Falling off either side of the wrong horse

Let me say before I continue that I’ve had no formal training in science and my views on contemporary scientific theories are completely amateur and I’m sure terribly simplistic.  However, if we’re looking for academic credentials, my first university could probably claim to have ‘trained’ me in philosophy of religion and science, cosmological debates etc – that’s what I studied much of the time.  But really, that’s not why I’m writing about it.  I’m writing about this because these scientific claims are theological.  They are all-embracing world-views founded upon a logos other than Jesus.  That makes them fair game.  It also means I should try to be as even-handed and informed in my criticism as possible and this I will seek to do.  But that’s where I’m coming from.

In the last post we considered that belief in multiple universes or belief in an intelligent Designer are just that – beliefs.  They are not directly testable by the science that faces them.  It is not the case that the naturalistic scientist deals in the realm of pure facts and the supernaturalist shadily slinks off into the realm of faith.  Both positions are founded upon and shaped after beliefs.

Yet not beliefs divorced from evidence.  Both positions claim that their belief has more explanatory power in accounting for that which is testable and both move forwards on the basis of this belief.   Everyone conducts themselves according to the dynamic of ‘faith seeking understanding’

(As an aside, naturalistic science conducted according to it’s own beliefs and methods will turn up many fascinating things, draw many remarkable links and make innumberable positive contributions to our common life.  This is precisely parallel to the ‘good’ done by atheists and other religions in many charitable causes.  It is not testimony to the ‘rightness’ of their underlying beliefs but to the inter-relatedness of all things in Christ’s creation.  The child who makes a bridge out of their mechano set will, on one level, have produced something good and useful.  On another level the components used were meant to form a helicopter and it’s all ‘wrong’ – but it works (but it doesn’t).)

But now that we’ve established that the multiverse and the intelligent Designer are faith-positions – should we accept the dilemma offered to us?  Should we prefer a Cosmic Fine-tuner to a multiverse explanation? 

Well, both positions are inferences from human reason to possible explanations.  Therefore, by my reckoning, neither option is properly Christian.   Why not?  Well the route to both explanations begins with the certainty of us, of ‘the facts’ and of our ability to assess ‘the facts.’  It then puts confidence in our working towards the truth.  Finally, at the end of this process, we come to ‘God’ who is posited as the most probable of the explanations (even if the probability claimed may be astronomically ‘likely’).

Such an intelligent design deism falls into a number of errors. 

First, it effectively considers God’s Word as one among many voices to be considered. And in practice it is a much lesser and later voice in the process.  First we investigate the strong force of the atomic nuclei, then we listen to God!

Second, it capitulates to the naturalist’s worldview from the outset.  It makes the starting point for both the Christian and the atheist the same – us!  We decide to go along with the belief (and it is a belief!) that, while the existence of a deity can be doubted, the veracity of ‘the facts’ and of ourselves as competent judges of reality is bedrock truth! 

Third, it falls for a god of the gaps.  When our human enterprise comes to an end, ‘god’ comes to the rescue as the explanatory cause.  God is not the beginning, middle and end of our doctrine of creation, He is the poly-filler to be used only where our ‘understanding’ falters. 

Fourth, it is natural theology pure and simple to argue from nature to God.  I’ll let David Congdon lay out the perils of this:

[Natural theology] is antithetical to the Christian faith for a number of reasons: (1) we do not know who God is apart from Jesus Christ; (2) we either begin with the triune God revealed in Christ or we do not begin at all; (3) we are incapable of knowing anything about God apart from faith, because the Fall has noetic implications, i.e., our reason is fallen; (4) therefore, knowledge of God is saving knowledge, because we only know the God who saved us in Jesus. There is no other god, no prior abstract deity, no foundational divine reality upon which Christ builds. The point of these (and other similar statements) is that we either know the one true God who reconciled the world in Jesus Christ or we simply have some concept devised by fallen human reason that has no connection to this revealed God. Philosophy does not provide a stepping-stone to theology. We either do theology from the start, or we don’t do theology at all.

(For more on this see David Congdon’s post here.  I agree with the first three of his four theses).

