Tag Archives: theology

parallel

Before we knew that galaxies tend to form the familiar fractal shape, we perhaps should have rightly expected this from the persistence of this pattern in the parts of nature we do observe.  Indeed, I’m curious if we will observe a fractal pattern in sub-atomic phenomena at some point in the future (or if we already have? any particle physicists stumbling upon this post?).

But more generally than speculations about the universality of the fractal form, it seems an obvious though oft-neglected fact (perhaps precisely because of its obvious nature) that in both our speculations about physical  phenomena we have yet to see, and our descriptions and language employed of that we do see, our scientific vocabulary is restricted to borrowing from pre-existing terms.  Thus, we speak of the brain ‘stem’, the ‘core’ of the galaxy, the ‘heart’ of this, the ‘edge’ of the universe, and so on.((I don’t wish to deny that science is immune to neologisms, but I suggest that all neologisms are either accidental or intentional combinations or corruptions or otherwise representations of existing terms.))  What else could we do?

Theology (particularly natural theology, as distinct from a theology of revelation) shares the same semantic limitations.  Every bottom-up God-word (shall we say every ‘theologism‘?), attempting to speak of the unseen and ineffable, is borrowed from the world of the seen and effable.  Thus, in Judeo/Christian Scripture (neither limited to, nor exempt from the language of natural theology), God is said to be a ‘rock’, a ‘fire’, a ‘woman in labour pains’, a ‘Father’, a ‘mother hen’, a ‘lion’, a ‘lamb’, a ‘land owner’, etc.  What else could we do?

But of course, uniquely, Christian theology claims that the impenetrable veil of perception has been pierced from the other side.  God not only sent an authoritative message or book about Godself, but, to quote (and admiringly negate) Forrest Gump, “God showed up.”  And this revelation has both affirmed and transformed (even subverted) the former types and shadows.  That which was unable to be described with words was the Word made flesh.  ”Nobody has ever seen God, but the only begotten Son, in the bosom of the Father, has made him known”, wrote John the seer (John 1:18).  God is not just ‘like’, but was active, present and revealed as a self-giving, dying, rising man.  The nakedly anthropocentric – yet still universal – Lord of All.  In scientific terms, this would be the parallel (not ‘equivalent’) of an extra-cosmological entity (indeed if there be such a thing) entering our cosmos, our Milky Way, our solar system, our planet, our research institutions, and in a Mount-Sinai-like moment, engraving the equations down as the cosmologists shrunk back in a mixture of reverence and fear.

full gospel

Some presentations and presenters of Christianity are, in my view, overly obsessed with the Death of Jesus such that they over-emphasise it, and end up marginalising the Incarnation of Jesus, the Ministry of Jesus, the Resurrection of Jesus, the Ascension of Jesus and the giving of the Spirit of Jesus.  It probably wouldn’t be fair to use any label for the flavour of Christianity I inherited in my early years as a Christian.  Whatever label is used, this version of Christianity is too prevalent.

In this version I inherited, the only reason Jesus was born was to die for our sins.  His ministry seemed like just some time-filling activity before he died.  The Resurrection is like icing on the cake after the ‘main event’, his Atoning death.  The Ascension is basically ignored altogether.  And the gift of the Spirit is basically about empowering people to tell others that Jesus died for their sins.  The New Testament, and the study and explanation of it over Church History, however, contains a Gospel that is much fuller than this version I inherited (and which most of our modern and quite a few of our older worship songs tend to focus on).

The Incarnation of Jesus is not a mere stepping stone to the Cross (though it is not less than that).  It is the Creator entering and uniting to the Creation in general, and human nature in particular.  This, the Eastern Orthodox rightly emphasise, is itself a saving act.  All creation participates in the salvation that Christ effects.

The Ministry of Jesus does not merely fill time until the Cross.  Jesus life and ministry is an enactment and fulfillment of genuine humanness.  Everything that humans were meant to be and do, which was focused in the call of Abraham and his people ‘Israel’, Jesus achieved and demonstrated in his life.  He finishes the race we could not.  This is a saving act.

