Beyond the Culture Wars: Christian Theology and the Hard Sciences in Communicatio

We live in a period of history wherein scientism—the belief that modern scientific progression still has the inchoate capacity to unlock the mysteries of the universe one observation at a time/the belief that science has become the new magisteria, the new authority and foundation upon which human knowledge and progress will flourish—by and large underwrites the confidence of our age; the confidence in the indomitable human spirit to overcome and meta-narrativalize reality (although postmodernity seeks to deconstruct most of that mentality; nevertheless, it is still present, I would contend, in society at large). That said, I wanted to share a word from Thomas F Torrance on how he sees the relationship between the ‘hard’ sciences and Christian theology; it is rather illuminating relative to how the culture wars so often paint things in stark and competitive terms. Torrance writes:

It is towards the encouragement of that kind of dialogue that this book is offered, in the hope that it may help people who are interested in natural science as well as those interested in Christian theology. What is intended here is not that theology should take into its material content ideas that derive from natural scientific knowledge of the universe, any more than natural science should incorporate into its developing stock of ideas distinctly theological conceptions. That would be both unscientific and untheological, and could only bring theology and science into useless conflict with one another. What is envisaged here is an exercise in conjoint thinking where theological science and natural science have common ground with the rationalities and objectivities of the created order but where they each pursue a difference objective. So far as theology is concerned, the claim is advanced that theology cannot be pursued in any proper and rigorous way in detachment from the determinate framework of the spatio-temporal universe with which God addresses his Word to us and calls us to know and love and serve him. It is, I believe, indifference to that framework of objective rationality, or the isolation of theology from natural science, that lies behind the sense of lostness and bewilderment, as well as the sloppiness and ambiguity of thought, so often manifest in contemporary theological literature. On the other hand, it is through that framework seriously that we are enabled to hear the Word of God in such an objective way that we do not confuse it with the creaturely things we tell ourselves about one another and are tempted to project into God. It is through deep-going dialogue with science and submission of our own theological conceptions to the critical questions it addresses to us that we are helped to purge our minds of pseudo-theological as well as pseudo-scientific notions, and so are enabled to build up theological knowledge in a positive way on its own proper ground: God’s self-revelation and self-communication to us in the incarnation of his eternal Word in Jesus Christ.[1]

When you read Torrance, no matter what it is from him, you will always have this underlying sounding of the patristic voice therein. Even here we can get a sense of Torrance’s enjoyment of patristic thought on the logoi derivative of the Logos of God built into the fabric of intelligible reality (intelligible precisely because the order of the universe is contingent upon the living Word of God—creatio ex nihilo). And as is also typical with Torrance, no matter what he writes it will always be conditioned by his concentrated effort to see the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ as regulative of all things; that all reality has it teleology from and in the Alpha and Omega, Jesus Christ. Beyond that, and this is quite fruitful I think (in regard to opening vistas towards a protagonistic relationship between hard science and Christian theology), Torrance wants science and Christian theology to be framed in a harmonious dialogical combine; one which is not currently present for many a Christian and/or scientist. This book (from whence I take the quote), helps offer a way forward for thinking Christian theology and Science together; while at the same time honoring their proper distinctions relative to disciplinary realities and subject/object material.

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, Christian Theology&Scientific Culture (Belfast: Christian Journals Limited, 1980), 8-9.

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A Reflection on the Church and Science conference, and Schleiermacher’s Doctrine of Creation

Today I attended the Church and Science conference sponsored by New Wine, New Wineskins which is a theology of culture ministry that Dr. Paul Metzger initiated at my alma mater, Multnomah Biblical Seminary. Multnomah has partnered with the American Association for the Advancement of Science who has provided Multnomah Seminary with a sizeable grant to work on producing theological curriculum that is attentive to the discipline of science in the 21st century. We had two plenary sessions, the first was Dr. Se Kim, of the AAAS; and then Dr. Rod Stilt of Seattle churchandsciencePacific University, he is a historian of science’s development as a discipline. There was also two workshop sessions. The first one I attended was offered by Dr. S. Joshua Swamidass, he is an Assistant Professor of Laboratory and Genomic Medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, and his presentation was entitled Is Jesus Greater than Anti-Evolutionism? The second workshop I attended was offered by Derrick Peterson and Dr. Michael Gurney, Derrick has his MDiv and ThM from Multnomah Biblical Seminary (and is a friend), and Mike Gurney has his PhD from Highland Theological College, University of Aberdeen (also a friend and former prof in undergrad) — their presentation was entitled “When Galileo Goes to Jail”: Rethinking What Galileo’s Controversy with the Church Means Today (Derrick presented the paper, and Mike moderated and facilitated the Q&A following).

I mention all of this because it leads to what we will consider in this post; in other words, the discussion from today at the conference has motivated me to write this post. I just happened to have read something from Bruce McCormack last week on Schleiermacher’s doctrine of creation, and in particular, about Schleiermacher’s qualified belief in the Christian doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. I actually think that this topic would be an interesting one to explore at a conference like the one I attended today at Multnomah.

I am going to share from McCormack at length. The first piece from him is providing context for why Schleiermacher developed his doctrine of creation the way that he did. Here’s McCormack:

At the dawn of the modern period in theology, Schleiermacher was concerned that the day might come when the natural scientists would be in a position to provide a complete explanation not only of the movements of heavenly bodies but even of the origins of the physical universe. He writes,

I can only anticipate that we must learn to do without what many are still accustomed to regard as inseparably bound to the essence of Christianity. I am not referring to the six-day creation, but to the concept of creation itself, as it is usually understood, apart from any reference to the Mosaic chronology and despite all those rather precarious rationalizations that interpreters have devised. How long will the concept of creation hold out against the power of a world view constructed from undeniable scientific conclusions that no one can avoid?

