iSoul In the beginning is reality

Law and chance

The last few centuries have seen a number of theories of history which tried to make history a science and tried to articulate laws of history, including natural history.  All of these have failed to find anything like a physical law.  Natural history was treated as a science with “principles” substituting for fixed laws.  The evolutionary paradigm supplied a theme and a mindset of progress but still no laws.  Darwin tried to make survival into a law but it’s really a form of happenstance–Darwinism is not law and chance but chance and chance.  Population thinking is in the opposite direction from law thinking.

A genuine science of nature would have laws that abstract from experience and are invariably true.  Those who believed in the existence of such laws in the 19th century were called “idealists” which did not mean philosophical or political idealism but the belief that there was an overall plan of creation, for example, that was shown in a harmonious taxonomic system.  Unfortunately, these people either died out or were co-opted by an acceptance of “designed evolution”, an early form of theistic evolution.  (See Peter Bowler’s Darwinism and the Argument from Design, Journal of the History of Biology, vol. 10, no. 1).

Scientists should be looking for a system of nature (recall that Linnaeus’ work was called Systema Naturae).  Evolutionists focus on the population and species level; they refuse to look for a larger system.  Common descent is not a system, it’s happenstance.  The real ‘law’ of evolution is that there are no laws of biology–things just happen and can only be described with an eye toward the possible.

The idealist approach, which emphasizes the timeless plan of creation that is still observable today, can and should be revived.  Scientists should seek physical laws, which despite chance noise are the scientific way to understand nature.  Ironically, Monod was right that science is about law and chance but apart from physics and chemistry, necessary laws are lacking in science today.

Naïveté and skepticism

There is a dualism between naïveté and skepticism.  In ancient and medieval times there was a kind of skepticism about science.  Zeno’s paradoxes for example questioned whether or not motion was real.  Logic was refined to a high degree in the middle ages but was used for abstruse philosophical and theological matters rather than for practical knowledge.  On the other hand, the histories of the ancient and medieval times were quite naïve.  They were often interspersed with mythological and legendary tales so that moderns tend to dismiss them all.

An inversion occurred in the early modern period, culminating in the Enlightenment.  Since then, skeptical or critical history has been the norm.  Ancient documents such as the Bible are examined with great skepticism.  On the other hand, science gets accepted without question.  Especially those in the divinity or humanities schools who don’t understand science are inclined to accept whatever the scientists say–they are quite naïve about science.  Many scientists are skeptical about anything non-science, with a curious naïveté about the history of science.  A history of science written by scientists is always a Whig history (the good guys are on the side that turns out “right” and the bad guys are on the side that turns out “wrong” where right and wrong are defined by current science).  Historians keep trying to set the record straight but modern prejudices are as strong in their own way as ancient and medieval prejudices.

Where does this leave us?  First, we should examine ourselves.  Are we being overly skeptical in one area and naïve in another area?  Second, we should seek a balance between a healthy use of our critical faculties without falling into skepticism and a healthy acceptance of things that we don’t fully understand without being naïve.


The concept of miracle

Theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg made some good points in a short article on miracles; see excerpt below:

In the modern history of the dispute between scientists or philosophers calling upon the authority of science on the one hand and Christian theologians on the other, the concept of miracle has become one of the more intricate problems, because miracles are said to involve a violation of the laws of nature, as David Hume asserted in the section on miracles in his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748). This is a self-defeating notion of miracle, of course, because the logic of the concept of natural law requires that there be no exceptions–otherwise the pretended law in question would turn out not to be truly a law of nature. The concept of miracle as a violation of natural law subverts the very concept of law and in effect exposes the futility of the assertion of miracles.

This is not the meaning of the concept of miracle in Christian theology, however. In the biblical writings, the word miracle refers to extraordinary events that function as “signs” of God’s sovereign power. Therefore, the biblical language often speaks of “signs and wonders’ (Daniel 6:27; John4:48). A wonder, or miracle, is basically an unusual–in fact, extraordinary–event. Augustine said, “Whatever is unusual, is a miracle”…. Explicitly he emphasized that events of that type do not occur contrary to the nature of things. To us they may appear contrary, because of our limited knowledge of the “course of nature.” But God’s point of view is different, because he is the Creator of the nature of things as well as of the events that appear unusual to us. …

In medieval theology the conception of miracles changes, because the nature of things was now conceived of objectively, not in relation to the limitations of our knowledge. …

Later, the view of miracles as occurring contra naturam [against nature] became more generally accepted, as did a concept of nature and of the order of nature based on human experience. This development finally led to the idea that a miracle is a violation of the laws of nature.

