t f p g+ YouTube icon

On Creating the Cosmos

Bookmark and Share

March 20, 2014 Tags: Christianity & Science - Then and Now, Creation & Origins, Science & Worldviews
On Creating the Cosmos
Ted Peters

Today's entry was written by Ted Davis. You can read more about what we believe here.

Introducing Ted Peters

Last year I introduced readers to one of the leading voices about Christianity and science, John Polkinghorne. I also helped BioLogos bring in another leading voice, Robert Russell. This new series introduces a third prominent Christian thinker, Lutheran theologian Ted Peters, Research Professor Emeritus in Systematic Theology and Ethics at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, and the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California.

Presently co-editor (with Robert Russell) of the journal, Theology and Science, Peters was a student of Langdon Gilkey. Gilkey is probably best known today for surviving a Japanese prison camp in China during World War 2, where he knew the famous missionary and Olympic champion Eric Liddell. I spoke to Gilkey myself just once, when I was fresh out of graduate school and he was one of the best known theologians in America. I knew of his experience in China, so I asked him whether he had known Liddell. Gilkey replied that Liddell was “the only saint I ever knew.” A few years earlier, Gilkey had testified at the famous Arkansas creationism trial, arguing that creationism is religion, not science—a crucial opinion for the subsequent legal fate of both creationism and intelligent design. Consistently with that position, Gilkey sharply distinguished science from theology, a stance that Peters criticizes below.

Langdon Gilkey
Langdon Gilkey looked pretty much like this when I met him at a small conference held near San Francisco in December 1987.

For more than 35 years, Peters has published insightful books and articles about an intriguing range of topics related to Christianity and science. For example, his early work on UFOs and God has just been reprinted, giving him opportunities to engage with audiences that most theologians never encounter. With Catholic biologist Martinez Hewlett, he wrote an excellent little book about theistic evolution that deserves to be better known. They also collaborated on a second book, an uncommonly fair analysis of the origins controversy that has been praised by both Michael Ruse and William Dembski. His book about bioethics, Playing God?, which opposes genetic determinism, grew out of a major project on “Theological Questions Raised by Human Genome Initiative” that was funded by the National Institutes of Health, a rare instance of federally-funded research in Christian ethics.

The focus of this series, however, is Peters’ powerful affirmation of the central Christian doctrine of creation from nothing. Over the next few months, I’ll present edited excerpts from his classic essay, “On Creating the Cosmos,” originally published 26 years ago in a book from the Vatican Observatory. Although parts of it are dated, much is still timely and important. In this introductory excerpt, Peters emphasizes the equal importance of two ways of understanding the doctrine of creation: both creatio ex nihilo (“creation from nothing”), the classic notion that God created all things from nothing, and creatio continua (“continuing creation”), the idea that God is still creating new things now. In his view (which I share), many modern theologians have tended to elevate creatio continua over creatio ex nihilo, in some cases to the complete neglect or even denial of the latter. The main goal of his essay is to rehabilitate creatio ex nihilo for our own day.

On Creating the Cosmos (introduction)

Painting: God creating the universe
God creating the universe, using the compass to measure its dimensions, manuscript illumination from an Old French Bible moralisée (c. 1208-15), Codex Vindobonensis 2554, fol. lv, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna.

We are living in a time ripe with opportunity to seek significant rapprochement between science and theology. The unlocking of nature’s secrets by the physical sciences seems to be opening up new doors for common exploration. British scientist Paul Davies says that “science has actually advanced to the point where what were formerly religious questions can be seriously tackled.” [Paul Davies, God and the New Physics, p. ix.] On the religious front, too, we see healthy enthusiasm. The Second Vatican Council acknowledged the need for academic freedom and declared the “legitimate autonomy of human culture and especially the sciences.” [Gaudium et Spes, p. 59.] Pope John Paul II has gone considerably further. To the Pontifical Academy of Sciences meeting at Castel Gandolfo on September 21, 1982, the Holy Father announced that “there no longer exists the ancient opposition between true science and authentic faith.” He went on to say to the scientific community, “the Church is your ally.” [“Science Must Contribute to True Progress of Mankind,” L’Osservatore Romano, October 4, 1982, p. 3.] In short, there now exists an atmosphere of readiness on the part of many in both laboratory and church to explore avenues toward rapprochement.

Pope John Paul II
Karol Józef Wojtyła, Pope John Paul II, was known for his very positive attitude toward science.

It is in this atmosphere, conducive to fruitful conversation, that we undertake the explorations of this paper. Our thesis will be that the Christian doctrine of creation out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo) is sufficiently intelligible to warrant continued probings for complementary notions in the natural sciences. We will open by identifying our methodological stance as one of hypothetical consonance between theology and the sciences, a stance which corrects the excesses of the dominant two-language theory [i.e., the idea often associated with Langdon Gilkey that science and theology speak two entirely different languages about entirely different topics, such that genuine conversation is all but impossible]. We will then proceed to cosmology proper by tracing the theological origins of the idea of creation out of nothing. We will argue that the Christian idea of the creation of the whole world derives from the basic experience of divine redemption within history, especially the resurrection of Jesus on Easter. What is at stake in cosmology for the Christian theologian, then, is an understanding of the cosmos which is consistent with our understanding of a redeeming God as revealed in the event of Jesus Christ. This will lead to an examination of the logic of creatio ex nihilo and the possible consonance of this religious idea with the second law of thermodynamics and Big Bang cosmogony in physics. In particular, we will focus on the question of the relationship between the concept of ex nihilo and the temporal beginning of the cosmos.

As we proceed, we will assume two things about the Christian doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. First, in its abstract form it stresses the ontological dependence of all things upon God. Second, one concrete form for expressing this dependence is the cosmological assertion that, although God is eternal, the created universe began at a point of temporal initiation, i.e., the world has not always existed. In this paper we intend to get to the idea of dependence through the idea of beginning. It is, of course, possible for a theologian to speak metaphysically about the utter dependence of the creation on its creator without reference to a temporal beginning. However, it is the very idea of a temporal beginning which in our generation draws us toward possible consonance with scientific cosmology. The scientist cannot, within the canons of the discipline of physics, say anything about the utter dependence of the cosmos upon God. But the scientist can intelligibly discuss the possibility of a temporal initiation to all things, and this in turn raises the question of creation out of nothing in such a way that the theologian might be called upon.

We will then review arguments raised by some contemporary theologians which are contrary to creation ex nihilo and in favor of the notion of continuing creation (creatio continua). We will criticize these arguments on two grounds: first, these are false alternatives and they do not exclude one another; and, second, the theological idea of creation out of nothing—especially in the form of a temporal beginning—is just as consonant with contemporary science as is continuing creation. We will conclude that a healthy contemporary theology should advocate both creatio ex nihilo as well as creatio continua and seek possible consonance with science on both counts.

Hypothetical Consonance

Just what kind of accord may be established between lab stool and pew is still too far beyond the horizon to see. Yet we need to start somewhere. What I suggest is that we begin by seeking hypothetical consonance, that is by listening for the sounds of consonance, for those moments when we sense a harmony between disciplines. We begin listening for some preliminary resonating sounds. Then we proceed with the hypothesis that further accord can be discerned. We spell out the possibilities with the assumption that both scientists and theologians are seeking to understand one and the same reality; therefore, we should hope for, even expect, some sort of concord to arise from serious conversation.

The method of hypothetical consonance can be distinguished from the two-language theory—what Ian Barbour calls … the “independence” relationship—which seems to have been the operative assumption of most serious scholars for much of this century. This is the assumption that the language of science and the language of faith exist in independent domains of knowledge and that there is no overlap. One version of the two language theory is the commonly accepted separation of fact from value. [SNIP]

Perhaps the strongest advocate of the two-language theory among today’s theologians is Langdon Gilkey. It is not only the difference between fact and value which distinguishes the two modes of discourse, according to Gilkey; there is also the difference between proximate (or secondary) causation and ultimate (or primary) causation. There is no translation between them.

