The Uncontrolling Love of God

Why does God allow evil?

Is evil only apparent?

Does God suffer with us?

Does evil enable us to grow spiritually?

Has God voluntarily limit God’s powers to enable free will and free process?

Are God’s ways “better than our ways?”

Does the nature of God make stopping evil impossible?

These are the types of questions friend Tom Oord addresses in his recent book, The Uncontrolling Love of God. Long known as the foremost scholar of the theology of love (and one who lives what he preaches), Tom’s book is a multi-disciplinary study of the problem of evil from the perspective of open and relational theology. 

To promote the book, Tom is hosting a blog tour of sorts and I will be contributing a short post later in the month on how the concept of God’s uncontrolling love can more broadly influence the science and religion discussion. The blogs will eventually be compiled into a volume of essays that will serve as a companion to Tom’s book.

I highly, highly recommend reading the book and can’t think of a better example of a book title EXACTLY matching the thesis put forth in the book. (Whoever came up with that title deserves a raise.) In sum, Tom says that God’s love is preeminent and that it logically (ontologically, if you will) precedes all of God’s other attributes. God’s love comes before the power of God and other attributes and it is given to all creatures freely. Some choose to resist it while others choose to accept it and partner with God to further God’s love in the world. Most importantly, though, because of this primacy of love, “God cannot unilaterally prevent genuine evil.” 

Tom has anticipated the responses you would expect to this controversial thesis (well, controversial to Evangelicals, not so much to Christianity, in general) and addresses most, if not all, of them throughout the book.

I am no theologian, and perhaps because of this what I found most interesting was this meta-reflection on the ordering of God’s attributes. Surely, God is love, God is all-powerful, God is relational, God is all-knowing, etc. But what happens when one of these attributes is in competition with another? Is this another one of those “divine mysteries?” I share Tom’s conviction that throwing up our hands ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ and saying it’s something we will never know or only know when we get to heaven is a cop out and possibly detrimental to the faith, especially to those who struggle with doubt.

What Tom does brilliantly is reveal to us that we usually put God’s sovereignty first and then assume all of the other attributes follow along. For some this may be a cognitive decision but for others we may be doing it without stopping to thinking about why we are doing it. No doubt, lying behind all of the concerns that folks will have with the book is the idea that God’s power or sovereignty is in some way compromised because it does not come “first,” but I hope these people also stop to to wrestle with Tom’s reasons for starting with love.

What do others think? Do you think of God’s attributes as mutually inclusive? Can aspects of God’s nature come before others? If so, what is your ordering and the rationale you use to justify it?

 

Posted in Book review, Free will, Immanence | 2 Comments

Friday laugh track is… back back

Time to bring back the Friday laugh track from a mack with a knack for making others have laugh attacks.

[Don’t worry, this middle-aged wannabe rapper is making fun of himself strongly on the other end of the internet. You should be too.]

A feature of mirrors.
A feature of the English language.
A feature of my writing.
Another feature of my writing.
A feature of Sheldon.
A feature of subjective pain scales.  I’ll put my wife’s 10 up against the 10 of a World War II vet.

New posts coming next week…:-)

Posted in Humor, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Blurred Vision – Chapter titles and descriptions

In my last post I shared the concept statement for one of the books I am currently working on. The book looks at philosophical reasons for why the multifaceted discussion on creation and evolution is often misguided. Today I provide the chapter titles and descriptions. Let me know what you think!

Chapter 1. The state of the (dis)union

This chapter will describe the creation and evolution discussion and its history within the Church. I will start by briefly reviewing the rise of creationism and its variants. Then I will provide data and several personal anecdotes to illustrate the current state of the creation-evolution debate and highlight why the issue is so important, and yet so often unproductive and derisive. Next, I will argue that the history of division around theology and biblical interpretation has conditioned the Church to reinforce boundaries and is a cause for the current debate, which is but one example in the larger science and faith discussion. Last, I will mention my own story and the internal disunion that I experienced when I became a Christian and adopted a young-earth creationist and fundamentalist mindset while pursuing my Ph.D. in Biological Chemistry.

Chapter 2. The scientific enterprise

This chapter will serve as a review of the philosophy of science from the 20th century on. It will focus on key aspects of the philosophy of science and well-known philosophers of science. The chapter will also include a brief discussion of two strongly held and contrasting theories of knowledge and how they impact the science and faith dialogue. Last, it will briefly describe the sociology of science and how science progresses via the work of a community.

