According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, 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
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

How Not to Confuse Christian Evolution with a Naturalistic Worldview


The "classic rendering" of an natural worldview can sometimes be described not unlike how Dr. Olson in his article below would like to describe it in his classically arranged set of arguments. These few, shorthand arguments form a thin, summary basis for a much larger, and better versed, set of arguments by many a theologian and philosopher. However, for readers of Relevancy22 (or even the blogsite Biologos), some important/salient points re Christian evolution should very quickly standout:

First, the Christian evolutionist does not, and cannot, entertain a naturalistic worldview. Nor do I think Dr. Olson is saying this of  the Christian evolutionary worldview, though he leaves it unstated. As such, his point is the same one that a Christian evolutionist would make in understanding "life" - and "very creation" itself - as having its beginning point in a Creator God. A God whose is creation's heavenly Author and divine Redeemer within, abroad, and alongside of it. This would be the historically Christian orthodox worldview. But for the naturalist worldview any sense of a God, or divine Creator, will not be part of its philosophical foundations.

Two, a Christian evolutionary worldview must utilize the strictest of scientific methods devoid - as they are - of any "metaphysical" import. This is what makes science "science." One devoid of personal beliefs and ideological conjectures. However, afterwards - at the point of completion and discovery of scientific results - the scientist is then free to personally theorize, or conject, their "worldview" on the matter - be it a naturalistic worldview or that of a Christian one.

Three, a Christian evolutionary worldview must have a teleology or purpose or meaning behind it. Otherwise, by mere definition alone, evolution as a process would be meaningless and devoid of purpose. Curiously, some evolutionary (non-Christian) scientists now think that even within the frameworks of scientific evolution they are beginning to see a teleology within its bones (see here, and here, and here, and the sidebar on "science and teleology" here).

Fourth & Fifth, the idea of evolution as simply being defined as "survival of the fittest" is most fittingly a misnomer preferencing popular folklore over exactness. It belies the strong idea found within evolution of eusociality, or "super-cooperation" (cf, "Eusociality and the Bible," Part 2). What this means is that for the "fit to survive" it will necessitate "cooperation, and even sacrifice, of the fittest for its survival." This important idea would also negate any arguments for altruism except on the grounds of narcissism.

Sixth, unfortunately nihilism seems always to be associated with the idea of evolution... that everything runs "downhill," as it were, towards disunity and destruction. But this would be a misunderstanding of the very idea that evolution upholds... one that would "mutate" towards an ecological efficiency and survival against causation. Thus the reverse is actually more true: "That given the evolutionary construct of the universe, nature will always strive to 'live/survive' in as efficient a manner as possible under any given circumstance of chaos or random disorder."

Moreover, even as "evolution" as a scientific theory was being birthed so too was the philosophical idea of "nihilism" arising from the hotbeds of German Idealism (or Hegelianism). However, an idea like evolution - if it is to survive its detractors and philosophical era - must morph, and progress, in its essence beyond the philosophies of its day. And so, though nihilism is no less true then it is now, nor should it be a sufficient descriptor of evolution as a holistic science even as it was back then.

Seventh, being self-absorbed - or living hedonistically - runs afoul of the principles of eusociality as found within evolution.

Eighth, it has been observed that "humanism is the nihilistic version of evolution" but this is not the Christian idea of evolution, nor even the naturalistic view of evolution. Humanism is simply the preferred idea of some who wish to look at evolution in this shorthanded manner by linking it with nihilism.

For more discussion about "Science and Evolution" please refer to the many sidebar topics under the same title, as well as to the sidebar pertaining especially to "science and religion" which was more recently created to discuss how "religion intersects with science."

The What and Why of Sin

When mentioning nihilism the question of sin arises... just what is it? Why is it? How does it affect the God-ordained process of evolution? Infect it? Disturb it? Or move against God's holy movement of evolutionary creation?

In essence, when creating creation God gave to it chaos and random disorder in His wisdom and mercy. We see this everywhere we look from the macro level (classical physics) to the micro level (quantum physics). From societal relationships with one another to turmoils within ourselves (Romans 5-7). From our relationship with God Himself to even nature itself (ecologically). Everywhere we look there is chaos and disorder. We feel it. We sense it. We move at its behest even as we have learned to live with it. We do not know of a time, a place, nor a relationship, that isn't filled with it until coming to Christ Jesus and finding God's atoning grace through His Son who brings peace to its attenuated disorders in our lives.

However, is this kind of chaotic universe made of God or made of sin? I would submit that it is made of God to His glory and honor and that into its chaos arose sin to conflict its disorders. That death was already present with creation's creation. That we see this in the structure of an atom as a particle moving towards annihilation. But so too was the idea of life present with creation's creation. Because with an atom's annihilation comes rebirth and renewal. That death is the other side of life, even as life is the other side of death. That each requires the other in eternal communion, liveliness, and mutual sustainability.