All modern religious discourse, according to Gilkey, is limited to speaking about limit experiences, to the dimension of ultimacy in human experience. Religious or mythical language speaks only about “ultimate or existential issues,” he says. This means that it speaks only to us as persons. It does not speak about the world. Theology “possesses no legitimate ground to interfere with either scientific inquiry or scientific conclusions, whether in the fields of natural or of historical inquiry.” [Religion and the Scientific Future, p. 18.] Religious truths do not contain information. They are best classified as myths or symbols which make no authoritative assertion about concrete matters of fact. Gilkey’s position represents the paradigm example of neoorthodox dualism which has confined matters of faith to the transcendent-personal axis and consigned all other matters dealing with the world we live in to the province of secular science.

What about the language of science according to the Gilkey scheme? Scientific language is informative. It seeks to inform us regarding facts which are measurable, objective, and publicly shareable. Science seeks to explain the facts of experiences in terms of laws which are automatic and blind. These laws can appeal only to natural or human causes and powers, forces which exist within the confines of the finite world. Science cannot appeal to supernatural forces nor even to purposes or intentions or meanings. It can support its conclusions only through testing of repeatable experiments, not through speculation about one-time historical events. In short, “the language of science is quantitative, mathematical, precise ... it is limited to describing the impersonal system of relations between the things or entities around us.” [Creationism on Trial: Evolution and God at Little Rock, p. 113.] If Pope John Paul II is correct that there is no opposition between science and faith, then Gilkey would say this is because the two cannot talk to one another.

Now the point of establishing the two-language theory is to make it possible for a religious person to speak both languages without cognitive dissonance. By confining scientific language to the sphere of the finite and observable world, it is disqualified from making judgments regarding the existence or non-existence of God. Inherently, science is neither theistic nor atheistic. It is neutral. It is objective. “It is because science is limited to a certain level of explanation that scientific and religious theories can exist side by side without excluding one another, that one person can hold both to the scientific accounts of origins and to a religious account, to the creation of all things by God.” [Creationism on Trial, p. 117.]

But I believe that we must now ask for more than simple avoidance of cognitive dissonance. I believe we should seek for cognitive consonance. [Peters credits the term “consonance” to the late Ernan McMullin, a leading philosopher of science and Catholic priest.] What I am advocating here comes close to the version of the two language theory we find in the work of Ian Barbour. Barbour recognizes the two languages but he will not accept a strict segregation. He wishes to explore the ways in which the two languages are complementary. This means, first, that we search for “significant parallels” in the methods of science and theology. Second, we look for ways to construct “an integrated worldview.” Third, we defend the importance of a “theology of nature.” Fourth, we permit the scientific understanding of nature to help us reexamine our ideas of God’s relation to the world. [Issues in Science and Religion, pp. 4-5.] What Barbour means here by “complementary languages” is akin to what I mean by “consonance.” We should look for those areas of correspondence and then spell out the possibilities which would permit what science says to illumine theological understanding and vice versa.

With this methodological commitment in mind, we will turn our ears now in the direction of resonating sounds regarding the creation of the universe. We will ask if there might exist an edifying consonance between scientific and religious concerns regarding the origin of the cosmos, especially the idea of creation out of nothing.

Looking Ahead

In the next excerpt, Peters gets down to brass tacks, explaining the biblical and theological origins of creation from nothing. He also underscores the deep connection between creation from nothing and the resurrection of Jesus. I rarely describe academic writing as exciting, but I think many readers will indeed respond with genuine excitement to what comes next: make it a priority to join us again.

References and Credits

Excerpts from Ted Peters, “On Creating the Cosmos,” in Physics, Philosophy and Theology: A Common Quest for Understanding (1988), ed. Robert John Russell, William R. Stoeger, S.J., and George V. Coyne, S.J., copyright Vatican Observatory Foundation, are reproduced by kind permission of Ted Peters and Vatican Observatory Foundation. We gratefully acknowledge their cooperation in bringing this material to our readers.

Editorial Policy

Most of the editing for these excerpts involves removing the odd sentence or two, or in some cases entire paragraphs—which I indicate by putting [SNIP] or an ellipsis at the appropriate point(s). I also insert annotations where warranted [enclosed in square brackets] to provide background information, often citing information from Peter’s own footnotes when it is important for our readers to have it.

Ted Davis is Fellow of the History of Science for the BioLogos Foundation and Professor of the History of Science at Messiah College. At Messiah, Davis teaches courses on historical and contemporary aspects of Christianity and science and directs the Central Pennsylvania Forum for Religion and Science.

Next post in series >

View the archived discussion of this post

This article is now closed for new comments. The archived comments are shown below.

Page 1 of 2   1 2 »
Jon Garvey - #84858

March 20th 2014

The mention of Eric Liddell is interesting as my former medical partner was interned in the same Chinese camp, and shared Gilkey’s high opinion of Liddell (he died of a brain tumour, of course, whilst interned). My partner therefore presumably knew Gilkey (though she’s now deceased),

Of course, if Liddell was the only saint Gilkey ever met, he presumably didn’t rate my partner as one, though she was indeed only a child at the time! I believe from knowing her for 25 years or so that she’d have had more in common with Ted Peters’ view of the science-faith conversation than with Gilkey’s. The NOMA approach seems in the end to have too much in common with scholastic double truth theory.

Ted Davis - #84859

March 20th 2014

I think you’re going to like this series quite a bit, Jon. What Peters has to say about creatio ex nihilo may resonate with you. He’s one more of many invisible TE advocates who doesn’t write for evangelical presses, but upholds Christian orthodoxy.

Jon Garvey - #84862

March 21st 2014


Even if he only demonstrates that there’s more than one way to skin the TE cat it’ll be well worthwhile in provoking some thought.

Ted Davis - #84864

March 21st 2014

In the series I’m presenting, Jon, his topic isn’t TE per se, but cosmology. My comment above was too brief, and thus a little misleading. He writes about TE elsewhere, especially in the books I mention in my introduction to this column, right after the photograph of Gilkey.

As you know, many proponents of TE elevate “creatio continua” over “creatio ex nihilo” to such an extent that the latter basically vaporizes. Peters doesn’t. IMO, his views on the doctrine of creation ought to be better known among evangelical proponents of TE, who are all to often (IMO) scientists who are not very well read theologically and who therefore write too shallowly to benefit those in their audience who want more depth. I think this is a very common situation, frankly. This is one of the main reasons why I’ve been trying to bring in some theologically orthodox TEs who have real theological depth—folks like Russell, Polkinghorne, and Peters. In my experience, most evangelicals have never read a word from any of them, partly b/c none of them is usually seen as an evangelical and partly b/c they don’t usually write for “popular” audiences. Most evangelical scientists (at least the hundreds I’ve met through my longtime involvement with the ASA) don’t know Russell or Peters at all, though they may have read a little Polkinghorne.

In short: evangelicals who want more theological weight for their position may need to look “outside” their own community to find it. There are exceptions—Denis Lamoureux comes to mind right away—but the run of the mill stuff usually doesn’t offer it. Part of my role here at BL is to start remedying that. I can’t provide the depth myself—I’m not a theologian—but I can draw on the work of those who can. This series is a case in point.

Eddie - #84860

March 21st 2014

“But I believe that we must now ask for more than simple avoidance of cognitive dissonance. I believe we should seek for cognitive consonance.”


