Monday, November 30, 2009

Northern Michigan Theology

As I perused the Chicago Consultation website, I came across this from the Diocese of Northern Michigan circa 2007. Certain parts of the statement are of course fine, but I offer the following bits which I find troublesome theologically -- and which remind me very much of the theological views of their recent bishop-elect, for whom consents were not forthcoming. The statement presents what many would identify as an 'incarnational theology' -- but I'm not sure it's quite right. It seems to have weakness in its vision of Creation -- one in which there appears to be no Fall, no evil, no sin -- other than the sin of 'blindness'. I'm reminded of the theological narrative which purports to be "truly" Pelagian, anti-Augustinian, truly Celtic, truly affirming, etc. Having read a bit of Pelagius' work my self (in the BB Rees edition), I'm not sure that even Pelagius would agree with all of this.

Anyhow, what do you all think about these statements?

Here they are:

-- Baptism confirms this most basic truth which is at once, the Good News: all is of God, without condition and without restriction.

-- We seek and serve Christ in all persons because all persons are the living Christ. Each and every human being, as a human being, is knit together in God’s Spirit, and thus an anointed one – Christ.

-- We do harmful and evil things to ourselves and one another, not because we are bad, but because we are blind to the beauty of creation and ourselves. In other words, we are ignorant of who we truly are: "there is no Greek or Hebrew; no Jew or Gentile; no barbarian or Scythian; no slave or citizen. There is only Christ, who is all in all." (Colossians 3:11).

-- Everyone is the sacred word of God, in whom Christ lives.

-- Because each and every one of us is an only begotten child of God; because we, as the church, are invited by God to see all of creation as having life only insofar as it is in God; because everything, without exception, is the living presence, or incarnation, of God...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dark Matter and Dinosaurs

By Eric Von Salzen

I was fascinated by the article about CERN and the God particle (the Higgs Boson) that Greg posted recently. Serious scientists are actually talking about particles that travel through time to affect human activities. As a commenter said, “And people think we're weird for believing in the bodily resurrection of Jesus.” As if that weird science weren’t weird enough, other serious scientists are debating whether the movements of galaxies and galactic clusters – which don’t make sense according to the laws of gravity – should be explained by assuming that 90% of the matter in the universe is stuff we can’t see and know absolutely nothing about (“dark matter”), or by changing the laws of gravity to fit the observations.

This all brings to mind an impression I have that belief in God is more prevalent in some scientific disciplines than in others; specifically that cosmologists and quantum physicists are more likely to believe in God than are biologists.

I’ve done no research on this, and maybe I’ve just been overly influenced by books I’ve happened to read – like God and the Astronomers by Robert Jastrow, on the one hand, and practically every book that Stephen Jay Gould wrote, on the other. If anyone has any actual data on this, I’d love to hear about it.

But for the time being, assuming that this impression is correct, it makes sense to me that this should be so.

Cosmologists and quantum physicists deal with matters that are right on the edge of human comprehension, as the discussion of the Higgs Boson illustrates. I don’t mean merely that I don’t understand these subjects; there are myriad things I don’t understand, from the popularity of rap music to why anyone would eat Manhattan clam chowder if they can get New England. What I mean is that the most powerful human minds are stretched to the limit to puzzle over what happened in the first micro-instants of the Big Bang, or why galaxies are the shape they are, or what it is that makes a quark charming.

A scientist who has to face the possibility that what he’s trying to discover may lie, unknowable, beyond the blue event horizon, might find it possible to believe that there’s something beyond the edge of human comprehension, and that something might be “God”. I don’t claim that every cosmologist or quantum physicist believes in God – that’s probably a minority position at best, and even those who believe in God may more likely be Deists than Christians – but I think that belief can be found in such company.