So really it’s not a case of sitting with the atheistic scientist, agreeing to their presuppositions, their epistemological self-confidence, their scientific method and then demurring on their conclusions.  If ‘their science’ leads them to the Cosmic Fine-tuner that’s interesting.  It’s not the stepping stone to faith in the God and Father of our LORD Jesus Christ.  There is only one Mediator and He’s not the god of intelligent design.

What can we say?  Maybe next post I’ll give some thoughts.

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Posted on by Glen in science

About Glen

I'm a preacher in Eastbourne, married to Emma.

0 Responses to Falling off either side of the wrong horse

  1. bobby grow

    Woops, I put this comment on the wrong thread, so here it is again:

    Good one, Glen! I just listened to John Weber on the perils of “negative theology.” He makes the same points that you do here; i.e. that if we try to conceive of God based on “natural” inductions, we make God’s being contingent and defined by the “gaps” of creation. Congdon’s points are well taken . . . it’s “positive theology” or its nothing.

    It’s interesting to follow negative models of knowledge, they always start with negation of the given; and continue on with a parasitic existence from there.

  2. Bobby Grow

    Boy I’m really blowing it, I meant “John Webster.

  3. glenscriv

    :-) I automatically read ‘Webster’ when you first responded anyway. Be good to have Microsoft autocorrect on our theology wouldn’t it? It could automatically delete all iotas from homoi-ousios. That kinda thing.

    Yes, negative theology is a trap. We can’t build ramps into heaven. Speaking from Christ though takes careful thought – especially when you’re addressing people like your friend with whom you’ve been discussing naturalistic cosmologies. God has a Word that enfleshes in the world and comes home. It is possible to speak from above in ways that connect down below. But we need the wisdom of God.

  4. codepoke

    > Such an intelligent design deism falls into a number of errors.

    Sure, if intelligent design deism is where you stop.

    But picture life if we feared to go beyond primary revelation. We would only be able to sit in airplanes if Oroville and Wilbur thought the scripture directly revealed bournouli’s principle. Seriously, when you choke down the available angles of thought to just one you mandate group-think.

    Take your negative theology examples. Do you want to end up in the kind of closed world the Eastern Orthodox create with their apotheosis? But do you want to end up in a world that didn’t experience apotheosis, either?

    It seems like on this subject you are describing a man sitting in one place, trying to decide which way to face to see God. Given that analogy, I think you’re right to point him, “up.” You point him to primary revelation. But I see it differently. I see God standing in one place and the man observing Him from different angles. The man is walking around. He looking at God apotheotically, naturally, scripturally, experientially.

    Or maybe it’s like the blind man at the side of the elephant telling the blind man grasping its tail that there’s no way the elephant could be like a rope.

    You quote:
    > we either know the one true God who reconciled the world in Jesus Christ or we simply have some concept devised by fallen human reason that has no connection to this revealed God.

    False dichotomy, plain and simple. Even scripture, God Himself, directly calls this a false dichotomy.

    The whole thing of insulting human reason is so Platonically idealistic it reeks. I know it’s trying to come off as Christian philosophy, but it’s nasty dualism in sheep’s clothing. Does God say, “Quit thinking and believe,” or does He say, “Come let us reason together?”

    Natural revelation is informed by primary revelation, and primary revelation is filled in by natural revelation. The scripture draws the lines and life colors them in. When science attempts to redraw the lines of scripture it’s out of bounds, but to accept Congdon’s smear of all natural theology as “some” concept of fallen human reason is shooting us all in the foot.

    We cannot reason our way to God, but we can’t emote, spiritualize, obey, study, or even believe our way to God either. All these things are equally tools God uses to bring us to Himself. Why demonize any of them just because a handful of atheists use one or more of them to excess?

    Atheists hate God, and we should remember that when we look at their conclusions, but why ignore the solid reasoning that happens along the way?

    (Should I do this? Why not.)

    Postulate the multiverse as a Calvinist. There are logarithmically trillions of universes out there. Literally every time a quark was confronted with a choice, a new multiverse was formed. Of necessity, there would be trillions of Glens out there. And those trillions of Glens would have made every possible choice Glen could have made in his life. You would literally have lived out every single possible life in one or more of the universes.

