Sunday, December 10, 2017

More of the Same

Over at Jesus Creed, the evangelizing for Darwinian Christianity continues.   This time a reprint, calling on quotations from respected Physicist and Anglican Priest John Polkinghorne.  While the article attempts to show a way to reconcile the worlds of science and faith, it demonstrates a few ways in which the TE crowd still just doesn't understand why other theists refuse to go where they are leading.

Blogger RJS comments:
Competition occurs when science is taken as competent and sufficient to answer metaphysical questions … or when theology is taken as required to answer mechanistic questions about the nature of the universe, from supernovas, to the diversity of life, to the progression of seasons and development of storms, to the reason why the Mississippi flows from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico rather than vice versa."

TE has often misunderstood the very heart of the theological viewpoints that stand in opposition to Theistic Evolution.  Who really argues that theology answers "mechanistic" questions about the universe?   Who argues that the Bible directly addresses the question of the direction of the Mississippi river?  While some may ask the question "how might a narrative relate to the physical universe" and speculate on the implications,  there is no real suggestion that the Bible itself speaks as a science book.  The primary issue is not that the bible answers "mechanistic" questions, but whether it is true when it touches on historical ones. 

If the  events in the New Testament or the Old Testament including early chapters of Genesis did not happen, that changes the Biblical narrative itself, and thus changes the meaning of the text, changes the theology.  That is the central question, and TE tends to put that question in a box and hide it safely away.

Polkinghorne is quoted:
"Science gives an account of the nature and history of the universe; theology asserts the universe to be God’s creation. Science offers its understanding of the processes of the world; theology affirms its belief that God is providentially active within that world’s history. These statements are not in immediate competition with each other, since they operate at different categorical levels." (p. 97)

This notion of "different categorical levels" is just not present in the Biblical narrative where folks could hear the Son of God speak, taste water turned to wine, observe the lame walking and the blind seeing and the dead being raised.  The theological implications of the those physical realities are the entire point of their place in the stories.   The categories - divine action and theological meaning - are necessarily connected.

The idea of "different categorical levels" drives a wedge between science and faith and eventually between faith and reason, making faith a subjective matter only.   Polkinghorne pulls back a bit from the separate spheres notion, to be fair:
"The true relationship between science and theology is therefore complementary rather than competitive. … A positive dialog is necessary, not least because the way each subject answers its own questions must bear some fitting relationship to the answers offered by the other, if it is indeed the one world of reality that both are seeking to speak about." (p. 98)

And RJS adds:
There must be a degree of consonance and congruence between the answers to scientific and theological questions – but it is not competition, where either theological explanations or scientific explanations prevail. Neither gravity nor random mutation are alternatives to God. Rather the theological answers and the scientific answers work together to speak about God’s creation.

While allowing for the possibility that science and faith deal with the same universe, demonstrates the same inability to make the connection between the physical world and the theological implications.  Her example, "gravity" does not come with a narrative of the origin of the universe or the origin of man, the meaning of death, the relationship of death to sin, etc.  Gravity has no bearing on soteriology, the anthropology, theology. 

Random mutation paired with natural selection, on the other hand, when seen as a creative force carries all the implications of a narrative that directly challenges the biblical narrative as understood by the church until the last century and a half, particularly in the discussion of the origin of the human race.

She goes on:
We all bestow meaning on scientific facts, but these meaning are metaphysical and go beyond the scientific observations. Theology can legitimately look for…"…the presence of a divine Mind behind the order of the cosmos and the presence of a divine Purpose behind its unfolding history. The claim being made would not be that the universe cannot at all be understood solely from a scientific perspective, for that is manifestly untrue, but that it cannot be fully understood without setting it in a theological context. The doctrine of creation can make intelligible what from a purely scientific point of view has to be treated as brute fact or happy accident. (p. 100)"

The inconsistency here is the assertion that the general form of the universe conveys some sort of reason to believe in something behind it all.  But if direct evidence of God's handiwork is outside the realm of science (separate categories), why is slapping a theological context on the brute facts to make sense of them compelling?   The inconsistency - if TE can infer a correspondence between the form of the universe and a creator, look for the "presence of a divine Mind", why is it that TE refuses to give credence to any similar inferences made by ID or other non-TE theists?

RJS continues:
God is not a cause among many causes – filling a hole not otherwise filled.”

