Thursday, 8 March 2007

There's a Hole in my Ocean, Dear Darlin, Dear Darlin

I just can't stop writing. This week's list of articles just had too many provocatively juicy tid-bits. One of the articles mentioned a giant hole in the Earth's crust, under the ocean, in the middle of the Atlantic. When we say large hole, we mean 1000s of square kilometers.

This is heady stuff. This is huge. The crust is oceanic and continental crust, and the continental crust is thicker, and lighter, and so rides higher than the oceanic crust. The crust covers the entire planet, and covers over the mantle. When it doesn't, we get volcanoes. The volcanoes come from a hole opening up a few square feet in size.

We have no idea what's going on here. We're investigating now, but it's completely new. And this is wonderful. It is not only about my favorite area of science, the ocean- it's a testament to the best of science. We don't know a lot. We want to know more. Science is about discovery, and curiosity, and knowing more, and recognizing that we don't know everything- and hopefully never will.

At the moment we know very little about this gigantic gash. It's hard to know how it fits into current Plate Tectonic theory. There is an incredibly remote possibility that it doesn't fit with Plate Tectonics, and the theory would have to be substantially reformatted. Likely we'll have to figure out how it fits in, and this will lead to some significant advances in Plate Tectonics and our understanding of the Earth's crust. Either way, the scientific method is open to experiencing the new, and going where the evidence leads. It is in this that science has it's glory. For in science, something is true until it is proven false- and there always remains that possibility that even the greatest of our theories will one day be overturned.

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

As hinted at, the last downloads from World Science were just too juicy not to post more than one response. So let us consider how finding that God is angry makes us angry- it causes us to sin.

I sent in an unposted letter to World Science, complaining about the nature of this study, and a number of errors. The study authors seemed to be rather uninformed of the Bible in their own right, thinking this passage was a parable (as if that genre was invented at that point in time) rather than part of the historical genre. They used what they claimed was an obscure passage, the end of Judges. It is horrific, for certain. But if you study the Bible at all, hardly obscure. They had students from BYU and secular Amsterdam read the passage, and half of each group read an addition saying God had sanctioned the violence. Half of each of those groups were also told that the passage was from the Bible, and the other half that it was a newly unearthed manuscript. Then they had them blast noise at another. Those that had religious background, thought the story came from the Bible, or thought God had encouraged the violence, all were more aggressive with the noisemaking.

Some of these results may be flawed because of the errors in the study, such as BYU students potentially being more aware of what the authors of the study think is an obscure passage, and therefore knowing the passage comes from the Bible even though they are told it was a new manuscript. It would be interesting were this study attempted among Christians, or Quakers for that matter, as the Mormons are arguably a religion that focuses less on grace and pacifism. Additionally, of course, LDS values the Book of Mormon much higher than the Bible- a book that is filled with a great deal of violence- the same as the Old Testament.

But for all these caveats, I think there are still some valuable lessons we can pull out here. You become that which you dwell on. It is possible to focus on the God of wrath, and on the Old Testament, at the expense of the New, and of Grace. We've all been in churches like that; the lucky ones have only visited. I'm not one of the lucky ones. And what I've noticed is that, those churches that focus on the Old Testament over the New, do have a greater propensity to aggressive interactions with adults, and corporal punishment towards children. Nothing scientific in this; just my experience.

But of course, the God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New Testament. God is working the same way at all times, but in different cultures, and within the Schoolhouse of Faith, building humans up to a point where they can accept Christ, working in them to the extent that they can understand, in the way each culture can understand. So then, how do we explain this passage?

One wonders if the author of the study included the last line. After multiple genocides, ethnic cleansings, and rapes, it says, "In those days there is no king in Israel; each did that which is right in his own eyes." Text must always be read in context- cultural and that of the text itself. The authors of the text clearly don't condone what has happened, but blame it on the lack of a king. Read in the context of the book shortly following, Samuel, one comes to understand that they refuse to have God as their king. (While each book stands alone, I'm referring here to the Hebrew understanding of theology once the books are both part of cannon.) So when we read the passage, we come to understand that this is the state of humanity, when we are not lead by God.

It is often stated that violence on TV and in the movies will lead people to be more violent. I agree with that, but this study might suggest something different. That violence in the movies is only going to be most prescriptive if we treat what is happening there as coming from an authority. Now it may well be that many see Arnold Schwarzenegger as an authority (even outside the State of California). But it is possible that shows like 24 and Alias aren't near as harmful as the Left Behind series, for such a film combines violence with God, the ultimate authority figure, and posits that He is behind some of this violence. (Indeed, there is a large wing of the Church that believes that God will bring on the End Times with violence, and even a segment of that wing that believes that Christians should hasten that coming with violence of their own. And thus we have blind American support for Israel.) When God is behind the violence, we begin to believe that we can be behind it to.

