Saturday, July 25, 2009
Do I fully understand God's love? Of course not. No-one serious claims to fully understand any deep reality. Do you understand Quantum Mechanics?
Here is a quick sketch, though of course it's over-simplified. The fundamental basis of Christianity is love: at the heart of reality there is a Loving Ultimate Creator (God) who has reached out to us in Jesus so that we can come into loving union with God. Loving union is not cheap or easy, and requires forgiveness and self-sacrifice, as anyone who has loved, even at a human level, knows. Jesus makes this possible by his life, death and resurrection.
Jesus is in perfect loving union with God and by identifying ourselves with him we can, by God's grace, come into this loving union. The forgiveness required for our many failures of love (sins) can be achieved through Jesus, because although in justice our sins require punishment Jesus has taken these sins and the punishment on himself. Furthermore, by doing so he shows us what God's love is really like, and thus inspires us to follow him. And his resurrection authenticates his message and shows that such love is indeed stronger than death.
Whether or not you find this "successful" it has been at the root of the success of the most successful religion in history, which is growing rapidly on a global basis: soon China will be the world's largest Christian country.
Friday, July 24, 2009
A Christian actress friend who is starring in a TV comedy emails about the struggles involved. In today's culture TV comedy plays a disproportionately large role in spreading ideas and setting expectations. So it's hardly surprsing that it is a battleground. What Screwtape says in Letter XI is fairly relevant, though CS Lewis could though CS Lewis could have had no idea of the baleful cultural influence of TV in the post-Big Brother world.
This all connects in an interesting way with a Review Article in Science called Foundations for a New Science of Learning which emphasies the importance of social learning and understanding and cultural evolution. The social context of human actions and behaviour is vitally important.
There is also a fascinating Perspectives piece about Continuous Spontaneous Localization which is an attempt to address the Measurement Problem in Quantum Mechnaics. Would be very interesting to learn more. But I am also finishing Stephen Green's excellent Good Value - working on a couple of papers and have family staying.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
He's got upset that Francis Collins has been nominated as Director of the NIH so I visited the blog, which offers a fascinating insight into the closed minds of these people. Another visitor was unimpressed by Myers' scientific record, so I looked up his publications and added the following to his Wikipedia article: Myers has 11 published scientific papers to his credit, including one in Nature in 1986 and 3 in the Journal of Neuroscience (1986 and two in 1993).
A couple of Wikipedia editors have worked hard to supress this information because it might be thought to disparage him. Sad/hilarious.
Meanwhile pretty well all the serious commentators have praised the Collins appointment.
Monday, July 20, 2009
All the movements were amazing, but I partiuclarly liked the 3rd (Rondo-Burleske) which is highly contrapuntal and which Mahler inscribed "to my brothers in Apollo". Clearly this pays homage to JS Bach but also I think to all those who have paid similar homage, including especially Beethoven (whose symphonies Mahler re-orchestrated!) and Brahms. As for the fourth movement, it was completely spellbinding, the packed Albert Hall reduced to utter silence with the pianissimo ending. (An ambulance siren passed by just before the end, appropriate really in a way). Then tumultuous applause and four curtain calls I think.
Returned to find an erratum pointed out in QoT which we have corrected on the website. Some acolytes of the idiot PZ Myers are trying to use it to attack Francis Collins. The rage of the "militant atheists" as they see the world moving away from your absurd positions is ... well, interesting.
I've finished the first draft of the preface to The Courage to Believe - let's see what the publisher makes of it.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
In the Guardian someone called Adam Rutherford, a confirmed atheist, is doing an Alpha Course and writing about his experiences. He is excited about the fact that none of the written records about Jesus are contemporay with his life. But (as I posted) it makes little difference whether documents are contemporary or not. Who would you rather trust about the Normandy Landings - a brilliant modern historian like Anthony Beevor or a contemporary propaganda newsreel?
If you suppose that the only people who historically existed are those for whom there are multiple extant contemporary written accounts you will find that almost nobody did!
