What’s been happening in faith, science and culture?

Over the past month, these are the events in faith, science and culture that have been catching our attention.

17 JulyBrian Cox, physicist and broadcaster, made an interesting observation at the Starmus festival, which has just finished in Tenerife. The festival, which included Brian Eno, Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins, celebrated the synerygy between astronomy and music. Said Cox: ‘The fact that we’re in an insignificant physical speck in a possibly infinite universe is as easy or difficult to accept as that we are a very tiny temporal speck in a possibly infinite time span… But it’s a conversation that won’t be had by physicists. It’s a conversation that’s best had in art, philosophy, literature and theology. That’s where the meaning of the things we discover about the universe is teased out.’

17 JulyTheresa May and Angela Merkel, two of the politicians who will determine Europe’s future, both grew up as daughters in clergy households, notes The Economist. While May was the only child of an Anglican vicar in Oxfordshire, Merkel was the daughter of a Lutheran pastor in communist East Germany. Says The Economist: ‘Paradoxically enough, both Mrs May and Mrs Merkel may yet be remembered as Christian politicians who were adamantly open to the possibility of Islam being integrated into European liberal democracy.’

7 JulyThe Big Bang might have been a Big Bounce, new research by London physicists has shown. The reason? Because the early universe was so small, it might have been governed entirely by quantum mechanics. Says Dr Steffen Gielen: ‘Quantum mechanics saves us when things break down. It saves electrons from falling in and destroying atoms, so maybe it could also save the early universe from such violent beginnings and endings as the Big Bang and Big Crunch.’

6 JulyJustin Brierley, host of Unbelievable? on Premier Radio, has a new video online called ‘How a dice can show that God exists’. Justin talks viewers through how it would have taken a gigantic streak of good luck to roll the dice so the universe would produce life. So gigantic, in fact, that the chances of it happening are 1 in 10 to the power of 55. This leaves us with a question: why is the universe so finely tuned for life?

2 JulyElie Wiesel, the Jewish author, activist, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor, has died at the age of 87. Wiesel famously confronted God during his time in Auschwitz when a young boy was hanged by the camp guards. ‘Behind me, I heard the same man asking: “Where is God now?” And I heard a voice within me answer him: “Where is He? Here He is – He is hanging here on this gallows.”’ Wiesel’s struggle over God’s existence lasted his lifetime, emerging in books and interviews, including this interview. His most famous book, Night, is one of the major first-person acts of witness to the Holocaust.

29 JuneMarcus de Sautoy (mathematician and successor to Richard Dawkins as the Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science) has a new book out, What We Cannot Know. The philosopher Jonathan Rée reviewed the book and said: ’Finally, he comes back to his home discipline to argue, in the spirit of Gödel, that mathematics contains truths we cannot know. In an eye-catching conclusion, he then takes issue with those who regard science as a vindication of atheism: God may have died as a supernatural being with a personal interest in our welfare, but we might as well resuscitate him, according to Du Sautoy, by equating him with “the abstract idea of the things we do not know”.’

17 JuneKaren King, the professor who introduced ‘The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife’ to the world in 2012, and who has championed it ever since, has finally admitted that the fragment of papyrus, which implied that Jesus was married, may in fact be a fake. Commenting on dramatic new evidence about the story, Professor King of Harvard Divinity School, says, ‘It tips the balance towards forgery’.

24 MayRichard Dawkins told BBC News that he won’t be writing any more anti-religion books. Asked about whether he thought The God Delusion might have been a step too far in his vocal opposition to religion, he said, ‘I’ve stepped back. I haven’t written any more books along those lines. The God Delusion is a one-off. Not one that I’m ashamed of; I’m very proud of it. But it’s a one-off.’

Photo: Dachau Concentration Camp memorial by maxgiani