The True TARDIS in Narnia and Bethlehem

I am not a great fan of Doctor Who, although I do remember watching the first ever episode. But many of my readers are fans. So this post is my Christmas gift especially to them, and to Whovians worldwide.

The TARDIS, the Doctor’s time machine which on the outside looks like a British police telephone box, is famous for being bigger on the inside than on the outside. As reported by the BBC, an American Doctor Who fan has created a model TARDIS which, he claims, is “Bigger On The Inside. No, Really.” Apparently it’s all a matter of some software trickery called “augmented reality”.

I must say I’m not very impressed. My church in England manages to look bigger on the inside than on the outside. That’s not because of clever technology, but because its entrance is a small storefront and the sanctuary (at least that’s what they would call it here in America) is hidden behind the other shops. So it is easy to create this illusion, but not so easy for it to become a reality.

But it’s an interesting idea, a structure being bigger on the inside than on the outside. Where did it come from? The Doctor Who writers didn’t take it from my church, which was built in 1971. But could they have taken it from C.S. Lewis? In his festive post Christmas in Narnia Tim Chesterton, himself a Doctor Who fan, writes:

In the last ‘Narnia’ story,The Last Battle, we see the end of the world of Narnia. At one point in the story the children find themselves in a stable. Seen from the outside it looked small and dingy, but when they go through the door they find themselves in a beautiful country that seems to stretch on forever. Someone comments that the stable is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.

The Last Battle: the stable door from the insideIndeed. The precise words of C.S. Lewis, in the mouth of the Lord Digory (p.128 of my Puffin edition), are

Its inside is bigger than its outside.

So, is this where the Doctor Who writers got their idea for the TARDIS? Quite possibly. Lewis’ stable is also connected with a kind of time travel, as it brought characters from the Narnia’s ancient past (indeed Digory watched its first dawn) into its last days. And The Last Battle (1956) was a recent book when the TARDIS was first shown in 1963. It is perhaps a good thing that Lewis never got to watch Doctor Who and see how his idea had been abused, as he died the day before the first episode was shown.

But where did C.S. Lewis get this idea from? Many of his science fiction motifs are derived from others, such as the spacecraft in Out Of The Silent Planet which is closely modelled on the one in The First Men In The Moon by H.G. Wells. In the case of the TARDIS-like stable, Lewis gives us a strong hint about his source in his next words in the story, also quoted by Tim Chesterton:

“Yes,” said Queen Lucy. “In our world too, a Stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.”

As Tim explains, the whole Narnia series is filled with implicit Christian teaching. But these words of Lucy are probably the only explicit mention of anything Christian in any of the books.

A German nativity scene (click for attribution and license)So, it seems, the original TARDIS was the stable in Bethlehem – or whatever the building was where Mary laid her child in a manger. This stable couldn’t fly; in the legend of the Holy House of Loreto it was Mary’s family home which flew to Italy, carried by angels. But the stable was the birthplace of the only true Time Lord. Jesus was bigger than the whole world, and he still is as he reigns in heaven. But he allowed himself to become human, and even for a time to be limited by the body of a tiny baby.

Why did he do this? He did it so that we, his human brothers and sisters, could share with him what God intended for humanity, to rule over his creation (Genesis 1:26) and to be seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:6).

That birth in Bethlehem was only the beginning of the story. This Christmas, don’t stop at the end of Chapter One, but read on to the end, and find how you too can follow Jesus and play an important part in God’s reality show in this world, which is far more exciting than Doctor Who!

Quantum Theology and Schrödinger’s Dinosaur

In her inimitable style Archdruid Eileen speculates about Quantum Apples, Cider and the Creation of the Universe. She suggests that when Adam ate the apple the universe underwent a quantum change from the state imagined by young earth creationists to the one currently described by mainstream scientists. So let’s blame apples and drink cider!

Meanwhile Joel Watts sees quantum physics in another area of theology when, in his concluding thoughts on the Jesus Criteria Conference, he writes:

This is the quantum superposition of Church and Academy, and I must report, Schrödinger’s cat is seen.

If this famous feline is being observed, surely the waveform superposition is collapsing, which means that Joel and every other thinking Christian is being forced into either Church or Academy. Or maybe not, as the latest scientific results suggest that Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle is uncertain. So perhaps we can observe the cat without killing or saving it, or have our cake and eat it. But then long before Schrödinger an even wiser man pointed out that no one can serve two masters.