The concept of miracle in the Augustinian sense of the term, then, does not involve any opposition to the order of nature described in terms of natural law. It only requires us to admit that we do not know everything about how the processes of nature work.

Zygon, vol.37, no.3 (Sept. 2002), 759-762


Psychological Types of Myers, Briggs, and Jung

The typology of Myers, Briggs, and Jung is best known via the MBTI, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. This test can be considered separately from the Jung-Myers-Briggs (JMB) typology that it’s based on. First let’s consider the JMB typology, and then the MBTI.

The JMB typology developed from Carl Jung’s 1921 monograph Psychological Types (The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Vol. 6), which he developed for use with depth psychology. Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother, Katharine Briggs, expanded Jung’s typology and adapted it for their test, the MBTI, in 1942.

Jung distinguished two general attitude types, extroversion and introversion, and four function types: thinking, feeling, sensation, and intuition. This resulted in eight psychological types, which Jung described mainly from literary examples.

Myers and Briggs modified Jung’s concept of intuition somewhat, which Jung had described as the “function that allows us to see around the corner of the future,” like hunches. Myers and Briggs emphasized that intuition involves the ability to recognize patterns and possibilities.

Jung’s eight psychological types focused on the dominant function but he also wrote about the auxiliary function, which Myers and Briggs included in their typology. They made explicit a distinction between perceiving and judging functions, too. The result is four binary distinctions within their typology: extroversion or introversion (E/I), sensing or intuiting (S/N), thinking or feeling (T/F), and perceiving or judging (P/J). This is the JMB typology.

The MBTI is a test instrument to determine one’s JMB type that was developed by Myers and Briggs in the 1940s. It is popular with consultants and the public but panned by academically-oriented psychologists. The main problem with the MBTI distinctions (except extroversion/introversion) is that most people are in-between, so it is difficult to tell which side of a distinction people are on. This makes it difficult for some people to fill out the test and retesting can result in a different classification.

However, this is only a problem when something else is expected, such as a bimodal distribution with two very different groups of people and few in-between. The MBTI is designed for the JMB typology which does not promote a bimodal view of psychology even though it uses binary distinctions. Healthy people can and should have the ability to use all four functions in either dominant or auxiliary mode. What the MBTI does is help people to discover which way they prefer to be, which requires a fair amount of self-awareness.

In the end the MBTI isn’t sufficiently sensing-thinking for people who prefer those functions. It tends to attract intuitive and feeling types of people. That is rather consistent with the MBTI though, which shows how it is more useful than experimental data might allow. The MBTI promotes greater awareness of oneself and others, for which people are right to consider it a handy instrument.

Creation and evolution typology

The first issue that arises in developing a typology for ideas about creation and evolution are the terms themselves: they are sufficiently ambiguous that their meaning differs even by the same author in the same work. This can be part of a fallacy of equivocation or it can simply mean the terms are general and should not be expected to carry a technical meaning unless that is specified. Let’s take the latter path and use them as general terms.

Some authors promote creation only whereas others promote evolution only but there are other ways of speaking. Some speak of creation by evolution which means evolution but a Creator is given credit for it. Others speak of evolution by creation which means progressive creation but evolution is given credit for it. These are categorized under evolution and creation, respectively.

Further, creation used to mean static creation, that is, life, the earth, and the universe were created in a state that has not significantly changed. Also, evolution used to mean only gradual evolution, that is, life, the earth, and the universe have changed gradually but drastically over a long period of time.

Others combine creation and evolution in a kind of partnership. Creation with evolution makes creation primary but acknowledges something like evolution within created limits. This dynamic creation differs from the older conception of a purely static creation. Evolution with creation applies to others who make evolution primary but acknowledge something like creation within evolutionary limits. Evolution with large catastrophic or saltational changes differs from the older conception of a purely gradual evolution.

So we have six possibilities under the two headings of creation and evolution:

1. Creation  (e.g., static creation) 4. Evolution (e.g., gradual evolution)
2. Creation with evolution (e.g., dynamic creation) 5. Evolution with creation (e.g., saltational evolution)
3. Evolution by creation (e.g., progressive creation) 6. Creation by evolution (e.g., theistic evolution)

Of these six, 1, 2, and 3 acknowledge an explicit Creator but 4, 5, and 6 consider a Creator to be undetectable even if acknowledged (as in 6). All but 1 have some form of evolution in the general sense of the word. All but 4 have some form of creation in the general sense of the word.

