February 2009


mpoWhen he was 17 my brother Wyn worked in the Columbia record warehouse out by what was then Malton airport. As a perk he got to buy albums incredibly cheap. As Columbia was top dog in those days, he came home with some sweet vinyl.

For my 16th birthday he gave me a copy of Moira Lympany playing Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto #2. I had been a fan of Tchaikovski’s for many years, but this was my first introduction to his protege and successor. It became my instant favourite, and has remained so to this day.

Tomorrow the MPO is playing this, and two other pieces, one by Lizst, and one by Dvorak. I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to this. The MPO play in Petronas Towers in an absolutely gorgeous concert hall with great acoustics. Pam will be back from her conference in Thailand tonight, and tomorrow we will head off with friends Gary and Kveta for what promises to be a very enjoyable afternoon. Xarošego Dnja!

Ultimately, there is no way of knowing for certain anything about creation using the methodologies we humans have constructed for exploring knowledge. Those methodologies have been wonderfully successful in enlarging our empirical understanding, and woefully inadequate in every other area. That is to be expected. Scientific methodologies were never constructed to deal with the issues of God, conscience, morality, or love. This is not remarkable or even notable; it is simply a given, well understood by every serious philosopher.

What is remarkable, what is most certainly notable in the last 200 years or so, has been the importation of scientific methodologies into areas for which it is not equipped to deal. Some things cannot be computed, no matter how advanced the program or the methodology. Such is our love (self-love?) for these devices of our own ingenuity, that some believe that all knowledge must be subsumed under its rubric, and that those areas of understanding that lie outside its purview are of no great significance. Yet even those areas that lie with the range of scientific exploration recede from us the closer we get to them; the uncertainly principle ensures that.

Those issues that lie outside computation are at the heart of our existence. Why then do we insist that those things that lie at the core of what it is to be human yield up their secrets to mere methodology? That will never happen. The only answer to issues which are unknowable by methodology is by revelation. Science will never go there. Yet is precisely there that we must go for answers that are otherwise unknowable, and there’s the rub. All religions claim revelation, so where do you go to find truth? You examine the claims, using rationality as your guide.

Buddha claimed to have taken nothing but two drops of water in four years while meditating to find enlightenment.  Anything else he said, no matter how fair sounding, has to be filtered through this absurdity. Mohammed claimed to be a paragon of moral virtue, yet among his many wives and concubines at 55 was the six year old daughter of his best friend. Anything else he said has to be filtered through this uncomfortable detail. Vishnu claims to be interested in the affairs of man, but eight of his last nine ‘incarnations’ were all about protecting  the kingdom of the gods from attack by evil forces. Where is the concern for mankind in that?

Christ claims to be “the way, the truth and the life” for all who put their faith in Him, and that “no one comes unto the Father, except by me.” To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, only the foulest wretch who ever lived, or a complete madman, along the lines of someone who thought he was a poached egg, could say such things if they weren’t true. And yet Christ’s life shows none of the excesses of a fevered brain, only the most settled and kindly spirit, given to compassion and the needs of others. A truly remarkable life, as anyone who has read it would attest.

And yet this ‘man’ healed terminal disease at a touch, calmed raging waters with a wave of his hand and brought the dead back to life at a word. Nor are these things to be lightly dismissed, although many of the brightest minds have tried. They have either come to grief at the effort or ended up soundly converted by the incontrovertible evidence of the truth of these events. Nor does the story end there, because millions have put this ‘man’s’ word to the test in their own lives, and the change has been dramatic.