By means of his heuristic and critical norm, he found a way to limit a theology of creation so as to obviate a conflict with the exact sciences but also to make a reasoned use of the creation story found in Gen. 1.[1]

Schleiermacher was anticipating what later came to be known as full blown naturalism and/or metaphysical materialism; where all of reality can ostensibly be reduced to physical reality and “natural” (i.e. observable) phenomenon. Schleiermacher was concerned with providing a kind of apologetic basis for Christian theology that elided the potential (in his day) findings of the natural sciences. As the direct quote from Schleiermacher illustrates he wasn’t concerned with the minutia of various biblical interpretive approaches, but instead he was concerned with the macro issue of origins itself. He was trying to provide a rigorous theological basis that would be impenetrable from the attacks of the natural sciences; as he perceived their development in his day in the 18th and 19th centuries.

McCormack distills for us in four points the way that Schleiermacher attempted to develop a genuinely Christian doctrine of creation that would out-pace Schleiermacher’s antagonists in the natural sciences. McCormack writes of Schleiermacher (at length):

This is not the place for a comprehensive exposition of Schleiermacher’s doctrine of creation. It will suffice here to allow Schleiermacher to describe his approach in his own words and to briefly sketch its results. “The doctrine of creation is to be elucidated preeminently with a view to the exclusion of every alien element, lest from the way in which the question of Origin is answered elsewhere anything steal into our province which stands in contradiction to the pure expression of the feeling of absolute dependence.” Since everything that exists must be absolutely dependent upon God, a Christian doctrine of creation must oppose “every representation of the origin of the world which excludes anything whatever from origination by God,” and it must oppose all conceptions of the origin of the world that would place “God under those conditions and antitheses which have arisen in and through the world.”From this state of affairs, Schleiermacher draws the following conclusions, all of which are supported by exegesis of Gen. 1: (1) God does not work with preexisting materials in creating. For if God found material ready to hand that he himself had not created, such material would be independent of him and the feeling of absolute dependence would have been destroyed. So the idea of a Divine Architect is ruled out of court. (2) If it is the case that the Christian doctrine of creation excludes anything that would place God “under those conditions and antitheses which have arisen in and through the world,” then God could not possibly be seen as having deliberated before acting. To be sure, creation is a “free” act of God, but divine “freedom” is wrongly construed where it is seen to entail “a prior deliberation followed by choice” or as meaning that “God might equally well have not created the world.” To define “freedom” in God in this way is to play it off against “necessity”—which is to bring God under an antithesis that is proper to the conditions of life in the world God creates. God’s freedom consists in his “otherness” and in his capacity to be who and what he is in all of his activities. It does not consist in a choice among options over which he must first brood before deciding upon the one he thinks “best” (as Leibniz had it). And in any case, as Spinoza put it (in a passage Schleiermacher would have approved), “because in God, essence and will are one, then the claim that God might possibly have willed a different world would be the same as saying that he could have been Another”—that is, a different God.(3) God cannot be conceived as having begun to create. Now this might seem to make creation “eternal,” but Schleiermacher resists this formulation of the relation. The reason is that if we say that creation is “eternal,” we seem to make it independent of God, which would destroy the feeling of absolute dependence. So Schleiermacher wants to uphold two values: (a) that God has never been without the world, and (b) that the world has always been absolutely dependent upon the divine activity for its existence. His conclusion is that God alone is “eternal” (in the sense of transcending time); the fact that the world does not transcend time but is structured by it is sufficient, in his view, to preserve a proper distinction between Creator and creature. But how then to speak of a creation that has no beginning without resorting to the term “eternal”? Alexander Schweizer would later use the word Sempiternität (from the Latin sempiternitas—meaning “everlasting” or “perpetual”) to describe the existence of a world that knows of no beginning. Such a world is “everlasting,” but God alone is “eternal.” I should add, perhaps, that this is not a linguistic trick but a real distinction, rooted in the differing kinds of being that God and the world are (God as a being transcending time and the world as a being structured by it). (4) Schleiermacher is willing to use the phrase creatio ex nihilo (“creation out of nothing”) so long as its meaning is restricted to the understanding that God used no instrument or means in creating. That, he believes, is the force of the New Testament phrasing according to which God created “by His Word” alone. Such a phrase is to be taken in a critical sense, rather than as a positive explanation of how God works.[2]

Schleiermacher was obviously concerned with maintaining his principle of ‘feeling’ as the locus for his theological methodology; again motivated by his desire to move beyond the rationalism of his day and find a “safe place” as it were for theology to take place (unfortunately this ended up having deleterious consequences for subsequent theologizing, even if there is something also latently pregnant and valuable within this move of Schleiermacher). The point here though is that Schleiermacher desired to keep God distinct from his creation, and at the same time leave room for encounter or ‘feeling’ of God to happen in his creation/creatures.

I would like to say more, but this is running a bit long for a blog post. Suffice it to say, I think that Schleiermacher actually has the potential to provide some fruitful place in his doctrine of creation for some of the things considered today; particularly with reference to Dr. Josh Swamidass’ presentation. But also, Schleiermacher also helps to illustrate how conflict was happening, even for him, between the natural sciences of his day and his own theological development and methodology (which was something being considered at the conference today in general; i.e. the conflict or “warfare” between ‘religion’ and ‘science’ and how that might be mitigated and in fact used as a place where fruitful engagement might happen between scientists and say Christian theologians/pastors and lay people in the church).

