A Walking Wonder

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Men go forth to wonder at the heights of mountains, the huge waves of the sea, the broad flow of the rivers, the vast compass of the ocean, the courses of the stars; and they pass by themselves without wondering.  (St. Augustine)

The human body!  What a wondrous thing it is.  I am reading a book called The Wisdom of the Body by Sherwin B. Nuland and this is the quote he has placed at the beginning of this masterfully written exposé of the human being.  This book can only be read slowly as it speaks to an unprotected part of my soul causing an overwhelming sense of awe.  The mind struggles to comprehend the vast number of detailed processes that the body is involved in at any moment in time.  How is it that any system can be that efficient?  I know of no other biological system that demonstrates such incomprehensible generosity.  As I read, I am totally baffled.  The rational side of my brain does not know what to do with this information so I must drop down into a more intuitive understanding of what I am reading.

I don’t know why but I find myself weeping, overcome with gratitude for the body I call ‘home’.  I am deeply honoured by how hard it works to keep me alive, healthy, balanced and happy; sometimes against fierce opposition.   And this is only in response to what we know about the human body!

Knowing and unknowing

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Knowledge can be a beautiful thing, and a wondrous thing if you stop and think about it.  How do we “know” something?  We go to school and get fed  information that we retain in our memory but can also apply in situations that we have never faced before.  We know that one and one is two, regardless if it is sheep or potatoes that we are counting.  We know that this little ‘gem’ is true no matter what situation we find ourselves in.  Besides being taught, we also learn from experience.  No matter how many times we are told that a knife is sharp and can cut us, finding out by direct experience is much more memorable.  We learn through observing others, through the culture that surrounds us, we even have instinctive knowledge that is somehow passed on to us through our DNA.

Humans possess a wonder at learning new things. We are happy to invest time in learning new skills, new languages and new facts.  We take things apart to work out how they function.  We send probes to the far flung reaches of the solar system to learn something of our place in the cosmos.

And yet there is a limit to knowledge.  Some people assume that we will continue to learn more and more and so explain all of the mysteries of the universe.  Scientists are more circumspect and know that there is a limit to how much we can actually know.  Besides the fact that there is a percentage of knowledge that we hold to be true now that will be shown to be false  within 12 months, there are some fundamental limits to what we can know.

There are limits to measurement.  Even with the best will in the world, there are limits to our ability to measure certain things.  It could be because of temperature fluctuations in the room, or the speed of light affecting how quickly a transistor can switch but there are physical limits to how accurately and precisely we can measure physical properties.

There are limits set by the laws of Quantum Mechanics to what we can know about a system.  The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle describes how much information we can determine about a system.  It is not, as some think, a problem with our ability to measure but is more about how much information the system is able to give up.  If we know a particle’s velocity well, then we have little idea about its position.

There are limits to our ability to predict.  Even though our computer models are becoming more and more clever, there are still huge difficulties in predicting the outcome of physical systems due to the non-linear nature of the equations being used.  If a billiard ball strikes another billiard ball then the outcome varies vastly depending on the exact initial positions velocities and angles of impact.  And the problem becomes enormously more difficult if extra balls are added to the table.

There are even limits to what we can decide.  In the highly precise field of formal logic, there are properties that are simply undecidable.  We are limited in what we can determine to be true and false.

So as we approach the new year it is time for me to marvel again at what we have learnt as human beings, and what is still left to be learnt, but also to wonder at all the things that we will never know.

A History of Science

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As was written last week, there is evidence of scientific thought in the Hebrew writings over 3000 years ago.  The Greeks then became a centre of excellence in philosophy, geometry, medicine and architecture up until about 300 BC.  In the western hemisphere it seems that not much happened until the Renaissance but the Chinese were busy inventing and building civilisations.

The second half of the last millennium saw huge developments in art, culture, music and scientific thought.  It was also the time when there was a separation of the physical from the religious.  This was probably an important stage to allow thought to develop outside of the rigid institution of the church.  Unfortunately it has resulted in a mode of thought that favours rational over mystical, and reductionism over holistic thinking.  Fortunately there has been a swing back towards a more healthy balance between the two modes of thinking, helped by the mysterious world of Quantum Mechanics and the revival and acceptance of herbal and Chinese medicine.

