On the naming of telescopes

Scenes at The Royal Observatory, Edinburgh, on Doors Open weekend.

Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto: the four largest moons of Jupiter. Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, which has been visited by spacecraft in the series Pioneer, Voyager, Cassini, Galileo, and most recently, Juno.

Looking up to the heavens elicits wonder in most of us, whether our understanding of them has never truly improved since we ticked off constellations listed in I-Spy with David Bellamy: Night Sky, or we are among the smarter class of employee at NASA. The use of mythology to name some of what we see seems somehow commensurate with this wonder.

The tools we use to see with are barely less wondrous. When visiting The Royal Observatory, Edinburgh yesterday, as part of the annual Doors Open weekend, I looked through a solarscope (above) and was able to witness solar flares coming off the surface of the sun. Marvellous to me, this was basic by comparison with other projects underway on the site. Among these was involvement in the construction of a telescope whose 39-metre primary mirror is constructed of 798 hexagonal segments, engineered to a smoothness that is proportionally shallower than a 2 millimetre wave in the Atlantic Ocean (total area 106,400,000 square kilometres). It will be able to fire six lasers 80 kilometres into the sky, and focus perfectly on an object the size of a bumble bee at an equivalent distance of Land’s End to John O’Groats.

Section of tecnical drawing from telescope under discussion here

It will take eleven years to construct, after which it is expected, according to Wikipedia, "to vastly advance astrophysical knowledge by enabling detailed studies of planets around other stars, the first galaxies in the Universe, super-massive black holes, and the nature of the Universe's dark sector, and to detect water and organic molecules in protoplanetary disks around other stars." In other words, it will show us things we have never seen before. And do you know what this feat of engineering is to be called?

The European Extremely Large Telescope.

The engineer we spoke with could explain why a telescope needs to fire lasers (information that went as swiftly out one ear of mine as it had arrived in the other, no fault of his) but had no explanation for this unacceptable, wooden literalism that gives science a bad name. A telescope by any other name would look as far, but given the gasps of wonder and leaps in knowledge it should provoke, surely something grander than mere adjectives should be found for it.

I believe President Bartlet would agree…

Week 38 misc: Mormons, Russians, Paralympians, Cyclists, Kids

I didn't take any photos this week, so here's what Edinburgh looked like from Calton Hill in 1855

Many of us know what to expect when a polite-looking person with a badge proclaiming them to be "Elder so-and-so" approaches us in the street, but we do know what Mormons believe? Gerald McDermott shows that Mormonism is not Christianity.

Having missed out on the Paralympics at London 2012 because we were moving flat and didn't have TV, we've loved "discovering" it this time. Archbishop Cranmer rightly takes the opportunity to ask how this celebration of human possibility conflicts with our abortion laws.

What happens when someone gets into cycling? Tom Vanderbilt tells his story, lycra and all.

If you haven't the first clue about how to understand Russia, Peter Hitchens wants to set you straight.

I hate most adverts, but Virgin Media's "Masters of Entertainment" is enjoyable, so here it is. In the interests of full disclosure, I am a Virgin Media customer and if they reduce our bill because of this I would be very happy. (If you're wondering about the brilliant soundtrack, it's Ennio Morricone's L'Estasi dell'Oro from the Spaghetti Western classic, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.)

The Weight of Glory

Here are some of the quotes I particularly liked from a collection of lectures by C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (2013 edition published by William Collins):