P.S. There is much more to say, particularly with the place that Schleiermacher has in the development of the continued rift between science and religion. Does he help soften that rift, or contribute further to it? Questions like that. Not to mention the kind of theological space he might create for folks like Dr. Josh Swamidass who would like to focus on ‘experience’ and ‘encounter’ for evangelizing scientists in the public square and beyond (although I believe Barth provides a better more orthodox and constructive basis for a theology of encounter via his analogy of faith/relation).

[1] Bruce L. McCormack, Mapping Modern Theology, 21.

[2] Ibid., 22 scribd.

What Hath Einstein to Do With Calvinism and Arminianism?

I think what often gets lost in the Calvinist/Arminian discussion among many non-specialist thinkers (but specialist thinkers too!) is the idea of ‘causation’. As Western people, especially in North America (but albert_einstein_256515elsewhere in the so called ‘developed’ world as well) we have simply inherited a very analytical and Newtonian mechanical understanding of how things work. We have lost all sense of dynamism in the way things relate, and we have overlaid our personal relationships, whether those take place at home, work, the church, etc., with philosophical baggage. And we attempt to squeeze our relationships into patterns that think of people and relationships more in terms of mathematical equations or logical syllogisms (just think of on-line dating for example; i.e. e-Harmony.com, Match.com, etc; or personality tests that corporations often require their potential or new employees to take; etc.) than in actual personal terms (which cannot be quantified). And so we take this kind of Newtonian or even Euclidian (geometric) understanding of human relationships, and apply that to the way we think about God. But this would be wrong. God, nor humans, created in the image of Christ (imago Christi), are susceptible to being reduced to a mathematical equation or logical syllogism; instead the way God relates, and thus people relate to others is dynamic and truly personal (meaning truly Trinitarian). We can’t measure God’s interaction with His creation/creatures by reducing that to a kind of mechanical matrix of a rigidly conception of cause and effect relationships. And the interesting thing about this, is that nature itself, created by a Triune relational God, bears witness to this dynamic reality; a reality that moves us beyond what we as Western Protestant Christians have inherited through the informing philosophy that guides the classical offerings of Calvinism and Arminianism. Thomas F. Torrance in his book Divine And Contingent Order develops this further, by describing the sea-change that occurred through Einstein’s work on the theory of relativity (don’t let this scare you away), and what this illustrates about the way the universe itself was created, and how this disrupts, or should, our conception of thinking about relationships with other humans, and God in particular, away from a rigid logical understanding of causation. Here is what Thomas Torrance has written:

… Thus Faraday and Maxwell opened the way for a new understanding of nature in terms of field theory which could be set against the Newtonian outlook and which, in spite of Maxwell’s acceptance of Newtonian dualism and mechanism, pointed to a non-mechanical view of the universe in which matter and field are unified.

The decisive step in this direction was taken by Einstein in his rejection of Newtonian dualism and mechanism. Following on clarification particularly by H. Hertz and H.A. Lorentz of difficult problems resulting from contradictions between Maxwellian and Newtonian mechanics, Einstein introduced a fundamental change into field theory, coordinating it with a startlingly new view of the universe and its unitary dynamic order, very different from the Newtonian world-view. He dethroned time and space from their absolute, unvarying, prescriptive role in the Newtonian system and brought them down to empirical reality, where he found them indissolubly integrated with its on-going processes. At the same time he set aside the idea of instantaneous action at a distance, but also set aside the existence of ether (still maintained by Lorentz) and all idea of the substantiality of the field (in Faraday’s sense). There now emerged the concept of the continuous field of space-time which interacts with the constituent matter/energy of the universe, integrating everything within it in accordance with its unitary yet variable objective rational order of non-causal connections. Thus instead of explaining the behaviour of the field and all events within it in terms of the motion of separated material substances characterize by unique unchanging patterns and defined by reference to the conditioning of an inertial system, and therefore in terms of quantifiable motion and strict mechanical causes, Einstein explained it in terms of the objective configuration of the indivisible field and the dynamic invariant relatedness inherent in it–that is to say, in terms of the principle of relativity. It was the radical break with Newtonian mechanics and the Newtonian world-view that made relativity so difficult to grasp, but it was in coherence with this new understanding of the universe and its intrinsic order that Einstein also sought to develop quantum theory, without a duality of particle and field, which, as he believed, calls for the determination of relativistic field-structures in a proper scientific description of empirical reality, rather than a merely statistical account of quantum-experimental events and conditions. If a statistical approach is required in quantum mechanics it cannot rest content with offering an account of how experiments operate, but must offer an account of reality itself. All this implied the unification of matter and field in a dynamic, unbroken continuum–i.e. without the contiguous yet discontinuous connection of particles as in the Cartesian ‘field’–which prompted Einstein to devote so much attention to developing a unified theory and thereby determining the general laws of the whole indivisible filed. Although Einstein himself was not able to achieve this specific aim, nevertheless he succeeded, particularly through general relativity, as the staggering unfolding of its implications and the verification of its predictions have since shown, in opening the way toward a unified view of the universe with a very different conception of order. –Thomas F. Torrance, Divine And Contingent Order (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981), 77-8.

Okay, much of that may have sounded like gibberish to you (but I assure you, it is not!), but either way, what it should illustrate for you is that the way we think about reality and the way it works should not be something that we superimpose artificially upon it, thus forcing it into the mold we would have it operate in; but instead, we ought to come and accept that the universe itself (contingent as it is directly upon the Word of God, Gen. 1:1; Heb. 1:1-3) has its own given intelligibility, given to it by God, and allow the way it operates to inform the way we think about how God works, and relates to His creation, even in its very composition. In short, if the universe, at a fundamental level, does  not operate in a mechanical logically syllogistic way, then it would be wrong for us to tell the universe that it needs to operate under the conditions that we want it to operate within (Newton, Euclid, et al.).

