Category: Science

This week I had  two experiences that provided a very important juxtaposition. The cold, grey, elitist world without God where the weak are trampled on, and a vibrant, love filled world where the weak are cherished and God is at the center…..   On Monday night I was debating a very pleasant Humanist Minister on Ummah TV ( A Barelvi Muslim Channel).  The worldview that the ‘Humanists’ offer is limited by a hyper-rationalism….  which not only is misleading but is also dangerous.  This was put into perspective very powerfully on Weds night when I attended a screening of a new film called ‘The Idiots’  which tells the powerful life story of Jean Vanier and his life among the disabled.  The life of Jean Vanier and the work of Larche paints a powerful picture to why we need to resist ”scientism” and the ‘Humanist’ world view.
preview_become_weaker_wide_quoteThe film – first.  As a young Canadian naval officer he was invited to live in a house for the disabled by a French Priest. This changed his life and since then he started the L’arche movement which currently has over 130 communities in 32+ countries, including a recently opened home in Bethlehem. Awarded the Templeton prize of £1.7 million last year, Vanier is recognised by many as a living saint, in fact his parents have the process towards beatification already open. But his experience of embracing the weakness of the most vulnerable in our society has a prophetic role in a society which is attempting to eradicate weakness through genetic engineering, pre-natal screening, creating the perfect baby etc.  What is beautiful about the film the Idiots – it is never patronising, it never glosses over the reality, but the joy and the love is palpable.  Here is link to their website where you can see a teaser for the film …  The Idiots – R2W Films .  Hopefully it will be on general release soon.
maxresdefault (1)On Monday night  I was on a Muslim TV Channel debating with a ‘humanist’.  A charming gentleman but I challenged him over his hyper-rationalism.  The problem is that it is over-reductionist.  A technique that was revolutionary in the science lab – and had amazing results and great discoveries … now has now been applied to the much more complex world of Human Existence. Rationalism has developed its own extremism which in the US is referred to as ‘Scientism’….   Many great errors and disasters have come from an excessive faith in pure reason.    The French Revolution which brutalised French society with the pretense of recreating a new Society based purely on reason, Social Darwinism influenced the Nazi desire to create the Master Race, Communism socially re-engineered a new generation ‘The Soviet Man’ .  I know here in Manchester the students talk about an orthodoxy in life sciences which for example promotes (unchallenged)  the weeding out of Down Syndrome Babies.
This is is why we need Jean Vanier – the Prophet of Weakness.


image3_hubble_orbitWe live in an exciting golden-age of science, particularly in astronomy.  With the Hubble Telescope or the Voyager Spacecraft which is leaving our solar system ( the first man made objects to do so)  or even the Kepler Space Observatory spotting extra-solar planets. As we can see further and further our greatest scientists have been asking why does the universe appear to be “fine-tuned” for life?  The fact that we are here, able to observe and ask these questions, learn about laws of the universe, depends on the conditions for life to be present.  At the relatively ‘smaller’ level of our solar system – our planet is in the ‘Goldilocks Zone’ – i.e. not too hot or cold  for water and therefore life to exist.  At larger galaxy / universe level, there are supposedly  6 dimensionless constants (i.e.  subatomic forces, how gravity interacts with different forces) that if they were slightly different would not permit life to exist anywhere in the universe.

Einstein’s equivalence principle, which states that the laws of physics are the same everywhere has just been brought into question due to research in Chile.  Analysis of the light from distant quasars in 2011 from data from the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile showed that one of the constants of nature appears to be different in different parts of the cosmos, supporting the theory that our solar system is in an area of the Universe that is “just right” for life,.”This finding was a real surprise to everyone,” said John Webb of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. “The implications for our current understanding of science are profound. If the laws of physics turn out to be merely “local by-laws”, it might be that whilst our observable part of the Universe favors the existence of life and human beings, other far more distant regions may exist where different laws preclude the formation of life, at least as we know it.

