I was born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a third generation ethnically Chinese Christian. Our family worshipped at Wesley Methodist Church, KL and in my teenage years, joined the SEA Park Baptist Church in PJ.
Although I was hardly an ace student, I found books to be a wonderful retreat from the incessant tedium of rote-memory learning that was practiced in the 1960s. I stumbled along through high school and always just about managed to make it to the next grade by the skin of my teeth.
From Sunday school, I was taught that God is the creator of everything – I took this first article of the Apostles’ Creed seriously. It was my bedrock and lens through which I saw the world.
Nuclear physics and astronomy fascinated me when I read about particle physics research by Enrico Fermi and the scale of the universe that Sir James Jeans described. Both the very small and the very large seemed unreal to my mind and yet, there they are – all created by God. My subsequent interest in genetics and cloning led me to reflect on the origin of life from inorganic matter and the factor that made inanimate molecules come alive. Despite my deep and wide-ranging interests in the natural sciences, the practical implications of a legal career was the financially safer option.
Education & Ministry:
Following high school at the Jesuit La Salle PJ, I read the natural sciences, law and the humanities in London. I practiced international law at chambers in London. In 1984, Rev Dr John Stott of All Souls Langham Place invited me to consider a ‘ministry of the mind’, a special mission to engage international scholars studying in the West. It took me 6 years to think about it. In 1990, I came to New York and served as the City Director of International Students, Inc.
In 1993, All Souls Langham Place commissioned me as their Special Envoy to the USA. “Uncle John” became my first financial supporter. Three years later, I knew I needed to understand the Bible in their original languages of Hebrew and Greek, so off to seminary I went, juggling ministry in New York and theological studies at Princeton and Yale. I ended up studying history, world religions, as well as the philosophies of theology and science.
From 1984 to 2009, I earned the BA, LLB Hons. (London), STM (Yale), Mdiv, ThM, & PhD (Princeton) degrees and my interdisciplinary doctoral dissertation in science and theology – Neuroscience, Nolition and Kenotic Moral Cognition – was awarded magna cum laude. It surprised me as it did practically anyone who knew me as a kid who did not enjoy going to school. My current research interests include the emergence of intelligent cognition and the implications of consciousness and memory for the moral demands of the imago Dei.
John Stott suggested two important challenges for the 21st century apologist : (1) The advances of modern science, and (2) Non-Christian religions.
This inspired me to make this two-pronged foci of investigations the hallmark of my ministry. In 2003, I founded the Academy for Christian Thought to conduct interdisciplinary research and teach the history and theology of Christian beliefs in the contexts of science and other religions. To this end I selected paleoanthropology (human origins) and cognitive neuroscience (brain/mind function) as the test cases for a new doctrine of creation in my doctoral work. This involves a study of dementia, autism and compromises to brain function for the execution of moral judgments and volitional beliefs.
The transparency of such projects (biblical archaeology, the evolution of doctrines, human origins, the origin of life, genetics, astronomy, particle physics, etc), led to sharp skepticism about my orthodoxy by fellow Christian ministers who felt that denominational obedience to historical creeds and confessions are strictly binding and beyond scrutiny. My quest for the unencumbered truth from multiple disciplines of inquiry led me to the difficult decision to resign my PCA ordination in 2015. I am now liberated to continue my interdisciplinary theological studies, independent of denominational constraints.
(1) tracing the evolution of religious doctrines of Buddhism, Christianity and Islam along the Old Silk Road between Venice and X’ian via Central Asia
(2) exploring the implications of cognitive neuroscience and human origins for the Christian doctrine of creation.
(1) A Biblical Guide to the Metropolitan Museum of Art – Vol. 2, The Egyptian Gallery
(2) Origin of the Bible
(3) Homo Spiritualis – the Mind of the Imago Dei
Archaeological field expeditions:
(1) An archaeological survey of Indonesia to trace the discoveries of Homo erectus (Java Man and Solo Man) and Homo floresiensis (The Hobbits) as well as the latest insights into the Orangutans of Borneo, considered the closest living primates to humans,
(2) A sociological and historical trace of inter-religious doctrines along the Silk Road in northern India, Iran, eastern Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan,
(3) A historical and philosophical study of Buddhism during the medieval periods of the Khmer kingdoms of modern Myanmar and Kampuchea with specific focus on Bagan, Mandalay and Angkor.
The Old Silk Road:
The Old Silk Road (s) form a network of trade routes between Europe and Asia that date back to Roman times. The 13th century journeys of Venetian/Croatian Marco Polo took 24 years and those of the 14th century Moroccan pilgrim/explorer Ibn Battuta lasted 29 years (75,000 miles). A third explorer was the 15th century Chinese Muslim eunuch of Persian-Mongolian heritage, Admiral Zheng He (Cheng Ho or Ma He) of the Ming Dynasty.
But hundreds of years before any of the three were born, Soleiman Siraf of Persia (modern Iran), pioneered the Maritime Silk Road in the year 775. He navigated a sea route from Siraf in Persia to China via the Indian Ocean, the Malabar Coast, Malacca and Siam, the first westerner who found his way to China by sea and became the inspiration for Sinbad the Sailor.
8th century: Soleiman the Merchant (Persia)
13th century: Marco Polo (Venice/Croatia)
14th century: Ibn Battuta (Tangiers, Morocco)
15th century: Zheng He (Yunnan, China) & Vasco da Gama (Portugal)
16th century: Sebastian Elcano (Basque) who succeeded Ferdinand Magellan and Francis Drake (England)
17th century: James Cook (England)
Along with goods, traders also shared stories and accounts of what they saw, believed and expected. The most important ideas that traversed the deserts and kingdoms were the religious convictions of the people. The birth of religions from spiritual consciousness evolved in tandem with the development of economic trade and social prestige as intermarriage of communities also meant the syncretization of religions. New ones were invented as old ones were revised or discarded altogether.
The concept of God, so endemic to the human brain function, was beyond the cognitive capacity of humans to capture in word and art, so succeeding generations re-described their gods as best they knew how using the geohistorically-contextualized vocabulary and sciences of their day. Indeed, from our experience with Christian scholarship and liturgical aids from the past, it is a certainty that all our current biblical commentaries and even Bible translations will undergo revisions in the future, as we learn more about the God we worship.