A Slice of Heaven: Music, Cake, Science and Angels

Posted by on Aug 11, 2010 | 2 Comments

The Speculator journeys north of the golf course for some spiritual sustenance, and instead finds delightful cakes and inspiring science.

It has been very rare for me to ever have had a positive experience in a Church.

Whether it was being bored as a child amongst the pews in Anglican land, threatened as a teenager with eternal damnation in some Baptist backwater, or cursed by a member of The Jesus Army on a sunny day in Brighton, my own experiences of organised religion – let alone the kind of insane extremism one can see regularly on the television – has driven me a long way from having anything to do with churches, pastors, sermons or happy-clapping.

One instance from some years ago aptly symbolises the distance that has grown between me and anything remotely religious. One day – while waiting in a queue to use a cash machine for goodness sake – I was approached by a couple of earnest, tie-wearing  young men who enquired as to my familiarity with the word of Jesus. If I had been in Salt Lake City I guess I could have considered myself fair game, but I was in fact in the secular paradise of London.

Given I had no door to slam in their faces, I realised I would have to resort to extreme measures to ensure they were not still barracking me with the goodness of their cause when the machine coughed out my beer money. “Thank you for your concern, but I’m actually a worshipper of Satan” I responded politely. This had the desired effect; they stumbled backward, making small choking noises and flapping their hands as they attempted to put as much footpath between me and them as quickly as possible. The entire queue breathed an audible sigh of relief.

I can assure the quivering reader that they are not reading words from the hand of Beelzebub – what I know about the dark arts one could write on a flea’s jockstrap – but it does demonstrate the lengths to which I felt I should go to keep these alien and dangerous creatures out of my life.

So it was with some trepidation that I ventured to a recent meeting of  the moderately evangelical North shore church known as Shore Vineyards at Northcote College to see eminent scientist and Christian Geoff Tallon speak on the subject of the scientific evidence for God.

Bozo considers his options for the development of the Desdemona character in his upcoming play "Gone Bananas"

Bozo considers his options for the development of the Desdemona character in his upcoming play "Gone Bananas"

Just the combination of the smell of a school hall, fluorescent lights and hymns was enough to bring back bad memories of  frothing pastors with shining eyes and sweating faces singing shrilly.

Shore Vineyards, run by pastor Vic Francis and his wife Fran, is of course, not like this at all. It’s ridiculous how one can let a couple of bad experiences  – admittedly at seminal moments in one’s life – colour one’s opinion of something so comprehensively and for so long.

The reality is of course, that most people who attend churches of either the low or high order are perfectly normal, and are in fact quite often positively beneficent.

So it was in an atmosphere of calmness,  warmed by a couple of celebratory (but not valedictory) modern hymns sung by the congregation and accompanied by a band of young musicians, that I settled down to listen to Geoff Tallon present his case for the existence of God.

Some of evolution's outcomes cannot simply be explained by random mutation.

Some of evolution's outcomes cannot simply be explained by random mutation.

It was certainly a unique scenario – hymn singing and praying followed by a PowerPoint presentation on astronomy and biology, delivered by one of New Zealand’s most brilliant scientists.  Which is what made it such a fascinating experience.

His case is essentially this; the evidence for God is not just NOT hard to find; we are surrounded by it, and encounter it every day. This evidence he claims, for those with an open mind, is simply overwhelming. Whether it be the ludicrously unlikely existence of the Universe, or the magnificent complexity of even the most basic biological system, the case for something other than simple chance multiplied by time is irresistible, he stated. The odds that random mutation could give rise to the staggering complexity of one protein molecule, let alone the 100,000-odd in the human body, is, according to his view,  simply unbelievable. A few billion years is quite a lot of time one would think, but apparently not enough to create anything near the order of sophistication that is commonly found in the simple cell.

Tallon referred to “Huxley’s Challenge”: the postulation that a monkey or team of monkeys tapping randomly on a set of typewriters would eventually produce the works of Shakespeare.  He demonstrated how there had not been time enough in the Universe’s 13 billion year history for such an exercise to produce even the three words “Romeo and Juliet,” let alone the play itself. Similarly, random mutation could not have produced the human mind, he argued.

This has always struck me as a slightly disingenuous argument, for it fails to take into consideration that – via the interaction of base elements and the Earth’s ancient environment – certain combinations would survive in these conditions and therefore persist and replicate (i.e. cumulative selection). That is, the monkeys would not be typing randomly on 26 keys, each of a single letter, for the entirety of the experiment. As they typed and certain words were  “selected” by the environment, the keyboard would increasingly transform into a larger and larger number of keys representing the words to be found in Shakespeare.  In other words, cumulative selection acts as an uber accelerator, as Richard Dawkins’ (King of the evolutionists and atheist) simple weasel programme demonstrates. (The curious reader should type the three non-random words “Dawkins weasel programme” into Google for more information).

Annnnnyway, Tallon’s case was compelling and was of course all the more interesting given his scientific pedigree. However, without hearing a response from an equally qualified evolutionist, one was left to draw one’s own conclusions on what is a highly charged debate.

However, when speaking to Tallon after the talk, there was a curious moment. We were discussing the limitations of the “team of monkeys with typewriters” argument when he said; “Science has discovered pretty much all there is know about how the body works; there isn’t a lot left for us to discover.” This struck me as an extraordinary statement, given the generally recognised view among scientists that there are still substantial gaps in our knowledge of human biology, as evidenced by the stream of discoveries one can read about in the likes of New Scientist on a regular basis. I was left pondering as to whether this belief had allowed him to introduce God to explain the mind-boggling complexity of nature, or whether his belief in God had allowed him to assume Man had nothing left to find out through the vehicle of science. Either way, it was an odd thing for a scientist to say.

The talk was followed by coffee and cakes of extraordinary quality. For some reason, the cakes were distributed by a woman of such stunning beauty she could only be described as an angelic construction created by a deity of some omnipotence . Needless to say, your correspondent, his mouth full of cake and his head full of biology, was unable to make any intelligent designs.

Official - cakes and science do mix

Evolution attempts to explain the miracle of cake. The chef objected however.

While I have only attended one meeting, and currently have no desire to regularly attend a Sunday service,  I would suggest Shore Vineyards might be a gentle step back into the realm of the spiritual for those who, like me, have been put off by their previous experience of institutional religion. You might also see an angel.

Shore Vineyards
Pastor: Vic Francis
www.shorevineyards.org.nz

2 comments

  1. Vic Francis says:

    Nice to have had you at our church for a day. Also interested to hear the feedback on what it felt like. If you have another service “in” you this year, suggest Christmas Eve, 7pm, Northcote College. Vic Francis.

  2. Chris says:

    I really enjoyed this article: I’m always interested to hear different takes on this most complex of subjects. A fascinating and endless debate….

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