Bringing this home now: How does this relate to classical Calvinism and Arminianism (among other classical theisms)? Calvinism and Arminianism largely operate from a system of thought about reality (metaphysics), that holds that God relates to creation “mechanically” (like a Newtonian view of the universe); and that God then relates to creation through decrees and built into the creation there are secondary causes that determine how creation itself will operate based upon God’s arbitrary choice. In effect this de-personalizes the relation of creation to Creator, and undercuts the idea that God at His core is Triune and personal. But, as Torrance, through Einstein and others has highlighted, is that the universe at a sub-atomic level is not put together this way; as corollary then, it would be better to recognize that the metaphysics and theory of causation that informs Calvinist and Arminian theology is not adequate, and that we should look for a theological approach that aligns with what is actually revealed and given to us by God; instead of imposing our theories about how God acts toward his creation based upon worn out and out-dated conceptions of metaphysics.

How The Christian Doctrine of creatio ex nihilo or ‘Creation Out of Nothing’ Makes Bill Nye a Saint, and Ken Ham a Heretic

In light of the forthcoming debate between Bill Nye – The Science Guy and Ken Ham – The Creation Science Guy – which will take place at Ham’s Creation Science Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio on February 4th; I thought it would be interesting to consider how the Christian orthodox teaching of creatio ex nihilo (‘creation out of nothing’), which serves prominent for T. F. Torrance’s approach to things, might impact how we as Christians might think about the relationship of Christian theology and the empirical or so called ‘hard’ sciences that engage in observational science. It might in fact be surprising to some, how  ‘creation out of nothing’ might in fact favor the methodology advocated by Bill Nye, more so than it does Ken Ham.

nye

Creation out of nothing (CON) was a teaching of the Christian church that developed quite early on in the 2nd century in particular. In fact it was a doctrine that was utilized as an apologetic, actually, against the dualistic heresies making there way into the church early on; primarily the blossoming Gnosticism. And yet in affirming CON, what ends up happening is that God and creation come to have an independence of their own; albeit God’s is a non-contingent independence, while creation’s is contingent independence – but an integrity and independence for both entities, nontheless. Thus, it might be contended, that if God and the creation are not given enough distinction, and we begin to tie God’s existence into the creation too closely, or too transcendentally, that we end up losing a God-world distinction, and He becomes one and mixed with His creation (pantheism), instead of its sustainer, and Lord; or he becomes aloof, and so distant from creation, that creation itself is no longer understood to be a good given by God, but a bad and something to escape from (Gnositicism).

Scottish theologian, David Fergusson, makes my brief points above more compelling and crisp; so let’s read what he has to communicate:

In their polemics against gnosticism, both Irenaeus and Tertullian reinforce and extend the doctrine of creation out of nothing. It is required not only to contest the assumption about the eternity of matter, but also to maintain the strict ontological distinction between the one God and all created reality. The cosmos does not represent a series of ontological gradations emanating from the divine outwards. There is one God, and everything else exists through the power of the Word of God. Since the Word of God is to be regarded as of the divine essence, it cannot be an intermediate deity that links the one true God with lower levels of reality. On both sides, therefore, the God–world distinction requires the doctrine of creation out of nothing. Neither is the world divine, nor is God divisible and composite like creaturely beings. So we must think of the world as the good creation of the one God from out of nothing. In this respect, ‘nothing’ simply denotes ‘not something’. ‘Nothing’ is not some shadowy substance suspended between being and non-being. Instead, it refers to what does not exist. In other words, the cosmos is not formed from eternal matter, nor does it emanate from the divine being. One implication of this sharp ontological distinction between creator and creation is that it belongs not to theology but to natural science to discover how the world works. This is a corollary of the Christian refusal to divinize the world, albeit one that has not always been recognized. [David Fergusson, “Creation,” in The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology (UK: Oxford University Press, 2010), edited by John Webster, Kathryn Tanner, and Iain Torrance, 80.]

If the implication that Fergusson teases out from the doctrine of creation out of nothing is viable; this debate between Dye and Ham would appear to place Dye (who I think is an atheist) on the Christian side of things, ironically, and Ham on the heretical side of things, since he would be guilty of collapsing God’s life into his creation, and as such tying God into creation in a way that His life becomes contingent upon creation’s existence. And this, Ham’s approach, would be exactly backwards from what he actually hopes to argue for; i.e. the necessity of God’s existence as attested to by creation.

Origins, Dawkins, and the Myth of Origins: A Faith Account

It is often assumed by atheists/fundamentalists like Richard Dawkins and the so called new Atheists that macro-evolutionary biology, and big-bang cosmology (amongst other disciplinary distinctives) is the death-knell for richard-dawkinsthe Christian explanation of things; i.e. that reality has an explanation that is extra nos (outside of us), and thus is not absolutized or made immanent to material nature itself. These new Atheists though, move too quickly; they presume that their explanation for reality—metaphysical materialism—comes with its own explanatory power as to the origins itself. But one major problem with this supposition is that the categories with which their supposed explanation for origins comes, does not by definition come with something outside of material reality; and thus by definition—if material reality is the end in itself that these new Atheists naïvely presuppose it to be—the confines of thought from which they have to work, at a first order level (or a general knowledge level) is defined with the prior commitment that material reality is all that there is. But, again, this does not tell us about the origin of material reality, it only tells us that there is material reality, and that material reality, enclosed in on itself, as it is, has a set of conceptual categories through which to think; but these categories, by definition, do not include the kind of conceptual ingression required to explain the origins of material reality itself. And so these new Atheists fool themselves into thinking that they have a corner on reality, that left to their own devices, they really don’t have after all. David Bentley Hart makes my point more prescient:

