Thursday, December 29, 2005

Misc Christmastide

Tried to run this morning but could only do 4 miles at less than Marathon pace. Hope this is due to cold and not to general level of un-fitness - though a bit of both.

Daughter's delightful engineer boyfriend back from the US today and staying for a few days. Excellent.

Have finished my attempt to engage with the 'utter destruction' (herem) of Amelek in 1 Samuel. Tricky but very interesting. When my daughters have vetted it I'll try to post it.

Hedge fund owner interviewed on BBC News about £1M+ bonuses - he admitted that it was 'unfair' compared to nurses but pointed out that he had to pay enough to stop his key staff from leaving, and that they paid a great deal of tax towards the welfare state - he hope's it's used effectively.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Signs of the times?

Rats - I picked up a cold from the taxi-driver in Cornwall, so poor sleep and no running :-(.
Went to see my brother and his family last night, for a remarkably pleasant evening rounded off by a Mozart violin sonata.

News this morning is that Bob Geldof is helping the Conservatives develop their policy on globalisation. You could hardly make this up! Of course it may all end in tears, but what I suspect will happen is that the Conservatives will move well ahead in the polls and the open infighting in Labour will get worse and worse. People will decide that Gordon Brown is un-electable against Cameron and run a stop-Brown candidate. But whatever your political sympathies, surely there is a big feeling in the country that it's time for a change - which will probably intensify over the next few years.

The book by Peter Enns that my daughter gave me says that the NIV deliberately mistranslates parts of the OT (in Deu 16:7 and 2 Cr 35:15 the word is b-sh-l which means boiled and not ts-l-y which means roasted: whereas in Ex 12:13 they are told roast (tsly) and not to boil (bshl) it ) to cover up a diversity/apparent contradiction in scripture. Interestingly the Septuagint has "boil and roast", JB has "cook" I'm really glad that I use multiple translations, and wish I had more than a limited ability to spell out letters in Hebrew.

(US Iraq casualties seem to have stabilised at 2/day killed by hostile action, + accidents. Not good, but better than before. So far thank God no more UK killed, if we get to Jan 6th it'll be statistically significant. However depressing report about poss of Civil War over Kirkuk.)

Monday, December 26, 2005

Christmas reflections

A lovely Christmas: inlaws and C's sister, husband and 2 children, all delightful, for lunch. We went for a walk by the river afterwards, then back for tea and final opening of presents. I got many delightful presents, including 2 copies of Ellen McArthur's book - one signed! Also began to transcribe some of the biographical/genealogical information I had found in Cornwall. A web search reminded me that a cousin of my grandmother's was a consort of Ghandi Ghandi apparently once said that he would have become a Christian if he had ever met one - what a judgement (actually it seems that "he called himself a Universalist (respecting all religions of the world). He spent hours studying the Bible and the life of Christ. He particularly liked the philosophy Christ expounded in his Sermon on the Mount. He had many Christian friends. When they asked him why he didn't become a Christian since he admired the Sermon on the Mount so much, he answered, "When you can convince me that Christians live by it, I will be the first to become a Christian."). The Queen's speech was excellent - she is really clear about being a faith-leader not just head of a family. Indeed nothing about the wedding at all!

Elder daughter has given me a book about how Evanglicals should think about the OT - addressing therefore some problems I don't have (eg if it is The Word of God how can it be like anything else or incorrect in any detail?). It's quite good, with the basic thesis that the Bible is, as it were, an incarnation ... though this analogy is of course a bit limited. But I wish he didn't display the mindset that describes a (perfectly respectable and indeed Evangelical view - eg that the Cleansing of the Temple in John is a different incident from the Synoptic one) as "a distortion of the highest order"

The Times reports on the beleagured Christians in Iraq. We should continually pray for them, and for all other Christians being persecuted for their faith. And share our insights into God's love and nature, expressed in the Bible and elsewhere, with humility and love.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas discoveries and re-discoveries

Down to my mother's to help with the party for the 20th anniversary of my father's death. Wonderful weather in Cornwall but my foot is slightly injured so couldn't run alas. Looked for EMD material and discovered that my grandmother had written a short novel as well as a play - N even better than P. I read the (only) MS on the plane up - must try to get it published. Then to Cambridge to celebrate son's birthday and hence home. While in Cambridge discovered more material for the EMD website as well!

