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What Does It Mean to Be Human? A Response to Bruce Little, Part 2

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July 20, 2012 Tags: Image of God

Today's entry was written by Robert C. Bishop. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

What Does It Mean to Be Human? A Response to Bruce Little, Part 2

Note: Today we conclude the fifth installment in our ongoing Southern Baptist Voices series–a collection of seven essays from Southern Baptist scholars with BioLogos responses to their concerns and arguments. You can read more about the series here.



In his paper, Essentialism and Evolution, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary philosopher Bruce A. Little introduced the concept of essentialism, suggesting that it is most consistent with the biblical idea of the fixity of species and constitutes a challenge to evolutionary origins of life on earth. Dr. Little also made the case that modern science has unjustifiably marginalized essentialism because it does not fit within a purely physical understanding of reality.

Yesterday, Wheaton philosopher Robert A. Bishop began the BioLogos response by tracing the decline of essentialism in Western philosophy and science, and suggesting that essentialism is not the only (or the best) way for Christians to answer the question, “What does it mean to be human?” Today, Dr. Bishop suggests that Trinitarian theology and the image of God are important, non-essentialist resources to help us think about the distinct place of humanity in creation.

Other Ways of Being Human

In Part 1 of this essay I pointed out that metaphysical naturalism is not necessary nor inextricably tied to the practice of science, and that essentialism is only one of the historically-Christian ways to think about being human. As a case in point, we can identify the Patristic Fathers and Medieval Christian thinkers who discussed a relational alternative for understanding the nature or being of persons.1 Roughly, the idea is that the three persons of the Trinity are what they are and who they are in virtue of their relationship with each other, not based on some intrinsic properties that ground their uniqueness as persons in the Godhead. That is to say that Father, Son and Spirit co-constitute each other, or are bound up together with enabling each other to be distinctly the persons that they are. Far from a static form of being and relationship, there is a dynamic interrelatedness in the Trinity. Father, Son and Spirit mutually constitute each other while enabling each other to be particularly who they are and engage creation and salvation in particular ways suited to who they are as persons. Father, Son and Spirit are being in community.

By analogy of relationship, humans are what we distinctly are in our being and personality in virtue of our relationship to God, creation and each other. Our involvements with others necessarily shape who we are as particular persons. The personal realm, then, is characterized by a dynamic relationality, as persons have ongoing mutually constituting influence on each other. This is part of the “dynamic order” of creation “that is summoned into being and directed towards its perfection by the free creativity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That orientation of being is, of course, distorted and delayed by sin and evil, and returns to its directedness only through the incarnation and the redeeming agency of the Spirit. But evil distorts the dynamic of being, does not take it away.”2 Like the relationality of the persons of the Trinity, we are being in community.

We can also pursue the doctrine of creation as an alternative to essentialism, to see if it sheds any light on possibilities for what it means to be human in a non-reductionist sense.3 As other writers have been exploring in the Forum over the past few weeks, the biblical claim that humans are created in the image of God is important to the Christian of view of humankind. This may sound like jumping out of the frying pan into the fire, for there are both Christians and non-Christians who claim that if humans arose through evolutionary processes, then we cannot be made in God’s image. Nevertheless, it is worth exploring as a way of showing that there are strong alternatives to a strictly essentialist understanding of being human.

The Image of God

Over the centuries, the dominant view of humans as the imago Dei has been grounded in the idea that there is something distinctive about the creation of humans that both sets us apart from the rest of the animals and that marks us as unique kinds of creatures. Though we are clearly both distinctive and unique, does affirming the imago Dei require this kind of essentialism? On the one hand, Genesis 1:27 has often been interpreted as grounding humanity’s being in the divine image of God on Earth. On the other hand, recent discussions in human evolution have focused on several independent lines of evidence supporting the hypothesis of common ancestry among primates and humans: fossil evidence over the last 6 million years; homologies or anatomical similarities between humans and the primates; biogeographical distribution of supposed human ancestors; similarities in developmental biology between humans and primates; and several lines of genetic evidence favoring common ancestry. In addition, our current best understanding of the genetic diversity of humans is inconsistent with models that assume all humans descended from a single original pair of individuals. Instead, the current best data and models indicate the human ancestral population was never smaller than several thousand individuals.4

On the surface, then, what contemporary evolutionary science currently says on human origins appears to challenge cherished beliefs and understandings of many Christians. However, to understand what implications, if any, an evolutionary development of humans might have on the image of God, we first need to get clear on what it means to be the imago Dei, and that has to be settled theologically, not scientifically.

Historically, some of the most popular proposals for the imago Dei were rooted in human rationality, human freedom or human creativity because it was thought that humans alone among the animals possessed one or more of these qualities. There are two problems with this traditional line of thought. First, investigations since the early 18th century have progressively led to the conclusion that such qualities of humans mark a difference in degree rather than a difference in kind (e.g., brains of mammals and humans are anatomically homologous, dolphins, primates, and some species of birds exhibit degrees of rationality and creativity). The degree of difference may be significant, but a difference in kind is necessary for the traditional line of essentialist thought.





For more, see N.T. Wright on "What it Means to be an Image Bearer?"

