27 April 2011

Land of the Lost, part 9

Homo Habilis
THE RUMBLINGS CONTINUE around the topic of the historicity of Adam and Eve. It so happens that today's Proposition from John Walton's The Lost World of Genesis One nudges up against that question. Suffice to say, not everyone associated with BioLogos can be accused of denying the actual existence of a single first pair (see, e.g., Tim Keller's somewhat recent paper).

25 April 2011

In the Service of the King

Haymaking, Julien Dupré (1880)
OUR STORY BEGINS in the thick of the action: a middle-aged Martin Luther is busy at work reforming the doctrine of the provincial German churches. He soon settles on issues surrounding the Christian life. In response to the medieval church’s insistence that the only truly Christian calling necessarily involved a withdrawal or retreat from society (by becoming a monk), Luther began arguing that calling can and ought to affirm the spiritual value of work in this world. In other words, ordinary, everyday work has significant religious value. It may seem silly to us, but this was a reinterpretation of calling in Luther’s day—and it was radical at that.

18 April 2011

Land of the Lost, part 8

SO, HERE WE GO, part 8 of my review of John Walton's Lost World of Genesis One. I can't remember why I took such a long hiatus from posting this material (I think I just got sick of the subject around the time of last year's hoopla revolving around Bruce Waltke). It was the good discussion / series going on over at Jesus Creed, however, that served as the impetus to finish what I started.

As as an aside, on the day I began writing this post (about a year ago), I found myself sitting in the corner of Ligonier's studio listening to a live interview with Stephen Meyer, author of Signature in the Cell. He helpfully clarified a few misgivings that I've shared with others about Intelligent Design, the main one being his explanation that ID does not attempt to say anything about the Christian God, for it cannot. Its cumulative case for design simply shows that the design itself is not "apparent"; rather, it demands something intelligent standing behind it. That's as far as it purports to go. Thus ID is not religion masked as science.

I'm sure I could find something to disagree with there, but Dr. Meyer did a great job articulating the differences between ID as a scientific endeavor and the subsequent philosophical/theological speculations that come after the theory of design is established. I'm still left wondering about the observable chaos of the cosmos and how that relates to all this, but I suspect that will be my lot in this life (i.e., wondering) since, after all, I've no intention of becoming a molecular biologist or physicist.

PROPOSITION 14: God’s Roles as Creator and Sustainer Are Less Different Than We Have Thought.
  • Two extremes are to be avoided in this construct that Walton has presented: (1) that God's work as creator is simply a finished act of the past; and (2) that his work as creator is an eternally repeating present.

    The potential deism of #1 is the most popular notion among Christians today (creation and providence are often unnecessarily bifurcated). Both young-earth creationists and certain theistic evolutionists can be guilty of this kind of thinking. It can further break down between those who see God simply winding up the clock and letting the natural laws he put in place to wind themselves out and those who see God intervening at critical junctures to accomplish major jumps in evolution. But they both betray the assumption that God is either irrelevant to natural history or that natural history is due to direct interventions. There is a middle way, writes Walton: "That God might be working alongside or through physical and biological processes in a way that science cannot detect" (p. 120).
  • The other extreme is that creation is a constantly recurring process. But one immediate objection to this view is that it destroys the telos of creation. In order for there to be a goal and a purpose, there must be a beginning and an end.

    Here Walton also has an eye on Jürgen Moltmann (see his God in Creation). Contra Moltmann, creation work after Genesis 1, properly speaking, is basically "sustaining and maintaing work," and thus are not "creative acts." In short, it's a difference between originating and preserving.
  • In contrast to the first extreme, creation is not over and done with. In contrast, to the second extreme, origins is rightfully distinguished from God's sustaining work, but both could be considered in the larger category of creation.

    This shakes out practically in our weekly practices within the community of faith: "We recognize his role of Creator God by our observance of the sabbath . . . recogniz[ing] that he is in charge. . . . [And] even though God does not reside in geographical sacred space any longer, he is still in his cosmic temple, and he now resides in the temple that is his church (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19)" (p. 124).
PROPOSITION 15: Current Debate About Intelligent Design Ultimately Concerns Purpose.
  • Walton wants to state the obvious here—that his book is all about presenting a teleological view with respect to the material world; so all of it, by definition, is intelligent and therefore designed.
  • ID takes it in another direction, arguing that the appearance of design in the cosmos is not illusive, but is the result of an unidentified intelligent designer.
  • One of the primary ways ID-ers attempt to show this is through the identification (in nature) of what they call irreducible complexity. Since certain structures (an eye, for instance) need a multitude of parts that need to be functional all at once for the structure to continue to exist and do its job, it could not have evolved one piece at a time.

