Tuesday, 30 June 2009
Its a good informative read and echos many of the concerns I have often talked about here on this blog.
The article is called Tiktaalik roseae and Friends and can be found here.
Friday, 26 June 2009
The physical evidence is pretty clear in that homo sapien humans (that's us) are relative late comers on the scene emerging about 200 000 years ago most likely from Africa from where we spread out to the rest of the world. Other human species such as the Neanderthals emerged potentially hundreds of thousands of years before that and only became extinct in the relatively recent past (30 000 years for the Neanderthals, 12 000 for the possible homo floresiensis sub-species) giving the opportunity for interaction and/or cultural exchange between the various human sub-species including our own.
The other human sub-species exhibited similar cultural characteristics to our own such as innovation, tool making, music, language and even burial of the dead indicating that along with their anatomy their societies and day-to-day lives where far closer to our own than to other animals (or ours are far closer to theirs than to animals maybe?).
A key and prevalent aspect of modern humans is spirituality so I wonder what level (if any) this was understood or expressed by our other human cousins? For myself as a Christian I believe in a God who makes himself actively known to mankind and so am forced to wonder what sort of relationship God might have had or chosen to have had with them. Or if He choose not to.
In the Bible it is very clear that one of the ways in which mankind is considered created in the image of God is that of relationship - God to human, human to God, human to human. It is also very clear from the Bible that God cares for and values all of His creations, animal or human, so at some level there would be a relationship of God to 'other human' as a minimum and we know that there was human to human within the other human societies as well. If the other human sub-species had either the physical capacity or were given the opportunity to by God then I don't see any reason to think why they wouldn't express spirituality of one kind or another themselves and thus form the third relationship - human to God.
I guess it would be hard to know this for certain one way or the other as we only have our own species to judge by which leaves only a couple other options. One is that we either meet our cousins in heaven or some new archaeological evidence might help us reach a conclusion one way or the other. Alternatively we may encounter or create other forms of intelligent life that choose to worship and know God which would experimentally demonstrate that an encounter with the God of the Universe is not solely for one particular subset of humanity but is in fact rather for all Creations.
Monday, 22 June 2009
Karl, our pastor, pointed out that only 1% of the cities population is coming together on a Sunday to be in a church building of one kind or another. Even taking the more optimistic number cited in the Annual Report it is still only 5%. This amounts to anywhere between ~4750 and ~24 000 which either way is not a lot of people to go around to contribute to the city which has close to half a million inhabitants. With about 600-800 of those folk are at our own church it makes it all the more important that we get our structures and strategy right. Our motivation and vision need to be turned into action and the 'controversial' freeloaders need to contribute in some form. There is simply no capacity for not doing so if we truly want to see people saved and the life of this city and its inhabitants bettered.
In the small discussion group I was in during the meeting we were commenting on how it is perhaps easier in some ways to see a more social need and respond to and reach out to that rather than making a difference in a grouping of people that is not in so much immediate physical need. For instance we run a Christians Against Poverty centre which does some really great work and means a huge amount to many people, but how relevant or appealing is it to somebody from the affluent area of Morningside that our church meets in?
Another example might be Amica which is a pregnancy crisis centre that a good friend of mine from my small group is involved in running. At the moment it is in need of massive amounts of support both in terms of finances and volunteers. It has a proportionately big impact on individuals and a specific age group for which it runs education programs, but how do we bring it to a city (and a church) who rarely publicly discuss or acknowledge the issues that Amica is involved in?
One of the things I like about how we describe the groupings of people in this city as as tribes and how we can/should be interested in and supporting many of these tribes. The tribes could be geographic, age-based, interested based, etc but they are groups of people orientated around a particular theme. People can also be members of multiple tribes and so relationships across the city are multifaceted.
One of the tribes that I am interested in and a part of is the scientific community here in Edinburgh. Edinburgh is an academic powerhouse with four universities, all in some way engaged with teaching and research related to science, engineering, technology and medicine amongst a multitude of other subjects. Several of its departments and colleges are global in terms of their scientific output and teaching with a number being the best in the UK.
Scientists are not in general any more or less religious than the general population (although perhaps more cautious with their responses to questionnaires). They may think slightly differently and on occasion some might wear socks with sandals (but with no rainbow straps on their guitars), but when engaged in conversation they are just as interested in and perhaps more thoughtful than most when it comes to matters relating to religion or God.
It's true that there are loud mouths who decry religion apparently based on science but you also get loud mouths in our churches who decry science apparently based on the authority of the Bible. Neither represents the majority of each group/tribe, but we do seem to feel very comfortable with letting them represent us and allowing the two tribes to keep their separation.
I would love to see this change.
