Professor Russell Cowburn: Why I am a Christian

Science and Belief

Sheldon, the main character in the US sitcom The Big Bang Theory, is funny because he’s an extreme version of the stereotypical physicist. He’s ultra-geeky, as demonstrated by his approach to a popular game: “Scissors cuts paper, paper covers rock, rock crushes lizard, lizard poisons Spock, Spock smashes scissors, scissors decapitate lizard, lizard eats paper, paper disproves Spock, Spock vaporizes rock, and as it always has, rock crushes scissors”. Sheldon’s people skills are not fantastic, and he often upsets his friends. Sheldon: ‘Why are you crying?’ Penny: ‘Because I’m stupid.’  Sheldon: ‘That’s no reason to cry. One cries because one is sad. For example, I cry because others are stupid, and that makes me sad.’ I’m surprised Sheldon has any friends at all.

A real-life physicist, Professor Russell Cowburn, recently spoke at the Faraday Institute’s annual reception for Christians in the sciences in Cambridge. He used Sheldon to illustrate…

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‘Have you been talking behind my back?

‘Have you been talking behind my back?

REGARDING LANGUAGE PRODUCTION: A snapshot of two distinguished professors: ‘Finding the Words’ to describe language as a product of naturally selective processes—and as a ‘recent’ phenomenon.

“As already noted, there is very strong evidence that there have been no relevant evolution of the language faculty since the exodus from Africa some 60,000 years ago, though undoubtedly there has been a great deal of change, even invention of modes of externalization (as in sign language)…In some completely unknown way. Our ancestors developed human concepts. At some time in the very recent past ,apparently some time before 80,000 years ago, if we can judge from associated symbolic proxies, individuals in a small group of hominids in East Africa underwent a minor change that provided the operation Merge—an operation that takes human concepts as computational atoms and yields structured expressions that, systematically interpreted by the conceptual system, provide a rich language of thought. These processes might be computationally perfect, or close to it, hence the result of physical laws independent of humans. The innovation had obvious [advantages] and took over the small group. At some later stage, the internal language of thought was connected to the sensorimotor system, a complex task that can be solved in many different ways and at different times. In the course of these events, the human capacity took shape,yielding a good part of our moral and intellectual nature,…”

‘Why Only Us: Language And Evolution’ Berwick Robert C. & Chomsky N.  2016,Pages 83 & 87  (DW italics)

why-only-us-qI am pleased to recommend professors Berwick & Chomsky’s excellent book.

PS.Whilst it is a strong possibility that an evolutionary process of creation was the means through which [God] brought about the biosphere; it is most unlikely that the ‘process’—most certainly that of language acquisition (universal grammar potentiality)—was left to ‘random’ (none-directed) ‘natural’ forces.

The problem is though that the ‘divine foot in the door’ notion is not a scientifically verifiable option and, therefore, considered to be an example of ‘a god of the gaps’. But is it necessarily the case? As Berwick and Chomsky have observed—language is a phenomenon that, in all honesty, does not fit neatly into the ‘just-so-story’ of a naturally selected product of chance—even of the genius of ‘Natural Selection’.  Derek J.White (12/16)


The Goal of Creation





It is at Christmas that the birth narratives of both the New and Old Testaments get a special ‘airing’; Carols old and new are rehearsed and polished — often to suit our post -modern mindset. Nativity Plays (of various genres) take to the stage and Churches put on their ‘Sunday Best’ as they endevour to reach the unchurched world with the ‘real meaning’ of Christmas. Indeed, we at St Mary’s Ferndown, prayerfully and, of course, professionally ‘stage manage’ our Nine Lessons & Carols — to be performed at 1630 & 1900 on the Sunday before Christmas with the (expectant) hope of God opening the hearts and minds of those for whom Christmas is for families and for giving to charity—and who have managed to, against all odds, find themselves at church — the Sunday before Christmas. Continue reading

The Good, Bad and Ugly?


The 1966 film ‘The Good. The Bad, and The Ugly had as its characters: the ‘bad’ and the ‘ugly’ but the ‘good’ characters were a little more difficult to detect…

Most of us, at least those of us who call ourselves Christians, are fully aware that we are not ‘good’. We may be ‘nice people’ but ‘goodness’ as an actual [possible] state of affairs is another matter. Sure, we know that we, as professing followers of Christ,need to be ‘different’–indeed we are encouraged to:’Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace…’ ( 2 Corinthians 13:11). But we’re not really ‘good’, are we? (rhetorical). God is Good —‘the good’— the ultimate goodness.

Thankfully, we are not commissioned to carry out ‘research’ regarding the ‘goodness, badness or ugliness’ of others — but what of those who ‘trust’ in their own goodness—who believe in the ‘universal goodness of mankind’? Should we not be concerned by their introspective diagnosis? We are, rightfully concerned for the first category of people: ‘the good’—as we really are so glad that such people exist—it does help ‘restore’ ones confidence in humanity—so we may conclude that there is ‘a glimmer of hope’—and this ‘hope’ would based on a false premise—that ‘mankind is good’ and that his environment may be blamed for any inconsistencies in his behaviour.

