.  With the Spirit-breathed word, and the Lens of the Father’s Son… then you can really get somewhere.  From this knowledge you’ll find all sorts of other things illuminated by God’s Light.

But still, people will cry foul.  “You can’t reason in a circle” people will say.  But hang on, we all employ circular reasoning whenever we make claims about ultimate reality.  Didn’t your mum ever justify her pronouncements with “Because I’m the mummy”?

It’s inevitable that your ultimate ground of authentication must authenticate itself, or it isn’t ultimate.

Now this plays out in all sorts of areas.  But think, for instance, of the naturalist assumption that the “natural” realm is best placed to judge any hypothetical “further realm”.  If a “further realm” exists, they say, it must play by the rules of naturalism.  This, of course, radically limits the kinds of realms the naturalist would be willing to admit and means that the gods they consider can only be superbeings within the world.

Now the naturalist cannot establish such a priority via naturalism.  It is, by definition, beyond the ability of the natural sciences to pronounce on the existence of realms beyond their scope.  Yet naturalists assume that the “natural” realm is all there is, was, or ever shall be.

Naturalism, they say, is the best explanation of ultimate reality because other explanations fail naturalistic tests.  Or, to put it most simply, naturalism is true (or our best bet) because naturalism says so.

Now let’s be clear – belief in naturalism is not a groundless leap of faith.  It’s a faith commitment that springs from compelling evidence (true faith always does).  The evidence is this: trusting our own powers of perception and reasoning has produced great success in the natural sciences.  I.e. it works, it explains things, when we move out into the world on its basis things make sense.

But,

1) The Christian does not deny the explanatory power of the naturalistic sciences.  The Christian believes that such sciences have sprung from a broader Christian world-view and rejoice in the fruits of the gospel here.  Christians simply deny that such knowledge is the only or surest knowledge.

In fact,

2) The Christian sees that naturalism is horrifically reductionistic and harmful when seeking to be applied beyond the natural sciences.  As the old saying goes, If all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  To treat human personhood and relationships, ethics and aesthetics, to say nothing of a relationship with God, as a mere interplay of matter and energy is to misunderstand these things greatly.  The explanatory power breaks down here in a catastrophic way.  And yet, these things – love, forgiveness, beauty, goodness etc – are the most precious realities in human existence.

In the discussion between Richard Dawkins and Rowan Williams the other day, Dawkins said he “believed” we would find naturalistic explanations for consciousness – explanations which we do not now possess.  That is a consistent faith position within his world-view.  Naturalism has produced the goods in many spheres of enquiry – he trusts that consciousness will be one more success story for the natural sciences.

Yet all the while an explanation for personal reality presents itself to Dawkins.  One which does not rule out science but underpins it.  And one which accounts for the priority of the personal which is the most blindingly obvious reality which we encounter moment by moment. Nothing else accounts for it like this accounts for it…

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.   (John 1:1-4)

I honestly don’t know why Dawkins – or anyone – can’t see it.  How can there be darkness when the Light of Christ is so dazzlingly obvious?  But then I would say that.  I’m in the grip of the ultimate Circularity!

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Brian Cox – dream-boat physicist, not craggy-faced actor – recently said this:

 Our civilization was built on the foundations of reason and rational thinking embodied in the scientific method, and our future depends on the widespread acceptance of science as THE ONLY WAY WE HAVE to meet many, if not all, of the great challenges we face. (here)

Well now.  Them there’s fighting words.  Therefore, I thought it was time to repost this from two years ago (see how cutting edge CTT is?  Discussing Cox two years ago!)

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Just watched this documentary on the Large Hadron Collider: “The Big Bang Machine.” (BBC4) presented by Brian Cox.

Here’s an extract from around 4:20 – 7:20.

Physics is stuck and the only thing left to do is recreate the universe as it was a fraction of a second after the big bang.  That’s what the LHC is designed to do.  To smash bits of matter together at energies  never before achieved so that we can stare at the face of creation…

So here’s the aim – to stare at the face of creation.

And this is the means – to smash particles together.

Notice the disjunct between the stated aim and the means!   Cox excites us about the scientific quest promising us a ‘face’ to creation.  Of course “face” says communicative, conscious.  It says personality.  It’s no wonder that Cox wants to reach for this kind of language because at bottom it’s personal reality that we long to see.  But all Cox can give us is particles.  This is the trouble.

What do you say of a person who promises you a face but gives you only particles?

What do you say of an enterprise that can describe a face only in terms of its sub-atomic particles?

He continues…

…Every civilization has its own creation story.  The ancient Chinese, indian mystics and Christian theologians all place a divine creator at the heart of their creation stories.  Science too has an elaborate story that describes the universe’s genesis.  It tells us how the fundamental constituents of the cosmos took on their form.  The difference with this story is that we can test it.  We can find out if its true by tearing matter apart and looking at the pieces.  All you need is a machine powerful enough to restage the first moments after creation…

This was the sentence that made me sit up and take notice: “Every civilization has its own creation story.”  And Cox puts ‘science’ in there among Indian mystics and Christian theologians.  Ok good.  We’re all telling stories about the world around us – scientists included.  But what does Cox say is the difference with science?  Answer: “we can test it.”  Hmm.  How will science be tested?  Tearing apart matter and looking at the pieces.

