An accidental blog

"If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit." Abraham Kuyper Common Grace 1.1.

Sunday, 25 September 2005

A typology of science and religion

Many models of the relationship between science and religion have been proposed. Notably, Ian Barbour's: conflcit, independence, dialogue and independence. A more fruitful approach, which has the advantage of exhaustion(!), is illustrated below:

A. Science replaces religion
B. Religion replaces science
C. Science shapes religion
D. Religion shapes science
E. Science and religion are independent
F. Science and religion in dialogue.

I will look at each of these in more detail in later blogs.

Saturday, 24 September 2005

Is evolution really the central theory for all of biology?

Philip Skell recently published an interesting article in The Scientist (29 August, p. 10): "Why Do We Invoke Darwin?" (The full text of the article is available here). It promoted a healthy discussion and debate on the ASA Mailing list. Cornelius Hunter, Ted Davis, George Murphy, Terry Gray, Michael Roberts and others debate the issues. The comments can be seen here.

Wednesday, 14 September 2005

Christian thinker's toolkit

There are to be a series of lectures Christianity and Culture in Muswell Hill, London during October

Thurs 6 October
Mark Roques Eyes Wide Open: Enjoying and Understanding Hollywood Films

Thurs 13 October
Gareth Owen Jones An introduction to Christian philosophy

Thurs 20 October
Guy Donergan Cross Culture and ultimate destiny: your labour is not in vain

More deatils are available here.

Tuesday, 13 September 2005

New articles on Glenn Friesen's website

Glenn Friesen has translated an article by Dooyeweerd on time "The problem of time in the philosophy of the Law-Idea." Glenn writes:

I think that this article can serve as a good introduction to his thought, especially Part 1. But the article is worth reading by those who think they are familiar with his thought, because Dooyeweerd's ideas seem to be more clearly and succinctly expressed in this article than in his other writings. In particular, it clearly expresses Dooyeweerd’s emphasis of the importance of the experience of our supratemporal selfhood, and the relation of that experience to theoretical thought.
Glenn has also made available his translations of Dooyeweerd's and Vollenhoven's responses to the Curators of the VU:

In 1937, both Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven were asked by the Curators of the Vrije Universiteit to respond to accusations about their philosophy which had been made by the theologian Valentin Hepp in a series of brochures he published entitled Dreigende Deformatie [Threatening Deformation]. The Responses by Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven are essential to understanding their respective philosophies, and their views on how they fit into the Reformed tradition. In view of the fact that the church expelled Geelkerken in 1926 for denying the literal account of the fall, it is surprising that Hepp accuses Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd of being "Biblicistic."

It is interesting to compare their Responses. Vollenhoven is much more exegetical. Dooyeweerd emphasizes the importance of our supratemporal heart, as distinct from how our faith is temporally expressed. He says he is not bound by the words "rational soul" or "substance" where they appear in the Westminster Confesson or in the Confessio Helvetica Posterior. He says that he is bound only by the Dutch Confessions of Faith. Even more surprisingly, he says that even if these words were in the Dutch Confessions, he would not regard himself as being bound by them. He takes this anti-exegetical approach to his reading of Scripture, where he says that the issue of the existence of the supratemporal heart and even the meaning of 'sin' are not to be decided on exegetical grounds. This is as theological as Dooyeweerd gets. See Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven: Responses to the Curators (1937-38).

Twilight blog

I have started a new blog. I'm putting on my (as yet incomplete) Study Guide to Dooyeweerd's In the Twilight of Western Thought. Any comments, criticisms, suggestions ... etc. are warmly welcomed!

Saturday, 10 September 2005

Science and miracles

Miracle is a slippery concept. The popular conception of a miracle is threefold: it is a violation of a natural law, it is a divine intervention and it is a supernatural event. All are inadequate.

Many philosophers of religion define a miracle as a violation or transgression of a law of nature. This notion is a left-over from the 18th century when deism was at its peak. Walther Eichrodt (1890-1978) points out that it certainly would not

occur to the devout Old Testament believer to make a breach of the Laws of Nature a condicio sine qua non of the miraculous character of an event. (Theology of the Old Testament, vol. 2, London: SCM, p.163)

God does not violate his own laws, but works with and through them; he is faithful to the creation order, which had its origin in him. This is not to say that God is subject to his laws. Perhaps Augustine (354- 430) was near to the truth when he described a portent (miracle) as an event that ‘happens not contrary to nature, but contrary to what we know as nature’ (De Civitate Dei XII.8). Many scientists would objects to such a definition because it may mean, scientific advances permitting, that we will know so much about nature that there will be no place for miracle. The objection is ill-founded.