This study suggests also that there is a larger problem than that of the movies. Even when we are reading a text, if it is an authority that is coming out and advocating violence, or if we see that as such, we tend to turn to violence. Thus it becomes incumbent on us to teach Truth from the pulpit. This passage, as awful it is, and surely it is the most awful in the Bible, needs to be taught, and from the pulpit. For if people were understanding the true message of the passage, they would not be lead astray into thinking that there is a God who advocates this kind of thing. Passages of Christ's love of enemies and giving up His life for His enemies need to be taught as well. And overall, contemplating God's great love for us- for all of us, each one of us. What is taught to the flock will be put out by the flock. What a great responsibility is on those who would presume to be teachers.

Monday, 5 March 2007

Every Death is Remembered

This week is regrowing spinal tissue; a strange new gash in the seafloor; how red makes us do poorly on tests; believing in an angry God makes angry people; a pandemic currently among bees in America; and the giant particle smasher which is the center of our galaxy. While admittedly the angry God motif is intriguing and perhaps one I'll need to return to, I've decided to focus instead on cosmic death rays.

My thoughts these past few weeks have been greatly informed by Keith Miller's Perspectives on an Evolving Creation. It is nearly axiomatic that death is part of our religion, probably more so than any other. Without the presence of death, the cross is meaningless. Somehow, and theologians get to argue how ad nausea, the voluntary undeserved suffering and death of one man allowed me to have life, and have it abundantly.

I've been reflecting on how this isn't really a new idea. His death brought forth life par excellent, yes, but the foundation for it was present long before. Everywhere we look in creation, death brings life. It is only by the death of millions of microbes that I can live, or the death of a few big oxen that end up on my plate. Cells had to die in order for me to first form in my mother's womb. Because of limited resources only a certain number of organisms can survive in any particular environment. As some die, others are able to develop into the new spaces, and develop into new ways. Jesus referred to this idea when he said that "unless a seed falls to the ground and dies it can not produce life". He calls us all to give up the old man or woman, to pick up our crosses, and follow Him. I think God set up the principle for the last few billion years, that it would be abundantly clear in every area of life, so that we could finally embrace the soteriology that Christ's ultimate death brings ultimate life.

Then today I read of a new type of gamma ray bursts, greater and therefore more deadly than anything else seen before. It is hypothesized that they could completely wipe out even the most hardy life if they occur close enough to a planet with life on it. And we can see the bursts at least daily somewhere in space.

What kind of God does this? What kind of God incorporates cosmic death rays into His creation, and death into the basic processes of life?

I don't know. I'm not going to try to answer all of the problem of pain here. But I think part of it is that there is something in the very nature of things that allows for life to come from death; that sees the value in death for providing a new formulation and a new creation. This is the mystery of the cross- a good man could die, and so save everyone else, conquering death.

But there is a another mystery here. Another hypothesis is that one of these gamma bursts actually did hit our planet, back in a time period called the Ordovician, 450 million years ago. It was the third biggest mass extinction in our planet's history. (We're currently going through the largest.) It had nothing really directly to do with us humans, the pinnacle of creation. Most of us don't know anything about this extinction, or all these amazing and diverse creatures that once lived at that time, on the land and the seas.

But God does. And I think that's the point. He is aware of all of His creation. He knows if a sparrow falls to the ground and dies. He cares if it dies from falling, or from cosmic rays. He cares about a trilobite dying 450 million years ago- however it died. He is the Great Empathizer, feeling with the pain of all of His creation.

Laurie Bratten points out in Perspectives that this creation is made for God, not for us. Yes, as far as His creation goes, we're pretty special. But we're not everything. Babel should have taught us that. (Although it didn't.) As God tells Job, "Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm, to water a land where no man lives, a desert with no one in it, to satisfy a desolate wasteland and make it sprout with grass?" He is aware of every aspect of creation, and intimately involved in it- whether or not we are aware of it now, or ever will be. He knows what happens to the trilobite, and orchestrates the ecology of a sea long dead and disappeared, before we ever came on the scene. There's something humbling in that- that there is so much out there that we as humans will never know, for His creation is just too vast. It is not made for us, but rather for His glory.

When I think on what He has made, and all the years of work He has put into it, I worship my Creator. None can compare to Him, none can even begin to approach the richness of his awesome power and imagination. He has made a universe, and it exists in simple monument to His glory.
This is the discussion of the World Science updates as they become available.
Your thoughts are most welcome here.