A restatement of the false "God of the Gaps" charge usually hurled at opponents of Darwinism, that when a natural explanation is not clear, some resort to saying "God did it" as the only other possible explanation.  But TE is schizophrenic when dealing with the "direct action" of God in the form of the miraculous.  There seems to be a desire to allow for the theological effect or meaning of the miraculous events in the Biblical narrative while sequestering the implications off in the "separate sphere" of theology.  "Miracle" is only seen by the eyes of faith - that is, it is an interpretation of an event - thus safely keeping the implications for science safely at a distance.  She writes:

Signs and miracles are known in relationship with the God who acts. The Moses and the fleeing Israelites knew the action of God because of their relationship with God. Science cannot disprove or speak to the phenomenon of miracles because it does not address this relationship.

 Quoting Polkinghorne:
A watcher on the edges of the Reed Sea can observe the appearance of a band of fleeing slaves, hotly pursued by soldiers. He can see a wind start up, temporarily allowing the fugitives to cross the marsh. He can note that the winds drop and the waters return, engulfing the pursuers. The spectator cannot be obliged to interpret this as more than an amazingly fortunate coincidence. (p. 118)

I suppose one could say as well that a spectator need not see the Resurrection as evidence of anything in particular, but how one interprets the miraculous is a separate question from whether the miraculous is possible, whether a miracle occurs in physical space and time and whether a miracle can be evidence of something more than the normal working of natural law.  It flies in the face of the disciples pointing to an empty tomb, or Joshua pointing to stones in a body of water placed by those who walked across the ground as the waters were parted.  The connection between the event and the meaning is assumed in the narrative as normal.  But to the modern theistic evolutionist, the reality of the event need not be a thing of particular concern.  Once again, faith is left in the realm of the subjective, science in the realm of reason, and the connection between them severed.

So the relevant question remains unanswered because it is unasked.  If Christ were to change water to wine in a laboratory, would science be considered as a means of examining actual physical evidence?  While we cannot repeat the miracles of the Old or New Testament, the point is that according to the TE line of reasoning, even if a grand miracle occurred before our very eyes, "science" would either conclude that the phenomena had natural causes or would just ignore the event entirely as irrelevant, while faith could come to the completely opposite conclusion - and to TE, both could be true because science and faith are in separate categories.  

She tries at the end to connect science and faith, but in a way that turns things completely around.  
...Theology describes and wrestles with the nature of God and his work in creation – these are not questions capable of scientific explanation. Science explores the form and function of the universe – religious, spiritual, atheist, and Christian will reach the same conclusions on well posed scientific questions. Yet as a Christian and a scientist, from a Christian point of view, it seems that science is a discipline subsumed within the general framework of theology. The facts learned from scientific investigation neither trump, nor can be trumped by theological consideration. Rather the facts learned from scientific investigation form part of the data – revelation – that informs and forms our theology, our understanding of the nature of God.

Faith is safely sequestered away in a place that science cannot examine.  Science however can "inform and form" theology. 

The real dichotomy is not between science and faith, but faith and reason  - placing them in different spheres - distancing the Biblical narrative and the theology it suggests from history, which distances faith from objectivity, which distances faith from reason.   But in severing the connection between the descriptions of God's direct action in scripture and their obvious implications, any theological assertions about God being somehow working behind the naturalistic "facts" are far from compelling.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

The "Narrative" of Genesis 1-11

I've long been fascinated by the use of the term "narrative" in progressive theological circles.

Usually, the word is used in one of two contexts, either to bash more conservative theological perspectives as "too focused on literalism" or "missing the scope of the narrative".

What fascinates me about it is that most who make a big deal about the narrative of God's redemptive history are also those who insist that Genesis 1-11 has little or no basis in actual history.  Adam, the Garden of Eden and the creation account were written for pre-scientific cultures as a way of explaining that the Hebrew God was better than all the other gods, and the accounts have no bearing on the central focus of the New Testament on Christ inaugurating a New Kingdom.

Why is this fascinating?

Because what they have done is completely altered the narrative.  Those who insist we only focus on the narrative have altered its very meaning.

An analogy is in order.

Imagine the entire Lord of the Rings narrative without Sauron and without the one ring.

Suppose one tells the story of a smallish human like creature named Frodo and his friend Sam.   Frodo and Sam embark on a dangerous journey to a distant land and this journey is fraught with peril and hardship.  At the end of the journey, they go to a mountain and their journey ends.   As a result of their journey, they are honored as heroes for their bravery and courage and many are inspired by their deeds of sacrifice.

It all begs the question, why did they go on this journey and did it have a purpose?  If one person says the journey was necessary because long ago an evil Lord with strange powers had created an object, a ring, that held the power to enslave all living creatures in darkness, and Frodo and Sam managed to destroy that ring, ushering in real peace and security for many generations, one would have a proper context for why their journey mattered, why they were honored as heroes.

