Category: Science


AMDG

The power of humankind has become breathtaking.  Geologists recently claimed that we are entering a new planetary epoch called the Anthropocene. This reflects our impact on the planet, on its geology and its ecosystems, with climate change constituting a small part of this ‘human-shaping’ effect.  Beyond harnessing the power of the atom we have also discovered that we are affecting the planet in ways that we could not imagine. One of the more interesting ways of the new ‘Anthropocene’ is how we are affecting the fossil record, particularly with chicken bones. Of the 60 billion chicken that are bred and consumed a year, there are so many bones filling our landfills that it is possible we are laying interesting layers for future geologists to discover – when the planet has become vegan.  Manmade artifacts such as litter, engineering structures, old cars etc will be known as ‘technofossils’.

It seems that we are not restricted to shaping our own planet,  I have just been reading about ‘directed panspermia’.  This is the plan of seeding alien worlds with microorganisms from the earth.  We know that bacteria can survive for years in the chill of deep-space, shielded from solar radiation. So if the time-span of homo sapiens is limited on this planet some ‘visionaries’ have started looking for other homes.  The first step is to identify suitable planets, one’s that revolve around a similar size star, in the life-enabling ‘Goldilocks Zone‘ i.e. not too close and not too far away from the star it orbits.  Having identified the target planet we could then scatter photosynthesising bacteria and algae into its ‘atmosphere’…. thus preparing an atmosphere that could assist the colonisation of the planet.

Are we playing ‘God’?  Contaminating other planets in this way risks destroying life that may have evolved on the ‘host’ planet independently.  So we might be playing Shiva (the Hindu Goddess of Destruction).  There are ethical issues being debated about this form of galactic colonisation.  Nasa is pressing head with ‘The Starlight Project’ – whose focus is on how to ‘propel’ intergalactic travel.  The plans include a  Terrestrial Biome in Space which will observe how the interstellar environment and extreme acceleration affects micro-organisms as they are frozen and then thawed on arrival.  As the experiment may potentially contaminate exoplanets, NASA’s funding does not cover it.   On a more positive note – an argument can be made that this is humankind using its God-given intelligence to assume its invitation to become co-creators. Our greatest organ for survival is our brain which leads to our ability to adapt.  This could be an incredible use of our intelligence.   Others would say this is our original sinfulness, the pride of Lucifer, who reached too far and was cast out of heaven.  It may even call for a seventh chapter to Laudato Si.

AMDG

One of the most under-reported stories in the new year was a good-news-one,  surprise, surprise (we are not interested in good stories)!  2017 was the safest year in commercial air travel with no deaths reported, despite there being more flights than ever before. This is incredible considering 3.77bn people flew last year, it marks a consistent rise since 2010 which shows no signs of slowing down.  This amazing pace of growth creates all sorts of stresses on the industry, with Ryan Air struggling to recruit enough pilots, Easy Jet accused of over-scheduling, but it is quite a relief that it doesn’t seem to affect safety standards.

It made me think of a book I read a couple of years ago – ‘Black Box Thinking’ by the British author Matthew Syed. He suggests that the commercial airline industry can be held up as a model of continual and successful reform.  His basic thesis is that the air travel is becoming one of the safest ways of travelling because of the way the industry learns every time there is a terrible crash.  The Black Box in an aircraft typically contains a data recorder and a cockpit voice recorder.  The data recorder preserves the recent history of the flight through the recording of dozens of parameters collected several times per second,  the voice recorder preserves the recent history of the sounds in the cockpit, including the conversation of the pilots.  So it is a record of that complex interaction between technology and humans – and facilitates a post-disaster investigation. Syed basically argues this means that the airline industry has been able to constantly make reforms that make it safer for all of us to fly.  This is compared to the medical profession which is very resistant to reform because of consultants and surgeon’s tendency to cover up mistakes.

I think it is a fascinating book because it is about learning from failure, which Syed argues is the most powerful method of learning known to mankind. Black Box thinkers have a healthy relationship with failure he argues.  This is what makes Pope Francis such a compelling and authentic leader.  From 1990-1991 he was missioned by his provincial, to work for a year and a half in Cordoba, central Argentina.  He was sent there as a form of ‘internal exile’ because he was seen as being a divisive figure and they wanted him ‘out of the way’. There are interesting articles about this time in The Atlantic and also covered by CNN.  Since then Pope Francis has referred to that year and a half as an ‘inner purification’, certainly it was a time of honing his leadership skills and some of his writings from this time are real gems.   He often talks about a book that made a big impression on him by an American Jesuit, John Navone, called ‘Triumph through Failure‘, an interesting exposition of the ‘Theology of the Cross’.  Certainly, it was a time of enduring for Bergoglio, until  Cardinal Quaraccino, the then head of the church in Argentina, surprised by how he was being treated, went to Rome and asked Pope John Paul II to directly request that he become an auxiliary bishop in Buenos Aires.  The Pope’s intervention trumped the Jesuit vow against taking office in the church …. and the rest, they say, is history.

 

idiotsinviteR2WAMDG
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.
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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.
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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.