The Primaeval Prologue as a reverse-engineered smoothie

You know it’s good for you

A smoothie: there it is in front of you, but you have no idea what’s in it. Somebody has to tell you what the ingredients are. Reality is like that.

Here's what we drink...
Here’s what we drink…

The first 11 chapters of the Book of Genesis are called the “Primaeval Prologue,” and they are rather different from the rest of the book.

Once you get to the safe waters of Genesis 12, you know you are being helicoptered into the Middle Bronze Age and the scenery is familiar enough from all other kinds of historical documents that have been dug up over the centuries. Genesis 12 and onwards is Bronze Age literature with Bronze Age conventions, and it’s not much of a stretch to see it as broadly historical.

Genesis 1-11 is different. It talks about Creation, the Garden of Evil, the Flood, the Tower of Babel. It’s hard to shoehorn that into what we currently think we know of pre-history: human evolution, the development of languages, the way the world seems always to have known suffering, rather than having a time of perfection that was upended by human sin.

Not only that, but the stories in the Primaeval Prologue themselves seem to be … well different. Adam, for example, is not so much a name as the word for ‘mankind’. Then you have talking snakes and metaphorical trees.  And people who live 900 years. It’s as if the Bible is trying to tell us something. What’s it saying? Perhaps it’s saying the Prologue is much more about reality than it is about history. It’s really, as my Old Testament lecturer told me, about ‘who we are and what we are to do.’

But here's what it looks like
But here’s what it looks like

Reality is presented to us like a smoothie, already whizzed to a mush. The Primaeval Prologue tells us the ingredients: it’s a reverse-engineered smoothie. Here are these ingredients:

  • God made everything, and he made it good
  • People have chosen independence over trust and we are all caught up in this and it’s caused a lot of problems.
  • Disaster and recovery is an engine of history — the Flood is the archetype.
  • People coming together, achieving something, thinking they don’t need God, then toppling over, is another engine of history, true of corporations and countries — the Tower of Babel is the archetype.

Creation, fall, death, loss, coming together, falling short, falling apart are the ingredients of the smoothie called ‘reality’. They are history’s heartbeat: God’s creation and recreation; human rebellion; networks re-forming; on and on.

This is a much more fun text, much more profound, and much more useful than if it were merely history.


Bonus material — another way of saying that same thing that physicists might like: the Primaeval Prologue as a Fourier transform

Suppose you were able to express reality as a single complicated waveform.  Call that trace ‘reality’.  It would be quite a scribble.

Physicists know a beautiful piece of maths (called a Fourier analysis) that says every single possible scribble, however complicated, can be expressed as a sum (or in the limit an integral) of a bunch of beautiful, regular sine waves. If you find enough different sine waves and put them together carefully enough, you can reproduce any scribble, any signature, anything that can be drawn without a pencil leaving the paper.

So the complex scribble (or waveform) is ‘reality.’ The writer of the Primaeval Prologue did a Fourier analysis of it. And the stories in Genesis 1-11 are the resultant sine waves, simple things that everyone can understand. Sum them together, and you explain who we are and what we are to do.

Nice.

Here’s a link that explains the Fourier Transform. Unbelievably, it uses the same metaphor of a smoothie as I used earlier on. Equally unbelievably, it demonstrates how to transform a sketch of Homer Simpson in a series of sine waves.


You can read much more about this sort of thing in my book More than Bananas, How the Christian faith works for me and the whole world, which is free on Kindle.

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Rowing a boat alone across a lake

Behold the terror and the joy

 

Lonely BoatingImagine rowing a boat on your own across a lake. The fears and joys are yours alone.

We are always alone. People may sit by our fireplaces–as it were–over many wonderful evenings and years. They may hug us and hold us, accepting each other as completely as two humans can.

But no-one knows us quite fully or quite truthfully. There are always veils. We are not entirely as we present ourselves, even to those we love the most.

Thanks to faith in Christ, though, I’ve discovered I’m never alone.

When I’m rowing alone across a lake, also known as living, Christ knows with me all the terror and the joy. Other loves may kindly watch, from the shore or other boats. Other loves may cheer and blow kisses. But he knows it all and we share it together.

 

A touch of the hand-done

Creation is a bit bodged together

A biologist friend of mine, a Christian, was telling me that what he saw through his microscope was … well … a bit ramshackle. It was a challenge, he said, to the idea of a Creator.