If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. (p.26) 
To please God… to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness… to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in his on – it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is. (39) 
The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have talked to a mere mortal. (45-46) 
The work of a Beethoven and the work of a charwoman become spiritual on precisely the same condition, that of being offered to God, of being done humbly “as to the Lord”. (55-56) 
I think the best results are obtained by people who work quietly away at limited objectives, such as the abolition of the slave trade, or prison reform, or factory acts, or tuberculosis, not by those who think they can achieve universal justice, or health, or peace. I think the art of life consists in tackling each immediate evil as well as we can. (79) 
Believers in progress rightly note that in the world of machines the new model supersedes the old; from this they false infer a similar kind of supercession in such things as virtue and wisdom. (82) 
…we shall then be forced to the conclusion that Christ’s true meaning, concealed from those who lived in the same time and spoke the same language, and whom He Himself chose to be His messengers to the world, as well as from all their successors, has at last been discovered in our own time. (87) 
‘We know not what we shall be’; but we may be sure we shall be more, not less, than we were on earth. Our natural experiences (sensory, emotional, imaginative) are only like the drawing, like pencilled lines on flat paper. If they vanish in the risen life, they will vanish only as pencil lines vanish from the real landscape, not as candle flame that is put out but as a candle flame which becomes invisible because someone has pulled up the blind, thrown open the shutters, and let in the laze of the risen sun. (111) 
I believe in Christianity as I believe the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else. (140) 
Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness, and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who has done it. That, and only that, is forgiveness, and that we can always have from God if we ask for it. (181) 
Failures will be forgiven; it is acquiescence that is fatal, the permitted, regularised presence of an area in ourselves which we still claim for our own. We may never, this side of death, drive the invader out of our territory, but we must be in the Resistance, not in the Vichy government. And this, so far as I can yet see, must be begun again every day. (192)

How new are the problems new technology gives us?

Modern life is full of unique challenges, we’re often told. Are we losing the ability to remember anything, are we becoming more easily distracted, and is “Dr” Google making us neurotic about our health?

Well, here’s what worried Socrates in 370 BC about the invention of writing:
“The fact is that this invention will produce forgetfulness in the souls of those who have learned it. They will not need to exercise their memories, being able to rely on what is written.”
Even though electricity hadn’t been discovered when John Donne was alive (1572-1631), he still struggled to concentrate when praying:
“I neglect God for the buzzing of a fly, for the creaking of a door, for the rattle of a coach in the street.”
In 1889, Jerome K. Jerome published his novel Three Men In A Boat, which begins with an extended description of the narrator’s various ailments:
“I remember going to the British Museum one day to read up the treatment for some slight ailment of which I had a touch – hay fever, I fancy it was. I got down the book, and read all I came to read; and then, in an unthinking moment, I idly turned the leaves, and began to indolently study diseases, generally. I forget which was the first distemper I plunged into – some fearful, devastating scourge, I know – and, before I had glanced half down the list of “premonitory symptoms,” it was borne in upon me that I had fairly got it… I plodded conscientiously through the twenty-six letters, and the only malady I could conclude I had not got was housemaid’s knee.”
None of this means that we shouldn’t think carefully about how we use technology but these glimpses into the past would suggest that the novelty we sense is not in the challenges themselves but in the new ways in which they come to us. They also remind us that the writer of Ecclesiastes (10th Century BC) was right when he observed, “there is nothing new under the sun.”

Week 35 miscellany: celeb special with Derren Brown, Jurgen Klopp, Bear Grylls, and authors

The best bit of the End of Festival Fireworks, the "waterfall" down Castle Rock, can never be photographed accurately but that doesn't stop all of us trying.

Regular readers of this blog are unlikely to be on the lookout here for celebrities, but this week's selection of articles and the like happen to full of them...

Derren Brown used to be a Christian, now he's world-famous for making his own "miracles". Justin Brierley has done a fascinating and honest interview with him. It's a good reminder for those of us who know that God does supernatural things today to be diligent in verifying them, whether they convince a sceptic or not.

Gary Lineker recently interviewed Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp, who mentioned that his Christian faith made him happy to celebrate the success of others, even his opponents. Tim Bechervaise considers what it is about the gospel that makes this true.

Marilyn Robinson is one of my favourite writers (and as Pulitzer Prize-winner must count as famous, if not a celebrity). What is it about her form of Christianity that is causing it to shrink?, wonders Paul Gleason.

J.R.R. Tolkien hated celebrity, and wasn't much of a fan of triumphalism either. Wesley Hill considers the truth of his description of Christianity as a "long defeat". Whether you agree with Hill (or Tolkien), his contention that God might ask us to do things we don't want to do is almost an alien concept in the western church. That is a ridiculous situation for people who are called to "take up your cross and follow Me".

Finally, Bear Grylls invites you to go on the greatest adventure...

Five rings, five things


There were 3,000 hours of Olympic coverage on BBC television and online. The radio was there when those methods were unavailable - and even more immediate in some ways because it can switch between sports so rapidly. The website even showed which athletes have the most similar body shape to you. As a proportion of my annual licence fee, this all cost me £6.

