Showing my hand (the grand design part 10)

Well, I have made a lot of comments on Hawking’s book. I have really enjoyed reading it and interacting with it but I am aware it is very easy to question someone else’s worldview without declaring your own. I had a bracketed bit in the last post where I stated my world view but it ended up too long so I thought I would make it a separate post, a sort of post script to the stuff on the book as it’s not really about the book per say.

The view that seems to come through in the book is that everything is determined by natural laws and that we need look no further for an explanation of the “hows” and “whys” than these natural laws. They simply exist and everything from magpies to morals, quails to quarks, penguins to persons can be reduced to the outworking of these laws. Somehow (in a way I do not understand) “we” can observe the universe and realise that behind it is a system of natural laws. That said, we can never know what is really there as all we can experience is sensory input that leads us to make mental models of a supposed reality.

So what do I think?

I think that God has always existed and is the ground of all personhood and truth and everything else. He made and ordered the universe and he made us in it as personal agents, in his image, able to comprehend and understand it. The beauty of Mathematics, including number theory and string theory, stem from the fact that they are from him, his nature and his mind. Rules both moral and material exist in a mind and are meaningful and comprehensible because of that. God has given us the intrinsic ability to investigate and understand but he also reveals truth to us. In one sense everything we know is by his revelation. He helps us see and understand gravity and he helps us see and understand morality. There is much I can know but as I turn away from God shutting my heart to his revelation of himself, my thinking becomes faulty. It may take a few generations before the full force of this is felt but it must come.

I accept God’s self disclosure in the trinity. That he is at heart relational, and loving, not alone and isolated. For this reason I see love, as well as person hood, to be even more fundamental than the laws of physics and certainly not reducible to them. I see God as perfectly good and so morality is not to be defined simply in terms of evolutionary theory but as a revelation of his God’s. I see death as being linked to our moral failure and relational break down with God. Life is not purely physical, but spiritual and relational. In the person of Jesus Christ I see a God who loves us so much that he deals with our sin and separation, making a way through death for us to eternal life, complete with a new body that will last forever.

Life is not just DNA dancing or fundamental forces interacting. Death is not simply part of the carbon cycle. Life is about a relationship with God and death of the body can be a doorway to an unending life in his presence or a dreadful eternity without him. Each person will have their day in court. The beauty of a sunset, prime numbers and romance, are but tinny shafts of glory from the unsurpassed excellence of the God who sacrificed himself for me, saving me from my sin and shame and adopting me into his family forever.

A theistic world view saves me from ultra skepticism. I spent most of my university years working through the idea that we cannot know objective reality and that we only have models of models of models in our head. I didn’t know the label “Model Dependent Reality” but I thought through and experienced its ideas. The belief that we are separated from truth and can never know it leads to a very dark place indeed. How could I even know my own thought process were valid? Or my thoughts about my thought? Even my own existence was not something that I could know for certain. Thankfully I no longer believe that to be a correct or a healthy worldview.

I guess my world view could be summed up in two words. “Christ Jesus”. Nothing makes much sense to me without him. Everything was made by him and through him and for him. Take him out of the equation (or only think in terms of equations) and there is no beginning, no end and nothing in-between. Since Christ is the Greek for the Hebrew “Messiah”, I guess I do believe in M-theory after all.

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Revisiting the first chapter of Genesis (argument part 2)

John Cleese asked Michael Palin in their highly amusing argument sketch “Is this just the five minute argument or the full half hour?” Lucky for us when Mick, Adrian and Andrew modeled healthy critical discourse at the Brighton leadership seminar, we were treated to an hour and a half of stimulating discussion. After looking at passive and active judgment they moved onto consider Tim Keller’s take on the first chapter of Genesis. Exciting stuff!

Keller’s experience is that people don’t believe Christians on the resurrection because they seem unintelligent and uninformed when it comes to generally recognized and accepted scientific findings. I think this is true.

Charles Darwin

Andrew pointed out that sound biblical inerrantists B. B. Warfield and J I Packer are both open to evolution or at least don’t dismiss it, and think it’s more likely than the alternative. (In fact J I Packer says “the young earth view is naive“). These aren’t the kind of guys to sell out.  The Catholic church’s official line is in line with evolution too but again, as no one, not even the pope, is infallible we need to engage with the subject matter.

Andrew’s view is that Genesis is Poetic narrative, semi-poetic or Hymnic  although not Hebrew poetry.

Andrew agrees with Keller that if Genesis 1 isn’t a journalistic record to be read chronologically  then it doesn’t conflict with evolution. Keller does however go for a literal garden and a literal fall.

Andrew gave 6 points on why he used to think that evolution was barmy for those who believe the bible. He has changed his mind on most of them.