For some reason beyond scientific explanation, Christ has made an enormous difference, not just to individual lives, but to the entire culture of the West. You see that here in the East, how there is something missing from their culture, something that doesn’t allow them to ever get ahead of their own greed, indifference and self-absorption and ‘fate’. Science will continue to advance, and I welcome it, since all knowledge leads to a knowledge of God, and only the weak-minded fear it. But science will never have the answers to what troubles and heals the human heart. Only Christ can meet that need. Only Christ can make the difference.

trans_world_radio“Trans World Radio (TWR) is the most far-reaching Christian radio network in the world. Programs in over 225 languages and dialects are aired from more than 2,000 outlets, including 14 international broadcasting locations, as well as local AM, shortwave, long wave and FM radio stations, direct-to-listener satellite broadcasts, cable audio systems and the Internet. Every day, TWR’s broadcasts reach millions in over 160 countries.”  see www.twr.org

It was fifty five years ago this month that Dr Paul Freed began broadcasting Christian radio from Morroco using an army surplus transmitter.  In 1960, TWR Monte Carlo began shortwave transmssions into Europe, the Middle East and Russia from a facility that was originally built by Hitler to broadcast Nazi propaganda.  Just four years later, from the island of Bonaire the message went out ot South America, Central America and the Caribbean.  By 1974, the Middle East and North Africa was being reached from sites in Central Asia and Swaziland. 

With the beginning of shortwave transmissions, in 1977, from the island of Guam which could reach China, Southeast Asia and the eastern Soviet Union, TWR had the potential to reach half of the world’s population. Growth continued with new transmissions reaching  approximately 11 million people in South America and via  shortwave programs from Siberia in 13 languages spoken in North India, Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet.  In 1996 broadcasts began from Central Asia to 60 of the world’s least evangelized groups in Central Asiaand the Middle East.  The goal  of 200 languages and dialects into 160 countries was reached in 2005 but growth continues with the latest being broadcasts form Benin into West Africa.

We have prayerfully followed and supported the ministry of TWR since our Pastor, mentor and friend Dr Carl Seyffert, became the Canadian Director of TWR and invited us to join him as lay representatives in 1983.  It is a real joy and privilege to be here in Asia and to have even a small part in this work.

During my trips to various countries I am seeking to learn the reality for women so that broadcasts can be written in a manner that is relevant to their spiritual, cultural and social reality, and be presented in a way that they can understand and apply to their lives.

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One of the real joys, for me is to meet people who have a burden for the women and are willing to pay the price to help them. About a year ago, I was in Thailand and met a lady who has become a friend that I greatly admire.

Five years ago, Sandy “retired” from her position as a Nurse Practitioner/Midwife in Australia and was commissioned by her home church to work in Cambodia. The Lord led her to a group of people who live in a garbage dump on the edge of the city and make a living by picking through the garbage. This is now a village community, with a very strong church and she has a three room, clinic building. As we did on this recent trip, I try to arrange my time  in Cambodia, so that I am able to work in her clinic and I love it.

 

 When we arrived at the clinic people were already waiting and the morning moved very quickly. There are three full time Khmer workers and a Pastor who teach health care or spiritual lessons while individuals wait to be seen. They are also available throughout the week to provide in home follow-up and training. We took a quick look to see if there is anyone who needed to be seen urgently and then handed out numbers to the rest, in an effort to maintain some sort of order.

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We had only one interpreter, but with Sandy’s “medical” Khmer, we could keep two clients active at a time. We saw around 48 patients in rapid succession and then sat back to regroup. Suddenly it dawned on me that what we had just seen was pretty much what you would see in a walk-in clinic in Ontario. Sniffles, joint pains, complaints of upset tummies and tiredness, mom’s with newborns, young women needing birth control injections, urinary tract and yeast infections, older folks with high blood pressure and some ongoing follow-up on injuries sustained accidently.

Through the vision of one women, backed by her home church, these people are healthy, clean, and know the joy that only God can give. Everyone there has a water filter and understands the need to use it, they know how to care for their children and their  families and are learning to advocate for their own rights. I did a dressing change on a man’s foot that had been run over by a truck and was kind of dreading what I might find when the bandage can off. It was certainly still open, right down to the muscle, but was totally clean with no sign of infection. 