I would love to see churches (and my own in particular) cheering the science enterprise on in our city. Science helps people, it brings benefits, it relieves unneeded suffering. It explores the universe God has provided us with. From a practical stand point as well science generates massive local economic benefits which trickle out and improve the life of our city in general. It also brings the international into our locality and all the opportunities and options that brings with it. The community it generates and its objectives are also staggeringly close to the community generated by and the gospel of the Christian church. And there are many people who are already in both communities. Each is non-exclusive to the other.
How can this come about? It can come about perhaps best by the mutual removal of suspicion between both tribes. Science is often presumed guilty before its innocence is even considered and likewise faith is sometimes considered irrational without an investigation. On balance I think that if there is blame to be apportioned than the church deserves the larger share as not only is there often an unnecessary hostile reaction to particular results of science, but we also encourage an underlying suspicion and negativity towards science both from our pulpits and within our community. We would rather disregard those who have worked hard and honestly to become experts and knowledgeable in their fields of study in order to listen to perhaps more familiar and comfortable opinions that don't demand challenge and careful consideration from us as individuals or our theologies.
Practically how do we change this?
Firstly we can make an effort to learn and to understand what science is discovering and the potential benefits technologies can offer. This should be an enriching and exciting experience that should also deepen our understanding of God and His love and providence for His creations. Our personal theologies might need to be be recast in the process but if this brings us closer to truth and right understanding then this can't be a bad thing.
Could we have a Sunday 'sermon' that was an astronomy talk or invite a local biologist in to give us an overview of life on our planet? Could we host local science-based events or provide meeting space for scientific societies and groups such as St Augustine's did for the local astronomical society? Can we perhaps foster meetings between scientists and church members who have genuine questions?
Secondly we can respect scientists and engineers in the same way we already give respect to medical and other professionals in our churches. All work with the same tools, all work with useful and good intent. Scientists are not in general out 'to get' religion or faith. Engineers want to bring help to the world and its people.
For instance I have a friend out in Sierra Leone at the moment using her engineering skills on a land reclamation project to return land to suitable use for crop growing in conjunction with the mining company that caused it to become unsuitable in the first place. Part of her motivation is her Christian faith but more fundamentally perhaps is her choice to become an engineer in the first place as she sees it as an opportunity to constructively help others and show them Christ's love.
In the same way that we rely on doctors to cure our often self-inflicted bodily illnesses we are also going to have to rely on those with understanding of science and technology to work us out of our current environmental crisis (caused by human greed and over consumption, not science) and also to help make our tomorrow's better.
We cannot pick and choose when we will take the 'good parts' of science and dispute self-perceived 'negative' parts that we have personal problems with. We need to show wisdom and patience and to demonstrate the ability to distinguish between science and a human abuse of scientific understanding.
Even where there are apparent conflicts of fact between science and theology we must be humble enough in our opinions to acknowledge and support the consensus of the scientific community's work rather than extolling the apparent virtues of fringe speakers who appeal to a less challenging but ultimately false theology while disregarding the results of mainstream science. The scientific consensus may indeed change in time but this is done by research and hard work, not by popular appeal or adulation.
Thirdly we can support real efforts in our city, nationally and internationally that attempt to help people bridge the false gap between science and religion. Organisations like Christians in Science or the Faraday Institute or my own Jesus and the Scientist project here in Edinburgh seek to do that. I would love to see more and more Christians taking an interest in these projects and the events and courses they put on - whether they have a particular science interest or not, especially if they are leaders in our churches.
When was the last time we as a church prayed for scientists or the success of their endeavours? I suspect not very recently and certainly not without some reservations whether spoken out loud or not, but we in the scientific community need the prayers of God's church as much as anyone else.
We can also provide support, equip and encourage opportunities to assist those in our community (Christian or not) to use appropriate technologies and skills in solutions to human problems - food, shelter, energy, etc. These sort of problems are not limited to the developing world. For instance we could be taking the lead in helping the deployment of energy saving measures or micro-generation energy projects in our own local communities. We can set the example for others to join us in.
There are also organisations and charities locally that provide engineers to work on local and global problems such as Engineers Without Borders or Engineer Aid. These groups could be resourced by churches and entrusted with pursuing the outcomes of their visions well.
I don't think God gave us our stewarding role in creation to ignore or stifle the reality of that creation or our responsibilities as part of it.
Fourthly and perhaps most simply I think we can acknowledge that science and religion is a scholarly subject in its on right with hundreds of people working on it worldwide today. This is important as too often our churches listen to and support those with no standing amongst either their theological or scientific peers. Their standing is zero not because of a vast global conspiracy against Christian belief in the scientific community but because their understanding of the subjects involved and the research that they rarely perform is poor. They are voices without substance that play up stereotypes and falsehoods either deliberately or naively through misunderstanding.
