“The Language of God” Book Club – Chapters 7-9

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April 4, 2014 Tags: Biblical Interpretation, Earth, Universe & Time, Science & Worldviews

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

“The Language of God” Book Club – Chapters 7-9

We’re on the second-to-last book club post this week. As we plan for future book clubs, we’d like to get some input from you. Take the short survey, which closes this weekend. We’d like to hear what kind of format would be most useful to you. We know there are all sorts of groups using Language of God this spring, from church small groups, to reading clubs, to college classes; and rarely does one size fit all. So let us know how we can best address your situation. We were pleased to hear from a large college group this week who has been working through the book. Here is their photograph:

College class group photo

The schedule for this week has us considering chapters 7-9 on the various alternative options for understanding science. The first of these is atheism and agnosticism. We’ve all heard our fill from the so-called New Atheists who trumpet scientific advances to “prove” the non-existence of God. Collins claims, though, that doing so, “goes beyond the evidence. If God is outside of nature, then science can neither prove nor disprove His existence. Atheism itself must therefore be considered a form of blind faith” (p. 165). I wonder, though, whether this claim is too strong as well. I don’t think we’d want to say that science is irrelevant to Christian faith (as Gould seems to suggest with his Non-Overlapping Magisteria view). Collins himself cites the fine-tuning arguments as important for his faith.

  1. What do you understand the role to be between empirical discoveries and Christian faith? (You might watch this video from an NYU biologist in our list of supplemental resources.) Could scientists discover things about the world that would count for or against belief in the Christian God? Is atheism “blind faith” or can it be understood as what some take to be the best explanation of the available evidence?

We at BioLogos have spent a fair amount of energy responding to the claims of Young Earth Creationists. We respect that their position stems primarily from a commitment to Scripture, but we believe their interpretation of Scripture commits them to scientific claims that are clearly false. Often such a discussion leads to the point that God could have created the universe and earth with the appearance of age. Collins discusses this point briefly in chapter 8, and we point you to a lengthier essay on the topic from Rev. Scott Hoezee in the supplemental resources. Once we start down this road, it is difficult to know where to stop. British philosopher Bertrand Russell teased that there is no empirical evidence that could determine whether the earth was created 5 minutes ago with the appearance of age (including ourselves with the necessary memories). Young Earthers’ favorite example in this regard is Jesus’ first miracle: turning water into wine.

  1. If we had performed scientific tests on the wine, would it have yielded results consistent with an older origin? What difference could we point to that makes this miracle an exception to the rule that God typically works through natural processes we can understand? Is there a way to think of God creating the universe with the appearance of age that doesn’t make God into a deceiver?

Finally in chapter 9, Collins tackles the Intelligent Design movement, giving both scientific and theological objections to invoking a “god of the gaps.” The theological implications are troubling when we say that God made natural systems which work on their own most of the time, but every so often God must step in and tinker with the system to keep it on track. But, if we say God only works through natural processes, the challenge is to avoid Deism, according to which God never steps into the system. But now we’re back to question #1 and the possible empirical evidences of the divine.

  1. How can we avoid a god of the gaps situation without completely removing God from the created order? How else might we describe God’s relationship to the functioning of natural systems?

We’d be happy to hear your thoughts on these or other questions you’d like to bring up. Two weeks from today will be the last of our book club posts on The Language of God, covering chapters 10-11.


Jim Stump has served as the Content Manager at BioLogos since August 2013. As such he oversees the development of new content and curates the existing content. Jim's PhD is in philosophy from Boston University where he wrote a dissertation on the history and philosophy of science. He is the author (with Chad Meister) of Christian Thought: A Historical Introduction (Routledge, 2010) and the editor (with Alan Padgett) of the Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012). Jim is a frequent speaker at churches and other groups on topics at the intersection of science and Christianity.

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sy - #85044

April 5th 2014

Jim

I think in this post you have raised the essential question for evolutionary creationism. Namely where is the creation in evolution? Since you asked for input, I will give you my own take on the matter, naive and ignorant as it might be from a theological standpoint. I don’t think we need to, nor should we consider God as “tinkering” with the system now and then. I would rather think of God as continuously creating, within a framework of natural laws, created at the beginning of time. How is this possible? Isn’t the universe, once created, deterministic , with gravity and natural selection acting on their own? No, that’s wrong. The universe was created to be non deterministic. The stochastic nature of physics and biology allows for God to intervene continuously through the processes we call chance or randomness. There is no such thing as chance for God, it is instead the law of God’s freedom to act as He will.