Ultimately each person has to decide: is life a meaningless accident stemming from a random "big bang" (or something very similar) or is there a Loving Ultimate Creator behind the universe? If the former, then all the evidence for Jesus must be explained away with weird conspiracy/coincidence theories, and life is pointless, love and justice don't really matter. But if there is a Loving Ultimate Creator then the evidence about Jesus makes perfect sense."Somebody objected that there were other options. But note the ultimately. As a philosopher has recently wryly noted, there are no dead atheists, only dead former atheists: either they are former because they no longer exist, or because they are now better informed. In theory there are always an infinite number of possible hypotheses. But ultimately there are only two remotely viable ones at least for most "western" humans at present IMHO. You can of course have multiple creators, but you can't have multiple ultimate creators (unless they are in completely perfect loving union).
Another objector trotted out the line that there is "no evidence" for the resurrection. But of course there is plenty of evidence for Jesus' resurrection. One of the fundamental and most common intellectual dishonesties of atheists is to say "there is no evidence for X" when they mean "there is evidence, but I don't find it convincing enough".
Meanwhile another thread on that comment tries to deny the existence of Jesus, quoting Doherty who is a complete crank - L Ron Hubbard and hollocaust deniers have more intellectual credibility. It's easy to see why desperate atheists should clutch at such straws, but really! It is a fascinating insight into the decline of atheism that a movement which once had someone of the stature of Bertrand Russell as its leading spokesman now has to make do with people like Dawkins who flirt with Doherty's nonsense - due to a laughable ignornace of history or indeed pretty well anything outside old-style "selfish gene" biology.
There was also an interesting line (which I have just seen) by Andrew Brown arguing that if even Dawkins can see that Freud desrves to be intellectually discredited then why do they swallow his views on religion?
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Sinead Cusak was much more convincing as Paulina than she was as the central character in The Cherry Orchard, although perhaps her dangerous magician-like qualities which are inherent to the play might have been brought out more decisevely: she is in danger of being condemned as a witch. Richare Easton as the Old Shepherd was also remarkably good.
But the outstanding performances of Simon RB and Rebecca H will linger in the mind for many many years. They move in a masterly manner between the many complex and very strong emotions - and the trial scene, where you can really see why Hermione is both enraged and on her last legs and Leontes placed in an impossible position, stretched to breaking point. They were also superb in the statue revival scene: very tricky with Rebecca right at the front of the stage with her back to us, so having to stay still and very exposed.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
The production was a triumph and greatly appreciated by a full house. Janie was, as always, outstanding, with her absurdly overblown character - modelled on Mrs Patrick Campbell - taking flights of fancy to the stars. Richard Clifford was excellent in the role of King Magnus, on almost all the time, and Barry Stanton made a wonderfully belligerent Boanerges, the President of the Board of Trade.
Saw Janie briefly in her dressing room afterwards and also Jeffry Wickham her father-in-law who is also in the play. But had to dash to catch the last train back to London.
I'm greatly enjoying reading the MS of The Courage to Believe and enormously honoured to have been asked to write the preface. Full of fascinating insights.
QoT is #3 in Science and Religion on amazon.co.uk but only #39 on Amazon.com. I've started a tiny google adwords campaign as an experiement in the US - let's see if that does any good.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Denis Alexander tells me of Dan Dennett's forays around the Cambridge Darwin Festival - supported by a claque ("Happy Clappy Atheists"). Dennet has provided a report of some of his interactions with the Faraday Institute sponsored sessions there which is interesting reading - he seems quite incapable of serious thought about the ideas that he is presented with. Philip Clayton (described by Dennett as an antheist) makes a similar point on his blog. He has also posted his paper here.
I met Jennifer Wiseman who will be doing a Veritas Forum at Yale later this year, and also an interesting Professor from the Gregorian University called Gennaro Auletta who does Philosophy of Science in general and of Quantum Mechanics in particular. He co-organised the remarkable conference on Biological Evolution Facts and Theories A Critical Appraisal 150 Years After “The Origin of Species” in March where Nobel Laureate Werner Arber, Simon Conway Morris, Francisco Ayala, Stuart Kaufmann and others spoke: I must try to get some of the papers.
Altogether a fascinating evening and Test of Faith looks a very worthwhile and interesting project.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Thence to Alton Abbey to join the monks and my fellow-oblates in the celebration of St Benedict's Day. These monks have been described, by an evangelical pastor, as "the SAS of prayer" and I have long loved Alton Abbey and the feeling that you have of "prayer bouncing off the walls". The church was pretty full when we arrived 20 mins before the service, and packed by 11:30. The sermon was by the Dean of Westminster and the hook was the tomb of John Esteney who was Abbot of Westminster from 1474-1498 and who granted Elizabeth Woodville sanctuary there, and who encouraged his friend Caxton to set up England's first printing press in the Abbey Grounds. I spoke to the Dean afterwards and told him about A Secret Alchemy which I think he would enjoy.