My only complaint (apart from the monotony of montages) is that I wish the presenters and commentators would stop saying that history was being made, and asking the athletes how they felt about it.

Many of the best moments, and others you would never have known about otherwise, were captured by press photographers: The Guardian’s daily gallery has been a highlight in itself.

Two incomprehensible adverts


London 2012 still makes me emotional when I recall it. We may have won more medals at Rio but only the athletes and coaches were involved in this one – despite the National Lottery's claims to the contrary. We were the hosts, our culture set the tone, our land was the dramatic backdrop - and we loved it. The Games Makers exemplified this, and we lived as vicariously through someone cheerfully pointing the way to a venue from a Tube station as we did Mo Farah's triumph or Gemma Gibbons' emotions.

Blaming Rio's desperate (and disinterested) residents for not attending felt like criticising the wind for not blowing enough for the sailing competitions.

One of the best photos I've taken


My toddling niece says “Wow” to just about anything, which is a sort of sanity, when you think about it.

The best of sport can make us say “Wow” and no other sporting event packs in so much that is wow-worthy than the Olympics: Usain Bolt running in the only lane of the race track not covered in treacle, Neymar slotting home a gold mdeal-winning penalty with the weight of 200 million hysterical compatriots on his shoulders, Simone Biles exploding across the gymnasium until the very moment she wanted to be suddenly still. I would give a gold medal to every person who did a handstand on the edge of the 10-metre diving board. Even in what seems mundane by comparison, the sheer variety of the people involved and what they do is wondrous.

British athletes gave us plenty to smile about, and everyone will have their own favourites. I think Laura Trott is mine, combining as she does the wide-eyed pleasure of just being there that used to be the only consolation British Olympians had, with imperious strength and determined dominance of the Lottery era. Funding fuels organisational excellence, which harnesses and thus releases the talent and determination of so many athletes. We’ve found another thing we’re brilliant at, it seems.

To the criticism that this fascination with success is an insidious form of nationalism, I’d refer to London again, when we welcomed and cheered for everyone. I’m more concerned that we’re making sport an idol: something that we assign more value to than it truly has, setting it up in God’s place as our joy and hope and consolation. In its right place, however, it can still make us smile and say "Wow".


The modern Olympics were conceived as a showcase of what we are capable of. It always succeeds in this, but not perhaps in the way it intends. Along with the brilliance, from dodgy boxing decisions and lying swimmers to government-arranged doping and the plutocratic robbery of the city itself, the Olympics is yet another arena in which humans prove their wonder and their wickedness. None of this surprises the Christian. We celebrate the good knowing that it comes from humans being in made in God’s image; we mourn the bad keenly aware that the same self-inflicted sickness resides in our hearts too. God’s Word has told us these truths and the Olympics merely demonstrate them. What has been unique about these Games is the display of a greater hope than ourselves. Towering over the city stands the statue of Christ the Redeemer.

Justin Gatlin cannot escape his past as a drug cheat. He reminded us that he'd served his time for doping offences but we insist that a temporary ban is insufficient. We want him to apologise profusely, and probably to remove himself from the competition. We want a price to be paid.

A redeemer pays a price, like a ransom, to set you free. We are all slaves to sin, even the best of us, tugged willingly or not by its promptings, doing things that damage others and ourselves. So Jesus came to set us free, settling the cost when He died on the cross. The Christ the Redeemer statue stands in victory and His arms are still stretched out as they were on Good Friday. He offers welcome and shows how it was won for us. An Olympic dream can be achieved by blood, sweat, and tears, but redemption only comes through Jesus’ blood (Ephesians 1:7).



The BBC repeatedly spoke about inspiring a generation. I'm feeling inspired, though I'm unlikely to be competing at the next Games, despite an occasional sense of empathy with the cyclists as I pedal to the shops against a stiff breeze.

I've been inspired by seeing the fruit of teamwork. It doesn't just deliver success, it multiplies and magnifies joy. The deep commitment and love for each other that you see when teams celebrate is a beautiful thing. Of course winning hides a multitude of sins but it also shows the truth of team. God is Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Spirit have existed and loved and shared for beyond always, and when we work or serve or live or play as a team we display something of Him.

When they weren't being asked how they felt, so many of the athletes spoke of the effort they'd put in to becoming an Olympian. This dedication is as old as the Games themselves, as is the application for the Christian who is struggling to keep going:
"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified." (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
A prize greater than gold awaits, ready to be awarded to us by Christ the Redeemer.