It seems to me that many of the more prominent TEs (prominent in the public eye, that is) have largely followed the path of avoiding cognitive dissonance.  The main strategy has been a NOMA-like compartmentalization:  science over here, faith over there; science teaches us how the heavens go; theology teaches us how to go to heaven; we don’t have the slightest scientific reason for thinking these events are anything but random, but through the eye of faith we can, if inclined by purely private and personal preference, think of them as not random, as long as we keep that thought entirely out of the lab and out of all our published work; etc.

I see NOMA as a reaction against the warfare thesis; but in order to secure a merely subordinate goal (peace between theology and science), NOMA gives up on the more important goal (the truth which synthesizes theology and science). 

Based on this article, I would say that Peters seems to be headed in the right direction.  

Lou Jost - #84863

March 21st 2014

Many atheists, including myself, also think NOMA is a cheap trick to avoid real engagement with the issues.

Ted Davis - #84865

March 21st 2014

Critics of Gould’s NOMA strategy (http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/gould_noma.html) are legion, and I include myself in that group—most of the time. I won’t elaborate further right now.

Gould’s view is a specific instance of what Ian Barbour calls the “independence” view, which erects an impermeable barrier between religion and science. Others have called this the “separation” or “contrast” model. Peters puts Gilkey in this general category.

What I will say, in Gould’s defense, is this. To a significant extent, this view is entirely correct. Science raises very different questions from religion, questions that usually focus on “how” things happen. Those “how” questions answer a limited type of “why” question, such as, “why is the sky blue?” but not deeper types of the “why” question, such as “why does the universe exist?” or “why is there something rather than nothing?” Science is also incompetent to address questions such as, “what is the chief end of man?” (http://www.creeds.net/Westminster/shorter_catechism.html). Theology does address such questions. Because this is (IMO) a valid type of distinction between religion and science, views advocating various degrees of separation aren’t just flat wrong. For example, the most widely quoted statement from Galileo—which Galileo himself did not originate, since he credited the insight to Cardinal Cesare Baronio (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caesar_Baronius) –is the quip, “The Bible teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.” In the context in which Galileo used this (the Copernican controversy), Galileo was 100% correct; for more of my thoughts on this, see http://biologos.org/blog/galileo-and-other-good-books-about-science-and-the-bible.

Basically, you need to keep multiple models for relating science and religion in your toolbox, and know which tool(s) to use for which situations. The science and religion conversation, which predates Christianity and will continue long after we’re all dead, is far too rich and complex for any single conceptual box to hold. The separation tool is crucial to have on hand for those cases when you need it.


Jon Garvey - #84866

March 21st 2014


Just to respond to your “defence” of NOMA, let me say I agree, and had thought the need to clarify what is valid and what is not in separating or conflating. In a way it’s no more complex than any other epistemological distinction -and there are plenty of those in the origins discussion.

Science is clearly different from philosophy, but they’re dealing with the same universe, and interacting: your science will depend on your philosophical stance, conscious or unconscious, and scientific findings will have some effect on philosophy (though usually when that happens its down to worldview fashion, it appears to me).

What you can’t do is try to use philosophy to judge scientific data, or scientific evidence to critique philosophical reasoning. Likewise with theology and faith.

I do agree with you that doctrine of creation, per se, is important in its own right, and establishing that, and subsequently bringing it to bear on the theistic evolution question, is of great value.

It seems that in getting some of us to read Russell, you’ve already put us ahead of the curve, which is no small achievement for you. Respect.

Eddie - #84867

March 21st 2014

Hi, Ted:

There is a core of common sense to NOMA which no one can deny.  Obviously, “Why does water boil?” is a different sort of question from “Why would God create a universe in which there can be boiling water, which might scald an innocent child when a pot on the stove upsets?”  For the first question, you ask a physicist; for the second question you ask a theologian.

So sure, there are questions which are more appropriate for scientists to ask, and questions which are more appropriate for theologians to ask.  The problem is not that we divide up subjects according to their intellectual objects.  The problem is that sometimes we prejudice the very treatment of the subject by the intellectual compartments that we devise.

For example, we might say, “He is a very educated person, but he has the manners of a brute.”  This statement implies a compartmentalization of knowledge in which “education” covers things like reading and writing and mathematics and science and maybe even music and other things, but not one’s attitude or bearing toward one’s fellow human beings.  Yet there are definitions of “education” would would include training of the affections, sentiments, and behavior as well as of the mind in the narrow sense.  Under those broader definitions of education, one could say that a blogger like P. Z. Myers is not educated, precisely because he has the manners of a brute.  So whether or not a statement is correct depends on how the compartments of knowledge are apportioned.

The problem with Gould’s NOMA lies not in the idea that there exist compartments; everyone agrees that whether or not one is a good chemist is a different question from whether or not one is faithful to one’s wife (though many Americans seem to have trouble making that separation when “President” is substituted for “chemist”).  The problem without Gould’s NOMA is that it slyly tries to settle a question of intellectual substance by a re-arrangement of the compartments.

So it sounds fine to say that science is about how nature works, whereas religion is about the purpose of nature, or the beauty of nature, or whatever.  But to what use is this put?  In practice, it means “Origins questions belong to science, not theology.”  And in practice that means a seizure of territory that everyone—including scientists—once granted was theology’s, and a transfer of that territory to science.  Gould’s NOMA does not merely keep accounts straight by keeping things under their proper labels; it changes the substance of things.

For example, I think you would concede that the early modern scientists, such as Boyle and Newton, thought that the understanding of the operation of the solar system (through the discovery of natural laws) belonged to science, but that the origin of the solar system was a topic for theology.  But by the late 18th century the origin of the solar system was asserted to be a question for science (Kant), by the late 19th century the origin of species, including man (a topic previously belonging to theology) was asserted to be a question for science, and by the 20th century the origin of life itself was asserted to be a question for science.  My point is not that there were no legitimate arguments for such transfers, but only that such transfers have involved more than a “common sense” acknowledgment that “facts” are different from “values” or that science can’t teach you how to get to heaven.  

Gould’s treatment makes out that if we just think straight, just keep our categories straight, the science/theology boundary should give us no serious trouble.  But these historical examples show that the boundaries can change, and not just in the way of minor adjustments.  They can change in major ways.  And when they change in major ways, divisions that were previously “common sense” are no longer so.  Changes of the boundaries can have major theological, scientific, cultural, political, social, and personal implications.  And Gould was of course smart enough to know this.  That’s why his treatment of the question is not only superficial, but bordering on intellectually negligent.

The moment you say that the “how” of creation belongs entirely to science, and only the “why” of creation belongs to theology, you have already made some decisions of content; you have already made the metaphysical commitment to a certain view of God, i.e., that God always, even in creation, works exclusively through natural causes.  Thus, you cannot responsibly assign “origins” to science alone, unless you have a demonstration that God works exclusively through natural causes.  And what TE, what theologian, has a proof of that?  

You can of course say that God may have worked through natural causes in creating the world; in that case, science would be a permissible approach to origins; but permissible is not mandatory.  And of course God may have employed a combination of natural causes and supernatural actions (I’m speaking loosely here, pace Jon), in which case we might know of origins partly through science, and partly through the interpretation of divine revelation—which definitely belongs to theology, not science.  My point is not to champion one view or the other, but merely to show that such questions cannot be settled by definitional fiat—which is how Gould’s NOMA has been used by many people to achieve peace between theology than science.  One avoids conflict over the contested areas by simply assigning the contested area to one party rather than the other, without regard for the subtlety of the issues involved.  But things ain’t that easy.  If only they were.

PNG - #84892

March 24th 2014

There is a quip - I don’t know who first made it - I heard it from Hugh Ross:

The physicists drove the theologians out of cosmology by a straightforward application of tensor calculus.

One way to commit a sort of disciplinary imperialism is to start using a language the other guys don’t know.