Second, if we look to the Incarnation for clues to the imago Dei we find that Jesus’s humanity is never depicted as exercising extraordinary powers of rationality, freedom, creativity, and so forth. Primarily, Jesus lived as an embodied person in relationship with the Father, other humans and creation as enabled by the work of the Holy Spirit. In other words, Jesus’ human life in Scripture indicates that the divine image is a special relationship, or form of relationality: to be in relationship with the Father as a created, embodied person; to be sustained or upheld in this relationship with the Father through the perfecting Spirit; and to be in relationship with other persons and all of creation.5 Moreover, this special relationship is also a vocation to mirror or reflect the glory, life and worship of God.6

If to be the image of God is to be sustained in a special relationship with the Father, each other and creation through the Spirit, then the imago Dei is not grounded in intrinsic qualities that particularly mark humans as distinct from the rest of the animals, as essentialism would have it. Christians can understand Genesis 1: 24-31 and 2: 4-5, as many of the Patristic Fathers did, as an account of our unity and connection with the rest of creation as well as of our special relationship with God and role in God’s kingdom. So if Father, Son and Spirit created human beings through evolutionary processes, we would have continuity and connection with all of creation while still being the imago Dei. Evolution does not threaten human specialness before God unless it is viewed as a replacement for divine creative activity (which, of course, is what Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne and Answers in Genesis all do repeatedly).

If evolution is broadly right as an account of the creation of all living things (an empirical matter), and if some form of essentialism is found to be consistent with such an account (a philosophical and biological matter), Christians would then have two options for how to understand what it means to be human. We can look for some stable, unique intrinsic features in virtue of which we are human; or we can look to the special Spirit-sustained relationship we have with God, creation and each other. Both are biblically consistent, though I judge understanding the imago Dei as special relationship to make better sense of the whole of the Bible, as well as our experience in the world.

Notes

1. See Gunton, The one, the three and the many and Gunton, The Promise of Trinitarian Theology, T&T Clark (2003).
2. Gunton, The one, the three, and the many, p. 166.
3. Gunton, The Triune Creation; Robert C. Bishop, “Recovering the Doctrine of Creation: A Theological View of Science,” 31 January 2011.
4. For example, see Dennis R. Venema,“Genesis and the Genome: Genomics Evidence for Human-Ape Common Ancestry and Ancestral Hominid Population Sizes,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, vol. 62, No. 3 (2010): 166-178.
5. See Gunton, The three, the one, and the many.
6. As such, the imago Dei has an inextricable missionary focus towards extending the kingdom. See N. T. Wright, How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels, HarperOne (2012).


Robert C. Bishop is the John and Madeline McIntyre Endowed Professor of Philosophy and History of Science and an associate professor of physics and philosophy at Wheaton College in Illinois. He received his master’s degree in physics and doctorate in philosophy from the University of Texas at Austin. Bishop's research involves history and philosophy of science, philosophy of physics, philosophy of mind, and metaphysics. Bishop is the author of The Philosophy of the Social Science and co-editor of Between Chance and Choice: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Determinism.

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Roger A. Sawtelle - #71217

July 20th 2012

Thank you, Dr. Bishop for an excellent analysis and essay, however I think that it nshould be clear by now that there is only one was to understand the relationship between God and evolution.

In a way the essay does not directly address the objection of Dr. Little and many who share his problems with evolution, because it goes against “essentialism” which is the basis of Western philosophy and I think that they are right. 

The Greeks formulated philosophy as a way to bring order and stability to our chaotic and everchanging world.  Being, ideas, and forms are static, while things, things, and history are changing.  In terms of the one and the many, they embraced the one.

Science in many ways takes the opposite approach.  Science does not look at ideas and try to make facts or things fit into them, Science looks at the facts, at least in theory and when science is done right, and tries to come up with a theory that fits the facts, which can be tested to determine if it is true.

Science at its best explains changes.  Traditional philosophy by supporting the idea that life does not change is like the wise Ecclesiastes who says that life just goes in circles and thus is empty and purposeless.  

Science has revealed to us the limits of essentialism, traditional being philosophy.  Dr. Little believes that traditional Christianity cannot exist without traditional philosophy, and he is right.  The question I think for all of us is; What takes the place of traditional philosophy, which is not Christian, but has been the backbone of much of Christian ansd secular thinking.

Fortunately there seems to be some agreement on both sides that the formulation of the Trinity took place outside of essentialist thinking, although Dr. Little thinks that essentialism is important to our understanding of the two natures of Jesus Christ.  I think that this can be resolved fairly easily. 

I have been thinking and working on this problem for some time and I am confident that God has revealed to us through Jesus Christ the relational character of Reality that can enable us to redefine Philosophy so that both Science and Theology will be on the same page in understanding the relational nature of our worlds.               


HornSpiel - #71221

July 20th 2012

Thank you for this series Biologos. Dr. bishop has ablely and charitably responded to Dr Little’s arguments that essentialism is essential for a Christian world-view/approach to science. I find it interesting that in defending this view, which has such a pagan pedigree and so little biblical support, that Little invokes the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation (see Part 1 last paragraph).

I am afraid that Little’s understaning of natural and naturalism is rather prejudiced. Take for instance this quote:

A strong argument can be made that essentialism did not fade because it lacked evidential support, but rather with the ascendancy of naturalism in the western world, metaphysical naturalism simply could no longer tolerate the implications of essentialism.

As Bishop points out metaphysical naturalism was an add-on, an unwarranted philisophical extension, of methodological naturalsim. I wonder what Little had in mind when he says “that essentialism did not fade because it lacked evidential support.” Science moved away from essentialism precicely becuase the evidence did not suppot it.

I agree with Little in combating the linking of metaphysical naturalism to science resulting in scientism—”the commitment that all there is to reality is material” and that the “understanding of reality is shut up to the scientific method.” However the answer should not be to link essentialism to the scientific method. Such a combination I believe would lead to a kind of deistic (as opposed to atheistic) scientism. It is part of the misguided notion that science should lead to Truth rather than towards truths.


Francis - #71222

July 20th 2012

Professor Bishop,

Regarding your first essay (Part 1):

“other early Church Fathers challenged those very same Greek thought forms on the basis of biblical revelation, specifically looking to the Trinity as a model for human being as centrally relational, rather than essential.”

If “relational” is the buzzword, I would say the human being is essentially relational. That is, the human does have a unique essence; a key aspect of this essence is that the human is relational.

