Saturday 25 June 2011

Conor Cunningham, consciousness, and evolution

Over at the ABC site, Conor Cunningham discusses the ultra-Darwinism of Dawkins and others, while Rowan Williams reviews Cunningham's new book, Darwin's Pious Idea. Williams writes:

We need to recognise that, if intelligible structure, developing and ordered complexity, is the story we have to tell, if the point of genes is to carry information, then the reality of the universe as we know it is suffused with the possibility of mind. Matter itself is pregnant with meanings, we might say – in the sense that the complexification of matter over the ages ends up in the phenomenon of consciousness.... If the nature of a gene is to carry a message, it is the nature of the recipient vehicle in a new generation to be able to "understand" it. To adapt a famous remark about one mythological cosmology, it's mind all the way down. Intelligence as we define it entails self-consciousness, the first-person perspective; but something seriously analogous to intelligence has to be presupposed in matter for the entire system of transmitted patterns and "instructions" to be possible.

At least some physicists have argued that it is more true to say that matter is a property of consciousness than the other way around – echoing the ancient philosophical dictum that the body is "in" the soul rather than the soul in the body.

Monday 20 June 2011

School of Discipleship: the Gospel of John

If you're in the Sydney area, you might like to come along next month to the School of Discipleship. I'll be giving a series of talks on the Gospel of John – the title is "Glory Crucified: Knowing and Following Jesus in the Gospel of John." Registrations are closing soon.

I've been hugely impressed by this event in previous years – it's an annual conference for university students (and others) who gather to learn about scripture, discuss discipleship in contemporary society, and drink beers with a Barmen theme (pictured is last year's delicious George Bell Ginger Beer – the Karl Barth Porter was good too).

Plus, the Gospel of John is just about the best thing ever written – so it'll be a treat for me to be able to talk about it!

Saturday 18 June 2011

A few more doodlings

by Kim Fabricius

The really scandalous thing is not that the church is a whore but that the state is her pimp.

Ambrose ordered Theodosius to do penance for slaughtering a few thousand Thessalonians as payback for killing the local governor, and the emperor obeyed. Imagine that: a church with balls, and a commander-in-chief with conscience. On second thought, forget it: it’s too much of a stretch.

So the former head of the IMF Bank is accused of raping a chamber maid. I blame the corporate culture: the IMF suits have been screwing the poor for years.

So genetics suggests that we cannot be descended from a pair of biblical parents. But there is no need to panic and abandon a literal interpretation of Geneses 2. We just have to accept that it may have been Steve rather than Eve after all.

Prophets of an imminent apocalypse always remind me of the gag where Groucho Marx borrows ten bucks from a guy and promises to pay him back on the second Tuesday of next week.

I hear the USCCB Committee on Doctrine has just given its Nihil Obstat to a book that inspired its judicious response to Elizabeth Johnson’s Quest for the Living God (2007): Pierre Bayard’s Comment parler des livres que l’on n’a pas lus? (2007).

In the UK, Health and Safety Law has now become so invasive of church life that we should soon expect seminary curricula for eucharistic presidency to contain a practical on the Heimlich manoeuvre.

As Burke said, all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing – about the mobile phone.

If the best argument I know for hell is Rob Bell being interviewed by Martin Bashir, the best argument I know for universalism is Rob Bell being rubbished by Jamie Smith.

The church in the UK is not in decline because people no longer believe in God, rather people in the UK no longer believe in God because the church is in decline.

Alister McGrath recently gave a lecture at Swansea University. Except that it took the introducer so long to read his CV that there was only time for the question-and-answer session.

The New Atheism is an epiphenomenon: it is but the smoke above the factory of market capitalism.

In the wilderness the devil tempts Jesus with a series of choices. By the seaside Jesus says to four fishermen “Follow me!”, an order, not an option. Nothing is more alien to serious Christianity than the contemporary ideology of choice.

Who is the greatest living theologian? That’s easy. Ask any evangelical undergraduate: C.S. Lewis.

The two best theologies of creation to come out of the US in recent years are Gilead and The Road. Point-Counterpoint.

As Doctor Johnson said, “When a man is tired of Barth, he is tired of life.”

Were the Coen brothers to make a film on the life of Jesus (which they could appositely entitle Blood Simple, or O Brother, Where Art Thou?, or Intolerable Cruelty, or No Country for Old Men, or A Serious Man), who would be your leading actor? Remembering, of course, that he will play Judas.

It is said that ministers much prefer taking funerals to marriages. Nowadays, however, it’s hard to tell the difference.

Western culture is in such a state of death-denial that were I to say, presiding at a committal, “Is that knocking I hear?”, no one would think it was a joke.

Was the killing of Osama bin Laden a calculated assassination? Put it this way: to eliminate soldiers who weren’t up to the task, the Navy SEALs rehearsed the operation with a guy wearing a WWJD t-shirt.

I have wearied of counting the reasons why I am not a real Christian: not enough water at my baptism, not enough feeling at my conversion, not enough threats in my sermons, not enough honey in my hymns, not enough support for the Republicans, not enough opprobrium for gays, antipathy towards Muslims, disapproval of the feckless. Have I forgotten anything?