You would think a Creator would do something altogether more slick and wonderful. And of course, many biologists peer down their microscopes and do see shades of the beautiful and even the elegant. Perhaps biology is both wonderful … and a bit Heath-Robinson.

My friend and I were talking in our local Anglican church.  And when I think of the words “bodged together” and “still a bit wonderful” the words “Church of England” follow quite naturally. The C of E did not spring, intricate, interlocking, gently humming with purpose, from its Maker’s hand, like an expensive watch. Nor, it appears, did Life.

We serve the God of cuckoo clocks.

Day #3: KerPlunk marble tube and CD dominoes

*

Here’s my comic novel Paradise, which takes the themes of “redemption” and “ramshackle” to new heights, or possibly, depths. Free on Kindle as a gateway drug to the next ones in the series.

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The Netflix ‘chaos monkey’ and the problem of evil

Monkey business

Here’s a thing.

Netflix’s software engineers put into Netflix a program called the ‘chaos monkey.’ Its job is to go through Netflix’s servers, randomly wreaking havoc.
09-monkeys
Why do they do this? Because they wanted to be ‘constantly testing our ability to succeed despite failure.‘ Chaos monkey taught them to build programmes that continue to work with bad stuff happening all around. The random, mindless destructivity leads to better systems.

Enter Thomas Aquinas (13th century theological alpha male). He quotes and then adds to Augustine, (fourth century theological alpha male) 1:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Augustine (by Lewis Comfort Tiffany)
Aquinas by Carlo_Crivelli
Aquinas by Carlo_Crivelli

As Augustine says (Enchiridion xi): “Since God is the highest good, He would not allow any evil to exist in His works, unless His omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil.” This is part of the infinite goodness of God, that He should allow evil to exist, and out of it produce good.

Evil is God’s chaos monkey, and the world is better for it.

Maybe.

 

Book Review: ‘The language of God’ by Francis Collins

My monthly review of a wonderful book for those of us navigating the space between faith and doubt.

[amazon template=thumbnail right&asin=1847390927]My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The copywriter for the book jacket was definitely drinking caffeinated coffee: this book ‘may be the most important melding of reason and revelation since C S Lewis’s Mere Christianity … [Collins] has heard every argument against faith from scientists, and he can refute them.’

Actually, the sound of big guns blazing is happily missing from this book. Francis Collins, code-breaker of the human genome, is personal, gentle, generous, thoughtful, well-informed and honest. He describes his own conversion to Christian faith from an atheist background; the beautiful intricacies of creation; the problems with atheism, agnosticism, creationism and Intelligent Design; and ends up in a quietly stated but coherent place of theistic evolution.

Far from (that copywriter again) proposing ‘a new synthesis’, Dr Collins arrives at the beliefs of most of the people I know. He does so in an elegant style, wearing lightly a thoroughness of thought, and with a keen eye for the pithy quotation.

Far from slam-dunking his foes he ends the book with an appeal that the ‘battles between the scientific and spiritual worldviews [need] to be resolved–we desperately need both voices to be at the table, and not to be shouting at each other.’

This is one of the first books I would turn to for anyone wrestling with the issues of science and faith. (My own More than Bananas isn’t bad either …)

God. Hiding. But not all that well.

He’s too big to find anything to hide behind.

This is cool but complicated and involves mathematics.

I have been paddling in the magisterial physics textbook The Road to Reality by (Sir) Roger Penrose. He claims:

  • When mathematicians make discoveries, they generally feel they are not making up something new. They are exploring an existing thing.
  • This thing–mathematical truth–exists objectively, and it is not restricted to space or time.
  • Down at the dawn of philosophy, Plato taught this — and every subsequent philosopher (as is widely suggested) has only ever written footnotes to his work.

Plato also taught there were two other absolutes that objectively exist and are unrestricted by space and time: Good and Beauty.

Truth, the Good, and Beauty — each infinite, omnipresent, unchanging, eternal, objectively real and underpinning the Universe as we perceive it. Necessary, even. 1

God might be hiding but, yup, we can see him.

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How can we know anything about God? And giving your email address to spammers.

