Links Post 7/01/2017

Some links from the past week.

Great stuff from Sarah Perry again. Tendrils of Mess in Our Brains:

So here is a mystery: why are tableaux that are apparently more orderly (in the sense of compressibility in the data required to specify them) also more messy? Let me offer a few more hints, in the form of definitions supplied by my friends, before I reveal the answer. Sam Burnstein notes a connection to intentionality: “Messes are low-intentionality as a whole but high-intentionality in their component pieces.” “A mess is a decaying purpose,” says @allgebrah. Chris Beiser deconstructs the experience of mess: “Mess is an incomplete aesthetic experience composed of a surplus of objects that produce aesthetic experiences (often themselves incomplete) of vastly different types and durations, without a canonical ordering.” And Daniel Klein hints at the implied user interface of mess in conceiving of “mess as matter deficient in side-effect-free interfaces.”

And here is the answer: in order for mess to appear, there must be in the component parts of the mess an implication of extreme order, the kind of highly regular order generally associated with human intention. Flat uniform surfaces and printed text imply, promise, or encode a particular kind of order. In mess, this promise is not kept. The implied order is subverted. Often, as in my mess of text and logos above, the implied order is subverted by other, competing orders.

Fascinating article on CRISPR, likely one of the most significant scientific developments in our lifetimes:

He went on to say that humans no longer need to be governed by nature, or rely on brutal and ruinous methods to control it. “When nature does something that hurts us, we respond with chemistry and physics,” he said. “We spread toxic pesticides that kill problematic pests, and often kill most of the other insects in the area as well. To get rid of mosquitoes, we use bulldozers to drain swamps. It works. But it also destroys wetlands and many other species. Imagine that an insect is eating your crops. If you have a gene drive and you understand how olfaction works in that pest, you could just reprogram it to go on its merry way. The pest would still be in the ecosystem, but it would just dislike the taste of your crop. That is a much more elegant way of interacting with nature than anything we do now.”

This article on growing conservative churches and dwindling liberal ones has been doing the rounds. I express some cautions here.

Some great stuff in this Edge list: What Scientific Term or Concept Ought to Be More Widely Known? For instance, Helena Cronin on sex.

See also this on Bayes’ Theorem, which is why stereotypes are relevant for judgments about individuals, even when one has individualized information.

Multivariate versus univariate understandings of sex difference

GQ on the rise of nootropic drugs

The futility of gender neutral parenting

The Mysterious Virus that Could Cause Obesity. See also this on how rising obesity isn’t limited to humans and pets, and this on obesity’s apparent correlation with height above sea level.

New guidelines tell parents to feed their kids peanuts early and often

Truly self-driving cars may not be as near as we think

This article on Post-VR Sadness is worth reading alongside this piece on future-induced nausea.

Virtual reality shoes

How fertiliser helped feed the world

Woman struck by lightning loses synaesthesia, then it returns

danah boyd asks: Did Media Literacy Backfire?

My Ad Fontes article on Pentecost as Ecclesiology is available to read here.

I wrote a piece on women in UFC a week ago (check out my contributions in the comments), which caused rather a lot of controversy. Rachael Starke posted on the subject here and here (I address some of the issues raised in both of her posts in the comments of the first) and Wendy Alsup here (again, I left a few remarks in the comments). The Christianity Today podcast Quick to Listen invited me on to discuss the subject a couple of days ago. You can listen to the discussion here.

Rick Hogaboam posts on a related issue, discussing women, weapons, and warfare in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia

Andrew Wilson asks whether there is a connection between changing notions of pastoral ministry and the increased presence of women in pastoral office

Nathanael Smith reviews Silence, which I watched on Monday and am still thinking a lot about.

Is Canada the world’s first ‘post-national’ nation?

Introduction to the Reformed Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms

Matt Colvin posts a passage about the thief on the cross

Peter Leithart on Britain’s accidental empire

100 Things We Didn’t Know Last Year

Christian Bestsellers of 2016

Amazing 85-year-old marathon runner

4 Reasons Spurgeon Died Poor

In England, you can camp in abandoned churches

My friend and fellow Durham resident Jake Belder has started blogging again. Here he is on John Webster on the task of theology.

The chilling stories behind Japan’s ‘evaporating people’

William Lindesay has produced drone footage of the Great Wall of China. He talks a little about his work here:

Incredible boxwood tabernacle:

Do you have any thoughts on any of the issues raised above?

The comments of this thread are also free for you to:

  • Discuss things that you have been reading/listening to/watching recently
  • Share interesting links
  • Share stimulating discussions in comment threads
  • Ask questions
  • Put forward a position for more general discussion
  • Tell us about yourself and your interests
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  • Draw our intention to worthy thinkers, charities, ministries, books, and events
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  • Suggest topics for future posts
  • Use as a bulletin board
  • Etc.

Over to you!

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
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16 Responses to Links Post 7/01/2017

  1. Alex Sims says:

    We Americans are wondering how you’ve already posted for July 1, 2017? 🙂

  2. Eric says:

    hurrah for English dating systems!! 🙂

    Just a quick note to express my thanks for your great links lists, Alastair! keeps me more than occupied with things to ponder and develop whilst waiting for your next one 🙂

    • BTW – I note that you welcome introductions here. I’m a priest in the Anglican Church in New Zealand – located in the Deep South (Dunedin to be precise) Of Border extraction, born in Carlisle – from a farming family – married to Sarah, we have 5 children. I’m also a former teacher of High school physics having studied Biophysics at Leeds university back in the day 🙂

    • I’m pleased to hear you appreciate the lists! I enjoy compiling them.

      Thanks for the introduction too! It’s always great to get to know some of the people who comment here.

  3. Eric says:

    And a comment on the fertiliser post . . . like anyone who studied Chemistry at school I vaguely recall the Haber process – but as someone with an interest in soil, I think that the article is perhaps unhelpful.

    First it is fairly well understood that the size of any biological population is dependent upon energy inputs. (School science classes again 🙂 Bacteria growing on plates – bet you can’t do THAT anymore!! 🙂 ) The article has an unwritten presupposition, that were it not for the production of all this food, millions more would have starved. Wrong – were it not for the production of all this food, the population would not have grown so dramatically as the Earth could not sustain the current population without this artificial stimulation.

    Of course it may then be argued, ‘but we’re only doing ‘artificially’ what the soil would do itself given time’. The problem is precisely that ‘given time’ Soil is a very complex and frankly poorly understood substance – yet it is Vital to our lives. The intensification of farming through the 20th Century has led to soil losses greater than that of the 1930’s dust bowl years, and on the whole scientific opinion suggests that the lifespan of the soil we have left is less than 100 years. Comment here from George Monbiot
    This intensification was possible only through vast amounts of energy from fossil fuels and various technological developments. ( My grandmother to her final days remembered the horses which worked on the family farm until after WWII )

    Of course it is not purely an energy issue – it is how we undersand our place in the created order – our connection to the soil – dust we are and to dust we shall return. The breakdown of the medieval synthesis has led us here. As Jacques Ellul comments in a charming video interview – [and I paraphrase and develop his words here ] ‘it would be thought ireverant to subject the land to the great violence of modern farming methods’

    I suggest that the post, very typical of so many re ‘scientific breakthroughs’ etc. falls into the trap of seeing things in isolation – a Modern problem ( I blame Scotus and Ockham personally 🙂 )

    BTW it is interesting to compare Ellul’s thoughts on soil and technology (which you will have to plough (!!) through several videos to find – sorry I couldn’t be more specific) with your recent comments on Women fighting one another, Alastair. We still I pray have a deep unease about the latter – would that we also did about the former

    • Really fascinating and helpful thoughts, Eric. Thanks!

      This is a stimulating piece on the relationship between soil and sexuality. I’d be interested to hear any thoughts you might have on it.

      • mnpetersen37 says:

        You may find this book stimulating, it doesn’t talk about sexuality, but is very suggestive regarding the ways our use of land creates the illusion of freedom from restraint, and the ability to provide goods for the satisfaction for individual desire:

      • Eric says:

        Hi Alatair – and thanks for the link tothe Patheos article – which you linked to a coupleof months back?? I have read it before and it may have been whilst reading one of your posts.

        It is very interesting how soil and sexuality are linked here – of course through for example Canaanite fertility religion they have long been linked, not only as here comparatively. the Earth is given to be fruitful and multiply, not only the human (?)

        It’s a shame that the author is as far as I can see not credited?? How ever, even if he were, my lack of Slovenian may prove to be a problem!

        I think that the following is interesting

        “Now it would be absurd if the farmer took the same tact of stark dominion, saying of the land, “this land which belongs to me nevertheless has a life of its own. I will control that life, and thereby be the sole master of this land. I will no longer be a slave to its ecology. My power will be the sole source of its fruits.” ”

        I tend to the opinion that to a very great extent this is the case. Certainly observing farming practices here in NZ and in the US – despite the interest in truly sustainable agriculture, the dominant model is one of such stark dominion. And I wonder (because it is the way I tend to come at these things) – if the objectification of the soil and the objectification which seems to be at the heart of our contemporary understanding of the sexual are not at a fundamental level linked.

        I note that the article is Slovenian in origin – I am wondering if the author might at some level be speaking out of at least a Catholic if not Orthodox frame. As I stated above in my earlier reply, seeing the question of fertilizer, soil and population in isolation is perhaps unhelpful. Lets just run with this for a moment theologically.

        If the human is the connection point between the divine and the earth, and we mess around with certain aspects of who we are, self creating, in the big scheme of things does this fundamentally affect the whole? This certainly is one way of reading Genesis 3.