Now for the biologists. If I’m right that they are the least religious of scientists, there’s good historical reason for their being so. A central tenet of biology -- evolution through natural selection – has been the battlefield on which believers and secularists have waged their campaigns against one another for a century and a half. In this country in recent years the fight has been over “teaching evolution in the schools”. If you were a biologist, your opinion of religion could not help but be affected by the fact that it was religious people who were trying to get the school board to ban evolution from the high school science curriculum, or add a unit on “creation science”. You could be excused for seeing faith as an enemy of science.

And it’s not just biologists for whom Biblical literalism is a stumbling block in the way of religious faith. Many educated people in this modern world are going to hesitate to embrace a belief system that demands that they reject what they have learned to be the established consensus of scientific thought.

Frankly, Christianity makes claims that are pretty tough for people brought up in this modern secular world to accept – that God became embodied as a Jewish carpenter who performed miraculous healings and other feats, was executed in a gruesome manner, and then rose bodily from the dead. We Christians make it much harder for such people to accept the Gospel if we insist that they also have to swallow the claim that all the animals, birds, and fishes were created just as we see them today in seven days six thousand years ago.

I’ve often felt that the Episcopal Church, tiny as it is in membership, may be called to bring the Gospel to intelligent, educated, modern people, who are turned off by the excesses of the Protestant fundamentalists on the one hand, and the rule-bound Romans on the other.

That’s not a bad ministry to have in the United States today. Unfortunately, though, some church leaders – even a bishop or two – seem to think that the way to make the church acceptable to modern people is to dilute its religious content. That hasn’t worked, and it shouldn’t be expected to work. What would draw a modern secularist to a church that said the same things he/she heard all the time from the modern, secular world? Oh, maybe some people will come for the music, or the incense, or the pretty gowns the clergy wear, but that’s not a rock on which to build a church. The only reason for significant numbers of modern, secular people to become part of the church is the kerygma, the Gospel, the Good News. Without that the church is just another venue of the secular world. It doesn't help to tell them that we don’t question the Theory of Evolution, but we have our doubts about the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ. If they want evolution without Resurrection, why go to church? They can get plenty of that in the world around them, and sleep late on Sunday.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Northern Michigan

The Diocese of Northern Michigan is starting a new process to identify and elect a bishop. They admit to reeling after the failure of their last bishop-elect to receive necessary consents. This must certainly be true. The difficult part to sympathize with is the understanding the leadership of that diocese have of what exactly transpired in the case of Kevin Thew Forrester's consents. The head of the standing committee has intimated that some of the trouble may have had something to do with their failure to amply communicate to the wider church the ins and outs of their internal process of discernment. In other words, it seems they think that if they had told everybody why they only had one candidate, everything would have worked out fine.

But, again, that's not the point. To some the fact that they had only one candidate from which to elect may be a big deal -- but not necessarily. It begins to look like a small group has effectively appointed the bishop elect, and then had a convention ratify their appointment, but I suppose that could be alright.

What really bothered folks about the person elected in Northern Michigan was not merely the process, but the result. According to his own published works of theology, the man elected did not uphold the doctrine and discipline of The Episcopal Church according to what is made clear in the Prayer Book, Hymnal and canons. Simple as that.

The reason why the leadership of this tiny diocese, which consists of a few hundred persons in average Sunday attendance, may have difficulty in understanding why their appointment fell through is because it appears that they share the theology of their appointee -- and seem to have no sense of awareness of what the wider Episcopal Church teaches and values as regards the essentials of the Christian faith.