Week 32 miscellany: check your prejudice, Olympics photos and faith, mascots, and trees

A bee amongst the lavender of Drummond Castle Gardens

Everyone has prejudices but not everyone realises this. Serina Sandhu shares research which proves this, and Ross Douthat comments on the myth of cosmopolitanism. This is perhaps the loudest voice in our culture presently (though votes for Brexit and Trump say something else) so it's important to be aware of what it's really saying.

The Olympic Games are upon us, and if they don't have quite the same magical atmosphere as London 2012 for some of us, there are still some wonderful things going on. The story of sport photography is told by George Vecsey (the photo of the BASE jumpers in Utah is my favourite), and David Matthias introduces Christians to C.S. Lewis' idea of "transposition" - seeing the ultimate things of God through the things around us, for which the Olympics are a great setting.

Vinicius and Tom are the Olympic and Paralympic mascots; Neil Steinberg explains the rise of a cartoon bear in Japan who has become much more than just a cuddly toy.

There's a Greek proverb which says that a society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in. The National Forest is a rare example of Britain apply this wisdom, as John Vidal reports.

Week 31 miscellany: what's happening in the world

This is the view from The Knock in Crieff

If you're still wondering how the Brexit vote happened, you're probably just as perplexed by anyone finding Donald Trump appealing. J.D. Vance can give you some serious answers.

The story of the church in China is one of the greatest of modern history: you can find out more about it and what life is like for believers there today from Yu Jie.

On a very different note but continuing the international theme (just about), Present &; Correct have found some wonderful-looking pocket calendars from Hungary.

Also colourful but generally more prosaic, Jonn Elledge shows how the growth rates of the UK's cities isn't what you'd expect it to be.

I'm part of a worldwide family of churches called Newfrontiers. In this interview, its founder Terry Virgo explains how things have changed and grown over the past five years:

C.S. Lewis on coping with 2016

Lenin observed, “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” I’m not sure how the maths of this translates to a year but I expect many of us would consider 2016 to be well above average for Events.


C.S. Lewis advocated reading dead writers more than we read living ones. As a professor of mediaeval and renaissance literature, his library was larger and deeper than most of ours but reading Lewis himself (1898-1963) is at least a start. Awareness of the past prevents us from savouring the subtle pleasure we take in saying how unique the times in which we live are. However much technology advances and sin metastasises, “there is nothing new under the sun,” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) and reading those whose wisdom has survived decades and centuries will likely teach us this.

Here, then, is Lewis’s advice to people living in the 1940s with a new and imminent threat of death by nuclear warfare. We can substitute whichever of 2016’s ills that grieve us most in its place:
In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. ‘How are we to live in an atomic age?’ I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.’
In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors - anaesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.
This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things - praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts - not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.
(From On Living in An Atomic Age)
Despite first appearances, this is not "keep calm and carry on". A poem he wrote on the same theme explains his perspective:
On the Atomic Bomb (Metrical Experiment)
So; you have found an engine
Of injury that angels
Might dread. The world plunges,
Shies, snorts, and curvets like a horse in danger.
Then comfort her with fondlings,
With kindly word and handling,
But do not believe blindly
This way or that. Both fears and hopes are swindlers.
What’s here to dread? For mortals
Both hurt and death were certain
Already; our light-hearted
Hopes from the first sentenced to final thwarting.
This marks no huge advance in
The dance of Death. His pincers
Were grim before with chances
Of cold, fire, suffocation, Ogpu, cancer.
Nor hope that this last blunder
Will end our woes by rending
Tell us herself asunder –
All gone in one bright flash like dryest tinder.
As if your puny gadget
Could dodge the terrible logic
Of history! No; the tragic
Road will go on, new generations trudge it.
Narrow and long it stretches,
Wretched for one who marches
Eyes front. He never catches
A glimpse of the fields each side, the happy orchards.
In both prose and poetry, Lewis tells us to look elsewhere when terror is before us. The lovely mundanity of domestic life, the tentative offering of creative acts, the warm affection of friendship, and the happy orchards themselves... these aren't means of escape from the real world, they are the signs of a better, truer world.

