Sunday, 27 March 2011


After a horrendous summer, there's a welcome touch of cold in the evening air tonight, which heralds the welcome news that Autumn will soon be here in her full, golden-red regalia. Although the city I live in is at a latitude which is officially sub-tropical, the elevation of the city means that our climate is actually temperate, with four distict and welcome seasons. We've even had snow (light!) in winter. Autumn days here are clear and sunny, and the number of deciduous trees planted in the city promises a sublime display of autumnal colours that few Australian cities can deliver, as pictured above. The cold evening brought to mind my favourite Autumnal poem, appropriately anough titled 'Autumn', by the long-forgotten English poet T.E. Hulme, who gave his life in World War I. We don't have a ruddy-faced moon here, rather a shimmering silver one, but wistful stars with white faces like town children are in abundance in the Southern sky. Enjoy:

A touch of cold in the Autumn night
I walked abroad,
And saw the ruddy moon lean over a hedge
Like a red-faced farmer.
I did not stop to speak, but nodded;
And round about were the wistful stars
With white faces like town children.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Dunn on Faith Alone

"It was confidence in God, a positive acknowledgment of God’s power as creator, a calm certainty that God had made known to Abraham his purpose and could be relied on to perform it without further question or condition. Here from another aspect is the same reason why Abraham’s faith should not be thought of in terms of covenant loyalty or as incomplete apart from works, for faith is confidence in God’s loyalty as alone necessary, as alone able, as alone sufficient to bring God’s promise to full effect."
James D.G. Dunn, Romans, Word Commentary, (1990) 1:239 [italics mine].

-- + --

Dunn is a leading British New Testament scholar whose work has contributed to the so-called 'New Perspective on Paul' (NPP) that originally derives from E.P.Sanders's claim that the Reformation tradition, from Luther onwards, had mis-read Paul on Judaism and the relation between faith and works. The NPP has been cited by some former Lutherans and Reformed as influential in their decisions to convert to Roman Catholicsm, on the grounds that the NPP's reading of Paul shows that the Roman Catholic view of salvation as a process that includes growth in justification/sanctification through good works correctly interprets Paul's thinking. Yet here, in his commentary on Romans 4, Dunn is saying the opposite - Abraham's faith - cited, of course, by Paul, as paradigmatic for the Christian's justification by faith alone - was "alone sufficient to bring God's promise to full effect".
We need only add the caveat that faith is instrumental, not causal when it comes to the justification of the sinner; i.e. faith is the open hand that receives God's grace in and through Christ, it is not meritorious in and of itself (lest we have something in which to boast!).

Soli Deo Gloria!

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Please remain calm...

“Please remain calm: The Earth will heal itself - climate is beyond our power to control . . . Earth doesn’t care about governments or their legislation. You can’t find much actual global warming in present-day weather observations. Climate change is a matter of geologic time, something that the earth routinely does on its own without asking anyone’s permission or explaining itself.”
Robert Laughlin, Physicist, Nobel Prize winner (1998), Professor of Physics and Applied Physics, Stanford University, USA.

Click on the post title to read his full article, from Canada's Globe & Mail, and then make yourself a nice cup of tea and relax. While you do so, you may like to ponder how God's active preservation of the world (conservatio mundi; cf. Hebrews 1:3, Col 1:17) might actually be responsible for the processes Dr Laughlin refers to as "the earth healing itself".

Friday, 18 March 2011

For Preachers & Seminarians

Please don't use the pulpit to invite people to 'join you on the bandwagon of your own uncertainty'; speak with conviction, or don't bother speaking at all.

As you ponder that, check out what this guy has to say:

The Practicality of the Vincentian Canon

Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est (what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all); this is the well-known "Vincentian Canon", which is often brought into debates on sola scriptura (scripture alone) by proponents of Roman Catholic and Orthodox "scripture + tradition is the rule of faith"* positions as evidence that scripture alone is not sufficient to serve as the sole infallible rule of faith in the church. Rather, these apologists counter, what has been believed "everywhere, always and by all" is the rule of faith. Leaving aside the largely historical question of whether contemporary Roman and Orthodox doctrine is actually quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est (obviously both cannot be so in their totality!), there is the also the methodological question of the fitness or practicality of Vincent's rule to the task Roman and Orthodox apologists ascribe to it.

