Saturday, November 24, 2007

Kaluza-Klein theology

Okay, what I'm not going to put forward is an actual Kaluza-Klein theory. Kaluza-Klein theory properly done is an attempt to unify the forces occuring in nature by extending the gauge group of electromagnetism into a product of possibly non-commutative Lie groups. The necessity outcome of this is that we find ourselves finding more hidden symmetries of nature, and this points to the existence of higher dimensions.

Now higher dimensions ar rather interesting for me in several ways. Four dimensional space (and by space I mean an abstract space which requires four coordinates to describe it rather than the void between stars and planets) can be endowed with many interesting structures which are unavailable in higher dimensions.

It's when we consider Time as part of the fabric of the Universe that things become fascinating. If we step outside of Time, then we find ourselves investigating a static universe in which the common housefly has turned into a string which interweaves the universe. People turn into long ropes with human cross-section which grow and then shrink and then dissipate into frayed ends as our particles disperse to the dust. The Universe consists of Space and Time together mixed inseparably. It's like holding the reel of a movie. You can see each moment in space and time in one vantagepoint.

God has created the universe and we are powerless to see his existence. We cannot see Him act precisely because His creation involves Time. From His point of view, Creation is complete, He doesn't need to continually fiddle with it. It sits in His hand and from His indescribable Eternity, He gazes upon it. For those whose existence is contained within this Universe, the Maelstrom of complex forces and changes and chances of Time veil our perceptions.

Now this is not a "God of the gaps" argument for the existence of God, that God only acts where Science cannot see Him, but rather that He acts definitely where Science can see His actions, but attributes His acts to other causes because God gives it the freedom to do so. It's perfectly possible for the miracles of Christ to have a Scientific explanation. That doesn't stop them from being miraculous provided that we get away from the idea that a miracle is an occurrence which science cannot explain. The hand of God is still in the rising and setting of the Sun, because from our point of view the Universe is not yet fully created. This Creation is not yet perfected, but it will be! One needs to step out into the extra-temporal dimensions to look.

As a scientist I do look for explanations for why things happen. There are some wonderfully glorious sets of coincidences which people attribute to supernatural occurences. However, a miracle does not need that sense of dumbfounding science. A miracle is any occurrence that causes us to reflect on the presence of God, any event that has that numinous quality that touches our lives and brings us closer to Him.

The overreaching principle that God has had in creating Humanity is that Humanity should be free to choose, to have a will of its own. Only then can a gesture of true love be meant. Thus the atheistic scientist is free to interpret an occurrence in a rational way, and quite honestly, that occurrence is indeed rightly described rationally. It is the claim that a scientific explanation naturally rules out the direct influence of God that is questionable. Scientific explanation and Divine intervention are not mutually exclusive terms. Scientific theory is not absolutely correct but it does have a verisimilitude that makes its explanations compelling. Evidence is not proof, but it makes good sense. The Sun will rise tomorrow (barring Divine Intervention). However God, being bigger and existing outside the dimensions of the Universe, does not Himself create a Universe without order and sense. We can attribute every action to His Divine Intervention, but we cannot break down our observations into determining His Divine Will in any particular matter. A sparrow falls to the ground because it is tired and due to the force of gravity. This doesn't exclude the action of God in the matter.

At the Wedding in Cana, water was changed to wine. It caused people to reflect on the person of Christ, the God Who chose not to be remote but rather to make His presence known to mankind; the God Who chose to be seen to act and intervene but yet allows others the freedom to attribute His actions elsewhere. Whether the miracle was performed by a spectacular act of legerdemain, by a miscalculation and misdirection of the servants, or by the molecules of water suddenly finding themselves interspersed with molecules of fermented grapes isn't really the issue. It's the fact that Christians see in this act the first public act of a contraversial figure in history.

Of course the atheist question is then: how can we build a societal structure on the personal revelations to a few people of an unprovable God? Surely Society must be governed in such a way as reflects only that which can be observed and scientifically demonstrated.

