Handbook of the Fellowship of Scientists

Readings 21-30


"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower"

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends".

John 15:1-13


Though nothing is lost, all is spent.

Nature is, above all, profligate. Don't believe them when they tell you how economical and thrifty nature is, whose leaves return to the soil. Wouldn't it be cheaper to leave them on the tree in the first place ? This deciduous business alone is a radical scheme, the brainchild of a deranged manic-depressive with limitless capital. Extravagance! Nature will try anything once. This is what the sign of the insects says. No form is too gruesome, no behavior too grotesque. If you're dealing with organic compounds, then let them combine. If it works, if it quickens, set it clacking in the grass; there's always room for one more; you ain't so handsome yourself. This is a spendthrift economy; though nothing is lost, all is spent.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, pp. 66-67


Steadfast love

Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your judgments are like the great deep; you save humans and animals alike, O LORD. How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. O continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your salvation to the upright of heart!

Ps. 36:5-10


What to believe about miracles (Nature 322:321-322, 1986)

Two years ago I was one of 14 signatories of a letter to the Times about miracles. All of us were professors of science in British universities; six were Fellows of the Royal Society. We asserted: "It is not logically valid to use science as an argument against miracles. To believe that miracles cannot happen is as much an act of faith as to believe that they can happen. We gladly accept the virgin birth, the Gospel miracles, and the resurrection of Christ as historical events. Miracles are unprecedented events. Whatever the current fashions in philosophy or the revelations of opinion polls may suggest, it is important to affirm that science (based as it is upon the observation of precedents) can have nothing to say on the subject. Its "laws" are only generalizations of our experience.

A leading article in Nature accepting our statement on the nature of scientific laws, dissented from our conclusion about miracles, terming them "inexplicable and irreproducible phenomena (which) do not occur- a definition by exclusion of the concept...the publication of Berry et al. provides a license not merely for religious belief (which, on other grounds is unexceptionable) but for mischievous reports of all things paranormal, from ghosts to flying saucers".

Subsequent correspondents disagreed. For example, Clarke objected that "your concern not to license 'mischievous reports of all things paranormal' is no doubt motivated in the interest of scientific truth, but your strategy of defining away what you find unpalatable is the antithesis of scientific"; MacKay emphasized that "for the Christian believer, baseless credulity is a sin- a disservice to the God of truth. His belief in the resurrection does not stem from softness in his standards of evidence, but rather from the coherence with which (as he sees it) that particular unprecedented event fits into and makes sense of a great mass of data... There is clearly no inconsistency in believing (with astonishment) in a unique event so well attested, while remaining unconvinced by spectacular stories of 'paranormal' occurrences that lack any comparable support".

The credibility of belief in miracles has resurfaced in a report of the Church of England bishops. The Times commented: "Did the two key miracles at the centre of the Christian faith, the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection, really happen? The exercise has established one thing clearly: that belief in miracles, at least where they are central to the faith, is thoroughly intellectually respectable.

It would be easy to decry the criteria or standards of proof accepted by the bishops, but their integrity is presumably not in doubt. It is more profitable to enquire whether miracles are really credible, and, if so, what are the circumstances where they might be expected.

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Natural law "In an earlier age, miracles would have been one of the strongest weapons in the armoury of apologetic. A man who did such things must at the very least have the power of God with him. Jesus himself is represented as using this argument when he said, 'If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons then the kingdom of God has come upon you' (Luke 11:20). For us today, by one of those twists that make up intellectual history, miracles are rather an embarrassment. We are so impressed by the regularity of the world that any story which is full of strange happenings acquires an air of fairytale and invention". The historical twist referred to by Polkinghorne was an inevitable consequence of the separation of observation (or test) from interpretation, which is the essential feature of what we call science. Before the sixteenth century "how" and "why" questions were answered in much the same way: acorns fell to the ground so that new oaks might grow; rain came so crops might flourish and people feed; and so on. The realization that the same event could be interpreted in more than one way led to an emphasis on mechanism, and therefore on the uniformity and predictability of natural events, with a consequent restricting of divine activity to the ever-decreasing gaps in knowledge. God became unnecessary, except as a rationalization for the unexplainable.

