Saturday, September 30, 2006

[01.54 GMT] An article on the Department for Education and Skills' statement, and the excellent US Clergy project on religion and science: Government says creationism is off the agenda in UK school science (Ekkklesia).

Friday, September 29, 2006


It has been interesting to see the response to Ekklesia's teaming up with the British Humanist Association on the issue of ensuring that 'creationism' (what I think could fairly be termed a thought disorder within Christian and some Muslim and Jewish thinking) doesn't creep onto the science curriculum in our schools. The galvanising issue is the emergence of a well-funded group (misleadingly) called Truth in Science which has sent 'teaching packs' and DVDs to 5000 heads of science in UK secondary schools. This venture has been well critiqued by geologist and Anglican priest Michael Roberts. The Times Educational Supplement and The Times reported on our letter to the education secretary, Alan Johnson today, and the BBC has also run a story.

Meanwhile, my email inbox is stacking up. On the positive side, there's a letter from the Faraday Institute on Religion and Science in Cambridge, a 'thank-you' from a leading Christian scientist and a note of appreciation from a 'self-confessed secularist'. On the negative side there are abusive missives from people assigning me to the devil, and - this is the most interesting - puzzled letters from ordinary Christians who assume that to argue against 'creationism' (which, let's recall, is about denying 140 years of science in the name of a woefully simplistic misappropriation of ancient texts) is somehow to argue against seeing the world as God's good creation.

That otherwise educated people could be so poorly informed in thinking about God, the world, the Bible and the interaction of faith and science is a truly alarming indictment on the pedagogical failings of our churches. Christians are being ill-equipped to live in the real world, and are being cossetted in the assurance that their convictions need little intellectual effort beyond the reiteration of supposed verities - a viewpoint shared, ironically, by both secular and religious hard-liners.

Of course there's a wealth of good writing on science and theology - but most of it gets circulated among an intellectual elite removed from the pews. It's good to hear that a major science-religion education project may soon get off the ground in the UK, aimed at churches. But one also wonders why scientist-theologians and others seem so absent from the wider media discourse. I'm about to write an Ekklesia column on 'Misconstruing God and the world' - essentially why creationism and its cousin-in-a-lab-coat Intelligent Design are (no matter how gently one tries to put this) non-sense, non-science, non-biblical and theologically defective, basically. In the meantime, this from the coda to today's story:

Ekklesia points to the work of bodies such as the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion (University of Cambridge) and the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (California) as among the major places where scientists, theologians and philosophers enjoy positive interaction.

A spokesperson for Faraday explained: “We don't prescribe a viewpoint, but we take the opportunity provided by these courses to critique ID and creationism as they come up in discussion. We also think that the education of church leaders is critical in this context, and in fact we have a course especially for them at Wolfson College, Cambridge, from 7-9 November 2006.”

Simon Barrow of Ekklesia commented: “People advocating creationism try to exploit legitimate arguments within science for their own entirely non-scientific ends, and they also mislead believers into thinking that Genesis offers a theory of origins. This is wrong on both counts. When Christian theology speaks of ‘creation’, it means that the whole world process, which we can now explore and understand through science, may be received as gift rather than as something to be manipulated or regarded as valueless.”

Ekklesia says that the job of the churches and of thinking Christians is to explore and develop such questions. “Exposing the falsity of ‘creationism’ and ‘Intelligent Design’ are issues the churches and religious communities should be confronting. But such arguments aren’t for science classrooms, where children are there to learn about findings and questions in the sciences thorough methodological investigation of natural phenomena.”

He continued: “Without doubt, ‘creationism’ is a serious religious problem. In essence, as the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams has said, it’s a category mistake. Genesis wasn’t written to explain how the world comes into being, it was written to contradict other ideas in the Ancient Near East that regarded the world as bad. Also, it has no one ‘literal meaning’. That idea is nonsense. If you read it, you discover it has two main accounts which differ in detail, and several other poetic ways of inviting us to see the world as God's gift. To read it as a modern propositional account about how the universe unfolds is illegitimately to impose (very narrow) modern expectations on an ancient, figurative text."

Concluded the Ekklesia co-director: “In Christian history biblical texts about creation have been understood allegorically. In modern times careful theologians have understood the contingency of the evolutionary process as giving us the freedom to invest it with meaning and value – or not. Human beings are constantly confronted with life or death choices.”

See also: Theologians and scientists welcome Intelligent Design ban; Schools minister says creationism has no place in classroom science; Exam Board rules out creationism in UK classrooms; Vatican astronomer says creationism is superstition; Archbishop of Canterbury criticises teaching of creationism; US churches celebrate 'Evolution Sunday'; Creationists target schools and universities in Britain; Dawkins attacks creationist plans; Faith schools may allow extremists in, say critics; Creationists plan six more schools; Christians to explore values in science and technology; New Christian academy rejects creationism as 'rubbish'.

Comment on this post: FaithInSociety

Thursday, September 28, 2006


... is spread far and wide today, both among the faiths (many forms of Christianity included) and among the non-religious too. Christendom is about 'winning'. Calls for the Pope's humiliation are about 'winning'. Richard Dawkins' attempt in The God Delusion to traduce all religion (as if it was all the same kind of thing, and with more heat than light) is about 'winning'. Not necessarily about flourishing, enduring, and life-giving - which demand more of us than triumphant rightness. With regard to Islam, Rowan Williams put it well a few years ago (2001, to be precise). His final comment is not, I think, a hidden arrogance - it is saying that, if it means anything, trinitarian language is about endless divine dialogue, which (I'd add) can elude Christians as much as anyone else.

