iSoul In the beginning is reality

Category Archives: Creation

Creation as the result of the Creator’s work and the act of creating

Essentials of Christian Thought, part 3

This post continues from part 2, which is here. The following are more excerpts from Roger E. Olson’s The Essentials of Christian Thought.

For [Emil] Brunner, and for me, natural theology means only (1) that the biblical-Christian worldview better answers life’s ultimate questions than its competitors and alternatives, and (2) that eyes of faith for whom the Bible “absorbs the world” see the natural world as God’s good creation—”charged with the grandeur of God”—even if eyes of unbelief cannot see it as such. p.75

For biblical-Christian thought, in contrast with Greek philosophy, souls are created by God, they are not emanations, offshoots, of God’s own substance. p.81

Nearly all extra-biblical philosophies struggle with the [biblical] idea of a personal, related, vulnerable ultimate reality capable of being influences by what creatures do. p.84

Brunner believed God is revealed in nature and in the human spirit generally (general revelation). p.92

First, … nature and universal human experience, general revelation, yield only a “thatness” of God but not God’s “whoness,” personhood, and will. What humanity needs is to know God personally, not just God’s nature as ultimate reality. Second, according to Brunner, in complete agreement with most classical Protestant theology (and the Bible in Romans 1!), reason, or the use of reason, has been spoiled in humanity by sin. p.93

The reason the human person cannot use his own reason to arrive at a satisfying life philosophy or vision or reality is his own natural tendency to minimize evil—especially in himself. p.93

Brunner argued that “everyone who philosophizes does so from a definite starting point, upon which he, as this particular man, stands. The Christian philosophizes from that point at which God’s revelation sets him.” p.94

For Brunner, the God of biblical revelation is supernatural and personal but not human. p.95

God is both ontologically beyond and personally present. p.98

The point of this entire chapter is that there is a biblical, narrative-based metaphysic that contrasts with other metaphysical visions of ultimate reality, is not irrational, lies at the foundation of Christianity itself, and is being retrieved by Jewish and Christian scholars who are also separating it from extrabiblical philosophies that conflict with it. p. 99

Many scholars tend to define the difference between philosophy and theology as revelation—theology uses it and philosophy does not. There are, however, exceptions. “natural theology” is the rational exploration of the evidence of God in nature and universal human experience. “Philosophical theology” is philosophy that explores reasons for belief in God …. p.100

Brunner coined the term eristics for his own belief that, when set alongside alternative worldviews, Christian philosophy is superior. p.106

… the biblical narrative requires belief that God’s existence precedes the world’s not only temporally but ontologically. That is, the world is dependent on God, not vice versa. p.119

[Plantinga’s] conclusion, therefore, is that there is superficial conflict but deep concord between science and theistic belief, but superficial concord and deep conflict between science and naturalism. p.122

Humanism is simply any belief in the dignity and creativity of human persons, that human beings are unique and above nature, in some sense transcendent, capable of great culture achievements as well as terrible destruction. It places special value on humanity. … the real humanism is Christian humanism because of the biblical-Christian emphasis on humans as created in the image and likeness of God. p.123

functional naturalism—belief that although God exists and is person, he does not intervene in history or human lives, which are ruled by natural laws and explainable by science. p. 125

Classical Christian theism, born in the cauldron of philosophized Christianity in the second and third centuries in the Roman Empire, reached its zenith in Anselm and Aquinas. p.132

Gradually, Christian began to envision ultimate reality, God, along the lines of Platonic metaphysics—including the idea that God, being metaphysically complete and perfect in every way imaginable, cannot suffer or be affect by temporal events or creatures. The word for this was and is impassibility. p. 136

 

The next post in this series is here.

Terms for science controversies

Controversies are more difficult than they need be. I have written about this before here and here. One challenge for dealing with controversies is that terminology is misleading, inaccurate, or loaded. Here are some examples from the creation-evolution controversy.

The term ‘evolution’ originally meant an unrolling, and was applied by Charles Lyell and Herbert Spencer to the idea that there was a natural progression over time from lower to higher organisms. Charles Darwin did not originally call his theory ‘evolution’ but others prevailed on him to use the term. Ever since people have confused the idea of progress with Darwin’s theory of unguided evolution.