Here is one prominent Orthodox theologian from the 20th century (indeed, some say the greatest Orthodox theologian of the last century) who thinks the Vincentian Canon is not up to the task:
"The well known formula of Vincent of Lerins is very inexact, when he describes the catholic nature of Church life in the words, quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est [What has been believed everywhere, always, and by all]. First of all, it is not clear whether this is an empirical criterion or not. If this be so, then the "Vincentian Canon" proves to be inapplicable and quite false. For about what omnes is he speaking? Is it a demand for a general, universal questioning of all the faithful, and even of those who only deem themselves such? At any rate, all the weak and poor of faith, all those who doubt and waver, all those who rebel, ought to be excluded. But the Vincentian Canon gives us no criterion, whereby to distinguish and select. Many disputes arise about faith, still more about dogma. How, then, are we to understand omnes? Should we not prove ourselves too hasty, if we settled all doubtful points by leaving the decision to "liberty" — in dubiis libertas — according to the well known formula wrongly ascribed to St. Augustine. There is actually no need for universal questioning. Very often the measure of truth is the witness of the minority. It may happen that the Catholic Church will find itself but "a little flock." Perhaps there are more of heterodox than of orthodox mind. It may happen that the heretics spread everywhere, ubique, and that the Church is relegated to the background of history, that it will retire into the desert. In history this was more than once the case, and quite possibly it may more than once again be so. Strictly speaking, the Vincentian Canon is something of a tautology. The word onmes is to be understood as referring to those that are orthodox. In that case the criterion loses its significance. Idem is defined per idem. And of what eternity and of what omnipresence does this rule speak? To what do semper and ubique relate? Is it the experience of faith or the definitions of faith that they refer to? In the latter case the canon becomes a dangerous minimising formula. For not one of the dogmatic definitions strictly satisfies the demand of semper and ubique.
...In general, no consensus can prove truth. This would be a case of acute psychologism, and in theology there is even less place for it than in philosophy. On the contrary, truth is the measure by which we can evaluate the worth of "general opinion." Catholic experience can be expressed even by the few, even by single confessors of faith; and this is quite sufficient. Strictly speaking, to be able to recognize and express catholic truth we need no ecumenical, universal assembly and vote; we even need no "Ecumenical Council." The sacred dignity of the Council lies not in the number of members representing their Churches. A large "general" council may prove itself to be a "council of robbers" (latrocinium), or even of apostates. And the ecclesia sparsa often convicts it of its nullity by silent opposition. ...The historical and practical methods of recognizing sacred and catholic tradition can be many; that of assembling Ecumenical Councils is but one of them, and not the only one. This does not mean that it is unnecessary to convoke councils and conferences. But it may so happen that during the council the truth will be expressed by the minority. And what is still more important, the truth may be revealed even without a council."
George Florovsky, from 'The Catholicity of Councils' (I have misplaced the full bibliographic details of this essay; if anyone can supply, thanks in advance!)

If one did not know otherwise, one might assume the author was a Lutheran, so closely does his position on Councils resemble Luther's!

* To be fair, some Roman Catholic and Orthodox apologists would object to this simplified formulation of their positions, but this is what it finally boils down to: tradition (variously defined) is practically an authority in the church alongside scripture, rather than under scripture (Lutherans too have their tradition - but always under the scrutiny and judgment of the one infallible authority of scripture).

More to come soon on the Vincentian Canon, d.v..
In the meantime, see Luther, On the Councils and the Church, Luther's Works (AE) 41; also available, albeit in an early 19th century translation, here:

Thursday, 17 March 2011

St Patrick's Day : Not Just for Irish Catholics

St. Patrick’s Breastplate

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this today to me forever
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in Jordan river,
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of cherubim;
The sweet ‘Well done’ in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the star lit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave, the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

By Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord

-- + --

Not too long ago, courtesy a distant cousin, I discovered that I have Irish ancestry, both native Irish ('Heenan') and Anglo-Irish ('Yeats'). It was quite a thrilling discovery as ever since my teens I have had an interest in Irish poetry and culture. My relative's research even uncovered a family connection to one of the few truly great English-language poets of the 20th C., W. B. Yeats, a volume of whose poetry, would you believe, I purchased out of my very first wage packet more years ago than I care to remember!