They had some nuns visiting from St Elisabeth's Convent in Minsk, selling beautiful artefacts. This St Elizabeth was Grand Princess Elizabeth, a grand-daughter of Queen Victoria, and AFAIK the only member of the British Royal Family to have been canonised since Edward the Confessor - although St Margaret of Scotland might be said to count as well.
After lunch we walked round the Abbey grounds and visited the graveyard where there are the simple tombs of all the monks and many of the retired seamen that lived there. We especially visited the tomb of Fr Peter Roundhill who died on Dec 29th 1999 having been a monk for 60 years - a lovely old man.
It's great news that Francis Collins is to be Director of the NIH. Dawkins is of course annoyed, idiotically posting that "...Surely the fact that somebody believes really dopey things tells you he isn't INTELLIGENT enough to teach, even if he keeps his stupid beliefs out of the classroom....Can somebody who holds such anti-scientific and downright silly beliefs really be qualified to run the NIH? Isn't he disqualified, not by whether or not he leaves his beliefs outside the laboratory and the committee room, but by the very fact that he is capable of holding such beliefs at all?"
Well of course no-one would ever dream of asking Dawkins to run anything - his management skills are even less than his scientific contributions. But if holding "downright silly" beliefs is a disqualification then surely the idea that all Christians should be banned from teaching or scientific adminstration is an excellent example of a "downright silly" belief - not to mention blatantly illegal and discriminatory.
Thursday, July 09, 2009
It is not often I agree with Yasmin Allabi-Brown but most of what she says in this article is right on the button. The reason we have very high teenage pregnancies and family breakdown is a collapse of moral values in large sections of society - more sex education at a young age will almost certainly make things worse.
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
The "ambassador" emphasised that his government was delighted by the work of Kids for Kids and that it had their full support. He admires their goals of sustainable projects: lending goats and donkeys is something that will work and be able to continue in Darfuri villages, whereas more advanced technology will break down. K4K is also very good at consulting the villagers and community leaders on what is needed, so they are facilitating rather than imposing a solution.
Dr Young emphasised that the causes of conflict need to be resolved as well, and one must be very careful giving aid not to be seen to be taking sides. The security situation is still highly fragile, and indeed bandits are specifically targeting aid workers and their goods and vehicles. This seems to me to be another advantage of lending goats, donkeys, planting trees and providing handpumps and blankets - these are not nearly so attractive to bandits as vehicles and mobile phones. Indeed one questioner who was from Darfur said he had lost 2 sisters and a brother in 3 murders over the last 4 years, with the most recent being Jangaweed who raided the goat market in Al Fasha and demanded money and mobile phones.
I asked where were the religious leaders in all of this - all sides are Moslems and couldn't their Imams unite in condemning the violence and banditry. I didn't get a very satisfactory answer, except to be assured that this was an inter-tribal matter and not sectarian in any way.
Thence to the world première of the latest Harry Potter for which I had secured tickets for my elder grandson and daughter in law. The movie is very good and the young stars have grown in stature as actors, as one would expect. Emma Watson I think is especially fine and subtle. Jim Broadbent is also excellent. It is however pretty dark, as befits its subject of course, and one really wants to see the final denoument in the next movie. Helen Bonham Carter was being interviewed on the Red Carpet about how much she enjoyed her role, which you can see that she plays with gusto. And Alan Rickman is excellent as always.
However the movie started 30 mins late because we all had to check in our Mobile Phones, and there were further delays on getting out. So a long day!
Sunday, July 05, 2009
Today an enjoyable sail with Daughter, followed by evening church with a succinct and pithy sermon on the importance of listening to Jesus - based on the passage where he visits his hometown and is rejected because the people think they know him and, as the preacher suggested, he didn't have the right "credentials".