By the seventeenth century scientists were using the "laws of nature" in the modern sense, and the physical and (increasingly) the biological worlds were regarded as self-regulating causal nexi. God was merely the "First Cause", and could intervene in the world only by breaking or suspending the "natural laws". Locke and Hume used the determinism of Newtonian physics to argue that natural laws were inviolable, and therefore that miracles could not happen. Their conclusion seemed to be vindicated in the nineteenth century when the Darwinian revolution purged from biological systems the simple notion of purpose and created pattern. And as Cupitt says, "religion was more badly shaken when the universe went historical in the nineteenth century than it had been when it went mechanical in the seventeenth century". The futility of believing in a god unable to do anything exposed the problem that spurred the English bishops to re-affirm that miracles could happen.

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Miracles and mechanisms Defenders of miracles have tended to descend into an unconvincing mysticism or an assault on determinism. A few decades ago, it was fashionable to claim that physical indeterminancy gave God enough freedom to control events. Biological indeterminancy is a live debate now, particularly in sociobiology. For example, Lewontin (unlikely to argue that miracles are common or important) strongly attacked the reality of biological laws beyond "very special rules of comportment or particular physical entities... If we are to find biological laws that can be the models for social laws, they will surely be at the level of laws of population, laws of evolution, laws of organization. But it is precisely such laws that are absent in biology, although many attempts have been made to erect them."

However, the case for miracles does not depend on indeterminancy, since the intellectual orthodoxy stemming from Hume's underlying thesis is not as strong as it is usually made out to be. C. S. Lewis pointed this out succinctly: "We must agree with Hume that if there is absolutely 'uniform experience' against miracles, if in other words they have never happened, why then they never have. Unfortunately we know the experience against them to be uniform only if we know that all the reports of them are false. And we know the reports to be false only if we know already that miracles have never occurred. In fact, we are arguing in a circle." Exposing the fallacy of Hume's attack on miracles also reveals that it is based on an unjustified assumption, that events have only a single cause and can be fully explained if that cause is known. This is logically wrong. For example, an oil painting can be "explained" in terms either of the distribution of pigments or the intention and design of the artist; both explanations refer to the same physical object but they complement rather than conflict. In the same way, a miracle may be the work of (say) a divine up-holder of the physical world rather than a false observation or unknown cause. Such an interpretation does not depend on any irruption into a causal network since the determinism of the machine is only one of the levels of the phenomenon (sensu Polanyi).

"Complementary" explanations of causation are excluded only by making the reductionist assumption that a single identifiable cause is the sole effect operating in a particular situation. This assumption is common, but unnecessary and restrictive. Medawar has dissected this clearly: "That there is indeed a limit upon science is made very likely by the existence of questions that science cannot answer and that no conceivable advances of science would empower it to answer. These are the questions that children ask - the 'ultimate questions' of Karl Popper. I have in mind such questions as: How did everything begin? What are we all here for? What is the point of living? Doctrinaire positivism - now something of a period piece - dismissed all such questions as nonquestions or pseudoquestions such as only simpletons ask and only charlatans of one kind or another profess to be able to answer. This peremptory dismissal leaves one empty and dissatisfied because the questions make sense to those who ask them and the answers to those who try to give them; but whatever else may be in dispute, it would be universally agreed that it is not to science that we should look for answers. There is then a prima facie case for the existence of a limit to scientific understanding."

As far as miracles are concerned, this means that they are impossible to prove or disprove on normal scientific criteria; we accept the possibility of their occurrence by faith, and equally deny them by faith. Even if we know or deduce the mechanism behind a miracle, this does not necessarily remove the miraculous element. For example, the Bible tells us that the Israelites crossed the Red Sea dry-shod because "the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land" (Exodus 14:21); the significance of the miracle lies in its timing and place rather than its actual occurrence.

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Implications The act of faith that denies the possibility of miracles is a straightforward reductionist judgement. Miracles by themselves are always susceptible to an explanation other than the miraculous (even if they have physical manifestations, such as "spontaneous" healing or the Empty Tomb), so the value of the reductionist assumption can be best tested by its implications. These were spelt out with depressing clarity in the nihilism of Jacques Monod, and comprehensively answered by W. H. Thorpe who expounded a version of the dualism of Sherrington, Eccles and Popper which is kin to the complementarity espoused above.