St Patrick has long since been claimed by the Roman Catholic Church as their 'patron saint' for Ireland, but it should be noted that the (Anglican) Church of Ireland, many Orthodox Churches, and even some Lutheran Churches include this day in their church calendars, although the significance of the day varies among them - neither do the Church of Ireland nor the Lutheran Church make a distinction between believers on the basis of works or exalt mere human beings to the position of mediators between God and humans, no matter how holy their lives on this earth have been. The Lutheran Church of Australia does not officially mark St Patrick's Day (perhaps because of its strong associations with Irish Catholicism), preferring to publicly commemorate only New Testament saints, but this is one 'Anglo-Celtic' Lutheran who will privately lift a glass of Irish ale in remembrance of St Patrick tonight.

Happy St Patrick's Day!

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Are Lutherans & Reformed Different? Duh! But Why?

"Are Lutherans different from Reformed Protestants? Duh! The odd aspect of the arguments that distinguish Lutheranism from Reformed Protestantism is that the arguers don’t seem to be so conscientious when it comes to Baptists. Are Baptists Calvinistic? Some are. Lots aren’t. So when it comes to drawing distinctions among Protestants why the urge to draw lines between Reformed and Lutherans and not between Reformed and the uncles of Baptists, the Puritans?"

So muses Reformed theologian and blogger Darryl G. Hart over at Old Life Theological Society (click on the post title to read in full). But Hart's not content just to ask why, for so many of his fellow Presbyterians, Lutherans are odd but Baptists are welcome bedfellows, he goes on to scuttle* the old Reformed canard that it's because Lutheran theology is anthropocentric (in Reformed lingo that's bad!) while the Reformed are truly theocentric by suggesting that the problem is the Reformed have misread Lutheranism because they've never truly grasped Luther's theology of the cross.

Now, should we Lutherans praise the Reformed, whom we regard as fundamentally in error on the Gospel? Well, when they are so honest and get it so right, like Hart does here - and are heading in the Lutheran direction, then I say: Yes!

Hart's post is part of what I perceive to be an intra-Reformed discussion about the true nature of 'Calvinism' and how its professed adherents presently relate to their heritage from the magisterial Reformation. In the course of this discussion, I have observed several notable Reformed/Presbyterian theologians who have been willing to criticise aspects of their own tradition based on their reading of Luther, as Hart does here. I think it is worthwhile keeping a 'weather-eye' open for how this plays out. Most of the discussion is taking place in US circles (both in print and in the blogosphere), where, of course, the confessional Lutherans are a big enough presence that they can't be ignored. I don't know how much of it is impacting upon Australian or UK Reformed circles, or further afield where Lutherans and Reformed co-exist...but if we are awake to what is happening, we Lutherans in these places should be looking to cultivate this discussion with confessional Reformed folk in our sphere of influence in order to bring them closer to a doctrinally sound understanding of the saving Gospel.

* scuttle - to sink one's own ship.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Remember Japan Lutheran Church In Your Prayers

The international news services are providing extensive coverage of the horrifying impact of the extraordinary earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and while we should pray for all those affected, please especially remember our brothers and sisters of the 'Japan Lutheran Church' in your prayers. I know very little about Lutherans in Japan, but I do know that there are at least two church bodies. The JLC, with c. 35 congregations, is a confessional church body affiliated with the International Lutheran Council. It was begun by Missouri Synod missionaries after WWII, with a particular focus on the north of Japan; hence the likely exposure of its members to damage and loss of life from this earthquake. Lord, have mercy!

Click on the post title to visit the Japan Lutheran Church website (English edition); there's a good chance updates on how the locals a re faring will appear there as available..

Friday, 11 March 2011

Great New Lutheran Resource: Kleinig On-Line

Dr John W. Kleinig was a theological and spiritual mentor for a generation of Australian Lutheran students who studied at Luther Seminary from the 1980s through to recent years. Dr Kleinig has retired from that position now, although he still serves as a guest lecturer at churches and seminaries worldwide. Now, an enterprising group of his former students, led by Prs Joshua Pfeiffer & Tom Pietsch, have put together a website where Kleinig's lectures will be accessible in audio and/or video formats, as well as lecture notes. The first series, on 'Christian Spirituality', is up now. As one who benefitted immensely from Kleinig's teaching, I commend it to all my readers.