If, on the other hand, someone else suggested that there was no evil Lord, no ring, and that those elements of the story were all mere legend, one would wonder, "why then did Frodo and Sam go on this journey at all?".

Why did they leave the shire and risk life and limb?   Why travel all the miles, enduring hardship, homesickness, danger peril, physical strain? 

And more importantly, what exactly was accomplished at the end?   Why would a trip to a volcanic mountain have any effect on anyone, including themselves?   Without the ring, the journey serves no purpose.

If we were then told it doesn't matter that the ring never existed, but we should take inspiration from their valor and courage because the ring is a metaphor for evil and corruption, one would still ask, "yes but what did their journey accomplish?   How is their journey connected to this metaphor of evil and how did their journey in any way affect things?"

At this point, our questions would likely be dismissed as naive, and we should just enjoy the narrative.

"But", someone will ask, "it doesn't seem like a story that makes much sense, I'd rather read something else".

And at that point, we would be told that disinterest in the story is because of those insufferable literalists who insist that there has to have been a real ring.


Thursday, October 12, 2017

OK - Never Trump, Never say Never

Not so long ago I indicated I was a "never-Trumper".   I thought then (and still think) the tactics of his campaign were unconscionable and destructive.  It went beyond political "hardball" and veered into ridicule and character assassination.   And I was not convinced his policy points, vague as they were, would be the best for the country compared to the other candidates.  I had no reason to trust that his presidency would lean conservative.

Today, I still wince at every tweet and wish he would stop the outbursts.   That does not mean I think he should be soft on those who have unfairly attacked him - only more articulate, specific and less personal. 

But when it comes right down to it, in spite of a congress stocked with Republicans who once again have betrayed their own campaign promises on immigration, tax reform and health care, Trump has quietly done a number of things that any conservative should be cheering.

The stock market has been roaring and with the reversal of 8 years of Obama over-regulating and crushing small business, over a million new jobs have come into existence in the amount of time it took Obama to lose around 4 million.

His court nominations, particularly Judge Gorsuch, should be a tremendous encouragement to any who still care about the original intent of the constitution, particularly pro-lifers. 

He has not rounded up millions of illegals storm trooper style and deported them as his critics feared, yet quietly illegal immigration has slowed and immigration enforcement officers no longer feel handcuffed and 5000 more agents have been authorized..

He has quietly begun to dismantle some of the autocratic healthcare regulations of the Obama "pen".

The size and influence of ISIS has decreased dramatically as the Trump administration has freed the US Military to act more like a military.

While he could do much more on behalf of persecuted Christians in Muslim countries, he has been supportive of Religious liberty on a number of key domestic issues, working to undo the violations of conscience inherent in Obamacare mandates, supporting a generally pro-life agenda, while leaning left on some of the agenda of the sexual revolutionaries.

But what has really come from out of the blue has been Trump's statesmanlike championing of American constitutional principles and opposition to Marxist tyranny.   While he almost certainly didn't write either speech, his bold and articulate speech in Warsaw and his address to the United Nations were simply stunningly Reaganesque in their breadth and clarity.  No one since Reagan has had the courage to take on Marxist tyranny so directly.   Few have so clearly articulated the values of Western civilization on such a large stage.   The Warsaw speech was the point at which my indifference turned toward support.

He has been unfairly treated in multiple news reports.   The entire Charlottesville controversy over his remarks was absurd.   Nazi Germany was responsible for the death of 6 million Jews so anyone who identifies with the Nazi symbols or ideology should certainly be condemned.   But the counter protests, largely undertaken by those waving the red flag of communism, could be seen as not "equivalent" but worse as communist regimes have been responsible for perhaps 150 million deaths, many of whom were citizens of the countries supposedly "served" by the various "people's" movements.   

All presidents are imperfect men and Donald Trump has a pretty sordid history.   I still believe his personal attacks on his opponents are unwise and his responses could be more effective with more clarity and less personal venom, though perhaps not with less passion.  If only his tweets and outbursts were more like his Warsaw and UN addresses.  The media that Trump so regularly chides probably deserve to be called to account with a fair amount of vigor.   Still, there's a lot to be desired in how it has been done.

I was certainly glad Hillary Clinton did not win the presidency.   But after more than half a year of Trump, I have to say I have to quietly wish him well and point out that he has probably done more for the cause of conservatives than two-thirds of his Republican opponents would have.   Maybe Cruz or Fiorina would have had the drive and will to do as much with less discomforting controversy.  All I can say is I've moved from "never-Trump" to a stance of cautious support - with a few needed caveats.  My hope is with time, the President will become more like the statesman in Poland and less like the loose-canon personna of the reality show mogul. 


