Sunday, April 30, 2017

Sermon on Genesis 1-2

At our church,  a new sermon series is starting on Genesis. I was asked to give the first talk. Here is the current version of the slides.

For background, I recommend comparing and contrasting Genesis with the Babylonian creation myth the Enuma Elish, which is nicely summarised in this short video.

Another helpful short video is Science and Genesis, featuring John Polkinghorne, Alister McGrath, N.T. Wright, and others.

I have found helpful the book How to Read Genesis  by Tremper Longman.
An excellent introductory book that puts my talk in context is Exploring Science and Belief by Michael Poole.



Saturday, April 29, 2017

Christian academics talk about their research

Today I am looking forward to attending a Draft Day in Brisbane [organised by the Simeon Network] where Christian academics talk about issues related to their research.

Here are some talk titles.

"The success of the Victoria Institute and the failure of the metaphysical society"

"Considering the role of the church in population ageing"

 "How artificial intelligence may affect human decision-making"

"Justice and inequalities in cancer outcomes"

 "The 1958 Prisons Act: Queensland's missed opportunity in reform"

"The demotion of Pluto and the sociology of Science"

Here are some of the slides from my talk on "Engaging universities with the big questions"

Monday, April 3, 2017

Yearning for forgiveness, redemption, and justice

Western societies today present a paradox. Truth and morality are said to be relative and contextual. But in reality, people seem to be more passionate than ever about what they think is right, whether in politics or social behaviour.

David Brooks has a fascinating column in the New York Times, The Strange Persistence of Guilt. Here are a couple of extracts.
American life has secularized and grand political ideologies have fallen away, but moral conflict has only grown. In fact, it’s the people who go to church least — like the members of the alt-right — who seem the most fervent moral crusaders....Sin is a stain, a weight and a debt. But at least religions offer people a path from self-reflection and confession to atonement and absolution. Mainstream culture has no clear path upward from guilt, either for individuals or groups. So you get a buildup of scapegoating, shaming and Manichaean condemnation. 
Why can't we escape this yearning for righteousness, justice, and redemption?
It seems to be hard-wired into us.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Was Steve Jobs a hero?

I enjoyed watching the Steve Jobs movie, based on a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin [to me famous for West Wing]. It has the creativity and intense dialogue that one expects from Sorkin


I have a few minor comments.

I never quite understand people who go on about how Jobs "changed people's lives" and "transformed the world" and is a hero like Gandhi, Einstein, Gutenberg, Edison, ...
To me, he was one of several key players in the computer revolution.
The movie shows how Jobs had a cult-like status and people were just "dying" to attend his latest product launch.
I agree his creativity and achievements were significant. I love my Mac and much prefer it to a Windows PC. But I just don't feel this gives my life more meaning, purpose, or enrichment.

Given the way he poorly treated many work colleagues, should he be respected? A key issue is whether you believe that the ends justify the means. I don't.

The movie shows how people can have a lot of professional and financial success but at the end of the day what matters is close personal relationships; with family, friends, and colleagues.
We all hunger for acceptance, recognition, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Science and the Bible talk

Tonight I am giving a talk on "Science and the Bible", sponsored by the UQ Chaplaincy.
Here are the slides.


Saturday, January 28, 2017

A long journey of emotional resolution

My wife and I went to see the movie Lion. It recreates the true story of an Indian boy who is separated from his poor family and ends up getting adopted by an upper middle-class family in Australia.

I highly recommend it. Besides being a moving story it deals with several substantial issues:

the incredible emotional bond between children and parents, whether adopted or biological

the jarring disparity between the material poverty of much of India and the material wealth and comfort of upper middle-class Australia (something I am too familiar with),

the tragedy of street children.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Why are some communities poor?

Is it due to external and structural factors such as exploitation by foreigners or neoliberalism or racism?
Or, is due to internal factors such as culture and breakdown of families or moral values?
Why did poor working class whites recently help elect a billionaire with a history of exploiting workers to be president of the USA?

For Christmas, I (along with several other family members) received a copy of Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance.

I enjoyed reading it and would recommend it for three reasons.
First, it is a fascinating and moving story that is well written.
Second, it does attempt to address the issue of the causes of poverty for one specific community.
Third, it does provide some insight as to why Trump does appeal to some poor working class whites.

It is for the third reason that the book and the author has attracted considerable attention, although Trump's name never appears in the book.

Vance says in his community the view is:
We can’t trust the evening news. We can’t trust our politicians. Our universities, the gateway to a better life, are rigged against us. We can’t get jobs. You can’t believe these things and participate meaningfully in society.... There is a lack of agency here—a feeling that you have little control over your life and a willingness to blame everyone but yourself. This is distinct from the larger economic landscape of modern America.”
Nick Aroney brought to my attention a very stimulating review of the book by Joshua Rothman in the New Yorker that focuses on the second issue, particularly that of culture vs. economics. Here is one choice quote.
Americans have tended to answer the question “Why are people poor?” by choosing one of two responses: they can either point to economic forces (globalization, immigration) or blame cultural factors (decaying families, lack of “grit”). These seem like two social-science theories about poverty—two hypotheses, which might be tested empirically—but, in practice, they are more like political fairy tales. As Kelefa Sanneh wrote earlier this year, the choice between these two explanations has long been racialized. Working-class whites are said to be poor because of outsourcing; inner-city blacks are imagined to be holding themselves back with hip-hop. The implicit theory is that culture comes from within, and so can be controlled by individuals and communities, whereas economic structures exert pressures from without, and so are beyond the control of those they affect.
Poverty, economics, and culture are complex and interact subtly with one another. To me it is simplistic to claim that poverty is largely due to either culture OR economics. Yet, that is what political conservatives (such as J.D. Vance) and liberals, both respectively do.