There are implications of embracing a reductionist determinism which impinge on two recent controversies: creationism and the definition of human life. Creationism is largely an insistence that God made the world in a particular way, without using "normal" evolutionary mechanisms. Part of this claim stems from a restricted interpretation of the Bible, but it has the effect of prescribing that God acted in an interventionist fashion. Notwithstanding, it is entirely consistent with both evolutionary biology and Bible texts to maintain that God worked "complementarily" with genetic processes so that the world is both a causal outcome of mutation, selection, and so on, but also a divine creation. The creationist position is at odds with both scientific and theistic understanding. Individual human life has a physiological and genetic continuity with that of other humans (and indeed, other animals); the value of individual life lies not in genetic uniqueness (cancers and hydatidiform moles are also genetically unique) but in being (in Christian language) "made in the image of God". This imago is not a physical entity, and it is a category mistake to confuse it with genetic coding or mental function. Notwithstanding, defenders of the inviolability of the early embryo make this precise mistake. The imago is a non-biological attribute, and there is no logical (or scriptural) reason for assuming that it is present from conception. If this simple point was realized, the ethical debate over developments in human reproduction could proceed more sensibly.

The conventional view of miracles is that they depend on supernatural intervention in, or suspension of, the natural order. Some theologians have been overimpressed with scientific determinism, and have attempted a demythologized (miracle-free) religion. This endeavour is now unfashionable, but it is worse than that; Nebelick called it "a speculative device imposed on unsuspecting persons, based on false presuppositions about both science and the scientific world view". This is no help to scientists, and an interventionalist God will always be an embarrassment to us.

I believe that the interpretation that miracles are a necessary but unpredictable consequence of a God who holds the world in being is more plausible and more scriptural than deist interventionism. This does not mean that apparent miracles should be approached with any less objectivity than we would employ for any scientific observation; our standards of evidence should be just as rigorous. Those who deny the possibility of miracles are exercising their own brand of faith; this is based on a questionable assumption, and one which creates problems with its implications. Miracles in the New Testament are described as unusual events which are wonders due to God's power, intended as signs. Confining oneself wholly to this category (leaving aside the question of whether other sorts of miracles occur), this makes at least some miracles expectable and non-capricious, and independent of any knowledge of their mechanism.

In his exposition of the "Two Cultures", C.P. Snow described the scorn of the one for the other as intellectual Ludditism. Miracles are examples of events which may easily be denied by an illegitimate reductionist Ludditism; scientific reality will be hindered in the process. A doctrinaire disbelief in miracles is not "more scientific" than a willingness to accept that they may occur. Some years ago Sir George Porter wrote: "Most of our anxieties, problems and unhappiness today stem from a lack of purpose which was rare a century ago and which can fairly be blamed on the consequences of scientific inquiry. There is one great purpose for man and for us today, and that is to try to discover man's purpose by every means in our power. That is the ultimate relevance of science". He was not writing specifically about miracles, but his argument applies. Miracles are not inherently impossible or unbelievable, and acceptance of their existence does not necessarily involve credulity, but does involve recognizing that science has limits.

Professor R.J. Berry is at the Department of Zoology, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK.

Nature 322:321-322, 1986


...In thinking, be adults.

There are doubtless many different kinds of sounds in the world, and nothing is without sound. If then I do not know the meaning of a sound, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. So with yourselves; since you are eager for spiritual gifts, strive to excel in them for building up the church. Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unproductive. What should I do then? I will pray with the spirit, but I will pray with the mind also; I will sing praise with the spirit, but I will sing praise with the mind also. Otherwise, if you say a blessing with the spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say the "Amen" to your thanksgiving, since the outsider does not know what you are saying? For you may give thanks well enough, but the other person is not built up. I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you; nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind, in order to instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue. Brothers and sisters, do not be children in your thinking; rather, be infants in evil, but in thinking be adults.

1 Cor. 14:10-20


The Anthropic Principle

The strange harmony of nature becomes even more intriguing when we take into account the existence of living organisms. The fact that biological systems have very special requirements, and that these requirements are met by nature, has attracted much comment by scientists. In 1913 the Harvard biochemist Lawrence Henderson, impressed by the way that life on Earth seemed to depend crucially on some rather peculiar properties of water and other chemicals, wrote: "The properties of matter and the course of cosmic evolution are now seen to be intimately related to the structure of the living being and to its activities;... the biologist may now rightly regard the Universe in its very essence as biocentric."