The Resurrection of Jesus is not a mere happy ending to the Cross.  Whereas the Cross entails Jesus taking Death (and Evil and Sin) onto himself and extinguishing it, the bodily transformation and translation of Jesus, the Resurrection, enacts and achieves the defeat of Death (and Evil and Sin).  It also achieves a kind of ‘beachhead’ (or ‘first-fruits’) into New Creation, the ultimate destiny and intended goal for all Creation.  This is a saving act – for all creation – including humans.

The Ascension of Jesus is not an undoing of the Incarnation (which would be a huge heresy), where the Son of God strips off his humanity and reports back to the Father that the atoning death was accomplished (and thus the body no longer needed!).  It is about the enthronement of Jesus to the place of ultimate authority – which among other things, entails a denial of any other entities claiming such ultimate authority.  This is a saving act, saving us from false authorities.

The Giving of the Spirit of Jesus is not simply a bit of personal motivation to tell people about Jesus dying for us (though it is not less than that!).  It is the gift of the ongoing personal spiritual presence of Jesus, enabling us, correcting us, leading us, empowering us, shaping us to become more like Jesus.  It’s not just about ‘evangelism’ (or exciting private experiences), but about becoming more human – more like the true human, Jesus.  The Spirit of the true human, Jesus, makes us truly human.  This ‘humanisation’ (or ‘re-humanisation’) is a saving act; it’s what salvation is all about.

And that’s the “full gospel” that the New Testament communicates.

fundamental distinction

If we take words patiently and technically, asking if God ‘exists’ or not is like asking if God is physically alive or dead, moving or still, blind or seeing, takes up space or not, heavy or light, hot or cold, tall or short, hard or soft, or any other question which could be asked about things we see, touch, feel, hear, smell or taste – or in other words to make a fundamental category mistake.  I think it was Paul Tillich who wrote that anyone who says God [merely] ‘exists’ is an atheist [or perhaps a kind of pantheist].

On the other hand, if we use words colorfully and metaphorically, this category distinction is less (if at all) problematic.  Two examples of metaphor: Christian tradition calls God “father”; Science calls stuff “matter”.

original sin essay

Done.

I really enjoyed the research on this one.  My continual struggle is starting early enough on an assignment so that I have time to drown myself in research and actually write the essay.  There are 34 items in the bibliography (dictionaries, commentaries, journal articles and some topical monographs), and I really only dipped into things.  Pretty late in the piece I was wow-ed by Karl Barth’s commentary on Romans 5:12, and really want to look into that more.

Anyway, hope it’s interesting reading (warning, it’s 4,000+ words)!

mixed responses

The Christian response to the ‘Faithful Science’ day-conference have been mixed.

Most of the appreciative and complementary feedback has been email or verbal.  As for the less-appreciative feedback, unfortunately it’s been more public.

First, the Christian newspaper “Challenge Weekly” published a (to say it kindly) selective and less-than-inaccurate piece entitled “Conference fuels Controversy” (which can be viewed here – scroll down about half way), which, among other things, made the bizarre and out-of-left-field claim that some of the presenters held views more like Deism (which was anything but the case).

Predictably, the “letters to the editor” section in subsequent issues have been spotted with a handful of  readers who were concerned/shocked by the conference.  And, also not a surprise, a fresh write-up by CMI (Creation Ministries International) was subsequently published (here), entitled “Genesis not a Myth”, warning against a roadway to “spiritual disaster”.

The CMI article is also up here at their own website in very similar format, though more specifically targeting the Faithful Science conference.

I’ve offerred a couple of responses to Challenge, hoping to a) correct factual errors, b) help to clarify relevant issues, and c) challenge (no pun intended) readers to be more patient, and not assume what “those christian evolutionists” actually believe.  Also, I’ve responsed to the CMI article and am hoping for some positive interaction there.

Also, I’ve had some dialogue (which is absolutely exemplary in terms of tone, patience, etc.) with an I.D. advocate who is a member of my church and attended the conference.

Here’s to (hopefully!) fruitful dialogue and interaction in the next… however long.  :)

god is not a ‘thing’…

…and that is one of the first ‘things’ I believe about God.

faithful science

Announcing “Faithful Science“…

A one-day Science & Faith conference – coming August 1.

Speakers and topics: Continue reading

the most basic question

The most basic question one could ask is one which is asked and wondered at both by small children and genius level intellectuals.