Again, here I see the desire of God that mankind should be free to govern itself. At the moment the Church does not wield the power that it had in the past. Perhaps this is a good thing and prevents leaders of the church from becoming corrupt. (Well that's the theory!) Our society's moral and ethical code is, in the West, largely built up from the morals and ethics inherited from past theistic government. However, there is much evidence to show that the Church has, more often than not, been under the thumb of secular government.

As Christians, we do not (indeed cannot) coerce anyone into doing our bidding even if we believe that it is for their own good. Abortion will always remain despite the Church's protestations to the contrary. The Ten Commandments will be broken no matter who is in charge. The point is, that no matter which government runs the show, Christian ethics will remain and be kept by some and rejected by others.

Atheists believe that organised religion is dangerous because it causes people to separate and object to reason on the grounds of belief in an unprovable God. Religious symbols should be banned from public areas because they cause offence to too many.

What has this all got to do with the extra dimensions? Well, that's half the problem. Atheists cannot see that solutions are possible in a way that passes their understanding. They have a need to understand. Actually, I have a need to understand, but I accept while I struggle to understand that reality, morals, ethics and ultimately the questions of life and death have elements that point out perpendicular to the sense of the Universe. As an Anglo-Papalist, I live in a contradictory world full of confused jurisdiction and disjointed ecclesionlogy. However, I have the overriding promise of God that the Church is One, despite denomination. That gives me something to look for, pray for, live for and work for.

Contradictions exist in this Universe, the problem of evil, the reconciliation of an active God with a rational explanation, and their solutions may expressible in terms of this universe but I believe only partially so. It is only looking out in Hope beyond our understanding that I obtain the conviction to work at a solution within our understanding.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Up with the gauntlet!

So here it is, my somewhat inadequate ten minute defence of my faith. Next week speaks our resident atheist, and I'll try to blog something about that then.

Homily preached at Eltham college on 14th November 2007

How old were you
when you stopped believing in the tooth fairy?

What about Father Christmas?

Of course,
you realise how to prove that neither exist.

For the tooth fairy,
you just wrap up a lego brick in tissue,
and see how that is replaced at night
with a 50p piece.

It’s tried and tested!

To show that Father Christmas doesn’t exist
– sorry, he doesn’t except as an embellishment
of the character of St Nicholas of Myra
– just write two note to Santa.

In the first,
you are nice and polite
and ask for your Dr Who action figures
or new Bratz Skiing outfit
– this one you show to Mum and Dad.
In the other,
you call Santa a fat weirdie-beardie
who smells of dead reindeer
– this one you secretly post
to the North Pole.

You’ll know he doesn’t exist
if you still get presents this Christmas.

If he does, then you’ll have to be
very apologetic next year.

Are these really sufficient proofs of non-existence?

What about God?

Does He exist?

After all, you can’t see Him,
touch Him,
you can’t test for existence by sticking Him
in a test tube and holding Him
over a Bunsen burner.

If we cannot make
any observations about His existence,
then does that necessarily mean
He cannot possibly exist?

Well think about it!

Indeed, a thought is not material,
or a force.

There is much that is non-material and yet exists
- the number one,
for example.

We understand the number one is,
and yet it has no dimension.

No mass,
no height,
nothing measurable.

It cannot be tested,
touched tasted or smelt,
yet we know what it is.

It is just one.

The question “what is it made of?”
is utterly meaningless.

You can see one apple,
but if you take the apple away,
it’s just one.

So it is possible for things
to exist without having an observable presence.

It is the same with God.

His is an existence completely other than our own.

Like the number one,
to ask what He is made of is meaningless.

God is the Creator,
and by that we mean the being
who causes all other things to be.

He is the first cause
– how can He be made of anything
if there is nothing from which He can be made?

If He is the first being,
then He doesn’t change,
because there is no material for to change.

But matter changes.

Throw a lump of sodium hydroxide
into a vat of hydrochloric acid
and all you get,
by and large is salty water.

But how does the sodium hydroxide
know how to change into salty water?

How do we know that this always happens?

How do we know that one day,
your chemistry teacher is going to throw a lump
of sodium hydroxide
into hydrochloric acid and instead of salty water,
the result is a vat of Carlsberg?

After all we haven’t finished all our opportunities
for doing that experiment yet!