There is, after all, nothing inherently reasonable in the conviction that all of reality is simply an accidental confluence of physical causes, without any transcendent source or end. Materialism is not a fact of experience or a deduction of logic; it is a metaphysical prejudice, nothing more, and one that is arguably more irrational than almost any other. In general, the unalterably convinced materialist is a kind of childishly complacent fundamentalist, so fervently, unreflectively, and rapturously committed to the materialist vision of reality that if he or she should encounter any problem—logical or experiential—that might call its premises into question, or even merely encounter a limit beyond which those premises lose their explanatory power, he or she is simply unable to recognize it. Richard Dawkins is a perfect example; he does not hesitate, for instance, to claim that “natural selection is the ultimate explanation for our existence.” But this is a silly assertion and merely reveals that Dawkins does not understand the words he is using. The question of existence does not concern how it is that the present arrangement of the world came about, from causes already internal to the world, but how it is that anything (including any cause) can exist at all. This question Darwin and Wallace never addressed, nor were ever so hopelessly confused as to think they had. It is a question that no theoretical or experimental science could ever answer, for it is qualitatively different from the kind of questions that the physical sciences are competent to address. Even if theoretical physics should one day discover the most basic laws upon which the fabric of space and time is woven, or evolutionary biology the most elementary phylogenic forms of terrestrial life, or palaeontology an  utterly seamless genealogy of every species, still we shall not have thereby drawn one inch nearer to a solution of the mystery of existence. No matter how fundamental or simple the level reached by the scientist—protoplasm, amino acids, molecules, subatomic particles, quantum events, unified physical laws, a primordial singularity, mere logical possibilities—existence is something else altogether. Even the simplest of things, and even the most basic of principles, must first of all be, and nothing within the universe of contingent things (nor even the universe itself, even if it were somehow “eternal”) can be intelligently conceived of as the source of explanation of its own being. [David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, 103.]

The author to the Hebrews has written:

 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, ~1:3

By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. ~11:3

Thomas Torrance articulates the God-world relation by using the concepts of God’s non-contingent independence, and the world’s contingent independence; I think this asymmetric mutually implicating binary correlates well with what Hart is getting at. The world cannot provide its own ground for its own being. The world can speak of things from within its own being because the being of the world is given an intelligible order and coefficient knowledge because of its contingent dependence upon something else as the given for its being as the world. It is thus unintelligible to assert that the world has its own independent giveness based upon what we can emperically observe in the given world. In other words, the fact that there is a given world presupposes something that the world itself, left to itself, cannot explain under its own strength. This is what the author to the Hebrews is asserting; that is, that we cannot explain the being of the world by the being of the world by finding an analogy in the being of world for its own being (this is circular). Instead we must relate to the giver of the giveness of the world through an analogy or relation of faith; and this is only possible if the giver of the giveness of the world graciously chooses to reveal himself to us, breaking in on the world he has given its being to.

In short, the new Atheists need something more than they have available to them, left to their own bereft machinations and apparatuses. They need more than the being of this world has to offer them; they need some grounding that will allow them to discern the possibility, more, the reality, that the world itself, by definition, is contingent; not upon itself, of course, but upon a ground that comes before the being of the world itself. But this would mean that they would have to walk by faith, not by sight; and unless they have the Spirit they will never be able to say that Jesus is Lord—of all men (and women), then, they are the most to be pitied.

The Bible and Science and Evangelism: A Boat Too Far and the Literality of the Biblical Stories?

I continue to do the work of an Evangelist; it is a challenge and gift of being a Christian that I thoroughly enjoy, and from which I draw personal telos or purpose in my ongoing adventure as a Christian person soli Deo gloria! One of my most recent contacts has an interesting brew (if I can say it like that) of beliefs about reality and his own personal purpose in this amazing complexity known as life. An aspect that seems to bother, this my interlocutor, is what appears to him to be an over-literal reading of, for one thing in the Bible, the Genesis account of human origins and the related stories therein—namely, and particularly troubling for my friend, the story of Noah and the Ark. He cannot even begin to fathom how any rational (vs. rationalist) person could suppose to believe that any modernly informed person could take this literal—he seems to think that this is not physically possible (see how Ken Ham seeks to answer this apparent conundrum here, this seems to be a very reasonable explanation—proviso, I am not generally a fan of Ken Ham). I would like to expand this conversation out a bit, for my friend, myself, and anyone else who is reading; and I will do this by drawing our attention to a recently released book by Brazos Press entitled: Evolution of Adam, The: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins by Peter EnnsHere is how Enns describes some of his gist in this book:

And here is how Sandra Collins of Library Journal synopsizes the general themes of the book:

“[Enns’s] basic argument is this: modern creation arguments that focus on either the literal historical truth of the Bible or evolutionary perspectives are wrong. The Bible, including its creation accounts, represents a comprehensive theological worldview. It’s neither a literal accounting nor is it science. And it was never intended to be either of these two things. . . . Academically minded Christians looking to bridge this intellectual divide will appreciate the tone and bibliographic references here.”