We now have a huge scientific industry, that unfortunately has moved beyond gathering of knowledge to seeking financial gain from whatever it learns.  At the same time we have seen people who have tired of institutional religion moving to Eastern thought as a way to make sense of this world. Or they have embraced science itself as their belief system, believing that knowledge and technology will solve mankind’s problems.

And so where does that leave us?  We must find our way in this increasingly technological world, and find meaning for its mysteries.  I wish you well with that.

Science in the Sacred Text

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Science has become an extremely sophisticated and, often exclusive and expensive, practice.  It has not always been this way.  In the past, science was based predominantly on observation and experimentation.  It was accessible to most people and the knowledge generated was used by many in practical ways relating to agriculture, architecture, food preparation and preservation, natural/herbal medicine, childbirth, cartography and navigation, philosophy and even spiritual worship.

In the ancient writings of the Hebrew/Greek sacred text, we can read of many scenarios where the scientific knowledge of the time was used in everyday situations by everyday people. Let me retell some of these stories.

If we look back to 750 BC (as recorded in 2 Kings 20), the King of Judah at that time was a man called Hezekiah.  King Hezekiah was very sick and preparing to die.  We are told that ‘Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD’ and, that in response to this, Isaiah (the prophet) then said (presumably to the King’s health attendants), ‘Prepare a poultice of figs’.  The poultice was prepared and applied to the boil and Hezekiah recovered quickly and returned to ruling his kingdom.   This is a beautiful example of natural medicine being used in the records of the Sacred Text to bring about rapid and complete healing.

Around one hundred and fifty years later when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had besieged Jerusalem, a young Israelite man called Daniel was brought into the King’s service to be trained and taught the language and literature of Babylon.  The King assigned Daniel and three of his fellow Israelites a portion of food and wine from his own table.  However Daniel convinced the chief official to allow Daniel and his friends to perform a ten-day experiment whereby they would eat only vegetables and drink water instead of consuming the rich food from the King’s table.  You can read about the outcome of this experiment in Daniel 1 found in the Hebrew Sacred Text.

Agricultural Science is described throughout the Hebrew/Greek Texts with reference to animal husbandry, leaving the soil fallow, seed planting, weed control, threshing, grafting, fertilizing, and many other agricultural practices.  In the four gospels, we read many accounts of Christ teaching spirituality and wisdom using allegories that assume  his listeners had a good understanding of agriculture and the natural cycles of the land around them.

And, of course, the record of the first Christmas describes astronomers (Magi) from the east who recognized a new star in the night sky and presumed a new king had been born.

So, let us be aware that science and the study of nature, via observation and experimentation, have been implemented by humans for a very long time, and the Sacred Text is not devoid of writings that describe such activities.

 

 

 

Science or spirituality

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In our writing we have tried to explore the interplay and commonality between science and spirituality.  As we have had to hold them in creative tension all of our lives, it seems the natural thing to do.  And yet so many believe them to be polar opposites, that they cannot be held together in any sane person’s mind.  They believe that scientific knowledge will one day erode all of the “religious truths” in the same way that it has explained that rain comes from clouds and not from the gods.  People who believe that science and spirituality are inconsistent have not read the many accounts of scientific minds with strong personal beliefs.

Isaac Newton, who did so much towards quantifying the universe as a wondrous machine that operated along reproducible laws, was a man of faith although not entirely to the liking of the established church of the time.

Albert Einstein, who helped to unlock many of the mysteries of the cosmos and the atom, refused to be classified as an atheist. While he struggled with the forms of accepted religion of his time, he professed to an “attitude of humility” towards the questions of origin.

I have just finished a book called True Scientists, True Faith, which includes two dozen autobiographical accounts from contemporary scientists, many of whom are leaders in their fields. What made the book interesting was the variety of approaches taken by the writers. Some spoke of the intellectual challenge of reconciling their beliefs with their science, others spoke of the moral and ethical impact of their faith on their work. Most spoke of their work inspiring wonder in the Creator as opposed to doubt. And then there was a marvelous piece that stood out like a wildflower in a meadow. The author, who had been a reluctant convert, spoke with a refreshing candour about a God who was deeply personal and interested in her and every aspect of her being. At no time in any of the accounts was there a battle going on between the belief in science and the belief in God.