So then, was this chaotic universe sinful? No. It was what God created. Holy. And that by divine decree by His wont-and-will when there was no sin. And not because of sin. The caveat here is that sin was an unknown thing/principle until the moment of creation's enactment. But when enacted sin too arose. But not at the surprise of an all-knowing Creator. But as a metaphysical reaction to the Creator's imputed liberty that He birthed within the heart of creation. That it was nature's very indeterminacy, even as it was man's very free will, that were the effective causations for sin to arise as a metaphysical principle (and not as an ontologic entity).

From the human perspective, the idea of "choice" is just that... a choice, a decision, a response, as much as is possible within a living entity's effectuating environment, if any such being can have any kind of choice at all against the predilections of his or her's constitution, past background, present circumstances, or future possibilities. And it is here, within this framework, that we may discover a "graduated response" towards either order or disorder (thinking in binary, classical terms). Whether it be divine, human, social, or ecological (or, God-ward, us-ward, other-ward, or creation-ward). Within these relationships rests an infinite number of opportunities to enact goodness and not evil. Love and not hate. Communion and not disunion. Fellowship and not antipathy. In all four areas of creation's sublime relationship to God and itself.

But this thing that we call "sin" would strive against God's "good" creation and be that "force, or principle, or causation, or inaction, or antipathy, or conscious-or-unconscious act, etc," that would remain forever-and-always unsubmitted to God's holy fies and fires. And thus, sin's imprint can be seen or felt in its own disorders, disunions, disturbances, turmoils, restlessness, emptiness, brokenness, etc,... while always resisting a greater sense of peace, satisfaction, restfulness, fulfillment, completeness, or fellowship with God and with itself as a whole.

As such, sin requires God's steady provisioning, nurturing, tending, care, or response of divine redemption to re-enact His aspired fellowship with creation (and creation's fellowship with both itself and its God). It demands an active Creator purposely planning, countering, checkmating, defeating, healing, and redeeming a broken, fallen, unsubmitted creation. That this indeterminate, free willed, creation is a complex set of anticipated junctions or disjunctions that once knew "shalom" (the Jewish concept for "heavenly peace, blessing, and order") at its inception, and at once fell from this divine shalom just as immediately. That is, with liberty came its opposite response of resistence, refusal, bondage, and so on. With union, disunion. With peace, turmoil. With blessing, breakage. With fulfillment, strife.

Why Classic Christianity Must Be Re-Expressed in Postmodern Terms

One of the reasons I write and maintain a reference site such as this is to "uplift" older ideas of Christian orthodoxy to a newer, self-reflective plane of postmodern Christian orthodoxy or, post-evangelical Christian orthodoxy. I am not content to simply quibble over older ideas, or regurgitate them as Christian pander acceptable to most. It is important that today's postmodern Christian understand why the Christian faith must be uplifted unto a higher plane than one of pessimism or popular sentiment. That today's postmodern church must importantly carry forward the exegetical, expository, and philosophical traditions of past Christian orthodoxy in its theological tasks, endeavors, and missional witness.

Fellow Christian brothers like Dr. Olson serve as a helpful springboard in performing this task. His sense of Christian theological history is immense and needs to be profoundly regarded. His, and other well-versed theologian's sentiments, go a long way in helping the church maintain its rightful balance of orthodoxy as versus popular shrift and folklore. So when reading his and other's commentaries and observations it behooves the postmodern Christian to ingest what is being said in order to then uplift those theological thoughts into a postmodern framework of theology that is relevant and renewing of a church wishing to push forward without knowing how, or why, or in what manner, it might accomplish this missional witness.

And thus, to these voices must come other specialist voices that are also biblically grounded. Voices which may also share in the church's experience of redemption while providing updated, relevant, contemporary theologies from a spectrum of ideas that the past historical church could not entertain until this present time in the history of the church. Ideas that will eventually cause Christian orthodoxy to appropriately re-invent itself yet again against a larger stream of witness and discovery, discussion and debate. This is the value of irenic scholarship and a literate church. But it is also a slow, wary process. One requiring a cautious give-and-take between the old and the new. Between tradition and orthodoxy. Between truth and error. And it is into this process that today's postmodern Christian must go with sword and shield, God and Bible, Spirit and Son. Even so may the Lord bless all who would serve and tell of their glorious Creator-Redeemer. Amen.

R. E. Slater
May 27, 2014

If I Were a Naturalist….

by Roger Olson
May 24, 2014

Recently I posted a three part series about the Christian worldview. I asserted that it is a much neglected worldview–both among Christians and non-Christians. I also said that public schools in America tend to secularize students by allowing many other worldviews, quasi-religious as they are, privileged status over against the Christian worldview. I argued that many Christians in the natural sciences live by two worldviews that are incommensurable with each other: the Christian one and a naturalistic one. I did not mention that “methodological naturalism” is, in my opinion, good and necessary in science laboratories. But that is different from believing in naturalism–that nature is all there is.