It’s not as hard as you might think


Hubble’s Ultra Deep Field in UV
The only way we can know about God is if he tells us. We can’t leave the Universe, look at him, and come back, because we remain part of the Universe. Where we go, it goes. But God is outside the Universe.

So we won’t know anything about God without a revelation from God.

That means listening to someone who thinks they have a revelation from God.

And that is, as I said in the title, like offering our email addresses to spammers. The world is full of people who think God is speaking to them. A lot of them are kooks.

What do we do? 

As I wrote in my book More than Bananas, I think the only tool in our box is our total human response. So this must involve:

  • Reason
  • Common sense
  • Intuition
  • Emotion
  • What the community around us thinks
  • What the community who believe in revelation is like

and

  • A certain element of risk

Interesting…

(Note: More than Bananas is currently available as a free download as a kind of ‘gateway drug’ to my other writing.)


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The Silence

Silence‘Every mouth will be silenced’ (Romans 3:19)

I love that thought. A whole world’s chatter dying away as Christ looks on. Some people are looking straight at him. Others are talking among themselves, and they get a poke from their neighbours, or they look up.

I don’t think Christ looks on censoriously, the teacher about to give a telling off.

His look is just grace. Undermining our arguments. Dismantling our complaints. Shining on our tarnished trophies. Grace, grace, grace.

I feel hot, red, awkward, unworthy as the silence falls and the gaze continues.

So do we all.

 

 

What I learnt from nearly dying

Where in your sickness is the meeting place between really wanting and quietly knowing? Invest there.

Sunshine and shower...I’ve done time in Addenbrooke’s isolation ward in Cambridge (mysterious tropical diseases); Intensive Care (both Addenbrooke’s and nearby Papworth); and the high dependency unit at the Heart Hospital in London. And that’s just counting the wards with one-on-one, high intensity, or barrier nursing, not the ordinary wards for the merely tediously sick.

Between 2009 and 2013, I nearly died three times. I’ve met loads of people who have faced much worse, and I am humbled by their courage. What I have to say is nothing special. I felt panic and fear and I still do sometimes.

I did learn some stuff though.

  1. There is a sort of detachment as your life fades away. When my heart stopped and the crash team started electrocuting me, which hurts a lot, I remember still being me. There was still a me in there, despite the crowd around me, and the draining oxygen, and the deteriorating consciousness. Unscientific but interesting.
  2. It helps you sort out what you want. I have spent months convalescing, with my wife kindly trashing all my emails. It is wonderful. I realized that many parts of my career were not really worth the bother, and I’ve been able to refocus since.
  3. Take charge. I found I wanted just two things: my family, and my writing. I also found (a) I wanted them so much and (b) I was confident I was going to get them back, and see good days again.  At the time I had an illness that kills 70% of those it infects, even in Western Intensive Care units. This is worse than getting Ebola. Yet I was so sure I was going to live that I was determined not to die. I think that’s key in chronic illness. Not only, ‘what you really really want?‘ but ‘what are you confident you will receive?‘  Some people are desperate to live but don’t think they will (and they don’t). Other people are oddly confident in something — for example that will see their daughter’s graduation. And they do. Their faith heals them. What’s God got in his hands for you? Where in your sickness is the meeting place between really wanting and quietly knowing? Invest in that place, I would suggest. And if, deep down, you know you’re going to die, take charge of that too. Don’t let people soft-soap you.
  4. The love of others is astonishing. My family were like this, as were others, including some of the medical staff. I still find it hard to think about that; I do not have the capacity for it; like staring into the sun.
  5. My Christian faith helped. I am a Christian and in the happy position, irritating to many people, of being convinced that God loves me. In our dark times, I found myself exposed to the relentless goodness of God. He prepares a table for me in the midst of my enemies. Blessed are the broken. Nothing can separate me from the love of God. He is my friend and it will be all right. That’s a good lesson.

This isn’t meant to be a book plug but…

Six weeks after I left hospital I started writing this book, about how the Christian faith worked for me in good times and bad. To me, it is one of the best things I’ve written, it has sold a lot of copies–relatively–and people seem to have enjoyed it. It’s available in various formats and you do bulk orders too.

I have made it FREE to people with Kindles and other e-readers. Please help yourself, tell your friends, and if you want to help out, perhaps you could write a review.

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I’ve also put up an audio version  free as a set of readings on YouTube.