    And God wins in every scenario.

    In every choice over which you’ve anguished, God wins either way you choose. You’re probably a little too young to have any real serious regrets, but one day you’ll have some. Think of the possibility that in another universe you didn’t make that mistake, and God wins. But in this one you did, and God wins. In every single universe, God’s elect are found of Him and redeemed.

    The lines are drawn by scripture, but as we learn more about the universe the colors are filled in. That’s a little, “out there,” but remember how huge a shift it was to find out that the Earth was not the center of a universe less than a single astronomical unit wide? It radically changed our view of God, and it didn’t hurt a thing. Suddenly we learned God was big enough to make the Horse Head Nebula, and it filled in colors that helped us praise Him.

    Can’t we just celebrate the beauty of God-given reason, even expressed through fallen, damned men? And can’t we praise Him for making a creation with a level playing field that gives those men gifts and responsibilities before their Creator, and take the fruit of God’s gift from them?

    I’ve got to get back to the salt mines. Thanks for listening.

  5. bobby grow

    Glen,

    I think Calvin’s Two-fold Knowledge of God is an excellent primer on issues like this, his “Knowledge of God as Creator” and “Knowledge of God as Redeemer.” It seems to capture the sentiment of Paul in Romans 1 very well; i.e.:

    because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22. Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23. and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. . . . –Romans 1:21-23

    so that even if fallen man can observe and study creation, and even make descriptive statements; because of his fallen self (his sin nature/ontology) he can never get beyond creation, and instead worships it—this indeed is where human reason leads apart from Christ (in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom Col. 2:3). This is where my friend and I usually end up . . . unfortunately this is a stumbling block ;-) for him.

    Getting back to Calvin, indeed without Knowledge of God as Redeemer man is doomed to “misinterpret” Knowledge of God as Creator; and in fact, in the end worship themselves as the creator. Until Christ comes, and the Spirit of Liberty is there, the veil remains.

    It’s unfortunate when we try to create epistemologies which try to have our cake and eat it to: i.e. negative theology.

  6. codepoke

    I think, based on your comment, we agree on the subpoint, Bobby. Right? Scientists have really bad theology because they don’t accept primary revelation. I’ve certainly not tried to say scientists understand God.

    I said:
    1) The things scientists reason out are reasonable.
    2) When they appear unreasonable, give them the benefit of the doubt both because they have a proven track record of being pretty smart, and because we Christians have a proven track record of flubbing accusations that science won’t work because the bible says it won’t.
    3) Why not just be excited about possibilities of a finely tuned universe without going medieval on scientists who posit a multiverse? We don’t have the math background to say they’re wrong, and frankly, if you read their stuff widely enough, silence is a good strategy. If the theory is right, you’ll look silly for attacking it, and if it’s wrong smart people who do have the math background will attack it loudly.

    I also said a tentative hypothesis and faith are very different things. Scientists understand the difference. We won’t make converts pretending like they don’t.

  7. glenscriv

    Hi Codepoke,

    A few points (I wrote this before I saw your latest comment):

    1) Don’t forget my 4th paragraph (the one in brackets). It’s quite similar to your elephant illustration actually.

    2) I like your line: “Natural revelation is informed by primary revelation, and primary revelation is filled in by natural revelation. The scripture draws the lines and life colors them in.” I think this captures well Calvin’s famous image of special revelation being the spectacles though which we can rightly view natural revelation. But notice how different this is from a naturalistic quest to understand the universe on its own terms. This is a) to ignore the primary revelation without which we grope in the dark and b) to ignore that the natural revelation is just that – a revelation of something (Someone) else.

    3) Dualism is precisely what I’m seeking to avoid. Therefore, on one side, let’s not imagine that the believer can do without the facts. By all means let’s encourage Christians into scientific endeavour. The Christian belongs in the lab as much as she belongs anywhere. (btw I don’t know why you hear me saying ‘Let’s not reason, let’s just believe.’ I’ve banged the faith seeking understanding drum pretty consistently.)