So creation and evolution are general concepts that can work together in different conceptual schemes. The question is not “creation or evolution” but how much of each one and which came first? It’s easy to see how creation could come first; it’s harder to see how evolution could. The standard retort is that abiogenesis (the beginning of evolutionary life) is a different subject from evolutionary biology but that does not answer how evolution could start. Stephen Meyer’s book Signature in the Cell is a further challenge to the view that evolution could come first.

November 2010

The nature of creation

‘Nature’ is the world conceived without reference to God. A natural rock is a rock as if it exists on its own or as part of a world that exists on its own. It has no absolute origin. Its only ‘origin’ is from other rocks, other existing substances. It is all transformation. This presupposes a metaphysics of materialism.

‘Creation’ is the world conceived as made by God from nothing & dependent on God for its continuation. Something of the nature of creation can be gained from the attributes of God. We can expect orderliness for God is a God of order. We can expect some reflection of purpose for God surely had a purpose in creating the world.

‘Natural history’ is history (conceived with reference to God and) with particular reference to the non-human world.

Creationists do not ‘add God’ to the natural world. There is no natural world without God. Creationists take off the blinders of naturalism that prevent the acknowledgement of the reality of God.

The laws of nature are conceived by naturalists as laws without a legislator. The laws of nature are conceived by creationists as laws created by God. They are laws of creation.

Naturalistic science is sometimes considered merely methodologically naturalistic because it avoids ontological commitments rather than affirming an ontological naturalistic universe. This is a sham. There is nothing to recommend ontological minimalism beyond an academic exercise. Moreover, the results of naturalistic science are presented as conclusions about reality, not merely conditional products subject to further vetting by others.

A naturalistic science needs to justify why there are not chaotic, non-causal events. It has excluded these arbitrarily. It promotes deterministic states arbitrarily. It is open from below, not above.


Fourfold Gospel

There is one Gospel but four ways of understanding it.  These correspond to the four “Gospels”, that is, the Gospel according to Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John.  They each emphasize different aspects of the good news of Jesus Christ.  For example, see Characteristic Differences of the Four Gospels (which Kregel Publications calls “Four Views of Christ”) by Andrew Jukes.

The fourfold Gospel includes a fourfold atonement corresponding to the key roles and accomplishments of Jesus Christ:

(1) Victor:  He overcame death, hell, sin, and Satan, that is, evil and all its manifestations, without denying the rights of Satan and his minions.  Christ is Lord, King, and Ruler of all.

(2) Sacrifice:  He provided a way for God to forgive us without compromising righteousness.  He did this by satisfying the requirements of justice on our behalf.  Christ is Priest, Lamb, and Temple for all.

(3) Mediator:  He restored our relationship to God, that is, overcame our alienation from God, without ignoring the development of our alienation.  Christ is Prophet and Intercessor for all.

(4) Exemplar:  He embodied the way, the truth, and the life of God, showing us how to live, what to think, and which actions to take.  Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.


Faith that works

Is this a dispute about words? It could be but these are key terms and so much is bound up with them that it is important to get their meanings right.

What is this faith that works? In the first place, this faith always leads to some action, and such action is always more than saying that one has such a faith. However, the Apostle Paul affirms that verbal confession of the Lordship of Jesus Christ accompanied by belief in the heart is sufficient to ensure one’s salvation. Rom. 10.9.

We can begin to see a difference between the confession of faith in Romans and the mere claim that such faith exists in James’ letter. Here is a financial analogy: One person has money on deposit at a bank and they trust that the bank will return the deposit with interest on request. Someone else owns a financial derivative that is based on this deposit and they believe this will benefit them financially. In the latter case a deposit exists somewhere but the person does not own it; they own something related to it. In the former case the person owns the deposit although they can’t see it except in documents they trust. In the analogy, these documents are like the Bible which provides assurance that salvation is ours to possess. The derivatives are like an assertion that such faith exists but are not personal possessions.

So we see the danger of a derivative faith, which is mere assent without conviction.

There is another aspect of saving faith: follow through. Jesus gave a parable about a farmer planting a seed and not knowing how it grows but trusting that it does. This is implicitly contrasted with someone who plants a sees and doubts that it is growing so they dig it up frequently to check it out. Such a seed doesn’t mature. The former is saving faith that follows through and the latter is faith that is undermined by doubt and doesn’t follow through. As Jesus said in another context, “He who endures to the end will be saved.”

