Thursday, February 26, 2009

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall...

The serpent said to Eve that the fruit of the tree of knowledge was better than non-toxic, the serpent actually said it was good. Going quite against the word of the Maker, who said that to eat of the tree of knowledge was to bring about death, the serpent said, "when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God." Eve followed this advice, as did Adam, and they found the fruit to be tasty indeed.

Yet, it brought about a state of things that ended up leaving them no better off - and indeed worse. It brought about not only an awareness of good and evil - as the serpent suggested it would - but also a new tendency to seek one's own priorities first. It brought about a degree of knowledge yes, but a lack of wisdom. It entered the mythic man and woman not into a degree of maturity in their being 'like God,' but rather into a degree of seemingly permanent adolescence, of seemingly endless rebellion, of seemingly endless dissatisfaction with blessings and gifts, of seemingly endless contention and strife with what one's Maker has bestowed.

As C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity, "What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could 'be like gods' - could set up on their own as if they had created themselves - be their own masters - invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history - money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery - the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”

My interpretation on the story of the Fall is not that it's about how Eve was worse than Adam, or that Adam was innocently dense and Eve diabolically clever, or that snakes are bad, or that the story is in anyway supposed to be a "factual account of what happened onetime." My interpretation of the story of the Fall in Genesis 3 is that it describes my own internal fallenness, by which I cannot on my own, overcome a desire to "become like God on my own terms." The truth is that God has already made humankind in his image, "in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." (Gn 1:27) Yet, by an impulse of infernal origins, call it Satan (that's what I call it), we wish instead to abide not by the terms of our Maker, but by our own, seeking to know and define our own image, on par with God. And that we cannot do. We cannot rightly put ourselves in the place of God.

The proof of this is that we simply cannot know peace, or joy, or happiness, or fulfillment, of our own making. We cannot know enough to be our own makers - or on par with God - or even close. No, we are creatures, blessed by God for joy, not by ourselves.

As such, C.S. Lewis continues, "God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” This is why we must always seek to renew our repentance and obedience to the One who made us for sacred joy.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Where Does The Archbishop Stand?

The Velvet Reformation” is a profile of Rowan Williams, written by Paul Elie. Elie argues that the Anglican Communion, “alone among the churches”, is trying to adapt “traditional Christian notions of marriage and family” to “the experiences of gay believers”. He examines the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury in that effort.

Elie tells us that Rowan Williams “was elected archbishop of Canterbury in 2002 by the other bishops on a wave of enthusiasm like the one that would later carry Barack Obama into the White House”. I can’t say whether or not the bishops of the Church of England were enthusiastic about Williams’ selection as Archbishop, but they certainly didn’t elect him. In the Church of England, Archbishops of Canterbury aren’t elected.

Like many on the “right” and “left”, Elie believes that, in his heart of hearts, Rowan Williams supports the gradual opening of his church to gay people. Why won’t he come out and say so? Elie suggests that, just as St. Augustine prayed for chastity and continence, but “not yet”, Williams isn’t ready to support inclusion “yet”. It's not clear whether Elie really appreciates the implications of analogyzing the Archbishop's position on inclusion to the promiscuity of Augustine's early life.

Elie regards the 2008 Lambeth Conference as a success because “there was no schism, no walkout, no uproar to serve as fodder for the conflict-hungry press.” The bishops, he says, came to “some rough-and-ready agreements,” including extending the “moratoria against the ordination of openly gay and partnered people as bishops and against the public church blessing of same-sex unions.”

Yet Elie is disappointed that even after the success of Lambeth 2008, Williams still fails to speak his own mind (or what Elie believes to be Williams’ own mind) about “the place of gay people in the church”. It’s all well and good, Elie says, for the Archbishop to “try to moderate the discussion”, but that’s not enough. Williams is “a leader, not a stage manager.” He needs to “declare himself for the course of action he favors – which seems obvious – if only to say he doesn’t favor it yet.”

This is an interesting article, and I commend it to your attention.

By Eric Von Salzen

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Living & Active - An Episcopal Faith Sharing Bible

One day I went into Cokesbury looking for a couple of good study bibles. While there, I noticed a stack of "Faith Sharing Bibles" offered by the United Methodist Church. These little red volumes were affordable give-away versions of the New Testament and Psalms (NRSV), which included catechetical material for seekers, as well as daily devotions and other material. They are sponsored by the denominational headquarters for evangelism purposes.

