Storm Scenarios: Keep Calm and Battle On

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© John Boyer, Freeimages

One day Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side of the lake.’ So they got into a boat and set out. As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Master, Master, we’re going to drown!’ He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. ‘Where is your faith?’ he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, ‘Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.’

Luke 8:22-25

Perhaps the storm stopped suddenly of its own accord, but the disciples were not fooled. They had seen a number of these ‘coincidences’ in Jesus ministry, and they weren’t about to ignore this one. Jesus had calmed the waves with only his words. Wasn’t this an act of God? Who else could be in complete control of creation?

I’m not sure whether the disciples were more frightened before or after the storm, but it must have been a key moment in their relationship with Jesus. These twelve men had been travelling with him for some time now. They had been living and eating with him, learning, being sent out on mission, been told off for being stupid or competitive, and supported through all their struggles. So what did they learn through this incident, apart from the fact that their teacher might well be the promised Messiah, or possibly even the Son of God? Continue reading

Guest Post: Believing the Unbelievable?

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Rocky Chang, Flickr, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

There are more things in heaven and on earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies

 Shakespeare

A common objection to Christianity is that it simply isn’t believable. The virgin birth, the resurrection, the feeding of the five thousand – it’s just all rather improbable isn’t it, if not downright impossible. The question I’m going to consider in this blog post is “Does the truth have to seem believable?”, looking at examples from modern science. Continue reading

Absolute Proof

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Pixabay

What would it take to convince you that God exists, beyond the shadow of a doubt? Or what sort of data is someone looking for when they ask me to ‘prove the existence of God scientifically’. Aside from the fact that science is about evidence and not proof, this question raises all sorts of issues. If, as Christians believe, God is a person to be known (though not directly seen) then what sort of evidence should we be looking for? If Jesus really was God’s son in human form, do we need physical evidence of his existence? If God is all-wise, then perhaps he would reveal himself in a way that is less obvious, like the teacher that makes you want to think and challenge your assumptions. Continue reading

Faith and Neuroscience: Wisdom, Training, and the Numinous

B0010280 Healthy human brain from a young adult, tractography
Healthy human brain from a young adult © Alfred Anwander, MPI-CBS, Wellcome Images, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

What help can people of faith receive from neuroscience? This was the question that Revd Dr Alasdair Coles asked in his lecture at the Faraday Institute last week. Alasdair works in Addenbrookes hospital, Cambridge, both as a neurologist and as a hospital chaplain. He brought both these perspectives to his talk, which I will summarise here in my own words. Continue reading

Reality

© Ruth Bancewicz

The early scientists described in ‘The Faith of Scientists’, are all remarkable characters, but it was in the company of Blaise Pascal that I felt most at home. He had his eccentricities, and I certainly don’t agree with everything he said, but in the extended extracts of his writing presented in Frankenberry’s book I recognised many of my own thoughts and beliefs.

Pascal was fascinated by the immensity of the universe.

When I consider the brief span of my life, absorbed into the eternity before and after, the small space I occupy and which I see swallowed up in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I know nothing and which know nothing of me, I take fright and am amazed to see myself here rather than there: there is no reason for me to be here rather than there, now rather than then. Who put me here? By whose command and act were this time and place allotted to me? … The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me.

Pascal, Pensées, Fragment 230

Humility in scholarship was also important to him – the recognition that there’s much we don’t know. There is even one part of the Pensees that would be hilarious if it wasn’t so true, where Pascal describes how as our experience and influence increase our friends are less likely to tell us the truth about ourselves, so we end up doing more and more stupid things.

There is much discussion on faith and reason in Pascal’s writing. He discusses the personalities of different people – those who come to believe in God through faith (or perhaps what could be described as more intuitive means) alone, and those for whom reasoned argument is more important. His discussion of the famous wager shows that he gave rational arguments for God a good deal of thought, though he came to the conclusion that ‘reason is to faith as moral effort is to salvation – necessary, but not sufficient without God’s grace’ (Frankenberry)

So Pascal was not at all against rationalism, but saw a place for faith in the grand scheme of things.

Faith certainly tells us what the senses do not, but not the contrary of what they see; it is above, not against them.

I could take that statement further. If faith is in something real, then even if that reality includes something beyond what we can detect with our senses, our faith should at least help to make sense of what we can see and touch.

A dappled world?

The philosopher of science Nancy Cartwright has rejected the idea of law in nature. Instead she has proposed that we live in a ‘dappled world’. Philosopher and theologian Lydia Jaeger spent her PhD investigating how far certain philosophers of science were influenced by their personal worldviews. In reading Cartwright’s work Lydia was intrigued by the theological metaphors that she often used. A stray comment in an obscure book review suggested Cartwright thought that law-like behaviour in the world would imply the existence of a creator.

On meeting Cartwright and putting the question to her directly, Lydia discovered that she did indeed think that the existence of law-like behaviour in nature would point towards the existence of a creator. Because she did not believe in a creator, Cartwright rejected the idea of scientific laws. Since those meetings, Cartwright has become more explicit about her motivation for rejection of law in science.

Wouldn’t we all like to live in a dappled world? Despite her beautifully coined phrase, Cartwright’s claim that the laws of nature only apply in certain circumstances has not contributed to the ongoing development of modern science.

Certain areas of science – biology for example – are not apparently law-like in behaviour. But the early scientists believed that the universe would reveal its secrets on a deeper investigation, and it did. The world does not always appear to operate in regular ways, and it took faith for the first scientists to start investigating using the tools of science.

What do Christianity and science have in common?

Svilen Milev, www.sxc.hu
Svilen Milev, http://www.sxc.hu

This is a cartoon of the molecular structure of DNA. Obviously no one has ever seen it – it’s too small even for the most powerful of microscopes. It was discovered by James Watson and Francis Crick (and several others) using x-ray crystallography in crystals of DNA. After their famous Nature paper was published, the science of molecular biology flourished and Watson and Crick’s model for the structure of DNA was tested in many ways. Now we have so much evidence for the double helical structure of DNA that no biologist would doubt it.

The structure of DNA hasn’t been ‘proved’. You can only prove things using maths. Science is about disproving things – narrowing down the options and getting nearer to the truth. So in a way we believe that DNA is a double helix by faith – faith that is well founded on the ‘laws’ of physics, and lots and lots and lots of reliable evidence. I’d be fairly confident to stake my life on it.

What does that have to do with Christianity? This is something that I stake my life on every day, so I’d better be sure it’s worth believing. Like science, none of the interesting questions in life, such as ‘Is that a great painting?’, ‘Does that person love me?’, or ‘Is there a God?’, can be solved mathematically. But I think there’s plenty of evidence to back up the claims of Christianity in history, archaeology, answers to prayer, the study of the Bible, and so the list goes on.

For me the most important evidence for God is the way in which he changes lives. When someone you know well becomes a Christian you have the opportunity to see whether Jesus’ claims are true – first hand. I’ve seen it happen over and over again. That’s the reason why I’m a Christian, and why I think science and Christianity have something in common.