In The Beginning, part 1

In the beginning God created the Point. The Point was tiny. It was not quite a mathematical point. But in each of its ten or more dimensions it was wrapped up so tightly that its size1 was far more than as much smaller than an atom as an atom is smaller than the Solar System.

There was not nothing outside the Point, for there was no outside the Point for nothing to be in. There was just the Point, and the God who created it.

The Point was pulsating with energy, pregnant with possibility, filled with all the intentions of its Creator. Its tiny size could not hold the energy in. It exploded out in a Big Bang, unwrapping three of its dimensions into infinity, becoming the Universe. Energy streamed apart, not out of the Universe for there was no outside, but expanding with the Universe as it became infinite Space.

The Universe began to expand faster and faster. It doubled in size, if you can say that of something which is infinite, perhaps a few hundred times, perhaps even trillions of times, no one knows except God. All this happened in a time so short that it cannot be described in mere words2.

For some reason, only God the Creator really knows why, this runaway inflation came to a halt. The Universe continued to expand, but now at a leisurely pace. But still it was so hot, so filled with the energy of God, that no matter could form. All was formless and void. There were no atoms, not even subatomic particles, until the expansion had cooled the universe trillions of times more. Compared with the initial inflation, this gradual expansion took immeasurable ages, but in the units we understand it took perhaps just a millionth of a second to form protons and neutrons, the building blocks of matter as we know it.

The Universe continued to expand and to cool, but it was now changing much more slowly. For millennia it was filled with a plasma, hydrogen and helium nuclei in a sea of loose electrons, like the outer layers of the Sun today. “Suddenly, a hundred thousand years into its unwinding, the skies clear as though on a cloudy summer’s day”, as Peter Atkins puts it3, for, with the temperature now down to ten thousand degrees, electrons stick to nuclei and atoms form. As God said “Let there be light”, the Universe was filled with light, like the light of the Sun today.

Continued in part 2.

NOTE: The above is based on the best ideas of modern physics, as clearly described for popular audiences (in secular terms) in “Galileo’s Finger” by Peter Atkins, Oxford 2003. But some of the details are speculative.

1. I.e. the Planck length, about 10-35 metres; compare atoms, about 10-10 m, and the diameter of the Solar System, about 1012 m.

2. About 10-32 seconds.

3. p.252.

Cyber-psalm satisfies

Lingamish has posted a new version of the cyber-psalm which I had an issue with yesterday. This is a definite improvement, with the problematic word “rejected” dropped. I have no theological objections to the new version of these few lines:

And you left him there
Out of love for us,
The people living in darkness.

But there is an ambiguity which I don’t think was intended. The collocation of “left” with “there” gives a different meaning to “left”, suggesting that Jesus was allowed to remain on the cross indefinitely, but not foregrounding the fact that God left Jesus. The meaning would be better without “there”, or as “And there you left him”. I cannot comment on which makes the best poetry; I leave such things to English major Lingamish.

Thoughts about a gay bishop

Ruth Gledhill of The Times (London) has published the full text of an interview with the controversial gay bishop of the Episcopal Church of the USA, Gene Robinson. The interview is in fact by Andrew Collier from Scotland, and is the basis of an article in The Scotsman which John Richardson calls “Quite possibly the most stupid piece of journalism yet about Gene Robinson”. John’s comment is justified because of editorial gems like

Yet millions of Christians the world over are convinced – absolutely assured – that this man is the Antichrist.

Well, if anyone really thought that, their assurance might be dented if they actually read what the man has to say about himself.

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Cyber-psalm is suspect

My cyber-friend Lingamish has published the first of a series of “cyber-psalms”. (In this sentence “cyber-” seems to mean no more than “communicating only on the Internet”.) On his lingalinga blog he notes:

Aren’t those susserating* sibilants simply succulent?

Indeed, Lingamish, this is a great poem or psalm. Except for one little problem. You have fallen straight into the trap of describing the atonement as the Father working separately from the Son, the very trap I have been trying to warn you and others about on this blog for more than a year. Well, I can hardly blame you for not reading all my 45 posts on the atonement, but surely you have read at least one of them?

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One for all and all for one

My post at Better Bibles Blog One for all and all for one? discusses how to come up with one Bible version acceptable to everyone in a language group, in answer to some questions from Doug Chaplin and ElShaddai Edwards. In the group I was working with, in which there are only a few churches and a few thousand Christians, the translation team was able to produce a Bible more or less acceptable to all. I don’t hold out much hope for it working for English language speakers. But those of you my readers who are interested in my personal experiences might like to read this post.