I thought, "Why don't we Episcopalians do something like this?" We could include the Outline of the Faith from the Prayer Book, the Baptismal Covenant, and a daily prayer liturgy.

So, I created it.

From the Book of Common Prayer (1979) I have taken the catechism, baptismal covenant, and morning prayer (II), reshaped them for personal/devotional usage, and bound them together with the full New Testament and Psalms. Also, I have added an introductory chapter on what I call 'Third Way Bible Study' - charting the middle way between fundamentalism and rationalism. I employ good teaching helps from the Prayer Book, the Diocese of New York's 'Let the Reader Understand,' and other inputs.

I wanted to use the N.R.S.V. but the process associated with getting permission was daunting, and appears to be expensive, though I may end up pursuing it. So, this being 2009, I wondered if an 'open source' or 'public domain' version of Scripture had been done by somebody that was dependable and readable. I found the World English Bible - a public domain modern update of the classic American Standard Version (1901). The W.E.B. incorporates many of the scholarly discoveries made available since 1901, and also has lots of useful footnotes explaining certain terms. The W.E.B. follows the literal equivalence approach to translation, similar to the R.S.V. and N.R.S.V. The only downside is that it does not use inclusive language in regards to 'humanity' or 'people' - rather sticking to the more archaic tradition of referring to 'humanity' as 'men'. Importantly, in a number of places the W.E.B. footnotes the use of 'men' and indicates that 'men and women' would also be a totally appropriate alternate translation.

For more information on this translation, please see the World English Bible Frequently Asked Questions.

I put it all together, laid it out as a 5.5 x 8.5 digest paperback, with high quality paper, and very readable font, and uploaded it to Lulu. If you buy ten copies - they are just under 9 bucks a piece. If you buy only one, it's a buck more. Shipping is more, of course. Nobody but Lulu and the shipping companies are making money on this project.

It is offered by me, St. Michael's Episcopal Church in Raleigh, and the Diocese of North Carolina, as an educational resource.

Great for Lent! Great for seekers! Great for small group devotions and African Bible Study or Gospel Based Discipleship. Click on the image above to be directed to Lulu.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A “Quantum Physics” Approach To Theology

A note from the Godfather: Too often today when religion confronts science, religion is on the defensive: We dispute the claims of secularists that science renders religion irrelevant, but it never seems to occur to us to try to make science an ally of religion. It was not always so. There was a time when we could say, "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork." A friend of mine, David Ehret, proposes that science and religion can support each other. I found his arguments so intriguing that I persuaded him to allow me to post his essay on Anglican Centrist.

With this essay, we ask the question “can science and theology co-exist”. Many people don’t think so, and I believe that to be a stumbling block to faith. I personally believe not only that science and theology can co-exist, but that they can even help each other out in their respective fields of endeavor!

Now I’ll be honest right upfront. There’s a lot of stuff here that is pure speculation. But I wrote it because I’ve always pondered the nature of the universe, and having something of an inquiring scientific mind, I have done a fair amount of study in the area of cosmology, the theory of relativity, and even a smattering of quantum physics. But I am certainly no expert in any of these fields – so in what follows I will do my best to separate out “fact” from “speculation”. But having said that, we should bear in mind that there have been many “accepted truths” about the universe over the past couple of thousand years, and these “truths” are constantly being altered in light of both new thinking and of new evidence (and usually in that order I might add)! So given that we can not really be any more certain today that our modern theories are any more “correct” than we thought some of the older ones were, I would like to hope that some of these “speculations” may prove to be at least “interesting”, if not revelatory.

First of all, a brief introduction to the “state-of-the-art” of modern cosmology is in order. We all know that the modern theory of the universe centers around the concept of the “big-bang”. The theory states (in very simplistic terms) that at some point in time (15 billion years ago, or so) the universe “began” from an infinitely dense “point” (a so-called “singularity”) which basically “exploded”. The physics of what happened during the initial seconds and minutes following this explosion are far too complex for me to relate (or even to understand!), but basically it was during these first few minutes that all matter in the universe was formed. In these early moments, the universe was nothing like the stars and galaxies that we see today – that took much longer. But the basic atomic (and sub-atomic) materials were forged at this time, and as the universe continued to expand (and to cool) this matter eventually coalesced into stars and gas clouds. It was within those first stars that the chemical elements were formed, and when they eventually went “supernova”, the residual dust formed planets around new stars, and everything else we see in the universe (and some stuff we don’t see, like black holes and electromagnetic radiation).