 

“the rubric through which they interpret min (the Hebrew word translated ‘kind’ in Genesis 1), though that meaning is foreign to the ancient Hebrew understandings of min. Indeed, Little himself identifies min with the ‘natural kinds’ of the Aristotelian framework, though the word did not have this meaning in its original ancient Hebrew context.”

I would imagine just about everything in the creation account was foreign to ancient Hebrews, in a sense. When you go from nothingness to “somethingness”, that’s strange, foreign.

But when the author not only notes God’s separating his creations with an essential, fixed uniqueness (i.e “each according to its kind”) but goes out of his way to emphasize this ten (10) times in Genesis 1, then I think it’s important, and it’s real.

[For me this is similar to the importance and reality of “day”. The author explicitly defines “day” (i.e. “And there was evening and there was morning, an nth day”) and does so six (6) times. Nota bene.]  

I think for you to say that “this does not imply that essentialism gets at the truth of the nature of reality” does violence to the text and to the common understanding of it that’s been held for millenia.

“Suffice it to say, though, that of the wide variety of definitions/conceptions of species in the biology and philosophy of biology literatures, those that are esse ntialist are not without their problems.6”

Just about everything and everybody got problems, professor. Including evolution theory and those who write about it.


Francis - #71223

July 20th 2012

Professor Bishop,

Regarding your first essay (Part 1):

“other early Church Fathers challenged those very same Greek thought forms on the basis of biblical revelation, specifically looking to the Trinity as a model for human being as centrally relational, rather than essential.”

If “relational” is the buzzword, I would say the human being is essentially relational. That is, the human does have a unique essence; a key aspect of this essence is that the human is relational.

“the rubric through which they interpret min (the Hebrew word translated ‘kind’ in Genesis 1), though that meaning is foreign to the ancient Hebrew understandings of min. Indeed, Little himself identifies min with the ‘natural kinds’ of the Aristotelian framework, though the word did not have this meaning in its original ancient Hebrew context.”

I would imagine just about everything in the creation account was foreign to ancient Hebrews, in a sense. When you go from nothingness to “somethingness”, that’s strange, foreign.

But when the author not only notes God’s separating his creations with an essential, fixed uniqueness (i.e “each according to its kind”) but goes out of his way to emphasize this ten (10) times in Genesis 1, then I think it’s important, and it’s real.

[For me this is similar to the importance and reality of “day”. The author explicitly defines “day” (i.e. “And there was evening and there was morning, an nth day”) and does so six (6) times. Nota bene.]

I think for you to say that “this does not imply that essentialism gets at the truth of the nature of reality” does violence to the text and to the common understanding of it that’s been held for millenia.

 

“Suffice it to say, though, that of the wide variety of definitions/conceptions of species in the biology and philosophy of biology literatures, those that are essentialist are not without their problems.6”

Just about everything and everybody got problems, professor. Including evolution theory and those who write about it.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #71227

July 20th 2012

Francis wrote:

If “relational” is the buzzword, I would say the human being is essentially relational. That is, the human does have a unique essence; a key aspect of this essence is that the human is relational.

Francis,

I hope that you agree with me that a key aspect of being human is being relational. 

I wish it were as simple as calling relationality the essence of humanity, but it is not.  Relationality and essence are two different kind of understanding of how the world works.  Relationality means that who or what I am comes from the way I relate to others, God, and the world.  Essense or being means that there is something within me that defines who or what I am.    


Gregory - #71238

July 21st 2012

@ Hornspiel #71221

As Bishop points out metaphysical naturalism was an add-on, an unwarranted philisophical extension, of methodological naturalsim.

I didn’t read Bishop anywhere use the term ‘methodological naturalism’ (though he links to an upcoming article he wrote about it for PSCF, which none of us has access to). Where do you draw your conclusion that is what Bishop point out in regard to an ‘unwarranted philosophical extension’ that involves two MNs?

The thread-article by Dr. Little could have been called “Relationism and Essentialism,” which would then have addressed some of Dr. Bishop’s concerns directly. I didn’t read Little as rejecting ‘relationship,’ but rather as supporting ‘essence’ against a tendency in western thought to marginalise it (e.g. the ‘species egalitarian’ perspective and the charge of ‘speciesism’).

I like the way Francis puts it in #71223: “If ‘relational’ is the buzzword, I would say the human being is essentially relational. That is, the human does have a unique essence; a key aspect of this essence is that the human is relational.” This seems to be how Bishop concludes the series, with a both/and, rather than an either/or.

A key question here then seems to be: how can the essence of the imago Dei ‘evolve’ in human beings (by unguided or ungoverened or non-intervened-in natural processes), or does it rather ‘extend’ in history from intentional, purposeful act(s) of God? In other words, the relationship does not begin until the essence or identity yet exists. Otherwise it would be like making a comparison before there is anything to compare.

A small point of clarification: Bishop writes of “an evolutionary development of humans,” but this puts two significantly different terms side-by-side in ‘evolution’ and ‘development.’ For example, ‘developmental psychology’ and ‘evolutionary psychology’ have quite different meanings. So, I wonder why he used that combination, when it could easily have been avoided.

“The degree of difference may be significant, but a difference in kind is necessary for the traditional line of essentialist thought.” - Dr. Bishop

I’d argue it is necessary for more than just essentialist thought. The more Dr. Bishop’s work moves towards philosophy of social science and psychology, the more this should become apparent. Indeed, there are evolutionists who support ‘kind’ distinctions for humans as well; not all evolutionists are ‘degreeists’. And this also speaks to the ‘human exceptionalism’ agreement between Dembski and Falk made a few weeks ago here, as consistent with traditional/orthodox Christianity.