Well now that’s a very sensible test if you think that matter is what explains everything.  If you have a story about the world that says everything came about via material means then test matter.  Yes indeed that’s testable.  But it’s not the only thing that’s testable.  What if your story about the world says ‘Everything came about via the Word who was with God in the beginning and then became flesh and dwelt among us.’  Is that testable?  You betcha!  Every bit as much as the ‘science’ story.  It’s just that you test this story in ways appropriate to its nature.

All science works by testing its object of study in accordance with its nature.  You don’t do astronomy with a microscope – your means of testing is adapted to the thing tested.  So if you think it’s all about matter, you study matter.  But if you think it’s all about the Word then you study the Word.  Theology in this sense is completely scientific.  It is taking its Object of enquiry completely seriously and pursuing thorough investigation according the nature of the Word – ie it is listening obediently to Him.  That’s good science.  And it’s our only hope of actually seeing the Face that explains our world.  Particles won’t get you to the Person – but the Person can help you explain particles…

Cox continues…

In the beginning there was nothing. No space, no time just endless nothing.  Then 13.7 billion years ago from nothing came everything.  The universe exploded into existence.  From that fireball of energy emerged the simplest building blocks of matter.  Finding experimental evidence of these fundamental entities has become the holy grail of physics.

Notice first that this creation story is just as miraculous as any other.  “From nothing came everything”.  No explanations are given.  None ever could be.  This is the astonishing miracle at the heart of our modern creation story.  It is not the case that only primitive ‘religion’ believes in miracles.  The ‘science’ creation story is equally miraculous.

And again do you how science proceeds?  It proceeds like theology.  The scientific worldview says there must have been simple building blocks of matter that existed after the big bang.  Of course we’ve never observed these.  Nonetheless the worldview tells us they must have existed.  Therefore science seeks after evidence of what it believes to be true even without the evidence.  It has faith (an assurance of things hoped for (Heb 11:1f)) and from this faith it seeks understanding.  That is the scientific pursuit and it is no more or less a faith-based enterprise than theology.  And that’s no bad thing, it’s just the way things are.  It would just be nice if scientists came clean about it!

The point is this – don’t let anyone tell you science is about matter not miracles or fact and not faith.  The truth is we all have our creation stories.

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“A universe with a god would look very different to a universe without one.” Richard Dawkins.

It’s one of the wisest things Dawkins has ever said. Believers and unbelievers alike should take heed.

Let’s tease out some implications of it.

1) Dawkins clearly has a doctrine of “god” in mind as he makes the statement.  The flying spaghetti monster wouldn’t affect the kind of universe we inhabit.  But Thor might.  Allah in a different way.  And the triune God, different again.  Therefore it’s not a straight binary choice.

2)  I would look different depending on the existence of God or not.  Dawkins seems to imagine two states (a theistic and an atheistic universe) as alternatives lying before him.  And who is the great unmoved mover in this scenario?  Who is the neutral observer, the one enthroned above all worlds?  The scientist!  But no, Dawkins’ thought experiment – if it takes the word “God” with any seriousness – is one in which everything must be re-imagined.  If I am a creature, made by the Father’s Word, intended for life in communion with God, then everything changes for me.

3) I would look differently depending on the existence of God or not.  If I was a creature of the Word, and if the world  is a creature of the same Word, I would look through the lens of His Word.  I would see all things in relationship to Christ the Creator.  That would simply be good science if the Christian God existed.

But here’s something strange…

4) Dawkins ridicules Christian scientists who do actually deliver a different vision of the universe to his own.  Yet how could they do otherwise, if “a universe with a god will look very different”?

Which only makes me think…

5) Dawkins has not entered into his own thought-experiment for even a minute.  Has he really considered the revolution involved in actually reconceiving Self and World and God according to the Christian vision?  Of course not.  To do so would mean repenting of his position as all-seeing Arbiter.  Or in other words:

“Unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  (Matthew 18:3)

 

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Outer Spirits

Pagan superstitions are always threatening to crowd in.  Either Christ reigns or malign spirits will.

It was the gospel that supplanted pagan superstition in Europe.  Through the spread of Christ’s word freedom was offered from a bondage to enslaving beliefs.  The world was awash with gods, demigods, and other spiritual forces.  Fatalism ruled and the best you could hope for was some kind of propitiation of these spiritual slave-masters.

But as the gospel comes into this context, people are confronted with a good Lord who has shown Himself to be utterly for us.  He has provided the propitiation.  He has ransomed us from the devil’s power.  And He has brought us to the Most High God who reigns over (not within) this world with Fatherly power.

It was the gospel that enabled the West to be secular.  The gospel drove out the spirits from this world and freed a people to become more prosperous than any who have lived before.  It freed us to love the world and explore it.  To experience some of that dominion which the Bible speaks of.

Yet, having rejected this gospel, the gods are flooding back in.  The new priests are telling new myths, but these ones are like the pagan ones: bleak and bloody and utterly tragic.  Impersonal, immoral and fatalistic to the bitter end.