Historically, Darwin’s theory is one of several theories of transmutation, which is any natural sequence of changes over time from lower to higher organisms. Darwin’s particular theory was that the natural variability of generations over a long time might result in some populations of lower species transmutating into higher species. In other words, varieties could become new species, which could become new genera, and so on.

The process Darwin theorized is not an unrolling as the term evolution would imply, and even transmutation gives it a direction which is not part of the undirected process. A better term would be “variationism” because it posits that every species starts as a variety, or variation of an existing species. It’s like a chemist who asserts that isotopes can become new elements.

A naturalist refers to person who studies nature. But it can also refer to one who promotes naturalism, the teaching that nature is all there is. It would be better to call the first kind of naturalist a ‘naturist’ since it is nature, not ‘the natural’ that they study.

Naturalism is the foundation of transmutationism, including the variationism known as evolution. Some would call a change “from molecules to man” evolution but evolutionists don’t like to address the origin of life. And cosmic evolution refers to the ideas of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. It is naturalism that leads people to support stellar evolution, and other ideas in which ‘nature’ explains the whole history and condition of the universe.

Naturalism is opposed by creationism, though creationism is often paired against evolution. Creationism originally meant that God created the universe, without addressing what has happened since the creation. This is not a bad usage but what about the character of the original creation? It is not part of a natural progression, and is more than mere creation. The key issue is the creation of kinds of things, particularly populations that can vary only within created limits.

The question then is the existence of ‘natural kinds’ which are kinds of things that possess a fixed nature. To include creation in the concept, a ‘natural kind” would be a ‘created kind’. And someone who accepts ‘created kinds’ should be called a, well, ‘creationist’ in the sense that includes created kinds. At least this is not far from the common meaning today.

The term ‘scientist’ is problematic, too. It would literally mean someone who studies knowledge. That would refer to every discipline that concerns knowledge, including history, philosophy, theology, etc. But the term is meant for a restricted class of people who study empirical science. The correct term would seem to be ’empiricist’. However, empiricism is a teaching that all knowledge is based on sense experience. That usually means ‘scientism’ so we seem to be going in circles.

The solution is to broaden the definition of scientist to include all those who study the sciences, as distinct from the arts. The restricted usage would then be ’empirical scientist’. Since one does not need a license to practice science, unlike the medical or engineering professions, the term ‘scientist’ seems to be available for wider usage. So historians, philosophers, and theologians are scientists, too.

The original creation story

The fact that many creation stories from around the world have been preserved (see here) shows that there is something behind them all. It shows us that something happened at the very dawn of time that human beings were aware of and considered important and tried to pass on.

Now imagine trying to preserve a story for thousands of years. How would you do it? If you wrote it on paper, the paper would disintegrate over time. If you inscribed it on stone, the stones could be buried over time. If you taught it to your children, how would you know if they passed it on correctly? All this and language changes so that the story might be misunderstood.

That is to say it’s not surprising that there are many variations of the creation story. It’s impossible now to combine them into one account because they are so different. For example, the role of water in the various stories makes some of them creation stories and some more like flood stories. How can we ever sort this out?

When you read of the creation and flood in Genesis, you can start to see how the other creation stories are all related to it. Both creation and flood are covered but in separate narratives. Instead of rivalries between purported gods, there is the orderly creation by the divine creator of a universe that we know is very ordered.

There are unique aspects to the Genesis account, too. This author notes several: Study Bible Shorts: The Uniqueness of the Genesis Creation Story – The Identity of God, No Rival Gods, Creation out of nothing, The Value of Humanity, and The Sabbath.

What about creation stories that are older than the Bible? Writing was not invented in the early days of humanity so stories were passed on orally. It’s of little significance which story was written down first. What counts is the reliability of the source, whether oral or written. The Bible has been zealously preserved for thousands of years. Other written accounts languished in caves and underground, forgotten and rejected.

To preserve a story for thousands of years you’ll need a group of people dedicated to preserve it intact. The Hebrew people have a well-deserved reputation for preserving their oral and written traditions. They (and later the Christians) have been fanatic about preserving the Bible over thousands of years. The Bible contains the original story.

Where does that leave ancient mythologies? They are a combination of corruptions of Genesis and legends about people such as Adam and Noah that sometimes made them into gods or superhuman beings. They indirectly reflect what actually happened, of which the key events are preserved in Genesis.