What is the difference between ‘the ignorant good’ i.e. those who live good lives and who have not even considered the possibility of their not being ‘good enough’ [from God’s perspective] and the ‘dissident good’ i.e. those who are convinced they are good and will not allow a second opinion? To fully understand this we need firstly to realise that we [humans] have a bias against any possible ‘ruling’ that declares our species as being in need of judgement or of justification for ‘the way we are’.You be the ‘judge’ of this—though it is a mission you may not be able to acomplish.Believe it or not there are even Christians who think that justification is a ‘human right’ rather than a gift of God. The reasoning behind such thinking is that there are very few ‘bad’ people—that the majority of people are ‘good’. But this ‘reasoning’ has not taken into consideration the evidence against it—as history (recent and past) confirms; neither has it taken Scripture seriously—’taken God at his word.’

Jesus commissioned his disciples to go out and ‘compel them—’the good,bad and the ugly’ —to come in, ‘so that my house may be filled.’ (Luke 14:23). To compel is a strong verb; it shows urgency; it does not indicate a laissez-faire attitude toward making disciples, neither does it suggest that making disciples should be constrained by the latest missional ‘know how’ that [may] encourage journeying but not discipling.

Jesus said: ‘Go into all the world and make known the Gospel to the ‘good, ‘bad’ and ‘ugly’.

Derek White

‘Part2 Coming…’


Asking the ‘Question’ of why it is that God makes it so difficult to believe in his existence is seen as the sine qua non of reason and of apologetics. The problem is though that we’re asking the question from the wrong perspective—as if somehow God has to persuade us that his dealings with us [in particular but not exclusively] seem to be unjust: Health,Happiness,Long-Life [the American Dream] etc.

Of course there is also the problem of Evil—including the problem of God’s [likely] use of an evolutionary process—a process that brings with it: predation,plague,parasitism—oh, and [natural] death. Of course, we don’t have the whole picture. We do though have a glimpse into the heart of God when/if we take a closer look at the incarnation of Jesus Christ—who (by the way) was not just ‘sent’ by a cosmic sadist  in order to provide a solution, but came on His own volition—as the second person of the Trinity . God, in Christ, was always destined to come to this vale of tears—to both deal with the problem of evil  and to make a way for creatures such as us—creatures who will always find fault in whatever God does. You will relate to this scenario, no doubt.

The facts are that YOU are not the centre of the universe and you do not have anywhere near the whole picture. This world—ever since its ‘genesis’ has been the place in which opposition to God has been most prevalent. However there is, what John Polkinhorne describes as, ‘part two’—a part that is yet to come—the eschaton. Are you prepared with your list of reasons for finding God GUILTY? Jesus came the first time to redeem that which was lost; He is coming again to reveal Part Two.

As it’s nearly December (2016) We’ll end this, short, blog article with the words of one of my favourite carols:

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times did’st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

12 Century Latin; Author unknown.

Derek White November 26th 2016

Fallen or ‘failed’?:Excluded from ‘Life’


Fallen or ‘failed’?: Excluded from ‘Life’

A.N.S Lane notes the contrasts between the views of Augustine and Irenaeus, and offers the following questions as a means of segregating the differences:

  • Was the world perfect?
  • Were Adam and Eve perfect?
  • Were Adam and Eve immortal?

Lane makes the observation that following Augustine, it became traditional to see Adam and Eve as inhabiting a perfect world and that there ‘was’ a tendency to think of them as immortal—‘sometimes seen as morally and intellectually all but perfect’—resulting in the belief that the Fall was akin to an angelic fall—falling from a perfect state of being. All this, Lane maintains, creates intolerable tensions with the modern scientific view. ‘The Garden of Eden becomes like the lost city of Atlantis, the scene of a primitive culture of great value.’ (Lane P.143). I hasten to add here that it is the interpretation of Scripture that is paramount here and not ideas of science, metaphysics or any other claims to absolutes that materialists might issue forth with. (please excuse the end preposition)

Lane asks whether or not Scripture teaches that Adam & Eve’s world was this ‘perfect state’—a place in which ‘nature red and tooth and claw’ could not possibly apply. Lane concludes ‘no’—a conclusion that, I believe, Scripture seems not to negate.

…before the Fall, Adam and Eve were not yet morally perfect and that they were on what he (Augustine) terms as ‘probation’. They had not yet sinned but neither had they learnt obedience. Their state was that of posse non peccare (they were able not to sin). They had not reached the state of non posse peccare (not being able to sin).  (Lane P.144)

Had they reached the state of non posse peccare ‘…the Fall would have been impossible.’ Lane concludes that it is incorrect to think of Adam and Eve as having fallen from ‘a great moral height.’ The couple’s first sin was that of declaration—they had declared moral independence from God. Lane describes it as ‘a wrong turning which took [us] forward in the wrong direction rather than a fall from a state of perfection already achieved [or, presumably, bestowed]’ (Lane P.145). At this point Lane suggests that Irenaeus seems more perceptive than Augustine.  Lane, I hasten to add, is not suggesting that Irenaeus denies the disaster of ‘primal sin’, with the resultant, devastating implications, but that Irenaeus does reject the notion that Adam and Eve had fallen from a ‘perfect state.