I found it oddly reassuring that the chief concern of  several young moms was why  their babies sweat when they sleep.  I used to wonder about that myself and my son had recently done a blog commenting on how Ben sweats when he sleeps.

Somehow, in the worst of circumstances they were so happy and proud of the changes in their lives. Moms everywhere  want to do the best for their babies.

steve-marking

I love teaching. There is absolutely nothing in the world I would rather do. I love to learn and dig up new and interesting facts I can use to enrich my lessons. I love to learn new technologies and incorporate them into my lessons. I love the interchange of ideas among my colleagues from different disciplines. I love the interaction with the kids I teach and joy I get from seeing them grasp new concepts that will help them in their futures. I even love the rhythm of my job, the pressure of exams, the pleasure of the holidays. I love everything about my job. Except the marking.

I hate marking. It is boring and repetitive. I find it really hard to keep my mind on task, and I need the constant stimulus of caffeine and music to keep my mind awake. I think, “I have already taught this concept a dozen times, and they still don’t get it.” I think of all the other things I would rather be doing. I think of all the jobs that don’t require marking, or wasting entire weekends on essentially unpaid labour. There isn’t a single thing about marking that I like. Except that it is an essential part of teaching (see paragraph one).

What really galls, however, is the inequality between my marking load, and that of other disciplines. I was chatting to a business teacher who showed me a test generating program for business. He clicks a few categories – chapters and concepts covered, number of questions desired – and hits a button. The multiple choice test instantly appears on his screen. He hits print, and his test is written. He will photocopy it and give it to his students along with a form that the students use to select their choice of answer. He will turn in those forms to an exam office that will scan the form and give him a print out of student marks. His time on task? About two minutes.

I on the other hand will take two hours to write a test that is tailored to what I taught in English, and then spend about twenty to thirty hours marking it. (Oh, did I mention that he gets a four thousand dollar bonus for teaching an “essential” subject?) However, I still love teaching. I just hate marking. In fact I am writing this post just to avoid getting back to it. Guess my time is up.

Christmas was tough. Miles from home, family and friends, Christmas Day can be a lonely time. But that is the exception, rather than the rule. More and more we think of our little apartment in Subang Jaya as home, and we are happy here.

For Pam it is the first time in her life that she has been able to do what she has long wanted to do: to serve the Lord in a missionary capacity. Much of her life has been spent in working to support our family and make a living. It great to see her joy in living this new kind of life.

For me, I get to do what I have long wanted to do: teach high school English. It was what I set out to do at the start of my career, and again got sidetracked. To be doing this in Asia is just the icing on the cake.

Neither of us have ever shirked our duty to provide for our children with enough left over the meet the needs of the less fortunate, and this is a sweet reward for our patience and perseverence. It is a very satisfying place to be in our lives and in our relationship, and we are hoping that it may last for a few more years. We still have something that we want to do for Him, and we want it to count.

Please forgive me if you are already tired of this subject. But I just received a comment from a friend of mine from an old post that does not deserve to be buried in the comment archives of last November. Gary is a well read and articulate thinker and his response deserves a post on this site. I do not agree with every thing he says, but as Voltaire famously said: “I will defend to the death his right to say it.” I consider myself fortunate to work in such an intellectually stimulating environment, I learn something new everyday. Here is Gary’s (unedited) comment:

I have just been made aware of this site and as I am a colleague of Steve’s on the other side of the debate I would like to enter in.

First, let me state that I have no firm conviction on the existence of a Creator, although I lean to atheism. There are questions which cannot be currently answered by science. Some cannot be answered because we have not had the time, or the resources or the theoretical understanding to deal with them or even to formulate them. Most of these will with time and effort yield, but the existence of a Creator is unlikely to, so we should be each free to come to our own conclusions: but certainly you cannot use science at this time to justify an answer either way.

