ice on Mercury “keeping up foreign relations” with the sun

Found this story just a few minutes ago: “There’s enough ice on Mercury to encase Washington DC“. (The slightly more technical version of the story can be found here). Specifically, the said encasement would be 2.5 miles deep. In many ways, this type of finding completely baffles me: ice, which has this strange tendency of disappearing at room temperature, remains intact while constantly hanging out next to a massive nuclear-powered furnace.

My favorite part of the story, however, was found in the comments.  One person (rightly) said: “On the other hand, Washington DC has enough hot air to melt that ice.” Awesome. There are a few other good ones in the comments, but I’ll let you read them for yourself.

disparate observations*

Last week, the story of a Georgia House Representative’s views on creation hit the news. The underlying tone of the article seems to be one of poking fun at people who happen to hold a “young Earth” view of creation, or at least paint all Christians Broun. The structure of the article and the nature of some of the comments bear this out. However, in all the fun-poking, the writer’s eagerness produced a couple of flaws–one less severe than the other.

The minor flaw is the assertion that “Broun advanced his own theory of life on Earth” (emphasis added), one that adheres to a literal reading of the text. Yet a tad later the same writer claims: “Broun is far from the only believer in a literal, or Biblical, creation.” Well, which is it? Is it Broun’s own theory, or one shared by others? You can’t have it both ways. I guess the escape hatch here is Broun’s 9000-year-old suggestion, which is a bit odd.

The bigger flaw, however, is that in attempting to paint Christians with the same brush, the writer fails to recognize the basic problem of appointing someone with extreme anti-Science views to be the Chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. (I owe this observation to Robert Cargill). Hey Stephanie: If you wanted a real opportunity to criticize, or at least focus on something more controversial, you missed it.

Two days ago, I read an article by W.O. Fitch, entitled, “Paul, Apollos, Cephas, Christ” (Theology 74.607 [1971]: 18-24). Anyone with a basic knowledge of NT scholarship in general and the Corinthian letters in particular will conclude the article is about the issue of “parties” or “factions” (or “cliques”) in Corinth. In fact, this conclusion would seem to follow from what Fitch argues in the bulk of the article.

However, when we come to the end of the article we discover that dealing with issue of “parties” or “factions” (or “cliques”) in Corinth, and how we might understand them, are not a part of Fitch’s agenda. His final sentence reveals that he has something completely different in mind. Fitch says: “All of this point to the early date for Galatians: and also suggests that Acts, while it is eirenic, is not as tendentious as some current writing assumes” (24).

This morning I started reading B.F. Westcott’s, A General View of the History of the English Bible (1868)–as you do on a Tuesday.  Throughout the first 70 or so pages, I noticed something: there is a striking (and scary) similarity between 1) the opponents of both Wycliffe and Tyndale and 2) the “King James Only” advocates of today.

Particularly, the two groups share the same animosity and  indignation toward their chosen “enemies.” Even the kinds of arguments marshaled (or at least the reasons behind them) have frightening parallels. The only notable difference is that the KJO crowd isn’t burning their “enemies” at the stake–although, I wouldn’t say that option has gone without consideration.

* A couple of these will likely get me into trouble, or at least ruffle some feathers. Sorry.

rule away, science; but nothing really changes

YahooScience ran a story this morning about the possibility that science will one day rule out the existence of God. Whoop-de-freakin’-do. This is nothing new, people. For millennia, many notable thinkers, seeking to understand the cosmos in purely physical or materialistic terms, have all reached a similar conclusion. (Leucippus, Democritus, Epicurus, and Lucretius come to mind). But then again, this conclusion is not in any way surprising given the parameters and method of inquiry, which necessarily preclude the existence of anything and everything abstract, spiritual, supernatural and/or divine.

To say this another way: studies of things physical or material can only explore/examine things that are physical or material; such studies cannot explore/examine things that are theological, especially God who is–by definition–not physical or material. (1 Cor 2.14 might work well in this case). Thus, the study of science and the study of theology require different approaches and lines of inquiry; and that is a point that John Polkinghorne has been banging on about for years!

Moreover, feelings of superiority in one field do not provide sufficient or acceptable grounds for demeaning the work and conclusions of another. (This practice of demeaning has characterized the recent polemic against religion, where people of faith [i.e. Christians] are considered “lunatics” or uneducated half-wits).  Just because there is no place for the existence (and even activity) of God in scientific inquiry, or just because science believes it can answer all questions pertaining to the universe without positing the existence of God; neither of these necessarily displaces or even disproves the existence (or even sovereign providence) of God. All it proves is that God is not a part of the inquiry.