I have once written on this topic here; and my thesis, taken from former seminary professor Al Bayliss, sound very similar to the way that Collins describes Enns’ primary theses in his book. Yet, my sense is that my conclusions will probably end up differently than Enns; my conclusion would be informed by the idea that a ‘theological worldview’ and ‘literal reality’ correlate with each other. That there is a ratio that  inheres between the rational (and literal) uncreated reality of God, and that which has been given expression in the contingent, and ordered reality of creation itself; so created order and rationality is given its rationality by definition of its contingence upon God’s rationality that he built into creation through Divine fiat. My point, I can’t follow this dualism, that is often posited, between theological reality and created reality; if for no other reason, but because we have these two realities in the conjoined hypostatic union of the Non-contingent/contingent reality of the Divine/human in the person of Jesus Christ—or that I see all of reality conditioned by the primacy of this kind of ‘unioned’ life. I am digressing a wee bit.

So this issue of origins, and the literal nature of the Genesis account, in particular, and for my friend; the literal nature of Biblical accounting in general continues to be an ongoing issue. Enns’ latest book and the work of the foundation of which he is an integral part, Biologos, illustrates the ongoingness of this continued struggle (or not) between modern science and modern biblical and theological studies—in fact Brian LePort, a blogger here in Portland, Oregon has just recently posted on a very related question here.

I write all of the foregoing to come up against the question that prompted me to write this in the first place; do you think that evolution, one way or the other, should be an issue that hinders or in fact fosters the ‘intellectual’ space for someone to have the room to entertain a belief in Jesus Christ as the historic orthodox person of Christian proclamation? In other words, if evolution (neo-Darwinian) stands in the way, intellectually (whatever that means, theologically), of someone being able to give a hearing to Jesus, do you think we should be softer on this issue and allow for the fact that it is possible to both affirm modern scientific theories and claims, and the claims of Jesus Christ? I know of plenty of believing Christians (like Peter Enns, or even my beloved T.F. Torrance) who believe in macro-evolution, and also are thoroughgoing Christians—I shared this, briefly with my friend, I think he was encouraged by this.

Anyway, what do you think?

Culture Wars: Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design … Continue

In the past I would have been known as a hard Intelligent Design advocate, now I could probably be identified as either a soft ID advocate, or even somewhat indifferent (but I will say that I do have problems with the assumptions of a neo-Darwinian conception of macro-evolution, grounded in metaphysical materialism, as it is). This issue of Creationism/Biblicism V. Evolution/Science continues to fuel the culture wars in America at fevered tempatures, in certain tribes that is. My indifference on the topic is probably related more to the fact that I am worn out, at this point, in arguing about it; and the fact that I just don’t pay that much attention to it anymore. David Fergusson, Scottish Theologian at New College, Edinburgh (TF Torrance’s school) writes this:

Recent cultural conflict has been generated, particularly in the USA, by attempts to present Genesis 1—2 as offering an alternative cosmology to that of the modern scientifc world view. Instead of galaxies, planets, and life forms emerging from a violent explosion from a point of infinite density around twelve billion years ago, ‘creation science’ has attempted to maintain a ‘young universe’ only thousands of years old (Frye 1993). While allowing for some changes that are attributed to the effects of the flood, the world is perceived as created in much the same condition as we observe it today. The intellectual impossibility of this movement is evident from its attempt to challenge not merely biological evolution but the confirmed theories of other well-established scientific disciplines, including cosmology, astronomy, physcis, geology, and palaeontology. From the theologian’s perspective, it is an unnecessary fight to pick for the reasons outlined above. As Steve Jones, the distinguished geneticist, has often said, the conflict between science and religion resembles a fight between a tiger and a shark. Each will prevail on its own proper territory, but it will be hopelessly defeated by encroaching on the domain of the other. [David Fergusson, The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology: Chapter 4, Creation, 74]

When push comes to shove, I think my ‘ID’ sensibilities are still present. There is too much of a quid pro quo[ness] to this whole game sometimes—i.e. if the theologian will scratch the scientist’s back, the scientist will scratch the theologian’s back, or vice versa, etc. ID has been collapsed into creationism, when in fact ID is clearly not creationism, as it seeks to offer an active working scientific model (like Dembski’s ‘specified complexity’ etc.). I think there is more to this than Fergusson lets on. Someone no less than famed atheist of the 20th century, Antony Flew, converted to theism (no small feat), in no small part to the arguments presented by Intelligent Design scientists—clearly this is circumstantial, and not an argument for ID; but it helps to illustrate the kind of force that ID has to offer, to the point of helping clear the intellectual and evidentiary hurddles that heretofore had prevented an antagonistic atheist like Flew to reject his life’s work, to state that he was now a convinced theist.

Anyway, this is something that, ultimately, I don’t think Christians need to divide over (I mean fellowship); but it is something we can disagree over. I don’t think Fergusson and those like him have considered that there are actually quite a few reputable scientists who have rejected neo-Darwinianism in favor of ID. Alas, the public smear campaign has by and large worked to relegate ID to the quagmire of so called ‘Creation Science’.

This is one thing that I actually disagree with TF Torrance on; TFT would have been in the Fergusson camp. Or more to the point, Fergusson is actually in TFT’s camp on this.

What do you think?

Theological Science, Against Dualisms

Thinking “scientifically” is also thinking “theologically,” and vice versa:

. . . theological science and natural science have their own proper and distinctive objectives to pursue, but their work inevitably overlaps, for they both respect and operate through the same rational structures of space and time, while each develops special modes of investigation, rationality, and verification in accordance with the nature and the direction of its distinctive field. But since each of them is the kind of thing it is as a human inquiry because of the profound correlation between human knowing and the space-time structures of creation, each is in its depth akin to the other . . . natural science and theological science are not opponents but partners before God, in a service of God in which each may learn from the other how better to pursue its own distinctive function . . . (Paul Molnar quoting Thomas Torrance [The Ground and Grammar of Theology],”Thomas F. Torrance: Theologian Of The Trinity,” 24)

This is an important principle to wrap the mind around. Torrance is always concerned with undercutting the dualistic ways of thinking that we typically operate out of; in other words, he wants to make sure that the “object” under consideration is always tied to the “subject” considering the “object.” Or, that the “subject” is not allowed to impose some foreign mode of thinking upon the “object” under consideration; thus, in effect, warping the “object,” and not allowing it (or Him) to determine its own shape and emphasis. This then can be applied to the “natural” or “theological” realms of inquiry.