Christianity and science

A good summary of the myth of a long-running conflict between Christianity and science is in Timothy Larsen’s “War is Over, If You Want It” (September 2008). This warfare myth was invented in the 19th century by people such as TH Huxley who either should have known better or were purposely stirring up animosity. It is composed of individual myths that “support” it, such as the myth that Christians thought the earth was flat in the Middle Ages or the myth that Christians opposed the use of anesthesia during childbirth in the 19th century.

Larsen references Frank M. Turner’s “Contesting Cultural Authority” (Cambridge, 1993), as someone who “persuasively argued that the notion of a conflict between theology and science was generated as part of a campaign of professionalization by would-be scientists.” (p.150) It’s almost forgotten today, but the profession of a scientist didn’t exist until the late 19th century. Before that, science was developed by amateurs (including clerics) who had the leisure and interest. TH Huxley and others fought against such people because they stood in the way of a new class of professional scientists.

Although the warfare meme is vastly exaggerated, there are enough misunderstandings that the opposite idea of integration isn’t realistic. For example, it is said that many Christians quickly accepted Darwin’s theory of evolution in the 19th century and later. But what is overlooked is the fact that Christians misunderstood Darwin and substituted their own ideas of evolution by law or miracle.  Theistic evolution is common among Christians who either insert a law-bound version for Darwin’s undirected version or else invent undetectable miracles that make it God-directed.

Many have noted that modern science developed in a Christian matrix. If science jettisons its Christian roots, it loses a reason to expect an ordered universe that can be understood by human beings. It may either adopt a multiverse that just happens to have order in one universe or drift toward non-causal explanations in a chaotic universe.

Some scientists want to deepen the Christian roots of science rather than cut them off. They are mostly creationists or intelligent design proponents. Those who follow TH Huxley will have nothing of it. But some are willing to entertain new proposals. As the modern era comes to a close, we can expect that modern science will change into something else.

Darwin’s theory and Huxley’s science

It is common to read statements like this: “For the vast majority of biologists, the debate over whether evolution occurs took place in the 19th century and has long been settled — evolution won.” (1) The problem with this statement is that it was not a scientific position that won but a philosophical and political agenda that won.

Charles Darwin in his 1859 Origin of Species presented his “theory of descent with modification through natural selection” (later called evolution) in which he argued that universal common descent by natural selection was possible. He contrasted his theory with an alternative he called “the theory of independent acts of creation”. He was careful not to press his case too far, and basically argued that a theory of evolution was an alternative to one version of a theory of creation. Since he avoided controversy, he left it to others to defend his theory in public.

Thomas Henry Huxley is universally acknowledged as the leading defender of Darwin’s theory in the years after the publication of the Origin of Species. But he did much more. His main defense consisted in asserting that Darwin’s theory of evolution was science and the alternative theory of creation was not. He even claimed that evolution was the only possible scientific theory that explained the diversity of life.

Huxley framed his defense of the theory of evolution and put-down of any theory of creation in terms that avoided the appearance of redefining science, but that was what he was doing. He argued that science must be agnostic about non-empirical forms of knowledge, especially claims for God and the supernatural. This was an argument for what today is known as naturalism. Such a philosophy was already on the rise, with positivism, materialism, and secularism.

Not only were the alternatives to naturalism deprecated, they were considered pseudo-science. But if any theory of creation was not science, then Carl Linnaeus was not doing science when he developed his taxonomy, in which he endeavored to discover all of the created kinds of organisms. Somehow mathematics would still be available to Huxley’s science despite it being a non-empirical form of knowledge.

Another aspect of the controversy was the change in the status of the clergy. One of Huxley’s goals was to remove the clergy from influence over education. As the sciences became professionalized, Huxley was successful in keeping the clergy out. The result was that a thoroughly naturalistic science became ascendant in the universities.

Thus began the strategy of promoting naturalism under the guise of science. It was so successful that people to this day don’t know science was ever otherwise. Such is the historical ignorance of our time that such ideas reign virtually unchallenged.