1) Its incompatible with Gen 1. He no longer holds this view because of the poetic nature of Gen 1.

2) It is driven by randomness. Again, he no longer holds this view because God works through apparently random stuff, i.e. valleys, cliff erosion, casting of lot, “the lot is cast into the lap but every decision comes from the Lord” Prov 16:33, and 1 Kings 22:28, 34 where someone prophesies that the King of Israel is going to be killed, …and someone draws his bow “at random” and kills him.

3) The problem of the final step in which hominids become humans. He still thinks this is problematic. Genesis 2 is not Poetic in style. Man was made from the dust of the earth, and the woman from the rib of man. It was not two farmers that God choose and made in his image. Keller agrees but Andrew asks where and how is the line drawn? I have this problem too.

I recall Stott argues that Genesis 2 and 3 do in fact have very symbolic truths in them. It’s increasingly easy to rub out more and more of the bible because of apparent challenges with scientific opinion but the answer is not to shut our eyes and hold onto our own particular interpretation. As Keller notes, this does not help in the presentation of the gospel. Of course a third error would be to become wishy washy, open to anything and lacking conviction and faith. Being aware, to a degree based on your time and ability, of the various interpretations and scientific evidence is a good start and shows you are not blinkered in your approach even if you have arrived at strong conviction on the subject. (For clarity that last paragraph was my thoughts).

4) Evolution is only ever held by unbiblical fluffy people. He now realizes this isn’t true.

5) There are Scientific objections to evolution as a whole. Adrian points to Jon Lenox’ book. I have a few but I’m not sure which one.

6) Death and wastefulness before the fall. Andrew points out that if you believe in an old earth you tend to go for the death of animals. So this argument needs to go with a young earth.

Andrew reminds us that many Christians historically believed in evolution. Darwin’s theory was in fact promoted by many of the clergy at the time. He also says something can be poetic and literal.

Adrian says he is for a literal 6 day creation. Andrew says Kellar says its poetry and then goes with the possible interpretation that is in line with science.

Interestingly enough, apparently Augustine and Origin said it was literal but didn’t go with a 6 day account.

Adrian points out that we need to look at the rest of the bible. Ex 20 argues the Sabbath from Genesis 1 based on a literal interpretation of Genesis. Andrew counters that Moses was the same author of Genesis 1 and Ex 20 and had Ex odus in mind when we wrote Genesis. I didn’t really follow the argument though but agree with him that for Moses it may not have been the length of the days that was the issue but the 6 and 1 structure.

Andrew says that there is a change of style in Chapter 2 when it says “These are the generation of the heavens and the earth” and gives geographical locations so it seems the style changes to historical narrative.

Q&A

(I will paraphrase what was said as best I can and interject myself when I feel like it!)

Q : Talk a bit more about death. Is it still a valid argument against evolution?

Andrew : Romans 5 says death came into the world through sin. Death for plants, animals and humans means three different things. Grass doesn’t die in the same sense that animals die. The grass continues to grow. Same with trees and fruit. An animal’s just go into the ground while a human has a soul that lives on after death. In Romans 5 surely Paul is talking about the death of humans. But do we want to say God created a world in which animals didn’t die? Ie where immortal. The young earth view would seem to say yes they were eternal.

Q : We must not undermine the first chapters of the bible or we loose everything.

Andrew : Yes. Undermine anything God says and you loose everything. Including Genesis 1. I am saying there is a chapter in the bible that has possibly been misinterpreted, not that there is a chapter in the bible that is wrong.  People used to think that the earth went round the sun because of a metaphorical statement in the bible. We  later came to the conclusion that the bible didn’t mean what we thought it meant due mainly to overwhelming scientific evidence.

Me : The issue is about interpretation not inerrancy.

Me. Keller and Andrew do not think that God put his image in a creature coming out of evolution. I can’t see why that is such a big issue. Did he fashion literal dust in a few moments or did he use dust that had been fashioned over millions of years into a humanoid? Eve could still have been taken from Adam in some way.

Me : The questions all seemed hostile to evolution. Interestingly someone said in a question that there was “no evidence for evolution”. They seemed really certain of that. But surly that is not true is it? Everything I have read seems to support the very opposite. Someone makes the point that we must distinguish between macro and micro evolution but perhaps a more relevant distinction should be highlighted between the so called “fact of evolution” and the process of evolution. Scientists believe they have a massive, overwhelming amount of evidence for all living organisms having a common ancestor. The discussion and theorizing tends to come more in the actually process of how evolution, speciation, adaption etc took place.

Mick finished by repeating Keller’s point that in our discussions and debate we should get to a stage of being able to state the other persons argument in a way that the other person agrees with it. Then we will be able to engage fruitfully with them.