Click on the post title to go to the site.
A permanent link will be provided in the right-hand column.
Kleinig's books, including Grace Upon Grace and a worthy commentary upon Leviticus in the Concordia Commentary series, are available from Concordia Publishing House in St Louis (

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

The First Day of Lent

The First day of Lent,

Commonly called Ash-Wednesday.

The Collect.
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made and dost forgive the sins of all them that are penitent; Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins, and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This Collect is to be read every day in Lent after the Collect appointed for the Day.
(From the Book of Common Prayer, 1662; many Lutherans and Anglicans will pray a modernised version of this prayer in services today.)


"The Scriptures present to us two kinds of true fasting: one, by which we try to bring the flesh into subjection to the spirit, of which St. Paul speaks in 2 Cor 6,5: "In labors, in watchings, in fastings." The other is that which we must bear patiently, and yet receive willingly because of our need and poverty, of which St. Paul speaks in 1 Cor 4, 11: "Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst," and Christ in Mt 9,15: "When the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, then will they fast." This kind of fasting Christ teaches us here while in the wilderness alone without anything to eat, and while he suffers his penury without murmuring. The first kind of fasting, one can end whenever he wills, and can satisfy it by food; but the other kind we must observe and bear until God himself changes it and satisfies us. Hence it is much more precious than the first, because it moves in greater faith."
Martin Luther, Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent; Matthew 4:1-11 [taken from volume II:133-147 of The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI)].


May God grant a holy and blessed Lent to all visitors to 'the old manse'!

Oh, and for those of us who have morning Ash Wednesday services with the imposition of ashes: why not accept the Ash Wednesday challenge? Don't wipe it off!

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Sasse on Ecstatic Religious Experience (with thoughts on 'Pentecostalism' appended)

"Just as the Bibical concepts of resurrection and eternity are hardly any longer understood in modern Christianity, so also the understanding of the Holy Spirit has more and more disappeared. One does not yet know who the Holy Spirit is if one knows the workings of the Spirit or of spirits as reported in the epistles of Paul. He tells of speaking in tongues, of prophecy, of visions, of things heard, of gifts of healing, of the power to do miracles, and all sorts of gifts. Most of these phenomena do not belong only to Christianity but are found in many a religion. They are native to ecstatic religion, which is found all over the world. Here a person thinks of his powers and capacities as intensified into the supernatural because divinity is at work in him. Such primitive expressions of ecstatic religion were much prized in Corinth as evidence of possessing the Holy Spirit. Paul himself had experience of them, and yet he ranks them less than the silent working of the Spirit of Christ. In making this distinction, he does the same as the prophets of the Old Testament. They had such experiences too, and yet they decisively marked themselves off from the ecstatic seers and professional prophets. What is the significance of this distinction? It is connected with the distinction between true and false prophets and so also the scrupulous distinction between God and man - between what is truly God's doing and what is not."
Hermann Sasse, from Jesus Christ is Lord, The Church's Original Confession, in We Confess Jesus Christ (Concordia, 1984), p.29 [trans by Norman Nagel].

Consider the two images below from the world of Hinduism; the first appears to be a group of Krishna devotees, while the second is a group of worshippers of the goddess Kali. In both instances the worship involves the use of repetitive music and chanting/singing, along with rythmic body movement, in order to induce feelings of ecstasy, which are then interpreted to be an encounter with the god who is being worshipped. It would not be too difficult to find similar images from the worlds of Islam (Sufism) and of course tribal religion/animism. Anyone who has travelled widely outside the first world and/or lived closely with devotees of non-Christian religions will be aware of the ecstatic dimension of these religions which, as Sasse notes, is universal. [Just in passing, I have met devoted Hindus who have a statue of Jesus in their prayer corner/altar along with the other gods they worship, and to which they pray earnestly. What they cannot do, however, is bring themsleves to make the confession that 'Jesus is Lord'; Hinduism can accomodate all gods.]