Methodological creationism and naturalism

Methodological naturalism is considered a strategy for conducting natural science, in which naturalism is temporarily assumed but not affirmed as a metaphysical reality. But for those who reject metaphysical naturalism, it is unacceptable to assume a falsehood for any purpose, except to prove that it leads to absurdity. For example, it would be nonsense for a mathematician to assume “1 = 2”, prove a theorem, and then return to “1 ≠ 2” because that way one could prove any and every statement.

What is reasonable is the bypass, which works like this: transform the problem, solve the problem, then reverse transform the solution. See Bypasses: A Simple Approach to Complexity by Z. A. Melzak (Wiley, 1983). Symbolically, this is S-1TS where S and S-1 represent the transform and its inverse and T represents the operation in the transformed domain. This is also how an analogy works.

A simple example is the technique of completing the square to solve a quadratic equation: start with equation ax² + bx + c = 0, transform it into a square (x + b/2a)² = –c + b²/4a, solve this by taking square roots, then transform the solution back.

The bypass works for a one-to-one transform because it is invertible, but it does not work with a one-to-many or many-to-one transform because they are not invertible. Since the transform “1 = 2” maps 1 and 2 to the same number, it is not invertible and so won’t work as a bypass.

Something similar is at work with the attempt to use methodological naturalism as a bypass: reality is mapped to “nature” by either excluding anything non-natural (supernatural) or by mapping anything non-natural to something in nature. The former transform is clearly not invertible but the latter is not either because it means that something in nature has two sources or explanations, one natural and one non-natural, which is a many-to-one mapping.

There is an alternative method available, which could be called methodological creationism. It transforms everything natural into its corresponding creation and everything non-natural into an act of the man Jesus of Nazareth. This transformation can be inverted since it is a one-to-one mapping. For example, organisms can be mapped to creatures, which can be reversed mapped at the end. Non-natural acts of creation can be mapped to acts of the man Jesus of Nazareth, which can be reverse mapped at the end.

An advantage of methodological creationism is that creative acts are no longer in a separate domain from everyday reality because they are mapped to the acts of a particular human being, whom people can know or read about. One need not speculate about the actions of a mysterious spirit being but may reference the actions of a particular man, and so have reasonable expectations about what this man would or would not do. This allows a systematic science to be built up by the usual scientific methods of data collection, inference, hypothesis, and testing.

Guidelines for addressing controversial issues

Controversies are a staple of today’s world, whether on the news media or the minds of people dealing with changes and counter-changes, or charges and counter-charges. In most cases reporting of controversies is very poor. Partisans have a difficult time even understanding their opponents and make points that are often irrelevant. What follows are some guidelines for handling controversial issues that draw from my experience with issues such as abortion, homosexuality, intelligent design, and the creation-evolution controversy.

Informal fallacies to avoid

Arguing against a position that your opponents don’t hold. This is surprisingly common. It may make points with your side but is irrelevant to genuine argument and confuses those on the sidelines. Check out your opponents before arguing against them.

Arguing against a position held only by fringe elements of your opponents. This is also very common. There are always those on the fringe who have foolish ideas and are easily criticized, but so what? Arguing against fringe elements may make your opponents look bad but doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. And they can make you look bad in the same way, so it accomplishes nothing.

Arguing against a position that is a poor way of expressing your opponents’ position. This is very common. People usually express their opponents’ position in their own words, which can be a way of showing that you understand the matter. But what if you’re wrong? Your opponents can simply say you’re arguing against someone else.

Insulting your opponents. Insults are so common they almost need not be mentioned. After all, what’s a controversial issue without insults? You may not even be aware of some insults, either by insensitivity or casual use of negative language. But your opponents can use the same tactic on you, and may be better at it. Trading insults accomplishes nothing good.

A good response

It is good to assume good intentions of your opponents. Much heat and little light characterize much writing and speaking about controversial issues. You may not like your opponents, you may even be suspicious of your opponents, but unless you have specific evidence of ill intent by leading advocates you oppose, don’t go there.

It is good to quote your opponents on their position, rather than only using your own words. You will need to put things in your own words but first quote your opponents so everyone can see you are not making this up. You should at least try to get their position right. This may be the most difficult part because you and your opponents see things so differently. But at least show you are trying.

It is good to focus on the most common argument that your opponents use. This is where the crossfire is focused. Whether it’s a strong or weak argument, your opponents have a favorite argument that is repeated over and over. It’s your task to take it apart and show how it is false or weak or non-persuasive.