“Evolution does not threaten human specialness before God unless it is viewed as a replacement for divine creative activity (which, of course, is what Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne and Answers in Genesis all do repeatedly).” - Dr. Bishop

It depends on ‘which evolution?’ and ‘whose evolution?’ I would argue, as many others have done, that what is known as ‘Darwinian evolution’ almost certainly *does* threaten human specialness before God. At the least, it ‘avoids speaking about religion in public’ (Darwin 1871), rather than openly embracing a science and faith or science, philosophy, religion dialogue. The question then is: ‘which evolution?’ and ‘whose evolution?’ actually supports and encourages (as opposed threatening) human specialiness before God? How many top-level professional biologists, geologists, botanists and psychologists promote this view of ‘evolutionary creation’?


HornSpiel - #71252

July 21st 2012

Where do you draw your conclusion that is what Bishop point out in regard to an ‘unwarranted philosophical extension’ that involves two MNs?

From the following sentence where he states “There is nothing about scientific practices suggesting that reality has to be treated as if there is nothing more than material reality or what our senses can detect.7[emphasis his]” and as you point out footnote 7 that cites an artical by him called “God and Methodological Naturalism.” Methodological naturalism, is as I understand, it is a scientific practice as opposed to a scientific philosophy

The question then is: ‘which evolution?’ and ‘whose evolution?’ actually supports and encourages (as opposed threatening) human specialiness before God? 

Any approach to evolution that has a religious or philisophical agenda, either threatening or supporting human specialiness before God, should be avoided.  IMO insisting that scientific data, theories and practice must support any such agenda makes for bad science, bad philosopy. and bad theology.  


Gregory - #71256

July 21st 2012

Well, we’ll have to wait to see what Dr. Robert C. Bishop has to say about ‘methodological naturalism’ in PSCF. Having taken the term from an ethicist-philosopher at Wheaton College (who had pledged allegiance), I’m not convinced MN counts as a globally responsible or orthodox philosophy of science (PoS). What you have found helpful (about MN) actually may be an unnecessary crutch or a means of exclusion of other valid points of view.

Hornspeil writes: “Methodological naturalism, is as I understand, it is a scientific practice as opposed to a scientific philosophy.”

Are you suggesting philosophy can be ‘scientific’? What is a ‘scientific philosophy’?

From my studies and readings, ‘methodological naturallism’ is considered as a PoS, one coined by Paul de Vries (Wheaton College, 1994). Ted Davis tells recently that Ronald Numbers has discovered earlier usage of the concept duo ‘methodological naturalism’ than de Vries’ usage. Let us wait and listen. MN can otherwise be seen as a ‘scientific practice’ for people already committed to naturalism, the latter which is the larger ideological problem.

Also, Hornspiel, I think you speak too narrowly about evolution, as if it belongs to natural science-alone. Evolution began as a philosophical-theological term. It did not begin as a biological scientific term.

Likewise, all approaches to ‘science’ have religious and/or philosophical presuppositions and pre-committments based in the personal lives of the scientists who choose them, unless there is no ‘character’ involved in ‘doing science,’ i.e. science by impersonal robots. Does that stifle your pretension to the hypothesis of defending the hypothesis of a ‘pure, objectivistic, positive science,’ Hornspiel, devoid of any human connection, personality, fallibility, etc.?

It is not imo mainly the problem of insisting that scientific data be used to support agendas, but rather that the agendas of scientists be shown up-front so that results can be better understood by citizens for the ideologies that are inevitably intertwined with them. Human beings predominantly ‘do science’ in society/ies, and not in an impersonal vacuum. Do you not agree with that, Hornspiel?  


Roger A. Sawtelle - #71250

July 21st 2012

I am probably get in trouble here by going over my head by discussing Greek philosophy, but here goes.

For the ancient Greek philosophers the issue was mortality vs. immortality.  Mortality = change or mutability so immortality = no change or immutability.  Thus for philosophy God is immutable or Absolute. 

The next is issue is how can a human being be immortal since humans are very mutable.  The answer was to give each human an immortal soul, which is immutable by definition (immortal = immutable.) 

This was okay.  Humans are now immortal, but at what price?  The Greek world of the dead was not heaven, but a grim colorless world, where souls existed, but in an immutable state, that is they had no feelings or ability to act.  They were in a state of suspended animation so to speak.

For the Greeks relationships and mutability want hand in hand.  When we love something or someone we become interdependent with that person or thing.  We change.  When God loves us God changes in this sense. 

God’s love is constant, but God loves everyone differently, because that is the character of love.  God loves people for who they are and everyone is unique.  Therefore Greek thought, immortality = immutabilty does not fit into the Christian worldview because God is Love.

For Christianity God is not immortal because God is immutable or Absolute, but because God is YHWH, God is WHO GOD IS and that is relational.  YHWH can do whatever YHWH chooses to do.  YHWH is whatever YHWH chooses to be.  YHWH chooses to love and YHWH chooses to be Love.     

YHWH is not limited by our ideas about God.  It is our task to liberate our minds from the limits we place on them by embracing God’s Spirit so we can go beyond the limits of human philosophy.

Humans do not have an immortal and thus immutable soul which is our “essence.”  For one thing as Dr. Little made clear that an essence is not individual, but general.  Humans have a spirit which is mutable and individual.  It is the spirit that is corrupted by our sin and can be liberated from sin by God’s forgiveness through the death of Jesus Christ. 

However when we as persons repent of our sins and turn to God the Father through the grace of Jesus Christ our spirit is joined with Christ through the Holy Spirit and we receive the eternal life of God into our lives.  We are transformed body, mind, and spirit by God’s love for us that we allow to come into our lives.   


HornSpiel - #71254

July 21st 2012

I would like to throw out an idea here and see how others react. 

I have found the concept of methodological naturalism as the basis for science quite helpful as it separates the findings and practice of science from philosophical and theological commitments. A couple if ideas that I have not heard discussed here are, methodological essentialism and methodological relationalism. 

