iSoul In the beginning is reality

Faith and works

“Faith” is usually contrasted to “works” as if there were an antithesis, which is said to come from the second chapter of the Epistle of James.  Someone works for something they don’t have but hope to gain.  To work for something one cannot gain would be foolish.  It would also be foolish to work for something one already has.  So works relate to something that someone (w1) does not yet have and (w2) has reason to believe they will gain by works.

Faith is analogous because it relates to something that someone (f1) does not fully appear to have but (f2) has reason to believe they do have and will fully appear to have in the future.  The difference is that in faith there is an apparent divergence between circumstances at two different times whereas for works there is a real divergence between the circumstances at two different times.  What changes over time for faith is the appearance but not the underlying reality.

Faith also lacks the idea of gain which is a key element of works.  For works the change is effected by something one does to gain the desired object.  For faith there is no underlying change.  Whatever gain there may be is in the past for faith but in the future for works.

One may say in faith, “I have this now and even though it does not fully appear that way, it will be obvious to all sometime in the future.”  For example, when a Presidential election takes place in the USA, the person elected does not take office immediately but is inaugurated a few months later.  Between the election and the inauguration the President-elect does not yet appear to be the President.  But they can and do begin to take on aspects of that office such as increased security guards, press entourage, and new significance of their words and actions.  The President-elect may speak and act in faith about their administration as if it were a reality.

Not acting may also have consequences. President-elect Abraham Lincoln received many requests to speak or comment on the unprecedented crisis of Secession, but refused and remained publicly silent for several months until he gave speeches while enroute to Washington, DC, for the inaugural ceremonies. Some historians argue that his seeming passivity while president-elect helped precipitate the Civil War.

When James asks someone to show him their faith (James 2.18), he is asking for something behind and beyond the appearances to come out.  How can one demonstrate faith?  By doing things that others would expect to see in order that the appearance and reality are not divergent (or at least less so).  If you say you have faith, then show it by your actions.

James goes on to assert that if someone does not show some of what others would expect to see if they were saved, then the appearance must accurately reflect the reality that they are not saved.  On the other hand, if someone does show some of what others would expect to see if they were saved, then the appearance must accurately reflect the reality that they are saved.  So a complete divergence between appearance and reality is not possible.  James concludes in verse 2.24, “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.”

Thus a Christian asserts by faith in Jesus Christ that they are saved and, while acknowledging that the appearance and reality are not fully synchronized, asserts that the appearance will match the reality sometime in the future.

January 2008

Creedal ecumenism

Creeds began as a way for the Church to exclude heretics. A council of Bishops would meet and come to agreement on a creed. A creed affirmed propositions that a heretic would not affirm. A creed might also deny propositions that a heretic would affirm. But a creed was not a theology. It did not systematize or explain theological matters.

Creeds began as a way for the Church to exclude heretics. A council of Bishops would meet and come to agreement on a creed. A creed affirmed propositions that a heretic would not affirm. A creed might also deny propositions that a heretic would affirm. But a creed was not a theology. It did not systematize or explain theological matters.

As long as the Church was undivided, creeds were a way for the Church to separate out the heretics from the true teachers. The other way was through an ordination process that connected the ordinand to the apostles. When the Church divided into East and West, and then into Catholic and Protestant, a common ordination process ended. The ancient creeds remained, at least the three ecumenical creeds which are accepted by nearly all Christians.

Three creeds–the Apostles, the Nicene (Niceno-Constantinopolitan), and the Athanasian creed–form the basic tenets for Christian orthodoxy, apart from the Filioque controversy. The Filioque clause was added to the Nicene creed in the West but not the East.

Other theological issues have arisen and creeds could have been a way to steer the Church through them but divisions in the Church have prevented that. The East asserts that without an undivided Church, there can be no valid council and hence no new creeds. Catholics have added creeds that others do not accept. Protestants have moved away from creeds to confessions or statements of faith or denials of creeds, as in the anti-creed, “no creed but the Bible.”

Non-creedal Christians have implicit creeds, just as non-liturgical churches have implicit liturgies. A statement of faith usually gives some highlights and leaves many questions unanswered but it is a kind of creed. The avoidance of creeds may come from a fear of limiting the faith too much but it is also deficient to say too little. Those who say, “No creed but the Bible,” are asserting a very long creed that leaves open many questions of interpretation.