    But on the other side let’s ignore those who (again buying into such dualism) would ask us to check our distinctly Christian pre-suppositions at the door. The Christian is unavoidably making faith claims whether she refuses the challenges of scientific enquiry or embraces them. The naturalistic scientist is unavoidbly making faith claims whether she simply claims to be ‘doing good science’ or wears her atheism on her sleeve.

    To my mind the real dualistic danger is to declare the lab a ‘value free zone’ in which simple observation and analysis is neutrally conducted. To reject dualism properly is to admit that there is no neutrality. The presuppositions, methods and findings of science are not neutral – they are up for theological analysis. I’m probably not the person to do it and you’re right to be cautious about Christians shooting their mouth off and looking stupid. But I don’t think our response is to say ‘They’re pretty clever and a lot of them agree and they’ve come up with some good stuff – let them be.’ That’s protecting a sphere for neutral enquiry, free from theological scrutiny. I think *that’s* dualism.

  8. glenscriv

    One more thing to Code and Bobby.

    I’m realizing with fresh force the truth that positive theology cannot be pursued by negating negative theology (any more than salvation by grace is a salvation that is not-by-works). What I mean by this is that I’ve probably started this whole discussion from the wrong end. I should probably have begun with Christ as the Logos made flesh – the proper starting point for all enquiry – science included. *Then* we can talk about how to proceed, and then we can dscuss the short-comings of enquiry from below.

    This would also make clear that I’m *not* saying “Don’t reason your way to Truth, believe your way to truth.” In effect I’m saying you can’t *anything* your way to Truth. But thank God, Truth made its way to us.

    More on that in the next post. (Which should have been my first post… oh well…)

  9. Bobby Grow

    Glen,

    I think we are in complete agreement on this issue, and hey, this is blogging . . . so your order is excused ;-).

    Codepoke,

    I don’t think any of us disagree that scientists are smart. But that’s really not the point of this. In other words, the question, as Glen has so eloquently highlighted, is that nothing is “valueless;” i.e. we all bring a “worldview” to the “hard data.” And it is this broader worldview (i.e. my points on “first order”) that is at question here. I hear Copernicus in your comments, thus far, and a fear that we might naively overlook some fundamental data that might shift our views on nature in a highly paradigmatic fashion. But again this is not really the issue; the question isn’t “epistemology” (what we know, and how we know), by itself; instead it is “ontological” (questions of nature/”being”), and how this affects what we know (or who we know). On this point, scientists typically are “naturalists” (i.e. metaphysical materialists); but then again there is an re-emergence of theistic scientists. Nevertheless, can you explain to me how someone who is “motivated” by anthropocentrism (man-centredness), in their interpretation of the data; to cohere with a reality that is by design and creation “Christ-centred?” When the universe is pointing towards Christ, by the creative work of the Holy Spirit, how is it that men/women who are ruptured from the Spirit supposed to provide the kinds of interpretation that is line with the Spirit’s work of magnifying Christ?

    One more point, on multiuniverse, I have no problem with positing it; but, the real question is “why” they would want to do such positing. I would venture to say it is the same reason they posited an oscillating model of the universe (which Hubble dashed to the rocks, so to speak), they “want to believe” that the universe is finite, and maintain their metaphysical materialistic worldview. My question is why you would want to support this possibility when we know what it is that motivates such positing?

  10. bobby grow

    One more point myself, Codepoke,

    if anyone has been going medieval here, it’s on your side. You keep appealing to molinism, more commonly known as middle knowledge (i.e. your “other worlds hypothesis); articulated by Luis de Molina, a Jesuit from the 16th century. In other words, lets avoid any “chronological snobbery;” truth is truth despite its time in history (at least lets hope so, since Jesus of Nazareth was situated in time over 2000 yrs ago).

    Again, you need to keep in mind that everything, as Glen has noted, is “value-laden” . . . scientism is just as much religion as Christianity. The question is which one corresponds to reality, and not which one necessarily “coheres” within a self-referential system.

  11. codepoke

    You’re doing well, Glen. Thank you for engaging my thoughts directly. And I believe you’re headed down a profitable path. Like I said with my first comment a post or two ago, I am just feeling edgy.

