Summaries of The Derek Nonhebel Memorial Lectures: August 2016


Are We Alone in the Universe?

Dr Eric Barrett DSc FRCS REMetS FBIS Earth and Space Scientist

Although the dimensions of the Universe are vast, to date we know of only around 2,000 planets.  If there is to be a possibility of life existing on any planet it needs to be within the ‘Goldilocks zone’ of its solar system.  Earth is in this zone; its distance from the Sun allows for conditions to be just right for life.  Mars is also within the Sun’s goldilocks zone.  The surface of Mars, however, is extremely salty making it incompatible with life.  The colours of Earth as seen from space are blue and green; these are the colours of life.

Every now and then the media claims that a planet has been discovered which is capable of sustaining life.  However, on examining the facts these claims have been found to be unsupported.  One example of this is Kepler 186f which, at any rate, is so far from Earth that communication would be impossible: a text sent from one planet to the other would be received around 500 years later!

The probability of finding life elsewhere in the Universe has been estimated by Professor Penrose using detailed scientific data; he has found the odds, essentially, to be as good as zero.  Another professor and scientist has said, “When confronted with the marvels of life and the Universe we must ask not only what and how but why”.  This brings us face to face with our need of God.

So are we alone in the Universe?  To know God is to be sure that we are not alone in the Universe.  The Intelligence who created Earth, stars, solar systems, everything …. is here!


Revival among the aliens: The case of Lithuanian Baptists

Rev Dr Lina Toth (nee Andronoviene)

Lina grew up in Lithuania, where her antecedents were Baptist Christians, many of them suffering for their faith. Formerly she lectured at the European Baptist International Theological College before moving to the Scottish Baptist College in Paisley, at  the University of the West of Scotland, where she is Assistant Principal and Lecturer in practical Theology.

Part of Lithuania, in the north west, was Memelland where there were German speaking Lithuanians, this being Prussian Lithuania. This was the third largest city and near the coast. A Baptist church was founded there in 1841with the first Latvians being baptized, 28 in all on a cold night in October. The numbers grew so much that a church had to be built to house as many as 1500 people. (This church is the oldest Baptist building in Lithuania and is still functioning as a church today) Although for a few years a split occurred, the parties soon got back together again. When a big fire occurred in the city in 1851, many other churches were destroyed. As a result the Baptist church opened its doors and invited others in. By becoming more outward looking, this led to 40 indigenous Lithuanian speakers coming in to be part of the church. A book on Christianity in Europe published in 1923 had a section entitled: ‘Lithuania; a barren soil?’. This indicated that, while the Baptist church reached both Russian speaking and German speaking groups in the country, the experience in other parts of the country, away from the Memelland area, was very different. This was ‘the barren soil’.

Any later mission work that was attempted in this southern and western part of Lithuania (which was Lithuanian speaking), proved to be hard going due to the dominance and power of the Catholic church. Influences came from both the religion and the culture, the two being very much linked. Opposition continued throughout the years. The authorities themselves would sometimes disrupt services by ‘introducing goats or getting drunks to enter the services’. At another time bibles were confiscated because they were ‘religious rubbish’.

There were other more those positive influences taking place however, notably those from Lutheran pietists, similar to the Wesleyans in England. Spiritual meetings or ‘gatherings’ took place which were led by ‘sayers of God’s word’. The likes of this was understandable to the common people, and there was singing in Lithuanian. Earlier pietistic influences could have also come from the Moravians as long ago as 1731.

In the Lithuanian Baptist Church, notable leaders emerged in its history. One of these was Rev Teodoras Gerikas (1891-1945) who translated literature into Lithuanian. He became a travelling missionary. Later on there was Rev Inkenas (1905-1983) and his wife Maria who were both involved in a preaching ministry along with youth and childrens work. At this time encouragement was given from American Baptist churches.

Lithuania has had a chequered political history politically. Proclamation of independence occurred in 1918. For another 20 years, such was the overlap between church and state that non-Catholics could not register births, marriages or deaths. There was no civil registry. Those affected had to travel up to Memelland to get any kind of registration by the state. One pastor did a lot to facilitate registration for families so affected. To highlight the strong connection between church and state, one archive photo shows the Lithuanian President being ceremoniously escorted by several bishops of the Catholic church. In that period, Rev Inkenas continued working away but found it very difficult. In September 1939, all fragile endeavours were interrupted by the Nazi invasion. While a Baptist convention did take place in June 1940, soon after that the Soviet Union crossed the borders and then no congregation could remain in Memelland except the building. Rev Inkenas was exiled to Siberia, as were many other Baptists.