Mathematical and scientific theories
only describe what happens when
sodium hydroxide meets hydrochloric acid.

They have been honed by years and years of discovery
and improvement.

We now have models which can make
some very accurate predictions,
but there are always some gaps,
and the models don’t explain
how the chemicals know how to behave.

How does sodium hydroxide know that there are rules to obey
so that it makes brine rather than
a refreshing pint of ale?

The universe does seem to conform to rules,
and if modern cosmology is correct,
then these rules appear to be being made up
as the universe continues to be.

But where do these rules come from.

If God exists as the first cause,
then He made up the rules.

Perhaps these are the only rules
that would make this universe exist?

But why does this have to be the case?
– after all these are the only rules we know.

How can we even imagine things being different?

When theists say God created the Universe,
we don’t necessarily mean that He is like
some cosmic Design and Technology teacher
gleefully carving human beings
out of a lump of 2 x 4.

It’s a horrible thought
– what would the universe be like
if a certain Design and Technology teacher
created the Universe?

It wouldn’t be just the one Big Bang, would it?

When we say “God created…”,
we mean that He caused it to be.

It’s why many scientists can believe in God
and the Big Bang and Evolution.

If God created the Rules,
then He created our existence
through Evolution,
through a Big Bang,
if indeed that’s how things did begin!

Some Scientists in an attempt to get rid of God,
say that the universe was created when
two 10 dimensional membranes collided and formed this universe.

A necessary result of this collision
is the existence of parallel universes.

The trouble is,
because we cannot break out of our Universe,
the existence of parallel universes is just
as unprovable as the existence of God.

Superstring theorists have merely replaced
one debatable being with another,
and even then this doesn’t answer the question:
where did the parallel universes come from
in the first place
and what caused them to collide?

The fact that God has created the rules
shows that He has a will and an intention
for the existence of the Universe
- how He wants it to be.

However scientific we want to be,
because we have no way of
stepping outside the universe,
or of being present at the Big Bang
we have no scientific means
of proving or disproving
the existence of God.

Thus we have no way of knowing that God exists,
we can only believe.

If Science is not the tool to use
to talk about the existence of God,
then what about ethics?

If God exists and is good, why has He created evil?

Why create a world in which we have so much,
and yet others die a pitiful death
from starvation and disease,
uncared for,

Why create a world
where your own followers and people
who believe in you tear each other
to pieces in ever more ingenious and pathetic ways?

This has more to do with free-will
– our ability to choose
to believe in God
or not to believe in Him,
the ability to make our own decision
for ourselves without being forced
to do something.

If God doesn’t exist,
then surely we have no free-will
and are merely clusters of atoms
obeying arcane laws of the universe.

In which case what meaning does life really have?

What hope for justice is there
for the Sudanese mother who loses her baby
in a military attack?

If God exists,
and, as Christians believe,
seeks to give justice to the oppressed
in a new life if not this one,
then doesn’t that offer us some hope
for our own existence?

No, it gives us no answers now,
and to others belief in God
seems like wishful-thinking
but then the existence of God
is not something that we should expect
to give easy answers
to the big questions of life.

God is absolutely unlike any other person
that we experience.

We still have to think,
argue, and wrestle with things
that we cannot understand
in the hope that our attempts
lead us perhaps a little closer to the Truth.

But what is the Truth of the matter?

Can you be so sure?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Visions of the Future?

Lazar stands on the edge of the cliff looking over the metropolis watching the distant computer-organised vehicles weaving impossibly around each other from a thousand possible directions, each conveying a single occupant a hundred miles in a matter of a few minutes.

He looks up at the star shining redly over the landscape. Soon, in the next hundred thousand years, the metropolis will be uprooted to the next solar system. Lazar himself has had to endure that five or six times now. Each time, he has been responsible for ensuring that the servile classes in his area obey the directives that involve the regulations for packing away. The serviles just don't have the intellect required to follow the complicated sequences of digits formed by high modulus values of polylogarithms encoding population distribution data. Lazar can manipulate these in sequences in his 30 second sleep period. This reminds him that next week he is having genetic modification in order to reduce his necessary sleep to 15 seconds.

