31 May 2011

Two Cheers for Existentialism

ONCE UPON A TIME, I was reading Jürgen Moltmann (I believe it was God in Creation) wherein he wrote in passing on his way to some point or another how the only serious atheists were the likes of Sartre and Camus. I remember being somewhat surprised at this, mainly because the two folks mentioned were also the most enthusiastic and consistent existentialists; I daresay they have no competition even today. At any rate, I decided to re-read The Stranger, as well as portions of Being and Nothingness (though I can only read philosophy in small chunks separated by periods of both being and nothingness), and I was quickly reminded of why atheists such as these ought to be taken seriously: they almost got it right.

23 May 2011

The Logical Order of Things About Which We Know Next to Nothing

Augustine (6th c. fresco)
THERE HAVE BEEN, at times, moments of expected flack since I’ve outed myself as a single predestinarian. At worst it’s deemed a belligerent betrayal, at best with a wink and a nod it’s seen as a defect—often in intelligence. Not too long ago, a dear friend approached me quite concerned about not having vocalized my thoughts on this subject to him or others near to me (he did this for all the right reasons; we all should be so lucky to have at least one friend who cares to this extent), also suggesting my thinking has changed on this issue. With my typical smug chuckle, I didn’t offer any explanation one way or the other—but I thought there wasn’t much of a point when it’s a presumed fact that the breadth of the Reformed tradition excludes single predestination.

19 May 2011

Land of the Lost: Nutshell

"Fish with Legs" by Ellen Marcus © 2011
THE TIME HAS COME for the last post about John Walton's Lost World of Genesis One. [update: Walton's expanded edition on this subject hits the shelf this October—Genesis One as Ancient Cosmology.]

According to Walton, a responsible reading of Genesis 1:1-2:3 will approach the text as ancient literature, not modern science. In so doing, we will understand that the author's original intent was "far different from what has been traditionally understood" (p. 162)—not least since the days of flood geology. The original intent has to do with the functions of the cosmos (why it was created) as opposed to the material structure of the cosmos (how it was created). Walton calls the ancient view of creation the "cosmic temple inauguration view." This means that the events of Genesis 1 describe how "the cosmos was given its functions as God's temple, where he has taken up his residence and from where he runs the cosmos. This world is his headquarters" (ibid.).

13 May 2011

Review of Perspectives on the Sabbath

Andy Naselli provides a brief review of Perspectives on the Sabbath, wherein he highlights some of the elements that make the book "an excellent example of how different views use different hermeneutical approaches and theological methods." Check it out.

11 May 2011

Land of the Lost, part 11

"ON THE BASIS OF THE VIEW THAT Genesis 1 is a discussion of functional origins," Walton writes, "we may now tackle the question of what is appropriate in the classroom" (p. 153). If you've been following along, you'll remember that Walton removes from the interpretation of Genesis 1 the possibility that it says anything about material origins (i.e., how the cosmos was created); it instead speaks of the world's functional origins (i.e., why the cosmos was created). As such, and as we saw in part 9 of this series, "whatever explanation scientists offer in their attempts to explain origins, we could theoretically adopt it as a description of God's handiwork" (p. 132). One important question thus remains for Walton: What is acceptable to teach regarding the purpose of the universe in a public school science class? Answer: nothing. Why? Because teleology is beyond the scope of science (see part 7, Prop. 13, for more on this).

Proposition 18: Public Science Education Should Be Neutral Regarding Purpose
  • Empirical science is, by definition, based on methodological naturalism (i.e., it necessarily brackets the metaphysical, because such is not verifiable one way or the other with the tools of empirical science).
  • Empirical science is focused on descriptions of the world's origins that are falsifiable, and thus their strengths and weaknesses are to be acknowledged (evolution, as well as any other origins theories, included).
  • Empirical science is, by definition, agnostic (i.e., neutral) regarding purpose. It is not designed to be able to define purpose (or no purpose), even though (theoretically) it may be able to deduce rationally that purpose is logically the best explanation. This therefore precludes Genesis 1, metaphysical naturalism (atheism), and design theories from empirical science classes.
According to Walton, the answer to the fact that many biology teachers (for example) teach as fact dysteleology (i.e., no purpose, metaphysical naturalism) is not to introduce metaphysical supernaturalism or a teleological description of origins into the science class. Young-earth, old-earth, and Intelligent Design theory posit precisely this, and are thus outside the scope of empirical science, which science is supposed to be taught in such classes.

The answer to the problem of science teachers overstepping their bounds is to call them and their administrators to the mat, by (1) demanding they maintain teleological neutrality to the best of their ability; (2) demanding that publishers of curricula maintain the same and that administrators select curricula based on this demand; (3) demanding that administrators introduce philosophical curricula—in which various metaphysical options can be considered—to the lineup.

Christian too have to come to terms with a few things, namely, (1) Quit trying to impose their own teleological views on public science education; and (2) thus quit pressing the Scriptures into service in public education (especially since it doesn't offer a description of how God created the material world).

This raises one final issue, which serves as a supplement to Walton's views here regarding the nature of science and what is or is not helpful to teach, by definition, in a classroom that purports to teach one of the empirical sciences. It has to do also with the nature of the kingdom of God, and whether or not it's to be construed as two kingdoms or one. If the latter, as theonomists are wont to do, then the first point in the above paragraph will be abhorrent (as is the very idea of public schools, of course). Imposing their particular beliefs on society at large is precisely what many of them advocate. If one holds to the former (a two-kingdoms construct), then these suggestions will come as no surprise; the kingdom of man, understood to be under the rule of the kingdom of God and his Christ, is nevertheless not equivalent to the kingdom of God. The two will remain at odds until the king's return (how much at odds, I believe, is up to the church and its commitment to God's mission, i.e., the Great Commission).

One more thought: if a person holds to both (1) a two-kingdoms model of this age and the Commission and (2) any kind of creationism that thinks the Bible teaches something about material origins isn't an inconsistency immediately brought to fore? I mean, if a two-kingdomite agrees that you got to keep 'em separated (church & state, and thus teleological theories & empirical science), what does that person do if she believes that the Bible mandates certain scientific views about material origins? Wouldn't said views therefore necessarily need to be included in any discussion regarding origins taking place in the public school science class?

Looking for a way out of this hell? Here's the series in a nutshell.

04 May 2011

Land of the Lost, part 10

IF MAKING SENSE of the creation narrative in light of other portions of Scripture, ancient Near-Eastern contexts, and the relationship between science and faith isn't enough, Walton further argues, in his next proposition, that the theology produced in this construct is formidable—less shallow—than the resulting theology in competing views (not sure exactly which view he has in mind here, but my guess is young-earth creationism). It does nothing to weaken the picture of God (particularly his sovereignty and glory) laid out in Scripture.

02 May 2011

Remembering God's Grace

FOR MANY OF US, at the beginning of our Christian journeys, we thought of and spoke often about the radical forgiveness of a God who has been greatly sinned against. I remember myself going on and on about God’s longsuffering and patience, and how grateful I was for it. I also recall having conversations with friends who did not convert out of a debauched past, who had never known a time they didn’t consider themselves Christian.

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