In the 1960s the astronomer Fred Hoyle was struck by the fact that the element carbon, so crucial to terrestrial life, exists in abundance in the universe only by courtesy of a lucky fluke. Carbon nuclei are made by a rather delicate process involving the simultaneous encounter of three helium nuclei inside the cores of large stars. Because of the rarity of triple nuclear encounters, the reaction can proceed at a significant rate only at certain well-defined energies (called resonances), where the reaction rate is greatly amplified by quantum effects. By good fortune one of these resonances is positioned just about right to correspond to the sort of energies that helium nuclei have inside large stars. Hoyle was so impressed by this "monstrous accident," he was prompted to comment that it was as if "the laws of nuclear physics have been deliberately designed with regard to the consequences they produce inside the stars." Later he was to expound the view that the universe looks like a "put-up job" as though somebody had been "monkeying" with the laws of physics.

These cases are just samples. Quite a list of "lucky accidents" and "coincidences" has been compiled since, most notably by the astrophysicists Brandon Carter, Bernard Carr, and Martin Ress. Taken together they provide impressive evidence that life as we know it depends very sensitively on the form of the laws of physics, and on some seemingly fortuitous accidents in the actual values that nature has chosen for various particle masses, force strengths, and so on. If we could play God, and select values for these natural quantities at whim by twiddling a set of knobs, we would find that almost all knob settings would render the universe uninhabitable. Some knobs would have to be fine-tuned to enormous precision if life is to flourish in the universe.

It is of course a truism that we can only observe a universe that is consistent with our own existence. This linkage between human observership and the laws and conditions of the universe is known as the anthropic principle. In the trivial form just stated, the anthropic principle does not assert that our existence compels the laws of physics to have the form they do, nor need one conclude that the laws have been deliberately designed with Homo sapiens in mind. On the other hand, the fact that even slight changes to the way things are might render the universe unobservable is surely a fact of deep significance.

Evidence of Purpose, pp. 48-49


The mission of the Church to society's needs

Do you want to honor Christ's body? Then do not scorn him in his nakedness, nor honor him here in the church with silken garments while neglecting him outside where he is cold and naked. For he who said: "This is my body", and made it so by his words also said: "You saw me hungry and did not feed me", and "inasmuch as you did not do it for one of these, the least of my brothers, you did not do it for me". What we do here in the church requires a pure heart, not special garments; what we do outside requires great dedication. Let us learn, therefore, to be men of wisdom and to honor Christ as he desires. For a person being honored finds greatest pleasure in the honor he desires, not in the honor we think best. Peter thought he was honoring Christ when he refused to let him wash his feet; but what Peter wanted was not truly an honor, quite the opposite! Give him the honor prescribed in his law by giving your riches to the poor. For God does not want golden vessels but golden hearts. Now, in saying this I am not forbidding you to make such gifts; I am only demanding that along with such gifts and before them you give alms. He accepts the former, but he is much more pleased with the latter. In the former, only the giver profits; in the latter, the recipient benefits too. A gift to the church may be taken as a form of ostentation, but alms is pure kindness. Of what use is it to weigh down Christ's table with golden cups, when he himself is dying of hunger? First, fill him when he is hungry; then use the means you have left to adorn his table. Will you have a golden cup made but not give a cup of water? What is the use of providing the table with cloths woven of gold thread, and not providing Christ himself with the clothes he needs? What profit is there in that? Tell me: If you were to see him lacking the necessary food but were to leave him in that state and merely surround his table with gold, would he be grateful to you or would he not rather be angry? What if you were to see him, clad in wornout rags and stiff from the cold, and were to forget about clothing him and instead were to set up golden columns for him, saying that you were doing it in his honor? Would he not think he was being mocked and greatly insulted? Apply this also to Christ when he comes along the roads as a pilgrim, looking for shelter. You do not take him in as your guest, but you decorate floor and walls and the capitals of the pillars. You provide silver chains for the lamps, but you cannot bear even to look at him as he lies chained in prison. Once again, I am not forbidding you to supply these adornments; I am urging you to provide these other things as well, and indeed to provide them first. No one has ever been accused for not providing ornaments, but for those who neglect their neighbor a hell awaits with an inextinguishable fire and torment in the company of the demons. Do not, therefore, adorn the church and ignore your afflicted brother, for he is the most precious temple of all.

The Anglican Tradition, #34, c.386-98


Deuteronomy on aliens and those in need

If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, "The seventh year, the year of remission, is near," and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing; your neighbor might cry to the LORD against you, and you would incur guilt. Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, "Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land."

Deut. 15:7-11

You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice; you shall not take a widow's garment in pledge. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this. When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all your undertakings. When you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this.