"Islam has a wonderful vision of divine majesty, generosity and glory,and its demand for unreserved loving obedience has great nobility. But it is a faith that cannot readily find room either for the idea that God longs to share his [sic] very life, or for the vision of a God who can only win through defeat. It is not intrinsically a violent faith, but it is one that sets high store by victory. And it is not able to pray to God in God's own 'voice', to say 'Father' in the Spirit of Jesus."

Comment on this post: FaithInSociety

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


"To be is to do." -Socrates
"To do is to be." -Sartre
"Do be do be do." -Sinatra

Sunday, September 24, 2006


This from policy analyst Michael T. Klare, Professor of Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Dependence on Imported Petroleum (Owl Books) as well as Resource Wars, The New Landscape of Global Conflict:

"...[S]uccess in the global struggle against terrorist movements can only be achieved by a multilateral effort entailing the vigorous application of police-type investigative methods and a moral campaign designed to invalidate the legitimacy of indiscriminate violence against innocent people. The unilateralist, shoot-first-ask-questions-later approach of the Bush administration has demonstrably undermined such efforts. The upshot is bound to be but more terrorism and a greater risk to American lives. Only by cooperating with other countries on an equitable basis can we diminish this risk.

"A retreat from empire would also force us to use oil more sparingly and this, in turn, would enable us to address another critical threat to American security: the danger of catastrophic environmental damage caused by global climate change. As Hurricane Katrina demonstrated, our shores are highly vulnerable to powerful hurricanes; and higher ocean temperatures, caused by global warming, are producing increasingly violent ones. Global warming is also contributing to the extreme drought and susceptibility to voracious forest fires in many areas of the American West.

"By reducing our petroleum consumption and relying more on ethanol, bio-diesel, wind power, solar, and other domestically-produced, alternative sources of energy - but especially by putting our money into the development of such alternatives rather than to imperial expansion around the globe - we can, in the long run, reduce our exposure to violence abroad and to environmental catastrophe at home." More here.

Some of us will remember Klare from back in the days of the Coalition for a New Foreign and Military Policy.

Comment on this post: FaithInSociety
[00.47 GMT] Good piece called The death of debate, by Sunny Hundal from Pickled Politics, on the debilitating decline of sensible public discourse on the BBC (and elsewhere).

Saturday, September 23, 2006


I am very grateful to Johan Maurer for pointing me in the direction of Emmanuel Charles McCarthy's extraordinary booklet, The Stations of the Cross of Nonviolent Love, now available as a PDF file here. Here is a brief excerpt:

It is easy to find hope, security and a future in the GNP, a national anthem, a football team, military technology, Disneyland, drugs, fashion and alcohol. It is nearly impossible in a capitalist society to find hope in the patient, secret commitment to the omnipotence of Christic love. Such a use of life is incontestable folly by all standards except one—Jesus’ teaching that the cross of nonviolent love is the power and the wisdom and the will of The Source of all Reality.

To those who do not believe in Christ’s cross of nonviolent love, its truth is folly, a scandal, an unrealistic waste of life’s time. To those who believe, it is nails, thorns, spears and suffering for others until the blind can see, until the lame can walk, until the imprisoned are freed, until the hungry are fed, until the oppressed are liberated, until the naked are clothed, until the sick are healed, until the rich are saved, until the homeless are at home, until the unlovable are loved, until all sins are forgiven. The believer in Christ’s nonviolent cross breathes in deeply the sufferings of humanity and breathes out freely his or her happiness in order to spread the healing power of nonviolent love as Divine Yeast in the dough of humanity.

Comment on this post: FaithInSociety

Friday, September 22, 2006

[10.18 GMT] Here's a cluster of pieces from Ekklesia, relating to my article on the Pope and his Muslim critics. The first two include some additional comments from me. 'Christendom ideology' hampers Christian-Muslim relations, says think tank 22/09/06; Cardinal faces criticism on Turkey-EU issue 22/09/06; Mennonite seeks dialogue on Iranian president’s letter to George Bush 22/09/06; Christians and Muslims meet for religious dialogue in Iran 21/09/06.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Amid the acres of comment about Benedict XVI’s remarks concerning Islam in his recent German university speech, very little has been said so far about the core issue – the continuing confusion of Christianity with the dominant assumptions and institutions of Western society.

Instead, while noting obvious historical wrongs, the analytical stress has been on trying to add up the balance sheet of this particular pope’s opinions on questions such as Christian-Muslim relations. The difficulty with this is that it places too much emphasis on an individual (albeit a rather crucial and highly symbolic one), and demonstrates little comprehension of the power nexus out of which that leading individual speaks... Continued.

See also: Redeeming Religion in the Public Square, by Simon Barrow; and Faith and Politics After Christendom: The church as a movement for anarchy, by Jonathan Bartley]

Comment on this post: FaithInSociety

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

[21.47 GMT] Jim Wallis of Sojourners has entered the world of blogging with a high-profile space on BeliefNet. Part of the agenda is to enter into dialogue with those on the religious right, as well as promoting the progressive agenda of Call to Renewal. SojoNet is also promoting various new mailings, including a daily digest and the reflective Verse and Voice.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

[02.05 GMT] For what it's worth, here (Why Rowan Williams helps stem the drift to idiocracy) is my take on the current argument about the Archbishop of Canterbury's Nederlands Dagblad interview, documented well on Thinking Anglicans.