GJDS - #84893

March 24th 2014

Is this a (the) tyrany of language? (I cannot do a smily in this window, perhaps someone can clue me in).

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84868

March 21st 2014

It seems to me that if people are looking for the place where science, philosophy, and theology come together, they will find it in the mind/body problem and neuro science.  

Jon Garvey - #84871

March 22nd 2014

Roger, a  number of people have pointed out that the “problem” of mind-body dualism was actually created by the modern commitment to the materialist philsophical worldview, going back to Descartes. A nice outline by Ed Feser here.

Elsewhere, of course, he points out his own conviction that the hylemorphic dualism of Aquinas (which was pushed aside by the early moderns) avoids the “problem” altogether.  That’s one reason for being willing to look backwards and dust off old ideas: history, like the theory of evolution, actually contains blind alleys as well as progress. In the same way as the mond-body problem the category of information, that’s now increasingly becoming seen as fundamental to the universe (see Paul Julienne’s thread) has no real handle in materialist systems (apart from de-materialising it like the mind and then seeking to explain it away as illusion), whereas it accords completely with the Aristotelian concept of formal causation.

Ted Davis - #84898

March 24th 2014

The “problem” of mind-body dualism was actually created by Aristotle, Plato, and the Greeks, not Descartes. Indeed, Descartes actually denied that the mind inhabits the body “as a pilot in his ship.” Descartes argued rather for a “trialism,” in which the human being was an interactive unity of mind and body. See Peter Harrison’s contribution to this:

Eddie - #84903

March 25th 2014

Hi, Ted. I claim no expertise on Descartes, but I note that philosopher Bernard Williams, master Descartes scholar of an earlier generation (whose massive article on Descartes can be found in the 8-volume Encyclopedia of Philosophy), disagrees with Harrison’s position as you represent it, and opts for the traditional view that Descartes advocated “substance dualism.”
Any revisionist reading of Descartes has to cope with the fact that in the Meditations, the central philosophical work of his later life (and some would argue, of his whole life), he makes a clear distinction between the res cogitans and the res extensa, thinking thing and extended thing; they are clearly two quite different entities, and their different natures make them about as easy to mix as oil and water.
As if to highlight this, Descartes changed the subtitle of the second edition of the Meditations. Originally the subtitle had read: “... in which the existence of God and the immortality of the soul are demonstrated.” In Descartes’ second edition the subtitle read “... in which which the existence of God and the real distinction between mind and body are demonstrated.” And when you take into account the force of that change, with the fact that Descartes still retained the argument for the immortality of the soul (in the context of a highlighted distinction between a thinking part and an extended part of man), you can hardly blame later generations of philosophers for interpreting Descartes as a mind/body dualist. (As for the remark about the pilot and the ship, according to Owen Flanagan, Descartes’ remark is more nuanced than a straight denial.)
You can say that Descartes spoke of interaction between mind and body, but why did Descartes treat that interaction as so problematic? Why did he have to resort desperately to the unknown function of the pineal gland, using it as the gateway between the thinking and extended realms, as if it would take some pretty special entity to bridge them? And even if we grant—which most students of Descartes don’t grant—that Descartes made no big deal about mind/body interaction, that certainly wasn’t the reaction of subsequent thinkers influenced by him, who agonized over the subject.  Something they saw in his metaphysics and epistemology made it a problem.
You mention the Greeks. Plato had distinguished between body and soul, which is not the same thing as body and mind. There is also considerable doubt among Plato scholars how literally one is meant to take Plato’s many poetic discussions of soul in the Dialogues. There is no doubt that popular conceptions of a disembodied soul in later ages made use of the Platonic imagery and language of separability, but what Plato was actually teaching may be quite another matter. But even if we say that Plato endorsed some form of mind/body dualism, or that Plato’s successors did, Aristotle certainly didn’t; in him there is no separability of body and soul in living creatures; the soul is intimately tied up with the body through concepts such as telos, entelechy, etc., and it certainly doesn’t go anywhere outside of the body after one dies. Medieval Aristotelianism doesn’t count in this regard, because the Medieval Aristotelians were committed to church teachings on the immortality of the soul which were alien to Aristotle.
In any case, whatever “Greek dualism” survived, survived largely in religious thought, e.g., the mystical tradition; philosophical thought, after the end of the Renaissance (which had been Platonist), was dominated by those who claimed to have surpassed and replaced the Greeks: Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Kant, etc. So we can’t escape the task of identifying the dualistic strand of thought within modern philosophy. If Descartes is not the most important source of that strand, who is?
I’m not trying to pin the whole blame for modern mind/body dualism on Descartes. Many of his ideas were developed after his death in ways that he could not control. So when Wittgenstein strikes out against the whole “Cartesian” tradition it is important to look at all the thinkers after Descartes. Nonetheless, where there is smoke, there is usually fire, and the fire at the beginning of modern philosophy is Descartes. His conceptual divisions surely have something to do with modern dualism.  
Jon Garvey - #84904

March 25th 2014

Thanks Eddie - illuminating. I find that Roger Scruton too is clear in attributing the mind-body problem to the modern development of “Cartesian dualism”, with its origin, if not its full flower, in Descartes. Both substance dualism and property dualism inherit the problem of an immaterial mind acting somehow on a material body. Non-dualist materialism of course has problems because it <i>doesn’t</i> admit an immaterial mind (making form and information material things, incoherently in my view), and leading in eliminative materialism to the rejection of the reality of mind - and since it has already reduced all the interesting bits of reality to epiphenomena of mind, in the end it eliminates everything worth knowing, including the knower.

As you hint in your assesment of Aristotle, my point was that hylemorphism, by uniting immaterial mind causally and inextricably with material (through form and finality), cuts through those problems. Although Aquinas does some somersaults to accommodate the immortality of the human soul, the latter is still a hylemorphic conception, not a separate entity.

Ted Davis - #84912

March 26th 2014

I see that my link to the book with Harrison’s essay is missing.


GJDS - #84870

March 21st 2014

As a scientist I have considered the role of scientific endeavor within the activities of my community (and I think all scientists have at some point in their career). Contemplating the role of science (and if it contributes to the common good) requires a scientist to come (subjectively) to a set of values and ethics. It is within this domain that the NOAM concept imo would fail. I do not think that any human being are born with a fully developed kit of values, ethics and beliefs; their outlook will inevitably be influenced by their upbringing and circumstances. I think this is true for religious/irreligious outlooks to a greater extent than that of science. I am inclined to believe that scientists generally develop similar values and ethics in certain areas of scientific activity irrespective of their religious or irreligious outlooks (e.g. a commitment to intellectual rigour, reliability of data, and so on), while in other areas their outlook must inevitably be seen through a prism of belief and disbelief. The Sciences, like every academic area, must be divided into their so called compartments, and I do not see this leading to inevitable conflict or otherwise. Such divisions are necessary due to the enormous accumulation of data and information by the human race. 

Instead of relating any conflicts between science and to concepts such as NOMA, it may be helpful to seek a consensus amongst parties who are conflicted, to understand the non-negotiable positions (that is, the settled beliefs and disbeliefs of each side) that each of us has adopted, especially regarding our belief in God or conversely our non-belief in God. If conflict continues, such activities would then be understood as one party adopting a militant position against another, to negate or destroy. There is no way out of such conflict, except that we ought not seek to exclude or negate each other (the need for wisdom is obvious, to understand the theological basis for belief, and a criteria of doing good in the world). This requires wisdom from both sides of this great divide. Christians are taught by the Faith that God decides who may receive an understanding of Him, and that such an outcome is acceptable to Him – by this I mean who may believe in God or do not have such belief. The story in 1Kings 19:18 shows us that even in the most difficult time there is a remnant of those who believe in God.  

In the final analysis, when people adopt diametrically different positions regarding what is good and evil, conflicts are inevitable.  