The universe is still expanding today, and evidence of this was provided first by Edwin Hubble who determined conclusively that all visible objects (stars and galaxies) are receding from the earth as though we were in a big balloon being blown up. He came to this amazing conclusion by observing a “shift” in the spectral lines from stars towards the “red” end of the spectrum, which would occur only if the stars were receding from us (similar to the way a police siren changes pitch when it passes you and moves away quickly). The further the shift towards the red, the faster the star is receding. What Hubble observed was that the farther away an object is from the earth, the faster it appears to be receding. In fact, it turns out that the most distant objects we can see are receding at nearly the speed of light! The second piece of evidence of this expansion came when Penzias and Wilson detected the so-called “background noise” of the universe, which exists at all points in space, and which is thought to be the “echo” of the original “big bang”. This “noise”, which by definition must exist at the very “edge” of the universe, was detected using highly sensitive radio-telescopes, and shows the “edge” of the universe to be receding at close to the speed of light.

Now interestingly enough, when Albert Einstein first developed his ground-breaking theory of relativity, he could not accept the notion of an expanding universe. Anything other than a “steady-state” universe seemed impossible to him. Ironically it was a Belgian Roman Catholic priest by the name of Georges Lemaitre who rocked both theology and science by proposing the idea of an expanding universe. Lemaitre was no ordinary priest. After World War I (during which he served in the Belgian army), Lemaitre undertook studies in physics and mathematics as well as prepare for the priesthood. He did graduate work in astronomy (at Cambridge University) and also studied at Harvard. He met and worked with some of the top scientists of the day. He eventually got a PhD from MIT University. For his research at Cambridge, Lemaitre reviewed Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. Lemaitre’s calculations showed that the gravitation forces which were well observed throughout the universe could not occur unless the universe were either expanding or contracting. While Einstein “solved” this apparent problem by imagining an unknown force which he called the “cosmological constant”, Lemaitre insisted instead that the universe must be expanding. At first Einstein rejected his ideas, and criticized his physics. But after the evidence of the expansion was revealed, Einstein had to agree. In fact, Einstein and Lemaitre spent much time together reviewing mathematics and attending seminars together. And Einstein is quoted to have referred to Lemaitre’s theory as “the most beautiful explanation I have ever heard”. Indeed, he later referred to his own notion of the so-called cosmological constant as the “biggest blunder of my life”.

Now it is not every priest who is capable of reading and understanding the extremely complex mathematics in Einstein’s General Theory or Relativity, let alone be able to find a fatal flaw in his reasoning. But Lemaitre did both. And even today, the debates about whether or not the universe is expanding at an increasing rate or slowing down continue. In other words, will the universe end up expanding forever, or will it eventually collapse back in on itself in some sort of “big crunch”. The question centers around how much matter there is in the universe. But this is a tough question to answer without really knowing how big the universe is. And since we can’t really “see’ the edge of it, we don’t really know. And current thinking is that the actual balance is so close to neutral that the real answer could be either option – too close to call!

Now, here’s where we get into some real speculation.

It seems quite a remarkable coincidence to me that the farther out we “look”, the speed at which objects appear to be receding from us seems to get closer and closer to the speed of light. Now everyone has heard that nothing can travel faster than light. This is a basic principle of relatively. Even Star Trek aficionados who long to travel at “warp speed” acknowledge that this fantasy involves some kind of “tunneling” through the fabric of space-time and not actually traveling “faster” than light! We must accept this “speed limit” as a basic premise in physics. (For those who want to know more about relativity, try Bertrand Russell’s “The ABC of Relativity”). And the principle reason for this is that among other things that happen as we approach the speed of light, mass increases, eventually reaching infinity, which would mean it would be impossible to accelerate any matter (no matter how small) to the speed of light, because it would take an infinite amount of energy to do so. We can theoretically get arbitrarily close, but we can not “get there”.

