In the Christian Church we seem to be pretty good at holding up the Bible as a source of truth given to us by God. Rightly so we regard this as a source of divine revelation to humanity and as pretty special and a privilege. Because of who God is and what we believe He has done for us through Jesus we pay good attention to the principals and precepts given to us throughout the Bible.
What we don't seem to do very well though is pay equal attention to other methods via which God communicates His character, providence and priorities to us. It is often said that God gave us more than one book to pay attention to, of which revelation is one. We seem to let the other two drop out of the picture in many of our deliberations or at best be over-ridden by the Bible or rather by our own particular understandings of the Biblical texts.
The first of these other 'books' tends to be called Creation or the Universe. It would probably be more challenging to simply call this Reality since it is the actuality in which our life's play out. This would not only help to gently encourage us to get on and deal with living in the Universe but also break down the division between what we perceive as the physical and the spiritual. In the Bible everything is regarded as spiritual to one degree or another and the spiritual also certainly seems to play out in the physical when it matters to and interacts with us since we are physical beings. There is no simple division between the two nor any superiority of one over the other.
The second book is what we call history, the happening of things before now. The capacity and drive to investigate our past is a great blessing and opportunity to understand God's providence and care throughout the world over all time. This was not just limited to Abraham etc or even the nation of Israel, but across the whole of the world and far back in time before humanity ever arose on this world. The past is a treasure trove to help us understand God's purposes for today and tomorrow.
All to often however rather than holding these three books together in a considered balance we instead rather view everything through a Bible-shaped lens. This costs us greatly as that lens is going to be shaped by how we view and understand the Biblical texts. This should be shaped by a foundation of what is real and what is not - both of which history and creation provide us with key inputs on - but by holding the Bible in a singular place of authority in all matters we reject much of what God is trying to say to us through other sources.
If we make our acceptances of reality and history exclusively subservient to (our understanding of) the Bible we not only reject our of hand blessings of knowledge and understanding from God, but also bypass checks and cautions in the shaping of our theologies and hence how we act in the world and to others. It can be little wonder then that we often struggle with both the big issues (the environment, social justice, etc) and the little ones (points of minor doctrine, other denominations, etc) when we are not accepting God's guidance to its full extent.
The three books do have there specialist areas of operation and indeed sometimes once can input more understanding than another, but they also overlap and provide both safety checks and mutual corroboration. God is creator and ruler of all three books. If we are to be confident that God is providing us with access to His heart and mind through all three we can be confident that all three will speak the same truth.
Where there does appear to be conflict we must approach this openly and with humble determination, allowing each to speak most authoritatively in its appropriate area of operation without unnecessarily over-riding the other two.
As pleasent as it would be to live in a Universe that was exactly as we might think or want it to be we don't and part of our reponsibility as Christians is to live whole heartedly in the reality and history in which God (in his wisdom and love) has placed us.
From Christianity Today. Some good thoughts by McGrath on some just as good thoughts from Augustine on a solid way to read the book of Genesis many centuries before the rise of 20th century overly literal readings of it.
On the way up to a talk in St. Andrews on the train the other week I was pondering (again) the long term future of life in the universe. Its quite good fun to speculate and to try to play out all the different possibilities in your mind.
When I was a nipper I was pretty optimistic about human colonisation of the galaxy and a good dose of science fiction helped in this providing a very upbeat view for the future of the human race. Space was also supposed to be coming into our grasp in the real world. The Moon landings were long gone sure, but we were entering a new era of permanently crewed space stations and regular shuttle flights that were meant to lead to the long-term human colonisation of space.
Space colonisation in general I think is a pretty good thing for a number of reasons. Not only does it provide new opportunities to feed the human desire to learn and explore, but on a more practical side it would also allow much needed access to materials either in short or no supply to us here on Earth. It would also in the mid-long term ease current problems of resource competition on our home world and thus help diffuse or moderate many current of future conflicts. Having extensive and self-sustaining colonies off world would also help secure the future of the human race against the many possible planetary cataclysms that could plunge humanity into a tooth and claw struggle to survive and avoid total extinction.
Mars would be a pretty good place to go. And maybe some asteroids. Titan is also a suggestion as are other moons of the gas giants of our solar system, not forgetting our own Moon as well. Massive planetary engineering projects could also bring worlds such as Venus under control and made less inhospitable than they presently are.
From a Biblical point of view I consider space colonisation to be entirely consistent with and merely an expansion to new environments of our wider mandate to steward Creation well alongside the command to continue propagating (responsibly!) the human race and its culture.
Now, all that said I currently don't think it will happen. At least not for a very long time or in a 'Star Trek' sort of way i.e. with starships roaming the stars full of small communities furthering a utopian mission and lifestyle.
Why? Practicalities. Reality must bite unfortunately.
Setting aside for the moment the massive financial cost (which could be supplied by new uses for military budgets...hmm...) there is in addition a tremendous lack of political will to do this. Our technology is also not yet up to the task of long-term colonisation and the immediate need to develop that technology to an effective point of readiness is not there when our own world still holds much immediate potential.
All of these problems I am confident could be or perhaps even should be overcome in time or will be revealed not to actually be problems at all.
However there is an additional problem that I have come to think will constrain us to our own world or to our solar system at best despite intentions otherwise. That problem is the current physical biology of our species and the laws of physics that govern the universe.