Then consider the obvious external similarites of ecstatic religion as displayed above with 'Pentecostal' worship (OK...I haven't yet seen Pentecostals literally breathing fire either, but you know what I mean: the repetitive music, rythmic movement, de-individuation, etc). I have always been sceptical of Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement (see my post below on 'Settled Science' for a confession of my scepticism! One day I'll explain why my scepticism doesn't extend to the Bible). I do not a priori question the sincerity and faith of those who involve themselves in Pentecostal worship, nor do I question the extraordinary nature of some of their experiences. But I do believe that they represent nothing more than another attempt to divinise the self through an intense and induced (as opposed to imparted) experience of ecstasy. The difference between Pentecostalism and other forms of ecstatic religion is that the experience is interpreted through a Christian lens, and in true Pentecostalism the experience is theologised as worship after the pattern of the Jerusalem Temple, with various levels of closeness to the Spirit, culminating in entrance to the Holy of Holies.

However - and here is the most obvious problem - in the process the God-given means of communion and grace (Word and sacrament) are neglected or played down, and (most problematically) their efficacy is denied. This raises for me the question of just what in Pentecostal worship is actually Christian? Given this, the crucial question, then, for Pentecostals is related to the point at the end of the Sasse quote: What in their expression of Christianity is truly of God, and what is only of man, extraordinary though it may be? But I have not yet met a Pentecostal who was prepared even to consider this question, "lest the Spirit be quenched". Sadly, I have met a number of ex-Pentecostals for whom the whole experience has left a bitter after-taste, sometimes to the point of inducing profound scepticism as to the truth of any form of Christianity at all.


Sasse's essay was written in 1931, btw...that's thirty years after what is usually recognised as the inception of modern Pentecostalism by Charles Parham in Topeka, Kansas on January 1, 1901. For more Sasse quotes, see my other blog 'What Sasse Said'; click on the post title above to view.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

William Weedon on Reading the Fathers

Pr William Weedon recently posted this comment on reading the church Fathers over at Sentire Cum Ecclesia, after the author of that blog, erstwhile Lutheran pastor come Roman Catholic, David Schuetz, had suggested that I "spin" the Fathers to my own purposes when I quote them on my blog Lutheran Catholicity (link provided in right-hand column).
"I have been subjected to the same criticism as Pr. Mark on this [well, at least I'm consoled by being found in such illustrious company, William - MH], but I would simply like to point out that if you READ the fathers as a whole, you will find that they as a whole do not agree with anything wholly today – neither Rome, nor the East, nor the Lutherans, nor the Calvinists, etc. Nor ought we expect them to. The Lutheran use is to attempt to hear them out on the salient questions that were posed in the 16th century where those questions come close to areas that they dealt with in their own day: the role of grace in salvation, for example, and what exactly is meant by the word grace or the word faith, and what is the role of Scripture in determining the dogma of the holy church. My point is simply that it would be a mistake to assume that “they can’t mean that” when “that” would challenge the position of one’s church. Rather, look them square in the face, let them say what they say, hear them out, attempt to understand them, and allow them challenge our thinking – they may be right on a given point, they may be wrong, but we need to hear them out without bending them to dogmatic presuppositions that undo the actual words they say and the clear meanings they convey."

Before I comment on William's words, I must say in self-defence that I actually add very little commentary to the quotes at Lutheran Catholicity, apart from historical notes, so I'm not sure what David means by "spinning". Perhaps I've offered a few opinions along the way, but I really prefer to let the Fathers speak for themselves (such as Bernard on the Immaculate Conception; it's difficult to "spin" that!) and I always try to supply referencing so readers can follow the quotes up for themselves in context. In fact, if I have anything beyond a few notes of my own, I prefer to post that here at 'Glosses...', because I don't want to clutter Lutheran Catholicity up with too much extraneous stuff (for that reason I've been considering deleting all comments, including the one where David suggests I'll be happy after I die to suffer in the very Purgatory whose existence I deny - sic!). I have also promised to consider any corrections offered by readers who think I may have taken a Father wildly out of context, but I've never received any such corrections. Now, it is probably the case that David considers any interpretation of the Fathers that fails to comply with post-Trentine Roman Catholic dogma as "spinning". But surely that only reveals his own biases? The reality, as William writes, is much more complex, and most patristic scholars working today would agree, I'm sure.