It is likewise a mistake to describe miracles as divine interventions. An intervention implies that the intervener is absent prior to the intervention. God is present in all of creation, it therefore illogical to describe his action in the creation as an intervention.

Can we describe miracles as a supernatural phenomenon? The idea that miracles are supernatural events has its origin in rationalism, not in the scriptures. God is the God of the laws of nature: he does not violate his own principles to work a miracle Miracles are natural events. Eichrodt, again, points out that ‘ever the course of Nature itself counts as a miracle’ (p. 162). Nature is not autonomous: all things are held together by Christ. He is both the source and sustainer of all things. Fallen nature is not normal, as rationalism assumes, and supernaturalism, with its nature/ supernature dualism, need not be invoked to explain that which rationalism cannot. As J. H. Diemer puts it:

The fundamental fault of supernaturalism is that it begins with a rationalistic and deistic theory of nature in which only a nature torn loose from its moorings and impoverished is reckoned with... . As long as rationalism exists, supernaturalism will not disappear. Supernaturalism fills the vacuum that rationalism creates. (‘Miracles happen: toward a biblical view of nature’, Toronto: ICS (mimeo) nd, p. 17.)

How then are we to explain miracles? John Polkinghorne suggests that the fundamental problem of miracles is

how these strange events can be set within a consistent overall pattern of God’s reliable activity; how can we accept them without subscribing to a capricious interventionist God, who is a concept of paganism rather than Christianity. (Science and Providence, London: SPCK, 1989 p. 51.)

To this we might add: ‘and without subscribing to an unbiblical supernaturalism’.

Miracles are part of the created order. In performing miraculous events Jesus was restoring the creation to its original order. They are glimpses of the consummated kingdom of God, signposts to the kingdom, or, as Polkinghorne has it, ‘transparent moments in which the Kingdom is found to be manifestly present’; they are restoring humans and the creation to their proper relationships.

Aspects of the fall are temporarily halted: sickness and death are robbed of their dominion. The ultimate example, of course, is of Jesus’ resurrection: he is the firstfruits of what it will be to have a transformed resurrection body; we like him will be raised to immortality.

This means that scientific descriptions of miracles are permissible but they are not the whole truth. They may be able to explain them in certain cases, but as has often been said, ‘explanation is not explaining away’. Hence, scientific explanations will not mean that there will be no place for miracles.

Katrina: Acts of God or sins of humanity?

Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, general secretary of the Reformed Church in America, poses this question in a recent edition of Sojourners magazine regarding Katrina.

He writes:

I celebrate the tides of compassion flowing in the wake of Katrina. Organizations such as Church World Service and the Salvation Army bear the compassion of Christ to the desolate, homeless, and hopeless. And I still don't fully understand why, in the providence of a loving and all-powerful God of creation, things like hurricanes and earthquakes happen.

But I do know this. When I see the devastating effects of Katrina, I don't simply regard these as an inexplicable "act of God." I also focus on the sins of humanity. We've disobeyed God's clear biblical instructions to preserve the integrity of God's good creation, and to overcome the scourge of poverty. In the aftermath of Katrina, we desperately need not only compassion, but also repentance.

Amen and Amen!

Friday, 9 September 2005

Galileo, Darwin, and Hawking: chapter 4

Dowe starts the discussion of miracles with David Hume (1711-1776) and chapter 10 of his Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding. Dowe identifies two steps in Hume’s approach: (i) the probability of miracles – according to Hume it is never rational to believe, on the testimony of others, a miracle has occurred; (ii) miracles, if they do occur, can’t be used as testimony for God as they could be a ‘as-yet unexplained natural’ event.

According to Hume rational belief is proportioning ‘our belief to the available evidence’ (p. 83). This is obviously a controversial claim!

For Hume, complete agreement in evidence is a ‘proof’. If in our experience every time metal is heated it expands, and every one else agrees, then this is a ‘proof’ and it justifies calling it ‘a law of nature’. If an event happens a certain proportion of the time then Hume calls it a ‘probability’. As Dowe points out, ‘establishing the truth of a law of nature is not as straightforward as Hume apparently imagines’ (p. 85).

