Conservative Theology

May 19, 2011

Religion and Science / Spirituality and Physics


Some of you might be interested in my new article on physics and faith at Classical Conversations.

March 13, 2011

Religion and Science / Faith and Science Article at Classical Conversations


For anyone interested, I have started writing a monthly article for the website for Classical Conversations, which is a homeschooling community.  My first article is on the various relationships that people think about regarding faith and science.  You can read it here.

April 11, 2010

Religion and Science / (Almost) Believing in Divine Action


One thing that many people have always told me is that there is a difference between knowing something and believing it.  You only really believe something when that belief has practical consequences for your life.  I might know that God knows what's best for me, but if I continually act against His will, what does that say about my true beliefs about God?

In the same vein, I want to discuss Waltke's leaving Reformed Theological Seminary.  For those who don't know, Waltke is an evangelical who is also a semi-theistic evolutionist.  His recent comments in a Biologos video, indicating that those who "disregard science" are in danger of making Christianity a cult, got him in hot water, and I believe he resigned.

In any case, I wanted to look at some of the things Waltke says, and why, rather than help the cause of Divine Action in the world, they actually play right into the hands of the materialists.

Here is Waltke's summary of his position, and my comments:

1. [God] created all the things that are out of nothing and sustains them

This is fine, but it leads to nothing interesting.  That is, it doesn't have many practical consequences on its own.

2. incredibly, against the laws probability, [God] finely tuned the essential properties of the universe to produce ADAM, who is capable of reflecting upon their origins

This is still pretty vague. First of all, how does Waltke know how probable the universe is?  This is a pretty safe claim, precisely because it doesn't lead to any definitively positive statement about anything.

3. within his providence [God] allowed the process of natural selection and of cataclysmic interventions – such as the meteor that extinguished the dinosaurs, enabling mammals to dominate the earth – to produce awe-inspiring creatures, especially ADAM [by Adam he means the human race].

So did God do this or just allow it to happen.  If it is the former, what are the marks of the catastrophe, and how does it differ from natural acts?  How are we to understand, theologically, God wiping out the dinosaurs?  What was the reason for their creation in the first place, in order to wipe them out?  Why did God need to use a meteor, rather than just create humans?

4. by direct creation [God] made ADAM a spiritual being, an image of divine beings, for fellowship with himself by faith

What are the properties of a spiritual being?  Are they biological in character?  Or is this just another nebulous claim? 

5. [God] allowed ADAM to freely choose to follow their primitive animal nature and to usurp the rule of God instead of living by faith in God, losing fellowship with their physical and spiritual Creator.

Where? When? How?  What did life look like before humans did this?  What was the effect of it happening?

6. and in his mercy [God] chose from fallen ADAM the Israel of God, whom he regenerated by the Holy Spirit, in connection with their faith in Jesus Christ, the Second Adam, for fellowship with himself.

Well, finally, there we get something concrete.  Of course, this part has nothing to do with Creation.

So, do you see the pattern?  Waltke is painting all sorts of nebulous theological ideas, which are mere superficial dressing over evolutionary biology.  What happens to a lot of people is that they start out believing this, but then shortly realize that 1-5 are entirely superfluous!  The have no practical impact on anything.  If they were removed, you probably wouldn't notice.

God didn't do anything, He just allowed it to happen, or, if He did do something, He did it in such a way as to look just like He did nothing.

Here's the deal - I don't mind theistic evolution so much as I mind this complete capitulation to naturalism.  Might the belief in God have *some* effect on what you believe in science?  Behe, for instance, has tried to show explicit design in the world through Irreducible Complexity.  He might be right or wrong, but he is at least saying, this is something which is (a) different from a naturalistic belief, and (b) has practical consequences to biology.

Some people worry because, *gasp* what if it is proven wrong? Here's the deal - almost everything we think we know will probably be proven wrong at some point.  Deal with it.  We need to work with what we have, and take every thought captive to the knowledge of Christ.  That means that we should not engage science as materialists.  While Waltke claims he is not doing this, in practice he is.  Despite the fact that the scientific world is steeped in materialist thinking, Waltke provides no fundamental critique of their results.  One would think that having such a wrong starting point might cause their results to be off in some practical, identifiable way, not merely in some esoteric way.

So, while he does, at least in words, give a challenge to naturalistic thinking, *in practice* his view plays right into their hands.  Because one day his students will wake up and realize that all of the theologizing was superfluous window dressing, and it was the materialistic paradigm which was doing all of the heavy lifting.  Hopefully when this happens they will say, "how can we fix this?"  But I fear that Waltke's own teaching of deference to science on all questions of natural history will cause them to instead simply cast off the theology as irrelevant to reality.







February 19, 2010

Religion and Science / Steve Fuller on Theological Anthropology and Science


A very interesting video by Steve Fuller on human nature.  I think the Q&A session is better than the main talk, but you have to listen to the talk to understand the Q&A session.