Of course we scoff at superstitions regarding earth.  We feel as though science has dispelled the mysteries of this planet.  Yet our latent paganism shows itself in our views of outer space.   Go onto Youtube and search for any of the hundreds of videos offering a journey through the universe.  Here’s one, almost at random:

Notice the soundtrack.  All the soundtracks are virtually identical:  blasts of slow, austere, rhythm-less synth-brass.  If you subtract the synthesizers it’s precisely the kind of music that, in bygone days, made lowly subjects bow in fear to their king.  But our new masters are the giants and supergiants.  And this video literally does command us to bow to our lords.

It is a naked power-play.  The heavenly bodies are presented purely in terms of their strength, blinding brilliance and sheer immensity.  And as we listen to the music, how are we meant to feel about these monstrous powers?  Small, insignificant, uneasy, fearful.  They are the impersonal, uncaring forces and many of them are malign (black holes for instance).  Ultimately, so the story goes, the powerful will win the day.  Our fate is to be swallowed up by the strong and, in the meantime, all we can do is cower in their presence.  The best we can hope for is to get on in our own corner of the universe with our insignificant little lives and await the inevitable.

It’s the old paganism, this time with CGI.

In the Bible, “the morning stars sing together and the sons of God shout for joy” (Job 38:7).  When the LORD asks us to consider the heavens He doesn’t play Mahler’s 5th.  It’s more like the Hallelujah Chorus.  Joyous, personal, harmonious, rapturous.

Or consider how David viewed the sun: “Like a Bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a Champion rejoicing to run his course.” (Psalm 19:5)  The sun speaks of the Light of the world who makes the journey from east (God’s absence) to west (God’s presence).  And He does so not as a display of His own power, but as our rejoicing Champion and our loving Bridegroom.  His power is for us.  You see, when David looked up He saw love.  He saw a Bridegroom who runs the race as our Champion, and joyfully so.  What soundtrack is appropriate for that?  Jean-Michel Jarre on morphine?  I think not.

But I wonder how much this latent paganism affects Christians.  I wonder whether documentaries like the one above shape our reading of Psalm 19 and not the other way around.  In fact on Youtube I’ve found Christian videos of Psalm 19 that use the same barren soundtracks.  It’s as though we think the “glory of God” is like the old pagan deities but with the trumpets turned up to eleven.

Surely not.

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So Kurt Wise has said (and Dawkins quotes it in the God Delusion also)

“if all the evidence in the universe turns against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate.”

Well obviously!  If that is “what the Word of God seems to indicate” and the Word of God is, well, the Word of God, what other position could Wise take?

Dawkins would love it if the debate were about differing interpretations of the same agreed sources of evidence.  But that would be a debate that assumed the very issues at stake!  If Dawkins wants to debate people who agree that the scientific method is Lord, let him do so.  But that would be an in-house debate within the scientific community and it wouldn’t make him anywhere near as much money.

The real debate does not concern differing interpretations of the same data.  It’s about what counts as evidence, who says and how can it be verified.

Wise says Jesus is Lord and science is great.  And if there’s ever a conflict, Jesus wins.  Well naturally!  If he didn’t say that he wouldn’t be a Christian.  And if Dawkins can’t grasp that, he hasn’t understood his opponent, nor the nature of the debate in which he’s engaged.

For Dawkins, Science is Lord, end of story.  And in the God Delusion he seeks to prove how very broad minded he is (as opposed to Wise – that disgrace to the human race).  He says that if “all the evidence in the universe” points towards creationism he’d switch sides.

But of course that would be no switch at all.  Even if he believed in six hour creation, it’s the basis on which he formed such beliefs that is decisive.  Dawkins might come to believe in a 6000 year old universe and not have budged an inch on the issue that really matters.  Is Jesus Lord or is the scientific method Lord?

The debate is not a simple weighing of already-agreed evidence.  And if Dawkins can’t understand that he only proves that he’s unqualified to discuss the matter.

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Here Richard Dawkins makes the case for being steeped ‘to some extent’ in the King James Bible.  If we don’t know the KJV we are ‘in some small way barbarian.’  But he ends by saying:

it is important that religion should not be allowed to hijack this cultural resource.

Notch it up as another Dickie Dawkins classic.  But before we laugh and point, let’s make sure there aren’t three fingers pointing back.

You see, because he’s talking about the bible the stupidity of his position is obvious.  Of course it’s ridiculous to view the bible as first a cultural resource that religion then hijacks.  Any fool knows that the bible is originally, purposefully and most meaningfully a religious text (or if you don’t like ‘religious’, say ‘spiritual’ or ‘theological’ or even ‘Christian’).  It is evident (but not to Dawkins) that the essence of the bible is appreciated only when it’s treated according to its true theological nature.  And that to read it through atheistic lenses is the real hijacking.

But Dawkins’ inability to appreciate the bible according to its true nature is only one more example of his inability to appreciate the world according to its true nature.  The whole atheistic project follows exactly the same line.  It says that everything is most ultimately a physical, chemical, biological, historical or cultural artefact, let’s not allow ‘religion’ to hijack it.  But to pretend you are honouring the world by treating it non-theologically is just as ridiculous as pretending to honour the Word by treating it non-theologically.

The only reason we don’t see its foolishness is because we have, to some extent, bought the double-decker atheistic approach.  When it comes to the world around us we pretty much assume along with the atheists that there are brute facts that are perfectly understood in non-theological terms and that we then work with this raw data to make our theological (or atheistical) pronouncements.  And even if we do dare to wear some theological lenses to view the world, we have a slight guilty feeling that maybe we are hijacking a properly non-theological reality.