Christianity has failed to grasp this critique in general; thus we continue to go down a road that is largely dualist in orientation —- whether that be from the proactive side (like theological liberalism might represent) or on the reactive side (like theological fundamentalism may represent).

The Search For The Historical Adam, Weak Science

Science is not a system of thought free from metaphysical foundations. It is not a discipline that is itself, at a first order level, grounded upon its own second order methodology; in other words, science itself (and of course I am referring to the “Natural Sciences”) cannot justify its own existence as a discipline upon emperical observational grounds.

The following will be my attempt to provide an evaluative matrix through which some unsatisfied soul might have an intellectual apparatus in place that will allow him/her to critically engage the recent article written by Richard N. Ostling at Christianity Today entitled The Search For The Historical Adam. The article, in a nutshell, surveys the attempt by certain Christian scientists (like Francis Collins) to argue their belief in theistic evolution. One of the casualties of this endeavor is none other than Adam (and Eve) himself. For these Christian scientists, in order for their position to work (that is macro-evolution), Adam cannot be one of two literal original humans (the other being Eve) from whence all of humanity has descended. According to them, and the “evidence,” humanity had to have descended from multiple humanoids. Thus, the Adam and Eve story becomes a myth, an allegorical parable, intended to communicate that at some point humanity was thrust into a life of moral decline and sin — and Adam and Eve become the literary tools by which God has chosen to communicate this state of affairs. Here is how Francis Collins frames this according to Hostling (Collins is the scientist who decoded the human genome and was nominated by Obama to be head of the National Institute of Health, who is also an Evangelical Christian and spear-heading a movement that seeks to promote theistic evolution):

Collins’s 2006 bestseller, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief—which so vexed those secularist critics—reported scientific indications that anatomically modern humans emerged from primate ancestors perhaps 100,000 years ago—long before the apparent Genesis time frame—and originated with a population that numbered something like 10,000, not two individuals. Instead of the traditional belief in the specially created man and woman of Eden who were biologically different from all other creatures, Collins mused, might Genesis be presenting “a poetic and powerful allegory” about God endowing humanity with a spiritual and moral nature? “Both options are intellectually tenable,” he concluded.

The fact that Christianity Today is choosing to run a story on this illustrates the impact that this is having within the “Evangelical” community. Some are, of course, comparing this to when Copernicus and Galileo argued—against the Church—that we in fact lived in a helio-centric not geo-centric galaxy.

What I am going to do now, as I alluded to above, is to provide an apparatus through which to think about what is being communicated by folks like Francis Collins (and his foundation Biologos). It is my belief that he, and those like him, have accepted what is called Weak Scientism. The following is going to be a very long quote that will describe what that entails (Weak Scientism), and then I will follow with a brief closing comment (this is a long post, 1, 788 words). Here we go:

Scientism, expressed in the quotation by Rescher [what I quote in the post before this one] at the beginning of the chapter, is the view that science is the very paradigm of truth and rationality. If something does not square with currently well-established scientific beliefs, if it is not within the domain of entities appropriate for scientific investigation, or if it is not amenable to scientific methodology, then it is not true or rational. Everything outside of science is a matter of mere belief and subjective opinion, of which rational assessment is impossible. Science, exclusively and ideally, is our model of intellectual excellence.

Moreland and Craig briefly describe two forms of scientism, “Strong and Weak.” We will skip their comments on strong and move to their discussion on weak; since this is what I believe is applicable to the approach being followed by someone like Collins, and those like him. Here’s what they say about weak scientism:

Adovocates of weak scientism allow for the existence of truths apart from science and are even willing to grant that they can have some minimal, postive rationality status without the support of science. But advocates of weak scientism still hold that science is the most valuable, most serious and most authoritative sector of human learning. Every other intellectual activity is inferior to science. Further, there are virtually no limits to science. There is no field into which scientific research cannot shed light. To the degree that some issue or belief outside science can be given scientific support or can be reduced to science, to that degree the issue or belief becomes rationally acceptable. Thus we have an intellectual and perhaps even a moral obligation to try to use science to solve problems in other fields that, heretofore, have been untouched by scientific methodology. For example, we should try to solve problems about the mind by the methods of neurophysiology and computer science.

Not that advocates of weak scientism are not merely claiming that, for example, belief that the universe had a beginning, supported by good philosophical and theological arguments, gains extra support if that belief also has good scientific arguments for it. This claim is relatively uncontroversial because, usually, if some belief has a few good supporting arguments and later gains more good supporting arguments, then this will increase the rationality of the belief in question. But that is not what weak scientism imples, because this point cuts both ways. For it will equally be the case that good philosophical and theological arguments for a beginning of the universe will increase the rationality of such a belief initially supported only by scientific arguments. Advocates of weak scientism are claiming that fields outside science gain in they are given scientific support and not vice versa. . . . If weak scientism is true, then the conversation between theology and science will be a monologue with theology listening to science and waiting for science to give it support.

