Friday, June 23, 2006

An Evening with George Ellis

As being part of ISCAST, a group of Christians in the sciences and technology, I had chance to have desert, coffee and conversation with George Ellis. George is a mathematical physicist from South Africa, a Quaker, a peace activist and a Templeton scholar. He is a softly spoken, gentle man with a broad interest in science and theology.

The evening ranged over climate change (asking my opinion and that of another meteorologist present), environmental extremism, emergence and forestry managment, the nuclear industry, complexity and consciousness, Christology, soteriology and the Trinity. A casual evening's chat.

He shared some very interesting material on how bees can learn and use symbolic systems to navigate mazes (work being done at the Australian National University). He also advocates the use of nuclear power to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, something I remain unconvinced on. There is hope in pellet reactions (not sure on the details) and the suggestion of dumping waste in subduction zones, to be reprocessed into the mantle (so long as nowhere near volcanoes?)

Other interesting tidbits. Costa Rica has no army (but I guess under the watch of the US) and can spend more on other programs (health, education, etc). Bhutan has a gross happiness product, not a GDP. What a measure! Hard to calculate but infinitely more holistic.

When pushed on theological issues, George shows his Quaker reticence on creedal formulations, or indeed pushing any theological model too far (far less than he'd push a scientific one!) I tried to point him to NT Wright's Evil and the Justice of God, SPCK 2006, which far from pushing a "child abusing" God, advocates a Christus Victor model of atonement. George sees the cross largely in kenotic terms, from which he draws his ethics as in Murphy and Ellis, On the Moral Nature of the Universe (of which I know have an autographed copy).

God is to be thanked for George Ellis' clarity of thought in many areas, and to be prayed for in his personal convictions.

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