Dead DinosaurMeanwhile, it seems, the leader of the Beaker Folk has managed to imagine a quantum superposition of a Ken Ham-style 4000-year-old universe and a billions of years old big bang one. But the box has been opened, the waveform has collapsed, and it turns out that Schrödinger’s dinosaur died millions of years ago, when quantum fluctuations in the orbit of a stray asteroid caused it to collide with the Earth.

Larry Wall’s Quantum Proof that God is Good

Larry WallThanks to Tyson for posting an interesting article (originally from 2002) by Larry Wall, the inventor of the Perl programming language, on how his scientific mind led him to belief in God. In the article he is responding to an atheistic or possibly deistic questioner who seems to hold that Christian belief is incompatible with science.

Here’s a taster, showing how Wall bases his response in quantum mechanics:

A lot of folks get hung up at point B [“God is good to people who really look for him”] for various reasons, some logical and some moral, but mostly because of Shroedinger again. People are almost afraid to observe the B qubit because they don’t want the wave function to collapse either to a 0 or a 1, since both choices are deemed unpalatable. A lot of people who claim to be agnostics don’t take the position so much because they don’t know, but because they don’t want to know, sometimes desperately so.

Because if it turns out to be a 0, then we really are the slaves of our selfish genes, and there’s no basis for morality other than various forms of tribalism.

And because if it turns out to be a 1, then you have swallow a whole bunch of flim-flam that goes with it. Or do you?

I don’t claim to understand all of this, but it is interesting!

Hyrax Intelligence: Scientists Discover Biblical Truth

Did the biblical author Agur son of Jakeh know something which researchers have only just discovered? He introduces a list with

Four things on earth are small,
yet they are extremely wise

Proverbs 30:24 (NIV)

and one of the four creatures he lists is the hyrax or rock badger, which

are creatures of little power,
yet they make their home in the crags.

Proverbs 30:26 (NIV)

HyraxesAs I wrote before, this small furry mammal is considered a pest in modern Israel. But this also makes it convenient for study by that controversial state’s scientists. I didn’t know that the hyrax sings, actually rather like a bird. The BBC reports the discovery of Arik Kershenbaum and others from the University of Haifa that this song is surprisingly complex:

the order of the notes is significant, suggesting that the songs have syntax. …

This research places the hyrax in a small and eclectic group of skilled animal communicators, including primates, whales, birds and bats. …

Dr Kershenbaum said that … the hyrax was not thought of as an intelligent animal …

… but it seems that Agur son of Jakeh knew better when he called it “extremely wise”.

Gay Marriage: A Philosophical Perspective

John MilbankGay marriage is an area of current controversy which I have avoided commenting on recently, so far. But I have been tempted out of silence by reading an interesting philosophical perspective on this issue by philosopher and theologian John Milbank: Gay Marriage and the Future of Human Sexuality. This was published in Australia, although Milbank is a professor at the University of Nottingham here in the UK. Thanks to Roger Mugs and Matthew R. Malcolm for the link.

This is an important article giving a profound criticism of the concept of same sex marriage. But it is one which is difficult to summarise. Milbank considers some difficult issues such as whether marriage is fundamentally a religious or a societal institution. He looks at “The logic of homosexuality” and at “Children, kinship and the grammar of society”. Here is how he finishes the latter section:

From this it follows that we should not re-define birth as essentially artificial and disconnected from the sexual act – which by no means implies that each and every sexual act must be open to the possibility of procreation, only that the link in general should not be severed.

The price for this severance is surely the commodification of birth by the market, the quasi-eugenic control of reproduction by the state, and the corruption of the parent-child relation to one of a narcissistic self-projection.

Once the above practices have been rejected, then it follows that a gay relationship cannot qualify as a marriage in terms of its orientation to having children, because the link between an interpersonal and a natural act is entirely crucial to the definition and character of marriage.

The fact that this optimum condition cannot be fulfilled by many valid heterosexual marriages is entirely irrelevant, for they still fulfil through ideal intention this linkage, besides sustaining the union of sexual difference which is the other aspect of marriage’s inherently heterosexual character.

He continues by asking some significant questions:

the Church needs already to face the fact that it is quite likely to lose this debate, even if it should still try to win it. But if it does lose it, then how should it respond?

… it is surely worthwhile for Christians at least to tarry for a while with the more radical secular notion that really the state has no business regulating human sexual relations at all. …

I think that this radical position should be refused, on the grounds that it is desirable that the state give every possible legal and fiscal encouragement to marriage as a key institution of social bonding. And for the same reason Christians cannot remain satisfied with the argument that specifically heterosexual marriage remains possible for them through the agency of the Church.