But no.  You’ve got to begin by treating the Word theologically.  And you’ve got to begin by treating the world theologically.  And it’s best you do so in that order.

It’s those who fail to see the world according to its essentially theological character who hijack it.

 

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John Richardson alerts us to this this article on mathematics:

[…] For more than 100 years, mathematicians have known that there are different kinds, and sizes, of infinity. This was first shown by the 19th-century genius Georg Cantor. Cantor’s discovery was that it makes sense to say that one infinite collection can be bigger than another. Infinity resembles a ladder, with the lowest rung corresponding to the most familiar level of infinity, that of the ordinary whole numbers: 1,2,3… On the next rung lives the collection of all possible infinite decimal strings, a larger uncountably infinite collection, and so on, forever.

This astonishing breakthrough raised new questions. For instance, are there even higher levels which can never be reached this way? Such enigmatic entities are known as “large cardinals”. The trouble is that whether or not they exist is a question beyond the principles of mathematics. It is equally consistent that large cardinals exist and that they do not.

At least, so we thought. But, like gods descending to earth to walk among mortals, we now realise their effect can be felt among the ordinary finite numbers. In particular, the existence of large cardinals is the condition needed to tame Friedman’s unprovable theorems. If their existence is assumed as an additional axiom, then it can indeed be proven that his numerical patterns must always appear when they should. But without large cardinals, no such proof is possible. Mathematicians of earlier eras would have been amazed by this invasion of arithmetic by infinite giants. Read more

And Paul Blackham in recent comments, speaks of the mode of enquiry that drove Galileo and Francis Bacon:

Galileo’s notebooks… are not full of the rigorous, hard-nosed observational data that the mythology depicts. In fact, he can’t see the things that he is convinced he could see if he had better telescopes. Some of the drawings of what he sees through his telescope do not support his arguments. He marvels that Copernicus persisted with his argument even when his observations were so inaccurate. When we compare Galileo’s drawings of the moon with photographs of the moon, it is hard to find similar features. The point is that Galileo was FIRST convinced of the heliocentric view and then began to develop telescopes that would enable him to observe what he was convinced was there. Kepler who wanted one of these new telescopes was disappointed by the results. He found them to be accurate for earthly observations but misleading for heavenly. Yet, the quality of the observations was not the critical factor here. It was the development of a new paradigm for viewing the cosmos, one whose benefits were only unfolded as time went on.

In Galileo’s letter to Leopold of Toscana of 1640, he specifically says “I am unwilling to compress philosophical doctrines into the most narrow kind of space and to adopt that stiff, concise and graceless manner, that manner bare of any adornment which pure geometricians call their own, not uttering a single word that has not been given to them by strict necessity…”.

In other words, Galileo knows full well that his argument is not a matter of pure observation [whatever that may mean] but a philosophical perspective first. Francis Bacon, whose scientific arguments were so vital to the foundation of the entire tradition, argues that we need to view the world with “unbiased senses” – by which he means that our senses need to be rebuilt with a new way of perceiving that mirrors the world rather than ourselves – “For man’s sense is falsely asserted to be the standard of things; on the contrary, all the perceptions, both of the senses and of the mind bear reference to man and not to the universe, and the human mind resembles those uneven mirrors which impart their own properties to different objects from which rays are emitted and distort and disfigure them.” [Novum Organum, Aphorism 41]. He speaks of a need to demolish the way we think and perceive so that a new way of seeing/thinking can be built. In the preface to the Novum he says “Our only hope of salvation is to begin the whole labour of the mind again… after having cleansed, polished and levelled its surface.” Preconceived notions, opinions and even common words all need to be “renounced with firm resolution… so that access to the kingdom of man, which is founded on the sciences, may resemble that to the kingdom of heaven, where no admission is conceded except to children.”

Copernicus wrote in the preface to ‘De Revolutionibus’ that the astronomical tradition of Aristotle could only solve the classic problems with great complexity and that a new paradigm was needed.

The point of all this is to simply note that our philosophical/theological convictions do not only shape and colour our observations, but they also determine what and how we observe. There is no escape into geometry or any other simple observation/calculation that is free from the theological and philosophical arguments.

 

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Gav once asked me what I thought about a 13.7 billion year old universe.  I gave him an answer which lasted almost as long.  Came across it in comments recently and thought I’d repost it…

The 13.7 billion year old story is told with some very important background assumptions. These assumptions are that all reality has come about through chance and time. (Even if a scientist believes that there is more to the universe, as scientists they operate as though this were the case). But those are the only two ingredients – time and chance.

Now given the astronomically small odds of such an astronomically complex cosmos arising by chance then you’re going to have to have astronomically long periods of time to give rise to it. This is the only real option when time and chance are the only two factors. Small chance must mean big time. The smaller the chance, the bigger the time.

And, to be honest, the story still has immense problems. For one thing, you can give nothing as much time as you like – ‘nothing will come of nothing’ as King Lear once said. And you might also want to ask in a universe characterized by entropy and the overwhelmingly *negative* effects of genetic mutations, whether ‘time’ is really on our side?? But perhaps all those other problems are for another time.