How to understand the Bible on atonement

Andrew has written an important post on the methodology of exegeting atonement doctrine, i.e. how to understand what the Bible has to say about the atonement. He explains what is wrong with the way many others study the biblical teaching on the atonement. The principles he gives here apply to the biblical teaching on any other doctrinal issue.

Andrew also outlines how, through years of study, he came to his own view of the atonement. But he doesn’t actually describe that view; he simply says:

The reasons why I think my view is best are horrendously complicated

I hope he will try to make sense of these complications in clear writing in the near future.

In the light of his own lengthy studies he writes:

I think this makes me truly appreciate works where the author[s] … have long grappled with all the different atonement ideas and really understand the situation. I think this is what made me so contemptuous of Pierced For Our Transgressions as the authors demonstrated ignorance on all the important issues and had set out to prove what they had been taught in response to some else denying the truth of what they had been taught.

Ouch! Read Andrew’s post for some justification for this statement.

UPDATE 26th July: Andrew has followed this up with a post The same cup, which shows clearly how flawed is the argument, used in Pierced for Our Transgressions and elsewhere, that Jesus’ use of the word “cup” for his sufferings implies that God was wrathful towards him.

Silver Rings and Dishonesty

I do not want to comment on the case of Lydia Playfoot, who lost her court case claiming the right to wear a Christian chastity ring at school. See here, here and here for some Christian reaction; see also Lydia’s own blog.

I do want to comment on the entirely disgraceful campaign which has been waged against Lydia and her family in the aftermath of this case. They have been accused of dishonesty and of being in this for the money. Even the supposedly respectable think tank Ekklesia implies that important facts were not revealed.

UPDATE: Doug has withdrawn his accusation of dishonesty, in response to my comment on his post.

Let’s see some of the truth behind this.

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It takes one colonial power to recognise another

Russian President Vladimir Putin today, as reported by the BBC in support of his refusal to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, accused of the murder of Alexander Litvinenko:

“They have long forgotten that it is a long time since Britain was a colonial power,” he told Russian TV.

Also on the BBC today:

Russia is sending a mini-submarine to explore the ocean floor below the North Pole and find evidence to support its claims to Arctic territory. … Moscow argued before a UN commission in 2001 that waters off its northern coast were in fact an extension of its maritime territory.

Even if I don’t mention Chechnya, I can say that it takes one colonial power to recognise another one. But whether any country is or is not a colonial power should not be used as an excuse for harbouring an apparent murderer.

Does Canadian Anglicanism have more to do with Anabaptism?

Maybe quite a few of you my readers, especially those who are not Anglicans, did not read through my rather long essay on the Church of England, despite my attempt to give it a catchy title. Perhaps rather more of you are interested in my various posts on Anabaptism. For your benefit, here is a summary of one of main points of my essay:

According to Rev John Richardson, who takes this idea Bishop Stephen Neill, there is no distinctively Anglican theology, and the only thing which distinguishes Anglican churches from others is their claim to be the catholic or universal church in certain countries, mostly those of the former British Empire. This claim can be traced back to Henry VIII’s presumption in setting himself up as the head of the Church of England. This is thus the very epitome of Christendom, the church being identified with the state. So I wondered how Tim Chesterton could claim that Anabaptism, which stresses the separation of church and state, could have anything to do with Anglicanism, especially in this area.

Tim responded in a comment that his idea of Anglicanism, from a Canadian perspective but also informed by his recent time in England, is fundamentally different from John’s very English viewpoint. For him, the Anglican church in Canada, and indeed anywhere apart from England, is a place for people who are “looking for something more sacramental without the hardline dogmatism of Rome, or something a bit less conservative than the evangelical churches.” So perhaps it is only in England where people are trying to be more reformed than Calvin or more catholic than the Pope while still calling themselves Anglican. This viewpoint is interesting, although I’m not sure it takes into account the position of the Global South group. But it is helpful for understanding the difficulties facing the Anglican Communion.

Meanwhile I am still waiting for the ninth part of Tim’s series ‘What does Anabaptism have to do with Anglicanism?’, in which he has promised in advance to outline “the church as a distinct community from the world” as an area of convergence between Anabaptism and Anglicanism. Perhaps the delay is because he is rethinking his position because of my comments – or perhaps just because he has been taking a weekend break.