But just suppose that the universe were “expanding” at the speed of light. By this I do not mean that any star or other object is actually traveling away from us at the speed of light, as this would be impossible. But I do mean to propose that the closer you get to the “edge” of the universe, the closer you get to the speed of light in terms of “speed of recession”, as viewed by an observer elsewhere in the universe. So we can imagine getting arbitrarily close to this “edge”, and thus arbitrarily close to the speed of light. But of course, you would never be able to actually “arrive at” (or somehow “punch through”) the “edge” of the universe since this edge defines the universe itself. So if you can get arbitrarily close, but never actually “get there”, then in effect, the “edge” of the universe (which is not a “thing”, per se) can be thought of as receding at the speed of light. If this were true, it might serve to explain several things.

First of all, this “speed of light” expansion explains the nature of the background radiation, which is sufficiently close to the temperature of “absolute zero” (-273 degrees Celsius) that there is virtually no molecular motion at all. This can be explained by the so-called dilatation of time, a well known byproduct of relativity what says that for objects approaching the speed of light, time “slows down”. I will have more to say about this later!

Secondly, it would explain why we can not (and never will) “see” the edge of the universe, since no light from that area would ever reach us (since it would be itself receding at the same speed as it was “approaching” us). Imagine someone shooting a gun backwards from a platform which is moving forward at the same speed as the bullet. Let’s suppose he even aimed the gun at me! Well, I would have nothing to worry about. The bullet would just remain stationary with respect to the ground and to me (that is, until gravity caused it to fall to the ground).

Furthermore, any object “arbitrarily” close to the edge of the universe would be receding from us at speeds approaching that of light, so our ability to detect its light or other evidence of its existence (e.g. radio waves, etc) would become harder and harder – but would still be theoretically possible. This is why no matter how big and powerful our telescopes become, we will always see still more. More matter – moving faster and faster away from us. But the point is we could never see it “all”, since there is always a physical limit to our ability to “see”, but there is no limit to how “close” you can get to the speed of light. In other words, the closer any object is to that “edge” of the universe, the closer to the speed of light that object is receding from us, and the more difficult it becomes to detect. It’s a cycle we can never close since to do so we’d have to possess an “infinitely” powerful telescope – something which can only exist in our imaginations.

Another interesting observation is this. When we point our telescopes outward, apart from a few nearby clusters of stars, we notice that objects are receding from us no matter which way we look. Furthermore, they are receding at speeds which are a function of their distance from us regardless of which direction we are looking! Now this is really quite amazing. Imagine our balloon analogy. If we are inside of an expanding balloon, then clearly, if we are anywhere other than the very center, we will observe one “side” of the balloon at a certain distance and receding at a certain speed, and the opposite side at a different distance and receding at a different speed. But this is not what we see. The universe appears pretty much everywhere the same (there are clusters of matter and dark areas throughout the universe, but this is not what I refer to). I refer to the consistent rate of recession as a function of distance from the earth.

Now you might say, well, the universe is just so big that we can’t see the edge, so we could be anywhere within it and not detect any difference in its appearance. But that’s not what I mean exactly. True enough, the universe might be so big that even if it were “finite” in size, we could not see the “edge” of it. But we can and do see far enough to detect objects receding at nearly the speed of light. Yet no matter which way we look, we see the same pattern of expansion as a function of distance. Either we are at the very center of the universe or somehow it must appear to be expanding at the same speed in all directions no matter where we are – and this phenomenon could only be observed if expansion were at the speed of light itself.

So either the earth really is the absolute center of the universe, which seems as unlikely to me as it being the center of the solar system, or else the universe is expanding “infinitely” (e.g. at the speed of light). If it were not, then if we were anywhere except at the center, we would observe objects “closer” to us (and receding more slowly) when looking in one direction, and objects “farther” from us (and receding more rapidly) when looking in the opposite direction.

Now if the limits of our observational skills continue to increase, as they have, and yet we fail to ever detect any sort of difference in our observations regardless of direction, then we are in a similar situation as the previous instance. We can get arbitrarily close to the edge of the universe, but it always appears to be “bigger” because there is no limit to how close you can get to the speed of light. In effect, by using our telescopes we can “move around” inside the universe. And yet if by doing so, we still appear to be at the center no matter where we look, that is, if no “side” of the universe can be observed as “nearer” to us than the other, then the only possible explanation is that we are in an infinite universe. Imagine you are standing on a chessboard with an extremely powerful telescope. If no matter where you stand, you can not tell if you are closer to one edge than to another then the board can not be finite in size.