einstein-75dffc8af00c56b1cf93b7058f15af1360ac6bca-s6-c30These exciting discoveries seem can give strength to a recent addition to the classical formulations of the arguments for the existence of God.  The argument from intelligibility is one that Pope Benedict is largely responsible for.  As a young theologian the then Joseph  Ratzinger commences with the observation that finite being, as we experience it, is marked, through and through, by intelligibility, that it is to say, by a formal structure that makes it understandable to an inquiring mind.   In point of fact, all of the sciences – physics, chemistry, psychology, astronomy, biology, and so forth – rest on the assumption that at all levels, microscopic and macroscopic, being can be known.  Ratzinger argues that the only finally satisfying explanation for this universal objective intelligibility is a great Intelligence who has thought the universe into being.  Our language provides an intriguing clue in this regard, for we speak of our acts of knowledge as moments of “recognition,” literally a re-cognition, a thinking again what has already been thought.  Ratzinger cites Einstein in support of this connection: “in the laws of nature, a mind so superior is revealed that in comparison, our minds are as something worthless.”   In this Golden age of Astronomy and discovery of space – could it be  that growing proof of a more finely tuned universe than we originally imagined – gives strength to the argument from intelligibility?







Lovell Telescope, Jodrell Bank Observatory

Lovell Telescope, Jodrell Bank Observatory (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Two alumni of Manchester who seem to be high-profile but are now sadly dead are Alan Turing and Bernard Lovell.  Turing. mathematical genius, code-breaker extraordinaire, is widely considered to be the father of computing science and artificial intelligence.  Designing the first model  stored-program computer,  he worked on the innovative Manchester Computers project which lead to the development of the first commercially available general purpose computer the Ferranti Mark One.   It is an incredible legacy as arguably computers have been the most significant technological advance in the modern age.   Bernard Lovell, sadly died a few weeks ago.  A visionary physicist – his top-secret work on magnetrons during the WW2 helped Allied bombers spot submarine periscopes and Hitler blamed a major naval setback on his inventions.  During this work he spotted other strange stuff – emitting radio frequency waves – cosmic rays perhaps? so after the War he set up the Jodrell Bank Radio Telescope in Cheshire to find out. The worlds biggest steerable radio telescope, its spiralling costs and need for electromagnetic silence (thus blocking local development) led it to be called ‘Lovell’s folly’ – and he was staring bankruptcy and public hostility in the face. Until the space race started and the launch of the Russian Sputnik sattelites. When it became obvious that the only place in the world that could track them was Jodrell Bank – overnight he became a hero again!

Importantly for our work in the Chaplaincy is also his interest in questions of science and faith.  A committed Christian, and organist in his local parish church, St Peter’s, Swettenham, for 40 years, with the big questions he believed cosmology must give way to metaphysics.  This is important for me as we are developing a Faith and Science group here in Manchester.  It is striking how many of the students who come into the chaplaincy are scientists.  Talking to them it is clear that they find it increasingly difficult to talk about their faith openly with scientific colleagues, or in a science lab. We would like to counteract that by developing a thriving Faith and Science community here – with a specialist library, lectures.  It may be that we will have an annual lecture named after Bernard Lovell.  It is a shame that due to the aggressive and intolerant atheism of people like Dawkins, the wise, gentler voices such as Lovell’s seem to be drowned out.  The Lovell Telescope will now be the nerve centre of what will be the world’s biggest telescope, the multinational Square Kilometre Array. But until his recent death Bernard Lovell remained modest about the limits of its discoveries. In his 90s he said he had never in his life been “faced with so many unanswered questions as now”.  And in his final Reith lecture he sketched out wise and telling parameters for faith and science when he said:

I am no more surprised or distressed at the limitation of science when faced with this great problem of creation than I am at the limitation of the spectroscope in describing the radiance of a sunset or at the theory of counterpoint in describing the beauty of a fugue.