God created the universe, with its laws. I believe God is also the creator of life, (here I follow the arguments of the ID folks, but a full explanation requires far too much space here). Evolution led to the form and body of humanity, but I believe our souls (or consciousness) was a gift from God, pretty much as described in Genesis 2. During the long period of biological evolution there may have been many interventions by God, in both the mutational and selection phases of the process.

And now, here we are, creatures who mirror the image of God, with our ability to create and mold the world around us, through our own exercise of God-given free will. But God’s presence is always there, and our prayers are heard and answered (usually not as we expect). The proof of all of this is God’s incarnation on Earth, to redeem us, to show us the path of love, to save us. Christ’s life, teachings, death and resurrection are the final sufficient evidence for God’s continuing presence in our lives, and in our world.

God so made the world, that His love for his creation would be unlimited and His creative work unending. 


Merv - #85046

April 5th 2014

The changing of water to wine comparison to appearance of age is interesting to explore.  As to whether or not God is a deceiver for making wine, I still think a distinction needs to be recognized:  what is the stated (or implied) motivation for the action?

The making of the wine has at least two motivations given to us from Scripture itself.  The obvious surface one—they were out of wine, so Jesus met the need.  A second motivation given is that this is the first of a series of signs or pointers for us to know who Jesus really is.  Significantly missing as a motivation is the question:  “how or through what process is wine made?”  True—they (the servants and disciples in the know) were amazed because they knew that this is not the usual way people make wine, but no one apparently went away and took subsequent offense that Jesus must have tricked them in regard to how these processes normally work. Such a response would have been anachronistic in the extreme.

On the recent question over what is apparent in creation that points to great age, we are not given any clear or plain theological reasons why this should be the case.


Matthew Winegar - #85061

April 7th 2014

  1. What do you understand the role to be between empirical discoveries and Christian faith? [snip] Could scientists discover things about the world that would count for or against belief in the Christian God? Is atheism “blind faith” or can it be understood as what some take to be the best explanation of the available evidence?
Empirical discoveries can enrich or threaten Christian faith, depending on how one’s theology and the depth of their faith.  For me, learning about new discoveries in science, fills me with a sense of awe at God’s creation.  A typical YEC it seems feels threatened, and any time these discoveries falsify a literal interpretation of certain scriptures.  The difference is in theology, I think, and depth of faith (someone who’s faith depends on the particulars of the created order, seems very thin to me).
 
I do not think scientists could discover anything that proves or disproves God.  They are studying the created order.
 
I’m not sure atheism is “blind” faith, but it is a form of belief that is not totally rational.  It also explains nothing.
 
  1. If we had performed scientific tests on the wine, would it have yielded results consistent with an older origin? What difference could we point to that makes this miracle an exception to the rule that God typically works through natural processes we can understand? Is there a way to think of God creating the universe with the appearance of age that doesn’t make God into a deceiver?
 
The water to wine comparison is an interesting one I have not considered before.  However, no such tests were performed, so any argumentation about the “alleged” results of such tests is speculation.  Thus, this isn’t really much of an arrow in the YEC’s debate quiver.  As Merv mentioned, this miracle has clear theological purposes from Scripture.  The (alleged) creation of the Universe with apparent (as opposed to real) age, is not based in scripture, serves no theological purpose, and worse, makes God a deceiver (no way around that, in my mind).
 
  1. How can we avoid a god of the gaps situation without completely removing God from the created order? How else might we describe God’s relationship to the functioning of natural systems?
We avoid a god of the gaps situation by never invoking God to explain physical (secondary) causes, or how the world works.  This is not to say that he can’t do miracles in the world.  Miracles, properly understood, are not used to explain things we can’t understand; God does them to proclaim his magesty, or answer our prayers, or to otherwise accomplish his will.  They may actually be manifested in a process that is understood (for example, an unlikely fortuitious event, that somehow answers our prayers, may be seen as a miracle by a believer, but just as chance by a non-believer), or it might break all laws we currently understand about how the world works (for example, the resurrection of Jesus).  The key is, either way, we see God’s providence in what happens, but we don’t use him to explain things we don’t understand.

Matthew Winegar - #85062

April 7th 2014

Note to site admins:

This happens quite a bit (see formatting problems in my post above from built in text editing control) in site.  I am using Google Chrome in Windows 7 64 bit, and copy and paste the questions from the post.

The post is still readable, but has some mangled html (that you don’t see until after posting).


Chris Snyder - #85067

April 7th 2014

It should be fixed now. Sorry for the trouble!


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