And there is yet one more observation I should like to make. One of Einstein’s breakthroughs in the conceptualization of gravity was to view it as identical to constant acceleration. To understand this concept, imagine you are standing in an elevator in the middle of deep space (in other words, not subject to any sort of gravitational forces whatsoever). You would be weightless in that elevator, and would float around more or less randomly. Now suppose the elevator began moving “upwards”, and was accelerating constantly at a rate of 32 feet per second per second (which is the equivalent of gravity on the earth’s surface or one “G” as the astronauts and test pilots might call it). In this case, you would not be able to tell whether or not you were in this imaginary elevator accelerating through space, or if you were just standing in a box on the surface of the earth. There would be no difference to you, and there would be no test you could perform which would give you the “answer”. Gravity and acceleration are equivalent. That was one of Einstein’s great breakthroughs in his general theory of relativity. But as we all know, if you are standing on the surface of the earth, you will experience gravity “forever” (assuming the earth isn’t blown to bits or subsumed by the sun in a super-nova). But our hypothetical elevator traveling “upward” can not possibly continue “forever” in a finite universe! It will eventually approach the speed of light (though it can only approach it asymptotically – never reaching it). But in order for this process to continue indefinitely, there can not be an “end” to space. It must in fact be infinite. Otherwise, gravity and acceleration are simply not equivalent.

Now if this theory about expansion at the speed of light is true, we would be quite safe in thinking of the universe as “infinite” in size. And theologically, this has a lot of appeal for many reasons. We said earlier that God is infinite in terms of his power to create. Is it likely that there is a finite limit to what He has created? If so, on what basis would the finite limit be established? And what is “beyond” the limit? Or on the other hand is it more likely (as difficult as this may be to imagine) that there is no limit to His creation. Why should we “think as men think” and just assume that the universe, like a balloon, is some sort of fixed size – large, certainly, but nevertheless finite. Why is it any harder to imagine an infinite universe that it is to imagine eternity (yes, they’re both tough concepts but one is no harder than the other). And the idea of an infinite creation just seems to make sense when talking about an omnipotent God.

It also seems to make sense when we talk about heaven and our “infinite joy for eternity, in God”. What do I mean? Well, we talked earlier about the idea of all souls being bound together in single “body” which knows everything about everyone else, and about God’s works in all things (like the “Borg” in Star Trek). And we also believe that we will “for all time” be celebrating this joy in knowing all things. Well, I know this sounds weird, but “eternity” is a long time. So even if there were billions of souls, eventually you would “run out” of new things to know about God and to praise Him for. But we have good grounds for believing this to be impossible. How can we be limited to a finite number of souls in heaven – even as high a number as a total number of people that ever lived or ever will live before the “end of days”? You might say, well, perhaps there are creatures on other planets – perhaps billions upon billions of them, and if what I believe about certain aspects of “universalism” to be true, then they would also be part of this “body”. But no matter how many such creatures there are, in a finite universe, it would still be a finite number of souls. And I think this is inconsistent with the notions of “endless praise” for “all eternity”. It’s a fine point, but if you’re going to talk about infinite goodness, infinite joy, infinite praise, and infinite time, then I think we have to assume an infinite universe.

Now is it somehow just too remarkable a coincidence that, in my theory, the rate of expansion of the universe “just happens” to be the speed of light? Doesn’t that sound just highly unlikely? Well, we know it can not be more than the speed of light. And the observational evidence is that this speed of recession seems to be arbitrarily close to the speed of light. And furthermore, every time we get the chance to “see” a bit further, it gets closer still! In light of all that, do we really think there is some “limit” to the observable universe? That is what seems to me to be the really unlikely scenario! Do we really think that even though every time we see something further away we find that it is receding at speeds which are closer and closer to the speed of light, that nevertheless we will someday get a big enough telescope to see some sort of a “wall” at the edge of the universe, or at least to reach a point were everything is, say, receding at 99.9999% the speed of light and no faster. Does this not sound like too much of a “stretch of the imagination”?

