Thoughts From The Sea

By John D. Gibbon

My wife (Sheila) and I are at sea on a Christmas cruise to the Canaries. Long, long ago I spent a year at sea, even serving as an unofficial deckhand for six months – unofficial in the sense I didn’t do a watch. I learned to love this dangerous environment but it can be truly frightening. Six days hove-to in a Force 11 (verging on 12) in a Biscay storm concentrates the mind wonderfully. If I recall the Beaufort scale correctly, 12 is hurricane force. When wind speeds reach 80-100mph the smaller surface waves are ripped away leaving the huge, deep rollers into whose troughs a ship can disappear like a cork. No clear air/water interface exists and the world seems full of what looks like grey-white shaving foam which claws and tears at your face. I suffered no sea-sickness but I had a terrible headache. Sailors have traditionally had a respect for the sea bordering on the superstitious because they know that however mild the weather, something nasty and dangerous may be lurking just over the horizon.

Many Christians think of danger as a personal thing, such as temptation, violence or suffering, but there is a different type of danger that could, for example, come from the pressures on the church exerted from an increasingly secular society. Those who attempt to argue the case for a biblical world-view often face intolerant opponents who consider that all past ideas and values are worthless. Some believe that what is human and what is intelligent needs to be re-defined. This idea suggests that humanity is no more than a blank page on which we can write our own script. On a very different tack, Martin Rees, the Royal Astronomer, has written several articles in the FT making it plain that in his view humanity is just in one stage on a long cosmic road of evolving intelligence. This isn’t the place to discuss these ideas in detail but it illustrates the type of serious issues with which Christian apologists have to deal. Last week I remarked on the generational change to the public mind where people think differently than their ancestors. The criticism that met the publication of Thomas Nagel’s book “Mind and Cosmos” in 2012 encapsulates many of the controversies and contradictions that appear to be inherent in modern attitudes to scientific discovery. Nagel is well known for his critique of reductionist accounts of the mind, and specifically the neo-Darwinian view of the emergence of consciousness. In “Mind and Cosmos”, as a rationalist philosopher, he argues that the standard physico-chemical reductionist account of the emergence of life — that it emerged from a series of accidents, acted upon by the mechanism of natural selection — flies in the face of common sense. Nagel is not the only modern philosopher to believe that the rise of science has permanently changed how people think of the world and our place in it and that there is too much emphasis placed on a mathematized understanding represented by modern physics.

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