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Tag Archives: Excerpts

Essentials of Christian Thought, part 2

This post continues from part 1, here.

One characteristic of the book is that the “essentials” or “metaphysics” that Roger E. Olson elucidates are somewhat buried among the text dealing with the competing alternatives. What follows are excerpts that focus on the essentials of Christian/biblical thought itself.

A basic presupposition of this book is that the Bible does contain an implicit metaphysical vision of ultimate reality—the reality that is most important, final, highest, and behind everyday appearances. p.12

Ultimate reality is relational. p.13

Ultimate reality is personal, not impersonal, and humans reflect that ultimate reality in their created constitution—what they are. Here we will call that “Christian humanism.” p.17

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Physics and theology

The 19th century physicist Ernst Mach is known for his view that all motion is relative, which influenced Albert Einstein. Mach is also known for his book The Science of Mechanics (1883 in German, 1893 in translation), from which the following excerpts about physics and theology are taken (Open Court edition, 1960):

Consolation, [Pascal] used to say, he could find nowhere but in the teachings of Christianity; and all the wisdom of the world availed him not a whit. p.543

Every unbiased mind must admit that the age in which the chief development of the science of mechanics took place, was an age of predominantly theological cast. Theological questions were excited by everything, and modified everything. No wonder, then, that mechanics is colored thereby. p.546

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Classical Model of Science

Another paper that should get wider exposure: “The Classical Model of Science: a millennia-old model of scientific rationality” by Willem R. de Jong and Arianna Betti. Synthese (2010) 174:185-203. Excerpts:

Throughout more than two millennia philosophers adhered massively to ideal standards of scientific rationality going back ultimately to Aristotle’s Analytica posteriora. These standards got progressively shaped by and adapted to new scientific needs and tendencies. Nevertheless, a core of conditions capturing the fundamentals of what a proper science should look like remained remarkably constant all along. Call this cluster of conditions the Classical Model of Science. p.185

The Classical Model of Science as an ideal of scientific explanation

In the following we will speak of a science according to the Classical Model of Science as a system S of propositions and concepts (or terms) which satisfies the following conditions:

(1) All propositions and all concepts (or terms) of S concern a specific set of objects or are about a certain domain of being(s).

(2a) There are in S a number of so-called fundamental concepts (or terms).

(2b) All other concepts (or terms) occurring in S are composed of (or are definable from) these fundamental concepts (or terms).

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Observability of the rotation of the earth

This interesting paper deserves to be known more widely: “And Yet It Moves: The Observability of the Rotation of the Earth” by Peter Kosso, Northern Arizona University, published in Foundations of Science, (2010) 15:213–225. Excerpts:

Abstract A central point of controversy in the time of the Copernican Revolution was the motion, or not, of the earth. We now take it for granted that Copernicus and Galileo were right; the earth really does move. But to what extent is this conclusion based on observation? This paper explores the meaning and observability of the rotation of the earth and shows that the phenomenon was not observable at the time of Galileo, and it is not observable now.

In our own time there are lots of outstanding scientific questions regarding objects and events that cannot be observed, but few rise to the intensity of genuine controversy. One that does is the issue of evolution. We cannot observe the origins of life – here it is, after all, well along – and we cannot observe the long process described by evolutionary biology. The controversy, the run-in with creationism and intelligent design, arises from the combination of this inability to observe and the challenges the theory presents to significant cultural ideals. It is exactly this pairing of unobservablity and cultural challenge that made the movement of the earth more than merely an academic detail. p.214

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Constitutional authority undermined

I’m not a constitutional lawyer, but those who are have been sounding the alarm over the actions of a Supreme Court and President that are extra-constitutional. I write to point out that an official under a constitution who officially acts outside that constitution has undermined their legitimacy. The constitution remains but the official who sets it aside lacks legitimate authority.

As background let’s look at a few excerpts from the dissenting opinions in the Court’s Obergefell same-sex marriage decision: from Chief Justice John Roberts’ dissent:

[T]his Court is not a legislature. Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us. Under the Constitution, judges have power to say what the law is, not what it should be. The people who ratified the Constitution authorized courts to exercise “neither force nor will but merely judgment.”

