About Me

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Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).

Monday, 30 April 2012

Darwin's Pious Idea

I have recently finished reading Conor Cunningham's book Darwin's Pious Idea: Why the Ultra-Darwinists and Creationists Both Get It Wrong (Eerdmans, 2010).

It is very long (564 pages) and very good.

The book displays a deeply impressive breadth and depth of knowledge in the fields of biology, philosophy (both ancient and modern, continental and analytic), and theology. The result is a critique of Dawkins and Dennett et al. like few (any?) others available.

Ultra-Darwinism (the view that makes Darwinism into a theory of everything) is hauled across the coals for being intellectually vacuous and as self-defeating. It is, argues Cunningham, out of touch with the latest work in biology and is philosophically crazy! If per impossible it is true then we can wave goodbye to religion (which is the basic goal of ultra-Darwinism) but also to persons (that's right, "you" do not exist), ethics, art, reason, and science itself (including Darwinism). So ultra-Darwinism is either false (in which case it is irrational to believe it) or, if it is true, irrational to believe (because if it is true we cannot trust our reason to give us true beliefs). Either way it is irrational to believe. (You'll have to read the book to see the argumentation behind this bold claim.)

And, of course, if (impossibly) this view is correct and there are no persons and no right and wrong (which Cunningham argues that this view entails) then if people come to believe it and to live consistently in the light of the belief then that is very bad news indeed.

But Cunningham is no anti-evolutionist. On the contrary, his constant complaint against Dawkins et al. is that they do not take evolution seriously enough. Cunningham thinks that evolutionism is a problem (he has no time for "selfish genes", "memes", or for the attempt to make science into first philosophy) but he is convinced that human beings are evolved creatures.

Creationists get less attention but are taken to task for verging on heresy and atheism (!!!) — a modern aberration on the landscape of Christianity. Cunningham's own theology of creation seeks to root itself in the patristic interpretation of Genesis (a radical christo-centric reading). The urge to interpret Genesis 1–3 as literal history is both silly, out of synch with the tradition (he claims), and theologically misleading.

What we are offered is a Radical Orthodox perspective on an issue of current debate that is perhaps the most intellectually rigorous engagement with the New Atheists that I have yet encountered. All the more interesting for its sympathy with Christian Platonism and Thomas Aquinas.

I was not persuaded by everything but this book just sizzles with stimulating material. You cannot read it and ignore it. Not least because Cunningham's writing style is polemical and funny — he is a master of put-downs — but also because he has a very strong case against philosophical materialism and ultra-Darwinism.

I recently read an ignorant editorial in a British newspaper that made the comment that what Bishops in the Church of England have failed to realize is that all the intellectual arguments are with the atheists. This book absolutely blows that claim out of the water. The ball is now very much in the New Atheists' camp. Until they have some good answers to these penetrating criticisms (most of which I have not even mentioned in this brief comment) then they cannot claim to represent the voice of reason or of science. And I must confess that I find it very hard to imagine that they can defuse the intellectual hand grenade that Cunningham has lobbed into their trench.

In brief: a demanding read but well worth the effort.

George W. Sarris on patristic universalism

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Thomas Aquinas and Science

I have just read a great little booklet published by the Catholic Truth Society. It is called Creation and Science: Has Science Eliminated God? by William E. Carroll. Its author is the Aquinas Fellow in Theology and Science at Blackfriars, Oxford.

In a few short pages Carroll introduces non-specialist readers to some of the contemporary "problems" in science and theology and then shows how most of them are based on a basic misunderstanding of what it means to say that the universe is created by God. A few basic clarifications from Thomas Aquinas and "BAM" — a whole host of pseudo-problems disappear in a flash.

The book opens and closes with Stephen Hawkins' recent claims that we don't need God to explain how the universe started. Carroll shows that the doctrine of creation is not a claim about how things began but a claim that the universe absolutely depends for its existence upon God. But, as Aquinas showed a long time ago, this claim is completely compatible with even the claim that the universe has always existed (if such a claim is coherent). Let's suppose that there has always been a universe and that it never "began" — even then it could only exist at any moment in time because God is causing it to. If God had never willed the universe it would never have existed and it exists for whatever duration (short, long, or everlasting) God wills.

The book also introduces the very basic but oft-forgotten distinction between primary causation and secondary causation. Many atheists and believers alike make the wrong assumption that if we speak of divine action we must be thinking of God as simply one cause among many in the universe. Thus scientific explanations are set in competition with divine explanations. But this is a confusion. Divine causation works at a completely different level from secondary causation and science only examines the latter (metaphysics falls outside the boundaries of science). There simply ain't any conflict, says Carroll.

A little look at the issues of evolution and contemporary physics and the origins of the universe serve to show how theology and science work perfectly well together non-confrontationally. Problems only arise when people try to expand the ability of science to explain things into a theory of everything (which it is not and when we try to make it such we end up buggering up a lot of stuff, including science) or when people confuse theological explanations as pseudo-scientific statements (which they are not and when we take them as such we end up creating a lot of confusion and fearing science).

