Madeleine Davies

Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

The magic of reality

In Faith on December 11, 2011 at 6:28 pm

A friend once told me that there are two sorts of people who read books by Richard Dawkins – people who already agree with him and people who will never agree with him. I suspect he may be right.

I am probably in the latter camp. But I loved reading “The Magic of Reality”. It is a brilliant introduction to science. If you, like me, managed to get through five years of science at school without ever really understanding how rainbows come about or why the earth orbits the sun as it does, then you will by the time you close this book (I would like to cut out and frame the pictures by Dave McKean).

Dawkins intent is to show his readers the magic of reality – a magic he describes as “poetic” (“deeply moving, exhilarating: something that gives us goose bumps, something that makes us feel more fully alive”). This he achieves, writing wonderful explanations simple enough for a 12 year-old to grasp, without ever patronising his audience, all in a way which conveys his passion not only for his subject but for communicating it to young minds.

W H Davies lamented that “we have no time to stop and stare”. Dawkins wants to show us that what we stare at becomes even more wonderful if we understand it. “Rainbows are not just beautiful to look at,” he writes. “In a way, they tell us when everything began, including time and space. I think that makes the rainbow even more beautiful.”

Contrast is key in this book. The scientific explanation and the view it offers us is not just beautiful, it is more beautiful than the other windows through which you might look at the world or the vistas they open up. “Next to the true beauty and magic of the real world, supernatural spells and stage tricks seem cheap and tawdry by comparison,” Dawkins asserts. “The magic of reality is neither supernatural not a trick, but – quite simply – wonderful. Wonderful, and real. Wonderful because real.”

Which begs the question – how do we define real?

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Taking on a psychologically crushing God

In Faith on May 23, 2011 at 6:22 pm

On Friday I heard a lecture entitled “Terrors of body and soul: crises of conscience 1550-1650”, delivered by a brilliant Oxford scholar Elizabeth Hunter. Quiet at the back.

Her paper explored the impact of the doctrine of predestination. Predestination in this context is the theory that, before the beginning of time, God chose a select few for eternal life in heaven, with the remainder of humanity destined for hell. As Hunter’s paper showed, it was a teaching that, while intended to provide reassurance of salvation, left many people tormented by the conviction that they were reprobates headed for hell.

To Christians today this sort of anguish might sound alien. Much Christian teaching today centres on the certainty of eternal life promised to Christians. Yet anxiety and uncertainty surrounding the afterlife remains hugely present both within and without the church. In recent months it has also been the subject of intense debate. The publication of a new book by Rob Bell, an American pastor, who suggests that contemporary teachings about heaven and hell may be wrong, has caused great controversy.

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