Jon Garvey - #84872

March 22nd 2014

Following on to my reply to Roger above, what was happening with Gilkey? Why did he separate science and faith? He wrote (discussion @ http://potiphar.jongarvey.co.uk/2012/10/19/liberal-evangelicals-and-theistic-evolutionists-where-the-conflict-really-lies-1/:

[C]ontemporary theology does not expect, nor does it speak of, wondrous divine events on the surface of natural and historical life. The causal nexus in space and time which the Enlightenment science and philosophy introduced into the Western mind is also assumed by modern theologians and scholars; since they participate in the modern world of science both intellectually and existentially, they can scarcely do anything else…

Suddenly a vast panoply of divine deeds and events recorded in scripture are no longer regarded as having actually happened Whatever the Hebrews believed, we believe that the biblical people lived in the same causal continuum of space and time in which we live, and so one in which no divine wonders transpired and no divine voices were heard.

So he’s symptomatic of the cries us older ones used to hear all the time: “We can never go back on the Enlightenment.” Materialism (and Cartesian dualism) had become the underpinning of science (though most scientists didn’t realise they even had a metaphysical position), and science’s success made materialism obligatory for everything, including theology… which of course is a problem, as God is not material. Gilkey put it thus:

My own confusion results from what I feel to be the basic posture, and problem, of contemporary theology: it is half liberal and modern, on the one hand, and half biblical and orthodox, on the other, i.e., its world view or cosmology is modern, while its theological language is biblical and orthodox.


Jon Garvey - #84873

March 22nd 2014

[...continued] So it seems his version of NOMA was essentially a complete capitulation to materialism, “religion” being dumped into the non-material and purely subjective Cartesian “mind.” Modern man could not do otherwise… though actually, it was only *academic* modern man who wore those blinkers: those like Eric Liddell and my partner Jospehine continued to believe the Bible stories and agonise because their pastors and theologians thought them ignorant.

It seems to me that an unconsious materialism still predominates in the scientific mind, whilst in philosophy people like Alvin Plantinga have been dismantling materialism’s pretensions of inevitability; some like Ed Feser have been discovering that the older scholasticism never actually died, and even atheists like Thomas Nagel are drawing on both those streams of thought to show that, in essence, the whole Enlightenment project had faulty metaphysical foundations. Someone should apologise to the millions who lost their faith as a result.

Evangelical scientists have picked up enough of these changes to find biblical miracles less problematic (a big change in my lifetime), but still have enough of the old mindset to compartmentialise the natural and the religious worlds: the Natural God leaves the world free to create itself, but the Religious God answers prayers for the sick. It’s NOMA by the back door (though I’ve oversimplified, I acknowledge), and it’s inevitable until the metaphysical foundation is revised.

Jon Garvey - #84874

March 22nd 2014

Jon Garvey - #84875

March 22nd 2014

Still only works if you cut and paste. Weird editor, innit?

GJDS - #84876

March 22nd 2014

Great changes occurred to the Western world in the period that spans the Middle Ages and our current epoch (the period often termed Enlightenment) and I find it difficult to isolate any one particular event responsible for the changes in religious thinking and practice(s). I am inclined to think that the major change has been the separation of religion institutions from the state. This change has led to gradual changes in the way communities in the West observed religious practices; I want to avoid indulging in vacuous rambling and instead wish to make the point that the Christian faith has shown a consistency that borders on the miraculous. In spite of the huge changes (and historically we can identify similar changes as the Roman Empire disintegrated and Europe went through great turmoil) in states, way of life, and the impact of many pagan races and practices on Institutionalized Christianity, the Faith has remained consistent, in believing in God and salvation Christ, with the Gospel showing that human beings can grow in the attributes of Christ, and in this way bring peace where there is turmoil, and justice where there is violence. When viewed in this way, NOMA and similar debates are seen as minor, placed in a greater context.  

My main concern is on the tendency by theologians to ‘make up theology’; I suspect many of them see themselves as adapting theology for these times, but that is a weird way to justify heresy. I think the greatest difficulty Christianity faces today is the absence of great figures such as Aquinas or a John of Damascus, or a Calvin – Christianity has always been subjected to onslaughts from anti-Christians – the greatest damage however, has been from those who pretend to be Christians.

sy - #84877

March 22nd 2014


A bold and forthright statement, with which I entirely agree (though I would not have had the courage to make it). Putting this together with the eloquent arguments made by Jon, I think we can see emerging a view (which is not exactly brand new, but is still developing) that being a faithful Christian requires some degree of rejection of certain Enlightenment propositions, and that the good news is that such rejection is actually not opposed to, but perfectly inline with modern scientific thought. Actual physics (in my view, soon to be joined by actual biology) is anything but materialistic in nature (no pun intended), and would have struck the Enlightenment rationalists as metaphysical or even mystical. 

I have also witnessed non scientist Christians mistaking scientism for science, and retreating from the basic tenets of their faith in the name of remaining faithful to “science” when in fact (through no fault of their own) the “science” they thought was trumping some article of Christianity (miracles, Imago Dei, the moral law, etc) was actually simply the ravings of a deluded atheist trumpeting the latest version of anti theistic propaganda. 

What this issue suggests is that evangelical scientists have an obligation not only to our conservative Christian brethren, in teaching them that evolution and cosmology glorify rather than diminish the power of God, but also to our more liberal brethren in the Church, in teaching them the difference between science and scientism, and that not every pronouncement from scientists (Sagan and Tyson come to mind at this particular moment) is necessarily the Word of Truth. 

Eddie - #84883

March 22nd 2014

Hello, GJDS.

I think you make an excellent point in your last paragraph, concerning the absence of a great figure such as Aquinas or Calvin.  

Part of the problem is that, especially in North America, a certain understanding of democracy and egalitarianism is hostile to the notion of greatness or spiritual authority—everyone’s ideas are supposed to be equal, everyone’s opinion is supposed to be as good as everyone else’s.  We see this daily on the internet, where people without knowledge air their five-minutes-on-Wikipedia-derived views on science, theology, global warming, etc. and become indignant when a professor or engineer or doctor or someone with advanced knowledge in the subject corrects them.  Correcting anyone on the basis of knowledge or training goes against the egalitarian assumptions of the internet.  The very idea that someone else might have a superior theological understanding, and that one should try to learn from such people, rubs a good many people in this age the wrong way.

The other part of the problem is that Christians are guilty of not making the study of Christian theology a vital part of their Christian lives.  Whereas Jews (certainly Jews of the Orthodox, and in many cases Jews of the Conservative variety) make the study of Torah and Talmud a duty (at least for adult males), what requirements for study do most Christian denominations impose upon their members?  Generally, none.  

In some branches of the Reformed tradition, particularly the Dutch branches, the reading of Calvin and later Calvinists is encouraged; but there is hardly an Anglican in the world who reads Cranmer or Hooker, not even the clergy; and few Lutherans read much of Luther, and certainly it is rare for them to read Melanchthon.  Yet in the 16th-century Protestant world, clergy and laity alike were devouring the writings of Luther, Calvin, Melanchthon, Bucer, Erasmus, and others.

The case is similar in Roman Catholicism.  I know many, many Catholics, but almost none, even among the university-educated Catholics, who read Aquinas in their spare time, or even Augustine, or even Dante.  And of the non-conformist Protestants, how many sit down and read Milton and Bunyan, as used to be a common practice?  And how many Methodists and Nazarenes any longer sit down and study in depth the writings of Wesley?

When clergy and elders and parents don’t find the reading of disciplined theology a valuable use of time, they naturally don’t pass that respect for theology along to their congregations and children.  Thus, theology becomes more and more something which clergy do for a few years in order to get their degrees, and then forget about, and it becomes something remote from the lives of most Christians.  Only professors of theology, and a few (mostly highly educated) lay people with natural intellectual curiosity, take theology seriously any more.

