According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power
is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. - anon

Friday, October 4, 2013

Discussions in Science and Religion - Week 5: "A Theology of Wholeness"




Today's topic brings with it decades-old lectures at university lecterns as I listened to discussions ranging from Behavioral Psychology to Biological Neurosciences, from Sigmund Freud to Carl Jung, from Jean Piaget to Carl Rogers, and their theories of psychoanalysis and development, identity and being, self and conscience. The arguments today continue to explore the many debates put forth from long ago re human vs. animal consciousness; or what might distinguish personality from character, intelligence from habit; or how the developmental stages of life are marked from early childhood to adulthood; or even if there is such as thing as morality or ethical responsibility? These items in themselves are difficult enough to decide let alone to try to discover when adding to its complexity how human development might have occurred along the many pathways of evolutionary biological development of the brain and its consciousness.

Evolutionary Consciousness and the Sense of Being - Is Man Unique?

To begin with, the bible theologian might ask "How unique is man in his consciousness and being? Too often we simply assume that God's image (Imago Dei) in man marks off all other discussions to any similarities between man and the animal kingdom. However, we might then ask just what do we mean by this Imago Dei that resides in man? We know of no beasts as consciously ruthless or deceptive, as knowingly brutal or inhuman, as corrupt or greedy, as man can be... making of man more beast than human. And if this be so, then how is it that we retain the image of God when so little evidence of this divine image seems present in our dispositions with one another: from father to son, from man to woman, clan to clan, tribe to tribe, nation to nation? Are we so sure of our pedantic truisms and knowing identity as to believe it will hold upon any further examinations?

Carl Jung contemplating "Wholeness"
"Assuredly," says the bible scholar, "sin but marks man's being, making of him more animal than human." Which if so, then naturally leads to the discussion of why is man sinful in his acts when the animal that does similar and is not - even in the act of killing? Which then brings us to the idea of human consciousness or conscience, its definitions and capacities, boundaries and limitations, its qualities or complexity. However, upon examining the many examples within the animal kingdom this very same quality of human-like conscience can be found from elephant herds to dolphins, from apes to pets, making our distinctiveness as all the less remarkable than what we first thought.

So then how does one approach this seeming nebulous idea of human uniqueness especially when it is harshly presented through strict evolutionary terms? And yet, quite curiously, it is this very idea of biological, evolutionary, development that can help us towards understanding the similarities and dissimilarities which exist between the human anatomy and that of the animal kingdom. And through the application of biologic neuro-science we might break away from our non-scientific pre-conceptions - however biblically-supported they may seem to be - to better help us ask more well-defined questions than we might fro A purely metaphysical (or philosophical) basis of argument.

Many times the studied scientist might first ask (i) how similar might man be to the animals before then asking (ii) how dis-similar man might be. And if we proceed apace to the first, then we must state flatly that the idea of "culture" is not unique to humans for the animal kingdom likewise has its own "cultures" however they are comported. And if, by our definitions of "culture" we might mean the ability to speak a kind of language, or to use and handle tools for the sustenance of life, we must be willing to comparatively study whether these abilities are likewise found within the larger presence of the animal kingdom. For if they are, then the human animal (man) is not so far off from animals than we have thought ourselves to be - even as one would presuppose based upon the evolutionary charts of mammalian development. Firstly, whether through verbal, or non-verbal communication, the animal kingdom is rife with examples of communicating with itself from mother to infant, from pride to flock. Even as  tool-usage is as pervasive from Chimpanzees to ants, birds to bees. Moreover, there is also a form of social learning and responsiveness within the animal kingdom no less than within humanity's social abilities. As such, all of this has been numerously documented, debated, fretted over, and discussed through the lenses and spectacles of cognitive and social science.

(Original) Elephant Paints Self Portrait



Elephant Painting An Elephant



Nor might we attribute greater brain complexity to the formation of human consciousness - though some would ask whether complex brains produce a qualitative difference between humans and the animals. Not many years ago (say the 18th century and thereabouts) there was the silly notion of the "animality" of the human species. That is, the idea for instance, that the white male was less "animal" than the white female. Or even, the white race was less close to the animals than other non-white races. And because of these ignorant ideas religious oppression and slavery raged on, poverty ran rampant, and people died for lack of compassion, while kings and queens dined upon the fatted calf, safe and warm within their castles of perdition, and the jolly man in the street died for lack of bread and care.