Creeds are a way for Christians to agree on the key propositions of Christianity. Theologies are revised over time but creeds remain. Short of the age to come, Christians are not likely to agree on a theology but may agree on creeds. As long as we don’t expect too much from creeds, they are a useful ecumenical instrument.


All the literalists

Literalism means adherence to the explicit sense of a given text or doctrine. It is practiced by some Christians, who are called biblical literalists. But as Conrad Hyers (professor of comparative religion at Gustavus Adolphus College) noted, “one often finds a literalist understanding of Bible and faith being assumed by those who have no religious inclinations, or who are avowedly antireligious in sentiment.” (Hyers, Conrad “Biblical Literalism: Constricting the Cosmic Dance“, Christian Century, August 4-11, 1982, p. 823.)

Those who believe that Christ is objectively present in the Eucharist — are they not promoting a literal interpretation of Christ’s words, “This is my body” and “This is my blood”? And those who believe in the social gospel — are they not taking what the Bible says about justice for the poor as literally true? Other religions also have literal interpreters, such as Islam’s Wahhabi (who prefer to be called “unitarians”). Ideological movements such as Marxism and scientism have their literalists, too.

Someone who exhibits literalism in some way is often assumed to be a wooden literalist, which is a literalist who ignores figurative language. While this may occur in some cases, even an extreme literalist such as Finis Jennings Dake acknowledges non-literal language. Dake stated his hermeneutic as follows: “Take the Bible literally wherein it is at all possible; if symbolic, figurative or typical language is used, then look for the literal truth it intends to convey. Statements of fact and historical accounts are accepted as such.” (Dake, Dake Annotated Reference Bible, Introduction).

Literalism is often associated with theologically conservative Christians who follow an historical-grammatical hermeneutic that strives to discover the meaning of a passage as the original author would have intended and what the original hearers would have understood. This is not literalism in a literal sense so the word literalism is being applied rather indiscriminately.

In a post-modern age in which all sorts of teachings that were formerly considered heresies are tolerated and promoted, literalism seems to be the last remaining heresy. It was first associated with Christian fundamentalism, which has been vilified since the early 20th century. With the rise of “Islamic fundamentalism,” literalism became associated with terroristic movements. It’s not difficult to imagine that literalism may one day be outlawed — literally!

January 2010

Historical sciences

Ben Jeffares wrote a useful article “Testing times: regularities in the historical sciences”  (


The historical sciences, such as geology, evolutionary biology, and archaeology, appear to have no means to test hypotheses. However, on closer examination, reasoning in the historical sciences relies upon regularities, regularities that can be tested. I outline the role of regularities in the historical sciences, and in the process, blur the distinction between the historical sciences and the experimental sciences: all sciences deploy theories about the world in their investigations.

This is based on his dissertation “Testing Times: Confirmation in the Historical Sciences”  ( which concludes:

To conclude, I will outline what I take to be the confirmation strategies of a good historical science. Firstly, a good historical science will utilise the understandings of regularities that the sciences in general use. These regularities will be well tested, using all the apparatus of experimentation, repeated observations, and intervention in processes that allow us to understand the relevant variables. They will be regularities that are well confirmed. Secondly, historical scientists will engage in research to determine how these regularities leave traces that can act as evidence for their occurrence. This dispersal of consequences also utilises regularities that can be tested, observed, and understood.

Utilising these regularities in dispersal allows researchers to choose between alternative hypotheses. Hypotheses about the past should have distinct signatures of downstream consequences. They should also make predictions about additional lines of evidence.

From the side of history Robert A. Hurley wrote “The Science of Stories: Human History and the Narrative Philosophy of Science” ( which argues that history is an epistemic narrative, different from literary narrative but essentially the same as the historical sciences.

September 2014

First-order science

I would define a first-order science as an ancient and limited form of each science that is valid within its limits and simplifications.  Each first-order science is a limiting case of a higher-order science known today (the correspondence principles).  These are sciences of unaided observation and common sense.  In particular:

First-order physics is the science of constant, uniform motion (linear, circular, or cyclic).  Gravity and acceleration are ignored, as in STR.

First-order chemistry is the science of the four elements widely used in ancient cultures: earth, water, air, and fire.  These are emblematic of the four phases of matter and a simplified table of elements.

First-order biology is the science of the common classes of living things: plants, fish, birds, land animals, and mankind.  While finer distinctions (kinds) are acknowledged, they are not given a comprehensive treatment within first-order biology.  Darwinism is precluded because it doesn’t satisfy a correspondence principle (it requires denying the appearance of design).

