Sunday, September 28, 2008

Check your brain at the door, please ... (Part 2)

Okay, so I made my own church sign reader board message; a twist on the Luther quote appearing on yesterday’s post. The impetus for this new reader board message was my fascination with Look Who’s Irrational Now, an article by Mollie Ziegler Hemingway which appeared in the Wall Street Journal on September 19. (Hats off to Bradford over at Telic Thoughts for posting on this article Friday.) As Hemmingway reports it, Baylor University recently contracted with Gallup to do a poll on “What Americans Really Believe.” The results were quite interesting, and no doubt counter-intuitive for some. It seems that the stronger one’s Christian faith, the less likely one is to believe in such paranormal phenomena as palm reading, astrology, Atlantis, haunted houses, or Bigfoot. Other studies sited in the article suggest a positive correlation between education and some superstitions. It turns out that faith is a better safeguard against superstitious beliefs than education. Some will no doubt object that faith itself is superstition. On the other hand, perhaps G.K. Chesterton had it right when he said (through his fictional character Father Brown), "It's the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense, and can't see things as they are."

Let’s continue this discussion of the relationship between faith and reason: could it be that faith actually grounds its possessor in reality? Far from reason being the enemy of faith, these studies suggest that faith is the friend of reason.

I consider myself to be a “believing skeptic”. Is that a hopeless oxymoron? Or does my faith in God serve as stable foundation for healthy skepticism? So ...

"Faith is the greatest friend that reason has."


I am anxious to read your comments....

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Check your brain at the door, please ... (Part 1)

Its been nearly a month since my last post. The next two posts I am planning (a review of The Design Matrix by Mike Gene, and a post I’ve promised to my atheist friend Psiloiordinary on “My Reasons for Belief”), are both a bit daunting, for some reason. As I continue to work on them, here is a “filler” discussion starter ...

I found the church reader board at right on at this site where you can compose your own message (its actually quite fun, especially if you are as cynical as I am about church reader boards ... yuk!), but I understand that this message was for real. It expresses a sentiment which has been directed against me and this blog site by some of my own friends. Anyone care to defend this point of view? It is quite common in some conservative evangelical circles. So ...

“Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has.”


Thursday, September 4, 2008

POST #18: Evolution, Red in Tooth and Claw (part 2)

Nature’s bloody brutality, exhibited in the processes of natural selection, is pressed into service by two opposing viewpoints. Atheists point out that such a display of cruelty cannot possibly be the work of a loving, personal God. Ergo, the case is made: “No God!” Creationists point out that such a display cannot possibly be the work of a loving, personal God. Ergo, the case is made: “No evolution!”

Rarely do these two divergent groups agree on anything. But here they find common ground:
God, and his creative purposes, as typically presented by traditional church teachings, is wholly incompatible with evolution.

What of the growing population of Bible-believing Christians who accept the evidence of evolution. Are we caught up in a sea of schizophrenic denial? Is there no way to bring into harmony the creative purposes of a loving God, and the modus operandi he apparently chose for creation?

part 1 of this post, I discussed the originator of the phrase, “Red in tooth and claw,” Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Compelled by the untimely death of friend to deal with the dilemmas of a cruel Nature and a loving God, Tennyson is left only with a faith-shaken hope that the mystery will somehow be resolved.

[Not all believers see a problem here that needs solving (see, for example the
Stephen Douglas exchange with Tom in the comment thread following part one.) But the arguments that death, animal pain, thousands of species extinctions, and other examples of natural evil pose no theodicy problem fail to convince me, and many other theists and atheists alike.]

If we posit the premise of atheist and Creationist, that a loving and personal God, and his creative purposes, as typically presented by traditional church teachings, are incompatible with evolution, Christians who accept evolution are left with few choices. Either,
  1. Evolution has not, in fact, been a brutal display red in tooth and claw, or
  2. God is not loving and personal, or
  3. the traditional church teachings have failed to tell the whole story, or to tell it accurately.
Of these three alternatives, I find the first indefensible, the second unacceptable, and the third thus highly probable. I am thus compelled to seek a retelling of the story of the ages, one that takes into consideration all the data available to us in this late day. Many of my biblicist friends are troubled by even the admission that we must search for a more fitting, more compelling metanarrative for the Christian story. “God said it, that settles it,” they tell me. Of course, that presumes that God finished his speaking 2000 years ago; that we have nothing to learn of his purposes and plans from the volumes of historical and scientific data which are unfolding before our very eyes. No, I cannot join their contentment with a traditional telling of the story; for this believer, the search is imperative.

My personal search is guided by Scripture, reason, and principles we can glean from the on-going exploration of God’s creative work. To leave out this ever-expanding source of “General Revelation” is to doom Christian theology to the dustbins of history. When we discover something about the cosmos, something that profoundly impacts theology, and when the discovery is confirmed again and again by science, we must be prepared to adjust our understandings of Scriptural truths where those understandings have been errant. History yields abundant testimony: the church has been painfully slow in learning this lesson.

Earlier in this series, in this
post on Theodicy, I addressed the need to adjust traditional theology in light of entropy’s timeline. There I noted that entropy (which is the driving force of the cosmos, a force of degradation, decay, and death) has been functioning since the very dawn of creation. It is not the result of the Fall, as theologians have long held. Decay, disease, and death predate the Fall of man by billions of years! God created the universe to be entropic from the very start.

In that earlier discussion, I suggested that the creation of the cosmos must have been a divine response to evil. If God created the cosmos with built in concessions, characteristics such as death and decay, from which he planned later to deliver his cosmos, we must ask, 
“Why?” I have suggested that when evil arose in God’s presence, he was confronted with a formidable challenge. The annihilation of evil is the overriding purpose of the cosmos. The destruction of evil is apparently no simple task, but one that required a 13.7 billion year process and a vast entropic universe to accomplish; and that it would involve untold suffering. In this suffering, God himself leads the way; but he also calls upon creation, including man, to suffer with him (see Romans 8:19-24).

Enter the processes of evolution. Viewed in the light of a cosmic battle that has raged for billions of years, the processes which at first seem heartless and cruel can be seen in a different light. They are necessary. We live in a cosmos in which the forces evil have been granted freedom and dominion. These forces are arrayed against everything good, including life itself. And the death principle wielded by the forces of evil (Hebrews 2:14) has had much success in its endeavor to destroy life. For every living species alive today, one hundred or so have become extinct. And yet, here we are. Living beings, capable of faith, capable of relationship with the Creator.

Scripture suggests that the culmination of God’s plan to annihilate evil involves faith-filled living beings such as ourselves, beings who are the end result of this long process, beings whose very existence proves what God knew all along: Life is more powerful than death (see 1 Corinthians 15) and does win out in the end.

The struggle of life has not been painless. It is indeed “red in tooth and claw”. But when viewed as part of the price of the annihilation of evil, all pain and suffering takes on meaning. There is an overriding purpose which will, in the end, render significance and purpose to all suffering, to all pain, to all death.

I am aware that this explanation is incomplete. There are pieces of the puzzle which are not yet understood. And it does not tell the whole story. As others have noted, there is value in suffering on many other levels. But when I consider how essential pain, suffering, and death have been in the Creative purposes of God, I believe such an understanding as I have suggested must be part of the answer. I invite your comments.