Thus, when theological questions come up, there is a tendency of both clergy and laity to “make up theology” based on a very imperfect knowledge of what their tradition teaches.  They grab a genuine Christian idea here and there, mix in some ethical and philosophical sentiments derived not from Christianity but from the ethos of the secular age they live in, and construct a makeshift theology.  So you see, even on this site, as on internet sites all over, frequent references to the importance for theology of quantum indeterminacy, relativity, chaos theory, bits of sociology, psychology, and anthropology, snippets of existentialism, theistic personalism, process philosophy, open theism, alleged certainties derived from the textual criticism of the Bible, etc.; but you very rarely see extended discussions of the Creeds, the various Protestant confessions, the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils, Papal decrees, the writings of the Greek and Latin Fathers, the thoughts of the magisterial Reformers, etc.  Most Christian theologizing, even among evangelicals, now takes place in the popular arena, with very little respect for, or even reference to, the great decisions of the past or the great intellectual leaders of the tradition.

So if someone doesn’t like great blocks of the Old Testament, he feels free to excise them from his Bible, feeling no duty to first consult with Calvin or Augustine before doing so; and if someone wants to believe that Jesus was the first feminist or the first eco-warrior, he takes Gospel passages out of context, reads them in light of modern feminist or environmentalist literature, and doesn’t even bother doing any study of the context of the New Testament statements, or consulting any of the historically respected commentators on those passages.  And if someone else thinks that Genesis 1 contains all of quantum and relativity theory, that person just proceeds with his bizarre exegesis, contemptuous of 19 centuries of Christian (and Jewish) scholarship on Genesis which makes such a reading highly unlikely.

I don’t know the way out of this problem, because the logical people to take the leadership here, and get people reading authoritative theological writings again, are the clergy and the seminary professors, and they are often the worst offenders in the matter, leading the progressive and liberal charge and denigrating or belittling the great tradition of Christian exegesis and theology.  At least in North America, clergy are on the whole more liberal than their congregations.

Perhaps the only short-term solution is local action at the congregational level.  People could form voluntary study groups to read through a work of Calvin or Luther or Hooker or Aquinas or Augustine or Milton or Dante over the course of a year, just as they would study a book of the Bible in the same period.  It would take some leadership from local laity and local clergy, and care would have to be taken, at least at the beginning, to select theological works which are easier (one wouldn’t start with Barth’s Church Dogmatics or the writings of Hartshorne or Lonergan, or even with older works such as those of Suarez, and even Aquinas would be too difficult a beginning for most people because of his Aristotelian vocabulary); but it could be done.  A good history of Christian thought, such as Owen Chadwick’s The Reformation, might be an accessible start for many Protestant lay people; after that, maybe Augustine’s Confessions; later, maybe some selected short writings of Luther and Calvin, or parts of Calvin’s Institutio.  Selected readings of good lay writers such as Lewis and Chesterton could be sprinkled in, to help bridge the gap between the learned theologians of old and the average lay person of today, who frequently has graduated from high school with no Latin, no history beyond American history, no knowledge of the classical myths or other literature of Greece and Rome, and very little reading of the great works of European literature.

Of course, the clergy should be taking the lead in all of this, and in some cases they might, if prompted by enthusiastic lay people in their congregations.  But I fear the initiative will mostly have to come from thoughtful lay people, as the clergy nowadays are mostly hostile to or indifferent to tradition and don’t have the respect they should for the great theologians of old.


GJDS - #84886

March 22nd 2014

Sy and Eddie,

We agree that changes have taken place over a lengthy period - one point I wanted to emphasise is the capacity for the Christian faith to remain faithful, so to speak, to the Gospel message. I think Augustine made a comment when Christianity was becoming popular, that this in itself was not a consequence of greater belief and acceptance of the Gospel. The second point is to perhaps note (from my perspective) a greater tendncy for scientists to question the claims some aggressive atheists are making for science. Naturaly greater education and reading of the works of great theologians would benefit all Christians.

One point that is rarely mentioned is the service (for Orthodoxy, but I think most Church services) each Sunday. There is always a reading from the Gospel and its relevance - along with the rest of the service, this is a very good way to remind the congregation of what Christianity means.

Jon Garvey - #84887

March 23rd 2014

Sy, Eddie and GJDS (and everybody else who knows us!)

I endorse the ultimate consistency of the gospel message, despite the divisions in the historic churches and the impression of diversity when studying church history. Despite that, I can read a Patristic writer and encounter a brother, go to a Catholic church and hear a Wesley hymn, or get to know an Orthodox the other side of the world and agree on most things.

The “why” of that, I think, is that throughout history, until now, the aim has been to retain, or return to, Apostolic truth as found in the Bible. The tragic split between east and west was, apart from politics, the rival claims to be preserving the Apostolic truth about, for example, the Holy Spirit.

The Reformation was an attempt to return to primitive Christianity, whilst on their side the Romans claimed that the traditions rejected by the Reformers were truly inherited from the Apostles, true to Scripture etc.

And so for all the significant disagreements, I can as a Protestant Evangelical read Aquinas’ commentary on Ephesians and think I’m reading Calvin’s sermons on it, or get insights from an Orthodox writer on substitutionary atonement.

What changed with the Enlightenment, higher criticism and modernism/post-modernism was that people began to want to improve, rather than retain or restore, Christianity. One way or the other, the Bible or the original tradition had it wrong for our time and probably their own as well.

The faith has to be reinvented and yet be called by the same name of “Christian” or “Evangelical”, a bit like the way the US has reinvented marriage in a way completely unheard of in human history and then, according to the news report I read yesterday, holds all the old laws and definitions “unconstitutional”.

Both are Orwellian Newspeak, except that in the case of the Gospel what is being “improved” is the teaching of God incarnate about the only way to be saved.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84900

March 24th 2014

All very interesting, but very unChristian.

The Biblical Christian faith always goes forward, never backward.  We don’t go back to the early church, or the death and resurrection of Jesus, or His birth, or David, or to Mt. Sinai, or to the sacrifice of Isaac.

No, we go forward to the Coming again of Jesus Christ. 

Eddie - #84901

March 24th 2014

In the above remarks, Roger’s words “the Biblical Christian faith” and “we” are presumptuous.  The “we” who hold “the Biblical Christian faith” not have authorized Roger to speak for us.  Roger should have spoken for himself alone, as follows:

“I always look forward, never backward. I don’t look back to the early
church, or the death and resurrection of Jesus, or His birth, or David, or
to Mt. Sinai, or to the sacrifice of Isaac.

“No, I look forward to the Coming again of Jesus Christ.”

I will no longer engage in debate with Roger, but I certainly won’t let him speak for me, and I don’t think the Christians of the world would want him speaking for them, either.

As for Roger’s rather unChristian characterization of Jon’s statement as “unChristian,” I will let Jon respond to that, if he thinks it worth the bother.  The only thing I will say, without offering any argument, is that the characterization is utterly false.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84906

March 25th 2014

As usual Edward misconstrues the situation.  What I am saying is that the normative position for Christians and Christianity is historical and future looking.

That does not make me a spokesperson for the faith any more than it does any other Christian who makes a statement about the nature of Christianity. 

I am not afraid to speak about my faith, even though I understand that not all Christains agree with my understanding.  Nonetheless I try to express my best understanding of Christianity based by cogent reasons based on not my views but a careful examination of the Bible.

So I will repeat my observation that Christianity looks to the future, to the Coming of Jesus, while the discussion here is lookiing to the past implying that Christians need to restore the past.  It seems that we should be looking to move forward through whatever problems we have now.

I know that Edward disagrees with me about this, but what do others think?