And what is the speed of light anyway. Yes, we know it is approximately 186,000 miles per second. But why is that? What does that mean? Why should it be so? What I am getting at is that perhaps the very speed of light itself (which is actually the speed of all electro-magnetic propagation) is somehow, by definition, equal to the speed of expansion of the universe. In other words, it’s not that the universe “just happens” to be expanding at the speed of light. But rather, it is this speed of expansion that somehow defines the speed of light – that somehow sets the absolute speed limit of the universe. That would sort of make sense when you think about it. I mean, if the universe is expanding at a certain speed (whatever that speed happens to be), does it not make sense that nothing would be able to travel faster than that speed – as though you could somehow “overtake” the ends of the universe and push beyond it? Maybe over the long history of the universe, it has been expanding at different “speeds”, but it wouldn’t really look any different to us or to anyone else since no matter what the speed, it would always be “the speed of light”, and all of our clocks and measuring rods (as Einstein would call them) would be altered to the same degree. What all this means, among other things, is that we can not really estimate the age of the universe, since all models of the big-bang and the age of the universe assume that the universe has been expanding at the same speed (the speed of light). We estimate its size, and “run the film backwards” at the speed of light in order to get the current estimate of 15 billion years. But it could be a lot more or a lot less. We don’t know, and we can’t know.

Now there is one thing that actually does travel at the speed of light. And that one thing is light itself. This is interesting to think about, because after all, what is light, and why can it travel at this speed? Well, most people know that light is composed of things we call photons. Now you may ask “if nothing can really travel at the speed of light, what’s so special about photons?” Well, the really special thing about photons is that they have zero mass! That’s right – they don’t weigh anything. Therefore they can not be affected by Einstein’s law which states that the mass of an object approaches infinity at the speed of light. We also noted earlier another principle of relativity which is that at speeds approaching that of light, “time” (that is the time relative to the observer) slows down. Many people have heard that if there were two twins, and one of them went traveling through space for a number of years at a speed close to that of light, then upon returning to earth, he might confront his aged brother, but he himself would only have aged a few years. This is a well known principle of relativity and has been proven beyond doubt using atomic clocks in spacecraft and other means. But the implication is that if you could travel at the speed of light (like a photon does) then time would “stop”. In effect, time would last forever. (More accurately, an observer in a fixed frame of reference would observe no passing of time taking place in the frame of reference of the photon). And that is in fact what we find. Photons do not “die”. They exist forever. Light is truly “eternal”!

Now I think it is very interesting that Jesus often refers to himself as “the light”. Yes, I am sure this generally refers to “truth” and “knowledge”. But let’s not gloss over this metaphor too quickly. By equating himself with “light” he is at once classifying himself as infinite, as timeless, and as eternal. I may be completely off-base on this, but I can’t help but find the metaphor interesting.

Now let’s talk about something simple – quantum physics. I joke of course. The world-renowned Richard Feynman, one of the most famous quantum physicists of recent times once joked that “nobody really understands quantum physics”. And as a struggling amateur in this complex area, I can only say that most of this stuff is way out of my league. But perhaps the most fundamental concept of quantum mechanics and quantum physics is that the universe is not “deterministic”. That is to say, that random chance is everywhere in the universe – in the way electrons shift in their orbits, in the way particles move through space, even in the way elementary particles form and “dissipate”. This is a really difficult concept when we are used to dealing with predictable, physical laws, which until the 20th century was the entire realm of science! In fact, Einstein struggled for years trying to disprove the notion of “quantum theory”. His famous quote “God does not play dice with the universe” reflected a heartfelt belief in a divine “plan” for the universe. He believed that all nature behaved according to natural, immutable laws which, though they might yet remain to be discovered, nonetheless exist and always will. He could not accept the possibility of “randomness” in a God-created, orderly universe. But evidence to the contrary is indisputable. And it’s worthwhile asking how this new knowledge might affect our theology.

While I do not believe that the “randomness” described by quantum physics makes it in any way more difficult or impossible for God to be “all knowing”, I do think that this “feature” of the natural world goes a long way to actually clearing up some potential stumbling blocks. For one thing, there is the question of miracles. We said earlier that the nature of many miracles was to “accelerate” natural events – nature on steroids. And this is even more feasible and comprehensible when the idea of “randomness” is added to the equation, because it says that natural behavior need not obey at all times and in all places certain “immutable laws” – that in fact it is possible to “break the rules” as it were. Something may behave in a certain way 99.999999% of the time, leading us to conclude that some sort of “rule” governs its behavior. And in our normal lives, this is a safe assumption, just like we don’t really see the effects of time slowing down just because we drive quickly. But “rules” turn out to be “guidelines” only in the world of quantum mechanics. And there is no way we can make the statement that just because something behaves a certain way “every time we’ve ever seen it”, that it will continue to do so for all time. If you toss a coin enough times, it will at some point land perfectly on its edge.

