Saturday, August 11, 2012

  1. Atlantis Found?
  2. John of Damascus on the Incarnation.
  3. Murfreesboro Muslims prevail.
  4. Choose one: self-employment or religious freedom.
  5. Nominalism distilled; drink at your own risk!
  6. Sexualizing Everything.
  7. Good cause, bad argument.
  8. Uncommonly Stupid Product Safety Warnings.

Continue reading “Saturday, August 11, 2012”

“Let us make man ….”

Father John Behr, Dean of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, makes “a really interesting and often overlooked distinction” in a Lenten reflection:

… {T]he opening chapter of Genesis … begins, of course, with God issuing all sorts of commands:

“Let there be light.” There was light.

“Let there be a firmament. Let the waters under the heavens be gathered. Let the earth put forth vegetation. Let there be light in the firmament. Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures. Let the earth bring forth living creatures.

This is simply a divine fiat. “Let it be.” And this divine fiat is sufficient to bring all these things into existence. “Let it be. It was. It was good.”

Then having declared everything into existence by a word alone, God then announces His project. Not with an injunction – “Let it be” – but in the subjunctive – “Let us make a human being. Let us make a human being in our image, after our likeness.”

The express intention and the work of God Himself, therefore, is fashioning a human being in His image and likeness. This is the work of God. This is what He sets His mind to do. This is what He specifically deliberates about. This is the divine purpose and the divine resolve.

And this is the only thing which is not followed by the words “And it was so.”

In fact, only at the end – after Pilate unwittingly says “Behold the man,” or more literally, “Behold the human being” (… anthropos) – only then do we hear Christ say “It is finished.”

So the work of God, His intention from all eternity, is to make a human being. This is a project He announces at the very beginning, and this is what He completes in His Pascha.

When we come to the end of Great Lent, and our journey with Christ to Jerusalem, standing by the cross and burying His body, then we will hear at the Doxasticon for Vespers on Holy Saturday, we’ll hear a confirmation of exactly this point. We’ll sing “Moses the Great mystically prefigured this present day, saying “And God blessed the seventh day, for this is the blessed sabbath, this is the day of rest, on which the only-begotten Son of God rested from all His works. Through the economy of death,” it continues, “He kept the sabbath in the flesh, and returning again through the resurrection He granted us eternal life, for He alone is good and loves mankind,” or more literally, loves anthropos, loves the human being.

With the Passion of Christ, the work of God is complete, and the Lord of creation now rests from His works in the virgin tomb on the blessed sabbath, to be the firstborn of the virgin, the firstborn of the dead, whose bretheren we are called to become.

So the project – the work of God Himself – announced at the beginning, is completed at the end by one who is God and man. For every other aspect of creation, all that was needed was a simple divine fiat – “Let it be” – but for the human being to come into existence requires one amongst us who is able to say “Let it be.”

If this is the case, then we have yet to become human.  And as St. Ignatius testifies so resoundingly, we only and finally do so by following Christ to our own martyria, our own witness, and our confession of Him. Giving our own fiat. So only in the future then, are we finally created, being born into life as a human being.

I have formerly echoed Fr. Stephen Freeman in saying I despair of sainthood, but I’m working on becoming a real human being.  Maybe that’s not such a small thing after all. Maybe it’s even a distinction without a difference.

Tofu Tidbits* 12/9/11

  1. A single point of light.
  2. Science and Faith.
  3. Football and Faith.
  4. Decorating Politics with Slogans.
  5. Hormones and Life Savers.
  6. Civil and mature debate my way, you &#!!%^^!.
  7. Danu
  8. Othello

* Temporarily renamed in honor of the Nativity Fast, about which Mystagogy has some more information.

Continue reading “Tofu Tidbits* 12/9/11”

Sacramental Ontology

Materialism cannot explain the human person, and I suspect that it never will unless an extremely reductionist view of the human person becomes standard issue.

But what if materialism is equally incapable of fully explaining (choose one) matter/nature/creation? What if we need a sacramental ontology of creation?

A sacramental ontology was once assumed by virtually all Christians, says Evangelical Theologian Hans Boersma, both by book and in the current Mars Hill Audio Journal (links you to the site, but audio requires subscription). All things find their reality and identity in the eternal word of God, the Logos who became flesh to reconcile all things.

