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Archive for the ‘nature’ Category

In his chapter ‘Refashioning the Clay’ Samuel Wells acknowledges the huge contribution the Big Bang and evolutionary theory have made to science, but cautions against turning them into theology, for “you get a single word answer: survival. The whole dynamic of history mutates into survival; and adaptation that enables survival is called progress. Conflict is at the heart of every encounter, and survival is the reward for those who win the battle.

“But Christianity has a very different answer.

“Christians believe the logic – the logos, or word – at the heart of the universe is not about survival. It’s about death and resurrection. The ultimate future doesn’t belong to those who have fought and prevailed, it belongs to those who have laid down their lives for others.

Samuel Wells, in Learning to Dream Again

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I’ve recently been listening to Bill Bryson’s ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything‘ on audiobook. Superb. It’s simultaneously an overview of the various scientific disciplines and a entertaining history of science, with its many colourful personalities.

I love science and finding out about the world, uncovering mysteries which lead to deeper mysteries. There are so many wonders out there – from the glories of space to the complexity of cells and the magic of quantum particles. As a Christian I love having my brain and imagination stretched, to celebrate and be thankful. There are so many bits of this book where I just went ‘wow’ – and others where I couldn’t wait to ask God what he was up to there!

What comes across in the book most distinctively is Bryson’s wonder – at the universe, our planet and most of all, at life. He seems almost overwhelmed at times by the sheer quantity and adaptability of life, it’s fruitfulness and diversity. Life is everywhere – at least on planet Earth! One of his repeating themes is the fragility of life and the unlikelihood of us being here.  He explains the anthropic principle early in the book (which states that the (or our) universe is necessarily ‘fine-tuned’ to us, else we wouldn’t be here to observe it were so) and he clearly wants to be convinced, but I was surprised how often he emphasises what an amazing number of remarkable coincidences have led to our existence here and now. Again and again he keeps coming across reasons why we shouldn’t be here!

The last chapter of the book is all about the extinctions that mankind has caused and he concludes like this:

I mention all this to make the point that if you were designing an organism to look after life in our lonely cosmos, to monitor where it is going and keep a record of where it has been, you wouldn’t choose human beings for the job.

But here’s an extremely salient point: we have been chosen, by fate or providence or whatever you wish to call it. As far as we can tell, we are the best there is. We may be all there is. It’s an unnerving thought that we may be the living universe’s supreme achievement and its worst nightmare simultaneously.

…If this book has a lesson, it is that we are awfully lucky to be here – and by ‘we’ I mean every living thing. To attain any kind of life at all in this universe of ours appears to be quite an achievement. As humans we are doubly lucky, of course. We enjoy not only the privilege of existence, but also the singular ability to appreciate it and even, in a multitude of ways, to make it better. It is a trick we have only just begun to grasp.

We have arrived at this position of eminence in a stunningly short time. Behaviourally modern humans have been around for no more than about 0.0001 per cent of Earth’s history – almost nothing, really – but even existing for that little while has required a nearly endless string of good fortune.

We really are at the beginning of it all. The trick, of course, is to make sure we never find the end. And that, almost certainly, will require a lot more than lucky breaks.

Bill Bryson in ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’.

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November Poems

With the season turning to winter I thought it was time for a return visit to November Passion by BJ:

Christ dies on the roadside briars
And his blood is spattered on countless hips and haws.
His heart’s blood hangs in droplets on the guelder rose.
Scourge him and rip at him with bramble stems
And bind the clinging ivy round.
Set a crown of blackthorn savage on his head
And pierce him with blackened shattered spars
Felled in the storm.
The crows are watching mocking
Nodding their heads: ‘Let him save himself-
This spring God, riven now, strung up against the sky
Is all? Come down! let him halt
The season’s fall!’

And so he dies.
Descends
Harrowing the sod and clod
Dead and undead buried in the mould.
His life thrust into black earth
Forcing through the Sheol of hidden seed,
Through root and bulb, mycelium and spore.

Give him to me –
I will make a shroud of thistledown and old man’s beard
And cover his face with spiders’ silk.
For his tomb I will find a fallen beech
Hollowed in years. There deep in drifted leaves
Shall he lie out his quiet Sabbath rest.
While we locked in our rooms for fear
And curtains drawn against the dark
Weep for Adonis dead.

The robin is singing alone in the winter wood.
In silence under northern stars
The earth waits.

If you like this, you’ll also enjoy Psalm in Kensington Gardens, Autumn Genesis and more poems by my very talented mother!

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Check out these pictures from Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2008.

You can see more at the Natural History Museum online gallery.

I especially liked Polar Sunrise and Last Breath of Autumn.

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Everyone’s talking about whether Richard Dawkins is still an atheist (read Spectator article)!

At a debate with John Lennox at Oxford’s Natural History Museum on Tuesday evening (watch video), Dawkins made the following surprising comment: “A serious case could be made for a deistic God”.

Another fascinating comment from the Spectator article by Melanie Phillips:

Even more jaw-droppingly, Dawkins told me that, rather than believing in God, he was more receptive to the theory that life on earth had indeed been created by a governing intelligence – but one which had resided on another planet. Leave aside the question of where that extra-terrestrial intelligence had itself come from, is it not remarkable that the arch-apostle of reason finds the concept of God more unlikely as an explanation of the universe than the existence and plenipotentiary power of extra-terrestrial little green men?

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I’ve been enjoying the photos on The Big Picture, especially the animals! Here are a few that caught my eye:

Recommended! Get the feed.

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If you haven’t heard – or read – NT Wright’s take on the problem of evil, I’ve just come across an article he wrote in 2005, God, 9/11, the Tsunami, and the New Problem of Evil. Well worth a read – or even a skim through!

Here’s part of the section in which he deals with the forces of evil in the world, in particular in the death of Jesus (interestingly in this article he stops short of attributing ‘natural disasters’ to evil powers more generally):

The Gospels also tell the story in terms of the deeper, darker demonic forces which operate at a supra-personal level. These forces operate through all of the human elements I’ve mentioned, but cannot be reduced to terms of them. … The stormy sea, the miniature but deadly tsunamis on Galilee, evoke ancient Israelite imagery of an evil which is more than the sum total of present wrongdoing and woe. “The power of darkness” to which Jesus alludes immediately before his betrayal suggests that on that night evil was being given a free rein to do its worst, with the soldiers, the betrayer, the muddle disciples and the corrupt court its mere instruments. The mocking bystanders as Jesus hangs on the cross (“If you are the son of God . . .”) echo the taunting, tempting voice that had whispered in the desert. The power of death itself, the ultimate denial of the goodness of creation, speaks of a force of destruction, of anti-world, anti-God power being allowed to do its worst. … 

The Gospels thus tell the story of Jesus, and particularly of his death, as the story of how cosmic and global evil, in its suprapersonal as well as personal forms, are met by the sovereign, saving love of Israel’s God, YHWH, the creator of the world. …What the Gospels offer is not a philosophical explanation of evil, what it is or why it’s there, but the story of an event in which the living God deals with it. Like the exodus from Egypt, or the return from Babylon, only now with fully cosmic reach, God has rescued his people from the dark powers of chaos. The sea monsters have done their worst, and God has vindicated his people and put creation to rights. And he has done so through the suffering of Israel’s representative, the Messiah. This is what it looks like when YHWH says, as in Exodus 4, “I have heard the cry of my people, and I have come down to set them free.” … God chose the appropriate and necessarily deeply ambiguous route of acting from within his creation, from within his chosen people, to take the full force of evil upon himself and so exhaust it. … New creation has begun, the new world in which violence will be overcome and the sea will be no more. …

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