What William has written above is quite true and needs to be acknowledged. The Fathers need to be heard on their own terms, and they often say things a Lutheran is bound to reject, for instance the doctrines of grace are not always clearly grasped by them (Cf. Torrance's book on the Apostolic Fathers) and many of them were prone to Millenial speculations. As I wrote over at Sentire, I'm not claiming that the Fathers were proto-Lutherans; that would be anachronistic and silly. What I am trying to show is that Lutheran doctrine can be shown to stand in organic continuity with a particular stream of evangelical (i.e. Gospel-oriented) witness that flows through church history, sometimes with vigour, sometimes as little more than a trickle, but it is always there, it never dries up completely. Melanchthon referred to it as a tide that rises and falls. Lutheran theology may indeed be a development of this stream, but if so it is because of the greater insights into scripture that early Renaissance scholarship availed to the Lutheran reformers(need we mention the correction of Augustine's errors, born of his lack of Biblical languages?), and because the Lutherans were answering questions pertaining to soteriolology (the doctrine of salvation) that had become particularly acute by the late Middle Ages, and not only among theologians.

Reading the Fathers can be a little like feeling for a light switch in an unfamiliar, darkened room - you might have to grope about for quite a while before finding light - but then it's worth it! Personally, I find the ancient Fathers quite bewildering at times because of the strangeness (to me, anyway) of the world they lived in. I feel more at home in the thought-world of the High Middle Ages, when, with names such as Anselm, Abelard, Bernard and the like, the centre of theological gravity began to move to northern Europe and the foundations of the brilliant scholasticism which reached its pinnacle in the great Lutheran theologians of the 17th century were laid down. But that's just me!

By clicking on the post title, you can go to the original discussion, brief though it is. William's blog, Weedon's Blog, can be found in the 'Correspondence Tray' in the right-hand links column. Thanks William!

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

'Settled Science' Is An Oxymoron

"I don’t want to be misunderstood on this. IF we are destroying the planet with our fossil fuel burning, then something SHOULD be done about it. But the climate science community has allowed itself to be used on this issue, and as a result, politicians, activists, and the media have successfully portrayed the biased science as settled. They apparently do not realize that ‘settled science’ is an oxymoron."
I'm not a 'science person', I'm a 'humanities person', just in case you couldn't tell from the blog(!). But when I did compulsorily study science in secondary school, I had the benefit of a teacher who had been well-educated in one of the better English universities. The fact that he quite often used to write "Rubbish!" in red pen in the margins of my assignments didn't stop me from learning a thing or two about proper scientific methodology from him. One of those things is pretty much what is said above, that science is never 'settled', it is always in transition, and oftimes scientific paradigms that one day seem impregnable are the next day discarded as the weight of evidence against them finally reaches an irreversible "tipping point" [cf. Thomas Kuhn's theory of scientific revolutions].

And so it is that the more vociferously the advocates of anthropogenic climate change have claimed that "the science is settled", the more doubtful I have become about their claims, because that is one of the few things I know for sure about science - there are very few things in it that are actually "settled". Anyway, even if you're a convinced anthropogenic climate change believer, check out the interesting piece from which the above quote is taken by clicking on the post title; it's by a bona fide climate scientist, by the way. As for me, I'll continue being sceptical, not because I take a perverse delight in being a contrarian, but because that's another thing my science teacher taught me - scientific knowledge advances through methodological scepticism. Unlike religion, in which true knowledge comes through revelation, in science everything is open to question...or ought to be.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

On Remaining Where God Has Placed You

"It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule."

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King.

It is a much neglected piece of wisdom that we do well to trust God by remaining where he has placed us in life and attending to the various vocations he has called us into in that place, "uprooting the evil in the fields that we know". However, ours is a restless generation in love with the idea of endless possibility, and therefore not in a position to properly receive this counsel. But the older, and, I hope, the wiser I become, the more this counsel seems necessary - both for our benefit and for the benefit of those who come after us. Not that change in location, vocation and/or station should never be sought, but it should be undertaken cautiously, with an ear attuned for God's word on the matter. He, after all, has both the first and the last say on such things.