And from these early accounts, if not by our very own accounts today that are as similarly marked off by pestilence and pride, warfare and inhumanity, we must ask "Who is the more naked? Is it man or is it beast?" Modern studies in sociology have shown that the dignified, well manner human becomes too easily a beast when his environment is compressed within shared closeness, tight spaces, and want of resources. How many times have we walked through an eager, pressing, crowd to discover mothers' with baby carriages, or wheelchair-bound loved ones, callously stepped upon, disdainfully pushed away, or cussed aloud for being in the way? Or, in the supreme examples of oppressive governments ruthless killing fellow human beings which they consider as mere animals in acts of hedonistic butchery and genocidal rage? Certainly the thin veneer of civilization is too quickly stripped away from man's shoulders of dignity to leave our species much less godly in its inhuman treatment of one another when thrust into the very modes of survival. One could also cite numerous books about lifeboat ethics, or of a lot of highly civilized, castaway, British boys read of in Lord of the Flies. Or even Elie Wiesel's titled book Night with its resultant horrors from German oppression:

"Night is a work by Elie Wiesel about his experience with his father in the Nazi German concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald in 1944–1945, at the height of the Holocaust and toward the end of the Second World War. In just over 100 pages of sparse and fragmented narrative, Wiesel writes about the death of God and his own increasing disgust with humanity, reflected in the inversion of the father-child relationship as his father declines to a helpless state and Wiesel becomes his resentful teenage caregiver. "If only I could get rid of this dead weight ... Immediately I felt ashamed of myself, ashamed forever." In Night, everything is inverted, every value destroyed. "Here there are no fathers, no brothers, no friends," a Kapo tells him. "Everyone lives and dies for himself alone."[1] - Wikipedia

From these many apt illustrations we must then ask, "How unique, or how glorious, is man, when he breaks past his civilized veneer and socialization to become more animal-like and less human? Or more madman like than sane?" Even so, biological psychology might observe at man's eating habits or infidelities from a learned, evolutionary, environment where there were few sustaining resources held against the competitive demand of species survival. But then again, we must also add to these pictures the pithy ideas of self-awareness, empathy, bonding, and relationships while always asking ourselves whether we have any level of choice, ability, or human agency (as a subject) in the manner in which we might cognitively decide our future, if at all. Or if all has result from sheer biologic mechanism as determined by brute survival or instinct? And if so, whether we have any responsibility towards one another regarding the megalomanic futures we might envision for ourselves and our planet?

So then, what are the keys to being human? Are they wonderment? Speculation? Dreaming? Is it a capacity for continuing human development through evolutionary evolvement? Hence, Erik Erikson's "Eight Stages of Human Development." Or, Jean Piaget's "Scale of Intelligence" from simple to complex. Or even, Lawrence Kohlberg's "Stages of Moral Development." Each asking questions like what challenges the human capacity for social learning? Why do grooming techniques matter between us? Or that of dress and deportment? Or whether it is possible to create rich environments for growth and development against the devolving scales of warfare (PTSD), tolerated poverty and malnourishment. Which is a good question to ask because from studies of stricken, malnourished children caught in oppressive conditions, or adults enduring the same in poverty or within war zones, psycho-sociological neuro-studies have shown how shock and stress can greatly degrade the human system backwards away from any kind of progressive cognitive development across many, if not most, of the human developmental life stages. Begging the question just what is civilization, or what might we expect in the development of future civilizations, if basic humanitarian needs are not met or exceeded? And what might be expected within the evolutionary progress of the human species given these too frequent, and broad experiences, across mankind?

But say some, technology is what distinguishes man from beast! And yet scientific studies have shown again just how misinformed this reasoning can be, misunderstanding at best, that technology is always neutral to the progress of human development. That technology can as easily de-personalize humanity as it can uplift (or re-personalize) humanity. Consider science's discovery of the atom and how quickly it was used to develop the atomic bomb so much more quickly than it was used to create energy-efficient atomic power plants. The one usage kills and devastates whole biotic ecologies while the other provides warmth and light in the simplest of biomes. And thus, technology as a "tool" can be used either for good, or for ill, and is not a distinguisher of man from beast except in its novelty and complexity.

The Cognitive Science of Neurology

So when we come to Philip Clayton's multi-layered chapter on the neurosciences - neurophysiology, neuroimmunology, neurochemistry, neuropharmacology, or even neuropsychology - he works necessarily through several positions that science has attempted in creating a physical explanation of the human conscience through strict material reductionism (eliminativism), a modified version of it (epiphenomenalism), and a fuller metaphysical explanation of human consciousness (emergent systems perspective).