Much of Western Christianity now shares the assumption that there are barriers between heaven and earth, between the supernatural and the natural, between God and creation. The world, in effect, was independent (once the “watchmaker” had finished and wound it up), worked just fine, and was of no particular, Incarnation-prompting interest to God, until sin messed it up, and that’s why God is sort of interested now. Were it not for sin, God and creation could go their respective ways again.

[Between the writing of the preceding paragraph and its publication, I realized via a podcast (that’s how I multitask on bike rides) that the falsehood that the world is fundamentally independent of God is an echo of the primordial sin, into which the serpent tempted Eve with the the promise that she would be like God — and have no further need of Him.]

Mars Hill’s Ken Myers and Boersma acknowledge that they’re exploring a different, and historic Christian view, as they must since they’re exploring patristic writings and finding the “sacramental ontology” there.

Boersma is part of a movement of Nouvelle Théologie, which like neo-Orthodoxy before it is grasping for something its proponents sense has been lost.

This is a hopeful sign, as is Rob Bell’s questioning, in Love Wins, of whether a Hell to which an angry God consigns people who’ve never uttered the prescribed pieties, is really quite so central as Evangelicalism has “traditionally” held.

Such dabblers or deep diggers into Patristics may some day realize that they’re not discovering something that’s been lost or suppressed in Christianity, but merely discovering something that was lost in the portion of Christendom that drank deeply at Enlightenment wells and thus entered into a sort of thralldom. That’s why there are knowing winks among Orthodox (and probably Catholic) former Evangelicals when they hear that Wheaton College has opened a Patristics center. We know what tends to happen when people get deep in history.

Moliere’s Monsieur Jourdain famously discovered that he had been speaking prose all his life without knowing it. The late Church History titan, Jaroslav Pelikan, entering Holy Orthodoxy in the last decades of his life, acknowledged that (through his deep steeping in Church history) he had been thinking Orthodoxly for decades already.

Is Hans Boersma or Ken Myers next? Has Myers already made the move, but stayed with Mars Hill Audio’s format to serve as a bridge for others?

Meanwhile, I’ve got another book on my wish list, with a Kindle sample downloaded to whet my appetite.

The paradox of the self-denying mind

I jokingly said on FaceBook a few weeks ago that I thought I’d lost my need for certainty over the last decade, but I wasn’t sure. One of the areas which no longer move me to indignation very often is the “Creation/Evolution” controversy.

As if by force of habit, however, I do still read about it when I stumble onto something. I probably have 3-4 unread books in that general area, as well as having read a dozen or more over the years – and a dozen is probably a gross underestimate.

I’m not really competent enough in the hard sciences to rely on primary sources sources, but there are some accounts for intelligent non-scientists that seem to be at a fairly high level. I take them all with a grain of salt, however, as (1) it has become clear that everybody has an ax of some sort to grind – else they wouldn’t be writing about it and (2) one side sounds pretty good until I revisit the other side.

There are Christians whose integrity and intelligence I respect (it is because I respect and read them that I stumble onto articles and books on the controversy as often as I do) who are adamant foes of evolutionary theory and proponents of Intelligent Design. But I don’t share their visceral passion. They may be right and I may be wrong. I was wrong once.  (Thought I was a second time, but I was wrong.)

Here’s my full bona fide, extemporaneous disclosure of what ax I have to grind – I who can go weeks at a time without thinking about the controversy:

  1. “I believe in one God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible.” (Nicene Creed)
  2. I.e., I believe there is an invisible creation, which conventionally is called “supernatural” but is in fact just as created as the visible, “natural” created world. The key distinction is not nature versus supernature, but created versus uncreated. And only the Holy Trinity is Uncreated.
  3. The uncreated Holy Trinity is impenetrable by science or reason generally, but has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ. That’s Himself. Not scientific detail about the past. (And not – cover your eyes, Hal Lindsay and Tim LaHaye – details of earthly life that are yet future.) The Old Testament preeminently reveals Christ typologically; secondarily, it reveals God’s dealings with earthly Israel and its neighbors. If there’s tertiary purpose – and there probably is – it doesn’t come readily to mind.
  4. Although there are Orthodox Christians – including Father Seraphim Rose, who was no intellectual slouch – who adhere to something like a full-throated Creationism® (used as a term of art for creation in 6 days of 24 hours about 6,000 – 10,000 years ago), I do not by any means understand that to be obligatory. My own position, very lightly held except for the preceding points, is generally Intelligent Design rather than Creationist®.
  5. Whatever else you can say about it, the theory of evolution has been scientifically fruitful. So, I’m told, was the theory of alchemy. If you can get the whole Guild on the same page, it tends to make things interesting and productive even if the theory later collapses. So evolutionists have not been dogmatically hanging onto a delusional and unproductive theory just because it reinforces a prior commitment to metaphysical naturalism (though one of their own famously said he’d prefer any natural explanation to any supernatural explanation because of such a prior commitment).
  6. I do not understand Darwin to have said anything about the origins of life – only about The Origin of Species.
  7. I don’t think neo-Darwinism has much more to say about the origins of life than did Darwin – except, perhaps, a few just-so stories.
  8. I believe in what Wesley J. Smith calls “human exceptionalism.” Regardless of the origin of the human species in evolutionary terms, there’s within us a microcosm of the one in whose image we are made.