However, it becomes a useful foil in the event of the universal advent of gay marriage. For then, instead of banging its head against a cognitive brick wall, the proper response of the Church should be to deem marriage under civil law a failed experiment and to resume its sacramental guardianship of marriage as a natural and social condition.

Here we face the question of whether, after the legalisation of gay marriage, the churches and other religious bodies can any longer be considered by the state as legal marriage brokers – as they are today in the UK but not in many other countries like France, where religious people must undergo both a religious and a civil registration.

Milbank seems to come close to an affirmative answer to the latter question, that the church should withdraw from the legal side of marriage. But he draws back from this conclusion, and ultimately offers nothing more than advice for the promotion of “a traditional Church wedding”. Well, one should not expect philosophers to propose public policy, or even church policy. But these are certainly important considerations for those whose task it is to decide and implement such policy.

It seems to me that the only coherent way ahead, in a world which does not fully accept Christian teaching on marriage, is to make a clean distinction between the societal and religious institutions. Indeed this is already the case in very many countries. But currently in English law, and I think in the law of the USA, there is no such legal distinction. It would be a long and difficult journey to disentangle the religious from the secular. But I see it as the direction in which we need to be heading.

A.P. HerbertFor this idea I should thank the late novelist, lawyer and law reformer A.P. Herbert. I remember the TV broadcast of one of his Misleading Cases, probably The Tax on Virtue which was first shown in 1968, based on a 1933 short story. In this story, a man finds that his wife has to pay more tax on her significant income than she would have done if she was unmarried. So to reduce their tax liability the couple get a divorce, then are publicly reconciled and remarried in the Church of England – but conveniently fail to sign the register, so that they are not legally married and can claim separate tax allowances. Herbert certainly knew his English marriage law. But would the church have considered this couple legally married? If so, perhaps there really is already a legal distinction between  religious and secular marriage.

Totalizers and Tentative Investigators

Jesus, History, and Mount Darwin: An Academic ExcursionThe following is taken from a post by Rick Kennedy at the Biologos Forum, part 5 of his series Jesus, History, and Mount Darwin: An Academic Excursion. While it was written about college professors, I would suggest that it applies more broadly to writers, to bloggers, to preachers, and indeed to anyone who expresses their opinion:

One way to categorize college professors—an overgeneralization but a useful one—is to split them into Totalizers and Tentative Investigators. There are Darwinist and Christian professors of both types.

Totalizers use their classrooms to preach that if all people are perfectly rational they will all ultimately agree. Usually there is some sort of declaration that the progress of knowledge has one glorious end: light and magnetism will be understood, democracy and capitalism will prove to be the best systems for all situations, and natural selection will answer all questions about life. All rational people ride one train of progress together. Tentative Investigators, in comparison, are wimpy. Ask them a question and they give you at least two answers joined by “on the other hand.” The Totalizers are the more popular teachers, their books are easier to read, and the news media finds them easier to interview. Tentative Investigators are like cats. They can’t be herded and can rest easy in the midst of household chaos. Tentative Investigators don’t disagree with the notion that knowledge is progressing; however, they are pretty sure that progress is uneven, experiencing fits and starts, and that we can never be sure at any one point whether we are taking one step backward or two steps forward. Totalizers are often scared that someone—especially some religious or political authority—is going to block progress. Tentative Investigators are less worried that progress can be stopped.

Richard Dawkins is a Totalizer. Among the Greeks, Plato was a Totalizer. Plato preached a triumphal, Dawkins-style, one-size-fits-all rationalism. Socrates, Plato’s hero, in over a thousand pages of Dialogues, never finds himself to be wrong. Socrates is rational and never has to apologize. Philosophers, theologians, and scientists have a long tradition of waxing poetic about some ultimate simplicity that is supposed to exist in nature and/or God. Simplicity, especially in an aesthetic of “elegance,” is supposed to be guidepost to truths.

Me? I believe God is Truth, but my life and my Bible don’t give me any evidence of an ultimate simplicity. God, the personal God, the triune God, is Truth; however Isaiah warns: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.”

I would side with this author and count myself as a Tentative Investigator, against all the Totalizers who I so often see among vocal atheists and religious believers alike. While it would be too strong to accuse all Totalizers of being fundamentalists – and indeed some Christian Totalizers have quite different doctrines from Christian fundamentalists but similar attitudes – it is this assertion of certainty that one is correct and arrogant dismissal of other opinions that underlies fundamentalisms of all kinds.

On which day did God create turkeys?

This evening’s pre-Christmas Carol Service at Meadgate Church, Great Baddow featured brilliant imaginative re-tellings of Bible stories, starting with Genesis 1 and continuing through the traditional Christmas passages to the end of Revelation.