First-order mathematics, medicine, meteorology, geology, etc. are similarly limited treatments of higher-order sciences known today.

Here’s my thesis:  the Bible was written with first-order science in view.  The point is that this is perfectly legitimate; it is not a science that has been rejected but a limited and simplified science that is still valid today.  The false ideas of the Babylonians etc. are not in the Bible.

For example, Genesis 1 is clearly written in terms of first-order chemistry and biology as defined above.  In first-order physics the geocentric and heliocentric frames of reference are interchangeable so geocentric language is legitimate.  The Bible uses round numbers so we should not expect a decimal approximation for pi (1 Kings 7:23).

The conclusion is that we should interpret the Bible’s statements about the physical world in terms of first-order science, which has been known for centuries and is still valid today.  We may take the first-order science in the Bible and expand it into higher-order models that are consistent with the best science known today.  That is one way to understand what creationists are doing.

August 2014


Metaphysics vs. scientism

The “new atheists” have caused a stir but have also shown their ignorance when they step outside their domain of scientific expertise and talk about metaphysics while denigrating philosophy.  One result is that philosophers are now taking them on — and they have come out slugging.  I’m seeing a new generation of philosophers, mostly Christians, who are pulverizing the puny arguments of the atheists.

One example is the philosopher Edward Feser.  He wrote a book “The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheists”.  You can see his blog at  IDers have also tussled with him a bit — and lost.  I’m reading his latest book which is on metaphysics, and he crushes scientism in chapter 0 (I thought only mathematicians had a chapter 0).  He goes on to show how metaphysics properly done is a true science.

One point of relevance here is how Feser goes back to what science, particularly physics, has been doing but people are so used to it they’ve forgotten.  It has to do with qualities.  The early scientists distinguished between primary and secondary qualities.  Primary qualities are things like quantity, extension, etc. that can be measured.  The other qualities were at first ignored but later explained in terms of primary qualities.  For example, color has been redefined as merely something perceived but not real because it’s a secondary quality.

This has advantages in terms of physical science and technology but there’s nothing inherently primary about primary qualities.  Other qualities could just as well be chosen.  My wife is an artist and color is primary for her art.  But scientism takes the methodological exclusion or redefinition of certain qualities as a discovery that they don’t really exist, which is clearly false.

The warning for creationists is against taking the Bible to refer to the world as redefined by physics.  For example, color is a real quality just as much as mass or position.  Physics doesn’t say that but we should.

BTW some atheistic philosophers understand these things.  Thomas Nagel is one, and his latest book “Mind and Cosmos” is subtitled, “Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False”.

August 2014


Approaches to apologetics

First, for those who want an introduction to apologetics, I suggest this video by Dr. R.C. Sproul on Defending Your Faith, lecture 1:  Note in the second part he addresses Greek philosophy.

One way to compare different approaches is to look at what they consider believers and unbelievers have in common and how to build on that.

(1) Believers and unbelievers have a common humanity.

With this approach one does not address questions about the existence of God, different worldviews, how scientific evidence relates to the Bible, etc., there is no recourse but to preach the Gospel again or go on to the next audience.

(2) Believers and unbelievers have a common humanity and also live in a common world.

With this approach one can address questions about science by showing them how scientific evidence may be understood to support the Bible.  But questions about the existence of God or different worldviews cannot be addressed because the ability to reason is not sufficiently held in common.

(3) Believers and unbelievers have a common humanity and also a common ability to reason.

With this approach one can address questions about the existence of God by showing them how reasonable it is to believe that God exists.  One can also address a worldview which excludes God by showing them the inadequacy of such a worldview.  But questions about how science supports the Bible cannot be addressed because the world of science is not sufficiently common.

(4) Believers and unbelievers have a common humanity, a common ability to reason, and live in a common world.

With this approach one can address the most questions – questions about the existence of God, a worldview which excludes God, questions about science, etc.  One has the most resources in common with which to remove impediments to the Gospel.

I support approach (4) because I think Christians do have that much in common with unbelievers and because it gives the apologist the most tools to address the most questions.  The other approaches lack tools to address some questions and so impediments to the Gospel may remain.