Believe it or not, that’s all preliminary. The actual occasion of this posting is my discovery (if I’d read it before, I had forgotten) of an essay by polymath George Gilder, titled Evolution and Me. Gilder does not diminish the importance of others’ work in Intelligent Design, but takes his own path away from any materialistic reductionism through Information Theory:

I came to see that the computer offers an insuperable obstacle to Darwinian materialism. In a computer, as information theory shows, the content is manifestly independent of its material substrate. No possible knowledge of the computer’s materials can yield any information whatsoever about the actual content of its computations. In the usual hierarchy of causation, they reflect the software or “source code” used to program the device; and, like the design of the computer itself, the software is contrived by human intelligence.

The failure of purely physical theories to describe or explain information reflects Shannon’s concept of entropy and his measure of “news.” Information is defined by its independence from physical determination: If it is determined, it is predictable and thus by definition not information. Yet Darwinian science seemed to be reducing all nature to material causes.

As I pondered this materialist superstition, it became increasingly clear to me that in all the sciences I studied, information comes first, and regulates the flesh and the world, not the other way around. The pattern seemed to echo some familiar wisdom. Could it be, I asked myself one day in astonishment, that the opening of St. John’s Gospel, In the beginning was the Word, is a central dogma of modern science?

In raising this question I was not affirming a religious stance. At the time it first occurred to me, I was still a mostly secular intellectual. But after some 35 years of writing and study in science and technology, I can now affirm the principle empirically. Salient in virtually every technical field — from quantum theory and molecular biology to computer science and economics — is an increasing concern with the word. It passes by many names: logos, logic, bits, bytes, mathematics, software, knowledge, syntax, semantics, code, plan, program, design, algorithm, as well as the ubiquitous “information.” In every case, the information is independent of its physical embodiment or carrier.

I wont go much beyond that teaser about any details. Gilder speaks for himself, and you’ll find him persuasive or not for yourself.

But I do want to say this: I have difficulty seeing this as a “breakthrough description of the case against Darwinism” (Discovery Institute blurb) in any way that should affect non-scientists like me. Perhaps it really is a breakthrough scientifically (don’t expect to see white flags waving, however), but I’ll relegate that question to the scientists themselves.

For non-scientists like me, Gilder’s argument is cumulative evidence that there’s more going on in humanity, if nowhere else, than that which can be explained materially. The proverbial “bottom line” is kind of old hat:

Materialism generally and Darwinian reductionism, specifically, comprise thoughts that deny thought, and contradict themselves. As British biologist J. B. S. Haldane wrote in 1927, “If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose my beliefs are true . . . and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.” Nobel-laureate biologist Max Max Delbrück (who was trained as a physicist) described the contradiction in an amusing epigram when he said that the neuroscientist’s effort to explain the brain as mere meat or matter “reminds me of nothing so much as Baron Munchausen’s attempt to extract himself from a swamp by pulling on his own hair.”

Analogous to such canonical self-denying sayings as The Cretan says all Cretans are liars, the paradox of the self-denying mind tends to stultify every field of knowledge and art that it touches and threatens to diminish this golden age of technology into a dark age of scientistic reductionism and, following in its trail, artistic and philosophical nihilism.

Anyone who has taken philosophy knows that the “meat machine” is – well, a philosophical possibility. But I can’t live that way. And every word the materialist says to prove materialism to others says that he can’t live that way, either.

As I lose my need for absolute factual certainty, that’s evidence enough for me.