1 - Eliminativism which reduces all to mere biological signal and gene without any regard to the interconnectedness of the total organism. Hence there is no such thing as thoughts or wishes, yearnings or obligations. Our entire experience deceives us, and all the world "outside" is but illusion... or so say popular philosophers like Daniel Dennett. "There is no self. There is no such thing as listening and conversation. That all is reduced to whatever neurons travel into the head via the optic nerve or auditory canal as mechanistic signal." Strict physiological brain functioning must not be otherwise be explained:

"Eliminative materialism (also called eliminativism) is a materialist position in the philosophy of mind. Its primary claim is that people's common-sense understanding of the mind (or folk psychology) is false and that certain classes of mental states that most people believe in do not exist. Some eliminativists argue that no coherent neural basis will be found for many everyday psychological concepts such as belief or desire, since they are poorly defined. Rather, they argue that psychological concepts of behaviour and experience should be judged by how well they reduce to the biological level.[1] Other versions entail the non-existence of conscious mental states such as pain and visual perceptions.[2]

"Eliminativism stands in opposition to reductive materialism, which argues that a mental state is well defined, and that further research will result in a more detailed, but not different understanding.[3] An intermediate position is revisionary materialism, which will often argue that the mental state in question will prove to be somewhat reducible to physical phenomena - with some changes to the common sense concept." - Wikipedia

2 - Epiphenomenalism is the idea that mental experiences and feelings do exist... so long as they don't do anything. Hence, if a quality arises out of a system but does not in turn influence that system, it is known as an epiphenomena (or quasi-phenomena). This cognitive approach would be yet another explanation of the physical processes of consciousness.

"Epiphenomenalism is the theory in philosophy of mind that mental phenomena are caused by physical processes in the brain or that both are effects of a common cause, as opposed to mental phenomena driving the physical mechanics of the brain. The impression that thoughts, feelings, or sensations cause physical effects, is therefore to be understood as illusory to some extent. For example, it is not the feeling of fear that produces an increase in heart beat, both are symptomatic of a common physiological origin, possibly in response to a legitimate external threat."[1]    - Wikipedia

Making Sense of it All

As can be seen from the too-shortened paragraphs above, the nub of the question is whether we, as humans, are bundles of neurons to the nth degree, or if our sense of our conscious being - our values, hopes, dreams, expectations, and so forth, might have any greater "physicality" beyond the mere wiring in our heads.

Simplistically I think it is just that... the wiring in our heads that God has created through the elongated process of evolution which has provided for a more elaborate, more developed superstructure of the human being so that the whole becomes greater than its parts. As such, our mental network (or wiring, as I called it) and its interconnectedness has created a "non-physical" consciousness giving to us our sense of self beyond mere neurons and signal.

3 - Emergent Systems Perspective. The newest buzzword amongst evolutionary scientists - known as the "emergent systems perspective" has created not only a souped-up version of the connectedness between micro- and mega- evolutionary biospheres, but always has leant deep implications for the explanation of our human brain's self-awareness or consciousness (cf. Clayton, pp 94-96, 109ff). The embedding of systems-within-systems works not only for the evolutionary development of life (cf, the recent article on "Why All the Fuss over Earth's Remarkable Cambrian Explosion?) but is a pattern established within the development of the brain itself within animals and within humans.

And from this developmental pathway comes the idea of human agency as culpable and responsible for making sense of his/her environment as before the Creator God Himself in loving display of grace and provision. Moreover, society itself can detect its own agency collectively, and when done correctly is seen in the outcomes of more people being able to eat, reproduce, and safely survive their environment.  These socially evolved factors are known as "value-blooms" that are either reinforced via success, and may appear through the cultural preferencing of ideology, religion, or the various forms of social organization and activity (what are known as human culture and heritage, family values, and social distinctions).

The greater idea here for the Christian believer is that within the very process of evolution itself, God has worked within the physical wiring of humanity its sense of self, of an awareness of a Being greater than itself - an awareness that is both spiritual and religious. And when we get together in our common social groupings it feels "natural" to us to talk about God and spirituality, even as it feels unnatural to us not do the same. It is all due to the evolutionary wiring within.

Conclusion - A Theology of Wholeness
Hebrew, "Shalom"
And lastly, in the collection or combination of all these things - from emergent systems to religious metaphysics - the image of God has become implanted within us. And more than that, God's very heart and divine passion has become implanted within our breast. Man has not merely been made in the image of God but he was made to enact God's image whereby God's Imago Dei becomes our Missio Dei. That is, God's image becomes our self-same passion, and thus, it becomes our mission. An image that is not simply something we have or possess but something we must enact, or do, in order to fulfill our divine imaging. We must enact goodness and blessing, love and hope, goodwill and cheer, in confidence and trust against a creation broken by sin of God's Imago Dei. And ripped away from God's Missio Dei.

