Tuesday, 23 June 2009

That the universe exists at all . . .

A recent post by me on Stephen Law's blog :

A debate on whether the universe points to God is pretty much guaranteed to be a waste of time. Philosophical 'proofs' for the existence of God were never intended to be 'proofs', only to prove that God isn't necessarily an irrational hypothesis. The 'proof from design' was the weakest of the lot, and discredited within decades of Paley's death.

The fundamental thing that theology addresses is not how the universe came to exist, how it works etc. It puzzles over the fact that it exists at all. For some people this is a pointless question - it just does, and that's all that needs to be said. Bertrand Russell asserted this in a famous debate in the 50s, I seem to recall. That the universe exists at all is not a question science is interested in - the point is to understand what we've got. Evolutionary theory, cosmological theory are fascinating and can add to a sense of wonder at the universe's ordered complexity, but ultimately they are irrelevant to the deeper wonder that there is anything at all.

Some of us think that the question is not pointless. I would go so far as to say that wonder and reflection that anything exists at all is probably the most fundamental human experience, and we would do well to construct all our thinking from that starting point. That is because the existence of this universe is a 'miracle' (by definition : it necessarily comes 'before' the physical laws of nature, which are intrinsic to the universe). If this universe (with its laws) is possible 'ex nihilo' what else is possible? The fact that this universe is rationally understandable by science makes it more miraculous rather than less. This is not to argue that 'God exists' - a god that existed would be by definition a created thing. When theologians talk about 'mystery' they're not talking about 'the God of the gaps' as a way of avoiding good scientific enquiry, they're talking about something that science simply cannot address because it is necessarily outside the physical laws of science.

Theology is not an argument for the existence of deities - there are plenty of 'deities' around (money, sex/Aphrodite, power/Ares, Dionysus etc) and there's nothing remarkable about that - theology is an attempt to respond to the fact that there is anything (including 'gods') at all. Some people don't see any point in doing that. Fine, up to a point. The danger in that is that it limits truth to measurable existence, and since the physical universe is morally neutral that ultimately anchors all truth and morality in human mind (Kant - Stephen's baseline). But we are beginning to realise that our anthropocentric (human-centred) models are not serving us well. Theology is starting to make a serious comeback in philosophy, political science and several of the Humanities. It is - always has been - 'queen of the sciences', but (as Mr Spock might say) "not science as we know it, Captain."

Thursday, 4 June 2009

12 Reasons for joining the Greens

I've expanded my reasons for the decision to join the Green Party in a short paper "12 Reasons why this Christian is joining the Green Party" at :


Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Time for Change : voting Green

I started out a socialist. I had five years as a mining engineer in the National Coal Board; it may not have been the most efficient mining industry in the world but it had an excellent safety record considering it's the most dangerous sort of mining operation in the world. I was proud to work for it. Then came Thatcher. The mantra at Rolls Royce (where I was chaplain) was "Remember, we're not primarily here to make gas turbines - we're here to make money." Well, we've all seen where that leads. We've reached the end of that road. New Labour ditched any socialist vision (apart from the NHS) and I'm not hearing any real vision from any of the other main parties. There's no vision left in the bank, just top-down managerialism.

We all know what the real crisis is, but although the 'main' parties are happy to bolt on a bit of greenery to their core ethos, that's all it is - bolted on, not grafted in, and it will soon wither. I've been reading around Green politics since the mid-80s. The Green Party is the only one that comes near to taking humanity's relationship with the environment as the starting point for its political thinking, the platform on which all subsequent policy is built. There was a time when the only thing Green candidates had to offer was that starting platform; they seemed to have no real policy on poverty, or redistribution of wealth, or unemployment, or health care. That has now changed. Here in Oxford, people like the late-lamented Mike Woodin and current MEP Caroline Lucas have helped to create a party worthy of government.

I've voted Green in Euro and local elections for some time now, but the time has now come to vote according to conscience (not just strategically) in the next General Election, which may be sooner than we think.

And if some form of proportional representation is to come - and again, I think its time has come - then in order for people to have a relationship with their candidates (one of the problems with PR) then they need to join the political parties. So I shall be joining the Green Party this week.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Euro Election : the Christian Party

Recently attended a hustings meeting for the Euro Election candidates hosted by St Michael in the Northgate, Oxford. I was bemused by the presence of 'The Christian Party'. It's fairly obvious, I'd have thought, that Christians have a very wide range of political opinions - far too wide to corral into a single functional manifesto. The British National Party seem fairly sure that Jesus would vote for them . . .

Should I take it that they are unaware of this, and think Christianity is only the limited Christianity they know? Their candidate didn't seem to see this as a problem, and focussed not on policies but on values. But I'd be hard pressed to distinguish between the values he articulated and the values articulated by several other candidates - although to be fair to him, he articulated them much better. The unique 'selling point' must, then, be something to do with religion.

So what's their policy on faith schools? Turkey's accession to the EU? Community cohesion in a society comprising many religious groups?

I'm left confused. I can see a point in having a cross-party Christian caucus in the Parliament where Christians can argue it out using Christian language and concepts; but not a Christian Party.

See what you make of it : http://www.votechristian.info/