My main point is to say that the ‘time and chance’ story could never be anything other than cosmically long-winded! If time and chance is all there is then the story *must* posit inconceivably long periods of time – there is no alternative.

The Christian story looks very different. This is because time and chance are not the main players in this story. The Christian story begins with a purposeful Creator Father who makes all things in and through and for His Son, Jesus, in the power of His eternal Spirit. Already you can see that the Christian’s story of the world will be very different. You simply don’t need to invoke ‘time’ as the explanation for the world’s complexity. The universe is as weird and wonderful as it is because it’s the love gift of the Father for His Son. It’s as broken and vandalised as it is because of our rebellion against Christ – the Logic of the universe. Time’s just not a big player in this story.

Many Christians (myself included) say the earth is 6000 years old (many others say 10 000. Many also go with the billions of years story as well as the Christian story, though I think there are problems with this). But this comparatively ‘young’ earth position is the result of doing good science.  Not, first of all, the empirical observation kind (though that may well come in later.)  First the Christian will be a good scientist of the word.

All science operates according to methods that are appropriate to the object of study. If you think the speaking God made the world then listening to His word seems an extremely fruitful line of enquiry. So good science will mean good bible study.

The bible itself gives us genealogies from Adam all the way through to the time of Christ’s incarnation – the first Christmas. The bible is extremely keen to trace this through for us (I’ll say why in a second). But what it means is that the evidence is there for all to see. Good science means taking the evidence seriously and on its own terms. Doing so yields an age of 6000 years (or 10 000 if you think some of the genealogies leap-frog generations, which is possible).

Now why is this important?

The bible tells the story of the universe as the story of two men. Adam and Christ. In Adam the creation fell into frustration and death. In Christ, the One who made the world – the eternal Logos (the Logic, the Word) – He enters His world, takes it to Himself and redeems it, bringing glory and immortality. And just as Adam was a real man who really rebelled and really took creation with Him – so Christ is a real man who really obeyed God and really redeemed us. Ever since Adam rebelled the promise of Christ coming to save echoed on down through the Old Testament. The genealogies are carefully recorded to cultivate hope and to show the path from death (in Adam) to life (in Christ). Unsurprisingly, as soon as Jesus is born the bible doesn’t bother with genealogies ever again. But whereever there are genealogies they are emphasizing for us the concreteness of the bible’s story. This isn’t a mythic tale about some heavenly bust-up. In the real world the real man Adam really rebelled.   And in the real world, the real man Christ really redeemed.

The Reason for everything is not hidden in dark matter or found in a ‘God particle’. And neither is He unattainably beyond our world. He has entered in to be known – really entered as a real man. You really can know the heart of the universe – and it’s not a sub-atomic particle. The real explanation for reality is not an equation or an explosion, it’s a Person. And because He’s a Person, He can be known. And His story is a story you can enter.

In a sense you can enter it by being a good scientist. Not running off to the Large Hadron Collider (although I’m sure it’d be great fun to go!). But the science I’m talking about is picking up the bible and asking God to show you His Face who is Jesus Christ. When you see Him walking around planet earth like He owns the place you know you’ve come to the real heart of the matter. To understand and know Him is to have your finger on the pulse of reality.

It might mean leaving behind the old stories – but Jesus gives us a better world to inhabit.

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A real mish-mash of thoughts…

Everyone – theologians, scientists, historians, philosophers, etc – we all follow a method of enquiry summed up by Anselm’s motto faith seeking understanding. This is not simply how Christians do theology, science, history and philosophy, it’s how all creatures must proceed.  We believe certain axiomatic truths, we have heart commitments to certain ways of viewing reality, and we move out into the world on these bases, finding confirmation as we go.

Here’s an older post on how the Large Hadron Collider is a great example of this.

Here’s another post arguing that all scientists are believers.

And below is a sketch of some things a Christian can positively say about cosmology.

I’ll just jot down three thoughts on the multiverse, two quotes from Barth and then a suggestion about how to proceed with Christ at the centre of our thinking.

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The multiverse

1) The Bible teaches a division of creation into invisible and visible – the heaven and the earth.  There is a non-observable realm – and it’s vitally important and related to the seen realm.  But this is not the same as the observable universe versus the non-observable multiverse.  For the bible, the heavenlies are a counterpart to earth in a way analagous to the unseen Father’s correspondence to His visible Image, Jesus.

2) The seen and unseen realms are reconciled to one another in the decisive, once-for-all event of the crucifixion.  (Col 1:20)

3) There simply is no room in a Christian cosmology for multiple incarnations or multiple atonements.  And this is really the downfall of the multiverse – its relation to Christ.  Christ does not bridge multiple universes in multiple incarnation, He bridges heaven and earth in His singular incarnation.