The majority’s decision is an act of will, not legal judgment. The right it announces has no basis in the Constitution or this Court’s precedent.

From Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent:

“Today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court.”`

“[W]hat really astounds is the hubris reflected in today’s judicial Putsch.”

Here are some excerpts from a report on extra-constitutional actions of the President:

President Obama has said repeatedly that he would take unilateral executive action whenever necessary to achieve his political ends if Congress and the courts did not acquiesce to his demands. He declared openly and repeatedly that America “cannot afford to wait” on Congress or the courts to act on his agenda, and he made good on his threat to bypass the Congress and ignore the courts numerous times in his first term, as we documented in this report. After he was re-elected to a second term, Mr. Obama became even more brazen.

With his kitchen cabinet of czars in place a broader strategy to expand presidential power by executive fiat is unfolding. Obama’s “new normal” promises rule by executive fiat, plain and simple. On the issues of gun control, illegal immigration and fiscal policy, Obama has sneered at Congress and the judiciary.

Those who are called President and Supreme Court justices hold their offices by virtue of the Constitution they have sworn or affirmed to uphold. If they act extra-constitutionally, to that extent they undermine their claim to such an office. In short, their acts are not official acts, despite any outward appearance.

From theistic science to naturalistic science, part 2

Part 1 of this series is here. The excerpts below barely do justice to what is in the book.

Chapter Two is on the uniformity of natural laws, also called the uniformity of nature.

p. 34 – … the assumption that the universe was governed by uninterrupted laws was a fundamental part of natural philosophy. By the end of the nineteenth century, Huxley and his allies were using this concept as a bludgeon to drive theism out of science, and it continues to be used so today under the rubric of scientific naturalism. It is impossible, say the naturalists, for divine action or intervention to have any role in a world that runs by uniform natural laws.

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From theistic science to naturalistic science, part 1

Huxley’s Church and Maxwell’s Demon: From Theistic Science to Naturalistic Science by Matthew Stanley (Univ. of Chicago Press, Nov. 2014) is basically the first book to tell the story of how science was redefined in the 19th century. Most people don’t know it even happened and few know how. I bought a copy of this book and will give some excerpts and comments here.

Every paragraph of the Introduction is worth excerpting but let me pick a few key points. He starts with the contemporary debate initiated by the intelligent design movement, which criticizes the adoption of naturalism by the scientific community, then introduces his main theme:

p.2 – Naturalism has a history. The existential connection of naturalism with science is a relatively recent development. Further, naturalism has a specific birthplace. Despite naturalism’s high profile in modern American courts, its roots are in Victorian Britain. It was not until the end of the Victorian period (1837-1901) that naturalism became a common way to think about science, and it was a distinctively British creation. Regardless of this late and local appearance, naturalistic science has come to be seen as universal and eternal. Somehow the long-standing practice of nonnaturalistic science has been forgotten.

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Consensus science

Michael Crichton, a well-known scientist and author, delivered the Caltech Michelin Lecture on January 17, 2003. He entitled it “Aliens Cause Global Warming” which criticized what is called “consensus science” starting with SETI. A few excerpts:

I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled.

He went on:

Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.

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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

 

What is the theory of evolution?

Philosophers of biology try to clarify what scientists are really doing. One answer to “what is the theory of evolution?” is given here excerpted from “Philosophy of Biology” by Thomas Pradeu (Paris-Sorbonne University).  http://thomaspradeu.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Pradeu_Philo-bio_OUP_Final.pdf

“Philosophy of biology” refers to the critical examination of the conceptual, theoretical and methodological foundations of today’s life sciences. … Important founders include David Hull (1935-2010), Michael Ruse (born in 1940), and Elliott Sober (born in 1948). …

In this presentation, I hope to show the diversity of the problems posed in philosophy of biology by drawing attention to seven of them. …

1. The status of the theory of evolution
The theory of evolution is generally considered to be the foundation to every proposition in biology, as well as the primary, if not unique, biological theory. What then, precisely, does “the theory of evolution” mean?

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