The liberal and conservative views of human nature have swapped over the last century.  Marx viewed humans as being beyond nature, and being able to refashion the world according to our image.  The conservatives in Marx's time emphasized the constancy of human nature and the inability for improvement for humanity.  The modern left wants to downgrade the human's nature, making us more of a part of nature, while the conservatives endorse a view of humanity that is beyond nature.  He then shows how this interplays with science, and that science is based on humanity's being beyond nature, and that downgrading humanity also downgrades the role and scope of science.

My View:

Conservatives view humans as being both physical and spiritual.  The left is waffling between extremes because they are reductionistic, and, failing one reduction, they move to another.  Christians, on the other hand, only find a reduction in God, and therefore resist either extreme.


The video is much more interesting than my summary would suggest.  Especially the Q&A.  The Q&A pushes on the discrepancy between western intellectual traditions and the evolutionary view of the human, and how many people hold to both even if they aren't compatible.

February 11, 2010

Religion and Science / Science Without its Magisterium


Steve Fuller has a new book coming out called Science in Acum Publishing's "The Art of Living" series.  Here a snippet from the book's description (bold mine):

...Fuller argues that science is undergoing its own version of secularisation. It is not that people are coming to lose their faith in science per se but rather they are losing the compulsion to conform to a specific orthodoxy that is upheld by a specially anointed class of “science priests”. We are, in a sense, all scientists now, says Fuller. Taking science into our own hands, we have become emboldened to affirm ideas and claims that conform to our own or our community’s experiences even if they go against the authorised experience of the laboratory.



February 07, 2010

Religion and Science / Religious Knowledge and the So-Called "War" Between Science and Faith


I have had it with people talking about the war between science and faith.  It is simply the most absurd concept I've ever heard of in my life.  If there is such a war, it certainly isn't being engaged on the theological side of the aisle.  The only reason for the claim of a war is to remove any real integration of theology into academic conversations.

Let me explain my problems with the idea of a "conflict" between science and religion.  Has anyone met anyone in the entire U.S. who disagrees with the entirety of the scientific enterprise?  The only way that this could be true is if someone viewed science as a series of facts to be memorized.  If that is their view of science, it is a decidedly anti-scientific view of science.  Science is a process, not a result.  Anyone who calls the results science instead of the process, is not promoting science, but something else.

Now, science is just one part of human knowledge.  I think that even the most ardent reductionist materialist would agree that, at least in our present state, in the absence of complete scientific knowledge, there are other non-scientific avenues of inquiry which yield real knowledge.  The materialist would hopefully at least allow for such avenues to yield "stand-in" knowledge, while we wait for knowledge.  In addition, in absence of complete knowledge, these other avenues might actually deliver better knowledge on some avenues than current science does, even if one believes that in the end science will produce the better knowledge.  In any case, I think we can safely say that there are a multitude of ways of obtaining knowledge other than science, even if someone believes that in the long run science is the ultimate form of knowledge.

Therefore, the question is, what happens when religion and science come to different conclusions?  Should science give in?  Should religion?  Should they each continue independently?  Should they find common ground?  My contention is simply this - no matter what they do, it would be improper to consider it a "war".  If a mathematician criticizes an engineer, we wouldn't talk about a "war between math and engineering".  Nor should we consider many of the criticisms of evolutionary psychology by evolutionists as a "war between science and science".

The fact is, if a discipline can yield real knowledge, then, in our finite and imperfect state of knowledge of all fields, it is likely that some of that knowledge will in fact be contrary to a few or many parts of other fields.  There is nothing wrong with this.  The part that is problematic is interpeting these conversations as a war.  The only reason why some people see this as a war is not because there is a conflict between disciplines, but rather that some people don't see theology as a proper discipline that yields any real knowledge.  That is the only way in which a "conflict" status between science and religion could emerge.  Everyone believes that science can at least yield some real knowledge.  But many materialists think that it is plainly improper for theology to yield real knowledge.

Therefore, the "war" between religion and science, if it is being waged at all, cannot be thought of as being waged by the religionists!  If there is merely disagreements, then the only person who would see that as a war, as opposed to merely the common result of multiple disciplines with incomplete knowledge, is someone who saw religion as having no proper role to play within the development of knowledge.

That is why the proposed "solutions" to the "war between science and religion" are so infuriating... they all involve simply ceding all knowledge claims to science!  Either that, or, even worse in my opinion, is to gloss over "science" with a meaningless ex post facto theological brush.  The only thing that does is tell everyone that yes, theology is adding nothing of consequence to the conversation.

The true solution to the "war" between science and religion is for theologians to understand science better - not so as to merely capitulate to someone else's claims, but rather to be able to more effectively engage in constructive dialogue.  I believe absolutely in the claim that "all truth is God's truth".  I disagree, however, that this necessitates us to think that everything a scientist says represents truth. 

If religion contains true knowledge, then, if all truth is God's truth, that truth should be instructive in fields beyond our just theology. 

