Saturday, 16 January 2010

mid-January opinions

Andreas Whittam Smith writes in the Independent about POWER2010. See Here’s one way to reconnect voters and see what he is talking about at the POWER2010 website.

Roderick Strange writes in The Times that Water into wine teaches us about transformation.

And Rosemary Lain-Priestley writes there about Being a mother, wife and priest.

In the Guardian Riaz Ravat writes in the Face to Faith column that amid a slew of negative coverage, we must all work at challenging how Muslims are seen.

The Brookings Institution has published a paper by Alex Evans and David Steven titled Hitting Reboot: Where Next For Climate After Copenhagen? (The paper itself is a PDF download from that page.) (Hat tip: Richard Chartres.)

Giles Fraser wrote in the Church Times that Science is not neutral.

And his Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4 on Friday, about Theodicy is available here to listen to, or here as a podcast. The text will also be on the BBC website later, but is available now below the fold.

Thought for the Day, Friday 15 January 2010

The word “theodicy” describes the intellectual attempt to justify the existence of God in the face of human suffering. Coined by Leibniz at the beginning of the eighteenth century, he argued that out of the various possible worlds that God could have created, he might have created the best of these, a world containing less suffering than all the other options available. With this suggestion, Leibniz sought to explain how it’s at least logically possible that a merciful God could create a world with the suffering that it has.

And then, in 1755, some years after Leibniz published his famous argument, a massive earthquake hit Lisbon on the morning of the first of November, the popular feast day of All Saints. A 15ft crack opened down the middle of the street. Locals watched the tide disappear only to return as a huge wave that drowned most of the city. 30-40 thousand people were killed.

It was in the face of this terrible disaster that Voltaire came to mount his celebrated attack upon Leibniz in Candide. Voltaire cast Leibniz as the foolish Dr Pangloss, ready to trot out the absurd idea that this is the best of all possible worlds whatever misfortune befell him. The satire was biting. He was claiming that all theologians seem to care about in the face of human misery is getting God off the hook. Theodicy, Voltaire insists, is a moral disgrace and a sick joke.

Well, I have no answer to the question of how God can allow so many innocent people to die in natural disasters, like the earthquakes of Lisbon or Haiti. And indeed, I can quite understand that many will regard these events as proof positive that religious people are living a foolish dream like the idiotic Dr Pangloss.

And yet, I still believe. For there exists a place in me - deeper than my rational self - that compels me to respond to tragedies like Haiti not with argument but with prayer. On a very basic level, what people find in religion is not so much the answers, but a means of responding to and living with life’s hardest questions. And this is why a tragedy like this doesn’t, on the whole, make believers suddenly wake up to the foolishness of their faith. On the contrary, it mostly tends to deepen our sense of a need for God.

What many believers mean by faith is not that we have a firm foundation in rational justification. Those, like Leibniz, who try to claim this are, I believe, rationalizing something that properly exists on another level. Which is why, at a moment like this, I’d prefer to leave the arguments to others. For me, this is a time quietly to light a candle for the people of Haiti and to offer them up to God in my prayers. May the souls of the departed rest in peace.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 16 January 2010 at 9:52am GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Opinion

I'm afraid I prefer the account of Jim Al-Khalili given on BBC 4s The Secret Life of Chaos about which I have written for Episcopal Café next time I appear. Jim Khalili interviews Rowan Williams in March: that will be interesting, as a science and maths of self-generating patterns and the intimate link between them and chaos, the feedback systems that produce complexity from simplicity, will clash with someone who still wants to pursue stories of gods and interventions in history as if such has the same intellectual vigour.

Posted by: Pluralist on Saturday, 16 January 2010 at 1:52pm GMT

I'm afraid Giles Fraser makes the familiar mistake of confusing technology with science. Yes, technology has morals...and the atomic bomb is a perfect example. But the bomb is merely technology...the science is the understanding of E=mc2.

Posted by: Pat ONeill on Saturday, 16 January 2010 at 10:24pm GMT

The valence science has is mainly the underpinning valence of truth, open-ended, capable of discovery, testing, understanding, application.

Reducing pure and applied sciences to their admittedly dramatic passing forms in some occasions of technology glosses over way too much, too quickly.