Deut. 24:17-22


The Cosmic Code

Another of Einstein's famous remarks is that the only incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible. The success of the scientific enterprise can often blind us to the astonishing fact that science works. Though it is usually taken for granted, it is both incredibly fortunate and deeply mysterious that we are able to fathom the workings of nature by use of the scientific method. The purpose of science is to uncover patterns and regularities in nature, but the raw data of observation rarely exhibit explicit regularities. Nature's order is hidden from us: the book of nature is written in a sort of code. To make progress in science we need to crack the cosmic code, to dig beneath the raw data, and uncover the hidden order. To return to the crossword analogy, the clues are highly cryptic, and require some considerable ingenuity to solve.

What is so remarkable is that human beings can actually perform this code-breaking operation. Why has the human mind the capacity to "unlock the secrets of nature" and make a reasonable success at completing nature's "cryptic crossword"? lt is easy to imagine worlds in which the regularities of nature are transparent at a glance or impenetrably complicated or subtle, requiring far more brainpower than humans possess to decode them. In fact, the cosmic code seems almost attuned to human capabilities. This is all the more mysterious on account of the fact that human intellectual powers are presumably determined by biological evolution, and have absolutely no connection with doing science. Our brains have evolved to cope with survival "in the jungle," a far cry from describing the laws of electromagnetism or the structure of the atom. "Why should our cognitive processes have turned themselves to such an extravagant quest as the understanding of the entire Universe?" asks John Barrow. "Why should it be us? None of the sophisticated ideas involved appear to offer any selective advantage to be exploited during the pre-conscious period of our evolution.... How fortuitous that our minds (or at least the minds of some) should be poised to fathom the depths of Nature's secrets."

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The effectiveness of science seems especially odd given the limitations of human educational development. It usually requires at least fifteen years before a student achieves a sufficient grasp of science to make a contribution to fundamental research. Yet major advances in fundamental science are usually made by men and women in their twenties. The combination of educational progress and waning creativity hem in the scientist, providing a brief, but crucial "window of opportunity" to contribute. Yet these intellectual restrictions presumably have their roots in mundane aspects of evolutionary biology, connected with the human life span, the structure of the brain, and the social organization of our species. It is odd that the durations involved are such as to permit creative scientific endeavor. Again, one can imagine a world in which we all had plenty of time to learn the necessary facts and concepts to do fundamental science, or another world in which it would take so many years to learn all the necessary things that death would intervene, or one's creative years would pass, long before the educational phase was finished. No feature of this uncanny "tuning" of the human mind to the workings of nature is more striking than mathematics. Mathematics is the product of the higher human intellect, yet it finds ready application to the most basic processes of nature, such as subatomic particle physics. The fact that "mathematics works" when applied to the physical world-and works so stunningly well demands explanation, for it is not clear we have any absolute right to expect that the world should be well described by our mathematics.

Much has been written about the "unreasonable effectiveness" of mathematics in science (to use Eugene Wigner's famous phrase). If mathematical ability has evolved by accident rather than in response to environmental pressures, then it is a truly astonishing coincidence that mathematics finds such ready application to the physical universe. If, on the other hand, mathematical ability does have some obscure survival value and has evolved by natural selection, we are still faced with the mystery of why the laws of nature are mathematical. After all, surviving "in the jungle" does not require knowledge of the laws of nature, only of their manifestations. We have seen how the laws themselves are in code, and not connected in a simple way at all to the actual physical phenomena subject to those laws. Survival depends on an appreciation of how the world is, not of any hidden underlying order. Certainly it cannot depend on the hidden order within atomic nuclei, or in black holes, or in subatomic particles that are produced on Earth only inside particle accelerator machines.

lt is sometimes argued that as the brain is a product of physical processes it should reflect the nature of those processes, including their mathematical character. But there is, in fact, no direct connection between the laws of physics and the structure of the brain. The thing that distinguishes the brain from a kilogram of ordinary matter is its complex organized form, in particular the elaborate interconnections between neurones. This wiring pattern cannot be explained by the laws of physics alone. It depends on many other factors, including a host of chance events that must have occurred during evolutionary history. Whatever laws may have helped shape the structure of the human brain (such as Mendel's laws of genetics) they bear no simple relationship to the laws of physics.

Evidence of Purpose, pp. 54-55


The voice of the heavens

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.

There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard;
Yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,

Which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is hid from its heat.

The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the LORD are sure, making wise the simple;
The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eyes;

The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.

Ps. 19:1-9

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