advances in science and medical research, so too must religion grow and move forward
is a preview to Professor Ken McColl's lecture - How Medical Science Makes
Progress - And What About The Church? - which he gave at Cairns on October 27,
2016 and then read his own synopsis of his lecture.)
MY forty years in medical practice and research, I have observed remarkable advances in
the treatment of duodenal ulcers - from a condition that required major surgery to
one that could be controlled by medication and now can be cured by a single course of
two former Cairns members, Sir Andrew Kay and Sir James Black, were central to this
medical progress. I recently reflected on the characteristics displayed by these and other
great original thinkers.
first is knowledgeable. A thorough knowledge of what is already known
is important as key clues are out there somewhere. A wide knowledge is also important as
new insight to a problem may come from work done in an entirely different area. As CLR
James said: What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?
second characteristic is being observant. We tend to see what we want
to see, are taught we should see, or have seen before, rather than what is there. Original
researchers look at what everyone else has looked at and see what no-one else has
seen. It is particularly important to notice anomalies, i.e. things that do not
make sense, as they demonstrate that current wisdom is incomplete and investigating the
anomaly will lead to new insight and understanding. As Frank Herbert said, 'The beginning
of knowledge is the discovery of something we do not understand.
third characteristic is being inquisitive curious and
always asking penetrating questions. Einstein, probably the greatest original thinker,
said: I have no special gift, I am just intensely curious, and never
fourth characteristic is imagination. This is necessary to come up
with an explanation for the observed anomaly. It involves thinking outside the
box. Original ideas often seem absurd to conventional thinkers and again
Einstein said: Unless at first it seems absurd it is not worth
insight is most often made by newcomers to the field unconditioned by traditional
thinking. A dramatic new insight in science is called an epiphany the same word
used for a religious vision.
fifth characteristic is a critical mind. Any imaginative new
insight explaining an anomaly needs to be rigorously tested to see if it holds up in the
real world. Most dont or only partially do but pursuing the dream always advances
sixth characteristic is perseverance. New ideas are viewed with
suspicion by the establishment who see it as a threat to their authority. In addition,
testing the idea is usually arduous and discouraging and needs perseverance to see it
through. As Churchill said: The secret of success is the ability to go from one
failure to the next without losing enthusiasm.
seventh characteristic is plasticity of mind. This is the ability
to change your mind in the light of new knowledge and insight and most people find this
eighth characteristic is dedication. Original researchers become
immersed and all consumed in what they are investigating. They tend not to have hobbies as
their work is their hobby.
my reflections on these characteristics of original scientists it struck me that these
same characteristics were displayed by those involved in the birth of the Christian church
as described in the New Testament. The first time we meet Jesus he is asking questions in
the temple and it is his challenge to the orthodox establishment which leads to his
crucifixion. The disciples cannot make any sense of Christs death. As two of them
walk and reason together, a stranger joins them and opened their minds so they
could understand the Scriptures (Luke ch24,v45). This allows them to make sense of
the death of Jesus as part of Gods eternal plan of salvation.
new insight transforms and empowers them. The coming of the Holy Spirit was a similar
event and referring to it John says in his gospel (ch16,v13): When, however, the
Spirit comes, who reveals the truth about God, he will lead you into all the
conversion and Peters acceptance of Gentile believers both also involved new insight
and understanding which allowed them to make sense of observations which they could not
explain. Paul also teaches young Timothy to test all things, and hold fast that
which is good - an instruction which is a basic scientific principle.
science, the early church was characterized by original thinking and progressive change.
These features are surely meant to continue to be displayed by the church today rather
than an acceptance of dogmatic positions set in stone. God and the laws governing His
creation may be endless and unchanging but our understanding of God and His creation is
something which should be constantly growing and moving forward, both in the context of
the church as well as that of our individual Christian faith.
Ken McColl is a Senior Research Fellow (Medicine) of the Institute of Cardiovascular and
Medical Sciences, Glasgow University.
very good, insightful and original observations