Fraser is right to worry about science, exclusively driven by business and marketing and profits. A critical sociology and economics of science is important as one entry into weighing what skews and distorts science as method and as truth. The openly shared (peer reviewed?) transparencies of effective science cannot be emphasized often enough; closing research down most often arises from various outside forces other than an interest in truth for its own sake. I suppose if our math and science education were better quality, we would fall into these definitional-presuppositional traps less often, and less blindly?

Trading off bad science and bad technology for bad religion hardly gets any of us, anywhere good, in the long run.

Posted by: drdanfee on Sunday, 17 January 2010 at 12:47am GMT

Giles Fraser's 'Thought For The Day', broadcast on BBC radio, was both insightful and useful - especially for those who question the place of God in a world where natural disasters - like the Haiti earthquake - still happen.

His talk about the place of 'theodicy' - the vindication of the justice of God in establishing a world in which evil exists (Chambers) - was wisely directed towards the lack of any humanly rational explanation. Rather, he avers, this is a place where faith in a merciful God can co-exist with the reality of the problem of suffering.

In a very short space of time, Canon Giles was able to express his own faith in a God who does not stand apart from His suffering creation, but rather calls forth our compassion and prayers for the afflicted. This is the sort of faith that can help us to live with the incarnational reality of God-made-flesh in Jesus Christ. Thank you Giles.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 17 January 2010 at 10:16am GMT

Giles, Science has already provided the technology and expertise to feed the world. No new discoveries are needed to feed the people of the world today. Millions of people die every year needlessly of illness and disease that could be prevented. Most Third World Countries have the natural resources to not only feed all their own people but actually export products. As an Atheist I have to ask why Christians can't stop the corruption and hatred and war so the technology can be implemented. The leaders of these Countries are, or are supported by members or your churches and your Bishops. Or at least will you try to stop killing each other in the names of your gods. If you don't use the toys (technology) we have already given you why do you think you should have even better ones. Even though I am an Atheist I work with two Christian Charities to try and improve the chance for at least some people. But I was surprised to see how little money they actually receive from churches. Almost all the money that is collected by churches goes to support the local church such as priests salary, organist, or retreats on how we should help the poor etc. This is the first blog I have left a comment on but I get so tired of hearing Christians blame others for problems they are contributing to or created. I challenge every Christian to look at how much of their church budget is spent directly feeding or helping the poor. I think many of you may be surprised. Finally, stop bragging about how fast your Church is growing in third world countries, until you can show it is actually improving the lives of the people there.

Posted by: C Rummel on Monday, 18 January 2010 at 4:30am GMT

"Finally, stop bragging about how fast your Church is growing in third world countries, until you can show it is actually improving the lives of the people there." - C Rummel, on Monday -

One can only hope that the Leaders of the Church in Uganda, Nigeria and Rwanda and the rest of the so-called 'Global South' are reading this!

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 19 January 2010 at 2:04am GMT

C Rummel makes some excellent points, but, although the introduction of the scientific method in farming delayed the application, Malthus is essentially correct. According to Jared Diamond, the planet currently has 2.5 times the number of people that it can sustain at a decent standard of living. Of course I don't mean that it is wrong to alleviate suffering (Malthus didn't say that, either), but I think we need to be honest about the actual crisis facing the planet.

Posted by: Prior Aelred on Tuesday, 19 January 2010 at 2:36pm GMT

I was watching a television show the other night, wherein the British naturalist and scientific observer, David Attenborough, was questioned about the sustainability of life on the planet: his answer gave us the simple fact that, since he began doing television programmes about natural life on Earth, the world's population has, in the last fifty years, increased to three times the number of people.

Surely this should motivate Christians to question the papal opposition to contraception? To continue producing human beings at this rate, we are surely jeopardising the earth's ability to provide enough resources to support human life.
Responsibility for our planet is surely part of our Christian duty.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 19 January 2010 at 9:21pm GMT

C Rummel - being a fan of science you must, I guess, also be a fan of the importance of evidence. So can you show me the slightest bit of evidence that I have ever bragged about how fast the church is growing in third world countries?

Posted by: Giles Fraser on Wednesday, 20 January 2010 at 5:44pm GMT

Giles, I apologize for implying that you have ever bragged about the Church growth in the Third World Countries. I didn't mean it directed at you. But when I reread it I clearly did direct it at you. (I left out a sentence somehow) I am sorry for the mistake.

Posted by: C Rummel on Wednesday, 20 January 2010 at 9:36pm GMT
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