It has various forms, and is worded differently, but is essentially the same question:

Where did we come from?

Alternate forms include: Why are we (or anything!) here?  How did things come into being?  Why is there something rather than nothing?

It’s the question of the ultimate origin (or original beginning) of everything.

A few things about the question:

First, it is valid to ask this question and to seek at least some kind of answer.  The level of certainty which one has concerning their answer has nothing to do with whether or not it is a valid question.

Second, we are never done asking the question.  Comparison between the various kinds of answers will never be finished.

Third, it is the most basic question.  It is the question where all other questions lead to.

Now, this most basic question has three kinds of answers (each with presumably infinite variations):

  1. Everything* is an illusion.
  2. Everything is eternal.
  3. Everything was created.

Now, I’ll comment on each option in more detail.

  1. Everything is an illusion. This is not a popular view.  Who would want that to be true?  More than this, it immediately raises the question of “If things are illusory, then who/what is having the illusion?”  Descartes famously said “I think therefore I am.”  So things are real.  Option one is neither desirable nor logical.
  2. Everything is eternal (uncreated/uncaused). This view encompasses all views in which the idea of an ultimate ‘beginning’ is rejected.  Cosmology (whether big bang theory or multiverse theory) seems to point ‘back’ spacially, temporally and causally to an ultimate beginning.  Also, even the views that are cyclic in nature would seem to be in need of a prior explanation.
  3. Everything is created (had a beginning / was caused). This view can be split into two: a) Everything is caused/created by a cause/creator other than itself; or b) Everything is caused/created/originated by itself.  More succinctly: a) Created by creator or b) Self-originating.  If it is arbitrary or ad hoc (which I reject) to postulate a Creator, than it is certainly and utterly arbitrary and ad hoc to postulate that ‘Everything’ just had to exist of necessity (by nature).  This leads me and countless others to conclude that the most rational and reasonable position to take (however tentatively or confidently) is the view that Everything was created/caused by a creator/cause other than itself.  This view encompasses all kinds of beliefs in any/all kinds of creators/causes.  Affirming a 1st cause does not instantly commit someone to any particular kind of set of beliefs – only the simple affirmation of a 1st cause.  Pantheism, Panentheism, Deism, Theism, Spinozian/Einsteinian cosmic ‘god’, Mother Nature, etc. are all encompassed here.

This question, again, is the most basic question and is the starting point of theology.  Theology starts with the assumption (and a rational/reasonable one) that the only valid answer for the existence of things is a Creator who is other than the things created.

Theology must be taken one step/level at a time.  It is utter nonsense to reject the general idea of a Creator because of some specific question at a later logical step/level.

That brings things to a natural breaking point, so I’ll finish there.

Can anyone think of a 4th possible ‘kind’ of answer to the question – or another example of one of the three answers given that I did not mention?  Other responses?

***

*The word ‘Everything’ is being used here in the most basic sense, to refer to all existing ‘things’.  Much argument can be had about this usage.  But not here.

evolution conference: june 25-27

Mark your calendars and register!

TANSA (Theology and the Natural Sciences Aotearoa) presents:

The Theological Meaning of Evolution

Conference to celebrate and interact with Darwin.

Thursday June 25th at 7pm to Saturday June 27th at 6pm

Key Note Speaker: Dr. Christopher Southgate, author of The  Groaning of Creation University of Exeter
Local Speakers: Assoc. Prof. Ruth Barton (Auckland), Assoc. Prof. John Stenhouse (Otago), Assoc. Prof. Peter Lineham (Massey), Dr. John Owens (Good Shepherd), Dr. Grant Gillett (Otago), Prof. Neil Broom (Auckland), Dr. Stephen Downs (Flinders), Rev.Hugh Bowron (Holy Trinity)  and theologians from Laidlaw Carey.

Contact Nicola @ nicolahc (at) laidlaw (dot) ac (dot) nz

for details
Please click here for poster, and registration form.

(copied from here)

lamb omnipotence

omni (all) + potent (powerful)

All red herrings about making rocks too heavy to lift or making a 5-sided triangle aside, the notion of God’s omnipotence at least implies that God has the potential to do literally anything. Continue reading