Reading Stephen Green's Good Value and it really is most impressive, combining deep insights with a considerable historical and geographical sweep. He points out of course that for 18 of the last 20 centuries China was the richest country on earth, and that there have only ever been two instances of a single global superpower (British Empire 1815-1870s and the US from 1989 - about now). Just a few of the many gems:
- "for years the West had been enjoying what was dubbed 'the Goldilocks economy'...the connotations of its being a fairy tale latuer turned out to be relevant too."
- future historians "will miss an important dimension if they do not ofcus on the pervasive stress and sheer tiredness of those involved - whether policymakers, regulators or bankers"
- "Above all it was certain that there would be no quick fixes: the problems of 2009 were complex and would require ebate,. reflection and attention to history."
- "Confidence is followed by foolhardiness, then by fear followed by a crash, followed by witch hunts - and eventually by renewed growth."
Watched the Bishops Gambit episode of Yes Prime Minister where Jim has to appoint a bishop - rather depressingly apposite in some ways. But also some great jokes ("What's better than a Bishop? A Rook?") and someone who has been kept waiting for a Bishopric is described by Sir Humpry as "long time no See". We do have some very able bishops indeed at present - Richard Chartres was on the radio this morning about climate change in a highly constructive manner (see also his Guardian article). The interface between faith and science in this areas is profoundly important.
PS QoT is #3 in Science and Religion on Amazon.co.uk at present - I still can't see any reason for the increase in sales.
Saturday, July 04, 2009
I was not really so convinced by Gertrude or by Ophelia. Gertude is a very complex character but I think she needs to me more regal, and Ophelia - though speaking her lines well and very winsome, was I think misdirected in her mad scene to play it so quietly and normally that she was really not significantly different from her normal submissive self - which may have been the Director's Idea but was surely not Shakespeare's.
They cut, as all the performances I have seen do, the fact that Laertes has basically brought with him a mob of Danes chanting "Laertes shall be king, Laertes king" and is storming the palace, breaking down the doors. The political dimension in Laertes' rebellion is also quite important - had he and Hamlet not killed eachother there would have been another claimant than Fortinbras.
Meanwhile, Charles Moore wonders why people in he UK are having so many fewer children. Well, people, on average, have fewer children if they don't believe in God. Not for nothing did Jean Paul II speak of the "culture of death".
Friday, July 03, 2009
Professional and personal links between such senior officers, who are likely to be further promoted on their return, is an enormously valuable contribution to improving international relations. We heard of instances where fundamental misunderstandings that could have been highly dangerous were defused by members from the relevant countries being able to explain the internal workings to each other. Such links are a major part of the tradition of Navies, and we were able to tell Charles the heartening story of the British Frigate in the War of Independence which issued a challenge when it was short of supplies (this was, now checking, HMS Shannon).
Then in the evening to the annual Soiree at the Royal Society. A number of intriuiging exhibits, including looking at Zebrafish with GFP so that one can see their workings, and next generation solar cells: I didn't realise that photovoltaics have reached over 41% efficiency in lab conditions. Saw many old friends and acquaintances, and had good chats with Martin Rees, John Barrow, and Keith and Anne Peters, saw Andrew Blake for the first time since he was elected an FRS. Also met the National Statistician - very nice and able. A proper understanding and use of statistics is vital in any effective government.
Accosted by a former fellow-student now a Prof of Mathematics who reminded me of the time I set up an alternative course of lectures as an undergraduate because I didn't approve of the way Integration and Measure was being taught. This was a heartening story because the lecturer, far from being mortally affronted that we had taken this line, was very supportive and came to our lectures - the only invariable attendee apart from me and my 3 colleagues - and would kindly help us out when we got stuck in giving the proofs in the seminar room. She said that when her students complained about courses she often thought, but seldom said, well why don't you set up our own course as Beale did.
And yesterday morning Bob May rang saying he had had encouraging feedback from a top journal about our proposed joint short paper and would now draft it. What a day!
PS I've looked up the note produced by the Statistics Authority about the notorious Home Office Knife Crime "Fact Sheet". It is a gem - look at Appendix B. I particularly enjoyed "Youth violence is reported as being 30% lower in Halloween week than in the previous year. “Halloween week” is not a recognised period for statistical comparisons. And no evidence is given about the reasons for this change – it could be because of the weather or other external factors."