Jack Straw in The Times makes stout defence of 'Merry Christmas' though admits that 'I have just noticed — alas, for the first time — that the card I sent out in my capacity as Foreign Secretary has the anodyne, non-Christmas message of “Season’s Greetings”' and there is a triple leader on the same topic.

It'd be wonderful if 2006 is a decisive year of growth for the Church in the UK. Let us hope and pray. MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Response from Bob May

Bob has given permission for me to post his response to my gentle quibbles on his address:

Thank you very much for your nice note of 30 November. I have only just read it, as I was too busy on the day. I think that your first point will have been made clear in the actual Address, in that I never use the word "Scientific Materialism" myself, but rather in the quote from one of the Creationists (explaining that their ultimate aim was not just ID, but rather the overthrow of "Scientific Materialism". I entirely agree that it should not be conflated with objectivity in science, and indeed I would never use these two words myself; they are a pejorative phrase coined and used by the Creationists.

Your second point is simply valid and I do agree with you. Sometimes a certain amount of simplification really is necessary.

I am inclined to agree with your third point also, but here again I was quoting someone else. In fact, however, I now discover I did not give the actual source.

Christmastime - peace?

At last there is a robust fight-back against the nonsense of banning "the C Word" ie "Christmas". Lucy Kellaway's brilliant column in the FT and Simon Heffer in the Telegraph to name but two. However many companies fear that religious discrimination laws might prevent them from having Christmas Parties (not to mention Health & Safety and Sexual Harassment laws).

Peace on Earth G0odwill towards men - great to have that in Iraq, where mercifully only 3 US troops have been killed by enemy action since the start of elections on the 15th - that 0.6 per day compared with a rate of about 3/day in the preceeding 10 weeks or so: and no UK troops killed. John Simpson on the BBC grudgingly admits that the elections have been a stunning success, but says:no-one has yet managed to explain how, if 160,000 US troops cannot stop the insurrection in Iraq, cutting down their numbers is going to make it easier for the Iraqi police and army to do the job.

Well surely he can figure out that:

a. The election has totally isolated Zaquawi - he denounced it as the work of Satan but failed to disrupt or deter it. Most of the insurgent leaders realise they have more to gain through politics than terrorism. The ONLY forum where acts of terrorism increase their support is in the liberal media - who give the impression that a few more bombs will dish George W. Please be very careful about your responsibilities in this.

b. Iraqui's are better placed to police/prevent an insurgency than 'infidel crusaders'?! And withdrawing troops gives the lie to propaganda about 'they are here to take over'

Monday, December 19, 2005

Steyn & Dawkins

Marc Steyn points out in the Spectator that, at almost any social level, Christianity makes more sense than secularism, and that the secuarist states (in Europe and Blue America) are dwindling into insignificance.

I see that Dawkins is delivering a couple of anti-God rants on Channel 4 in Jan and then giving a big talk to the British Humanist Association in the Darwin Lecture Theatre about his 'memes' idea (I suspect he'll bang on about god being a virus). Considering going with one of my Christian Darwin friends to discomfort them. In particular, I think a simplified version of Plantinga's EEAN is "How can a capacity evolve to disbelieve propositions which are untrue but belief in which carries an selective advantage?"

Sunday, December 18, 2005

UK casualties in Iraq

Mercifully so far there have been no coalition troops killed byhostile fire since the 15th, and no UK killed since 20 Nov. Prof Mary Kaldor has not replied to my emails questioning her assertion that the UK troops should have withdrawn before the election because Basra was increasingly hostile (curiously for a centre for governance funded by the taxpayer there is no discernable governance structure). However it's interesting to consider whether the trend really is down. The dates of UK troops killed by hostile fire and the numbers are shown below. The mean time between fatal attacks for the year has been 42+26 days so it's not clear that this has changed, and indeed the mean time between attacks has been going down (25 days for the last 3). However the mean number of people killed does look as though it has dropped. Statistically this means that we won't really know until at least 68 days after the last fatal attack (ie 27 Jan) whether things have indeed changed in this respect post election, although we might suspect after 1 Jan (rolling 3-incident Mean + Std). What is clear is that there is no evidence that things are increasingly dangerous. There are grounds for hope, reasons to pray, and no cause for despair.