When we talk of species we are talking about categorization based on common essential traits. While naturalism sees the continuity of species connected with one another like waves, essentialism sees them separated into units, particles. Just a physics necessarily sees light as both a wave and particle, methodological naturalism and essentialism are complementary ways of viewing life. 

This way of seeing things was actually first formulated by the Nobel nominated linguist Kenneth Lee Pike who I had the pleasure of knowing in the last years. In his magnum opus  Language in Relation to a Unified Theory of the Structure of Human Behaviour he also outlines a field perspective. In relation to the practice of science this would correspond to methodological relationalism (with a shout-out to Roger S.)

Why would this pertain to science? Because science is a manifestation of human behavior. Our perceptions of the world are not, can never be, absolutes. Is there only one correct way to pursue science? Probably not. By qualifying our approach with methodological we acknowledgment our human limitations and affirm the diversity of human thought and experience as well as the limits of the scientific enterprise.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #71257

July 21st 2012

HornSpiel,

This is an interesting points that need to be explored.  We certainly need complementary points of view.

The problem I have with naturalism, as the term is used in science, is that it states that nature is purely physical when it is not.  In normal scientific practice this a probably not a problem, but natural law and scientific thinking are not physical and rational.  It would seem that this failure the understand the nature of nature leads to idea that nature is self sufficient, which it is not.   

Now what you seem to be suggesting is the combining the physical (naturalism) and the rational (essentialism) with the spiritual (relational thought) to produce a three fold approach which goes beyond dualism which is very important.  Sadly it seems that most people think that their view is the only proper understanding of Reality.

One other note.  There are two kinds of relational thinking.  One tends to say that only relationships are real.  I think that Colin Gunton falls into this view.  After seeing him quoted by Dr. Bishop, I did some research which seemed to indicate that his view of the Trinity was basically Eastern, focusing on the relationships between the members of the Trinity.

The view that I prefer is based on Augustine’s model of the Trinity as the Lover (Father,) the Beloved (Son,) and their mutual Love (Spirit.)  Each is essential, each is real (thus making it a Trinity, rather than a dualism), and all are One as well as Many.

It is clear that we are delving into the depths of Reality here, which I have found do not fit well into this type of sound bite exposition.     


Bruce Little - #71301

July 23rd 2012

I am sorry, but I was unable to respond to your last comment on that thread—I could not get the comment screen to come up. As for the idea of the Trinity. I agree with you that the persons in the trinity are all equal in their Godness. I would say that the point of essentialism is that it is the essencee we call God or Godness is what is shard by all three making them equal in that essential way—all three are God. Without essence, it seems to be that ‘being’ in any definitive way cannot have relationship as there would be no distinction as being would be merely being (Parmenides)—of course this has been debated, but it serves as my position and I think consistent with the Nicene Council).  Because the Trinity always was, it would seem existence and essence  simply are.  When I speak of being, it necessarily reference something identifiable which means it must have some measurable attributes. When I say beingness, that is quite another matter, there am affirming only existence. So we recognize essence by attributes which makes the three one (ontologicaly—Jesus says I and the Father are one—they share the same essence as does the Spirit). STill Jesus says the Father is greater than I (Jn 14) that is nowspeaking of the Father sending the son. Attribut


Roger A. Sawtelle - #71303

July 23rd 2012

Dr. Little,

That does not answer the question, What is Godness? 

If 1 John is correct and God is Love, which is a relationship, then it seems to me that Godness is relational.

When YHWH appeared to Moses through “the burning bush” and revealed to Moses the divine Name of YHWH, YHWH was telling Moses to go back to Egypt to rescue God’s people from bondage because YHWH cared about the Hebrews and heard their cries for liberation.

God did not have to go to the trouble to create the universe as a home for humanity and bring humans into existence created in God’s own image.  I could go on and on as I am sure you could to point out how YHWH has expressed Love as Godness. 

I would also say that Power and Wisdom are also part of Godness and they are relational also, but for us Power and Wisdom would be empty if they were not used in Love.   


Bruce Little - #71270

July 22nd 2012

I have not heard of methodological essentialism myself. I would make the distinction between methodological naturalism and metaphysical naturalism. the first is as implied a methodology that looks for cause and effect within natural order of things and is compatible with metaphysical theism—an example would be Bacon. Metaphyscial naturalism is a philosophical term which is I believe holds that all there is to the nature of reality is physcial or material (these are not the same thing necessarily).

As for suggestion by some that we exchange essentialism with relationalism I would say that until you have something definable existing, you cannot have any relation. So I am not sure how it would look to exchange essentialism for relationalism. Of course as has been mentioned by someone in this discussion I am not rejecting the idea of relation, I only mean to say that it cannot be substituted for essentialism. BAL


Roger A. Sawtelle - #71287

July 22nd 2012

Dr. Bruce,

I would like to respond to your comment that we cannot exchange relationalism for essentialism, because being is logically prior to relationship. 

That is not true as theology points out.  If it were, then we would have a hierarchy with the Father Creator first, the Son Logos second, and the the Spirit third, but the logic of theology says that the Father, Son, and the Spirit are all one and equal. 

In Genesis “in the beginning” God the Father, Son, and the Spirit are.  In John 1 “In the beginning was the Word” (Son.)  If God is Love, then God is fundamentally relational.  If God created the universe through the Logos, the universe is fundamentally relational. 

Another argument might be “2 + 2 = 4” exists because it is relational.  “2 + 2 = 5” does not exist because it is not relational.  Existence or Reality is dependent on relationships.  The existence of the universe is dependent on its relationship to God.  The existence of humanity is dependent upon our right relationship to Jesus.     


Darwin Guy Dan - #71372

July 26th 2012

Roger A. Sawtelle,

“Another argument might be ‘2 + 2 = 4’ exists [i.e., is real] because it is relational.”