For many who are not scientifically trained, there is a belief that science is absolute and that knowledge is complete. The problem is that every scientist knows that the field of knowledge doesn’t just advance but retreats and reforms and collapses altogether. What is a fact today can become obsolete or superseded tomorrow. And the further we push the boundaries of physics to very large and very small scales, the stranger things become.

So perhaps we should not try to separate out our rational thoughts from our beliefs and perhaps see some synergies between them. In that way they can inform and bless each other.

“The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of… We know the truth not only by the reason, but by the heart.” – Blaise Pascal

The Synergy between Science and Spirituality

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Tim and I are both trained in the discipline of science; Tim in physics and myself in biology. Between us, we have over fifty years of work experience in applied physics, cancer and human health biology, computer science, and agricultural research. We have both also been involved in practicing spirituality in faith communities all of our lives (a combined total of over one hundred years).  Contrary to popular opinion, science and spirituality have never created dualistic conflict in our lives and, only on a small number of occasions, have issues of scientific fact and faith produced creative tension in our worlds. Predominantly, our dedication to science and spirituality has yielded an enormous amount of synergy between these two disciplines resulting in a greater understanding of each discipline through the other.

Over the coming weeks, we shall share with you in more detail how this synergy works; the specific ways science and spirituality support and inform each other giving us a greater understanding of the universe, the earth, human purpose, the possibility of a Divine being, and other important components of reality.  We hope you enjoy this series of blogs and, please, feel free to comment so that we can explore these interesting ideas together.

L’chayim (to life!)

Love and Grace

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This post completes our series about love, for now.  In the next few weeks we will focus on the theme of ‘Science and Spirituality’.

G is for God.  God is Love and everything God is, says and does is grounded in perfect love.

R is for Righteousness.  Righteousness is also a God-thing and refers to God’s perfection in purity, justice, truth, kindness, mercy, fairness, compassion and (of course) love.

A is for Action.  The action of God in sending Christ to remove the gap, the unwanted separation, between God (the perfect righteous lover) and humans (the imperfect, but worthy, lover).

C is for Christ.  God in human flesh: born, lived, died and raised up.  Christ’s gift of salvation-by-faith is offered to each person and, when received, the Spirit (of God) dwells in the believing human.

E is for Everlasting Life.  Eternal life, freedom, forgiveness, friendship-with-God is now (and forevermore) a living reality for each person who believes in Christ.

 What is there not to LOVE about Grace!?

Of Wonder and Worship

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I was reading recently an article that discussed the insistence of Ignatius that we give God reverence.  The author was uncomfortable with how this might be lived out until he learnt that the correct translation of the term “reverence” from the Spanish was to include a happy consciousness of the divine and an awe suffused with love – which really sounds quite delightful!

Creation often draws wonder and awe, even from those who would claim to be atheistic, agnostic or non-spiritual.  Such is its magnitude, complexity, beauty and ingenuity that few of us are left unmoved when immersed in it or when taught about its mysteries.

One of the capacities of the human brain that sets us apart from the “other” animals is our ability to wonder.  You don’t expect to see a dog gazing at a sunset in longing, or a bird captivated by a mountain range.  Clearly some part of our brain function has been set aside for wonder, and dare I say it, worship.

I know people who struggle with religion that prescribes worship of a Deity, regardless of one’s circumstances.  I think they see it as servile and not in keeping with how a Deity would want their creation to relate to them. Or perhaps they feel uncomfortable with its expression, such as singing, dancing or other physical actions. And yet I wonder how many of them have a profound wonder for the Universe and everything in it, and delights to understand how it works. To me, that is very close to Ignatius’ reverence and not too far off worship as well.

Blessings

Love 101

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Love 101

you didn’t leave

when it got hard

you stayed

you must love me

 

Love 102

Friends, we know how it works

Love is Patient, Love is Kind

It never gives up

It is not rude or careless

We need to believe in each other.

 

Love delights in truth, not lies

It trusts, hopes, perseveres

It is not quickly (or easily) angered

It keeps no record of wrong

We must not judge another.

 

But there is even more to love

Love is as strong as death

It submits to nothing, to no-one

It’s passion must be respected

It is eternal; everlasting.

 

Love burns like fire; a blazing flame

Many waters cannot quench love

Rivers cannot wash it away

Wealth must never be exchanged for love

Love is Pure; it is a Godly thing.

 

So this now is our happiest moment

Before us, are our better days

To create a song, with Christ

Together in the Spirit

To create Love.