    It was the firing up of the LHC that really got me. I suddenly heard Christians spouting off about scientists bringing on the end of the world, and insulting them for their arrogant inquiry into things they could never understand. I suddenly found myself glad Christianity didn’t have the kind of power, any more, that could turn that fear into oppression.

    You’ve not gone down that road, and you’ve been quite kind to meet me in my preemptive, poorly placed fears.

    Thank you.

    (Now that dude you quoted? I’m not feeling the love there. And I believe I confined my talk of dualism to his comments, though I do react to the fact you quoted those thoughts.)

  12. codepoke

    Bobby,

    > if anyone has been going medieval here, it’s on your side. You keep appealing to molinism,

    Score on the brilliant pun. Much appreciated. :-)

    Or maybe it was my reference that was misunderstood. Maybe that makes more sense of the discussion. By, “going medieval,” I was making a cultural reference to “violently attacking” not an intellectual reference to a benighted way of thinking. I see now that either meaning could fit into my sentence. I’ll have to remember that ambiguity in the future.

    At any rate, I frankly believe in de-evolution. I don’t think we have any thinkers of the caliber of the ancient Romans and Greeks any more, and I believe that’s due to genetic damage continuing since the fall. I tend to have more respect for medieval thinkers than moderns, but I’ll try to keep my snobbery in check.

    > One more point, on multiuniverse, I have no problem with positing it; but, the real question is “why” they would want to do such positing. I would venture to say it is the same reason they posited an oscillating model of the universe (which Hubble dashed to the rocks, so to speak), they “want to believe” that the universe is finite, and maintain their metaphysical materialistic worldview. My question is why you would want to support this possibility when we know what it is that motivates such positing?

    Your last paragraph here sets out our agreements and disagreements pretty well. I think we agree on every point, except why I would allow the scientists to posit a multiverse.

    My, “Why,” is not because I agree with the multiverse. It’s clearly not proven yet. I can imagine such a reality and know that I would admire it if it were reality, but I’m a long way from saying it is.

    Your story of the oscillating model is one powerful reason Why I will allow scientists to posit off the wall things. Hubble dashed this fondly held idea, and scientists have moved on. The same will happen with the multiverse. Sure, it’s a mathematical model and not disprovable by observation, but even at that it can be disproven. It’s a matter of time and thought, and they’ll sure invest the time.

    My second reason Why is that open thinking is powerful thinking. As a programmer, I occasionally make a seriously wrong step in my design but it doesn’t hurt anything. I learn things from it that I could never have learned any other way. These guys are at the boundaries of knowledge. Going further requires a little imagination.

    I don’t pretend their theology is sound, nor that their worldview is trustworthy. They’re scientists and I don’t go to them for theology. It’s when we come to the place of telling them 1) the multiverse must be false because of our theology, then 2) that they posit the multiverse because they’re mean people who hate God as opposed to intelligent people seeking an answer, and finish with 3) see, you’re just parasites, that I say we cross over into violently attacking.

    I agree with you that an accurate view of the Creator will result in a more accurate interpretation of physical data that He created. I’d love to see more Christians doing this kind of heavy work and thinking, but if we keep telling our children scientists are sloppy, God-hating thinkers, how is that ever going to happen?

  13. Bobby Grow

    Codepoke said:

    . . . but if we keep telling our children scientists are sloppy, God-hating thinkers, how is that ever going to happen?

    I think this is a huge generalization, Code; who said that “we” are telling our children this? Just because we disagree with some, scientists; doesn’t mean we disagree with all. And if we do disagree then we need to explain why we disagree; hopefully modeling for our children what a “critical” thinker looks like. One of the distinctions I like to make for my kids is that scientists have “worldviews,” philosophical presuppositions that they bring to the lab; therefore we need to be aware of those, and understand how that informs their interpretive process—sometimes for ill and sometimes not.

    That was my parting comment, on this thread . . . maybe encounter you on another thread, Code.

    peace in Christ.

  14. Bobby Grow

    man I forgot to close one of my emboldening html codes . . . oh well ;-).

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