- Category: Blog
- Published: Tuesday, 15 November 2011 11:41
"We can't find you with this address, it's unacceptable!" exclaimed with open arms HM Customs Agent at Heathrow airport, reviewing my parsimonious arrival declaration.
"Yes you can, just google what I wrote, 'Lee Abbey, Devon', and it pops right up." Flying steerage on Air Canada, unable to access the relevant data on my laptop locked up in the storage bins, I was herded along with hundreds of others to a processing room with no chance to properly complete the form.
"It's an Anglican abbey, just north of Barnstaple, east of Lynmouth in Devon. It's very well known."
"And what is the purpose of your visit?"
"I'm participating in, er, what's the English word for colloque?" I mused, leaning into his booth, two imaginary cups of coffee between us.
"A discussion group, a forum, a lecture series", he offered.
"Yes! That's it! It's given by one of your most eminent scientist, the Reverend Dr Sir John Polkinghorne, retired president of Queen's College at Cambridge. We will be discussing the friendship of science and religion". I just love saying John's full name and titles, it just rolls off the tongue. I thought of adding 'KBE', but that would have been oversell.
"This is a science forum?" he said, starting to lose interest, as indicated by his tone and shoulders dropping slightly.
"And prayer!" I replied straightening up, my smiling face lighting up like a 150w incandescent bulb, index finger in the air for emphasis. A languid look.
"What is your profession?"
"I'm the controller of our local Christian radio station", my voice going up slightly on 'Christian'.
Visibly crestfallen, knowing a time-waster when he sees one, he stamped my passport and handed it to me with the sourest of looks. And so, in another little God moment of my life, I entered the realm of England thanks to a customs agent with personal judgement who didn't go by the book. I paid for it on my return as the Canadian Border Agency gave me the full search treatment; all sins must be paid!
Lee Abbey in Devon (google it!) was never really an abbey. It was built in the 1820s as a hotel in what was the fashion of the day, hotels and upper-crust residences modeled on medieval abbeys. England is full of these; a guidebook is required to find real abbeys. Nominally Anglican, it bills itself as an international Christian community hosting conferences, retreats and such. Self-contained, there are few ensuites, no telephones or tv and cell phones don't work as it is too remote.
The colloque I attended along with 90 other enthusiasts, The Friendship of Science and Religion, was more than just lectures followed by q&a. It was a true Christian community experience where we ate, prayed, socialized and joined together in activities. Simply put, it was summer camp for adults, complete with sing-alongs, mature food fights (do you want that last slice or can I have it?) and even religious services on their magnificent Atlantic beach, complete with campfires. Kumbaya for Christ!
The premises of the lectures were understood as those of all the mainline Christian churches, namely that God is the creator of our universe, the bible shows us why we exist, and the laws of physics, which are also God's laws, show us how it all works. The laws of physics are not created, they are discovered, formulated from scientific observation, and vetted by the scientific community once proven by repeatable experiments and peer-review. Indeed, the first law of thermodynamics pays tribute to God as it states nothing can be created, only converted. Burn paper, get carbon ashes; explode a star, get iron, the core of Mother Earth. We are truly stardust, made from the brightest, hottest manifestation in God's universe.
In a world where science is used by atheists as the reason to deny the existence of God, where does religion fit in? Why should science and God be an either/or choice?
It was after more than 4,000 years of observation that Edwin Hubble discovered in the 1920s the existence of other galaxies. The Big Bang theory (actually hyperinflation) was formulated by a Belgian Catholic priest-physicist, Georges Lemaitre, also in the 1920s. It was accepted by the Catholic Church in 1952 even though it was not proven until about 10 years later. The reason? It proved there was a beginning to our universe, meaning God created it.
Sir John, interestingly, is an Anglican priest-physicist and friends with such modern deniers as Richard Dawkins and the brilliant but ambivalent Stephen Hawking. Author of more than 15 books, his lecture series format was presentation, tea & coffee, q&a. The main subjects were (a) a scientist's approach to Christian belief, (b) the Universe as creation, (c) prayer, providence and miracle, including vision talk.
In a known universe of 86 billion light years wide, with each of those light years measuring 9.46 trillion kilometres, its 13.7 billion years old vastness containing only 4% matter, how can one deity be the creator of such an unimaginable entity? Where is the scientific proof of God's existence?
Today atheists say that if multiverses (other universes) are proven, God does not exist because our universe is not unique. Such leaps in logic are part and parcel of atheists. I know because I used to be one before I saw the light - literally.
For me it is the opposite. Our God is a collegial God in its Trinity, why should He make such a universe or multiverses just for us? Are we so arrogant to believe we alone, located in a backwater of the Milky Way, are the only life God would or could create? We used to believe the universe rotated around us and now we know we are an infinitesimal speck in it. This does not, however, diminish our importance in God's heart, just our physical presence in the universe He created.
This is only a modern version of old questions about the metaphysics of God. In medieval times the question was: Can God create a rock so large that he can't lift it?
I met Sir John privately for over 25 minutes. Very approachable, he talks down to no one, not bad for someone whom the Queen consults personally on matters of scientific ethics. So much material and thought were discussed and analysed in those five days that I ordered the CDs and I await with impatience their arrival to relive and reabsorb John's lectures as well as share them with others.
Our last supper together was candlelit with wine (finally!), followed by a very moving communion service with anointing. I must plan a return to Lee Abbey.