Thinking for radio

One of the most interesting modules I’ve done while in Durham is the current one on “Preaching and Apologetics”. For those not versed in Christian jargon, apologetics is the art of defending Christianity to a secular audience. One of the lecturers is David Wilkinson, the Principal of the college of which Cranmer Hall is a part, who is one of the foremost experts in this field – especially where science is concerned.

One well-known slot for this is Radio 4’s “Thought for the Day”. Not everyone is keen on it – militant atheists hate there being any slot for religion on radio, and some Christians don’t like it either because the faith content is often bland and safe. Nevertheless, it is an opportunity to give relevant Christian commentary on current news items. For one of David Wilkinson’s Thoughts, giving a Christian perspective on the giant physics experiment, the  Large Hadron Collider, click here.

As an assignment, we all had a go at composing, and reading aloud, a Thought for the Day. This was a remarkably powerful experience: Andy Grant, an ex-soldier, told us about four servicemen, severely wounded in the Afghan conflict, who are walking to the North Pole; Tom Hiney gave a moving reflection on Mohamed Bouazizi, the former stall holder in Tunisia who, by setting fire to himself, sparked the current conflagration across North Africa; Matt ‘Woodie’ Woodcock spoke of his dread about going to Auschwitz this weekend, to witness the site of the Nazi atrocities.

Mine was about a small black rock that fell from the sky… here it is:

The black rock from space… ©NASA

[Earlier this week] a small piece of black rock hit the news. It doesn’t look particularly special… Yet scientists are claiming that this particular lump may help to explain the origin of life on earth.

A camp-site on the ice-sheet near where the rock was found: makes you shiver just looking at it! ©NASA

It’s a piece of rock that has been on quite a journey. It was picked up in Antarctica about 200 miles from the South Pole. This is an area where scientists go looking for meteorites, those rocks that fall from the sky. Antarctica may seem a strange place to look for them, but dark coloured rocks are easy to pick out from the endless white ice-sheets.

This particular meteorite has an unusual chemistry with an abundant amount of ammonia – which is what has got the scientists excited. It’s incredibly difficult to try to understand the origins of life on earth – not least because we can’t go back four billion years to make observations and conduct experiments. However, ammonia appears to have been a crucial ingredient – but the problem is that it was in incredibly short supply. This discovery shows that meteorites, showering the Earth from outer space, could have provided enough ammonia to help seed the origins of life. Although it’s just one piece in the jig-saw, it’s an important one nonetheless.

That’s why this apparently mundane lump of black rock has an unusual significance. It belongs to the origin myths of our time. Like people across the ages, we humans have a great fascination with stories about where we come from. And yet – if all we are is explained by chemistry, does that really answer our innate desire to understand our origins?

As a Christian I believe that our origins are not just explained by chemistry, but that over everything there is a God who set all the scientific processes in motion. The heated debate about creation or evolution is in many ways a barren one: however life emerged, whatever mechanism was used, the big story for Christians is that God did it. I’m fascinated by the black lump discovered in Antarctica, and how it may be a part of understanding the way life began on Earth – but for me, the main thing is that God did it.

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