Saturday, 27 June 2015

Seeing Red

"But you keep my old scarf from that very first week,  
 because it reminds you of innocence,
 and it smells like me, you can't get rid of it, cos' you remember it, 
 all too well".

Taylor Swift - from the album, Red.

So there I was, listening in on a conversation on spirituality, and wondering where I might jump in with a comment, when a familiar theme is expressed -religion of any sort is finished... science is the only game on the block which counts now, so man up or ship out.

There's a fascinating conversation on You Tube* between Richard Dawkins and Physicist Stephen Weinberg. After laying out their common understanding that, in science, using 'God'  has merely been a metaphor for the unknown, they begin to unpack the real state of affairs with regards to the limitations of what we know (something, incidentally, which was truly amplified a few weeks ago by the latest information from CERN). Weinberg freely admits that when it comes to unpacking why things are the way they are, science is probably going to fail to really answer or resolve the cardinal issues (i.e. the reason why the universe is how it is), and that we have to accept this as just part of the human tragedy.

Back in the mid-nineties, science writer John Horgan provided a provocative look at the nature of what the prevailing view of such men gave our culture in his work, The End of Science, in which he, in part, concluded that God may indeed be something more than a useful metaphor. The reasons for such a conclusion are stark.

In spite of scientists telling us that what we see is merely an "illusion" of design, there are clearly forces at work that beg to differ. The Cosmological constant, set to one part in a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion,  is a staggering example of fine-tuning. 

Without such manner of exactness, we would never have come about, and the universe would be little more than an expanse of gases.

Weinberg is entirely honest when he states that this places "us" (the scientific community) in a 'fix' which is often not stated well (hence, the confidence of the familiar statement in my recent conversation). This is no doubt because the two alternative approaches to such laws being designed currently provided by popular hypothesis (1)the multiple universe or (2) a TOE which includes data on such constants so far unknown) is, as Weinberg notes, very much situated in the realms of 'what if' thinking, with nothing of substance to support them, so for those who cannot entertain the possibility of design, the human condition must, ultimately, be one of total tragedy - that there probably is no answer, so the laws of entropy (and for the natural realm, death) reign supreme.

I expressed these realities in the conversation, suggesting that true religion may offer us something far more objective than we realize, and the response was fascinating. Whilst those holding to an atheistic perspective chose to personalize their scorn of those 'who believe' (easier, for sure, than considering the ramifications of scientific honesty), those who had been advocating spirituality sought to find solace in 'something like' buddhism or hindu views, especially in what Chesterton defined as the dreadful refuge of the 'god within', at which point I raised the matter of Jesus Christ. The response was what you'd expect - the gospels cannot be trusted, leading to my sourcing non-biblical writings of the earliest period which verify that Jesus lived, was crucified and remarkably began a movement that grew so quickly that it became a major thorn to the empire (presumably, as these writings note, because of what these Christians were teaching about Jesus being God and defying death).

The response (aside from a few murmurings) ...  Silence.

And we know why.

We seem to want our place in the universe to be either something we totally define (and thereby control) or, if we cannot have that, a construct which means it all amounts to nothing (any 'design' is pure fluke, as in Douglas Adam's 'Hitch-hiker's" stories), but what if that isn't the reality at all... what if the actual fine-tuning laws that have been discovered behind our being here do indeed express design, and that 'designer' has come amongst us? Doesn't that speak to the necessity of our rejecting what we view as our "necessary fictions"?

There is something much deeper going on. 

As Bertrand Russell once expressed it in a letter:

I am strangely unhappy because the pattern of my life is complicated, because my nature is hopelessly complicated; a mass of contradictory impulses; and out of all this, to my intense sorrow, pain to you must grow. The centre of me is always and eternally a terrible pain-a curious wild pain-a searching for something beyond what the world contains, something transfigured and infinite-the beatific vision-God-I do not find it, I do not think it is to be found-but the love of it is my life -it's like passionate love for a ghost. At times it fills me with rage, at times with wild despair, it is the source of gentleness and cruelty and work, it fills every passion that I have-it is the actual spring of life within me. 