Let me be clear: I am not opposed to the advances made by science, nor do I think the fields of biology, astronomy, physics, or even chemistry are a waste of time. I am simply opposed to the (paradoxical) assertion that such fields of science (either in themselves or collectively) possess comprehensive–if not complete–knowledge of how the cosmos and life function so as to displace the need for God. “Paradoxical” because the moment Science claims for itself “complete understanding of the universe” is the moment it ascribes to itself a fundamental attribute of divinity.

apologies Sir Hoyle …

here’s your ribbon for participation; thanks for trying.

In other words: because scientists have recently verified Einstein’s theory of an expanding universe, which suggests (spatial and temporal) movement away from what Georges-Henri Lemaître dubbed a “singularity”, Fred Hoyle and his “steady-state” theory are given a respectful applause while being quietly ushered off stage.

However, with respect to both men (i.e. Einstein and Hoyle), I have to point out that neither this particular debate nor the respective theories each scientist espouses are either new or novel; both continue a (philosophical) dialogue dating back to at least Thales of Miletus (c. 640-547 BCE), and both merely rehash or reappropriate these older theories. The only real difference is that thinkers like Einstein and Holye merely present their theories in the garb of “modern (empirical) science”,¹ a garb ostensibly not colored by religious or theistic presuppositions.

In particular, Parmenides, the philosopher who was “reverenced and at the same time feared … [because of his] exceedingly wonderful depth of mind” (Plato, Theaetetus 183e), argued for the eternal existence of all finite/tangible elements in creation (see Aristotle, Physics 1.2.15). This presupposes–if not prefigures–the logic behind the famous Carl Sagan quote, “The universe is all there is, or was, or ever will be.” However, Parmenides allowed for the existence of a divine being (however deistic), one who is at least responsible for the eternal existence of creation and at most necessary for right interpretations of it.

Moreover, on the twin assumption that fire represents the cause and is the sustainer of all things (see Hippolytus, Refutation 9.10) and that fire by nature is ethereal, Heraclitus of Ephesus argued that all of creation not only has a finite beginning but also continues to move (or exist) in a state of flux–it is constantly “becoming” (see Plato, Theaetetus 160d; Aristotle, On the Soul 1.2.25; idem, Metaphysics 12.4-12). Heraclitus further argued that the otherwise chaotic state of “becoming” was held in harmonious balance by a divine-like principle which he (abstractly) termed, the λογος.²

It is also worth mentioning that this state of flux, in conjunction with Einstein’s general theory of relativity, provides the groundwork for theories regarding the end of the universe. In particular I have in mind the so-called “Big Crunch”–i.e. when the usable energy necessary for expansion is exhausted and/or “critical density” is reached, everything will simply collapse in on itself and form the largest black hole anyone has ever seen. (However, no one will ever see it [to prove the theory] because no one will be around to see it–not even those at Milliways).

This “Big Crunch” theory, too, is not the sole property of modern scientists relying solely on empirically-based data.³ Last time I checked, the Stoic philosophers, using Heraclitus’ notion of fire as the primeval substance, advocated the idea that cosmology is characterized by a cycle of creation, fiery collapse, and recreation–a cycle that continues ad infinitum (see Dio Cassius, History 52.4.3; Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 4.21). Obviously, the notion of “recreation” in the Stoic model would be a point of difference in Einstein’s model. (If I’m not mistaken, Einstein held: once this universe was done, that’s it. Game over).

What’s the point of all this? In one sense, the sage observation of Ecclesiastes is apropos: “That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1.9). In other sense, presenting an idea or theory as “new” or “innovative” or even “novel” when it’s based on earlier ideas seems to marginalize the great thinkers of ages past (simply because they are ancient and not Enlightened).

Moreover, calling it “new” or “innovative” or even “novel” simply because it operates with a-theistic presuppositions does not refute or discredit those who might have theistic presuppositions; it merely exposes the particular stance and method for interpreting the data, one that is not entirely “objective” in the sense that it operates independent of presuppositions.

¹ Just so that we’re clear: I am not opposed to science; in fact, I’m absolutely fascinated by it–especially cosmology.
² The similarities between this and Einstein’s “cosmological constant” should be obvious, although Einstein would readily reject the “divine” aspect of the Heraclitus’ idea.
³ Just for fun: the belief that all things can be explained empirically without recourse to theories of divine beings is not a revolutionary idea, one originating with Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment thinkers. Such empirical and a-theistic beliefs and methodologies were intrinsic to the Atomistic philosophers from the 6th century BCE onward. The Roman philosopher, Lucreitus (1st century BCE) attempts to reinforce an empirical-based interpretation of creation.