When (evolutionary) human conscience was birthed (however and wherever that came to be in evolutionary history as we have here tried to describe in this article) so became man's awareness of his fallenness and apartness from his God (see my erstwhile theologic article, How God Created by Evolution: A Proposed Theory of Man's Evolutionary Development). Our sense of needing God's re-creation is a shared sense by all of humanity. And it is a thing that this earth requires in itself if we are to live on in our present state of human existence. In essence, even as sin has broken our relationship with God, self, others, and creation (Man's 4 Stages of Brokenness and Healing), even so God's Spirit re-creation brings reclamation and healing to God Himself, even as it brings well-being to ourselves, to our community of neighbors, and to this earth's polluted and dis-connected ecology (sic, the beneficial entanglement of biotic environments). This then becomes a theology of wholeness and completeness, of divine presence and majesty, of necessity and arrangement.

Consequently death doesn't define us even as life itself does define us. We have been invited into God's image to become inseparably identified with His mission as Life-giver. This is where Christian anthropology meets Christian eschatology; and human distinctiveness becomes nested within God's beautiful re-creation of life giving to Christian science the theology and teleology that it seeks. And hence, religion is not uniquely evil, nor faith fundamentally flawed, but are uniquely re-imagined through God's ever-present re-creation and inspiration involving morality, ethics, ecology and religion. We do not live in a valueless, meaningless universe but in a universe requiring our hospital engagement to its atheistic separation from itself. Even as it requires divine contingency and guidance lest we become inseparable to this purposefully decreed divine mandate by God to nature and man. We hear it. We see it. We feel it. Let us now act on it. Letting God's imago dei become our mission dei.

R.E. Slater
October 4, 2013
edited October 5, 2013








Index to past articles on Calvinism v. Wesleyanism



 
 
Calvinism v. Wesleyanism
 
x
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Don Thorsen, Calvin vs Wesley - "Sovereignty v. Freedom"

The Big One in Calvin vs. Wesley

 
Wesley, notably again, believed God voluntarily chose to limit his sovereignty by granting humans (what he called) “free grace” or what we might call human freedom or free will. “Wesley thought that Calvin could not avoid making God ultimately responsible for evil” (33). I agree that Calvin’s logic of holding two together and contending that we are not to ask or know how they relate is not compelling. If God determined it — meticulous providence or meticulous sovereignty — and humans could not resist it, then it is not free or compatible. Calvin puts it this way: “God wills that humans want to act the way they are foreordained to act” (34).
 
Wesley did not think humans could do anything to earn redemption; everything good done is by the grace of God. In essence, Wesley follows a large bloc of the Christian tradition in arguing for a measured human freedom by grace in the power of the Spirit.
 
Hence, Calvin’s (at least later in his career) double predestination is detested by Wesley. Calvin diminishes the freedom of God’s sovereignty and God’s love and goodness… etc. So for him [Wesley] election is connected to divine foreknowledge, but what humans choose to do in that foreknowledge is prompted by God’s prevenient gift of grace. That grace, then, is the grace of human freedom to choose. God’s predestination is more connected to God’s general will*. He asked, “How can the Judge of all the earth consign them [the damned] to everlasting fire, for what was in effect his own act and deed?” (38). That is the difference.
 
Wesley preferred the expression of “free grace” over “free will.” It was God’s grace to give humans freedom.
 
Thorsen finishes with a discussion of monergism vs. synergism: [respectively,} "one divine will determining all" vs. "a divine human cooperative," though these are not terms from either Calvin or Wesley [but from later systematic theologians - res].
 
 
* * * * * *
 
*Addendum

 

Perhaps this might help... Wesleyanism (or Arminianism) does invokes God's foreknowledge as an ontological reality, otherwise the process of redemption would not have been planned even as creation was being planned. This would make of God a blundering builder and architect having to implement Plan B of Redemption after discovering sin to have ruined His Plan A of original creation. So, in terms of ontological reality, God did both plan for, purposed, and foreknew, His involvement in creational redemption.
 
But what was not decreed by God is His exacted foreknowledge upon His indeterminate creation and free-willed mankind. Even as sin reduces man's freedom, so by divine fiat of redemption would God purposely enhance man's freedom leaving to both creation and humanity an open future. A future as much open to sin and destruction as it is to holiness and redemption. Though God foreknows His plans for redemption He leaves it open to ourselves to submit to His plans. But not without the provision of His Spirit who woos all towards God's will - and not just some (elect) as Calvinism would teach. To the Arminian, the "elect of God" are those men and women who obey God's call of redemption - not by God's foreknowledge, but by their own Spirit-driven calling founded upon God's (prevenient) grace.
 
- R.E. Slater

continue to Index of Articles -
 
 

 
 


 

Don Thorsen, Calvin vs Wesley - "Thinking and Living: Sovereignty v. Grace"

Calvinist in Thinking, Wesleyan in Living

Don Thorsen, Calvin vs Wesley - "How do We Interpret the Bible?"

The Bible: What Kind of Book?