As Lazar looks into the distance, his eyes firmly focussed on a winged creature preening itself with one of its three appendages a kilometre away. he tries to find one good reason why he shouldn't take that one more step forward off into oblivion. His genetically perfected eyesight scans the figures in the citadels of the metropolis, each one moving aimlessly at their work - making sure that the computers self-regulation systems are still self regulating. What else is there for them to do?

They've dreamed their dreams. They fly among the stars visiting new planets, but when you've see 5,000,000 new planets, you've seen them all. Alien species have they met, but since most of them don't really resemble the life that human beings can really converse with (like the gas vortices living in the surface of the star above them) there is not much more mystery left in meeting them. Indeed alien life doesn't seem to recognise human beings as being living things.

Lazar realises that it has been 50,000 years since he last looked into a mirror. His enhanced memory remembers it well. However, since Lazar hasn't changed in 50,000 years, he hasn't needed to check his appearance. Nothing changes about him. his life goes on. His pleasures have been fulfilled a thousand thousand times over. He has had sex a myriad times with a myriad people of several genetically enhanced genders, and has fulfilled his quota of 3 children per planet that he has visited. He remembers his 5,000,000th educational stage that he reached last month with top marks. What pleasure does education have for him now? He remembers every word that he has ever read in his life, plus there is all the information that he has downloaded directly into his brain via the computer interface.

What else is there for Lazar to accomplish? So he shrugs and takes the final step off of the cliff into the lava flow below. Bessed oblivion?

The central computer of the metropolis recognises that Lazar has ceased to function. It then sends a signal to the biological reproduction centre which authorises a clone to be generated from Lazar's DNA. The clone is prepared in seconds. The computer interface is inserted into its neck and all of Lazar's memories are downloaded into it.

On the table, for the 4,000th time, Lazar awakes. Looking up at the ceiling above him he reads the words: "Science: mastery of the universe."

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Excellence in worship

While I've been on Sabbatical, I've been visiting various churches of various denominations. It's interesting that in each parish, all I've found is an attitude of "well that'll do, won't it?" People will do enough to make the Mass work and/or a vaguely pleasant experience, but no more. I often wonder what's going through the head of the average congregant. What are they expecting to happen when they come to church? What are they expecting to do themselves?

Most of the time, the liturgy, the music, the sermon, and subsequently, the whole ethos is geared to accomodating the "comfy chair" syndrome that pervades most of society and panders to what the congregation wants rather than what forms an adequate expression of our love of God. It's interesting that these two concepts of "what the congregation wants" and "adequate expression of our love for God" are either totally discrepant or only common at the lowest level. I was most distressed to walk into a Roman Catholic Church and find the same vision of the Mass as entertainment (guitars, flutes, trendy songs with lowest common denominator lyrics) as exists in Anglicanism.

As a Church, we need to strive for excellence in worship. No, of course we are not going to end up with the perfect Mass. There will always be a flaw or imperfection in the way that we do things. However, spiritually, the West is rapidly reaching the point where God will say as He does in Amos (v.21-27):

I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts. Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols. But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream. Have ye offered unto me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel?

But ye have borne the tabernacle of your Moloch and Chiun your images, the star of your god, which ye made to yourselves. Therefore will I cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus, saith the LORD, whose name is The God of hosts.

The quality of belief comes only from the quality in which we are prepared to invest in Worship of God, and this is a notion that each member of the congregation needs to be met with head on. We have to work to remove insincerity that affects even the best Mass.

To this end I'm making a start on trying to answer the question: What makes Excellent Worship? In view of the fact that all our worship is imperfect, we have a great scope for working for improvement in each act of worship that we do. We need:

  1. Excellent Liturgy:
    I've written on this before. The purpose of the liturgy is to form a process from the temporal world to the Divine. It needs language that will strive to reflect on that transcendent nature and provide an adequate springboard for the soul to dive off into the Eternal Source. Excellent liturgy points the way univocally to God for the humblest soul, yet challenges the position of the most exalted. Excellent liturgy opens the way to the refreshment of the Soul, and needs to reflect on the pitiable state of humanity encouraging and drawing them into that Spring of Living Water.