Anyway, it is only a little booklet aimed at non-specialists but it is by far the most helpful little booklet on science and religion I have come across.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

UK covers for "The Evangelical Universalist" (old and new)

As you can see, the new SPCK cover is the same ... yet not the same

something old ...

something new

Monday, 23 April 2012

New US Cover for Second Edition of "The Evangelical Universalist"

Here it is: as with the new SPCK cover (for the UK edition) it embodies both continuity and discontinuity with the previous cover.

Something old ...

something new

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Environmental Crisis and the burden of proof

Hear! Hear!

This has long been my view.

What really "gets my goat" is when people who know next to nothing about the science involved declare with such confidence that they don't believe in global warming.

Why not?

Well, they read a booklet or saw a TV program that expressed scepticism on the issue
. . . and they were persuaded.

Do they think it worth checking out responses by mainstream scientists to the evidence against the claim that humans play a role in global warming?


Do they even consider agnosticism on the subject given that they seem to believe that the evidence is ambiguous and they presumably know that they themselves are clearly ill-placed to assess it one way or the other?

No. Instead they become convinced sceptics.


It is hard to resist the conclusion that the reason is simply that the sceptical view allows us to live the lifestyle we have always lived and to avoid potentially painful sacrifices. It is a convenient view and the sceptical arguments offered provide us with a justification for what we want to do anyway.

Don't get me wrong. I am NOT claiming that I am a scientist who is able to assess the evidence. I too must depend on a basic grasp of the science and a trust in scientists.

I am also not claiming that the majority view must be right. Perhaps the sceptics are right.

All I am saying is that Mitchell is spot on:

(1) currently the VAST majority of people in a position to understand and assess the evidence do think that humans make a significant contribution to global warming.

(2) given the catastrophic nature of the problem the rational and ethical course is to act to minimize it, even if we are not certain that it is a problem.

Rant over.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

John Updike, "Seven Stanzas at Easter."

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Can I Imagine a World Without God?

Today someone asked me whether I could imagine a world without God. They were not asking whether I had any doubts about God's existence but whether I thought it even possible that God not exist.

It sounds like a simple question. Like, "can you imagine a world in which your cat Monty did not exist?" That's easy, right?

Actually, it is a far more difficult question for me to answer than you might think.

What exactly am I being asked to imagine?

To me God is, among other things, the one who gives being to creation.
So a world without God is a world that is not given being (i.e., absolutely nothing).
But that is not "a world without God." That is . . . nothing.

Or perhaps I am to imagine that the world gives itself being.
Can I imagine that?
Not easily; perhaps not at all. I could if the cosmos was the kind of thing the essence and existence of which were identical but . . . surely it is not that kind of thing. I'd have to ponder that but I think that this suggestion would be riddled with problems.

Or perhaps I am to imagine a world that has being for no reason whatsoever. It did not have to exist but it does — it just is and that is all we can say.
Is that possible?
I have no idea. Maybe. Maybe not. It is certainly a bold claim! But perhaps it is possible. I just don't know. It may actually be impossible. (And it is certainly unsatisfactory when there is a better alternative, that the world has its being from God. And God's being is not a brute fact but is self-explanatory in a way that the being of the world seems not to be — God's existence and essence are identical)

My friend could not understand my dithering. Obviously we can imagine a world without God! After all, there are lots of people who see the world precisely like this.

But do they?

Do atheists really imagine a world without God? Perhaps, but I'm not sure.

Suppose, for arguments sake, that the sober metaphysical truth is that the only possible world without God is . . . absolutely nothing (and this may be true even if we cannot know whether or not it is). Then when atheists imagine this world in which we live as being "without God" they are simply confused. What they are imagining is actually a world with God (because it has being) but they are failing to recognize God's role in it. The real "world without God" is the world without being (i.e., no world at all).

This post is hopelessly bumbling around in terms of offering clear arguments but I have a gut instinct that I am on the right lines here.

So can I imagine a universe in which God does not exist?

Hmmmmmmmmmm. Not sure.

Perhaps not a universe. Perhaps just NOTHING.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

An Outstanding Book

I have just received a copy of Michael Reeves' new book The Good God: Enjoying Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Paternoster, 2012). It is a wonderful introduction to trinitarian theology for ordinary people. Here is what I wrote on the back cover:

"This amazing little book dances like a butterfly and stings like a bee. With lightness of touch, a great sense of humour, and real theological wisdom, Mike Reeves opens our eyes to the sheer wonder and beauty of the Holy Trinity! This book is OUTSTANDING!"

I was not lying. READ this book. Then get the people in your church to read it.

If you are in the USA it will be coming out with IVP under a different title.