Eddie - #84908

March 25th 2014

There is of course no contradiction between looking toward the coming of Jesus in the future, and having a deep respect for the theological traditions of the past.  Once again, a false “dualism” of either/or is operating.  I am sure that Jon Garvey looks to the return of Jesus with every bit as much hope and joy as Roger does.  The difference is that Jon has much higher standards of theological orthodoxy.

All theological truth, being truth, is as true for the present and future as it was for the past.  It is not because Calvin, Augustine, etc. are from the past that they are valuable; it is because what they teach is true.  Jon and I insist on constant reference to the past, not out of some antiquarian fetish, but because we think that “catholic” truth remains the same always, and therefore past writings provide vital standards of orthodoxy to guard against present and future heresies.

Modern theologians, and the modern clergy who are impressed by them, need to be reminded that their duty is not to innovate or create any new doctrine, but rather to transmit and apply the old doctrine to new times.

The churches led by innovating theologians and clergy are the mainstream Protestant churches; their congregations are graying, their numbers are in free fall; they can’t afford to repair their leaky roofs or their damaged church organs; they are rapidly closing buildings and selling them off to growing Pentecostal and Fundamentalist congregations (when they aren’t selling them to Muslim or Buddhist congregations); they will not survive the 21st century.  Serious Christians today are looking for solid doctrinal substance, not hippie 1960s experimentation with novelty for novelty’s sake.  The hope of Christianity thus lies with the theologians and clergy who see their job as the recovery of tradition, and the creative application of tradition to a new and different cultural setting.   But of course nothing stops Christians from looking hopefully to the return of Christ as they are appropriating the treasures of the past.

What is hard to fathom is why anyone who has contempt for the Church’s past should be looking forward to the return of Christ.  After all, don’t modern liberal theology, modern Biblical scholarship, modern science, etc., tell us that all previous thought about Christ was superstition that need to be “demythologized”?  How can a Christ who is nothing more than an elevated existential mood among the bereaved disciples “return”?  His body, science and liberal theology tells us, is a pile of bones somewhere in Palestine, and he won’t be returning even in a donkey cart, let alone accompanied by an army of angels.

A hope of Christ’s return that is not anchored in trust in the traditions of the past is a vain hope.  It amounts to holding on to a pleasant religious emotion, a comforting illusion, when the grounds for belief are gone.  The Christian who undercuts tradition is undercutting Christ.  Anyone who despises the Old Testament, the Creeds, the Fathers, the Councils, Calvin, Luther, etc. is just being silly to hope for the return of Christ.  Even New Atheism is more intellectually coherent than that.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84909

March 26th 2014

Edward wrote:

A hope of Christ’s return that is not anchored in trust in the traditions of the past is a vain hope. 

What Edward is saying is “Only a hope in the Return of Christ that is anchored in the traditions of the past is a valid hope.”  I do not find this in the Bible and challenge him to find it. 

What I find is “On Christ the Solid Rock I stand, All other ground is sinking sand.”  Our faith and hope are in Jesus alone, past, present, and future, and not in some tradition, regardless of how good it might be.      

It amounts to holding on to a pleasant religious emotion, a comforting illusion, when the grounds for belief are gone.

If Jesus were dead, then Edward would be right and Paul’s statement about Christians being lost would be true.  But Jesus is not dead so our Ground for Belief and Hope is Real and True.  

Jesus is not a tradition or a system of beliefs.  Jesus Christ is the living God, the Second Person of the Trinity: the Life, the Way, and the Truth. 

Eddie - #84916

March 26th 2014

Of course, in conceptualizing Jesus as “the Second Person of the Trinity”—and thus employing a theory-laden expression that is nowhere to be found in the Bible, but was the product of many decades of theological reflection by the Church—one is already implicitly accepting the authority of tradition. It is Church-validated theological tradition, not the Bible, which compels the Christian believer to use that precise locution. In this case, and in others, Church-endorsed tradition is an extra-Biblical source of Christian doctrine.
A good portion of what Christians believe, they believe not on the basis of the Bible alone, but on the basis of a combination of the Bible and tradition. This is so whether the Christians are consciously aware of the traditional component or not, and it’s so even for those Christians who most proudly style themselves “purely Biblical” in their theologizing. It isn’t hard at all for a historian of Christian thought to show this. But most Christians aren’t students of the history of Christian thought, so they are frequently oblivious of the role of tradition (general Christian tradition, and the traditions of their own branch of Christianity) in the shaping of their own beliefs.
Thus, Roger’s claim that his view of Jesus Christ is grounded only in the Bible, and owes nothing to tradition, is unsustainable. It’s based on the hermeneutical fantasy that human beings are capable of “assumption-free” readings of religious texts. In practice, we all bring extra-Biblical notions (theological and other sorts of notions) to the Bible when we interpret it, and we are all influenced to some degree by prior religious tradition. We can resist those influences, but we can’t pretend they aren’t there. And when we aren’t even aware that they are there, because we hold the naive view that we are “just reading what’s there in the Bible”, we have no hope at all of resisting them.
Aside from the above objection, Roger’s emphasis on the “Bible alone” here is completely out of line with the assertion he has made scores of times on this site, i.e., that Christian theology should not be founded on the Bible, but on Jesus Christ. But that is another subject.
Roger A. Sawtelle - #84918

March 27th 2014

Thus, Roger’s claim that his view of Jesus Christ is grounded only in the Bible,

The problem with debating with Edward is he gets my arguments all wrong.  I nowhere daid that my view of Jesus is gounded only in the Bible.  He is right that it is not.

In fact doing that would be making the mistake of confusing the Word, Jesus Christ, with the word, the Bible.  Therefore he is accusing me of doing something that I have never done.

Sadly his problem is that he ends up believing in the word/Bible as understood by tradition instead of the Word/Jesus Christ.   

Eddie - #84923

March 27th 2014

I note in passing that Roger has not grasped, or will not acknowledge, the point I made, i.e., that his Trinitarian language is the product of tradition.  Were he to acknowledge it, he would realize that his dismissal of tradition as wrongly “looking to the past” is completely wrong-headed.  I maintain my position.  There is not a Christian alive who does not in some way incorporate into his beliefs elements from tradition as well as elements from the Bible.  Roger is no exception, and if he thinks he is, he is deluding himself.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84919

March 27th 2014

Maybe this will clarify the issue.

The author of “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness” is saying that his faith is not built on words or ideas, be they Biblical or doctrinal or what have you, but in trust in Jesus Christ Himself, the Savior.  I agreed as do many others.

Edward, according to his own words says that we cannot do this.  He says that our hope must be rooted in traditions and ideas, not Jesus Himself, to be effective and true. 

Eddie - #84924

March 27th 2014

There are only two (count ‘em, two) possible sources of information which could justify Roger’s hope in “Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness.”  The theological grounds for believing that “Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness” can “save” us are found in (1) the Bible; (2) Tradition.

Roger has always scorned tradition implicitly, and now he has rejected it explicitly, saying we cannot look to the past.  So he is saying that we can learn nothing of Jesus Christ from tradition.  Therefore, by elimination, the only source Roger has for his knowledge THAT Jesus saves, and for his knowledge of HOW Jesus saves, is the Bible.  Q.E.D.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84928

March 27th 2014

Edward apparently cannot count.  Yes, I can learn that Jesus can save because He saved people in the Bible.  Yes, I can learn that Jesus can save because we have records and testemonies of people who have been saved in tradition.

However the best evidence for me that Jesus saves sinners is because Jesus saved me. (That is three as in Trinity by my count.)  Now I do not know why Edward either refuses to acknowledge or does not understand the experiential aspect of faith, but that is the case.

I suggest that Edward learn to listen to others, rather than attack mythical straw men.. 