With a historic and thriving academic community engaged in real efforts to bring science and religion closer together there is really no need to give these other voices priority and every reason to allow the quieter academic majority increasing opportunities to speak. Could we as a church perhaps get an institutional type subscription to a peer-reviewed science and religion journal such as Zygon or Science and Christian Belief so that they would be available to all our members? Could papers from them form the basis of discussion groups?
The upcoming Edinburgh Festivals are a great opportunity for this. We are blessed with great discussions every year now in the Science, Book and Spirituality Festivals as well as other events throughout the year.
The effects of all this would be twofold. Firstly for our church itself and as individuals it would better ourselves and deepen our understanding and appreciation for all that God gives and does for us. It would get into our collective 'DNA' and provide a more encouraging and positive attitude to both the people and world around us.
And secondly it would help to defuse a lot of the tension between the two tribes and show that Christianity can cope very happily with modern science and indeed that we are enthusiastic about it. I think that scientists like to discuss God, religion, etc as there is a lot that is attractive and interesting about the both the subject, God in general and the community and society they all manifest. If we can create a community that not only reaches out to scientists but cheers them on we can only make the Church more irresistible while removing many of the specific barriers individual scientists reject the church over.
This is not about compromising Biblical authority or introducing some kind of liberal or dodgy theology. It's about living in reality and saving souls. This is about cheering on the good in our city not for the sake of it, but because it is worthy of being cheered on, supported and encouraged.
Science is sometimes unnerving at first glance, but scientists are not. We need to reach them where they are because they are wanting to and need to reach us.
Friday, 19 June 2009
And ants appear to undergo a state perhaps analogous to Rapid Eye Movement seen in many sleeping mammals such as ourselves when we dream, indicating perhaps ants dream in some form as well.
Fascinating similarities although I can't say power naps help all post-docs in our lab keep going!
Thursday, 18 June 2009
Link to the full article.
"The questions may seem moot, since life did start somehow. But for the small group of researchers who insist on learning exactly how it started, frustration has abounded. Many once-promising leads have led only to years of wasted effort. Scientists as eminent as Francis Crick, the chief theorist of molecular biology, have quietly suggested that life may have formed elsewhere before seeding the planet, so hard does it seem to find a plausible explanation for its emergence on Earth.In the last few years, however, four surprising advances have renewed confidence that a terrestrial explanation for life’s origins will eventually emerge."
Tuesday, 9 June 2009
Saturday, 6 June 2009
"The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin." - Exodus 34:6-7
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 1:1-5
Your love is never changing from the beginning of time until the end.
Your love for us is the same as it was at the dawning of our species,
The same when life first arose on this planet at your command.
Your love for us is the same at the start of our own lives,
It will be the same as our lives end and beyond.
Jesus Christ, you were the same when our planet first formed,
Your love for us was no less when the planet cooled and the oceans formed.
Your love for us was no less when our sun began to shine,
The same love when our sun finally dies in your timing.
Your love for us was there many billions of years ago,
It will be the same in billions of years time and further beyond.
Jesus Christ, you were the same when our galaxy formed,
Your love for us was no less when countless stars first shone together.
Your love for us was no less when the first elements became,
The same love when light first spread across space and time.
Your love for us was there when our universe began,
It was the same before our universe existed.
Jesus Christ, you are the same today as you will be tomorrow.
Your love is never changing from the beginning of time until the end.
Your love for us will be no less when machines join us in worship,
The same love that welcomes all who love you.
Your love will be there if we make contact with your Others,
It will be the same when your church reaches across the Universe.
Jesus Christ, you will be the same if humanity fades,
Your love for us all extends beyond all possibilities.
Your love will be no less when our world becomes barren.
The same love that will continue beyond the fate of our galaxy.
Your love will be there when the universe dies.
It will be the same when all things become cold and lifeless.
Jesus Christ, your love will be the same always.
Your love is never changing from the beginning of time until the end.
I thank you.
Friday, 5 June 2009
I've found a nice old edition of it in a bookshop here in Edinburgh that I am looking forward to reading. From having a flick through already it does look quite interesting and is written in a relaxed and almost poetic style. I suspect there will be points at which I will disagree with the author but I do find his future-looking perspective quite refreshing.
His 'Omega Point' idea is certainly something I have heard about in other places as well, but hadn't realised where the phrase had come from before. It is something that is often portrayed in various forms in science fiction and occasionally in more philosophical scientific writings. It seems to have either inspired or has strong resonances with the Gaia hypothesis (minus all the new age trappings that have been attached to it), the Singularity and Frank Tipler's ideas of inifinite computation at the end point of a collapsing universe.