Chapter 3. Scientific ideology (how scientific knowledge is gained)

Science in practice progresses through competition between proponents of different research programs. Research programs can be considered as idea networks, with ordering amongst concepts that enable scientists to relate theory, data, and hypothesis. How these ideas are connected to each other and the real world is a key topic in the philosophy of science and best explained by Imre Lakatos’ philosophy of science. This chapter will introduce the reader to “the practice of science” from the perspective of an active scientist. Key terms and aspects of science (data, theory, hypothesis) that are commonly misunderstood by the general public will be explained and organized using Lakatos’ concepts. Analogies will be used extensively to translate these concepts into accessible, everyday language. In one example I will compare an idea network to a wheel. In this analogy, a scientific theory can be considered as the hub, which is connected to the rim (data) by the spokes (hypotheses). For an alternative analogy, consider a movie’s structure. The director’s theme (theory) is explained in light of the actors’ interaction and interpretation (hypotheses) of events and experiences (data). I will return to these and similar analogies throughout the remainder of the book to ensure reader understanding.

Chapter 4. Cathedrals of the mind

In this chapter I will argue that the idea network concept is not solely applicable to scientific practice. Insights from the psychology of learning, philosophy of education, and cognitive neuroscience will be shared that provide an interesting parallel to the philosophy of science introduced in the previous chapter. I will return to the two different theories of knowledge to highlight how the major differences associated with them greatly impact the foundations on which these networks are built. The practical effects on the creation-evolution discussion of how we learn and respond to new (conflicting or confirming) ideas or ways of thinking will end the chapter.

Chapter 5. Science and/or religion (models for the interaction of science and religion)

This chapter will describe the various ways in which people relate science and religion. How one relates science and religion is key to his/her position on creation and evolution and differences amongst participants can make dialogue strained (at best) or impossible (at worst). For example, many science and religion authors say that the two disciplines are distinct from each other and a priori cannot be in conflict. This model is not acceptable for young-earth creationists as they are committed to the integration of science and religion and are therefore likely to ignore or be defensive of books that espouse it. Because of these differences and to provide a common framework for discussion, the creation and evolution idea networks proposed in the following chapter will include scientific, theological, and philosophical components and reflect an intermediate or dialogue model of science and religion.

Chapter 6. In the evolution-creation fight, science is the undercard

This chapter provides the main thesis of the book, that there are several mutually exclusive creation-evolution idea networks: young-earth creationism, old-earth creationism, evolutionary creation/theistic evolution, and atheism. Intelligent design and deism will be mentioned but each either does not comprise a consistent idea network (as I have conceptualized it) or is not theistic so both will not be an area of focus. It will be further argued that the primary focus of the creation-evolution discussion, the science, is in reality secondary to the greater issues at stake that form the core frameworks and driving motivations of the different creation-evolution positions. Next, the chapter will discuss why the young-earth creationism program is not “irrational” and why calling it pseudo-scientific is not useful and ultimately irrelevant because all of the creation and evolution idea networks have scientific, philosophical, and theological components.

Chapter 7. Why evolutionary creation is failing (but won’t in the end)

This chapter will begin with reasons why evolutionary creation is not gaining adherents (at least at the Gallup poll level). The main reason is that its proponents have been primarily focused on arguing the scientific merits, whereas the more prevalent concerns lie in the realms of philosophy and theology. I will then briefly contrast the terms theistic evolution and evolutionary creation to highlight the diversity of positions and the idea network’s current theological paucity. Next I will pose the question of whether true “dialogue” amongst Christians with greatly varying views can occur with the current, independent idea networks or if an entire new position is required for mutual dialogue to overcome the collective “blurred vision.” I will then explain why evolutionary creation is the idea network with the best explanatory power to me due to its ability to synthesize all of the available data and the numerous examples of fruitful science and religion exploration that it suggests. The chapter will end by highlighting how other “lightening-rod” discussions on science and religion in the Church could benefit from the philosophical framework provided in this book.

Epilogue: Anti-Evangelism and homeless ministries

This chapter will describe what it is like for a Christian scientist to lose his/her “home” when accepting evolution, especially for those who attend fundamentalist churches. It will also highlight how the Church could be considered anti “anti-Evangelical” at times in the ways some arrogantly deride scientists and improperly marry science with atheism. Relatedly, because of the artificial union that some have created between Christianity and young-earth creationism, the Church could be considered as withholding the Gospel from scientists or others that accept evolution. For those that are scientists and Christians, they can struggle with whether they even belong in the Church as they are sometimes deemed “lesser” Christians and can feel “dis-Evangelized.” The epilogue will end with an anecdote from my trip to Westminster Abbey for a moving Church service that included visiting Charles Darwin’s grave.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Blurred Vision: Philosophical Reasons for Why the Dialogue on Christian Origins is Misguided

A few years ago, Gordon Biology professor Craig Story and I received a grant from BioLogos. The main aspect of the grant was to create a weeklong course for pastors on science and faith… for more information take a look at the website for the course or the BioLogos blurb about the grant.