Something in my musings about all this brought some people here to debate with me. They claim the naturalistic worldview is the only one compatible with modern science, empiricism and reason. And that it has all the resources we humans need including a firm basis for ethics.

I can’t disprove naturalism and won’t even try. What I can do is point out problems in it and explain why I could never be a naturalist in the worldview sense of the word. (“Naturalism” can also, of course, mean study of nature or love of nature.)

The Burden of Discernment

Please forgive me if what I am about to say sounds prideful and self-promoting. I have many weaknesses, but one of my strengths, that can often be a burden, is ability to see the logical outcome of ideas. Sometimes I regard it as a gift; at other times it is almost a curse. Other people seem to be able to accept ideas, messages, proposals as they are without immediately seeing where they will lead if pressed to their logical conclusions. My gift/curse is that I look at an idea, message, proposal and immediately see not only it but its logical outcome–where it will inevitably and inexorably lead if taken to its logical conclusion.

That is, of course, a major reason and explanation for why I so adamantly oppose Calvinism. I know many Calvinists who do not embrace its logical conclusions. One of my seminary professors once said to me “Roger, you shouldn’t press everything to its logical conclusion.” He was a “moderate Calvinist” and could not defeat my logical arguments about where even that would lead if pressed to its logical conclusion. (He believed in “single predestination” and denied “double predestination.”) But he did not think it appropriate to always look to an idea’s logical conclusion as part of evaluating it. I did and I still do.

I don’t find this habit to be optional; for me it is automatic and essential. It just happens. I look at an idea and, without even wanting to, see its logical outcome. And I have great difficulty separating the idea from its logical outcome. (Now, please don’t think I’m claiming some kind of infallibility! I have been wrong about the logical outcome and changed my mind or suspended judgment as a result of dialogue and debate or just further study. I am not claiming to have a super-power! I’m just explaining that logically analyzing ideas is such an ingrained habit that I now find it nearly impossible to suspend.)

I think this explains much of the tension that occurs between defenders of Calvinism and me. I cannot just accept a paradox; I have to try to resolve it. For me a paradox is always a task, not a comfortable resting place. That is not to say I can resolve all paradoxes; it’s only to say I find all paradoxes to be challenges to further inquiry.

The Metaphysics of a Natural Theology

So what does all this have to do with naturalism? First, let me explain clearly what I understand naturalism to be. In this sense, naturalism is a worldview that “sees” reality “as” a closed network of mathematically describable causes and effects such that every entity and event is in principle explainable by the natural sciences. In other words, nature as understood by modern science, is all there is. Not that modern science currently understands all of nature. Only that “reality” does not include anything above or within nature that is not ruled by natural laws that are in principle (not yet in fact) discoverable and exhaustively describable by modern science.

Of course, not everyone who claims to embrace a naturalist worldview agrees with all of that; that is simply how I understand the worldview I call “naturalism.” And I think any deviation from it tends to make the worldview less “naturalistic” and opens the door to something transcendent to nature and even possibly supernatural.

One way of examining a worldview is to imagine oneself as believing it, then imagine oneself being absolutely logical about it, taking the worldview to its logical conclusion, and see where it leads. What ELSE would I have to believe if I adopted naturalism as my worldview?

I am NOT saying: This is what all naturalists believe. I AM saying: This is what I would have to believe if I were a naturalist.

First, I would believe that life is purely accidental and therefore devoid of any transcendent purpose or meaning. It’s only meaning would be what I invested in it; it’s only purpose would be what I purposed.

Second, I would believe that what I believe is determined by natural forces and therefore is not a matter of truth. Ideas would only be chemical interactions in brains and therefore not of any importance except with regard to how they function–to promote my personal happiness or not.

Third, I would believe that survival of the fittest is the most basic law of nature and that helping the weak only serves to corrupt the gene pool. I might have compassion and empathy for those in my tribe, but I would not see any reason to have compassion or empathy on those outside my tribe without any connection to myself.

Fourth, I would believe that my own happiness is the standard of my behavior. I would see no reason for genuine altruism. If I chose to be altruistic it would be because it makes me happy.

Fifth, I would resist moral outrage as a waste of energy. I would embrace anger instead of moral indignation and outrage and realize that when people do things I think are bad it only means I don’t like what they do.

Sixth, I would embrace nihilism as the only logical view of reality consistent with my naturalism.

Seventh, I would try to live “the good life,” whatever I might decide that to be, but I would realize that it doesn’t really matter if I life a totally self-centered life even at others’ expense so long as I am not thereby disadvantaged.

Eighth, I would regard humanism as a form of specieism and completely unwarranted. I would probably live with the illusion that human beings, especially I, are/am higher and better than animals because it would be advantageous.

This is what I would believe if I embraced a naturalistic worldview devoid of anything transcendent. When I meet a naturalist who DOESN’T believe these things I believe he or she is simply being inconsistent.

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