Showing posts with label truth. Show all posts
Showing posts with label truth. Show all posts

09 May 2016

That can't be right!

The truth is not always intuitive or obvious. Claims and counterclaims abound in our day, many of them helped along by the rapid spread of ideas on the internet. But false ideas are often very dangerous.

I'm thinking of ideas like creationism, a young Earth, vaccines causing autism, the denial of climate change, and many others like them.

It's been a while since I posted regularly on this blog, but I'm going to try to get back to it. Some of the  posts might examine one or other of these ideas. But at the root of all them lies a common issue - are we going to begin with the evidence? The alternative is to begin with a position and seek to justify it by finding evidence to support it. But to see the universe as it truly is we must begin with the evidence and argue from that. Often, this will lead us to ask more questions. This is the scientific way.

What we must not do is begin with a preferred view of the way things are and sift the evidence, gathering anything that supports our starting position and ignoring whatever seems to go against it.

I can assure you of one thing. If, as a society, we ignore the evidence, eventually our decisions will come back to bite us. It's happened before; here's one cautionary tale.

Lysenkoism - Jean Baptiste Lamarck was a distinguished French scientist working in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He developed an early theory of evolution and thought that organisms could inherit acquired features from their parents. This was a reasonable conclusion based on the evidence available in his day. But later evidence showed it was incorrect.

In the 1930s a form of Lamarckism was adopted in the Soviet Union. It was called Lysenkoism (after the Soviet scientist Trofim Lysenko). Based on his work to improve crop yields, his theories were approved by Stalin and laws were made to outlaw opposing theories. But the opposing theories were correct (inheritance and evolution as we understand them today).

How did this mistake come back to bite the Soviet Union? To put it as simply as possible, crops failed and people went hungry, biology and agriculture in western capitalist nations forged ahead, while Soviet biology and agriculture stagnated. Eventually Lysenko's ideas were discredited.

The moral of the story is this. Let's not ignore evidence and let's not pick and choose evidence to support our pre-existing ideas. If we do, the consequences may be very severe.

11 October 2013

Understanding science and technology

Truth is truth, and we have to deal with that, even if it seems terribly inconvenient. In particular, scientific facts are truth in the sense that they are demonstrable (by the scientific method) and effective (because they lead to technology that works).

George Boole
George Boole
Denying something that is a well-established theory and has stood years, decades or even centuries of attempts to disprove it is, well, foolish. Yet this is often what believers do (of all faiths) when faced with a scientific finding that seems to contradict articles of their faith.

And the technologies that work for us every day include some that demonstrate the effectiveness of those disputed scientific findings.

Some examples - The science around evolution, for example, underpins some effective technologies in plant and animal breeding, agriculture and medicine.

The science of geology explains the ancient origin of rocks and the movement of the continents but also underpins the petroleum and mineral extraction industries.

And the hotly disputed science around climate change is providing predictive technologies that are already showing their worth in longer term forecasting. Although this is not a religious argument per se, it is being argued in similar ways to the conflict over evolution.

Some of the earlier science/religion debates that were once high profile are now long-forgotten. Few people would argue today that the Catholic church was correct and Galileo wrong about the earth not being at the centre of everything.

Accepting science and religion - And here's something else that's interesting. Why are certain scientific ideas argued against so vehemently while others attract little or no attention? For example, Joshua 10:12-13 tells us that the sun and moon stood still in the sky. Yet this is not leading to a mass denial of angular momentum, classical mechanics or orbital mechanics which clearly show such a thing to be impossible.

Can we not accept that science attempts to describe and explain the physical universe while religion attempts to describe and explain the spiritual realm? The physical universe is known and understood by observation, experiment, and careful thought. The spiritual realm is known and understood by revelation. Why should science and religion be seen as in conflict? Science deals with that which is provable, religion deals with that which is not.

(The photo shows George Boole, who developed the mathematics for processing values of true and false. His work underpins some of the theoretical aspects of modern computing.)


  • Is it helpful to keep science and religion separate in our minds?
  • Why is there no widespread science of "religiology"?
  • Why is there no widespread religion of "sciencism"?
  • Does it make sense to begin with a conclusion and then look for supporting evidence? In a court of law? In science? In religion?

See also:

13 August 2011

ARTS - Schubert's 10th Symphony

< Aldeburgh | Index | The beach >

This evening, Paz, Donna and I visited Snape Maltings for an evening of classical music. Schubert's unfinished 10th Symphony gave me unexpected food for thought.

The programme at Snape included pieces by Rachmaninoff and Lutoslawski as well, however Schubert's 10th Symphony was never completed and what we heard tonight was a reworking by Berio from the existing manuscript fragments.

