Memo: The Faith of Scientists

I have just read this in Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (towards the end of  XII. The Resolution of Revolutions):

The man who embraces a new paradigm at an early stage must often do so in defiance of the evidence provided by problem-solving. He must, that is, have faith that the new paradigm will succeed with the many large problems that confront it, knowing only that the older paradigm has failed with a few. A decision of that kind can only be made on faith.

 More later.

God’s Metaphors

The Shroud of Turin is an object subject to a great deal of devotion and a great deal of controversy. Many believe it to be the shroud in which Jesus was buried. While it’s provenance is not known before 1349, it is a relic that will not go away. For every study that definitively determines it is of European medieval origin, another is published to establish that it is not.

My purpose is not to discuss the likelihood that the shroud is or is not genuine.  Let us assume for the moment that it is an accurate picture of the kind of crucifixion that Jesus suffered.  My interest is in the position of the wounds on the back of the hands of the the figure; more precisely, in the position of the wounds on the back of the wrists of the figure. Continue reading “God’s Metaphors”

The Scale of God

The cosmology of the ancient Hebrews has subject to a lot of snide comments by enlightened moderns, ever since those Copernicans appeared. Let’s face it, it looks kind of quaint. The universe is viewed from the same platform that all but a tiny handful of us have always shared; the surface of planet Earth; but whereas we have built for ourselves models of the earth in its galactic context, no such detached and purely intellectual perspectives were available to them.

By human criteria, this home of ours is pretty substantial. It has a vastness which awed the Hebrews, and still more cast was the firmament, the waters above the firmament, and the waters below the earth. There is a mismatch, though, between Hebrew cosmology and Hebrew faith. Continue reading “The Scale of God”

Pio’s daemon, Pio’s angel

Thanks to Daniel, I have been reading Patricia Treece’s Meet Padre Pio. It is a compact summary of Pio’s life and vocation, drawn in large part from the documentation that supported the cause of his canonisation. Pio was always a challenge to Catholic Church authority, simply by virtue of the vortex of inexplicable events and experiences that drew others to him. But Pio had trouble with daemons. Treece quotes from the diary of one of Pio’s spiritual directors, Padre Agostino, at a time when Pio was very ill. Continue reading “Pio’s daemon, Pio’s angel”

Belief, Knowledge, Faith

Not long after 9/11, I was talking to an elderly Dominican priest. I was startled to discover that he thought the felling of the towers was an inside job by the CIA, of some such US authority.  The evidence for this was all over the web. Adherents to this particular theory are known as truthers, as in “the truth about 9/11,” much as believers in the theory that Barak Obama was not born in Hawaii, but in Kenya, are called birthers.  Each of these theories is supported by a slew of websites and internet forums constantly presenting and re-presenting the evidence for their contention, although truthers have the more vigorous and voluminous support. In fact, 9/11 conspiracies have the largest following since the various theories about the assassination of JFK seized the public imagination, and the term “grassy knoll” came to have a specific meaning in the vernacular of the US. There’s never been any shortage of theories on a bewildering range of topics, from the trivial to the socially disruptive.  With minimal effort, I can find a mass of evidence that Neil Armstrong did not land on the moon, but was in a TV studio in Houston, or that the Shoah was invented after the war. Continue reading “Belief, Knowledge, Faith”

Miracle or Magic? A homework exercise


What’s the difference between miracle and magic? Let’s first define them. The Macquarie Dictionary defines miracle as an effect in the physical world which surpasses all known human or natural powers and is therefore ascribed to supernatural agency. Magic is defined as the art of producing effects claimed to be beyond the natural human power and arrived at by means of supernatural agencies or through command of occult forces in nature. Occult is variously defined as 1. beyond the bounds of ordinary knowledge; mysterious. 2. not disclosed; secret; communicated only to the initiated. 3. (in early science) a. not apparent on mere inspection but discoverable by experimentation. b. of a nature not understood, as physical qualities. c. dealing with such qualities; experimental: occult science. 4. of the nature of, or relating to, certain reputed sciences, as magic, astrology, etc., involving the alleged knowledge or employment of secret or mysterious agencies.

Continue reading “Miracle or Magic? A homework exercise”

Close Encounters


Close Encounters of the Third Kind was released in 1977, and was a blockbuster success for Steven Spielberg. Here’s a thumbnail sketch of the plot.
A team of investigators find, intact in the Gobi Desert, a flight of Navy planes which disappeared in the 1940’s, and interview a witness to the re-appearance of the planes. This team will re-surface throughout the film, making similar startling discoveries, and conducting similar interviews. They provide an underpinning of respectable reality for the events we are about to witness.

Continue reading “Close Encounters”

Blame Hume: About a Sermon


“As Charles Sanders Peirce notes (Peirce 1958: 293), the Humean in-principle argument has left an indelible impression on modern biblical scholarship. Humean considerations are expressly invoked in the work of the great German critic David Friedrich Strauss (1879: 199–200), transformed into one of the “presuppositions of critical history” in the work of the philosopher F. H. Bradley (1874/1935), rechristened as the “principle of analogy” in the writings of the theologian Ernst Troeltsch (1913), and endorsed, explicitly or implicitly, in many contemporary studies of the historical Jesus (Dawes 2001: 97–106) and the New Testament (Ehrman 2003: 228–30). Commitment to something like Hume’s position lies on one side of a deep conceptual fault line that runs through the discipline of biblical studies.”

Continue reading “Blame Hume: About a Sermon”

Sunday School

It was, mostly, in the hall of the Presbyterian church at the end of our block, diagonally across from the headmaster’s house on the corner of the primary school. There, while the parents, notably excepting ours, or, I should say, excepting our mother, worshipped, the children were instructed in the basic tenets of the faith and in the virtues, until the day they could join the adult congregation, to be exposed to the more risqué passages of the Bible and dark talk of temptations and sin which would run off the steep flanks of their incomprehension, along the erratic, parabolic gradient from innocence to experience that ran through the listeners, to collect on the eroded terrain of others’ experience in pools of remorse and baptismal grace. I say our mother, because it was as though our father spoke a foreign language with no correlates to “church” or “religion” and could not comprehend this Sunday morning activity, and so ignored it. At our mother’s insistence we went, and grumbled at going. There was, despite this, much that I enjoyed about it. There was much that, to my later surprise, I remembered. Continue reading “Sunday School”