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Two Barth Quotes from Dogmatics in Outline

“‘Heaven and earth’ describe an arena prepared for a quite definite event, in the centre of which, from our standpoint of course, stands man.” (p60)

“…heaven and earth are related like God and man in the covenant, so that even the existence of creation is a single, mighty signum, a sign of the will of God. The meeting and togetherness of above and below, of the conceivable and the inconceivable, of the infinite and the limited – we are speaking of creation. All that is the world. But since within this world there really exist an above and a below confronting one another, since in every breath we take, in every one of our thoughts, in every great and petty experience of our human lives heaven and earth are side by side, greeting each other, attracting and repelling each other and yet belonging to one another, we are, in our existence, of which God is the Creator, a sign and indication, a promise of what ought to happen in creation and to creation – the meeting, the togetherness, the fellowship and, in Jesus Christ, the oneness of Creator and creature.” (p64)

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How to proceed in Christian cosmology

Beginning from ‘the Cosmic Fine-Tuner’ would be like beginning with heaven alone.  Beginning from the standpoint of the anthropic principle would be like beginning with earth alone.  The Christian can refuse both options.  We begin with the heavens and the earth – the theatre of God’s Glory.  Of course God’s Glory is His Son, dying to save.  The cross is the crux of creation (Col 1:20).  When we begin with this in mind we are able to relate the unseen and seen coherently.

The Christian knows that not only is there a Word (Logos) to make sense of the world – not only an explanation beyond.  That Word became flesh, taking our world to Himself.  Therefore the Word from beyond has become a Word in our midst.  The Christian can simultaneously be in touch with this world and with its Explanation – they are one in Christ.

While we ought not to approach Christ ‘according to the flesh’ (2 Cor 5:16), still according to the Spirit there is a way of examining this earthed Logos.  Now ‘according to the Spirit’ means ‘according to the Scriptures’ and therefore this will be a thoroughly theological enquiry.  And yet it will not for that reason be a groundless, ethereal investigation.  This world in its this-world-ness has been taken up into the life of God and proven to be, beyond any question, a realm fit for God (Col 2:9).

Now that we have seen the creative Word in the world and now that we have seen Him – the visible Image – reconcile the world to the invisible Father in the creative Spirit, we have seen a triune dynamic that is inherent to all creation.  Interpenetration of spirit and flesh, then and now, unseen and seen is at the heart of reality.  This will lead us to expect similar perichoretic dynamics in the created order.  As we move on from what the bible strictly says about creation, we will wear these bible-glasses to investigate creation.  This conceptual framework will help us to understand the inter-related-ness of space and time, of waves and particles etc etc.

Just some sketches of thoughts…

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On this recent Australian panel show Richard Dawkins was served up a number of Christian politicians on a plate.  And he quite rightly ate them for breakfast.  Of course, given their distinct lack of back-bone, they wouldn’t have been hard to chew.  But you do have to wonder why the key match-ups weren’t scientist versus scientist, or atheist versus Christian – but atheist scientist versus… MP.  Huh?

Anyway both Pete and I found this particular quotation from Dawkins interesting.

I think that the existence of a supreme being – a supernatural supreme being – is a scientific issue. Either there is a God or there isn’t. Either there are gods or there are no gods. That is a… supremely important scientific question. If the universe was created by an intelligence, then we are looking at an entirely different kind of scientific theory from if the universe came into existence by natural means. If God or gods had something to do with the creation of life, then we’re looking at a totally different kind of biology…

So I think you can’t just say religion and science have nothing to do with each other. Science can get on and you let people have their own religious – of course you let people believe whatever they like. But you cannot say that science and religion are completely separate because religion makes scientific claims. It certainly makes scientific claims about miracles, as I mentioned before, and you cannot reconcile an authentic approach to science with a belief in miracles or, I suspect, with a belief in supernatural creation. At least the very least you should say is that this is a scientific question.

Here was an oasis of clarity in a desert of dualism.  While other panelists were falling over themselves trying to affirm both evolution and “the one who provided the amino acids in the first place”, Richard refused to compartmentalise either religion or science.  Good.

But if Dawkins is right here – and I think he is – then there are two major mistakes you must avoid.

1) You must avoid tacking on some kind of super-intending god to the science of naturalism. Whatever god of the gaps is left by a scientific method designed to exclude the supernatural is not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Christian assumptions mean a very different way of doing science .  There may be great overlap at points but the foundations are very different.  Don’t pretend that Christian assumptions matter in the theology class but not the science class.  They matter as profoundly in theology as they do in science (and everything else!).

2) You must avoid judging creationists by the very same scientific method used for naturalistic enquiry.  If indeed science ‘with God’ would be conducted differently than science on atheistic assumptions then to test the effectiveness of YEC science you’d want to avoid just assuming they were wrong, wouldn’t you?  I mean that wouldn’t be very fair – not very scientific.  Well then, you’re going to have to walk a mile in their shoes rather than simply test them by a scientific method that excludes divine words from the outset.  Instead, if you want to do science ‘with God’ – you’d better allow Him to BE God. ie You’d better allow Him to speak, for that to be your authority and then to move out into the world on the basis of His word. That would be good science wouldn’t it?  If God is God – that would be the only kind of science you could do.

So I think Dawkin’s words need to be heeded here – first by Christians who want to conduct and affirm science on common foundations to naturalists.  But second by Dawkins himself.  If he really believed that science ‘with God’ was entirely different then he wouldn’t be judging YEC science by naturalistic science. But he does this all the time!

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I lost some of the best years of my life last month to an atheist blog.