Rather than fill the gaps in the style of Schubert, Berio chose instead to link the fragments using a very different and much more modern style. He incorporated the celeste in the additions, which lends an airy, ethereal quality and makes it very clear to the listener that these sections are not by Schubert.

Restored Roman potteryThis reminded me of the way ancient Greek or Roman pottery is restored for display in a museum. Usually, instead of trying to reconstruct the original in every detail, the restoration uses a slightly different colour and reduces or eliminates any attempt to recreate the details of texture, pattern and finish. In this way the overall shape and size of the article is clear, but the original sections and the restored parts are easily distinguished. Exactly the same approach is used for tessellated pavements and painted wall plaster.

Another example is the presentation of images from the Hubble Space Telescope where gaps are filled in using lower resolution sections from other telescopes.

So why did this give me food for thought?

We find much the same principle at work when we try to understand the nature of the Almighty and of the things he is doing in our universe. We have clear fragments - for example we know that his nature is to love - but we also have to fill some gaps.

Why is this? It has nothing to do with him withholding information. It has everything to do with our inability to grasp the fullness of the truth. His nature is beyond our capabilities to fathom. We have the overall 'shape' of his nature, a flavour if you will. And we have some of the detail, aspects that we can understand despite our limitations. So our picture is partly the full truth and partly an approximation.

The danger we face is often in thinking our filled-in approximations are the real thing. They are not! Always, always it's necessary to remind ourselves that we don't know as we are known. And the assumptions we make are frequently the causes of our disagreements.

< Aldeburgh | Index | The beach >

07 June 2006

Eaton Ford - Shops and balloon

< 31st May 2006 | Index | 13th June 2006 >

We talked for a long time this evening, and the topics were wide ranging and apparently not particularly 'spiritual', yet it turned out in the end that the Holy Spirit had guided us to cover a particular area of life in some depth and we took away his insight on the topic.

Inside a shopWe began by talking about shopping and supermarkets, and how the little shops in town have been closing in the face of competition from Tesco, Lidl, Waitrose, Rainbow etc. We realised that people's needs change over the years and they might use Tesco when they have a young family, but a smaller shop when they're older.

The idea of one little lie getting out of control also came up in conversation, and we considered how people sometimes construct a bigger untruth to hide the first, and then a third, and how this process can cascade out of control. It's human nature to hide what is unpleasant and ignore what is dangerous. This is reflected in today's dreadful news story about motorists driving round a child injured in a hit and run road accident. people don't want to get involved. But how do they explain themselves later? This event was almost like the Good Samaritan parable where they all passed by on the other side.

Hot air balloonWe thought about the story of the lion and the lamb in the new creation, lying down together. In all of these things the Spirit of Christ seemed to be telling us to look beyond the outside and be concerned with the inside. he wants us to recognise that there's a process going on, but it's what is inside or underlying the outward events that is important. There are actions but there are also motives, and the motives are more important.

John's fishtank is beautiful; it contains fish, corals, a shrimp, hermit crabs, a complete ecosystem. But it's small and needs pumps and filters and care to keep it healthy and stable. But natural systems are so much larger, for example coral reefs or forests. They keep themselves clean and balanced.

As the conversation moved towards seeing the application of these things in the spiritual realm, we understood that we need to do things like prayer and Bible reading as a result of knowing Father and wanting to know him better. Doing them as a chore or a ritual is no good and is certainly not what Father requires. Even good things like these are empty (Ecclesiastes) if the reason for doing them doesn't spring from Father. The motives for everything must be our love for him and for one another, that's where the life is. There is no life in anything or anyone else.

We saw our need to be open to the possibility (certainty?) that we are wrong about things, but also realised that we're very good at kidding ourselves!

Val asked Chris to share the waterfall picture that he'd sent to the Koinonia Life list. John pointed out that people standing nearby will get damp even if they're not directly in the falling water, particularly if they're there for a long time. This is a very good point, the water spreads out as a drifting mist and affects anyone in the vicinity.

Val interpreted a tongue. The Spirit said, 'Rest in me, you are safe, don't be afraid'. His words to us through Val were comforting and reassuring, but once again there was the sense that he does everything necessary and we just stay in the right place.

And right at the end of the evening Rachael shared a picture of a hot air balloon. This really summed up the thrust of the meeting. We were in the balloon and as we moved along through the air we were able to look down at the other people being busy on the ground. We just floated along peacefully with no effort. We are guided and moved by his Spirit; but we must be in the right place if this is to happen (for example, in the basket of the balloon).

< 31st May 2006 | Index | 13th June 2006 >


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