Behe’s ideas fall into the realm of the miraculous (and I did read the book, Steve, when you lent it to me) although he is knowledgable enough in the science. His ideas are miraculous simply because they indicate that there are complex entities which cannot be explained in terms of simpler ones. The philosophy of science is that all problems are in principle explicable with time and effort, including biochemical ones. Thus a scientist is not likely to like Behe’s approach for philosophical reasons: it would close off so many avenues of research. That, of course, would not matter if Behe were right and some processes are irreducibly complex. But it is actually fairly simple to find explanations on the internet for the processes he sites. I give you here the website of Kenneth Miller (I am sure you will recognize the name, but you shouldn’t be deterred by him being a strong opponent of ID – he is after all a strong Catholic Christian as well). His explanation for a possible evolutionary development of the Clotting Cascade (which you like to cite) is clear and comprehensible: http://www.millerandlevine.com/km/evol/DI/clot/Clotting.html

Keep in mind that to refute the idea irreducible complexity all that is logically needed is a feasible pathway based in current knowledge of biochemistry and genetics: the exact pathway will never be known.

As to probabilities, the calculations as presented are not correct or applicable. The most unlikely event in the whole process is the original synthesis of a self-replicating molecule from precursors. However, in a large “soup” of small molecules, given the chemical bonding rules as we know them and chemical energetics sooner or later a molecule would be built – it wouldn’t require all the small molecules coming together simultaneously which would be improbable to the point of impossibility: rather, if the first “living” molecule required 26 precursors, call them A to Z for convenience, they might first link chemically in pairs, AB, CD, EF and so on and then in pairs again. None of these steps would be prohibitively improbable especially given the times involved. From there variation and differential reproduction take hold: this process never requires multiple elements to come together simultaneously – an existing gene, for that is what the living molecules are, is modified and acts as a template for some new protein. Evolution does not build each new protein or enzyme from the beginning, from 0, but adapts existing models, which is why the probability calculation often quoted is wrong (I know you like Hoyle who it seems introduced this calculation: a brilliant physicist but not so hot in biology). The only point in this process which is random or at least unpredictable is variation in an existing gene or chromosome, by reshuffling of component parts, or duplication of a gene, or mutation and these occur so frequently that cells have evolved sophisticated repair mechanisms

Jon Wise brings makes a point that scientists are desperate. I don’t think so, although science is under attack particularly in America, by more literalist Christians who would censor science where it disagrees with their beliefs. But scientists are interested in the question of origins, naturally, and would like naturalistic explanations. At this point there are several possible explanations for the nature of our universe, that is the setting of certain constants at values that are necessary for life, often referred to as the Anthropic Principle. Possibly these were set this way be God, possibly it is mere chance – the values could have been anything, but at the time of the Big Bang, they settled at just the right values, perhaps the universe is a multiverse, with possibly an infinite number of universes each subtly different, perhaps the universe will go through a potentially infinite number of cycles of Bang and Crunch, with each new cycle having a new, random set of values and we are of course living in one of the cycles in which it is possible for us to live, perhaps, as Lee Smolen of the Perimeter Institute, suggests, black holes within our universe act as progenitors for new universes each with subtly different characteristics. All scientists know that these ideas are not science, they are interesting speculation: no serious scientist would ever say “This is how it was or is” because there is no data. There is no real evidence for any of these hypotheses and likely never will be. Thus origins, the nature of God lie beyond us, and reason and science cannot help us without fact to work on.

My own feeling is somewhat like Jon’s. Science is a means of exploring the nature of God, however one conceives it. If there is a God, then all of Creation is a book for us to read; if not, we should continue to learn in any case.

Personally, I find evolution and quantum mechanics (especially) far more elegant than a set-piece creation. If God made it all in a particular way, and knows all, how boring that must be and pointless, since all the outcomes would already be known. On the other hand, in QM, uncertainty rules, the outcome of any interaction is fundamentally unpredicable, based on current knowledge, let alone all of them. How much more interesting it would be for God to look with curiousity and amazement at the handiwork as it developed.

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