30/01/05 10
02/05/05 1
29/05/05 1
16/07/05 3
05/09/05 2
11/09/05 1
18/10/05 1
20/11/05 1

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Lewis, Lloyd, Burleigh & Atkins

We went to LW&W last night. From v high expectations we were slightly disappointed. I thought the prologue in London was good although they put too much emphasis throughout on Peter being beastly to Edmund, so as to motivate E's betrayal. The one gross misjudgement was all the fanfare when Lucy first approaches the Wardrobe - far more effective for it to be a surprise.

I've been re-reading The Dark Tower and other fragments/abandoned tales. Tower seems to have been the 'time dimension' to make the Ransome trilogy a Quartet - this is a full 20 years before The Alexandria Quartet! There is also the wonderful essay Fern-seeds and Elephants where Lewis debunks modern readings of the Gospels by pointing out that, from his own experience, "Reviewers ... will dash off ... histories with great confidence; will tell you what public events had directed the author's mind to this or that... why - and when - he did everything. Now I must record my impression ... in the whole of my experience not one of these guesses has on any one point been right .. the method shows a record of 100% failure... but I have not kept a careful record ... what I can say with certainty is that they are usually wrong." He argues that if contemporary critics are unable to give accurate accounts of influences etc... it's inconceivable that biblical critics can do it 2000 years later. ("and remember the Biblical critics, whatever reconstructions they devise, can never crudely be proved wrong. St Mark is dead. When they meet St Peter they will have more pressing matters to discuss.")

Interestingly John Lloyd in the FT Magazine has clearly been trying to engage with religion. In a much more thoughtful essay than the inane title (Last of the true believers) implies he laments with puzzlement the decline of Anglicanism. Of course he amidts that this decline is not uniform - but he gives too much prominence to the apostate Holloway - actually this decline is the last throes of the penetration of the clergy by unbelievers which Lewis laments in Fern Seeds. The future looks much better.

Meanwhile Michael Burleigh gives a spirited defence of the importance of Christianity and the devastation of secularism in The Times - undercutting the rantings of Atkins given respectful airtime on the Today Programme. In the light of the experiments of the 20th Century you can either think "atheist leaders are better than religious ones" or believe in the empirical method. Not both, after Mao, Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Bob and Dafur

Bob May sent a v nice email basically agreeing with my 3 points (I've asked for permission to post it). He also suspects that "Scientific Materialism" may be a perjorative term invented by creationists. But a helpful email from Prof Fred Gregory suggests it was originated by Tyndall (Of whom to my shame I hadn't heard - Faraday's successor as Director of the RI) who was anything but! Whitehead also uses it, but it fell out of disuse until Fred Gregory re-developed the term at Harvard in the 70s. It's a lovely example of the web in action that this was all resolved in a few hours!

This evening just back from a carol concert in aid of Kids For Kids - a wonderful charity run by an indomitable lady which provides goats and other practical help for villagers in Dafur. She told how she and her son were captured by Guerillas and their captain said "you realise I could have you shot" - and she replied "Yes, but I know I can rely on your wonderful Sudanese hospitality so I feel perfectly safe." A few months later, when one of their aid workers was captured by another guerilla band, their captain rang her in England and promised to do anything necessary to get him back. ("I cannot condone violence" she replied) And he did.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Ah - tolerant Islam!

Appalliong article in the FT Magazine by a gullable British woman who converted from catholicism to Isalm at 16 and is now an islamic propagandist. It's entitled "I became a Muslim for theology, not love" She says "the Catholic Church had a history I couldn't accept" that she wants "a world where my children can grow up and be Muslim" and that she "believes passionately in freewill".