I have two recurring nightmares: in one, David Bentley Hart is telling me off; in the other, I don’t have a dictionary.

R.S. Thomas called God’s adversary “the Machine”. That’s his metonymy for PowerPoint.

After you’ve read a few poems by Kevin Hart, you’re never quite sure whether to pray or have sex.

What’s the difference between a myth and a legend? Hermes is a myth, Myers is a legend.

Tuesday 14 June 2011

Almost thou persuadest me...

... to get an iPad. I actually used a friend's iPad for a couple of months, but wasn't that taken by it. But now T. S. Eliot's Waste Land has been turned into an impressive iPad app. If they do Four Quartets next, I'll really be in danger of converting...

Sunday 12 June 2011

Changing places: academic jobs

A few movements in the world of theological academia (if you know of any others, add a comment):

  • Oliver Crisp is leaving drizzly Bristol to work on his suntan, and to take up the chair in systematic theology at Fuller Seminary
  • Our blogging friend Travis McMaken is taking up an appointment at Lindenwood University
  • Aberdeen continues to expand its empire: Steve Mason is taking up a chair in New Testament; Bernd Wannenwetsch is moving to a chair of theological ethics; and Tom Greggs is taking up a chair in Historical and Doctrinal Theology
  • At my own college, Jeff Aernie is coming from Aberdeen to become lecturer in New Testament studies.
In other job news, Murdoch University in Perth is looking for a New Testament lecturer.

Wednesday 8 June 2011

Moving the blog?

Lately a lot of bloggers have been moving to the big religion site, The site hosts dozens of bloggers, including Ben Witherington, Scot McKnight, Fred Clark, Roger Olson, Mike Bird, John Holbert, and Francis Beckwith. (More info about the site here and here.)

Patheos approached me a while back too, but I haven't been able to make up my mind. Basically, the attractions are: (a) they'd pay me; (b) they'd handle all my technical needs – so some of the technical features of F&T would improve (comments, post sharing, social networking, etc); (c) F&T would still retain its own independent design, etc; and (d) did I mention the money?

On the negative side, (a) the site has unsightly ads; (b) I feel a bit weird about making Christian theology one niche within a wider "pantheon"; and (c) did I mention those ads?

Obviously the money is appealing: I've never cared about getting paid to blog, but once someone suggests the idea, it seems to have a hypnotising effect. I guess if I had the technical expertise I'd be inclined to get my own domain for F&T, and maybe find a couple of tasteful sponsors for the site. But lacking that expertise (or the time to acquire it), what do you reckon about the Patheos option? I'd love to hear your thoughts...

Tuesday 7 June 2011

Creation, Conflict, and Cosmos: conference on Romans 5-8

In May 2012, Princeton Seminary is hosting "Creation, Conflict, and Cosmos: A Conference on Romans 5-8". I'll be speaking there – in utter fear and trepidation, given the lineup of speakers!
  • John M. G. Barclay, Durham University
  • Martinus C. de Boer, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
  • Susan Grove Eastman, Duke University Divinity School
  • Neil Elliott, Fortress Press
  • Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Princeton Theological Seminary
  • J. Louis Martyn, Union Theological Seminary (emeritus)
  • Ben Myers, Charles Sturt University, Sydney
  • Stephen Westerholm, McMaster University
  • Philip G. Ziegler, King’s College, University of Aberdeen
There's a call for papers out too, and they're obviously keen to hear from both theologians and biblical scholars.

Monday 6 June 2011

Scott Stephens on Catholic sexual abuse

Scott Stephens' piece over at the ABC is one of the most important things I've read in some time. Scott discusses the findings of a major new empirical study on The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010 – a report that has been widely ignored by the media, since it doesn't fit with the media's favourite grand narrative about the sexual deviance of Catholic priests.

The study, Scott says, shows "a sudden and disturbing increase in instances of sexual abuse from 1960, reaching its hellish pinnacle in 1975, followed by a sharp and sustained decline from 1985 to the present". By 2001, there were 5 reported cases of sexual abuse per 100,000 children (compared to 134 cases of abuse for every 100,000 children in American society as a whole in the same year). By 2010, there were just 7 reported cases across the entire Catholic Church in the United States. The report thus describes "the 'crisis' of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests" as really a "historical problem."

Scott discusses many other aspects of the report's findings. Most interesting, I thought, is his suggestion that "the foetid cultural soil of the 60s and 70s proved uncommonly conducive to the commission of sexual abuse" – and that the Church's reinstatement of a "punitive approach" to sexual deviance (as opposed to its earlier adoption of fashionable "therapeutic" approaches – counselling, treatment, relocation), together with "John Paul II's radical reform of seminary life and the spiritual formation of priests".

Thus Scott offers his own blistering conclusion: "Those who incessantly call for an end to sexual abuse in the Church are effectively trying to break down an open door." The deepest problem, he thinks, was the cultural milieu of the 1960s, with its vociferous opposition to all taboos, and its sinister promotion of unchecked sexual experimentation. (Sinister if you happened to be a child at the time.)

Speaking of Scott – if you're in Sydney, don't forget to come and join us tonight for a lively wine-and-cheese discussion with Tomáš Halik.


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