Testimonial evidence is evidence obtained from the statements of others; this may come from a number of different sources: for example, from someone’s CV; from witnesses in a court of law; or from findings published in a scientific journal.

Hume argues that evaluating testimony involves: (i) how probable the event itself is; and (ii) the reliability of the witness. To this we might add (iii) the number of independent witnesses.

How we define a miracle is important. Is it a ‘very unlikely event’ or ‘an impossible event’, then obviously if we accept the former there will be many more miracles than if we accept the latter! Hume defines it as a ‘violation of the laws of nature’; a violation of uniform regularities. The question remains, is this a coherent concept of a miracle? If one metal when heated does not expand, then we question the law of nature, it is not a universal regularity, rather than claiming that it is a miracle.

Hume in his first argument against miracles argues that we cannot rationally believe that a miracle has occurred. If such evidence that amounted to a proof did exist that a violation of a law of nature had occurred, then we would have two full proofs, one for the miracle and one for the law of nature it is supposed to transgress. What are we then to do? Hume’s theory is that these two proofs will balance each other out and we should remain agnostic about the miracle occurring.

Hume’s second argument is that even if miracles did occur it wouldn’t necessarily be evidence for any religious claim. It may be that there is no explanation for it or that there will be some natural explanation that has not yet been found. Thus for Hume the burden of proof is upon the theist, she must prove that a miracle has occurred and that it is from God and has no natural explanation.

Dowe then turns to George Schlesinger’s defence of miracles. Schelsinger in his Religion and the Scientific Method (1977) uses the principle to best explanation, an argument often used in science, to defend the rationality of miracles: Schlesinger applies the methodology of science to religion.

Dowe concludes that if religion can use the methods of science then there is a common rationality shared by ‘science and religion’.

Zygon published

Zygon Sept 2005 has been published. The table of contents are available here. It contains articles by Pannenberg, Wm Drees, Alan Padgett and a dialogue with Karl E. Peters.

Sunday, 4 September 2005

Galileo, Darwin, and Hawking: chapter 3 (part 2)

Bacon’s vision is motivated by Genesis 1:26-27, the cultural mandate. For Bacon this means that human’s rule the rest of creation and to do that they need to understand it better. The fall affected humanity’s ability to rule over creation, but science can help regain this dominion over creation. His view of the image of God is humanity as hands-on rulers over nature, bringing it under control. As Dowe notes:

… the cultural mandate and related religious ideas are the motivating ideological notions behind Bacon’s vision of a scientifically-driven society. (p 72)

The question in my mind is, is this not an idolisation of science by Bacon? Isn’t his a view of science as a saviour: science will undo the fall derived from a misreading of the cultural mandate?

The end of the twentieth century saw a reaction to this ideology from environmentalists and feminists.

Lynn White Jr, in his famous 1967 article, blamed the ‘ecologic’ crisis on Christianity with its Baconian emphasis on dominion and rulership. (I have dealt with some of White’s objections in an article published in Themelios and available here.)

Carolyn Merchant in her Death of Nature asserts that how we think of women is linked to how we treat nature.

For Bacon nature was metaphorically female – and Merchant argues that so-called harmless metaphors can have a profound influence on practice and attitudes.

It should be remembered that White and Merchant are arguing against this Baconian view of dominion. Genesis itself sees: dominion in terms of careful and responsible stewardship; and nature not necessarily in terms of being female. The problem is not so much Genesis and the cultural mandate but with the exploitative views of women.

The seventeenth century thinkers tended to have a harmony view of science and religion and utilised the two books metaphor: the two books – Scripture and nature – have a common author and so must be in harmony.

Friday, 2 September 2005

A SuDoku blank

Here is a blank Sudoku grid for all those Sudoku addicts! (Click on the image to enlarge it.)

Thursday, 1 September 2005

Dooyeweerd article on the web

An English translation of Dooyeweerd's first article in Philosophia Reformata, 'The dilemma for Christian philosophical thought and the critical character ofthe Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee' has been published by Paul Robinson on the net here. It is translated by Chris van Haeften. (HT: thinknet)

Update: Unfortunately, there is a problem with the translation rights and copyright, so the article has had to be removed.