But what reality is there to such “existence”?  I am at a loss to understand how a statement in abstract 1st grade arithmetic qualifies as being real, i.e., as existing or especially as representing that which might exist.  Such abstraction leads me to think of the supposed ‘wave equation of the universe’ that the cosmologists have given us. How can there be relationship if there are no physicals (energies / masses) to relate?

However, strictly speaking, in mathematical terminology a ‘real number’ is defined as a number with no imaginary parts.  Thus, I suppose your mathematical / arithmetical statement of 2 + 2 = 4, in this context, makes sense as being a “real” statement.  However, in order to be consistent, would you not then have to also insist that 2 + 2 = 5 is also a ‘real statement’ (i.e., also exists)?  After all, there are no imaginary numbers therein.

I’ve been thinking that I’d much prefer the reality of kindergarten where 2 apples + 2 peaches actually are “real” and might actually exist even though, currently, I do not know what the sum total might be.  It would also seem that 2 apples + 2 peaches could be divided among 8 of us (5 is too tough) in which case, I suppose, 2x + 2y = 8z (where x = apples, y = peaches, z = pieces of fruit) or something like that.  Right?

As Gregory #71256 writes and Francis #71261 quotes:

“All approaches to ‘science’ have religious and / or philosophical presuppositions and precommitments based in the personal lives of the scientists who choose them [….]”

Well, I suppose I must remain in kindergarten, at least for a while.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #71377

July 26th 2012

Darwin Guy Dan,

The problem seems to be that you consider math to be based on abstractions when indeed it is based on relationships.  What is understood is that both 2’s are like items, rather than unlike items such as apples and peaches (although one could go the the lowest common denominator so to speak and say they add up to 4 fruit. 

The emphasis in math is the relationship expressed and not the items items involved.  One can so to speak cook the books and the figures add up, but they are the result of someone’s imagination, not the result of actual financial transactions. 

What I am saying is that relationships are real and if they are not real then math is not real and our whole banking and finanacial system is based on something that does not exist, a figment of our imagination.   


Darwin Guy Dan - #71392

July 27th 2012

Roger A. Sawtelle,

What I am suggesting is that we, as a society, might solve more problems than we create if our mathematical formulations were explicit rather than implicit.  I.e., why not explicitly include items that are involved in relationships?  Real relationships require real items.  (This has also been one of the traditional messages of Christianity: God, however defined, became real in Jesus.)

Some prime examples of the difficulties that can arise due to mathematical and policy abstractions were finally revealed in the financial crisis of 2008 as the financial institutions have been allowed to decouple from reality (and to my knowledge have more or less remained so decoupled).  Thus, we had credit default swaps, bundled mortgages, etc., where risks and rewards were inappropriately managed and delegated.  One might say that the system lacked  “Godness” (and continues to do so).

But at least the financial system is not a total abstraction.  The dollar and other world currencies, while not as real as barter or beads, are nevertheless real and only need to be made more so.  While ‘2 + 2  =  4’ is not real, ‘$2 + $2 = $4’ is real as is ‘$2 + $2 = 8 quarters.’

Another example of what might be termed un-Baconian abstraction is the notion of common ancestry, i.e., Evolution.  Common ancestors aren’t real but rather hypothesized entities which have been generally unidentified since Darwin’s original hypothesis nearly 153 years ago.  Common ancestors have been inferred from facts (paleontological, morphological, genetic), from hypotheses, and from theory.  But to my knowledge, non-trivial common ancestors have not been even hypothetically identified much less named.  (The only exception I am aware of is the hypothesized genetic reconstruction of the hypothesized common ancestor, Urbilaterian.)  

This is the trouble that Evolutionism (including social Darwinism) has given us.  Inferences from facts, etc., don’t carry the same truth-value as observationally based facts. Obviously, a better epistemology is needed.  GJDS #71317 makes an excellent start!


Roger A. Sawtelle - #71395

July 27th 2012

Darwin Guy Dan,

If 2 + 2 = 4 is not real, then how is $2 + $2 = $4 real unless one takes out two dollar bills and adds another two dollar bills and counts them and finds four dollars.  I do not think that we can go back to grade school and count on our fingers when we are doing any kind of calculating.

$2 + $2 = 16 quarters is only true when you include the understood calculation of converting dollars into quarters.  $2 + $2 = $4.  $1 = 4 quarters.  $4 x 4 = 16 quarters.   

I agreed that the danger of math is that people can use it to misrepresent reality, but that is true of anything.  At some point you have to make a judgment about what the evidence says. 

There is too much evidence for evolution to say that it did not happen.  Now there is definitely room to discuss how and why it happened which we need to do because I think Darwin got some important aspects wrong. 

One cannot just throw out evidence because it might be wrong or distorted.  Everything must be considered and weighed before definite conclusions can be determined.

 


Darwin Guy Dan - #71407

July 28th 2012

Roger A. Sawtelle,

$2 + $2 = 16 quarters is true even if I wrote 8 by mistake.

If one is working in a bank all day counting dollar, then I have no problem with the assumption that any numbers written down mean dollars, even those numbers without the actual $.  All I am suggesting is that when we add, or otherwise do arithmetic, any relationship is meaningless without real physical items.  But don’t assume that 4 is the answer if you are adding 2 protons and 2 antiprotons.

Regards national and international finance, it is not all a matter of misrepresenting reality (or even honesty / dishonesty).  There is  also the matter of values: (1) Personally, I’d prefer to see Black-Scholes mathematicians working on origins of life questions rather than commodity futures evaluations and other derivatives non-representative of the real world. (2) Evidence in favor of a hypothesis isn’t the same as confirmation of the hypothesis.  If one picks up a handful of sand from the beach and then thinks he knows what sand is and makes some statements in that regards, how much more sand must he pick up in confirmation of the statements he has already made?  Sand is sand.  While supposed evidence favoring Evolution might pile up endlessly, the arguments for Evolution have changed little if any since Darwin.

