Saturday, December 3, 2016

Who do you love to hate?

Republicans or Democrats, Atheists or Christians, young earth creationists or evolutionary biologists, Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton, Calvinists or Arminians, Muslims or Hindus, supporters or opponents of same-sex marriage, liberals or conservatives, Sydney Anglicans or the Uniting Church, Greens or One Nation, complementarians or egalitarians, Stockbrokers or social workers, pro-life or pro-choice, blacks or whites, capitalists or socialists, …?

Over the last decade, I think there has been a significant decrease in civil debate, both in public and private. Those with different views or from different social groups are disparaged or “demonised”. Sometimes this is blatant; other times it is more subtle.
Some groups seem to get their identity from who they “not” or what they are opposed to.

What is causing this contempt for the “other”?
I see several contributing factors.

Social media. 
This leads to people congregating in groups of “friends” who have similar views, values, and “identity” to their own. Highly specialised and like-minded groups (Calvinist Chelsea fans who also like cheese…)  can congregate. They don’t have to engage seriously with alternative views. They are in a “content bubble”. Communication is impersonal and terse. People say things online that they would be much less likely to say face to face to another. Extremist and impulsive views that were once said personally to a small group of people can now unfiltered reach thousands and even millions. Specialised and extremist talk radio and cable TV hosts play a similar role.

 In a wide range of countries some candidates and parties have been able to successfully exploit “identity” politics and fear of and contempt for the “other” to get elected. The last USA Presidential election is an example.

I feel my view is true and yours is wrong and so it does not matter what evidence there is for a different view.

I should stress that none of us is immune to these tendencies. We are all prone to pride, prejudice, and self-righteousness.
I also stress that on my random list above there are some views or people I strongly disagree with. Some I find extremely troubling and even dangerous.
Not all views are equally valid. But, that does not give me the right to “hate” them.

Why should everyone be concerned about this?
Democracy, peace, and community depend on reasonable and diverse debate.

Why should Christians be concerned?
Our identity comes solely from being a follower of Jesus and knowing we are loved by God.
It transcends nation, denomination, ethnicity, and any particular theological or political views. And, everyone is made in the image of God, regardless of their views or behaviour, and is loved by God. Thus, they are to be respected and valued as a person.
Humility and gentleness need to replace self-righteous anger.
Consider the way that Jesus interacted with tax collectors and prostitutes.
He also harshly confronted the Pharisees for their pride and self-righteousness.

Monday, November 28, 2016

A nuanced atheist view of Jesus and Christian theology

Previously, I have written several posts featuring Terry Eagleton. He is a prominent literary theorist, a Marxist, an atheist, and a critic of both religion and the New Atheists.

Yesterday, I watched the first of his 2008 Terry Lectures at Yale University, which were later published as Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate.
It presents a fascinating, nuanced, challenging, and provocative view of Jesus and Christian theology. Some of it I do not agree with but it is worth engaging with.

I am looking forward to watching the other lectures.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Science involves faith

As I have discussed before, I do not like the term "science and faith".  It is misleading because both science and Christianity involve faith, reason, and evidence. I prefer terms such as "science and theology" or "science and the Bible" or "science and Christianity".

A nice example of how science involves faith is a column, Reasonably Effective: Deconstructing a Miracle, published in 2006 in Physics Today. It is by Frank Wilczek who shared the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics.

He first discusses Eugene Wigner's famous 1960 article, "Unreasonable effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences." He then continues:
Acts of faith
Since any answer to a “why” question can be challenged with a further “why,” any reasoned argument must terminate in premises for which no further reason can be offered. At that point we pass, necessarily, from reason to faith. Our present faith in symmetry and locality is grounded in the good experience we’ve had with them so far. At present, I think, we can carry our explanations no deeper.
As good believing scientists we must take our faith seriously—so seriously that we feel compelled to act on it, and thereby to test it.
He then goes on to discuss supersymmetry in quantum field theory and says how he anticipates the associated elementary particles will be observed in the Large Hadron Collider in the following years (i.e., from 2006). However, it is interesting that ten years later this is not the case. Nevertheless, despite the evidence to the contrary, some physicists still have "faith" that supersymmetry is valid. 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The value and importance of children

Last week I gave a talk at a SAIACS chapel service.

It was based on Luke 18:15-17
People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them.  But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’
I considered the relevance of this to four categories of children:

i. our own children if we have them
ii. children in our church
iii. children in society
iv. children on the margins: the unborn, orphans, street children, trafficked, handicapped, …

Here is an edited version of the talk. 

The quote about Bob Pierce, founder of World Vision, is from here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Lecture on Science and Religion

Last week I was honoured to give a lecture on "Science and Religion" at St. Stephen's College, Delhi University. Here are the slides.
The question time after the lecture (both formal and informal) was particularly interesting.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Tragic white mothers and black maids

I enjoyed watching the movie The Help with my wife and some friends. It is striking that the racist events depicted in the movie occurred in my lifetime. A friend pointed out the almost complete absence of men in the movie; the men that were featured in a small way were passive or abusive. One exception is a preacher in a black church.

The white mothers in the movie were really strange to me. They thought their black maids were "lower life forms" but entrusted them with raising their children. What does that say about the mother's view of their own children? Were they just a burden and inconvenience like mopping the floor?

Towards a Christian perspective on an individual academic discipline

I have had some interesting discussions with friends about how one moves towards a Christian perspective on your own academic discipline. Here are some slides and a questionnaire.