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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 26, No. 12. 1963.

'That Nebulous Spirit Stuff'

page 14

'That Nebulous Spirit Stuff'

"Any advance towards the truth can only be achieved—as always in man's history—by the challenge of accepted views and the proposal of alternatives." Where does this statement come from? It could come from anyone engaged in any area of research, but in fact it is the concluding statements of Prof. D. F. Lawden of Canterbury University in his recent and renowned radio talk "A Material Basis for Mind."

The main point of his talk was that, since the successful synthesis of a living cell from inert matter, the line between what is living and what is dead is illusory. Matter has consciousness, and in this fact we have "evidence of the essential unity of the world in which we live and of which we ourselves are surely a part, no more and no less than the matter of which we are formed."

As Christians we would agree completely with the need for the "advance towards truth." and welcome these particular advances in so far as they reveal to us new scientific truth. But Prof. Lawden does not content himself with this. He goes on to draw conclusions which seem to be outside the evidence he gives. The framework into which he puts his new scientific truth is really an attack against religion, especially Christianity.

This is nothing to be worried about except one may wonder whether the conclusions which Prof. Lawden has drawn are valid ones, and whether he sufficiently understands what he is attacking. He easily dismisses "that nebulous spirit-stuff from which the soul of theological speculation is supposed to be formed" and states simply that "the self or soul is revealed as an illusion." From the consciousness of matter he disposes of the reality of God.

But scientific truth neither proves nor disproves God just as Prof. Lawden would agree, theological truth neither proves nor disproves science. When theology said that because science did not agree with Genesis it was out, this invalid conclusion embarrassed many Christians. I wonder how many scientists are blushing now.

Professor Lawden also mentions the "religious desert of our times." There is just as good, if not better reason to talk of the scientific desert (Nevada etc? of today and thank God for a few oases of genuine human concern. To further the metaphor, religion and theology today are not so much a waste land but a dense foliage, prolific in growth though with a tendency to run wild. It seems that Prof. Lawden has not heard of this year's best seller (250,000 copies) "Honest to God" by the Bishop of Woolwich—not to mention the annual sales of the Bible.

Theology is indeed in the air and religion has become news in a way that it has not done for many years, not only in theological thinking but in the more "practical issues" such as the growth of Christian unity and inter-church aid programmes.

Even here in the University, things have been stirring. The special committee set up at the instigation of student demand, to consider the teaching of religion at Victoria, reported some months ago and the Professorial Board has given approval for the establishment of a Department of Religious Studies. It will be good to have such studies available at a university level. When will they be started? There has been no decision given yet. That may depend on the demand from students.

In my work as Chaplain I have a good deal of contact with the various student hostels and halls. About this time of the years, those who run them suffer from a very real sense of frustration as they go through the list of applicants for next year and try to decide whom to choose. Every year it grows worse.

This year it is probable that for every place available in a hall or hostel there will be four or five applicants. What is to be done? Nothing until we have more places built. The Accommodation Officer, appointed by the University, provides an excellent service but not all the accommodation available is suitable to the needs of students.

Various groups are concerned about the situation—the University, the Students Association, the Federation of University Women, the Churches—but progress is terribly slow and the costs appalling. What can we do? It looks as if our answer to most applicants for 1964, 1965 (and 1966?) will be

"Sorry, no room at Victoria."

—John Murray.