A secondary aim of the grant was for me to develop materials for a book on philosophy as the mediator of discussions on creation and evolution. The book has been outlined and has a publisher (tentatively) and this summer I am aiming to complete the book. I’ve written several posts for BioLogos related to the book’s content which can be found here: Lakatos and the Creation-Evolution “Discussion,” Parts 1 and 2 , and Creation and Evolution “Research Programs” (And Why It’s So Hard to Change Perspectives).

In today’s post, I thought it would be worthwhile to provide the book’s concept. This weekend in a separate post I will provide the chapter descriptions. Let me know what you think! If you have any suggestions, points of clarification, questions, etc. please post them in the comments!

Concept Statement

More than 40% of the general public believes in young-earth creationism and major efforts have been introduced to promote better understanding of the science behind evolution. So far, the effects have been minimal and some argue have caused more damage than benefit to the Church. My book will explain the reasons why it is so difficult to leave young-earth creationism and argue that the relevant issues have more to do with philosophy and theology than science.

My book is an introduction to the philosophy of science and religion from a practicing scientist and its application to the creation-evolution debate. While providing a broad philosophical background, the book will use a well-respected framework to model the main origins positions held by the Church. The book will argue that proponents of competing positions suffer from “blurred vision” with respect to each other, causing the dialogue to be misguided (at best) or impossible (at worst). Even though philosophical concepts can be technical, they are crucial to understanding the scientific process and how science progresses. To ensure reader understanding, practical examples and analogies will be used to translate these concepts. The book will also describe ways people view the relationship of science and religion and note how competing views also impacts the creation-evolution dialogue. Three main creation and evolution “networks” as I call them (young-earth creationism, old-earth creationism, evolutionary creation) will be compared and contrasted and the scientific, theological, and philosophical components of each will be discussed. In similar books, only the science or the theology is presented which, in my argument, is insufficient in its own right and does nothing to address the other, often unstated, philosophical commitments. I favor evolutionary creation and will not hide my position, but I will spend significant time addressing its weaknesses and the reasons why young-earth creationists find it unconvincing. Throughout the book, I will provide autobiographical snippets that describe my conversion from young-earth creationism (and fundamentalism) to evolutionary creation (and progressive Christianity) and highlight the many reasons why our vision can be “blurred” making it difficult to mentally move from one position to another.

 

Posted in Evolution, Philosophy, Philosophy of science | 5 Comments

New posts coming soon…

The four year sabbatical is about to end. Hashtag smily face and stuff. Metaphorical crickets chirping audio deleted.

I’m working on two books, one on philosophy as a mediator in the creation/evolution “discussion” and the other on models for the interaction of science and religion. The latter will include different theological statements and the science that relates to them while the former will hopefully help to paint a philosophical picture for why creation and evolution is rarely actually about the science.

I plan to work out some of the ideas here for both books so bring your curiosity. Better yet bring your conflicting ideas (and your red pen). Conversation = very welcome.

See you soon!

 

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A new adventure…

… with pal and colleague, Craig Story. Check it out and recommend it to your pastor friends! We are creating a one-week retreat-style course for pastors on scientific literacy. All expenses paid and we’re looking for folks to help us refine the course content by taking a short survey. Let us know what you think!

The link is easy to find and we’ll be updating/editing the blog a lot over the next few months…

http://www.gordon.edu/pastors

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Denis Dutton: A Darwinian theory of beauty (TED talk of the week)

This week’s TED talk is an amazing and aesthetically pleasing talk on a Darwinian theory of beauty. The talk is given by Denis Dutton but is done in collaboration with animator Andrew Park to produce a truly beautiful, but controversial presentation.

Dutton argues for a universal philosophy of beauty that, much like Sam Harris’ universal morality, is based on science. In this case, Dutton believes that our universal appreciation of beauty is an evolutionary adaptation with deep origins.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed the talk, I disagree with Dutton. While it is possible that there are aspects of beauty which are universal (and perhaps the appreciation of and longing for beauty is itself the universal aspect), I don’t believe the reason for this is because of evolution. Yes, natural and sexual selection are essential in our development as a species but to say these determine artistic preferences seems like *just* a bit of a stretch.

I’d encourage everyone to watch the presentation and enjoy it simply for its creativity and beauty. Then come on back and share what you think about his ideas. Do you agree with him or with me?

Posted in Evolution, TED talks | 5 Comments