SCIENCE, RELIGION, AND THE SEARCH FOR EXTRATERRESTRIAL INTELLIGENCE
Oxford University Press
This is a good time for a book on Extraterrestrial Intelligence (ETI). New planets are being discovered around other stars on a more or less weekly basis and there is a free app (‘Exoplanet’) that lists all those whose existence has been confirmed ? currently nearly 1,000. David Wilkinson is ideally equipped to write the book. He has PhDs in both theoretical astrophysics and in systematic theology. Lest this suggest someone who is unable to communicate with ordinary mortals, he also wrote a very readable popular book on the topic entitled Alone in the Universe? (Monarch).
The current book is more substantial, but still clear and readable. Starting with popular culture, Wilkinson moves to the science, considering both the cosmological questions (Are there other planets suitable for life?) and the biological questions (Given the right environment, is life bound to emerge?). Having reviewed the evidence he concludes (rightly, in my humble opinion) that it is possible that there is life elsewhere in our galaxy (such as microbes or other ‘non-intelligent’ life), but very unlikely that there is intelligent life ? ie beings able to communicate with us. This does not exclude the prospect of ETI beyond our galaxy, but given the distances involved it is very unlikely that we would ever discover one another.
Wilkinson then moves on to consider some of the theological implications of possible Extraterrestrial Intelligence. What does it mean for our understanding of creation? Would such beings have sinned and, if so, how would they be redeemed? These are highly speculative questions, but worthy of consideration. I valued his discussion of the issues, without always agreeing with his conclusions.
This is a valuable addition to the debate about ETI and its implications for Christian faith and is a must for anyone with an interest in the topic. TL
THE SPIRITUAL DANGER OF DOING GOOD
Peter Greer is CEO of the microfinance charity Hope International. His book has some helpful ideas for those of us who want to make a difference in the world without losing our souls. Basically the advice is: be accountable and be humble.
The blurb lists some amazing places Greer has spoken, with handy web links to Peter in France, Peter in Rwanda or Peter at Harvard. For an author who’s seeking to address the dangers of ego, the book may unwittingly include a bit too much of Peter.
As Greer is a well-travelled CEO of a global development agency doing some great work, I had really hoped for stories of God’s grace from around the world. Sadly, we hear almost exclusively of Americans doing good to the world.
There are dangers of doing good ? including the one where we in the West think we can solve everyone else’s problems. Brian Fikkert’s introduction reminded me of his excellent book When Helping Hurts which challenges us to stop seeing ourselves as saviours of the world, but rather as partners with brothers and sisters in the global Church fighting sin, corruption and injustice wherever it exists. KK
HELP, THANKS, WOW: THE THREE ESSENTIAL PRAYERS
Hodder and Stoughton
Evangelicals used to read Anne Lamott’s books furtively, perhaps hiding Traveling Mercies underneath the latest John Stott. Her writing seems more widely accepted these days, partly because of such movements as post-evangelicalism, but partly perhaps because she’s just such a good writer. I don’t think her books will ever be strictly orthodox from an evangelical point of view (and even defining that these days is a struggle), but if you can sift through, say, the definition of God as a mountain or Howard or a cosmic muffin, you can dust off some gems that are worth polishing and beholding.
Her premise here is simple ? ‘help, thanks and wow’ are our three great prayers. When we come to the end of ourselves, we cry out, ‘Help’. When we witness how God answers our often self-focused pleas, we can’t help but respond, ‘Thanks!’ And when we’re fully present to the wonder in our world ? a child, an adoring cat, someone picking up litter ? we exclaim, ‘Wow!’ As we look outside ourselves, unclenching our angst and anxieties, we often cycle through these simple but profound utterances.Her writing is both disarmingly profound and breezily easy to read, and there’s grace to uncover. For example, a line that stopped me: ‘Wonder takes our breath away, and makes room for more breath. That’s why they call it breathtaking.’ (Earlier she says that our biggest challenge in a crisis is to breathe, and that the Holy Spirit is breath.) Read it with filters, but do read it. ABP
YOU’LL GET THROUGH THIS
You’ll get through this, but probably not because you read this book. Max Lucado has attempted to write a pastoral guide by combining some excellent reflections on the story of Joseph with inspirational stories from his own ministry. Unfortunately he makes two catastrophic mistakes.
First, he disregards the reality that some people simply do not ‘get through’ their seasons of suffering. Secondly, and more problematically, he lacks pastoral understanding. ‘You’ll get through this’ reads more like a pep talk from an American Football coach than something that you would want to give to a friend in trouble.
Lucado does draw out some beautiful reflections from Joseph’s story. Sadly, he often flips them into simplistic motivational statements. He belittles pain, and makes suffering relative as ‘Just a vapour, just a finger snap compared to heaven’. If he ever moves into dentistry, you can be sure I will not be putting my name down on the patient list. WVDH
RUNNING OVER ROCKS
I am genuinely sad that I have come to the end of this book. Made up of 52 short chapters, each one looking at a spiritual practice, it would make most sense to read this over the course of a year, but I read a daily chapter and gained immensely from it.
Each chapter starts with one of Ian Adams’ own poems, setting the scene for the main content. These poems were one of the highlights of the book: beautifully written and strikingly insightful. After the poem comes a short Bible verse and then Adams’ main reflections on the particular practice of that chapter; again, very well written. Each chapter concludes with a suggestion or two of how actually to outwork that practice in one’s own life.
Sometimes books of this type are self-centred and narcissistic but Adams avoids that pitfall. I was also very relieved to find the focus of the book is on self-transformation so that we can bring goodness to the world and society around us. RV
LBJ - LUCINDA BORKETT-JONES ? deputy editor at Christianity
ABP - AMY BOUCHER PYE ? writer, speaker and editor
KK - KRISH KANDIAH ? executive director: churches in mission, Evangelical Alliance
TL - TONY LANE ? professor of historical theology, London School of Theology
JP - JOHN PANTRY ? head of music at Premier Christian Radio
RV - RUTH VALERIO ? theology director for A Rocha UK
WVDH - WILL VAN DER HART ? vicar of St Peter’s Church, West Harrow