How to be a Lithuanian Baptist is still a conundrum today. The speaker noted that the revivals that did spread across Europe were actually Protestant revivals. This may explain why the main spiritual impact that occurred was in the Memelland part of the country. Today there are 7 Baptist Union churches but they are all very different and a feeling of actual togetherness is difficult to achieve. Three of them are Russian speaking.

The percentage of Russian speakers is roughly about 12% in Lithuania, while in the other Baltic states of Estonia and Latvia to the north, the percentages are far higher. Lithuania is a small country, in some ways provincial in outlook. In 2005, Lithuania joined the EU becoming independent of the Soviet Union by 1991. This has helped Lithuania to feel more European, but sadly too many of its young people have emigrated for work, particularly to Ireland and the UK. Every family has somebody abroad.

In conclusion, Lithuania has seen many influences through the years, some Germanic and some Russian. Whenever any religious church is too fully identified with the state, this tends to stifle revival. (This could be true of any church group whether Lutheran, Orthodox, Catholic or some other). Nonetheless, in Lithuania, it is good to record that there has indeed been evidence of revival where congregations, small and even sometimes large, were formed from people who just wanted to get together because they had a desire to know God.


Every Human Heart

Jim Parratt

Professor Emeritus Jim Parratt taught physiology at the Medical School, University of Ibadan, Nigeria (where he lived from 1958 to 1967) and at the Strathclyde Institute for Biomedical Sciences (from 1967 to 1998; appointed Professor aged 41 years).

Jim started with describing the anatomy of the heart and how blood gets pumped around the body.  He describes the heart as a precision biological pump, pumping 300 Lt of blood an hour through 70,000ft of capillaries and veins.,  all of this work is guaranteed for a lifetime with no routine servicing.

Comparing the different heartbeat rates of the humming bird (approx 1000 bpm -beats per minute) with a human being ( approx 70 bpm).  The humming bird requires a much higher rate to allow the highly oxygenated blood reach and replenish the muscles in the rapidly moving wings, whereas the human is much slower moving and as such does not require such a rapid supply.  Using these examples he showed that the heart/brain will prioritise the supply of blood to the different groups of muscle as required,  e.g, when running the blood supply is prioritised to the leg muscles, and when the body is at rest then the brain and central organs receive the priority.  Using these examples he showed how the flow of blood is moved around the body and the supply and demand is balanced.

He, then went on to describe some possible problems such as Myocardial infarction (MI) or acute myocardial infarction (AMI), commonly known as a heart attack, which is usually caused by a blockage or obstruction,   a clot, which has moved from another part of the body or by cholesterol blocking or narrowing the arteries.

He then described how the heart can try to protect itself from the harm that an MI can cause,  over someone’s life time the heart can suffer, unnoticed very minor blockages and through this can actually grow new or enlarge existing blood vessels which can increase the supply to different parts of the heart.  This can also be increased by surgical pre conditioning which is short periods of closing the blood vessels.  (not usually done on live patients). Pacing and regular exercise will also strengthen and help to protect the heart.

Finally, in extreme cases of heart failure, transplant or replacement can be a consideration.  He told the story of the first 2 transplant patients, the first survived for 18 days and the second survived for 18 months. This was followed by 10 years of failures,  this was a  slow start to the heart transplant operations,  however, today, there are approximately 3,500 transplants carried out worldwide.

There are many descriptions of the heart in the Holy Bible, sometime it describes the actual organic heart of a man and sometimes it describes the character of man, –  warm hearted,  cold hearted, having a bold, strong heart etc.

Transplants, today, can raise serious issues –

  • Tissue rejection, – this is where the body starts to reject the new heart, however this can be controlled with the patient taking drugs for the rest of their lives.
  • Moral issues – When can someone be pronounced dead? This was once decided by the fact that the heart had stopped beating, however with the advancement of modern medicine, this is no longer accepted, as has been proved when people have been kept alive for over an hour by CPR being continuously carried out. There has to be a medical declaration of death by doctors.

How soon can the patient receive a donor heart? Originally the patients would have to have been in the same hospital, again, today, medical care has progressed and the heart can be treated, on route, with nutrients which serve to keep the heart viable for increasingly longer periods of time, and now can be across the other side of the country.

God says that he will remove the heart of stone from a man and replace it with a heart of flesh.

Finally Jim, shared his experience of conversion to Christianity and how by giving his heart to Jesus, he received a new heart from God.

According to the Word of God the heart is described as deficient, damaged, diseased and has fatal consequences for the human it is a part of, however God promises a new heart for everyone.


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