One has only to look at the vision statement of the Diocese of Northern Michigan. It says:
We envision a world in which all people live together in peace
and in harmony with all of creation, where all can contribute
and the gifts of all are joyfully received, nurtured, and supported,
where our diversity is celebrated in community, and every creature
is recognized as having eternal significance.
Now, this may not be such a bad statement at all, if there were anything about it that seemed to say this vision was rooted in the basic Christian proclamation. It is not inherently clear that this vision is particularly Christian -- or even theistic, for that matter. Very possibly this vision could be put forward by someone who is neither Jewish, Muslim nor Christian. Indeed, as well, it seems like no Buddhist or Hindu would necessarily firm all of it -- because I wonder whether they do recognize that every creature has eternal significance.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Time Travel and God Particles


Search for elementary particles hindered by time travel

By: Irma Zhang

Posted: 10/29/09

More than a year has passed since the world's largest and most expensive physics experiment shut down due to technical difficulties. With intense maintenance and painstakingly tedious corrections, the infamous Large Hadron Collider is back to working standard, and is expected to start once again in December. But according to two physicists, the repairs may have been for naught and the original breakdown was destined to occur.

After observing several strings of bad luck, such as cancellations or breakdowns, that have haunted other supercolliders, physicists Holger Bech Nielson of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen and Masao Ninomiya of the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics, have proposed that the sought-after product of the collider is so destructive to nature that it travels backwards through time to stop the collider before it can even be created.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world's largest particle accelerator, with a 17-mile circumference that lies 570 feet underground near Geneva, Switzerland. The accelerator was built by CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, for the purpose of finding forces and particles that existed in the first trillionth of a second of the Big Bang. The LHC has been in the works for 15 years and has cost $9 billion so far.

Protons within the collider are accelerated until they reach a peak energy of seven trillion electron volts, and then collide together to form primordial fireballs.
Although some doomsday theorists speculate that planet-consuming black holes would subsequently form, physicists believe that the collision would instead generate what is known as the Higgs boson, the "god" particle that supposedly explains the origin of mass in the universe.

Nielson and Ninomiya have published multiple papers with titles such as "Test of Effect From Future in Large Hadron Collider: a Proposal" and "Search for Future Influence From LHC." According to the New York Times, in an unpublished essay, Nielson claims, "One could even almost say that we have a model for God," since the very existence of the Higgs is so contrary to the nature of the universe.

This negative influence of Ninomiya and Nielson's proposed Higgs product could be one possible reason that the United States Superconducting Supercollider, also designed to find the Higgs, could have been canceled back in 1993. Furthermore, they predict that all other future Higgs-seekers will be blocked by fate.

However, Neilson and Ninomiya's theory has been met with much criticism. "When I heard about this proposal, I thought it was either a tongue-in-cheek parody or an attempt to see how many people were gullible enough to believe it," Barry Blumenfield, a professor at Hopkins specializing in neutrino physics and hadron-collider physics states. "I don't believe this proposal any more than I believe a field goal kicker missed in the last 2 seconds because of ripples going backward in time that prevented him from making it."

Furthermore, some argue that it's possible that the Higgs boson already exists, but as far as we can tell, the passage of time has not been altered. "Cosmic rays hit nuclei in our atmosphere at higher energies than person-kind will produce [at] the LHC. If the Higgs particle exists then cosmic rays will be producing them all the time," Bruce Barnett, a professor in the Hopkins Physics Department who performs research at the CERN Large Hadron Collider, said. "The possibility of a Higgs being produced does not cause cosmic rays to stop coming from outer space into our atmosphere."

Although it would seem that such a ridiculous-sounding theory would be immediately dismissed by the physics community, the fact that the two proposers are prominent thinkers in the field of particle physics makes their ideas even more controversial. Nielson, for one, is one of the founders of string theory, which combines quantum mechanics and general relativity to explain the most basic components of the universe.

Undaunted, however, Neilson and Ninomiya have proposed a test, using a random-number generator to distinguish bad luck from events prohibited by the future.

The LHC is scheduled to start accelerating protons to an energy of 3.5 trillion electron volts by the end of this year, and then build up to 7 trillion electron volts by the end of 2010. But according to Nielson and Ninomiya, even if it does reach 3.5 trillion electron volts, the energy will not be large enough to generate a Higgs. But no matter what happens at CERN, for elementary particle hunters, the theory is the ultimate statement of pessimism.
© Copyright 2009 News-Letter (Johns Hopkins)