While the formula “sola fides” is rejected by the scriptures as a formula, it expresses scriptural truth when accompanied by further explanation. What is the scriptural formula? Why do we need formulas? The scriptural truth is clear enough: salvation is by faith and saving faith confesses the lordship of Christ and follow through with corresponding actions. The particular actions are not specified; the content of the faith is specified: Jesus is Lord. Believe it and act accordingly.


The necessity of philosophy

The contemporary world is characterized, among other things, by the cult of the expert.  It is widely and officially accepted that the expert and only the expert can speak authoritatively on a given subject.  So extensive is this cult that once someone has become a certified expert in one field, they are often assumed to be experts in other fields, whether or not they actually have the qualifications.

How do we know who is an expert on what subject?  The experts tell us!  As long as the experts support one another’s claims to expertise, they constitute a closed system and everyone else is supposed to accept them all.  But if some experts disagree with other experts, no end of problems can result.  This is such a disastrous possibility that it is often suppressed.  If an expert disagrees with the predominant expert option, their expert status must be taken away.

So the cult of the expert becomes an all-or-nothing proposition.  Either one accepts all the certified experts or one rejects the whole idea.  And this basic proposition must be decided by people who are not experts.  That is the irony of the cult of the expert.

But it was not always this way, nor must the cult of the expert necessarily continue.  Let us briefly consider what life would be like without the cult of the expert.  That is, what if people were encouraged to think for themselves?  Would civilization crumble?  Or would it flourish in ways that no-one can predict?

The starting-point for this project must be something that is available to anyone that is close at hand, that is within the grasp of anyone who wants to think for themselves.  There must be no expertise required!  Sometimes it is called “common sense” although that is an ambiguous term.  I prefer to all it high-level thinking in contrast to the detail-level thinking that requires special education or experience.

One of the problems that experts are prone to is seeing the trees but not the forest – missing the larger picture because they are focused on details.  Of course, they can retort that the amateur sees the forest but not the trees, meaning they make mistakes by overlooking important details.  Agreed; there are potential problems either way.  In taking a high-level approach, we shall have to take care to avoid hasty generalizations and mistaken identifications.

This is the task of philosophy.  With nothing more than a love of wisdom and a curious mind, we launch out to gain sufficient understanding to live wisely – that is, to gain wisdom.

One method to approach a question is to look at extreme answers in order to frame the issue.  In common experience, extremes are rare so we make expect to find answers somewhere in between.


The descent of mind

Darwin initiated a rhetorical strategy of minimizing the difference between species — or what is the same thing, of maximizing the difficulties of delineating one species from another. He made the species concept suspect, although he continued to use it where it suited him. The implication was that larger taxonomic categories were also suspect, and the difference between amoeba and man was one of degree rather than kind.

One result was that the mind, with its long history of philosophical reflection, was reduced to mere matter. Material complexity replaced the non-materiality of mind. The mind descended into mindlessness.

In an age of vigorous philosophy, such mindlessness would have been exposed immediately. However, it was an age of science and the philosophers had to bow. Indeed many of them were materialists, cheering from the sidelines.

In addition to weak philosophy, a weak Christianity bowed to the new mindlessness. Its institutions were weak, its leaders were weak, and many adherents were weak, too. Once the new mindlessness took a tenacious hold, it was too weak to mount much of a challenge. Christianity acquiesced to the authority of the scientist, the priesthood of materialism.

How could minds resort to such mindlessness as to ignore themselves? The air of objectivity seduced them. Without mind, there is no subjective mind to argue about. The ultimate hole-in-the-wall objectivity was achieved. This mental camera obscura filtered itself out except for a tiny subjective hole and then defended that hole tenaciously.

Is objectivity really the mind minimizing itself? Yes. Where there is mind, there is subjectivity because mind is attached to a subject. The idea that subjectivity could be harmonized with objectivity was excluded. The object was everything, the subject nothing.

What is the pinhole that shows no essential difference between amoeba and man? What invariant is permitted in the midst of an ever-changing world? It is the invariant of mindlessness, the mind that empties itself of itself. Sound like eastern religion? It is.

But in the West it goes back at least to Galileo and the early scientists. They divided experience into primary and secondary and promoted the primary as the more authentic. What is this primary experience? It is experience that can be measured – that is, objective experience. This they argued did not change from subject to subject.

But, as we certainly know now if we didn’t know then, primary experience does in fact change from subject to subject. It depends on the position and velocity of the observer. It depends on the calibration of the measuring device. It depends on the mind ignoring a thousand things in order to focus on a few things, as if it has certain knowledge of what is significant and what is not.