Here now, the authors of my reference (Moreland and Craig) give argument for why scientism (strong or weak) is not a sound methodology or approach:

[F]irst, scientism (in both forms) does not adequately allow for the task of stating and defending the necessary presuppositions for science itself to be practiced (assuming scientific realism). Thus scientism shows itself to be a foe and not a friend of science.

Science cannot be practiced in thin air. In fact, science itself presupposes a number of substantive philosophical theses which must be assumed if science is even going to get off the runway. Now each of these assumptions has been challenged, and the task of stating and defending these assumptions is one of the tasks of philosophy. The conclusions of science cannot be more certain than the presuppositions it rests on and uses to reach those conclusions.

[W]eak scientism misconstrues their strength in its view that scientific propositions have greater epistemic authority than those of other fields like philosophy. This would mean that the conclusions of science are more certain than the philosophical presuppositions used to justify and reach those conclusions, and that is absurd. In this regard, the following statement by John Kekes strikes at the heart of weak scientism:

A successful argument for science being the paradigm of rationality must be based on the demonstration that the presuppositions of science are preferable to other presuppositions. That demonstration requires showing that science, relying on these presuppositions, is better at solving some problems and acheiving some ideals than its competitors. But showing that cannot be the task of science. It is, in fact, one task of philosophy. Thus the enterprise of justifying the presuppositions of science by showing that with their help science is the best way of solving certain problems and acheiving some ideals is a necessary precondition of the justification of science. Hence philosophy, and not science, is a stronger candidate for being the very paradigm of rationality.

Here is a list of some of the philosophical presuppositions of science: (1) the existence of a theory-independent, external world; (2) the orderly nature of the external world; (3) the knowability of the external world; (4) the existence of truth; (5) the laws of logic; (6) the reliability of our cognitive and sensory faculties to serve as truth gatherers and as a source of justified beliefs in our intellectual environment; (7) the adequacy of language to describe the world; (8) the existence of values used in science (e.g. “test theories fairly and report test results honestly”); (9) the uniformity of nature and induction; (10) the existence of numbers. (J. P. Moreland & William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations For A Christian Worldview, 346-48)

I would contend that Collins, and those who are proposing that Adam and Eve are not real historical people, are operating from a weak scientism as just described. They have placed science over scripture in a monological way, so that scripture becomes science’s wax-nose. Whichever way the “empirical” data portends to go, so must scripture in regards to what scripture writers presuppose for many of their theological arguments to hold (like Paul’s 1st/2nd Adam motif etc. or the Lukan account of Jesus’ lineage as the son of God in Luke 3). As the writers above highlight though, science itself is available for serious critical scrutiny. That is, its very existence as a dicipline is itself grounded upon non-emperical assumptions. This, at least, should humble those who would make the very audacious claims that they are making about what the scriptures teach themselves. This is not similar to heliocentrism, because the issue under concern did not have to do with something of the magnitude that this current issue presents. The heliocentrism issue certainly had to do with some interpretive issues and church authority in that period; but it does not parallel the theological impact that this current proposal (about Adam) could have both theologically and exegetically. Nevertheless, my primary point with this post was to provide something to evaluate the approach that I believe Collins & co. have taken. I believe that they are weak scientists. And thus I believe their approach is “weak!” I am not at all persuaded by their general premises and theory. They have made multiple inductive and interpretive steps, shaped by their prior committment to said assumptions [like some of those 10 points listed above by Moreland and Craig], in order to arrive at the conclusions that they have about the historicity of Adam and Eve. Yet, the assumptions that have helped to inform their conclusions are themselves assumptions that are not self-evident, and are certainly not “scientific.” At the very least they should be much more circumspect in their presentation and conclusions given the gravity of their proposal.

The Religion of Science: Scientism

I am going to provide just a brief quote from someone on “Scientism” as a preview of a longer, following post that I am going to provide on the recent issue that Christianity Today is highlighting in regards to questioning the historicity of Adam relative to contemporary “Scientific” inquiry. Here’s the quick little quote:

The theorist who maintains that science is the be-all and end-all— that what is not in science textbooks is not worth knowing—is an ideologist with a peculiar and distorted doctrine of his own. For him, science is no longer a sector of the cognitive enterprise but an all-inclusive world-view. This is the doctrine not of science but of scientism. To take this stance is not to celebrate science but to distort it. — Nicholas Rescher, The Limits Of Science

(Quoted by: J.P. Moreland & William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations For A Christian Worldview)

I will be taking a modal/analytical look at the impact that either what has been called a Strong or a Weak form of Scientism is having upon the current debate surrounding the historical reality of Adam in the book of Genesis. It is the ‘Weak’ form of scientism that seems to be at play amongst the methodology at work in this rising discussion amongst Christians. Stay tuned . . .

*PS. I am going to keep comments closed on this post because I want to reserve any forthcoming comments on this topic for my next post; which will be longer and more detailed in regards to the methodology that I see being employed in this whole situation. I think it is important to remember that we all have interpretive grids informing our interpretive decisions relative to any data. The question is, relative to “Science,” is if in fact, as claimed, that they are immune to this reality, and thus their respective conclusions are simple, basic, brute observational realities. If this is not the case, which it is not, then I sense that places like Biologos and other like-minded Christian academicians are being over-wrought (and somewhat triumphalist) in their “Scientific” conclusions. There are an array of inductive steps one takes to come to the conclusions that some Christian scientists are coming to in regards to the “data” and how it affects their interpretation of natural history juxtaposed with salvation history revealed in Scripture. It is these interpretive steps, and the informing assumptions that need to be considered more carefully before we run head-long into a situation that is too quickly being compared (abductively) to a Copernican or Galilean revolution. More coming . . .