Common ancestry provides no parsimony regards explaining what we empirically know.  Thus, Evolution is false.

 


Roger A. Sawtelle - #71410

July 28th 2012

Darwin Guy Dan,

While it is true that four dollar bills have the same value as eight quarters, writen as a math equation as you did is not true as I have stated. 

Math statements must follow math rules. 


Darwin Guy Dan - #71428

July 28th 2012

In retyping and combining 2 paragraphs into one, I goofed yet again.  Above, from 2nd paragraph on ought to have been: 

Regards national and international finance, it is not all a matter of misrepresenting reality (or even of honesty / dishonesty). There is also the matter of values: (1) Personally, I’d prefer to see Black-Scholes mathematicians working on origins of life questions rather than commodity futures evaluations and other derivatives non-representative of the real world. (2) In some quarters, it would be seen as disingenuous for bank executives not to think they are entitled to $10 million / year rather than $8 million.  My guess is society and genuine competition of personnel would  conclude otherwise. (3) Etc. 

Regards Evolution, o.k., if there is so much evidence regards the hypothesis of common ancestry as Evolutionists repeatedly state, then what is the problem? Name one common ancestor.  I’ve seen estimates of the number of extant and extinct species ranging from 10 to 30 million to over 100 million.  How many common ancestors do Evolutionists think this entails?  When will a list of some small percentage of the total number be available? 

There are at least two epistemological issues:  (1) Since Darwin, Evolutionists have been biased to assume that Evolution is true.  Therefore they generally ignore counterfactuals and evidence that isn’t supportive of what they believe.  (2) Evidence in favor of a hypothesis isn’t the same as confirmation of the hypothesis. If one picks up a handful of sand from the beach and then thinks he knows what sand is and makes some statements in that regards, how much more sand must he pick up in confirmation of the statements he has already made? Sand is sand. While supposed evidence favoring Evolution might pile up endlessly, the arguments for Evolution have changed little, if any, since Darwin. 

Common ancestry provides no parsimony regards explaining what we empirically know. Thus, Evolution is false.


Darwin Guy Dan - #71573

August 1st 2012

Boy, am I bad!  Not only had I confused the vernacular “real” with the mathematician’s “real” of the “real number system,” I had completely rejected Plato’s thinking on this matter.  I’ve since been revisiting Stephen Korner’s THE PHILOSOPHY OF MATHEMATICS (1960).  Apparently Plato and I have a different understanding of what is “real” and what isn’t.  I am glad to see that apparently Plato’s student, Aristotle, and I agree, at least on this matter.  Korner writes:

“Plato’s view about the relation between ‘1 + 1 = 2’ and ‘1 apple and 1 apple make 2 apples’, and in general about the relation between pure and applied mathematics, flows, like his account of pure mathematics, from his distinction between the reality of the Forms and the comparative unreality of the objects of sense-experience [the business of physics].  These latter are only to some extent capable of precise definition or independent of the conditions in which we apprehend them (in perception).  They are, moreover, not unchangeable although some of them do not change very much in certain respects during periods long enough to let us treat them as permanent.  Thus if we compare the unchangeable, real object ONE with an apple, the latter can be properly said to be a certain degree similar to, or, even better, to approximate to, the Form ONE.  The technical phrases which Plato habitually uses are as a rule translated by saying that the apple—- in so far as we apply arithmetic—- participates in the Form ONE.”  [Capitals are Korner’s.]

I find it hard to accept, as did Aristotle, Plato’s “reality of the Forms” as being more “real” than actual material items such as an apple (even one with a worm).  It seems to me that even an imperfect apple (i.e., an object that is “not unchangeable” from the ideal of the Form) is more real than some imagined ideal “Form.”  I’d much prefer to have one real (vernacular definition) apple than some unreal ONE, whether ONE be just some ideal non-existing apple or just the number one.

Well, I suppose one will just have to find another philosopher.  For some reason Aristotle missed out on reality with his belief that heavy objects fall faster than lighter ones.  Humans were stuck with that false ideology for a couple millennia. Thus one must move on even further.  Surely there must be a philosopher that knows how to add 2 apples + 2 peaches + 1 bowl.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #71580

August 1st 2012

Darwin Guy Dan,

I agree with you.  Ideal forms are not more real that things, but they are not less real either.  In my opinion things are real, ideas are real as far as they are true, and relationships are real as far as they are true. 

Yes we do need a new understanding of Reality to replace Plato and Aristotle, which is what I am working on.  Feel free to help out.

Now as regards to the math.  It seems that 2 + 2 = 4 means 2x + 2x = 4x.  In a mathematical sense the x’s cancel themselves out, so they are not used.    

Now for the other example.  $2 + $2 = $4.  $1.00 x 1/4 = $.25 or 1 quarter dollar.  Thus $4.00 x 4 = 16 quarter dollars. 


Francis - #71261

July 21st 2012

Gregory, you’re like saint!

You make an excellent point on essence/essential versus relationship/relational:

“the relationship does not begin until the essence or identity yet exists. Otherwise it would be like making a comparison before there is anything to compare.”

 

Also, the point which so very many people, including so many scientists, are not even aware of:

“all approaches to ‘science’ have religious and/or philosophical presuppositions”.

 


GJDS - #71317

July 23rd 2012

”..... then the imago Dei is not grounded in intrinsic qualities that particularly mark humans as distinct from the rest of the animals, as essentialism would have it.”

Just a couple of points to this interesting discussion.

(1) Scientists when discussing science generally, refer to the scientific method. This is supposedly, and in the majority (with the exception of people such as Dawkins) free from ideologies and focussed on theory and data.