I think the biggest fear that is preventing this is the fear of, "what if theology makes a claim that turns out to be wrong?"  Well, so what?  Isn't it amazing that science can overturn itself every few decades without a loss of confidence, but we are scared to death that even a single statement we make might turn out to be wrong.  I think, perhaps, that we are holding ourselves to too high of a standard.  Instead, we need to engage, and engage with the knowledge that we might be wrong.  But if we use the possibility of being wrong as a reason to not engage, then we might as well just quit altogether, and tell everyone to just listen to the materialists since they are the only ones with real knowledge.









December 15, 2009

Religion and Science / Deontological Ethics and Emergence


NOTE - Don't get lost in the opening sentence, I will explain myself as I go on

I have been studying emergent behaviors of systems for a variety of inquiries, and think I have found an interesting connection between emergence and ethical systems.

Emergence is the idea that there are global properties of systems that are not present in any of the details of the system.  For example, if you look at the function of a car, it is for locomotion.  However, none of the _parts_ of the car themselves are capable of indepedent motion.  Gasoline is not, spark plugs are not, the drive shaft is not, etc.  However, when all of the parts of the car are correctly assembled, the car can move.  Therefore, independent motion is an emergent property of the car - it is something the car does that none of its individual components can do.

A subset of emergent systems are rule-based emergent systems.  That is, given a set of players, and a set of rules, one can get global behavior to emerge that is not apparent in the rules themselves.  For instance, it has been found that honeycombs have a very characteristic, global pattern.  That pattern is stable even if it is perterbed by experimenters, or no matter what the initial state is.  However, the honeybees do not have to have the global pattern in mind in order to implement it.  It seems, instead, that bees only apply a few, simple rules for what to put in each cell.  Those rules, when applied consistently and repeatedly, always result in a global pattern of honeycomb organization.  As I mentioned earlier, this pattern is stable even in the face of adverse interventions, such as experimenters modifying the organization while the bees are away.

Now, when it comes to ethics, there are two main systems of ethical thought - deontological, or rule-based ethics, and teleological, or goal-oriented ethics.  I tend to do both, depending on how clear the scriptural teaching is.  If there is a clear rule in scripture, I try to follow it, but use the goals outlined in scripture to fill in the details.

Deontological ethics has come under a lot of fire in postmodernity.  While people can understand a person who holds on to their ideals in spite of adversity, the idea of following rules seems old-fashioned.  Whose rules are you following anyway?  It is thought that deontological ethics is outmoded because the rules themselves require justification, and that justification could only be provided by a teleological framework.  Therefore, any apparently deontological system that was worthwhile would actually have a teleological system hiding underneath, giving purpose to the rules that were being followed.

I think that deontological ethics has been unduly frowned upon, however.  There are many aspects of deontological ethics which are worthwhile, even in absence of an underlying teleology. 

Or, I should clarify, even in absence of a personal teleology.

If God has a purpose, or a vision, for what society should look like, what is the best way to implement it?  Most teleologists would assume that God would give us the goals, and that we would use the goals to implement God's plan.  But what if it wasn't so simple?  What if the path to the destination wasn't directly visible to us?  What if there were too many variables?  What if God did not want to rely on our intellectual capacity to implement His visiion for our social order?

Perhaps He used, like He appears to have used on the honeybees, a rule-based approach for our living.  That is, perhaps God's end-goal for society is an emergent property of His people following His rules.  It is not something that is visible from the rules themselves, but rather something that will emerge when we are obedient to His instruction, having enduring properties not available to us if we were to try to implement it on our own.

And so, I think a re-evaluation of deontological ethics is in order, focusing on the relationship between rules and emergence and God's goal for humanity.

While I'm thinking of it, Thomas Sowell gave another good reason for deontological ethics (actually he's given several - this one is from Basic Economics if I recall).  His point was that social classes can do well even in a society that discriminates against them.  However, it can do this only if its rules are well-specified, relatively static, and consistently applied.  I don't remember the specific example, but Sowell points out that in one society, although the minority class had very few rights, those rights were well-specified and very consistently applied.  Therefore, they could be leveraged, and used for social advancement.  In a teleological system, the goal is, well, the goal, and the rules can be bent in service to the goals.  This does not lend well to social advancement, as whatever ideological errors exist in the society are actually encoded into the laws.  In a deontological system, only the accidents of the ideological errors are encoded into the laws, and can be overcome through social leverage.  This cannot be done in a teleological system. 

Therefore, a deontological system actually allows for better resilience to ideological error than a teleological system.

November 26, 2009

Religion and Science / A Friend's Journey to YEC


A friend of mine wrote about his change from theistic evolution to young-earth Creationism here.

May 18, 2009

Religion and Science / Galileo Goes to Jail


As if I needed another book to read, this one has me itching to pull out my check card:

Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion

It's edited by Ronald Numbers, so it should be a worthwhile read.

March 19, 2009

Religion and Science / The Mind and Computer AIs


UncommonDescent has posted an interesting article about the relationship between artificial intelligence and the human mind.