Thoughts From India

By John D. Gibbon

The last ten days I have been residing in the big Indian city of Bangalore, home to 15 million people. Its southern area is also home to India’s Silicon Valley (Electronic City). It is also the home of India’s premier scientific institution, the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), as well as the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, the International Centre for Theoretical Sciences (ICTS) and the Centre for Applicable Mathematics (CAM). The last two institutions are funded by the Tata Institute for Fundamental Research (TIFR) although the founder of the Tata family dynasty made a significant contribution to the foundation of IISc in 1909. I am hosted here by ICTS which now sits on a new campus out in the country on the city’s north side. The buildings are finished but it still needs landscaping so we are living on a construction site with lots of red dust. This week I have both lecture & seminar engagements at CAM and IISC. These take time to write so I am kept busy.

India has an increasing population of 1.275 billion people. At 15 million people, Bangalore is still growing, yet it’s already twice the size of London. The sheer size and scale of India is mentioned by everyone who visits. The fact that official figures say that the Christian population is between 2% and 3% inevitably brings to mind the Great Commission.

In chapter 9 of my book “Science and the Knowledge of God” I discussed how the descendants of Adam and Eve have spread throughout this earth and have covered large tracts of it with tarmac and concrete. From just two we have grown to more than six billion people. India and China are prime examples of the relentless growth of the emerging world economies although China seems to be slowing. From earliest times until the present day, human history has been marked by constant conquest and conflict, interspersed with cycles of growth and destruction. Historically the search for resources — food, water, wood, spices, gold, silver, copper and precious stones — has dominated human history. In the modern day one could also add to this list the ores of iron, manganese, aluminium and zinc, as well as those of the rarer elements such as platinum, iridium and vanadium. In addition, coltan is much prized as it contains the elements niobium (columbite) and tantalum essential for mobile phone construction. Even the deep sea-bed and the asteroid belt are more than a glint in the eye of global mining companies. To turn outward to the stars and planets, the start-up company Planetary Resources has announced that it has the backing of Google multi-billionaires Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, and is also being advised by James Cameron, the director of the films Avatar and Titanic. They are attracted by the prospect of mining rare and expensive metals, such as platinum, from the asteroid belt. Their long-term plan is to launch an experimental space vehicle within 2 years and an orbital propellant re-fuelling station by 2020. Other influential people include the aerospace engineer and entrepreneur Eric Anderson, the co-founder and chairman of the first commercial spaceflight company, Space Adventures Ltd. He has arranged for paying individuals to travel to the International Space Station since 2001. Another private venture is SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk in 2002, which specializes in space transportation.

How will this end? Superficially speaking, the ancient Greeks thought of history developing in cycles, Marxists think of History (with a capital ‘H’) moving inevitably towards a classless society, while there are those who have taken the Enlightenment idea of ‘Whig history’ more seriously than they should. This is a political and social approach to historiography that presents the past as an inevitable progression towards ever greater Liberty and Enlightenment. In the last generation one strain of popular science literature has fashioned a historiography of western scientific discovery as an epic struggle for enlightened ideals with a Hollywood cast of heroes and villains. Allowing for a degree of parody, the narrative is highly celebratory, and treats Science (with a capital S) as an idealized being — akin to the cardinal virtues Truth, Prudence, Justice, Temperance and Courage — marching onwards towards the sunlit uplands of enlightened human knowledge. It is a classic, cartoon-style Enlightenment narrative fashioned for a consumer audience: the cast of good guys are depicted as enlightened early scientists, holding to the virtues of Truth and Reason, who have had to fight the bad guys. None of this should be taken remotely seriously, although students attempting to grapple with the injustices and problems of the world may be tempted to think in these terms.

The desperate need in the world, both spiritual and physical, is overwhelming in its scale. For Disciples of Christ it is enough to drive us to our knees. Where ‘history’ will end is in the Second Coming whenever that occurs. Until then we are under obligation to bring the Gospel to everyone.

View all entries by John D. Gibbon

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