Saturday, April 08, 2017

Postmodernism and Leftism

Over at American Thinker, Paul Austin Murphy has a piece called "Postmodernism is Leftism" that perfectly articulates things I've felt for a long time.  The thesis is that as socialism fell out of favor in the late 60s, philosophers committed to a leftist worldview constructed a new set of ideas, consciously or not, that kept socialist ideas alive.  

He builds his article on a book by Stephen Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault .   Hicks ties part of his thinking to a religious commitment to socialism.  "“You feel that socialism is true; you want it to be true; upon socialism you have pinned all your dreams of a peaceful and prosperous future society and all your hopes for solving the ills of our current society.”

Whatever the motivation, Murphy writes "It can be said that sceptical epistemology, deconstruction, etc. are all means to achieve the political ends which can't be sustained by truth, evidence and argumentation."  

I've written here many times that the denial of objective truth cannot lead anywhere good.   I've objected to postmodern nonsense time and time again.   If there is no objective truth, and truth is a "mask to power", than all that is left is raw battle for power.  If an existing political and social order is to be replaced, it first has to be delegitimized and destroyed.   If that cannot be done by argumentation, then it is diabolically cunning to cut the roots away from the very concept of argumentation and truth.  

What else can explain the recent epidemic of political movements built on ideas that fly in the face of evidence and common sense?   How else to explain why "climate change" is impervious to a simple objection that the predicted rise in oceans and mass destruction have not occurred?   Or that sex and gender are suddenly unrelated so taht gender and race are mere subjective "identifications" in the mind of one individual that everyone else must acknowledge with no objective way to evaluate.  How else to understand the recent campus activities of radical leftists who shout down all who dare disagree, refuse to engage in any debate, but simply shout leftist slogans to prevent alternative viewpoints from being heard?

The article notes that "Hicks cites the example of Stanley Fish who “calls all opponents of racial preferences bigots and lumps them in with the Ku Klux Klan”. He also cites the radical feminist Andrea Dworkin. She “calls all heterosexual males rapists and repeatedly labels 'Amerika‛ a fascist state”. (So too does Chomsky!) All this, therefore, is simply a variant on the many Leftists who suffer from Tourette's syndrome when they repeatedly and uncontrollably shout “racist”, “bigot”, “xenophobe”, “Nazi”, etc. at literally anyone who dares to opposes them.

And if truth is constructed, then leftists need not concern themselves with the horrific failures of socialism in the recent events in Cuba or Venezuela.   "Rorty, as quoted by Hicks, said: 'I think that a good Left is a party that always thinks about the future and doesn’t care much about our past sins.'”  Never mind how many millions have died under communist dictatorships, it is enough to simply scream "fascist" at anyone who suggests that a reasonable immigration policy be enforced or that biological males ought not shower with 14 year old girls.

But what strikes me is the connection between postmodernism and leftism spelled out clearly. 

"..nearly all these intellectuals did indeed begin their lives as outright communists/socialists. Michel Foucault, for example, was a member of the French Communist Party from 1950 to 1953. Jean-Fran├žois Lyotard was an active member of the Marxist group Socialisme ou Barbarie (Socialism or Barbarism) for twelve years. As for Jacques Derrida, he was a writer for the well-known Maoist Tel Quel journal. (Hicks quotes Derrida as saying: “Deconstruction never had meaning or interest, at least in my eyes, than as a radicalization, that is to say, also within the tradition of a certain Marxism, in a certain spirit of Marxism.”) Richard Rorty's case is less clear-cut, both in terms of political activity and ideological allegiance. Nonetheless, he once strongly supported the American Socialist Party, specifically the union leader A. Philip Randolph."

How to wake up slumbering Americans to the Trojan horses in their midst - when so many have lost the ability to think critically and when we all are lulled to sleep by the seemingly innocuous peace of 100s of entertaining cable channels and our main concern is making sure we have a retirement nest egg or something to pass on to our kids?   

I am more and more convinced it is fruitless to try to reason with those who have denied the concept of reason.   I fear what some are saying is true, a new civil war is fully underway. Wars happen when negotiations have failed.   That seems to be our state.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

President Trump

I have to admit I am a bit shocked.

As one who would have wished for someone other than Trump to oppose the lawless and radical Alinskyite Hillary Clinton, I did not believe Trump had a chance.  What does it mean?

