Saturday, October 29, 2011

Book Review: God's Undertaker

It's easy to view creationists through the lens of caricature. From Dr Kent's belief that dinosaurs died out due to spontaneous nasal combustion, to the belief that the 300 mile Grand Canyon formed in about five minutes, we can find instances of claims that would have to work hard to be considered merely absurd. But still, it is perhaps unfair to judge a group based on the worst of its members. Though I have yet to hear good creationist arguments I do know smart creationists. With that in mind I was quite happy to receive a recommendation to read Professor John Lennox's book on the subject, God's Undertaker.

I went in with high hopes - my initial readings on evolution were prompted back in 2003, when I studied evolutionary computation. Lennox's background in mathematics would surely mean he could speak with authority on this area.

He was born on the same island as I, a coincidence of birth which admittedly does not make him more likely to be correct, but caused me to warm to him nonetheless.

He's also a talented linguist, speaking Russian, German, Spanish and French in addition to his native English. He has been published and has given lectures in many languages.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Storytelling (Van der Broek and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission)

The more astute among you will have recognised that this blog originally started as a venue for my short stories. If pushed, I'll jokingly refer to myself as a failed writer.

Still, stories are important. They enable us to share our understanding of this world, impart important lessons and simplify topics to convey important details. Sometimes artistic licence is used. Sometimes some facts are sacrificed to make the story more memorable, or to take students to a more accurate picture of real world phenomena.

One example is atoms. In school I learned that electrons orbit the nucleus in much the same way as a planet orbits a star. This is a very useful way of thinking about atoms, but it's also wrong - the electron is more of a fuzzy cloud.

I've spoken to many biblical inerrantists, but I've yet to encounter one who thinks that the parable of the prodigal son involved an actual son, father, fatted calf and brother.

We can look at stories that are fiction, but intended to convey an important message. We can also look at stories that are thought to hold factual accuracy in the highest regard. Today I'd like to look at a story that seems to have jumped between the two categories.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Does God heal today?

*Edit: Ajay Gohil sent me a very polite e-mail confirming his existence and inviting me for coffee. Bear that in mind while reading - it rather annihilates many of my arguments. I've asked him if he's comfortable with me releasing details of his church and will update with more details when he gets back to me. My thanks to the members of Unbelievable? who pointed me in his direction.*

This is the title of the 13th chapter in Nicky Gumbel’s “Alpha: Questions of Life” book and it appeals to my literal mind. It can be rare to find verifiable claims in this literary genre; it was refreshing to see Gumbel nail his colours to the mast as a believer in faith healing and to provide a case study for those who are unconvinced.

For those of you who don’t know the Alpha course is a charismatic introduction to Christianity, typically held over several evenings. Bear Grylls speaks highly of it. I speak highly of it. You’ll meet pleasant people, get free dinner and interesting conversation. I have issues with the accuracy of some of the course material, but not with the genuine, good-natured people I met on the course. I even enjoyed Nicky Gumbel's jokes and am somewhat jealous of his rhetorical skills. One of the evenings includes a discussion of faith healing, and the story of interest begins with “There are so many wonderful stories of God healing that it is difficult to know which to give as an example.”

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Over the Moonies

I am fortunate enough that my commute takes me through a marketplace of ideas every day. iERA frequently run a stall on Islam outside the General Post Office. There’s a Christian street preacher and creationist on Wednesdays and Thursdays called Dessie with whom I’ve had many pleasant chats, and a stressed looking chap in Hare Krishna garb selling books on the benefits of meditation. Recently proponents of presidential candidates have attempted to engage passers by in conversation.

I've spotted a new addition, a small, woven basket that Moses would have found cramped, containing perhaps four books written by or on the Reverend Sun Myung Moon with a sign saying “Messiah? You Decide!” Suspended a convenient four foot or so above the ground, it’s attended by a pamphlet distributing member of the Unification Church – a Moonie, to you or I.

My fellow pedestrians seemed to be voting unanimously with their feet as to the Christology of the basket occupant. I decided to hear her out.