A male wild turkeyOne small feature of the first reading caught my attention. The fifth day of creation was illustrated by a vivid description of the sounds made by birds created then. But “gobbling”, presumably intended to be the sound of newly created turkeys, was among the sounds heard on the sixth day.

So on which day of creation did God create turkeys, and other flightless birds? Was it on the fifth day, along with “every winged bird” (Genesis 1:21), or on the sixth day, along with “the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals” (1:24, NIV)?

Well, turkeys have wings, so it sounds as if they should be included in day 5. But God’s purpose on that day was to “let birds fly above the earth” (1:20), which turkeys don’t do, and on day 6 it was to fill the earth with land creatures (1:24), which include turkeys.

No doubt evolutionary biologists will say that flightless turkeys are descended from birds which could fly, and so should be classified among the day 5 creations – although of course those biologists could accept the six days of creation only as symbolic. But the ancient Hebrews who wrote Genesis did not use modern biological classifications.

The issue becomes even more complicated with geese. Our modern western domesticated geese cannot fly, but they have been bred by humans, over perhaps the past 4000 years, from wild greylag geese which can fly. So I suppose they were created on the fifth day.

Perhaps the real point here is that the we should not press the distinctions which the biblical authors made, or to take them as literal chronology. The authors probably weren’t interested so much in telling exactly where turkeys fitted into their time line as in telling a beautiful poetic story. This evening’s imaginative re-telling may have come close to that original purpose – and by questioning its details, as I am in this post, I am, I suppose, guilty of ruining poetry.

But for turkeys, and geese, perhaps the more pressing issue just at the moment is not the day of their beginning but whether their end will come on the fifth or sixth day of this coming week.

Life and Death, Physical and Spiritual

One of the arguments against evolution commonly used by young earth creationists concerns animal death before the Fall of Adam and Eve. The established science of evolution clearly implies that animals died long before humans came on the scene. After all, carnivorous animals evolved to eat other animals. And what are fossils except the remains of dead animals, and sometimes plants? However, as former creationist Phill Sacre writes,

One of the Creationist doctrines is that there was no death before the fall. No animals or humans died before mankind sinned, and God instituted his curse.

Michael RamsdenBut what is the basis of this doctrine? Does it have any foundation in biblical teaching? Sadly, first we need to clear away some misinformation which has been put around. BioLogos is a usually excellent group which “explores, promotes, and celebrates the integration of science and Christian faith”, and takes a clear stand against the anti-scientific approach of many creationists. So it was a surprise to read a recent post at The BioLogos Forum Life and Death in which Oxford-based lecturer in Christian Apologetics Michael Ramsden says the following, in a video with a transcript, when he really should know better:

In the New Testament we find when we talk about life, we have the idea of living or ‘bios’. In other words, we talk about how we are alive. But Jesus talks about the fact of “coming to life “ when we know him. That doesn’t suddenly mean that our heart starts beating. It means that there is this whole side to us which was dead… which wasn’t alive and is now… that has actually sprung to life.

(I twice tried to comment on this BioLogos post, but my comments disappeared, and even their moderators cannot find them.)

Well, either Ramsden doesn’t know his Greek, in which case he shouldn’t quote Greek words, or he is deliberately misrepresenting it. The word he quotes, bios, has nothing to do with “coming to life” when we know Jesus.

In the New Testament there are two main Greek word groups used for the concepts of “life” and “live”. There are also some words, mostly derived from oikos “house”, used for “live” in the sense of “dwell”. By far the more common of the main word groups consists of the noun zōē “life”, the verb zaō “to live”, and a few cognate words, together found over 300 times in the New Testament. The less common group, consisting of bios and its cognates, is found only 15 times.

The bios word group has a very specific meaning, at least in the New Testament. These words are used only for physical earthly life and lifestyle, and for the physical resources needed to live this life. Typical examples are Luke 8:14 and 21:4. They are never used in any relation to non-material or spiritual aspects of life, and certainly never for the new life which Jesus gives.

By contrast, the zōē/zaō word group, although sometimes used for physical and earthly aspects of life, is most commonly used for the life of God, in himself and in his people. Interestingly, this word group is never used for animal life, except for the beasts of Revelation which are only symbolically animals.

This suggests a clear distinction in biblical teaching between two different kinds of life – and by implication two different kinds of death, although there are no separate Greek words for them. The first kind of life, often described by bios, is purely physical and earthly, and ends in physical death, the first kind of death. This kind of life and death is shared by humans and animals. The second kind of life, for which zōē/zaō is always used, is spiritual and heavenly, is shared by humans and God, and doesn’t usually end in death.