Thursday, July 02, 2009
First up with Brandenberg 3 conducted by Nicholas Cleobury and you really got a sense of the dance of the music between the parts. Then the two Taverner premieres. Sir John was hoping to be there but sadly was too ill - his publisher was there to "represent" him (sitting behind me, very charming) and Cleobury, who is an old friend of his, made some introductory remarks and read from Taverner's wonderful book The Music of Silence about how the original choral version of Song for Athene was composed. Taverner believes that music has always existed and that the role of a composer is to find it. In this case the music came to him at the funeral of this young lady - whom he didn't know but members of his family did, and he rang Mother Thekla (his spiritual director) and said "I must have words". She responded with the words from Shakespeare and the Orthodox burial service.
The first piece however was the UK concert Premiere of Dhyana which is Sanskrit for "meditiaton" - a hauntingly evocative work straddling and transcending both Eastern and Western traditions, brilliantly played by Ruth who really gets to the emotional heart of every work in such a deep and novel way. I hadn't realised that she also made the world premiere recording of Mahashakti which is paired with Tavener's Universal Requiem on EMI Classics*. Then the strings version of Song for Athene - characteristically imbued with deep and beautiful spiritual resonances.
Finally we had the Bach A Minor Concerto with Ruth directing from the violin, inspiring real collaboration and gusto from the Academy and giving her unique and distinctive vision. It was a very dangerous performance in many ways, with the "even triplets" turned into urgent and deeply atriculated subtle rhythms, the deep spirituality and emotion of the Andante to the fore, and a performance of the final Allegro assai which brought tears to my eyes. Ruth is completely in command of the material (she gave her first public performance of this when she was 10) but she played it without a hit of "easy virtuosity" and in the astounding bravura passages she conveyed their real edgeiness - pushing the limits of what can be performed and heard with the heart. I felt like giving her a standing ovation but I think it was too hot and the audience would not have gone for it. Though I discovered afterwards that she got a standing ovation at Bath Abbey which was wonderful and I'm sure richly deserved.
My friend Denis Noble would I'm sure have enjoyed the concert - perhaps especially Dhyana for its Buddhist overtones as well as the concerto, but he sadly was unable to get back from a conference in Paris in time, so I had a spare seat next to me. Which Ruth was able to occupy since we decided to stay for the 2nd half which was the Dvorak Seranade for Strings. Ruth's mother and boyfriend and his sister were there and we said hello to the conductor, and to another conductor who had come to see Ruth, and then the 3 of us went for a meal and caught the last reasonable train back to London. Amongst other things we discussed Gladwell's Outliers and roughly calcluated the number of hours that Ruth had been practicing since she started playing the violin aged 2. I asked her before the calculation at what age she thought she really "got it" and she said about 15 - sure enough by then she had just put in c10,000 hours. Now it must be about 25,000.
* Note: Neither on Amazon nor on the EMI Website does it mention this - you have to look at the image of the back of the record sleeve to see that Mahashakti or Ruth are involved!
Wednesday, July 01, 2009
I asked Paul Myners a question in the open session after his talk and was astonished to get a very nice plug for our professional work - how the dialogues we had organised had been really helpful to him and had significantly influenced his thinking. I hadn't seen Paul since he became a minister, and was able to thank him afterwards before he had to dash off.
At Life Group last night we discussed amongst other things how, as you grow in the Christian life, you go through dry patches when it seems that God is hidden and does not answer prayer. This is an incredibly well documented phenomenon but does not make it any easier. CS Lewis talks about it in the Screwtape Letters, St John of the Cross is of course the ultimate author on this, and apparently Mother Theresa had it in a very extreme way. One of my friends at Life Group said it was a bit like God removing the stabiliser wheels so that you can learn to ride a bicycle on your own.
QoT has popped back up to #6 on the amazon.co.uk Science & Religion bestseller list - I wonder why?
Another anti-God rant in the Guardian, this time from Björn Ulvaeus who was part of ABBA. "Unfortunately the European Convention on Human Rights doesn't permit the banning of independent religious schools" (my italics) Why are these ignoramuses given such platforms to fuel anti-religious prejudice? Would the Guardian give space to someone who made it clear that they wanted to trample on or restrict people's human rights but were "unfortunately" prevented from doing so by the ECHR if it was any other right? Why is this combination of ignorance and intolerance applauded by so many credulous Guardian readers?