The tone of this may seem all very British - but it is a Britain steeped in the hope-full gospel of Jesus Christ, who ate and drank and laughed and walked and talked among us, and who promised to return to this world and wipe every tear from every eye in His great and final victory over death, sin, and darkness. In its description of the abundant eternal life to come, the book of Revelation mentions trees bearing fruit which will sustain us at all times - quite possibly Lewis's "happy orchards". By focusing on these real hopes, we can see evil for what it is and face it head on: it will not last, it can be confronted, it need not dominate us:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me — practise these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

(Philippians 4:8-9)

Euro 2016 Team of the Tournament

So ends a generally underwhelming tournament that is unlikely to be high on the list of things that the summer of 2016 will be remembered for, unless you're Icelandic, Welsh, or Portuguese. Each of those countries fit in well with the current underdog narrative: Leicester City and the ex-sheet metal worker Jamie Vardy have been followed by Portugal (Denmark are the only winners of this competition with a smaller population) and their winning goalscorer Éder, who was raised in a care home and began 2016 as an unused substitute in Swansea’s FA Cup defeat away at Oxford United.

Perhaps more pertinent is the fact that scoring goals is really difficult in football: in the three most recent European Championships the winning teams have conceded just one goal in ten knockout games. This explains why strikers continue to be the most valuable asset a team has whilst simultaneously being the most noticeable failures.

Here then is my team of the tournament, which looks better at stopping goals than scoring them. As Euro 2016 had an average of 2.12 goals per game (lower than any World Cup, and all but two of the last ten Championships) this is probably appropriate.

Gianluigi Buffon (Italy)
This is harsh on Portugal’s Rui Patricio, who made a record-equalling seven saves in the final and was a key part of his country’s success, but when there are national anthems to be sung, crossbars to be swung on, and slow-mo’s of passionate expressions to be had, there’s only one man in contention.

Pepe (Portugal)
A divisive character at the best of times, Pepe generally avoided histrionics and overt cheating on this occasion to provide the stability and obdurance that Portgual required and opponents rarely matched.

Ashley Williams (Wales)
The kind of centre back and on-field leader that we’re told don’t exist anymore, at least in England. He scored and prevented goals, and carried on playing in one match with his arm left barely attached to the rest of his body.

Joshua Kimmich (Germany)
As Germany spluttered through the tournament with a squad of familiar names and missing some old favourites, Kimmich gave a hint of the next generation coming through.

Neil Taylor (Wales)
Like his goalkeeper, Raphaël Guerreiro is kept out of the team by the power of narrative: there are plenty of other Portuguese players here, and Taylor’s last goal before slotting home (at the second attempt) against Russia was in front of a crowd of 298 in April 2010 for Wrexham.

William Carvalho (Portugal)
The nattiest moustache of the tournament was complemented by smooth performances in Portugal’s midfield. More a defuser than a destroyer, he was an essential part of their plan. Whether you liked that plan or not, he helped make it happen.

Aron Gunnarsson (Iceland)
For throw-ins, having the best beard, and to lead the rest of the team in the Icelandic thunderclap.

Andrés Iniesta (Spain)
Yes, Spain underperformed, but he was still a joy to watch and can’t be blamed for the lack of quality around him. Included also to prove that noticeable facial hair isn’t a requirement of this midfield.

Moussa Sissoko (France)
Given his place mostly on the basis of his barnstorming runs that reminded me of Sol Campbell in his galloping prime, and the fact that he was the only French player to finish the final with his head held high.

Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland)
Included because of one moment of magic, his hip-swivelling scissors kick was my favourite goal, being the most gob-smacking piece of skill I saw. These were few and far between in general (though chapeaux Robson-Kanu’s Cruyff turn, Modrić’s volley, Boateng's goalline claearance, and Payet’s no-look pass), and it could be argued that Shaqiri’s inclusion is emblematic of a Championships that promised more than it delivered.

Antione Griezmanm (France)
He missed two good chances in the final but still scored more goals than anyone else. His awful goal celebration dance almost cost him his place.

Stade Vélodrome in Marseille. It’s a troubled city with a stunning stadium and fervent French support.

Steve Wilson with Martin Keown. Wilson’s wit brings light relief when everyone else thinks football matters So Much, but he also describes the game well. Keown’s enthusiastic immersion in every contest can be exhilarating, if a little odd.