It’s been, surprisingly, almost thirty years. . .


The intensive Arabic program I ran in 1993 was based at BYU’s Center for Near Eastern Studies in Jerusalem, which is actually located in Arab East Jerusalem. So while being based in Jerusalem was not always ideal for an Arabic language program – the politics of the time eliminated alternatives – it was not as bad or as counter-intuitive as one might think so at the start.

(Photo from Wikimedia Commons public domain)

***

In the first half of 1993, I led a small contingent of fairly advanced undergraduate students in Arabic to East Jerusalem for an intensive five-month language program there. (We also visited Egypt and Jordan.)

One of these students, who has been teaching at Cornell University for several years now, contacted me a few days ago saying that he and his wife and children would be in Utah for a few days and wondering if we could get together for dinner at his in-laws’ house. So we did. And it grew. My wife and I have just returned from a very enjoyable evening with not only this student but three others, along with their wives and at least a significant portion of their children.

It’s amazing that so many years have passed, that I’m so old now, and that they are so old. But they did solidly well. They are friends. To each other, to my wife and even, as inconceivable as it may seem, to me. And it’s reassuring to know that even such a jolly bunch of crazy, adventurous lunatics can turn out to be respectable, contributing members of society. We loved them then, and we love them now. Tonight was a treat.

***

John Charlton Polkinghorne, KBE (Knight of the British Empire), FRS (Fellow of the Royal Society), is an English theoretical physicist, theologian, writer and Anglican priest. He was Professor of Mathematical Physics at the University of Cambridge until he resigned his professorship to study for the priesthood, becoming an ordained Anglican priest in 1982. He served as President of Queens’ College, Cambridge, from 1988 to 1996.

Here is a comment from him that I found interesting:

“Science has bought its great success by the modesty of its ambition. Science does not seek to ask and answer all kinds of questions. It is essentially limited to asking process questions, which are “how questions” about how things happen. It also restricts the type of experience he takes into account in formulating and finding his answers to these questions.

(Sir John Polkinghorne, “Belief in God in an Age of Science”, in Eric Metaxas, ed., Life, God and other little things [New York: Plume/Penguin, 2011, 9])

Sir John’s point is extremely important. This expresses one of the reasons why I am rather unimpressed by people who like to contrast the successes of science with what they see as the absence of such successes in the world of religion.

Tape measures have a very successful record in measuring table tops, bedsteads, aisles, growing children and fitted women for dresses.

Literary criticism and philosophical discussions are a far cry from the record of objective success and clarity achieved by tape measures.

Does it demonstrate, however, that measuring tapes are more valuable and important than performances of Shakespeare, readings of Molière, Goethe and Dante, or discussions of good, true and handsome ?

No, it just means that tape measures were developed (very well) to deal with a severely restricted and well-defined sector of the world. Applying a tape measure to a performance of Hamlet, however, or using it to assess Goethe Faust or that of Dante Paradiseor to resolve an ethical dilemma, or to judge between Mozart’s “Jupiter Symphony” and “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity” from Gustav Holst’s orchestral suite The planets would . . . Well that would be more than a little crazy.

David Aberg’s painting Mother Earth, located in Angelholm, Sweden, is 86,000 square feet. On the other hand, Leonardo da Vinci mona-lisa measures only about thirty inches by twenty-one inches. However, only a loon would pronounce Mother Earth a painting larger than the mona-lisa on the grounds that it’s obviously much, much bigger, or because it’s made up of a lot more daubs of paint.

***

From the late Richard G. Scott (1928-2015), a nuclear engineer who was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from 1988 until his death:

Despite my best efforts, I am not able, even to the smallest degree, to comprehend the breadth, depth, and staggering magnitude of what our holy Heavenly Father, Elohim, has enabled to be revealed by the scientific method. If we were able to move through space, we would first see our Earth as astronauts did. Farther out, we would have a grand view of the sun and its orbiting planets. They would appear as a small circle of objects in a huge panorama of twinkling stars. If we were to continue the outward journey, we would have a celestial view of our spiraling Milky Way, with more than 100 billion stars spinning in a circular path, their orbits controlled by gravity around a concentrated central region. Beyond that, we could look to a group of galaxies called the Virgo Cluster, which some say includes our Milky Way, estimated to be around 50 million light-years away. Beyond that, we would encounter galaxies 10 billion light-years away that the Hubble telescope has photographed. The dizzying enormity of this distance is suggested by noting that light travels 700 million miles per hour. Even from this extraordinary perspective, there would not be the slightest evidence of approaching any limit to the creations of God the Father.

As impressive as this incredible view of the heavens may be, there is another consideration equally capable of confirming the unfathomable abilities of our Heavenly Father. If we moved in the opposite direction to explore the structure of matter, we might get a closer view of a double helix DNA molecule. It is the extraordinary self-duplicating molecular structure that controls the composition of our physical body. Further exploration would take us to the level of an atom, made up of the protons, neutrons and electrons we have heard of.

If we could penetrate deeper into the mysteries of the most fundamental composition of creation, we would come to the limit of our present understanding. Over the past 70 years, much has been learned about the structure of matter. A standard model of fundamental particles and interactions has been developed. It is based on experiments which have established the existence of fundamental particles called quarks and others called leptons. This model explains the patterns of nuclear bonding and decay of matter, but it does not yet provide a successful explanation of the forces of gravity. Moreover, some believe that tools even more powerful than those used to gain our current understanding of matter could reveal additional fundamental particles. So there are even more of our Heavenly Father’s creations to be understood through the scientific method.

(“Truth: The Foundation for Correct Decisions,” October 2007)

***

Finally, I end with a quintet of breathtaking articles taken from the Christopher Hitchens Memorial File “How Religion Poisons Everything”©:

Presiding Bishop in the Desert News“Perspective: The sustaining power of faith in times of crisis: In times of need, we need spiritual as well as temporal sustenance”

“Courageous Tongan Missionaries Save Lives After Volcanic Eruption and Tsunami: Quick Action, Faith and Love Inspire Young Volunteers to Help Others in Disasters”

“Italian Woman’s Effort to Aid Refugees Receives Help from Latter Day Saint Charities”

“Latter Day Saint Charities and Partners Build New Classrooms for School in Nigeria”

“Lessons Learned from the California Wildfire Response”

And here’s another one I found right there side from Hitchens File:

“Cox calls for long-term housing as Utah enters 2nd phase to help Afghan refugees”

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