And perhaps the most important impact of this “randomness” is how it pertains to “pre-determination”. Previously I took the position that, even though God might know what we are going to do, we nevertheless have free will, and can chose to obey God or not. Now in a completely deterministic world, this is not possible. Here’s why. In a completely deterministic world, with immutable laws of nature, all events, all actions, and all outcomes – for every single particle in the entire universe – can, at least theoretically, be determined. Of course, it might be impossible as a practical matter to do so! But at least, in theory, if one atomic particle is set in motion at a certain point in time and at a certain point in space, then it’s affect on every other particle in the universe can be calculated using deterministic laws. Upon this theory, once the “wheel” of the universe is set in motion, however that happens, then everything else follows from it. That includes the creation of the stars and planets, of organic compounds, of life, of men, and even of their actions. In a “deterministic” universe, pre-destination is almost a foregone conclusion! But as soon as you introduce any notion of “randomness” into the mix, then all of a sudden we are no longer bound by the chains of unyielding “cause and effect”. You suddenly have the very possibility of free will.

And I can’t help but make one final interesting observation. We have heard of Einstein’s famous equation E=MC2. This is possibly the most amazing equation in the history of science. It tells us that energy (“E”) and matter (actually mass “M”) are related. They are in fact equivalent! What does this mean? For one thing, it means you can convert energy into matter, which was done in the early universe. And as we all know from the atomic bomb, the process can go the other way as well. Matter (uranium in this case) can be converted into energy. Energy (E) = mass (M) multiplied by the square of the speed of light (C2). Since the speed of light (“C”) is a large number, the square of that number is really huge. That’s why it takes only a small amount of matter to create a huge explosion.

In a way, matter is like a kind of “storage battery” for energy. Energy, such as light and heat, if it is “dense” enough will naturally transform itself into matter (in the form of atomic particles). Those particles, as we know, combine into atoms, and form them into all forms of matter we see in the universe and on earth. Matter is sort of like “solid energy”. And it can theoretically be changed back into energy under the right circumstances.

We learned earlier that light (i.e. energy) is outside of time. There is no notion of “time” for light. But once it is converted to matter, time “takes hold”. It is therefore easy to see that there is a vast difference between energy and matter. Now going back to the big bang, it is believed on fairly solid scientific grounds, that if you go back to the “very beginning”, in the first moments after the big bang, the universe consisted of only intense electromagnetic energy in the form of light. From this light, matter was created, and “time” began. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Now how does all this apply to theology? Well, for one thing, I happen to find it interesting that in Genesis, the very first thing that God creates is light. This concept, as well as the notion of order coming out of chaos is very much in keeping with the theory of the big bang.

But more that that. Jesus says in the scriptures that “what is flesh is flesh and what is spirit is spirit”. He is trying to separate in a conceptual way the vast gulf between our own physical world and the spiritual world of heaven. And vastly different they are.
The “spirit” is eternal (as is energy or light). The material world (e.g. matter) is not. Earlier I said that Jesus referred to himself as the “light”. Carrying this a bit further, can we perhaps read “flesh” as matter, and “spirit” as energy? And if we do, can we not see the eternal nature of heaven and of spirit, as well as the temporal world of the “flesh” and of matter? And if E=MC2, then we also know that one can become the other. God the Son (pure spirit) became a man on earth (flesh). He also promises that all of us will be taken from this physical world, which will pass away, become transformed somehow into “spirit”, and have eternal life in heaven! Now God can do all of this, or anything else He wants, without Einstein’s equations of course. But it’s at least interesting to note that one of the most profound equations ever discovered is at least consistent with this greatest of theological mysteries.

