Saturday, December 19, 2015

God and the Force: Star Wars Theology

There are commercial reasons for the release of the new Star Wars film to coincide with Christmas Holidays. However I think there is also a good opportunity for us to contrast the Biblical God with the Star Wars Force.

Superficially, one might consider the Force to be divine - an immanent, omnipotent concept. But the Christian understanding of God is very different.

God is Good

'The Lord is good' says Nahum. 'Jehovah, merciful and gracious ... abounding in goodness' says God to Moses. 'God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all' says John. In terms of morality, God is unambiguously good. 

The Force is different. While it can be channelled for good, it also has a Dark Side. So the Force appears to be morally ambivalent. Power without morality is a dangerous thing. 

God is Personal

God has attributes. He is Light and Love. He portrays his character as a shepherd, caring for us, as a potter, forming us, as a Father, loving us. Ultimately, God's character is revealed in human form - the Word made flesh - at Bethlehem when the Son of God comes into the world.

The Force never communicates, or conveys any personable characteristics. This mysticism, this lack of ability to be appreciated, makes the Force impersonal and abstract. It is not possible to have a meaningful relationship with a concept.

God is Available

God reaches out to us. He calls Moses with a burning bush, Elijah with a still, small voice, wise men with a wandering star. God is 'not far from every one of us', says Paul to the pagan philosophers at Athens. He is only a prayer away - as the dying thief found out at Calvary - Lord, remember me!

The Force is only available to a select few - Jedi or Sith. General members of the Star Wars public are passed over - the power of the Force is unavailable to them. 'Who(so)ever' is a great evangelical word, entirely unknown in the Star Wars universe.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Christianity and Computer Science: a Compatibility Check

(based on a talk I am giving at Glasgow University Christian Union today)

Are Christianity and Computer Science compatible? Can a Christian happily study and work in the area of Computing without excessive theological gymnastics or veiled hypocrisy? I want to claim the answer is yes, for the following reasons...

First, I give an existence proof. There are some high profile Computer Scientists who openly talk about their Christian faith. These include two Turing Award winners: Donald Knuth and Fred Brooks - essential reading on any CS curriculum!

Next, I want to look at three concepts that are familiar to Computer Scientists, and discuss how each of these concepts has an analogy in Christianity. If something makes sense in a computing context, it should also be reasonable in other contexts too.

1. Right and Wrong

This year is the 200th anniversary of the birth of George Boole, the father of symbolic logic.  In boolean logic, we codify true and false as absolute values and use logical operators to reason about truth.

Christianity (along with most religions) has a clearly defined framework of morality - right and wrong. This morality, which correlates strongly with human conscience, is very difficult to explain away with evolutionary biology.

2. Substitution

The notion of substitution is fundamental to the semantics of computing. For instance, term substitution is necessary for beta reduction in the lambda calculus. At higher levels, substitution is an essential part of shell scripting (e.g. sed) or programming (e.g. String.replace in Java).

Substitution is at the heart of the Christian faith. Martin Luther describes it as the "wonderful exchange" (admirabile commercium)- when sinners trust Christ and accept that He died in our place. Paul describes the crucifixion of Christ in these terms: "...made ... sin for us ... that we might made the righteousness of God in Him". [2 Cor 5:21].

3. Reboot

After an operating system software update (particularly one that involves shared libraries .dll or .so), users need to reboot their machines. This is a frequent source of annoyance. This procedure ensures that the old code is removed from the system and replaced by the updated version.

I suppose the Christian analogy is rebirth. Jesus told the premier theologian in Jerusalem: 'You must be born again'. [Jo 3:7]. This is much more significant than a reboot after a software patch---it's a whole new start to life - forgiven by God, trusting in Christ and living with the help of the Holy Spirit. [2 Cor 5:17].