The best response

It is best to assume the best of your opponents. You will garner good-will by assuming the best in others. For one thing it makes you look good. For another it is the right thing to do. Opportunities to speak will open up because of your gentlemanly or ladylike behavior.

It is best to quote your opponents liberally, being careful of their context. Go over something they have written and show in detail where it breaks down. Use their own words against them, without ignoring their context. That is a powerful and focused argument.

It is best to focus on the most persuasive argument your opponents have. Go after the best argument your opponents can muster and, if you can knock it down, your opponents will be permanently weakened if not defeated. Let there be a battle of your best against their best. That is the best way to settle an issue.

Seminar presentation

I’ll be a speaker this weekend at the Genesis Seminar in Bridgeville, Pa (near Pittsburgh). The keynote speaker is Dr. Andrew Steinmann of Concordia University, Chicago. The title of my presentation is History and Philosophy of the Science of Origins, in which I will try to organize a diversity of material in history, philosophy, science, and biblical studies.

I see a dialogue/dialectic between two opposites/extremes, represented by these two lists:

(a) Genealogy, generations, chronicle, narrative, diachrony, history, process, society, time

(b) Logic, principles, philosophy, theory, exact science, synchrony, structure, universe, space

Where does theology fit in this? Exegetical and historical theology fit with (a) and systematic theology fits with (b).

Where does biology fit in this? Platonic, Scholastic, scala naturae, fixed-species biology fits with (a) and Aristotle (not Aristotelian), developmental, adaptive, evolutionary biology with (b).

There is also a both-and (c) to go with this either-or of extremes:

(c) mean, moderate, combination, synthesis, duality, complementarity, space-time

In science (c) is the convergence of increasing precision, the duality of particle and wave, the synthesis of space and time.

Theologically (c) is the Old and New Testaments, Law and Gospel, direct and indirect creation, Word and Spirit, and the Trinity as a unity-of-duality.

Biologically (c) is a combination of process and structure, variation and permanence, bottom-up and top-down classifications.

The Bible is remarkably balanced version of (c).

From history to nature

Over the centuries the various sciences have developed from a focus on history to a focus on nature, that is from a temporal or diachronic focus to a spatial or synchronic one. Saussure saw this in linguistics and reoriented it from a focus on historical language change to language as a system. Both have their place but historic study finds few natures, i.e., invariants, whereas the study of natures discovers many invariants.

For example, astronomy and physics in ancient times focused on cycles and the “harmony of the spheres” but in modern times focuses on a four dimensional continuum. Chemistry has developed from an alchemical focus on transmutation to a modern focus on the periodic table and compounds. Biology still focuses on temporality with its concentration on origins and history; to further develop it will need to focus on the nature of biological kinds. Geology has a similar focus on temporality so it will need to focus more on the nature of geological features.

Both History and Nature have been used by atheists as substitutes for God — in the 18th century Newton’s system was seen as Nature in control, then in the 19th & 20th centuries Darwin’s evolution was seen as History in control. So both approaches can be carried to extremes and will be by some.

Biology — whether evolutionary or creationary — needs to move from defining species or created kinds in terms of descent from original organisms to defining them in terms of their nature, e.g., as either having something in common (an essence) or a some type of interconnectivity (a topological definition).

Secular science

The word “secular” can mean simply non-religious but really means more than that; according to the Online Etymological Dictionary, secular means

“worldly, pertaining to a generation or age,” from Latin saecularis “of an age, occurring once in an age,” from saeculum “age, span of time, generation.”

The basic distinction is between matters that pertain to the age and world in which we live and those matters which are beyond it — life after death, unseen spiritual reality, etc.

Modern science has always focused on the secular in this sense, and abstained from investigating metaphysical and spiritual matters — but that should include “deep time,” too. By definition “deep time” refers to ages of time before this present age, this age of human life. No human being ever lived in deep time. Human experience does not include deep time. A scientific organization (or a government) cannot promote belief in deep time and remain secular.

Secular science should exclude everything that is not part of the age and world in which humanity lives. That means secular science must remain within recorded history, the period of time covered by written sources. This may be extended slightly by the study of artifacts for societies without writing.

Since scientific creationism stays within recorded history, it is more secular than any deep time theory.