Tag Archives: science

Miracles

I recently finished C.S. Lewis’ Miracles – a philosophical work examining whether miracles (“an interference with Nature by a super-natural power”) are possible.  It was a bit dense to start, but it picked up speed and the whole experience was incredibly worth it.  I especially loved the chapters on the miracles of the incarnation, resurrection, and examining Jesus’ miracles (separated into works of the “Old Creation” – like multiplying loaves – and works of the “New Creation” – like raising Lazarus).  The final appendix discusses prayer, divine intervention, and time, and really helped me think about intercessory prayer (I’ve often struggled with understanding its purpose).

Here are a few neat quotes, violently ripped out of context, that I enjoyed: (the list is limited to the sections I read while I had the means to record quotes and is thus woefully incomplete)

In science we have been reading only the notes to a poem; in Christianity we find the poem itself.

Theology offers you a working arrangement, which leaves the scientist free to continue his experiments and the Christian to continue his prayers.

… part of a long and beautiful argument in the chapter called “On Probability.”  If we accept science/nature as absolute, things fall apart on closer inspection (why should nature be logical? etc.)  Lewis, here, makes the point with Chesterton – if we’ll allow one thing that makes no sense (the Christian God), everything else falls into place.

 

Almost the whole of Christian theology could perhaps be deduced from the two facts (a) That men make coarse jokes, and (b) That they feel the dead to be uncanny.  The coarse joke proclaims that we have here an animal which finds its own animality either objectionable or funny.  Unless there had been a quarrel between the spirit and the organism I do not see how this could be: it is the very mark of the two not being ‘at home’ together.  But it is very difficult to imagine such a state of affairs as original–to suppose a creature which from the very first was half shocked and half tickled to death at the mere fact of being the creature it is… Our feeling about death is equally odd…In reality we hate the division which makes possible the conception of either corpse or ghost.

On death:

It [death] is mercy because by willing and humble surrender to it Man undoes his act of rebellion and makes even this depraved and monstrous mode of Death an instance of that higher and mystical Death which is eternally good and a necessary ingredient in the highest life… Our enemy, so welcomed, becomes our servant.

Death is, in fact, what some modern people call ‘ambivalent’.  It is Satan’s great weapon and also God’s great weapon: it is holy and unholy; our supreme disgrace and our only hope; the thing Christ came to conquer and the means by which He conquered.

Discussing the bodily resurrection and physical sacraments and a real heaven in the most beautiful passage on it ever (possibly excepting the passages in Narnia that borrow heavily from this one):

There is in our present pilgrim condition plenty of room (more room than most of us like) for abstinence and renunciation and mortifying our natural desires.  But behind all asceticism the thought should be, ‘Who will trust us with the true wealth if we cannot be trusted even with the wealth that perishes?’ Who will trust me with a spiritual body if I cannot control even an earthly body?  These small and perishable bodies we now have were given to us as ponies are given to schoolboys.  We must learn to manage: not that we may some day be free of horses altogether but that some day we may ride bare-back, confident and rejoicing, those greater mounts, those winged, shining and world-shaking horses which perhaps even now expect us with impatient, pawing and snorting in the King’s stables.  Not that the gallop would be of any value unless it were a gallop with the King; but how else – since He has retained His own charger – should we accompany Him?

 

What are your favorite parts?

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Prayer for Scientific Insight

Book XI of Augustine’s Confessions consists almost entirely of him trying to figure out the nature of time based on a few clues in Genesis.  Despite working from a bad Latin translation and having just a few phrases to work with anyway, Augustine describes several remarkably modern theories about the nature of time.

I’ll admit that this book was a bit hard to read.  Augustine has some complicated theories that English just wasn’t built to handle, and at times he seems to chase himself around in circles.

However, there are some gems to be found.  I was especially struck by this passage, where Augustine cries out to God for understanding about time:

My mind is on fire to solve this very intricate enigma.  Do not shut the door, Lord my God.  Good Father, through Christ I beg you, do not shut the door on my longing to understand these things which are both familiar and obscure.  Do not prevent me, Lord, from penetrating them and seeing them illuminated by the light of your mercy.  Whom shall I ask about them?  And to whom but you shall I more profitably confess my incompetence?  You are not irritated by the burning zeal with which I study your scriptures.  Grant what I love. For I love, and this love was your gift.  Grant it, Father.  You truly know how to give good gifts to your children.  Grant it, since I have undertaken to acquire understanding and the labour is too much for me until you open the way.  Through Christ I beg you, in the name of him who is the holy of holy ones, let no one obstruct my inquiry.” – Augustine’s Confessions, XI, xxii (28)

Wow.  I’ve prayed for scientific insight before (including the night before my IB physics test), but never with the fervor Augustine displays here.  I love his hunger to understand and his understanding that God is the one who can provide it.

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“The first six months that I was here working in the lab, I got absolutely nothing accomplished. At the end of that first six months I was very discouraged indeed and, if I could have done so gracefully, I think I would have dropped out and gone back to the practice of medicine. The second six months that I worked I had one good break after another and those breaks culminated in a discovery that was published and very widely accepted. And I was off to the races from there on. And I don’t think I’ve ever even given a look back.” – Dr. James Hirsch
The discovery that won Hirsch over to laboratory research was the isolation of a substance in the fluids of some tissues that hinders the growth of the tubercle bacillus.

“The solution seemed to come almost by accident, but the kind of scientific accident uncounsciously prepared for by all the study and experimentation preceeding it.”

“Then it was a matter of finding out, of discovering, by hook or crook, trial and error, or whatever other procedures scientists use to find out what they want to know…”

“It is often by a trivial, even an accidental decisions, that we direct our activities into a certain channel, and thus determine which of the potential expressions of our individuality become manifest.” – Dr. Rene Dubos

– all quotes from Secret in the White Cell by Herbert and Bardossi

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It Is Written

Why is passive voice ubiquitous in scientific writing?
With the amount of such writing that I am about to perform in the next month, I need to vent.
Passive voice can be quite useful, especially when you don’t know who or what is performing the action. That’s what it was designed for (I think).
But, please, all things in moderation. A whole paper or proposal or thesis written in passive voice is just painful.
The experiment was not performed and the data was not gathered: we, the authors, we did it. I know who it is. Can’t I just say that?
Is writing in passive voice a way to avoid claiming ownership of an action? Are we so scared that we might say something inaccurate that we simply write, “The data were analyzed and these conclusions were drawn,” instead of saying, “Yes! I drew these conclusions. I’m not sure they’re correct, but I’m willing to risk a little of my reputation on the claim that they are.”

*Sigh*. The writer was frustrated and a blog post was written.

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