Eddie - #84932

March 27th 2014

I said nothing against “the experiential aspect of faith.”  But it isn’t “religious experience” that taught you to speak of the “the Second Person of the Trinity.”  You learned that from systematic theology, which is a product of Church tradition.  And while you may have “experienced” a feeling that there is a loving being who embraces you despite your failings, the moment you start describing that being in terms of “three persons in one substance,” or start describing the “how” of your salvation in terms of a “Fall,” and an “original sin” that is “transmitted by inheritance,” and an “imputation of righteousness” to the faithful, and so on, you are not simply describing your experience; you are giving an intellectual exposition of the meaning of your experience.  And the categories you employ in that intellectual exposition come partly from the Bible, partly from tradition.

Without both Bible and tradition, you would not hold the particular Christian theology that you hold.  You cannot scrap tradition without scrapping a good part of Christian theology itself.  That is why your contempt for tradition is not merely disloyal to all the previous generations of saints and theologians, but actually intellectually incoherent.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84933

March 27th 2014

How deaf, blind, and dumb do you have to be, Edward, not to admit the truth?

I have not “experienced” a feeling.  I experienced a change in my being.  I regret that you have not experienced it, because you do not take it seriously.

I knew God long before I knew formal theology.  You cannet separate them like you do.  I know God because because I experience God’s presence in my life. 

Yes, I know about God from the Bible and tradition.  I am not putting them down at all.  However if I did not experience the difference God makes in my life and the life of others, then all that would be very dubious.      

I really do not know why you feel compelled to totally misrepresent what I think and who I am.  You are lying about something you know little about and this compromises all that you say.    

Eddie - #84936

March 27th 2014

You say that God’s presence has made a difference in your life, has made “a change in your being.” It may well be so. I cannot judge. I’ll say only that in the Christianity I learned on my mother’s knee, God’s presence in a person is manifested in humility. That would include intellectual and theological humility.  That would include the willingness to admit error when the documents that demonstrate the error are in front of one’s eyes, willingness to concede points to the other person instead of reflexively saying no every time the other person says yes, willingness to admit weaknesses in one’s own position, willingness to concede gaps in one’s knowledge, willingness to accept instruction from someone more trained than oneself, willingness to modify one’s theological opinions in the light of differing opinions from theologians far greater than oneself (e.g., Calvin, Luther, Augustine), etc.  I will know the difference that God’s presence has made in your life, I will know how he has changed your being, when I see this kind of humility cashed out in terms of conversational practice. You won’t have to loudly proclaim that you have experienced God, because I will know it by your deeds.
As for your conjecture about what I have experienced, or rather failed to experience, it is uncharitable, and as such puts into question that “change in being” of which you boast.
Roger A. Sawtelle - #84937

March 28th 2014

I am glad that I seem to have Edward’s attention.  Maybe he sees now how it feels to be on the other end of his nasty barbs. 

Even so I just raised a question while he constantly claims for a fact that I treat the Bible and tradition with contempt. 

Edward, you are right.  I have no right to judge you, even though you claimed the right to judge others who disagreed with you theologically. 

However I have every right to protest aginst the lies you have said against me as Jesus did when the Pharisees called Him a tool of Beelzebub.  These lies and your failure to apologize for them do not completely undermine your theology, but do bring it into question which you must answer.

You need to learn that disagreement does not mean a lack of respect, at least from my side.  You seem to have your own point of view.

I will rejoice in that day when you show forth the Fruit of the Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Generosity, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control.   

Eddie - #84939

March 28th 2014

There you go again—accusing me of spiritual defects, instead of dealing with the theological issues at hand.

I notice that “humility” is not listed among your “fruits of the spirit.”  That would explain why you do not take seriously my criticism above.

“You need to learn that disagreement does not mean a lack of respect”—how ironical that you should tell me that!  It is exactly what I have been telling you!  I’ve told you that I’m criticizing only your theological opinions, not your essence as a human being.  But you don’t accept that.  You continue to be defensive, brittle and whiny in the face of intellectual criticism, as if I’m mounting a personal assault upon you. 

As for your unwarranted accusation of lying:  a lie is a deliberate misrepresentation. I have told no lies. Every statement I have made about your church affiliation, pastoral role, education, etc. I derived either from your own statements here or from publically accessible websites. Every statement I have made about your theological views is based on multiple expressions of those views here on this site.  I may have made errors of interpretation.  If I have, you can correct them. But I have told no lies.
In the meantime, you have failed to answer the overwhelming number of questions and objections that I have put to you over the past two years.  In almost every case, I am answered with irrelevant considerations, evasions, or silence.
Here are just a few of the scores of questions you have not answered:
Why do you hold that the moral Laws from the Old Testament are not binding on Christians, when your own denomination’s constitutional statement says otherwise?
Why do you say that you admire Luther, but then, when shown that he disagrees with you over the Commandments, refuse to comment?
What do you mean by “dualism”?
Give me three examples of Christian theologians who have been guilty of “dualism,” and show how “dualism” steered them wrong.
What is your view of the authority, inspiration and truth of the Bible?  Is the whole Bible equally inspired and true?  Or are parts of it uninspired are false?  Are parts of the Old Testament false?  Which parts?  
Paul angrily denounces those who teach false theology.  You have accused me of being lacking in true Christian spirituality for criticizing the theology of others.  Why, then, have you not levelled this accusation against Paul, who criticizes the theology of others much more violently than I do?
Why have you about twenty times here pitted “the religion of the Bible” against “the religion of Jesus Christ,” as if the two could be in contradiction?  Why have you not responded to my point that no one in the tradition ever pitted the Bible against Jesus Christ in that way?  Have you no respect for those great traditional theologians and commentators?  Do you think you understand Jesus Christ better than Calvin, Luther, and Augustine did?
Why did you say that looking to the early church was looking “backward” and that Christians should instead be looking “forward” to the coming of Jesus Christ, thus implying criticism of those who think we need to learn from the early church, and suggesting that the teaching or practice of the early church was somehow incompatible or at odds with the true worship of Jesus Christ?
Why did you, in the same passage, list several major events in the Biblical revelation, events central to Christian truth, as things that we should not look “backward” to?  
Why did you for days stubbornly defend the proposition that in Jesus’ time, “the world was divided between Jews and Greeks,” even though you were shown right away that the statement was historically and geographically false?  What possible harm could have come to you if you had just admitted an error, instead of digging in your heels to defend the indefensible?
Why do you keep saying uninformed things about Greek philosophy, and about philosophy in general, in authoritative tones, when you know you have no training in philosophy?  And why, when you are corrected by someone who does have training in that subject, will you not accept correction and retract your points, or at least modify them in light of the criticism?
All of these questions, and many more, I would like to have answers for.  But it is apparent that I will never get answers to them.  Perhaps they cut too close to the bone.
Yet ultimately, all theological questions must cut close to the bone.  If one is not willing to endure such risks, one should not enter into theological discussion at all.  If one is not willing to answer the hard questions, one should not offer oneself as a theological authority of any kind.  And if one is asked the hard questions, one should not assume that the person asking the questions is animated by malice or other bad motives.  One should assume the other person is seeking truth, and should respond by sharing one’s thoughts, not by curling up like an armadillo to shield them from critical analysis.
Unless at least a few of the above dodged questions are clearly answered, I will not be replying further.  I have no more time to pry answers out of an uncooperative dialogue partner.
Roger A. Sawtelle - #84941

March 28th 2014

Edward wrote:

I notice that “humility” is not listed among your “fruits of the spirit.”  That would explain why you do not take seriously my criticism above.

My “fruits (sic) of the spirit (sic)” is not mine, but Paul’s fruit of the Spirit.

His ignorance of the Scripture unacceptable.


Page 1 of 2   1 2 »