July 2014

The church and the world

At least from the time of Constantine to the Middle Ages, the Church was involved in the world – i.e., public affairs and endeavors such as philosophy.  The Reformation was partly a reaction against this, refocusing the church on spiritual matters and leaving worldly matters to others, that is, to Christians outside the church’s official structure.  The highest authority for the church was the Bible but outside the church the prince or king ruled.  This was reflected for example in rejecting marriage as a sacrament – Protestant churches did not even perform weddings for several centuries.

Protestants were content to let natural philosophers (scientists) do their thing though the Catholic church remained sensitive to the philosophical and theological implications of natural philosophy – that’s what got Galileo in trouble.  The Bible was the authority concerning spiritual matters but science became the authority for knowledge of the natural world, as the state was the authority for political matters.  Gradually, Christian countries departed from Christianity because the church left the world to others.

Protestants inspired social movements such as the abolition of slavery but it was a matter of Christians influencing society rather than the church directly involved in social matters.  Then in the early 20th century the social gospel refocused liberal/modernist Protestants on society, while conservative/fundamentalist Protestants reaffirmed the spiritual focus of the church.  In the later 20th century conservatives started to get interested in what was happening in the world since it was affecting them, too – Darwinism, abortion, etc.

Where does that leave us today?  Creationists are surprised that Christians won’t let the Bible be the final authority for science.  But the separation of the Bible from matters of the social or natural world has a long history.  Evangelical churches are focused on spiritual matters and leave social and natural matters to others, who are often non-Christians.  Catholics are still smarting from the Galileo affair and have been reluctant to criticize scientists.

I conclude that creationism will make slow headway in and outside the church until there is a spiritual/philosophical movement that relates spiritual matters to natural matters.  To make a military analogy, para-church organizations such as creationists have are like special forces that help with fighting but it is the army that takes over territory, as only the church can re-take society and science for Christ.

May 2014


Hypernatural science

Although IDers avoid talking about the designer, the critics of ID “know” that they are trying to sneak God into science.  After all, who else could the designer be?  The critics of YECs reject bringing God into science because God is a wild card that could make any hypothesis true.  We seem locked in a battle of naturalism without God and divine supernaturalism.  Is there anything in between these extremes?

In fact there is.  We need only look at traditional Christian metaphysics.  The intellect is something that is not natural – each intellect has to be created by God – but neither is it supernatural, that is, God’s direct intervention.  We can call the intellect “hypernatural.”  Note: the intellect is often called “mind” or “intelligence” but these words have other associations.

Who has intellect?  Humans, angels, and God.  God’s intellect is not created.  Angels have intellects but not bodies, though they may take the appearance of bodies.  The intellect is what most distinguishes humans from animals.  The intellect allows humans to understand something of the thoughts of God.  (What about “spirit”?  As I understand it, a spirit includes intellect but also the ability to believe and have communion with other spirits.)

The creation of primal matter is supernatural – the direct action of God creating from nothing.  But once primal matter is created, it needs to be ordered according to some design.  Is the design of the natural world supernatural, too?  No, or at least not necessarily.  Humans can understand much or potentially all of the natural world by use of their intellect.  So the design of the natural world is hypernatural.

Life is hypernatural because the operation of physical laws are not enough to originate life on their own.  So the study of life is a hypernatural science.  Hypernatural sciences are those that study the design of the natural world or hypernatural phenomena such as life.

What does a hypernatural science look like?  Because the human intellect is hypernatural, analogies are possible between how a human might design the universe and how the universe was in fact designed.  However, the intellect that designed the universe must have been much greater than a human intellect, yet this would be a difference of degree rather than kind.

It is significant that the first human, Adam, named all the animals.  His intellect was clearly up to the task.

The hypernatural world is limited.  What is hypernatural cannot create from nothing, nor does it necessarily have the power to implement its designs.  Only God can implement any design.  Who designed the hypernatural world?  Only God could do that.

April 2014

Biblical geocentrism

Since the downfall of Ptolemaic astronomy, the Bible’s geocentric language has been an embarrassment to believers. Unbelievers spin the Galileo affair into a grand struggle between science and religion while believers hesitantly defend the Bible as speaking in prescientific terms. But when understood correctly, geocentrism is a valid position and one which we all use. The key is to understand that the Bible speaks in terms of cycles, not orbits.

Genesis 1 says: 14 And God said, Let there be lights in the expanse of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: 15 And let them be for lights in the expanse of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. 16 And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. 17 And God set them in the expanse of the heaven to give light upon the earth, 18 And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good. 19 And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.

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