http://changingattitude.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Mitochondrial-silhouettes-009-605x363.jpg 605w, http://changingattitude.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Mitochondrial-silhouettes-009-75x45.jpg 75w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" />Saturday’s Guardian Review had an article about a book by Nick Lane – The Vital Question: Why is Life the Way It Is? The article’s title was It’s the energy, stupid! A game-changing book about the origins of life. I’ll come to the book in a moment.
But first, I want to refer to the funeral of Fr Joe Cassidy Principal of St Chad’s College, Durham. I met Joe on a number of occasions, notably at Sarum College where he was chairing a conference on the spirituality of the body at which Jim Cotter also spoke (and created a wonderful out door liturgy). Before joining the Church of England Joe had been ordained priest in the Roman Catholic Church, and was a member of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, in his native Canada. He died on 28 March 2015 aged 60 after a short illness and his funeral was held in Durham Cathedral on April 17th.
Bishop David Stancliffe, sometime Bishop of Salisbury and still a patron of Changing Attitude England, preached at the funeral service. In the context of events that have happened over the past two weeks, one section in particular struck me:
“That is why Joe had little time for those who wished to turn the University into a factory of achievement and its colleges into mere halls of residence; this is why he couldn’t stomach unthinking fundamentalism on the one hand or wet liberalism on the other in a church he hoped might one day have the courage to be truly radical, genuinely inclusive and so profoundly catholic; this is why he wanted students and members of the wider intellectual community to be engaged in living the life of community and not just taking refuge in thinking about it.”
You can read the whole of Bishop David’s sermon here. Joe Cassidy had a passion for life, a vision of the world and an energy which inspired people and created change around him. As David Stancliffe noted, he had no time for unthinking fundamentalism nor for wet liberalism. He wanted a church that lives real truth, a radical, inclusive, just, transforming community.
One of the wonderful things about life is the way that in one day, different strands come together and inform events. I read Bishop David’s sermon after the 24 hours of listening to and reading the reactions to the Premier Radio interview with Robert Gagnon and Jayne Ozanne.
My head was spinning after listening to the programme. I had a headache. I wondered how Jayne felt after the hour-long endurance test. Gagnon on air is exactly the same as Gagnon in print. He piles example on example, throwing in one (selected) author after another to justify his argument – and in the programme coming across as abusive and aggressive – which he is, behind his carefully constructed and apparently reasonable facade. He knows his evidence so well and can grab quotes from memory. He’s an impossible person to debate with – anyone less than an intellectual genius and emotional saint is going to be clobbered by him. Jayne remained calm all the way through and with some courage challenged him when he was being particularly difficult. She was able to let those listening know that there is an alternative and that has come to her personal reconciliation with great integrity and engagement as a Christian.
One major thing that came across was that of heart. Jayne’ was the voice of calm, reasonable respect, talking about the love of God, an intuitive faith and an honest, constant seeking after God and a desire to discern what he wants, very much coming across as ‘by their acts you will know them’ in her attitude, a genuine heart-centred faith.
Gagnon later blogged about the interview, or more correctly, about Jayne. He wrote that her “redefinition of discipleship . . . corresponds with the gratification of sinful sexual urges. What I find most problematic about Jayne is that she at this stage of her life and involvement in the church still operates with a distorted and truncated view of what the basic message of the gospel is.”
And now to the review of the book, The Vital Question: Why Is Life the Way It Is?
This is, of course, the question the Bible sets out to answer. People like Robert Gagnon and David Holloway (in an interview with me today on BBC Three Counties local radio, about around 1 hr 16 mins in) argue from their own totalitarian clarity that they know the answer from their reading of Scripture.
The book review says that in the last 20 years, and especially in the last decade, a powerful new body of evidence about “the origin of life” has emerged from genomics, geology, biochemistry and molecular biology. The book presents this hard evidence and interlocking theory.
“Of all the definitions of life, the one that matters most concerns energy: the churn of metabolic chemistry in the cells and the constant intake of nutrients and expulsion of waste are the essence of life. Information without energy is useless; information could not have started the whole thing off but energy could.”
Robert Gagnon and David Holloway’s paradigm is information-dependent – they rely on the Bible for information about creation and the origin of life. Jayne Ozanne and tens of thousands of others are energy people, metabolic people who intake and process and metabolise and transform experience.
God is integral to creation in my faith and the paradigm I work with. The processes of life and the discoveries made as scientists research how life originated are congruent with my reading of the Bible and cannot but be congruent with God as creator because this, we are learning, is how God in the real world, creates.
The creation of a living cell as described in the article can be used as a metaphor for the way in which creation is working in us and our lives. There are three requirements for the creation of a living cell.
- A containing membrane which acts as an interface between the organism and the environment – the Church.
- Replicators able to store the genetic instructions for the organism and to synthesise its chemical apparatus – Christians.
- A way of taking energy from the environment and putting it to work to run the cell’s processes – prayer and contemplation
Nick Lane’s book shows how all the rest can follow if we put energy first. Jayne was the energy ingredient in Saturday’s interview.
Lane’s research on the energy reactions of living cells has brought him to a theory that can account for some of life’s biggest mysteries: why sex? Why then only two sexes? Why do we age and die? Conservative, fundamentalist Christians look for the answers to these questions in the Bible, and find to their own satisfaction dogmatic answers. I’d much prefer to read what Lane has to say about why sex and why only two sexes.
The evidence is now apparently highly detailed: the essential biochemical machinery of life is known down to the last atom. The most plausible location for where life on Earth began is apparently not the Garden of Eden but the alkaline hydrothermal vents near the Mid-Atlantic Ridge on the deep ocean floor, and other such formations. Masses of warm energetic minerals pour out of the ocean bed and form calcium carbonate chimneys full of micropores. There’s a lot more information in the book review and clearly, even more in the book itself.
So maybe depth theology has even more going for it than I thought. And one day we may be reading an account of the creation of life set not in a mythical garden but in a deep hydrothermal vent. These new accounts of the origins of life offer powerful new images, truths and metaphors for us to contemplate.
What strikes me most forcefully is that energy is at the core of the process of creation. That’s congruent with my experience but not something the Church seems to know about, except in individual’s awareness and on the fringes of the institution. This is why Jayne came across as more authentic in the interview with Gagnon. Jayne is energised and excited by her journey into deeper faith and truth, and the energy buzzes when she speaks.