In addressing the question of human mortality/ immortality Lane asks whether or not the Bible states that mankind was immortal before the Fall, pointing out that Genesis 3 and Romans 5 both blame death[1] on the fall, and asking how these Scriptures could be reconciled with evolutionary accounts of the origins of life. Lane’s conclusion is that Adam and Eve were not immortal prior to their rebellion but that the picture is that of mortals being offered the possibility of immortality—the gift of eternal life. ‘The Fall caused the human race to lose the possibility of eternal life. Immortality is portrayed by Genesis as something that was held before [us], to which [we] never attained.’ (Lane P.146).In line with N.P.Williams (1927), Lane’s conclusion on the matter (P.148) is that the Genesis account supports the view of the first human sin as, a praevaricatio, a stepping-aside from the true line of upward progress’ rather than a lapsus or fall from a high level of moral and intellectual endowment. Whilst this supports a coalescing of the Genesis account with that of evolution it does not offer a defence for the existence of harms within the rest of the created order. Indeed, Lane (along with Irenaeus) renders the notion of the ‘Adamic Fall’ as a significant event but not an event that could be used as an argument for the beginnings of predation and death, and not an event that could be used as the initiating factor for God’s introduction of death or, indeed, predation into the created order.

[1] Genesis 3 does not, in my opinion, offer sufficient evidence (within the context of the passage) for the likelihood of there being  no death before the Adamic Fall—particularly because the text states that the original humans were cast out of the ‘garden’ and disallowed from partaking of the fruit of the tree of life. Ergo, the tree was, in some way, the source of life. There was the ‘offer’ of life (living forever) but not the actual state of affairs.

The point here is not whether there is such a thing as ‘fallen-humanity’ but rather that there was never a state of perfection from which mankind fell. Indeed it is the case,as Scripture makes clear, that Mankind is ‘on the run’, in rebellion against God, in denial of the facts and in isolation from God. Mankind is but a poor reflection of the creature referred to in Scripture as the ‘Imago Dei (made in God’s own image). The creation is, indeed, ‘in bondage to corruption’ and ‘groans in eager expectation–waiting for the  children of God to be revealed.’ The apostle Paul highlights the problem when he says that, ‘there are [absolutely] no righteous people, and that, ‘all have [sinned] and fallen short of the glory of God.’ (Romans 3:21,22,23;8:21.22). ‘For this we have Jesus.’

By Derek J. White from ‘Beyond Eden: God,Evolution & the Problem of Evil’ [soon to be published under  the title of ‘Far Beyond Eden:The Problem of Evil’.

[1] Genesis 3 does not, in my opinion, offer sufficient evidence (within the context of the passage) for the likelihood of there being  no death before the Adamic Fall—particularly because the text states that the original humans were cast out of the ‘garden’ and disallowed from partaking of the fruit of the tree of life. Ergo, the tree was, in some way, the source of life. There was the ‘offer’ of life (living forever) but not the actual state of affairs.


Lane, A.S. Irenaeus on the Fall and Original Sin.’ Darwin,Creation and the Fall. Eds. R.J Noble & T.A.Berry, Apollos 2009


What is the world for? Creation, purpose, and hope in difficult times

Science and Belief


Why should we explore the world? According to Jonathan Moo, a Biblical scholar who is currently based at the Faraday Institute, creation is not just valuable for what we get from it. In today’s podcast (transcript below) he explains why he believes the living world is valuable in itself. He also shares why he does not lose hope in the face of environmental problems – including yesterday’s US election result.

Today I am at the Faraday Institute with one of our visiting scholars, Jonathan Moo. You’ve been here before when you were a Research Associate when you were doing your PhD?

That’s correct, yes. At the end of my PhD, and then for several years afterwards, I worked with Bob White and Hilary Marlow.

We’re glad you’re here again! What brought you back?

I have a sabbatical year from where I teach in Spokane, Washington, and my wife is working…

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Guest Post: When is a person?

Science and Belief

baby-605588_1920At what point in human development can we recognise the presence of another person like us?  It’s an age-old question which cannot be avoided, and I’ve been interested in the recent discussion about this on this blog.  Each one of us comes to this question from a different perspective, so I would like to offer some reflections from the perspective of a baby doctor. As a neonatologist I have cared for many tiny and fragile babies, some as small as 22 weeks of gestation and weighing less than 500g.

What is immediately apparent is that, even at extreme degrees of prematurity, babies are conscious and responsive to stimuli. In particular it is the face that seems to be the focus of their receptivity. The baby responds to touch on the face, will suck on a finger tip, responds to sounds and to light and the facial expression changes in response…

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