For starters it means that Hillary really was a worse candidate than Trump.   Her baldfaced lies about just about everything, her clear corruption in using the Clinton foundation as part of a massive pay-for-play scheme, her utter incompetence on foreign policy and her reckless disregard for both the law and national security with her email server fiasco clearly had an effect.

It also means that a good chunk of the American public are sick and tired of being told that only politically correct left wing ideals can qualify as "justice" or "compassion".   I have no doubt that the race baiting of the left upsets a lot more people than the charges of racism hurled at everyone to the right of Al Sharpton.

But it means as well that both parties have lost touch with a majority of Americans.  The reason Trump was the candidate was in part because significant numbers of voters on the right simply did not want another Bush, another establishment Republican or anybody at all who was part of the system.

While that can be a good thing, it can also be a dangerous one.   Fixing the corruption, cronyism, and inertia that is Washington is necessary - but no doubt some want to burn it down altogether.

We'll see what happens.   My hope is that with Republicans controlling both houses and the presidency, at least the Supreme Court will not become a tool of the left and that some of the illegal executive actions the current president has taken can be rolled back.  I hope that the guiding principles will be the restoration of the Constitution to its rightful place and not the principles of retaliation or mere populism.

I will say with Trump there is hope for that.  With Hillary I truly believe the Republic the founders had envisioned would have been lost.   For that I am grateful, if cautious.

Friday, November 04, 2016

The Central Questions - Part 1

(This is a repost from a few years back.)

The central questions

In my 54 years on earth, I have had only two significant challenges to my faith.  It occurs to me that both of those challenges focused on the same basic questions, perhaps the central questions that all human beings have to ask.

This will sound a bit odd, but those two challenges were evolution and Calvinism. (More)

The Central Questions - Part 2

Evolution, built on a foundation of naturalism and uniformitarianism asserts that what we experience now, including corruption, suffering and death, have been the norm from the beginning of life on the planet.   Death is not an enemy, but is instead part of the engine of progress toward higher life forms. It is necessary for the weak to die so that the strong can prosper.

In it's atheist form, there is no purpose at all to this pattern.  Life arose, but it could have failed to arise.   Creatures that survive are "better"  only in the sense that they were better equipped to survive.

In it's theistic form, God may have devised a universe that made life possible and may in some hidden sense be the energy behind the laws of nature, but the "survival of the fittest" reality is nevertheless the overarching fact of existence.   Death cannot be an enemy if it is a necessary component in the development of more complex life forms.

So why do we suffer?   Because suffering and pain are evolutionary developments that aid our survival, a notion that is brutal if there is no purpose in existence and perhaps far worse if this was "God's method of creation".

In either case the traditional "free will" explanation for the origin of evil and suffering cannot be maintained.   Evil and suffering are part of the fabric of reality from the beginning and by design.   

On occasion, when the latest media reports of some new discovery seemed to indicate that the "fact" of evolution was undeniable, my faith would be significantly challenged.

But much later in a short stint in seminary, my faith was shaken.   Calvinism in its most rigid form, asserts that God's will in the form of his eternal decrees.   In our present reality, human free will is in complete bondage to corruption, pride and rebellion.  Only by the grace of God extended to those whom he chooses, can the will be moved to desire the ultimate good.  On these ideas Christians generally agree.  Humans have been corrupted.  ("Good" is a term that needs context.   Bad people can do things that are "good" in a relative sense, better than something worse, but even the best we do is tainted, corrupted and mixed with evil).

But the Calvinst view goes much further.   Human choice and human freedom are contingent on the  will of a sovereign God.   There are shades of difference but in some forms of Calvinism, the sin of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden was part of God's eternal decree, thus every evil act is in some way connected to a Master Plan that only God can ever know or understand.   It was a Calvinist who pointed out in Seminary that no Calvinist can use the "free-will" defense to explain the existence of evil.

Hearing this at an Evangelical Christian seminary shook me more than any other idea that had ever challenged my view of reality.

What then is the purpose of suffering and evil, if suffering and evil are somehow part of the mystery of God's sovereign plan?   In fact, what are even the definitions of suffering and evil if the free choices of men are determined by the sovereign decree of God?   

In both cases, that of evolutionary thinking and the logical end of Calvinist thinking, the universe is deterministic, free will is an illusion, and suffering and evil are simply part of the reality of the universe as it is or as it was intended.   Evil, death and suffering are not intruders on a reality that was intended to be good, rather they are necessary cogs in the machine that marches toward some other end, an end that requires evil, suffering and death.