Saturday, 4 September 2010


Alan Wilson continues his series in The Guardian with The Book of Common Prayer, part 2: Wetting baby’s head. “Why do we baptise babies, who can’t possibly believe in God? Because Augustine was right about grace and original sin.”

Clifford Longley gave this Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4 on the difference between the secular, the spiritual and the religious.

The Economist looks at Catholics in Britain in The fruits of adversity. “Bolstered by immigration and challenged by the economic downturn, the church is playing an ever more active role.”

Justin Lewis-Anthony (the 3 Minute Theologian) reflects on Greenbelt: 3 Minutes on Greenbelt.
So too does Giles Fraser in the Church Times: A spiritual detox for a City-dweller.

Savi Hensman writes at Ekklesia on Anglicans at cross-purposes.

Eric Priest writes in The Guardian that Stephen Hawking can’t use physics to answer why we’re here. “Modern belief in God is not about covering the gaps in our knowledge, but about answering different types of questions.”
And the Church Mouse explains why Hawking is not saying anything now that he didn’t say 20 years ago: Stephen Hawking and God - lazy reporters make up stuff.
James Dacey at the Institute of Physics blog has this: Talking Hawking and God.
Paul Davies writes for The Guardian about Stephen Hawking’s big bang gaps. “The laws that explain the universe’s birth are less comprehensive than Stephen Hawking suggests.”

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Clear and measured piece by Paul Davies (ex-Christian, I think), as one would expect.

But I think paid-up Christians (or any kind of theists) have to be very careful how they respond to this kind of thing. Ruth Gledhill was terrible in debate with Dawkins: the 'science explains the how, religion the why' trope is useless, because the whole point of Hawking's/Dawkins' claims is that they remove the 'why', at least to a very considerable extent. Sacks, though much more sophisticated, was also below his best, because he used basically the same trope (and in fact his piece became self-contradictory). If Christians/theists, anxious to avoid the perils of 'God-of-the-gaps' theology, avoid giving God some explanatory power, the game's over. Rowan Williams was actually better, but what we really need is a good piece by Keith Ward.

Posted by: john on Saturday, 4 September 2010 at 11:19am BST

Hoping that it is not against site rules to re-post earlier offerings (though it may, of course, be merely boring!) can I re-iterate my comment from last time TA had a science and religion thread:

"Three comments on the science and religion discussion: first, it seems to me that every scientific statement - "The planets move round the Sun in a manner determined by Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation" for example - should be prefaced by the disclaimer "It appears to us now to be as though ... " or, in the case of my example "It appeared to people before the beginnng of the 20th Century to be as though ...". Second, the most puzzling question in science seems to me (as a mathematician) to be captured by the title of Eugene Wigner's famous paper "The unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences" - that is, why do our localised observations and theorising provide models which appear to fit so well with our experience of the natural world from quantum to cosmic scales? Third, I recommend the short story "Unreasonable effectiveness" by Alex Kasman ( for a witty, left-field take on God as creator and humankind's part in it."

Posted by: Leslie Fletcher on Saturday, 4 September 2010 at 1:26pm BST

Surely, as until we can prove with 100% certainty that there is no God, and until we can know God’s mind with the same 100% certainty, the only credible answers to How and to Why are “we don’t know”.
The only question worth answering is “what does faith mean for our lives, how does it change us, how does it compel us to live”.
If it “works”, if you can tell us by our fruits, then it’s worth having and worth emulating. If it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference, we might as well not bother.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 4 September 2010 at 3:09pm BST

There is a story, forgive me for not being more precise, that at the beginning of the 19th Century, a scientist was explaining to a monarch a new theory of how some aspect of the Universe functioned. After hearing the explanation, the monarch was impressed with the scientist’s knowledge, but enquired why the scientist did not reference God. The scientist answered "Because it was not necessary to do so."
Church Mouse argues that Hawkings hasn't said anything new. That may be the case. But, if Hawkings is saying that science can do quite well without God, while that sounds arrogant and worse to theists, it is quite literally true.
Science is based on what we can see, feel, touch, taste, or smell, or what our instruments can measure then translate into sight or sound. That's by definition.
God is beyond knowing fully, is beyond space and time, is beyond proving. God can only be "proved" by believing in God. By faith. That’s by definition.
Therefore, by definition, science cannot invoke God, nor can science prove God's existence or non-existence. And God is beyond science. Science is a materialistic view of the world.
If Stephen Hawkings is saying science has done away with God, he's being arrogant.
If Stephen Hawkings is saying science can create a credible view of how the Universe began, to the smallest detail, without the need to resort to God, he's being true to science.
Science is agnostic about God.
And, john, I consider “Science can explain the how, but not the why" trope to VERY useful. Science can never explain "Why are we here?" "Is this all there is?" What is the purpose for our life?" “Is there something else after death?” “What must we do to be good?”
Science and religion do not have to be antagonistic. They can, and should, exist side by side.

Posted by: peterpi on Saturday, 4 September 2010 at 7:00pm BST


Thanks, as usual. Don't worry about me. My concern here is how Christians defend themselves. It matters. The responses to Hawking have been weak, some damagingly so.


Posted by: john on Saturday, 4 September 2010 at 11:08pm BST

"As a scientist, you are continually questioning, rarely coming up with a definitive answer. The limitations of your own knowledge and expertise together with the beauty and mystery of life and the universe often fill you with a sense of profound humility. Thus, unequivocal assertions are not part of a genuine scientific quest."

- Eric Priest in The Guardian -

In his comment on the latest from Stephen Hawking Eric Priest here states what ought to be obvious - that scientists are continually discovering that they don't know everything about everything. Therefore, it is not too surprising that Stephen Hawking may not be saying anything new - when he asserts that the creation of the Universe did not need God, and that by some inexplicable act of spontaneous ontological force - without God - was responsible for everything that exists.

The best of scientists is, indeed, humble about the nature of his discipline - not contending he has the answer to everything, but rather agreeing that not everything can actually have a rational explanation. Lord Rutherford was one such.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 5 September 2010 at 4:01am BST

Wilson's article on ( 1662) BCP baptism is interesting. Western Augustinianism indeed. One might add dreary western Augustinianism. I'm just finishing up a very compelling biography of A of H book titled simply "Augustine" by James J. O'Donnell. It a very critical ( in the good sense of that term) work. Check out it, or a review of the same.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Sunday, 5 September 2010 at 8:59pm BST

It's too funny.

Jesus and Satan work within a universal reality and try to control it.

God works within a multiverse reality and limits Jesus and Satan to universal realities because they attempt to destroy that which does not flatter them.

God isn't scared of multi-verses, they provide refuge from souls that would attempt to destroy them, simply because they are unflattering.

Jesus cannot control or have authority over that which he and his Christians seek to destroy. And if Jesus is prepared to destroy souls, then Jesus has to accept that God provides refuge.

In your eye "pal".

Posted by: Cheryl Va. on Wednesday, 8 September 2010 at 6:13am BST

"God works within a multiverse reality and limits Jesus and Satan to universal realities because they attempt to destroy that which does not flatter them.

- Cheryl Va -

Cheryl, this is not the first of your posts that has me mystified. Precisely what are you saying here? I have enough of a problem dealing with theology as it is, without conundrums. Can you explain more fully?

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Thursday, 9 September 2010 at 11:22am BST
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