This distinction can help to explain many of the details of the Genesis account (although zōē/zaō words are used for animals in the LXX Greek translation of Genesis). We read that

the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

Genesis 2:7 (NIV)

Thus the first human being is distinguished from the animals by “the breath of life”. God also tells this first man

you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.

Genesis 2:17 (NIV)

But when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit their physical life did not come to an end. In fact Adam lived at least 800 more years (Genesis 4:4). How do we reconcile this seeming contradiction? The point is surely that at that moment the first couple lost their spiritual and eternal life, and became merely mortal, like animals. For the first time they are forbidden access to the tree of life by which they could live for ever (Genesis 3:22). For the first and last time people who had been truly alive spiritually died. Their descendants, although made in the image of God, were not born with this spiritual life. The only exception was Jesus Christ, the second Adam, who was born with physical and spiritual life, died spiritually as well as physically on the cross, and was raised again to new physical and spiritual life. And he made it possible for us to be born again with spiritual life.

Adam and Eve lost their spiritual life but continued to live physically. As Christians we have regained the spiritual life which they lost. If Jesus doesn’t come again first, we will die physically, but we will never lose our spiritual life, and at some time we too will be raised to new physical life.

The implication of this is that only this zōē life has any spiritual significance. The bios life of animals, and of humans without Christ, has no true meaning, although it sometimes functions as a symbol of spiritual life. For people without zōē life, human physical death, the end of bios life, is the ultimate tragedy, the ultimate evil. Increasingly animal death is also considered evil. But in God’s scheme of things this physical death is not an evil, not a result of sin, but simply what is natural in the world.

So there is no reason to deny death before the Fall of Adam and Eve. For hundreds of millions of years, according to the evidence from fossils, animals have lived and died. But this is nothing to do with sin or evil. The creationist doctrine about this has no proper theological basis, and so offers no reason to reject the consensus of scientists about the past of our planet.

The prophesied time will indeed come when

The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox …

Isaiah 65:25 (NIV)

Maybe this will be true of literal animals at some future time. But its main significance is surely not to do with carnivores changing their diets, but that there will be an end to human conflict in the everlasting kingdom of the Prince of Peace.

Blackpool earthquakes: Fracking carelessness!

On 1st April this year I reported a minor earthquake in Blackpool, north west England, that was probably not the fulfilment of Mark Stibbe’s prophecy. But it is now all the more clear that this was a result not of God’s judgment but of human folly.

Anti-fracking protest near BlackpoolOn 31st May I posted a follow-up suggesting that the Blackpool earthquake, and a second tremor in the same place, might have been caused by tests of “fracking”, underground explosions set off deliberately to release natural gas from rock. The suggestion was not that the earthquakes were artificial, but that small artificial explosions in unstable rock had triggered the much larger release of energy of the earthquake. The drilling company suspended its tests and commissioned a study by The British Geological Survey.

According to the BBC today, this study has now been completed and reports that the fracking tests were the “likely cause” of the earthquakes. It also suggests that an “unusual combination of geology at the well site”, unlikely to recur, made the tremors possible. But anti-fracking protesters who have climbed a drill rig at a nearby test site are not convinced:

A spokesman for Frack Off said: “This report does not inspire confidence, they should have done their research before drilling began.”

He added: “Can we believe anything else the industry says when it talks about the safety of fracking?”

Indeed. This looks like a case of carelessness. Nowadays companies are not usually allowed to do anything without a formal risk analysis, even where the possible consequences are trivial. But it seems as if this company went ahead, without a proper study of the risks, with a venture which could have caused serious damage and loss of life. It was by the grace of God, not by human foresight, that the resulting earthquake was so minor and caused almost no damage.

I wonder, can the company be prosecuted for health and safety violations? These would be genuine ones, rather than the spurious ones recently used as an excuse for closing St Paul’s Cathedral in London.

Fracking has the potential of releasing large quantities of the valuable natural gas which all the world needs for heating and other power needs, and which our country needs to avoid being dependent on imports as the North Sea reserves run out. But it is also a technology with its dangers. Therefore it needs to be regulated carefully, and the companies involved in it must be held responsible for any undesirable consequences of their actions.

The Atheists' Anti-Evolution Conspiracy?

Conspiracy theoriesJames McGrath suggests that

anti-evolutionism is the result of atheist scientists infiltrating Christian circles, and offering lame and unpersuasive criticisms of mainstream science in order to discredit Christianity and hinder the spread of the Gospel.

Or maybe that isn’t what he means. Anyway, his post about fun with conspiracy theories is amusing and well worth a read.