  2. Excellent Catechesis:
    I've also written about liturgy as having a didactic role, that it should not pander to the lowest common denominator in order to draw up the understanding of the Faithful. However, further than that, we now have entire generations who are unchurched and unlearned in the faith, the Church needs to focus its instruction on the Traditional faith. This can only come with an Excellent Catechesis. Excellent Catechesis has only one aim: - to pass on the beliefs of our Fathers to the next generation fully and faithfully. Each Parish must have a full educational programme of catechesis directed at the young. This is exceendingly difficult as it means that each Parish effectively needs to take on the role of School in educating infants, children and adolescents in the ways of Christ. A parish that does not invest in a full, planned, and thorough catechesis of the young, but rather a scrappy, hit-and-miss, vague and impromptu Sunday School will lose.

    For the Adults, this Catechesis needs to continue also. This is why house groups are vital. One should not remain a member of a Parish without being part of a housegroup which meets during the week to read Holy Scripture or to discuss Doctrine. The individual needs to be challenged by the sound teaching of the Church so that points where the individual disagrees with that Doctrine can be investigated and that the individual can truly grow.

  3. Excellent Participation:
    In the CofE,traditional liturgy has been deemed "not inclusive enough" and leaves little scope for the Congregation to play a part. The consequence is that many of the Eucharistic prayers in Common Worship are interspersed with refrains like "To you be glory and praise forever" or "it is right to give thanks and praise". The sentiment is fine, but it's like scratching Michelangelo's David to insert precious jewels. The jewels are beautiful but their insertion into something else that's beautiful, but in a different way, is damaging to both. Likewise the process that draws the human being to the Incarnate Word present in the Host is interrupted with a repeated refrain. It's a fact that if you repeat a word or phrase frequently it loses meaning particularly in an environment in which one's attention is being drawn in several different directions. It is a good thing to pray the Jesus prayer repeatedly in time with one's breathing because it is an act of personal devotion and private prayer in which an individuals attention is locked on one purpose - namely an interior search for proximity with God. At Mass, however, the search is exterior and in communion with others, and with one's attention being diverted out to the consecration, it takes an effort beyond most of us simultaneously to give meaning to a repeated refrain.

    The result of this "inclusion" of the congregation into a CofE liturgy produces a confusion of roles and practices. What is the real purpose of the vicarious nature of the priest if the Congregation are expected to divert their attention away from the altar in order to make a response which is well-meaning but not necessary.

    Excellent Participation removes confusion. Each congregant knows why he is going to Mass and what his role is in that Mass. If he is "just" (there is never "just") a congregant, then he must realise that He is to give glory to God and to receive nourishment from Him in an organised way. There must be a submission of the individual to the liturgy so that Communion is full and God glorified by each person acting unity with the parish and the whole Church. This will mean the individual prays the Eucharistic prayer attentively and devotedly as an individual, but allowing the priest as alter Christus to be his voice. The participation need not be vocal, and it certainly should not intrude on the central voice of the priest. Excellent Participation must also remind the individual that his duty towards God is to live a Christian life daily, and to work hard at serving God in everything, so that the Mass becomes his observation of the sabbath in which he rests. It is only people who encounter Christ once a week who cry out for something more to do in the liturgy.

    Excellence in worship can only come about if the Church impresses upon the individual that he must participate in a Christian life daily, and strive to make the Kingdom of God real in the world around him. How is the Church making and equipping new disciples? If a parish has no plan to turn congregants into effective and participating disciples then how is it still a part of the Church?

These are only a few preliminary thoughts on how we can try to strive for excellence in our worship of God. They are ill-formed and have gaps in, and I intend to keep looking for ways in which I can make some of these ideas more precise, and realisable. The Church's main enemy is that voice within that cries "inclusivity". A person can only really be included into the Church if he is willing to be changed into a Christian. The Church can but only minister to one who wants his own way, and he can never enter it until he submits to the teachings of Christ that the Church has received from the beginning. A parish that tries to change to become "more inclusive" will only remain a Church if by "more inclusive" it means broadcasting the message of God so that more people feel called to be changed into Christians and submit to His kingdom.