Sunday, 8 November 2009


This evening at church we were looking at Hebrews 12 and the place of the mountain in Christian life and my mind went back to my Grandmother who was born and brought up in Chile. She told me that she arrived in the UK in 1919 and spent the entire journey by train from Liverpool to London thinking it must be a foggy day as she couldn't see the mountains. Of course in Chile you are never far from the Andes and she had never experienced a flat land like Britain. This set my mind racing and I wrote the following poem.

Where Are The Mountains?

I looked and looked but couldn't see the mountains,
Your mountains.
'It must be misty' I said 'so the mountains are hidden,
I'll see them tomorrow - your mountains'
Then they told me 'There are no mountains'
And I wondered at how this could be.
I walked and lived in the valleys with no mountains
But still I looked up in case I saw them.
Then, one day, you showed me your mountains.
Mountains that are always there
Where we can meet with you.
Now I walk in the valleys that are only in shadow
Because your glorious mountains surround them.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Is There Such A Thing As A Scientific Fact?

Of late there has been obsession that things should be based on scientific facts which, on the surface, sounds like a good idea. Drug policy should be based on the science, global worming is a scientific fact, the medicines our doctors give us have been subject to rigorous scientific evaluation etc and we will all be sure that we are heading to a bright new future.

But there is a problem, there is, no such thing as scientific fact. Surprised? You should be because it can change the way we view the pronouncements made by scientists.

Let me start at the beginning with something called Scientific Method. Basically it looks like this:

Hypothesis - what, after observation, do you think explains something you have noticed.
Experiment - device experiments to test whether you are right
Analysis - does the experiment prove you right or wrong (start again if it shows you were wrong)
Publish Results - a very important stage (called Peer Review) where others can see if they get the same results and conclusions.

If everyone agrees the outcome is sometimes called a scientific fact when all it actually says is 'The experiments carried out seem to confirm the hypothesis.' Notice that word 'seems' - there always remains the possibility that further experiments will come to different, sometimes contradictory, conclusions.

Let me give you 2 examples, one old and one current.

In 1687 Newton published his PhilosophiƦ Naturalis Principia Mathematica in which, among other things, he formulated methods of calculating the way forces act on bodies to cause motion. At the time these seemed so robust that they became know as Newton's Laws of Motion - laws because they were always right. However in the early 20th century Einstein came along with his Theories of Relativity which, once tested, showed that Newton's 'Laws' didn't always apply.

My second example is still under evaluation but it may turn out to be a very significant find. I, like so many others, was told (at school?) that you tell what the temperature was like in the past by measuring the amount trees grew (tree ring thickness in other words) and we all assumed this was correct. Some researchers in Scotland found they had a good opportunity to check this and their results have come as a very big surprise. It appears that there is virtually no relationship between tree growth and weather but there is one with cosmic ray intensity. If confirmed by peer review the implications for this are enormous; most of what we 'know' about the historical climate is based on tree ring measurements as these were 'known' to be a proxy for temperature but if there is no connection we have been measuring the wrong thing! If our historic data is wrong it throws great doubts on any forecast made using them whether to prove or disprove man made climate change.

So next time someone tells you that something is based on the science remember all it means is that the experiments have shown that that a theory might be totally right, partially right or even wrong (interpretation of data can be very subjective.)

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Transsexual Jesus sparks protests

Did anyone else see this article on the BBC site?


I must admit my first reaction was 'Oh no, not again.' By that I mean:

Christians who see it as their job to defend God.

Christians making a big fuss about something that wouldn't be noticed otherwise.

Christians moralising instead of spreading the Kingdom of God.

Personally it me me stop and think particularly about the relevance of gender in the next life. Jesus, when talking to the Sadducees made it clear that marriage, as we know it, doesn't apply in heaven so perhaps there is no place for gender at all.