Not only does the human body require extensive life support systems and resources for even short periods of time in low-Earth orbit but it also constrains the methods we can use to travel through space. To explore space within the lifespan of any individual would require speeds to be attained that would consume obscene amounts of fuel and time for the simplest of journeys. Currently all that fuel has to be hauled into orbit from Earth. It is conceivable that fuels could be generated in space but that requires an infrastructure in space that looking ahead we will not be able to widely implement for centuries if ever. Accelerations of spacecraft would also have to be limited to avoid harming or killing the crafts occupants. This would again constrain and limit time, fuel and methods of propulsion used.
The physical reality of the universe also imposes a speed limit on travel within that universe, that speed being the speed of light. Although faster than any rocket or ion engine we have yet implemented even at light speed the nearest stars are more than four years away. To accelerate any large object to the speed of light would not only also be prohibitively energy-intensive (light is massless so can do it willy nilly), but would also be perhaps unwise given the relativistic spacetime distortions that would be encountered at near-light speeds. So even at light speed you are looking at a journey of a minimum of four years - more when factoring in acceleration and braking times - with no absolute guarantee of success at the end. I don't envision a lot of folk signing up for that.
Without the development of new technologies that might translate some very abstract theoritical physics ideas on faster-than-light propulsion into a usable technology humans are going to be stuck in our own solar system for the far foreseeable future.
All that said however I am still confident that the galaxy will be colonised. And by intelligent beings from Earth, just not us. And maybe, that is a better way for it to be...
There's a good blog and discussion going on over on Robin Parry's blog on the subject of how we handle viewpoints from some of the New Testament authors who take at face value extra-Biblical sources that we reject today.
2009 is the International Year of Astronomy and it is being held to help mark 400 years since one of the early European scientists, Galileo Galilei turned one of the first telescopes to the night sky and provided strong additional evidence to support the ideas of other scientists of the era such as Copernicus and Tycho who along with Galileo were advocating that the Sun should be placed at the centre of the solar system rather than the Earth where it had traditionally resided in European thinking since the time of the ancient Greek philosophers.
Their collective use of observational evidence to determine their conclusions about the reality around them was a dramatic change when compared to the prior methods of purely philosophical reasoning or theological considerations that were the dominant methods of thinking up until that point. This helped to establish the modern experimental method of operation characteristic of all sciences since.
It also placed the Earth in its proper physical context for the first time and opened the door to our own continuing understanding of the size and and scope of the Universe and our place within it.
The Earth From Space (~29 000 km)
The Earth From the Moon (~384 000 km)
The Earth and Moon from Mars Orbit
The Earth from ~6 000 000 000 km
...and the Universe carries on far beyond.
"All of human history has happened on that tiny pixel, which is our only home."
Basically a company set up a supposedly open and peer-reviewed journal to publicise its own products to potential buyers. In a cunning move they even got a genuine journal publisher to rubber stamp the publication.
Hmmm... a journal set up solely to promote a singular point of view by people with vested interests in that point of view, whose submissions are not verified or reviewed via the scientific peer review process that other journals abide by, with the purpose of giving false prestige and authenticity to said submissions to an unwary public? Why does this all sound suspiciously familiar for instance..?
The video below is a short clip from the first episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and I think talks quite profoundly about the nature of humanity.
In the clip the main character, Benjamin Sisko, is trying to explain about the basic nature of humanity to a group of aliens who have no concept of the passage of time. To them the past, present and future are all one and known whereas for humanity we leave the past behind, exist in the present and move to the future.
I think it is interesting and quite thought provoking that Sisko places the emphasis on the nature of humanity not on where it has been (although in earlier scenes he emphasises how we learn from our past), but rather on where we are going, on the next step in our journey, on what awaits us even if it is unknown at present.
There are huge resonances I think here with how Christianity views the nature of humanity. In the Bible we are pushed from simple beginnings along a continuum of development and progression, technologically, as a society and in our understanding and relationship with the Creator. This is reflected both in the pages of the Bible and also through the long history of the development of life in this universe and on our world itself.
The aliens initially fear Sisko. They view him as trapped in his past and what he (and as as representative of humanity itself) was then rather than looking ahead and viewing the possibilities to come as Sisko points out to them.
For ourselves it is clearly not only a lot more pragmatic and constructive to take the second viewpoint but I would argue it is actually also the exciting way of viewing life and the Universe that God calls us as believers to seize and rejoice in.
As creatures created in the image of a creative and active God we too are called to innovate, create and explore reflecting those qualities of the Creator. These properties appear widespread throughout all sectors of humanity in the world today in one form or another. The level and way in which we utilise and invoke them marks us out as separate to all other lifeforms on our world.
I would much rather our species become known for these properties rather than how well or rigidly we stuck to an opinion, specific doctrine or a theology. Sometimes those things can be good, sometimes not, but either way they should flow out of our activities rather than our activities being limited by what we think on things at any particular moment.
To think we know all is arrogance, to explore that which we do not know is our calling.
I am a physicist currently working in biomedical research.
Firstly though and (hopefully) before all else I am a follower of Christ (commonly called a Christian).
I like fudge, roasts, good company, spiders and something else.
Warring, transforming robots are quite good fun too.