By David Ehret

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Primates Meeting

Interesting piece by the Rev. Colin Coward of Changing Attitudes UK:

I can only speculate on what has changed at this Primates’ meeting and what the reasons might be. We have moved on from where we were two years ago. The work that has been done by Archbishop Rowan, the staff at Lambeth Palace and the Anglican Communion Office in relation to the Lambeth Conference, but more especially I suspect, in quiet work building relationships and understanding behind the scenes, have radically changed the dynamics. However the conservatives might like to spin it, last year’s Lambeth Conference was a great success despite the absence of nearly a third of the bishops.

The Primates no longer need to protect themselves behind a security ring. It’s worth pondering what they thought they needed to protect themselves from two years ago – dangerous interference by Scott Gunn, Caro Hall, Davis Mac-Iyalla and Colin Coward? Or interference by Bishop Martyn Minns and Canon Chris Sugden?

Conversations with some of the Primates and staff members reveal that changes have been taking place behind the scenes. According to one source, every Primate present in the hotel on Sunday morning was present at the Communion service and received communion, including those who absented themselves from Lambeth. The Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, Katherine Jefferts Schori wasn’t present – she doesn’t arrive until today, but Archbishop Fred Hiltz of Canada was. One reason for refusing to come to Lambeth was the presence of those who had consented to Gene Robinson’s election and consecration. Will full participation in communion continue once Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori has arrived?

In my Sunday blog, I assumed that we would meet most of the American and UK conservatives who have regularly been present on the outside of these meetings – Bishop Martyn Minns, Bishop David Anderson, Canon Chris Sugden – I was wrong – they are not here – only David V and George C. I was told yesterday that they were given strict instructions not to come, probably by the Archbishop to whom they owe prime allegiance.

Their decision not to come reflects a profound change of authority and tactics within the broad conservative coalition.

One corner might be represented by Bishop Martyn Minns and his determination to misrepresent the issue facing the Communion as a battle between tired, old colonial powers who have lost their Christian vision (coupled with an increasingly direct attack on the status and authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury) and the numerical and spiritual ascendancy of the Global South Provinces. Canon Chris Sugden of Anglican Mainstream is a key supporter in this strategy.

A second corner might be represented by Presiding Bishop Gregory Venables of the Southern Cone, who has taken a number of dissenting North American bishops and dioceses under his wing. The advice from this corner is that the conservatives have to respect the processes of the Anglican Communion and the four instruments of unity which are the only bodies where authority is rooted.

The third corner might be represented by Archbishop Peter Akinola, who greeted me warmly in the foyer of the Helnan Palestine Hotel yesterday. Archbishop Peter articulates the view of many that the ordination and consecration of lesbian and gay priests and bishops and the blessing of gay relationships is contrary to church tradition and the teaching of scripture. We respect the integrity of this position while radically disagreeing with it. Changing Attitude has always been ready to engage with the process initiated by the Primates in the Windsor Report. It seems that African and other Primates and bishops are now willing to return to full engagement. For us, this includes the listening process which has been categorically rejected by many of them.

Some of the anger and frustration that many African Primates and bishops felt with The Episcopal Church following Bishop Gene Robinson’s consecration seems to have been played out. I detect a real willingness to move on now from reactions to an event that happened in 2003. The signs are that every Primate is now willing to return to the table laid out by Archbishop Rowan, where a welcome has always been guaranteed. Still on that table are the Windsor Report and the Covenant. Changing Attitude disagrees strongly with both documents if their intention is to inhibit the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the Communion.

We support both documents if they are able to focus our hearts and minds on the mission and ministry of the church in Christ Jesus. We have always seen the way forward as one which will take time, as all of us, reacting to the events of the last 6 years from different standpoints, come to a common heart and mind through dialogue and the building of new understanding through relationship.

The advantage of having come to Alexandria is that personal conversation and encounter is the only way to grow together and achieve a real change of heart on all sides. This is what is already happening for us. I am picking up signs of a movement of real change away from the threats of schism and splits of recent years, back to the centre, to a focus on Christ who draws all people to himself in unity and a respect for the integrity of the Anglican Communion.

Anglican Theological Review

My new piece entitled 'On The Priesthood' is published in the current issue of the ATR - the Winter 2009 edition. Please order a copy of this excellent issue on the theology of leadership - and check out all the fantastic articles, especially those by the Rev. Dr. Chris Beeley of Yale, the Rev. Jennifer Strawbridge of the Diocese of Virginia, and others.