 (October 23, 1916 to his lover Colette).

Note what Russell says here - he longs for something beyond himself... A desire as deep as hunger or passion which longs for satisfaction for it is essentially what is at the centre of existence. He could never find what he so needed - his world-view wouldn't provide what was required, but science and philosophy can point further and deeper, as I've sought to show above.

Perhaps, then, we should end with a valid observation from a Scientist.

Albert Einstein once noted:
"No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus... No myth is filled with such life".

(Saturday Evening Post interview, October 26th, 1929).

As I sought to submit in the conversation, it is indeed time to do more than just 'remind' ourselves of such 'innocence' (the hard truths about our understanding of the universe and the choice to often ignore key material that clearly points us to what is going on), and thereby recognize what we cannot escape.... 

The God who is there.

*Find the video at:

John Horgan's Book at Amazon:

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Under arrest?

"And it came about, that as he journeyed, approaching Damascus, that a sudden light surrounded him, and he fell to the ground".  Acts 9:3.

Some situations, we feel, need very immediate and lasting solutions. Hopefully, ones which will go in our favor.

This morning I was listening to a radio snippet, where the 'expert' being interviewed was fervently advocating that the answer to current extremism in some parts of the world was education - tell it like it really is, and such radicalism will go away. I found myself thinking immediately of what was reported in the news this week - the youngest recruit bomber from the UK, who should have been taking exams this month, blew himself up because of the conviction that this was the best way to serve God. Education, at least in the conventional sense, didn't do anything to stop such surprising extremism.

Another snippet I heard yesterday really spoke to why. The call to truly become part of something deeper than ourselves can be totally compelling, especially when we are in a period where we are looking for meaning and identity - if we happen then to hear about a cause, for good or for ill, that can cater to that need, we can quickly be drawn towards it.

Saul was a man of deep convictions, especially when it came to how we define ourselves and our relationship to what is true. He viewed Christianity as a poison aimed right at the heart of that reality, and his response was to zealously seek to uproot and destroy such a horrible lie, but something troubled him. As he heard Stephen speak about the ugliness of miss-placed zeal and understanding regarding what God truly required, he experienced a jolt in his soul - a recognition that there was a radical sickness, in himself and all of us, which meant our best convictions can be so easily warped into something violently wicked.

Saul was by no means alone here.
David, raised to kingship over Israel, reached a point where he lost his way and gave in to desires and passions that reside in every human heart (Matthew 15:19), and thereby destroyed himself and several others amidst a period of selfish betrayal of all that God required of him (and us). Fortunately, for these men, and for all who are willing to hear, there was a remedy that is far better than seeking to 'educate' our way out of our malady - God the Father can set us free through His beloved Son (John 3).

It's so often the case that until we're truly, truly, desperate, we run away from the one thing that can help us, because we know it will mean an end to our selfish greed or evil or just plain stubbornness, but so often, when we finally do, we find rescue, costly though it may be.

The answer to radicalism today is something wider, deeper, richer, than we can possibly imagine - it's is God enfolding us in the love which caused Christ to hang at Calvary, breaking our sin, our death, in His own poured-out life. It seems stupid and foolish, and so very contrary to our self-confidence, our noble estimations, but it is indeed the power of God, which makes all things new.

Life is often taken up with a process of hurrying around, trying to find something, anything, that will provide some measure or resolve or satisfaction to our troubles, but if  we only stopped and considered things soberly for a few moments, we'd realize that such answers won't fix the wound, satisfy the hunger, we all share.

We were made for something larger, which is why young men and women especially  will always flock to radical endeavors, no matter how high the cost.

Will we allow God to take hold of us, before death and sin leave us empty of life?

Monday, 8 June 2015

Reading Scripture

A super little gem of a guide from Mike Horton and the White Horse Inn: