A Christmas Stocking Stuffed with Science

An Epiphany For Two Old Soldiers

Tawhaki and the Pohutukawa Blossom Promise

Does Santa Claus Exist?

Better than a Christmas Present

Want to learn more about Christmas Camels?

Yes, camels, not carols. Try this link to the camels sermon page in this collection.

Further resources for the McLintock Story

The links give much food for thought about what McLintock actually did mean by mystical science.

  • David Peat (SMN) puts it into a category akin to the alchemical synthesis.
  • CSHL Interview about Barbara McLintock This acknowledges McLintock's interest in occult science but quickly moves away from any hint there was anything but conventional scientific evidence at work.
  • The final couple of paragraphs in this short article from Annals of Botany comparing Agnes Arber and Brabara McLintock's spirituality is neatly put.
  • She self-discloses much about her 'spiritual' experiences in various writing and interviews. I haven't read the famous biography A Feeling for the Organism, The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock, Evelyn Fox Keller, but have the Kindle version of The Tangled Field : Barbara McClintock's Search for the Patterns of Genetic Control, Nathaniel C Comfort.  In particular she outlines a process she calls integration which involved what I identified as 'putting' her mind into the subatomic world.  Comfort is at pains to point out the similarity of the creative experience between characters as diverse as Einstein and McLintock, but somewhat demurs this might be mystical. It's reasonably clear from the quotations that McLintock saw it as science beyond the ordinary limits of its dogmas and doctrines.

 

 

Details

A Slide-rule in the Space Age

Pohutukawa Promise Resources for Christmas and Epiphany

Down-under Christmas?

A lecture? On science? For children? At Christmas?

Well, the idea seemed ridiculous. But I decided to try it. After all, it was not a new idea. It had a very significant history.

But there was a gnawing doubt. Could I get the children on my side? The idea that this coming Christmas Day at church at 9.00 am, they would have a lecture – even if it was a very brief lecture – didn′t sound very appealing.

Even if they were won over, what about the rest of the congregation? Would parents and grandparents accept it, I wondered. And what of the rest of the congregation who didn′t have direct family at the service? What would they make of it? After all, a science lecture in place of a sermon on Christmas Day...it sounds terrible, an abomination unto the Lord!

Despite the doubts, I was determined to try it at least this once. I needn′t have worried. It was a runaway success. Dozens and dozens of young children were in Church that Christmas morning. Most brought a present or two to show and tell. We sang the usual carols, read the familiar stories, and then the 'lecture' began.

I set myself a strict time limit. 10 minutes. Would to God that all sermons were that long, irrespective of setting and cultural context. A sermon is NOT the place for oratory.

I set myself the goal of communicating with the ten years old age group, so all the words had to be appropriate to that group. And here is what I did.

I told the story of the young scientist Michael Faraday, who had strong Christian ideals and a powerful faith. He was an apprentice bookbinder who studied science late in the evenings. Eventually he became an assistant to the great chemist Humphrey Davy, but because of the English class structure was often treated as on outsider.

His Christian faith kept him on track. He was a member of a small society called the Sandemanians, a sect which had its origins in the Church of Scotland. His beliefs about God and his trust in the goodness of God′s creation became very important to him. If a criticism could be levelled at the Sandemanians it was they tended to be very intellectual. Well, that is a welcome relief from the rubbish that is pedalled in many sermons today. Long live the Sandemanians!

Faraday′s scientific insights grew stronger and stronger, and in 1824 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. He became one of the great experimental scientists of the time, who contributed to our understandings of electricity, magnetism and chemistry.

Yet today he is as often remembered for initiating lectures for children at Christmas, given at the Royal Institution in London: talks on the wonders of science and the miracles of creation.

Today, the most quoted of those lectures is on how to observe the flame of a lighted candle.

And for five or so minutes into the 'sermon' we did just that in Trinity at Waiake – as far removed from Faraday′s London in space and time as is possible - with the Advent candles.

Like dozens of scientists and pastors around the world I re-enacted Faraday′s enthusiastic insights to children. And subsequently, I am sure that, every Christmas, dozens if not hundreds of children will go to listen not just about the gift of incarnation but its resounding echoes in a myriad of scientific insights. The Faraday lectures change the way children think...maybe are more influential in the long run, than the pious hymn of Charles Wesley about gentle Jesus, meek and mild. Maybe...I don't know, but surely I do hope so.

 What better time than Advent and Christmas and the summer holidays that follow on, to tell the stories of of Faraday and Newton and Einstein, along with Tawhaki and Tane and Maui. They are parallel insights from the world′s Christmas stocking of wisdom and insight.

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Comments

Stuart Manins
23 December 2016, 6:31 PM

This is a truly amazing story which I have known about for some years. To me, the original methodology of using meditation and imaginative prayer for scientific research produced a miraculous result. David Bell may indeed be correct in linking this to the Early Church's experience of the Eucharist but I'm not sure how he makes this connection. However, I am very interested and would like to be directed to further enlightening sources of information. I need to further clarify my understanding of miracles.

David Bell
24 December 2016, 8:36 AM

598px-CaravaggioEmmaus.jpg

Thanks for the comment in YouTube, pasted into here. You can find links to the McLintock story above. The connection between the early church at eucharist and McLintock's "integration" experiments, i.e. seeking to be at one with and inside the molecular structure - and her conviction and excitement over the process - seem to me to present remarkable similarities with  the excitement of first eucharist experiences, eg, the road to Emmaus.

Caravaggio painted a number of Supper at Emmaus scenes interpreting the surprise element of eucharist. As I noted in the video, McLintock "attempted in the most unscientific ways to see, to experience the life of atoms and molecules. She learnt to love them. She 'put' her mind into the genetic structures." Caravaggio paints the love and the excitement into the supper scene.

If we ask what happened in an historic sense, we run into the usual difficulties. But if we seek the commonalities of the spiritual experience, the results are no so hard to discern.

Thank you for your interest in exploring miracles. This is an upcoming video topic in the video series Naked Theologian Asks, vol. 2. In recent years I have become more and more convinced that the better way to understand miracles is through a mathematical lens, Bayesian probabilities to be precise. The major problem here is taking a very, very complex subject and making it accessible to an audience in 120 seconds more or less. Given that my mathematics is extremely rusty and my stats knowledge approaching zero this could be mission impossible. The book to work with is Uncertain Belief, Is it Rational to be a Christian? David j Bartholomew, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2000.

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