The meanings of certainty

Letter from Lewis Stretch
in Signs of the Times No. 24 - Jan 2007
[Reply to Jonathan Clatworthy in Signs of the Times No. 23 - Oct 2006]
[Reply by Brenda Watson in Signs of the Times No. 26 - Jul 2007]

Your October editorial shows that liberal fundamentalism can be as misleading as other forms.

For while you rightly blame Descartes for the arrogance of some philosophies, stemming from his self-centredness in his primitive anechoic chamber, you ignore the fact that this was not the only scientific tradition that arose from the Renaissance/Reformation. Bacon's empiricism was the dominant approach that inspired the achievements of our applied scientists (engineers/industrialists) and the religious beliefs of them and many pure scientists who adopted, openly or tacitly, unorthodox versions of Christianity such as unitarianism. By its very nature this method could not claim absolute certainty; but its trials and sifting of growing experience supplied sufficient certainty to justify action even with the risk of fatal consequences, a title changed to confidence in statistical usage.

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The pity and the wonder - part 2

by Patrick Lewin
from Signs of the Times, No. 24 - Jan 2007
[Other parts: • part 1part 3part 4part 5part 6]

Part I's introduction to 'character, talent, chance and destiny', ended with a brief discussion of determinism and freewill, and Robin Blackburn's defence in Being Good, 2001, of the common sense view that,

'whatever our genetic make-up programs us to do...  it leaves room for us...  to be influenced by information gathered from others...  it makes us responsive to the moral climate.'

J. B. S. Haldane put it this way in Possible Worlds, 1927: 'If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason for supposing that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.' As neat a reductio ad absurdum as one could wish to see. Though some determinists have claimed he was shown the error of his ways so that he later agreed he was a determinist, which may well be true, it wouldn't have altered his conviction that beliefs should be based on evidence and that he wasn't a robot.

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Covenant - or ultimatum?

by Jonathan Clatworthy
from Signs of the Times No. 24 - Jan 2007

The Church of England conducted its Advent preparations for Christmas with another fissiparous spell, widely reported in the press.

A group claiming to represent 2000 congregations of evangelicals and charismatics, led by Chris Sugden of Anglican Mainstream, met the Archbishop of Canterbury on 12th December and presented a 'covenant' which they describe as 'a series of principled statements about what will need to be done in certain circumstances'. [Available here]

The Anglican Communion, it says, is 'faced with a faulty view of revelation, false teaching and indiscipline'. In response it proposes to reaffirm the Church of England 'as a confessing church' based on biblical authority. The practical implication is that 'we can no longer associate with teaching that is contrary to the clear teaching of the Scriptures either doctrinally (for example, on the supremacy and uniqueness of Christ) or morally (for example, on issues of gender, sex and marriage), or church leadership which advocates such teaching.' They therefore intend to 'encourage new informal networks of fellowship... and will respect and support those who cannot in good conscience maintain Christian fellowship with neighbouring Anglicans who do not uphold the authority of Scripture.'

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The media and the Archbishop

by Richard Hall
from Signs of the Times No. 24 - Jan 2007

Back in November the Archbishop of Canterbury gave an interview to the Catholic Herald. This was just before his visit to the Vatican. Inevitably he was asked about the ordination of women and the obstacle that that has created to unity with the Roman Catholic Church.

His comments in reply seemed on the face of it to be lukewarm: he thought that the ordination of women had not "transformed or renewed the Church of England in spectacular ways", but equally had not "corrupted or ruined [it] in spectacular ways". He also said that he "could just about envisage a situation in which, over a very long period, the Anglican Church thought about [women's ordination] again", although "practically" there could be no going back. He nevertheless made quite clear his firm conviction that the ordination of women is right.

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Inclusive, Confident, Faithful: a response to Rowan Williams

by Steven Shakespeare and Hugh Rayment-Pickard
from Signs of the Times, No. 24 - Jan 2007

In a recent interview with the Dutch press, Archbishop Rowan Williams was quoted as follows:

'I don't believe inclusion is a value in itself. Welcome is. We welcome people into the Church, we say: 'You can come in, and that decision will change you'. We don't say: 'Come in and we ask no questions'. (Nederlands Dagblad, 19/8/06).

As ever, any subtlety in the Archbishop's point was lost in its translation into the language of the media. The headline over the interview simply read: 'The Church Is Not Inclusive.'

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