With that in mind, I was amused at the recent furore over comment moderation at richarddawkins.net.  People are surprised at the vitriol spewed forth under pseudonymous cover in the under-belly of RichardDawkins.net?  A forum devoted to one of the most vituperative fundamentalisms going?  Does this shock anyone?

A couple of weeks ago I commented on a well respected and well-read atheist blog and was sworn at and wished dead in the most imaginatively vicious ways.  Compared to the abuses I and other Christians suffered there, the “rat’s rectum” comparisons that flew between fellow-atheists at Dawkins’ site sound like Pollyanna.

Anyway, I thought I’d try to redeem my experience by reflecting on some things I learnt, and some things I should have:

One reflection on my experience was written during the interchanges: Evangelists and Apologists Note: The six things that have already happened.

Here are some other reflections:

  1. Reason flows from the heart.  These guys raised a banner loud and proud for reason, logic, the scientific method, etc,.   But there was nothing particularly reasoned or scientific about their manner of argument.  They were well read intelligent people (PhD students etc) but much of their commenting consisted in caps locked swear words.  “Logic” was their slogan not their method.
  2. They constantly appealed to a logical high-ground without any thought as to whether they were allowed one – being materialists and all!
  3. Pointing out this inconsistency didn’t seem to get me anywhere (though you never know how non-commenting readers are responding).
  4. Everyone deals in circularities:
    1. I believe the bible is the word of God because in it God speaks
    2. You believe the scientific method is the arbiter of what’s true because it’s proved itself effective when judged by science.
  5. Everyone has ultimate authorities which, by the nature of the case, cannot be authenticated by outside sources – ie the scientific method cannot be tested by the scientific method.  One guy admitted that this self-validation hasn’t happened yet but that one day science would definitely be able to prove the scientific method by the scientific method.  There’s faith for you.  Which leads to…
  6. Everyone is faith based.  We all proceed from assumptions which we take to be true and then move forwards on the basis of them.
  7. I kept getting asked for ‘evidence’.  My responses were in three broad categories, first I’d point to Christ risen from the dead, second I’d simply quote Scriptures.  But probably the most effective thing was to say “everything!  Everything reveals the LORD Jesus to you.”
  8. Therefore evangelism is the invitation to the unbeliever to step inside the world in which Jesus is LORD and look again.  Basically it’s saying: “Let me tell you a story about a triune God, the world He made and the Son who redeems it.  Now look again at the world through the Lens of Jesus.  Now do you see why self-giving love is the greatest thing?  Now do you see why trust and beauty, evil and forgiveness, truth and goodness are real beyond any scientific analysis?  In other words, now you can take seriously the most basic aspects of your human existence and not run against the grain of reality all the time.”
  9. In this sense theology is a science.  It begins with self-authenticating premises and moves out in faith to investigate .  This investigation is shaped by the Object of knowedge.  Since the Object of knowledge is the Speaking God, the method is to hear His Word.  The premises of our enquiry after knowledge (e.g. Jesus is LORD, the bible is true etc) are not falsifiable in the way the materialists demand they be.  But then the scientific premises (e.g. that true knowledge is verified by the scientific method etc) aren’t falsifiable either.  Premises are the light by which we see.  It’s their success in seeing that recommends them.
  10. The failure of “science alone” to see the world was very evident to me.  It didn’t seem particularly evident to them.  That Beethoven’s 9th was a series of compression waves was certain for them.  That it was “beautiful” was a verdict they couldn’t make with anything like the same certainty.
  11. The atheists who commented were very clearly captured by the vision of “the onward march of science”, demolishing ignorance and dispelling superstition.  There was clearly a love for scientific progress that had won their hearts.  Nothing less than a greater love could ever displace this.  All their calls for “evidence, evidence” were simply calls for reality to fit into their paradigm – to serve their greatest love.  They need a new paradigm, or better – a new love.
  12. The call for “evidence, evidence” in the sense that they mean is a desire to be confirmed in their self-imposed naturalistic prison.  What counts as ‘evidence’ for them is only that which can be assessed according to their naturalistic paradigm.  This is simply a refusal from the outset to hear a Voice from above.  Again it is a matter of hard-heartedness, however seriously they wish to be taken intellectually.
  13. My lowest point came in the heat of battle when I fired off a comment justifying my intellectual credibility.  I’m ashamed of what I took pride in at that moment.  I should have borne shame and taken pride in the foolishness of the gospel, allowing Christ to vindicate me.  The cause of the gospel was hindered rather than helped by the assertion of my academic credentials (which weren’t that great anyway!).  This is especially so given what I’ve been arguing above.
  14. Having said all this, I think it was a worth-while exercise.  Many of the commenters were American ‘de-converted’ evangelicals and knew a lot of bible.  The hurt from previous scars was palpable and I hope that a charitable Christian voice might at least temper some of the “all Christians are bigots” tirades that otherwise spiral on in these forums.
  15. On the other hand, some of the commenters were angry Brits and others who seemed to know very little of Christian things.  All they’ve heard has been from other atheists.
  16. And of course there were many more who I’m sure just ‘listened’.  My time at Speaker’s Corner taught me that even as you engage the Muslim apologist in front of you, you’re aiming at the wide-eyed apprentices hanging off his coat-tails.  Who knows how the Lord will use these words?
  17. Turning the other cheek hurts but it’s powerful.  I trust that (#13 and other lapses notwithstanding) perhaps the most useful aspect of the interchange was the attempt to model Christ in the way I commented.
  18. The absolute hatred for Christians is frighteningly palpable.  The hatred that’s there in the comments sections will rise more and more into the public realm, that seems pretty certain to me.  But if we’re surprised and outraged let’s get a grip – no soldier should act all offended and hurt when the enemy actually shoots bullets at them!
  19. Just as Stephen Fry speaks of descending into the “stinking, sliding, scuttling” floor of the internet, engaging in this kind of way can be the faintest taste of what the LORD Jesus did in descending to a world that hates Him.  (It can be a total waste of time too, but I think there is a time and a place for it).  I spent a few hours in an internet forum.  His whole life He lived and loved and spoke and served among a hatred that literally tore Him apart.  He’s the One we proclaim.  His attitude is the attitude we take.  And as we join Him (in big ways and small) in cross-bearing love, we get to know His enduring grace that much more.
  20. There is a time for shaking dust off your feet.  Some need to spend a little longer in the battle.  But probably people like me (who have to be right!) should quit sooner.  :)

