A TRIBUTE TO A GREAT SCIENTIST
One of the great Australian scientists of modern times was Charles Birch (1918-2009). For 25 years he was the Challis Professor of Biology at the University of Sydney. His particular fields of study were biology and ecology.
Professor Birch's religious faith was enriched by his association with the Student Christian Movement. He led some of the SCM’s study groups, which to me were life-changing. He had wide international involvements, including the World Council of Churches, and published nine books, many dealing with interactions between science and Christian faith.
Birch believed that the understanding of the evolution of all life which was initiated by Darwin and colleagues, had a quite major impact on religious understanding. This understanding showed that if God was completely outside life, then there was no need for the concept of God in understanding the development of all life, including human life on earth. Thus this scientific development undermined the traditional view of God as the totally external designer of Nature – the 'unmoved mover' of classical theism.
In his book entitled On Purpose, Birch outlines how theological understanding is itself still evolving in response to this and other challenges of science. However, he shows how modern science itself, and some strands of philosophy, can be most helpful in allowing such new understandings brought by science to enrich religious faith. He presents the life of Jesus as revealing the nature of God’s activity in the world as persuasive love.
For God to be love, God must be intimately affected by the plight and suffering of the world, says Birch. Creation and the evolution of life are seen as the outworking of the divine passion for greater richness of experience. God is the basis of all creative advance, from cosmic evolution to human life, saving the world through a care and involvement in which nothing of value is lost in the immediacy of God’s life.
A quote: Our existence from moment to moment, all the joys and suffering, become one with God’s divine life. Is there any more ultimate meaning to existence than this?
Seek to read On Purpose by Charles Birch to find out more - and be ready for an exciting but testing experience. The book is published by the University of NSW Press.
- Contributed by Emeritus Professor Calvin Rose of Griffith University.
A THOUGHT ON THIS SUNDAY'S GOSPEL
The gospel for this coming Sunday (15 April) is John 20:19-31. It recounts the famous story of "doubting Thomas". While the gospel urges: Do not doubt but believe - doubt and faith waltz with each other on the dance floor of life. And at times doubt becomes a new belief. For example, those who doubted that the sun revolved around the earth catalysed the currently held belief that the earth revolves around the sun.
I will be preaching on the passage, and my focus will be on the positive role doubt plays in the journey of faith. I am indebted to Val Webb for the following quotes from her book entitled In Defense of Doubt – An invitation to adventure, Chalice Press, St Louis, 1995.
She quotes the great Medieval Christian thinker Abelard:
By doubting we come to inquire, and so to truth.
Doubt comes in at the window when inquiry is denied at the door – Benjamin Jowett
Doubts are not red flags indicating weakness but are auditors of our belief systems – Webb, 7
Doubt is the grace that allows us to escape from prisons of inadequate belief systems – Ibid, 47
ON NOT MAKING CHRISTIANITY TOO SPIRITUAL
I think that it was C. S. Lewis who once commented that Some Christians are more spiritual than God. To correct against such reductionist, spiritualised Christianity I recommend reading works written by the great contemporary theologian Stanley Hauerwas. In his book A Community of Character he writes:
...In contrast I will argue that what it means for Jesus to be worthy of our worship is explicable only in terms of his social significance. In so arguing, I am not only suggesting that a christology which does not properly treat Jesus "social significance" is incomplete; I offer the more radical argument that a christology which is not a social ethic is deficient. From this perspective the most "orthodox" christologies are inadequate when they fail to suggest how being a believer in Jesus provides and requires that we have the skills to describe and negotiate our social existence.
- Stanley Hauerwas, A Community of Character – Toward a constructive Christian social ethic, University of Notre Dame Press, Indiana, 1981, p.37.
And a word from Woody Allen on doubt:
I am plagued by doubts. What if everything is an illusion and nothing exists? In that case I definitely overpoaid for the carpet. If only God would give me some clear sign, like making a large deposit in my name at a Swiss bank!
- This newsletter was compiled for the Student Christian Movement by Rev Dr Ray Barraclough.