"Hello, I’d like an argument please." (argument part 1)

One of my favorite Monty Python sketches is the one where Michael Palin pays to have a five minute argument with John Cleese:

Monty Python argument sketch

man1 “Hello, I’d like an argument please.”

man2 “I’ve told you once”

man1 “No you haven’t”

man2 “Yes I Have”

man1 “No you haven’t”

man2 “I’m sorry is this the five minute argument or the full half hour?”

man1 “Oh, I see. No, it’s just the five minutes”

man2 “Ah, Ok. Well I definitely told you”

man1 “no you didn’t”

etc

It’s a classic! Probably funnier when they do it than when you read the script though! It’s just an argument for an argument’s sake. Often though, arguments can be very much more fruitful and in fact crucial in helping us arrive at a clearer idea of the truth. Recently at the Brighton Leadership Conference Mick Taylor had the idea of modeling constructive argument about theological issues in one of the seminars. I’ve just listened to the recording and it was great.

It was helpful not just because it gave an example of friendly debate, but because of the topics discussed. The first was on hell but they spent most of the time on the second which was the whole creation/evolution issue. I have been thinking about that a lot recently and have already blogged some of my thoughts in my other blog http://marcusbible.blogspot.com. I am blogging through the bible and have obviously had to address this issue right at the start.

Mick Taylor, Adrian Birks and Andrew Wilson engage with these issues using Tim Keller’s book “The Reason for God”. While they whole heartedly recommend the book some of them disagree with some of what Tim writes on these two subjects. That is good because it allows them to demonstrate healthy critical thinking and discussion. No writer, not the Pope nor even Tim Keller, is infallible so we must weigh what we read.

First they tackle Tim Keller’s apologetic approach to hell and judgment. Keller seems to shy away from the idea that God throws people into hell and emphasizes that people choose to go there of their own free will. ie “there is no lock on the door”. This is more palatable apologetically but is it a fair representation of the truth?

Andrew argues that the bible seems to say someone’s entrance into hell is not totally voluntary.  People don’t want hell. Keller says the rich man didn’t seem like he wanted to get out. He just wanted relief where he was. But Andrew points out that the rich man didn’t want others to come there and wanted them to be warned which I think weakens Keller’s argument quite a bit. As Piper puts it, people may want sin but they do not want hell. It’s like wanting chocolate but not weight gain.

Adrian points out that arguments against penal substitution seem compatible with a “passive wrath” view (which is not a good thing!). He quoted David Stroud saying in one of the main sessions “The essence of Justice is God lifting his hand” and points out that God’s wrath goes much further than that. Keller’s idea of hell is therefore inadequate. God doesn’t just withdraw from people like Pol Pot and Hitler. He is active in punishing them.

Mick agreed that although he didn’t like the idea that much, God is certainly more active in punishment than Keller seems to be saying.

Andrew gives examples of God’s “star wars” like commands (I always think of star wars too when I read Deut 20:16-18, and the Emperor’s deep voice saying “wipe them out, all of them”) to wipe out all the Amorites because of their sin. It does not read as though he is leaving them to the natural consequences of their evil actions. It’s not just “have it your way I’m leaving you to your own devices”. He sends his people to execute his judgment.

Adrian makes the helpful point that Romans 1 is not talking about hell. It’s talking about the revealing of judgment now.  It’s not wrong though to extend the principles to hell but given the nature of the other passages that do talk explicitly about hell it’s not a strong case for the passive view of God’s judgment in hell (Rev 20:14).

There is an argument that says if God is going to see justice done then we don’t have to take it into our own hands now and life can be more peaceful. One problem with that is that knowing your victims will leave any retribution to a God you don’t think exists might make you more vicious and unrestrained in your attack. Adrian points out that if the vengeance of God is withdrawal then evil doers won’t be that afraid of the consequences of their actions because they don’t want God anyway.

Mick says that in our minds it’s either passive or active judgment but maybe both are valid. Maybe then it’s ok to pick one and major on it. He also points out that we don’t want to paint a picture of a God who is enjoying punishing people and highlights the challenge of not doing so. He says we want to avoid on the one hand the danger of a God who delights in punishing people, and on the other a punishment that isn’t really that bad.

I must say I’ve always felt a little uneasy about sweeping the active side of God’s judgment under the carpet. Andrew made the point at the start that a lot of our problems with hell could be cultural. People in countries where there is massive injustice would have more of a problem with God’s forgiveness than his judgment. For God not to judge the evil they see all around them would be unthinkable. That said, it’s not wrong to start by emphasizing one aspect of the truth that makes more sense to a particular culture as long as at some stage you teach the whole truth.

There was time for Q and A at the end but actually none of the questions were about judgment, they were about the hotter topic of evolution. I’ll give my notes on their discussion on that and some of the Q&A in the next blog entry.