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What do you see when you look up?

This?

or this:

ht Mark Meynell

A theological revolution occured early last century when Karl Barth turned from his liberal protestant heritage to jump with both feet into “the strange new world of the bible” (the title of an early book of his).

Have you jumped in, or only dipped your toe?  It’s a very hard thing to do.

It’s so hard, you might just need Mike Reeves, Michael Ward and CS Lewis as guides.  So if you haven’t listened to this brilliant podcast – do so forthwith.

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Stephen Baldwin has been ridiculed for his comments on Celebrity Big Brother regarding evolution.  He said:

If we’re descended from apes, how come there are still apes?

Ok, a misunderstanding of the theory.  But is the theory more or less silly than the misunderstanding?

Here’s Richard Dawkins answering the very objection Baldwin makes.  See if you can watch it with a straight face:

What we have here is a Professor of Zoology faced with a line up of four apes and an accountant from Swindon.  And he refuses to identify the odd one out.  The whole story he invests his life in says that none are superior to any other – all are equally well adapted to their environment.  It’s just 4 monkeys and Pam sitting in a tree –  M-U  T-A-T  I-N-G.

To say that Dawkins has put Baldwin right is like saying:

Ohhh.  Sorry for thinking your theory was nuts.  I thought you believed in alchemy.  Now I realize you have a magical goose to lay your golden egg.

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Ok, I’ll get off the subject soon enough.  Just a little test for us all, inspired by Heather’s comment.

“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people, if My people who are called by My Name humble themselves, and pray and seek My Face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. ” 2 Chronicles 7:13-14

“Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.”  James 5:17-18

So what causes climate change, pollutants or prayer?

Cue howls of disbelief.  Choruses of “medieval superstition!”  Derisive laughter…

Yeah, yeah.  Get it out of your system.  But seriously…  Which is it?  Pollutants or prayer?

And of course you say, ‘It’s not an either-or.’

Well… even when it is a both-and, it’s by no means a symmetrical ‘both-and’ is it?  Prayer can change the climate quite apart from the levels of Co2 in the atmosphere.

And really – who’s running this show?  Christ or carbon?

Cue more mocking and incredulity.  I hear your protests: ‘Don’t be ridiculous Glen, typical overstatement!  The sovereign Lord still works via means and agents.  He might well say to the waters ‘This far and no further’ but He uses gravity to do the job.  Same with climate.  He’s Lord of climate change, but He oversees it according to cycles and seasons and constants and laws.’

Mmmm fine.  That’s what I thought you were going to say.  I just wanted to see how quickly you said it.  As a matter of interest, how immediate was your ‘Yeah, but…’?

I’ll probably agree with your ‘Yeah, but…’  I just want to know how quickly it snapped into place.  I want to know how strongly it rose to the surface.  Because in my heart and mind it springs like a steel trap.

And the place it springs from is not my training in historic reformed Christianity.  Oh I can happily use Calvinism to justify it (secondary causes and all that).  But I’m pretty sure it springs from enlightenment sources, not reformational ones.

You see I read 2 Chronicles 7, lodge its truths in some cerebral filing cabinet under ‘theology’, and then return to the real world where principles and programmes and professors and pollutants rule the roost.  In the real world iron laws grind out our predicatable fate.  And the only difference between us and the ‘enlightened’ secularist is that we know the name of the One pulling the levers.  Right?

Sheesh… Of course by the time you’ve made peace with this view – the name of the One pulling the levers is so immaterial to the discussion you can afford to drop it entirely.  And nothing really changes.  Because, let’s face it, we we basically reckon the levers pull themselves.  Right?

And so here’s my little test.  Can you say this sentence out loud and for ten minutes refuse every urge in you to clamp down with your ‘Yeah, but…’:

Ultimately, prayer changes the climate, not pollutants.

Can you linger on this for a full ten minutes?  Can you mull over all its radical implications?

Christ not carbon is the determining factor

Here’s the deal – if you can remove yourself from the deistic clockwork universe for ten minutes and feel the immediacy and Personality of the biblical universe, I’ll let you go to Copenhagen.

Fair?

Ok, off you go.  But I warn you, it’s a lot harder than it sounds.

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