    They're not at the point where they're offering alternative scientific mechanisms; they're just challenging the reigning paradigm of the neo-Darwinian synthesis. ID does not offer a theory of origins.
  • And here's the point: while irreducible complexity or mathematical equations and probabilities may challenge the reigning paradigm, empirical science cannot embrace ID simply because science, by definition, is not capable of exploring the teleological (see the layer cake analogy, Proposition 13).

    Put differently, ID does not advance scientific understanding because it does not (cannot?) offer scientific observations to support its premise—the existence of an intelligent designer. Such is not testable or falsifiable. When you're simply promoting a negative ("natural mechanism cannot fully account for life as we know it") and then inferring from that an intelligent designer, our discussion has left the realm of science.
  • In short, even if ID-ers are simply content to claim that a principle of design is testable and falsifiable, they ultimately succumb to promulgating a "God of the gaps" theory. Proving a negative requires that all possibilities have been considered, which in turn requires that all possibilities are known. "As a result design cannot be established beyond reasonable doubt . . . and it can only fall back on the claim that the currently proposed naturalistic mechanisms do not suffice" (p. 129). In other words, to say that X structure is designed (as a matter of science) only works when there's a gap in our knowledge about what we know today about X structure. Tomorrow, we may uncover what's been missing in the equation, and so the design claim clearly becomes irrelevant.
  • Neo-Darwinists (materialists) offer nothing better. They presuppose anti-teleology, just as the ID-ers presuppose the opposite. Both presume a metaphysical premise, which is, again, by definition anathema to science.
  • And this is appropriate, writes Walton. The response to the proven inadequacies of the neo-Darwinian synthesis, if there are such, is not to admit the existence of an intelligent designer (again, that's outside the realm of science) but to work out the science and thus propose alternative naturalistic mechanisms.
As Christians we ought to be all about this pursuit of the truth. We ought to want to know exactly how the natural mechanisms of the cosmos work, which, as Christians, will only lead us to greater awe and thus deeper worship of our creator God.

So, you tell me, is it even possible to bracket the metaphysical (i.e., not to be neutral, but to be as neutral as possible) when doing science? Should it be bracketed?

The ever-popular Part 9 will blow your mind.

14 April 2011

Baptism: Death by Qualification?

And that water is a picture of baptism, which now saves you, not by removing dirt from your body, but as a response to God from a clean conscience. It is effective because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1 Pet 3:21)

Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. (Rom 6:3–4)

A baptism at the Church of Debre
Sina Maryam in Ethiopia 
Yet I must maintain that it's a non-saving and loseable identification. When one is baptized, she shares in Christ's verdict pronounced over her by the Father at the resurrection. But this may be lost. I think this rightly emphasizes the promises to which baptism points, and, in a certain sense, confers, though not indissolubly. Luther states it plainly enough:
We are not found in a state of perfection as soon as we have been baptized into Jesus Christ and his death. Having been baptized into his death, we merely strive to obtain (the blessings of) this death and to reach our goal of glory. Just so, when we are baptized into everlasting life and the kingdom of heaven, we do not at once fully possess its full wealth (of blessings). We have merely taken the first steps to seek after eternal life. Baptism has been instituted that it should lead usto the blessings (of his death) and through such death to eternal life. Therefore it is necessary that we should be baptized into Jesus Christ and his death. (Commentary on Romans, p. 101, Kregel 1976)

12 April 2011

'He that Cometh' Maketh the Church (3)

SHALL WE NOT CLOSE THIS SERIES? It's well past time. In the first and second posts on this topic, I briefly covered Hans Boersma's three reasons for recapturing Henri de Lubac's views on Holy Communion: (1) help us recapture the pre-modern, sacramental view of the world (over against the rationalism of the High Middle Ages and the neo-scholastic theology of the early 20th century); (2) reappropriate a pre-modern "sacramental" hermeneutic with respect to Scripture (here Boersma has in mind St. Augustine's exegetical approach of literal meaning pointing beyond itself to spiritual meaning); and (3) apply the genuine ecumenical potential inherent in de Lubac's sacramental outlook.

In this (hopefully) final post, I want to look at the crux of de Lubac's objection against both mere sacramental symbolism and the complete identification between the sacramental symbol and the reality to which it points, which, according to Boersma, paves the way for authentic ecumenical action. As mentioned in part 2, de Lubac's church (not to mention the Protestants) had forgotten the very purpose of the Eucharistic body, thus suffering from a severly truncated ecclesiology.

05 April 2011

Perspectives on the Sabbath Interview

Today (Tuesday, 5 April 2011) at 1 p.m. on Knowing the Truth, I'm being interviewed about the book I've edited, Perspectives on the Sabbath (you can see a generous portion of it through the "Look Inside" feature at Amazon).

Update: Listen to or download the entire interview.

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