But of course if her children decided they didn't want to be Muslims, they would be apostates and should, according to Muslim law, be put to death. A nice example of the behaviour of the 'great religious leader' Mohammed is given here (seems authentic, see also here) Some people from the tribe of Ukl came to the Prophet and embraced Islam .The climate of Medina did not suit them, so the Prophet ordered them to go to the (herd of milch ) camels of charity to drink their milk and urine (as a medicine).They did so, and after they had recovered from their ailment they turned renegades (reverted from Islam, irtada ) and killed the shepherd of the camels and took the camels away. The Prophet sent (some people) in their pursuit and so they were caught and brought, and the Prophet ordered that their hands and legs should be cut off and that their eyes should be branded with heated pieces of iron , and that their cut hands and legs should not be cauterised, till they die.”

And someone can turn to this from Jesus's love!?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Good days

V good days for democracy in the UK. And it looks as though there is real progress for democracy in Iraq as well - lots of evidence of Sunni engagement in the democratic process. The idea that there should have been a perfect situation after a year or two was always madness.

Fascinating dinner party last night with former vv senior intelligence official. But 9.8mi run was v tough this morning! Then went to Cambridge to see our son and his family. So it should be a 'golden day' when we see all our family.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Many changes

Yesterday set up a dinner discussion (for Jan) between 4 brilliant scientists (in their 80s, 70s, 50s and 20s, one a Nobel Prizewinner, 3 FRSs) and me, which will be fun and very interesting. Today tried to address some issues around the problem of evil with an Australian Prof of Engineering.

The UK political scene is changing: "yesterday we glimpsed the future of British politics - how it will be over the next few years: Gordon Brown, ageing, gnarled, a lion trapped for too long in a circus cage, versus a young whipper-snapper from Notting Hill, eagerly snapping his whip." And this from The Guardian. And with Cameron as the new leader later today it'll become even more interesting. I wonder who he'll have in his Shadow Cabinet? He'll keep Osborne & Davis in their present posts I think, make Hague Shadow Foreign Sec or Deputy Leader, Fox to health, Rifking to Foreign if not Hague, and promote Justine Greening I bet.

Climate changing in other ways as well. Narnia coming out and the wonderful witness of Gee Walker and ABp John Sentamu in people's minds.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Impact of Narnia

LWW comes out this week. I could have got tickets for the premiere but alas it clashes with a business event :-(. It'd be really good if it became the highest grossing series ever. Encouragingly on yahoo.co.uk when asked "Which book adaptation are you looking forward to seeing at the cinema?" LWW topped the poll at 34%, Harry Potter got 27% and His Dark Materials 6%. LWW gets 4*s in the Sunday Times and even the Bp of Oxford says he likes it (although scorning the Last Battle and plugging His Dark Materials at the same time!)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Finance and Christian Growth

The Economist draws the attention of its readers to the importance of Christian business. John Lloyd in the FT Magazine worries about whether editors over-marginalise faith.
Hmm...

Meanwhile, in response to the plan to build a £100M 70,000-seater Mosque in London for 2012, I have submitted an outline plan to raise £100-200M for investment in church growth in London over 10 years, helping to increase congregations by over 100,000. It's certainly feasible on paper (that's only a 10%pa growth, and would still mean that less than 10% of the londoners who considered themselves CofE were members of CofE churches. Let's see whether Bp Richard wants to explore it further.

Finally tothesource has a big interview with John Polkinghorne. Great!

Wisdom from many sources

At the Royal Society last night. Spent much of the time talking to wise old Nobel Laureate, and was delighted to meet young(er) newish Nobel Laureate who wanted to shake his hand. Bob May's Presidential Address warned of the dangers of unreflective fundamentalism, and we agreed that on that definition Richard Dawkins was a prime candidate!

My mother (whose guest I was, since she is the widow of a fellow) stayed the night and told of the local retired farmer who led the prayers in her villiage church on Sunday.

"Lord, help us not to be overcome by materialism at christmas,
spending money we haven't got...
to buy presents nobody wants...
for people we don't even like."