        The western shift through essentiallism and nominalism which leads us to objectification, and of the discrete, creates the conditions for the collapse of fertility across the board. Put another way ‘we know not what we do’.

        One of the reasons I left the science lab behind was that I found myself being required to try and understand things in isolation one from another – so many variables had to be discounted. It led to a particularly reductionist understanding of our existence. Whilst Scientific and technological ‘developments’ have brought some measurable benefits (sic), in their wake we are faced I suggest with the collapse of human and soil fertility.

        I’ve spent long hours in the past year or so looking at the modern human in terms of our isolation from that which IS. So we are largely disconnected from any sense of where our food comes from, and we live increasingly isolated existences, for example.

        Fundamentally, fruitfulness requires a very particular form of connection between the male and the female. I would suggest that perhaps this is the ‘big story’ (or rather it is a Sacramental revelation of the life giving marriage of Heaven and Earth – found in the Incarnation). And that the destabilisation of this in the big scheme of things destabilizes the fertility of the whole earth. IF as Gen 3 suggests, the primal sin led to alienation from the soil – then perhaps there is something in this.

        My apologies if this is a little rambling and disconnected – essentially I’m saying that as things are Given, The Human is at the very centre (Colossians 1:15 et seq) – the distortion of the human most especially with respect to the Life Giving mandate, affects the life of the whole created order

        [As an aside, my concern with church meeting agendas is that we never try and see things in the whole. So at a recent General Synod, there were debates on Baptism, Clergy terms of service, Same gender marriage, and Climate change. The idea that all of these might somehow be connected might well be beyond belief – and certainly beyond our capacity to begin to comprehend. Sadly this seems to be where we are at, at least in the West. Perhaps there is more than a little truth in the suggestion that Contemplation and Worship are truly the very pinnacle of Christian ‘thought’??]



      • Stimulating and extremely important thoughts and questions, Eric. Thanks for sharing them.

        A good place to start in reflecting upon these issues is by attending to the paralleling of the womb and the earth in the creation, the judgments of Genesis 3, and beyond.

  4. Joshua says:

    That bit about the vanishing people is interesting. I just today read an article on the hikikomori, which seems to be an unrelated yet not quite unrelated social phenomenon. Japan, to put it crudely, is the home of some weird social stuff, man.

  5. David Reimer says:

    The headline “4 Reasons Spurgeon Died Poor” is unfortunate — because he didn’t. Even taking the starting point of the article — the quote from Susannah that “her husband only left £2,000″ — Spurgeon left, roughly, the equivalent of US$235,560 to his wife.

    It only takes a quick check on the DNB, however, to discover that Spurgeon’s ” Wealth at death” was “£11,160 2s. 9d.: probate, 24 March 1892″. That converts to US$1,314,424.80. Not “poor”, in other words.

    The article fortunately makes clear that Spurgeon was no ascetic. Certainly his attitude towards income inclined more to what we might call the “Piperian”, than the “Warrenite”, but to cast this in terms of “poverty” is quite misleading. Readers of Victorian “realist” fiction (my own favourite is Trollope, who had a keen financial eye) will know that Spurgeon’s numbers make him a wealthy man indeed.

    To put him in perspective, we can compare Spurgeon (1834-1892) to Hudson Taylor (1832-1905) whose “Wealth at death” was “£212 4s. 10d.: administration with will, 22 Sept 1905″, or roughly US$25,000.

    The character of Spurgeon’s financial legacy remains impressive. Calling him “poor”, however, is an irresponsible devaluation of the term.

  6. Geoff Graham says:

    1 Your article counselling caution on church growth brought to mind a talk/essay by CS Lewis – The Inner Ring, viewable here and other places It is deeply challenging for all of us.
    It also reminded me of a recent lecture in NE England by retired psychiatry prof Glynn Harrison (Bristol Univ) where he traced the growth of expressive individualism from the 1950’s/60’s, His due to be published book .
    The gospel, however, grounds the high flown/blown twin imposters of high intellectualism and expressive individualism.
    2 Link to Andrew Wilson. Though he asks for answers on a post card, there seems to be no mechanism of answers anywhere. There are truism in secular leadership/management science
    a) if you want to change an organisation, change it’s leadership. The same is so in the church.
    b) The culture operating in an organisation eats strategy for breakfast.
    As an aside, I once asked a Durham Univ prof, also a Local Preacher in Methodism, if leadership can be taught. Americans think it can but he was of the view it couldn’t. So that’s my Phd in Business Studies sorted.

    I greatly appreciate your writings on scripture, particularly your ebooks. They are erudite and, to me, demonstrate where your strengths and depths are concentrated and unselfconsciously, simply, displayed. There’s a hiddenness to it. Thank you.

    You can’t stop to smell all the roses.

  7. Donald says:

    The implications of the CRISPR technology, particularly to humans, is frightening.

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