(2) I think it is possible to consider ‘intrinsic’ with specific aspects of the material/energy in that we may contemplate at the particle, the atomic, the molecular, and the complex molecular, as deing distinct in itself. This area is worthy of greater intellectual effort. It is fascinating that we may combine two distinct entities (e.g. H2 and O2) to obtain an entirely distinct entity (H2 + O2 => 2H2O) water which has its own completely characterisable properties.

‘Extending’ these remarks to the uniqueness of human beings is a very complicated task; nonetheless we all consdier ourselves as ‘self’ and we also confir identity to other human beings as if this too were ‘intrinsic’ to being human.


Bruce Little - #71364

July 25th 2012

I would say that essentialism is not in conflict with imago Dei at all. The pattern of what we call essence of humanity is the image of God. So at least im my thinking there is no conflict between image of God and essentialism as seems to be indicated by the first quote. The imago Dei is ground in God and this is the essence which defines man as man.  Yes we do seem to identify with others who we recognize as human and whether we think of it or not, it does seem to point to something intrinsic (or innate) which I would suggest is the essence of humanity as made in God’s image


Roger A. Sawtelle - #71365

July 25th 2012

Dr. Little,

If the Image of God found in humans is relational, then the essence of humanity and God would be relational.  If God is Love that makes sense.  The human ability to love is grounded in God, which is why humans cannot properly love others and themselves unless they love God first. 


GJDS - #71366

July 25th 2012

This is part of my response to Prof. Little’s contribution on essentialism, but elaborates in ‘intrinsic’.  

The term intrinsic is used because it includes laws of science as part and parcel of our consideration of the entities in nature, whatever their complexity or type. Thus, every chemical reaction can only occur by very complex chemical kinetics and these are also subjected (and understood in detail with intermediates) and energetics (exothermic and endothermic). For example of the formation of water, is treated using chemical kinetics consisting of a number of reactions, each with its own specific (lawful) data. The same may be said for larger molecules albeit with less information and greater computation resources. The reactions involving oxygen and life forms, or photosynthesis, are being studied and the insights also show that the reaction routes are comprehensible (albeit very complicated). On essentialism, I have a difficulty with it as it suggests an immaterial something in a material entity. I am a Christian, so in terms of overall viewpoints, I believe (not a scientific proof) the act of creation by God is what ensures all entities that make up nature are intrinsically (made) to act  according to the laws of Nature. The fact that any molecule (from water to higher molecular weights) can be distinctly characterised as being that entity ONLY, is a very strong argument for intrinsic. This thinking appeared to be obstructed by isotopes because they seem identical until these were distinclty identified. However, it posed great challenges to curent bio-thinking; for example, it is not difficult to extend this argument to show the necessity for optical isomers for life forms is a huge problem for emergence thinking, and almost any other specualtion about life emerging, nor the ‘natural’ selection from entities consisting, or containing, mixtures of optical isomers. Tis is not a trivial statement, as (virtually )all protiens, for example, are made from optically pure amino-acids.


Darwin Guy Dan - #71406

July 28th 2012

GJDS,

One way that has been used to define emergence is the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  Thus Coveney and Highfield write in their FRONTIERS OF COMPLEXITY: THE SEARCH FOR ORDER IN A CHAOTIC WORLD (11995, p. 330):

“Life is also an emergent property, one that arises when physicochemical systems are organized and interact in certain ways.  Similarly, a human being is an emergent property of huge numbers of cells, a company more than the sum of its pens, papers, real estate, and personnel, while a city is an emergent property of thousands or millions of human beings.  And no one should doubt that our innermost thoughts, our emotions of love and hate, are more than a rush of individual hormones, or the firing of individual neurons in the brain.  The study of complexity, through its emphasis on emergent properties, goes some way to restoring a balance between the spiritual and materialistic sides of our nature.”

While I am yet to consider optical isomers, my view is largely in line with yours regards emergence.  I always come back to the reality that life did somehow arise and, most likely, did so on early Earth.  This is just an assumption from which follows the question, how?  My suggestions have been (1) origins of life researchers need to give more consideration to quantum wave theory and the influence of electromagnetic radiations (especially light), as coupled to their ideas of autocatalysis, cellular automata, Brownian motion / Black-Scholes, basins of attraction, etc., and the early environments and whatever influence said environments may have had regards the various elements; (2) origins was most likely global in conjunction with the laws of nature and entailed gazillions of …. (According to Sawtelle, above, apparently the name of items isn’t necessary so I leave you with just the number.  Zillions would also work.)


Roger A. Sawtelle - #71409

July 28th 2012

Darwin Guy Dan,

Please be accurate.

What I said was Math does not need to specify the items counted to be true.

In fact of course math is not about items, but the mathematical relationships between like items. 

 


GJDS - #71432

July 28th 2012

Dan,

(If others share my sense of humour?...) I wonder if emergence is not another version of vitalism?

On origins and ancestors, I agree with a physicist friend who thinks evolution is a belief rather than a science. I am struck by the mind-boggling unique-ness of the planet earth and the ability to sustain an enormously diverse bio-system; when we add the notion brought by ecological considerations, I think any future advances in our understanding of bio-forms will (hum..) emerge from research directed at these areas.

On how life began, the difficulties are immense and I just do not know, nor am able to specualate. Too many obstacles for a scientist like me.

However, Darwins views are well and truly an impediment to advances in the bio-sciences (I like Francis’ comment on the ‘tree of life’). When ardent evolutionists come out and say we should not worry if generalisations cannot be made and somehow laws for evolution will emerge also, I think enough is enough. As for mega-astronomical numbers (gazillions of ...) again enough is enough. 


GJDS - #71319

July 23rd 2012

... oops, typo erros again. (consider) (confer) and equation it should read (2H2 + O2 => 2H2O)


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