May 4, 2015
“The Protestant Reformation was a major rupture in Western history, rather than some murky transitional era,” according to Yale professor, Carlos Eire. “The great ontological difference between the physical and spiritual realms — upheld by Protestants, especially in the Reformed tradition — drove a wedge between matter and spirit.”
In the following lecture (embedded below) at Gordon College, Professor Eire argues that “in the sixteenth century, something very odd happened, which was that suddenly some Christians started to argue that miracles, such as the ones that are told about in the New Testament, could no longer happen, but in fact that they had ceased to happen when the last apostle died.” That was a theological novum in the history of the church. By contrast, the Roman Catholic world experienced a boom in miraculous accounts, in continuity with the early and medieval church.
Professor Eire wants to extend and modify Max Weber’s thesis that Protestantism desacralized the world, resulting in the secularization of the West. Weber was limited to “magic and superstition.” He did not account for the radical way in which reality was reconceived in theological terms by Protestants, where the divine-world relationship was given an altered metaphysical landscape in contrast to the Christian past. A continuing emphasis in Eire’s academic work is that historians have underestimated the role of theology and belief, in favor of political and social forces (e.g., “class struggle”). He does not discount the latter, of course, but he is taking seriously the theological commitments and their ramifications for social change, which is in fact closer to the self-perception of the major players who were initiating the changes (e.g., Calvin).
Carlos Eire is the Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies at Yale University. He is the author of War Against the Idols: The Reformation of Worship from Erasmus to Calvin (Cambridge University Press, 1989), From Madrid to Purgatory: The Art and Craft of Dying in Sixteenth-Century Spain (Cambridge University Press, 2002), and A Brief History of Eternity (Princeton University Press, 2011). His most popular book is his award-winning memoir, Waiting for Snow in Havana (Free Press, 2003).
The image above, of St. Bernard of Clairvaux receiving milk from the breast of Mary, is referenced by Professor Eire in the lecture. Image source: Taylor Marshall
August 9, 2014
I had to put aside Hans Martensen, due to other obligations. But I am now continuing with his Christian Dogmatics, which has been a joy.
Given the time period (mid 19th century), it is expected that he would treat, early in the volume, the controversies surrounding the supernatural in the doctrine of revelation. He affirms the orthodox position, but he wants to articulate it with greater sensitivity to the doctrine of creation. In my estimation, he does a fine job. The supernatural and miraculous is an anticipation of the new creation, completing and fulfilling nature in a perfect freedom given from above. This involves new “potencies” and “forces” that are discontinuous with nature as we generally experience it and observe it, and it is therefore genuinely miraculous, as in the miracles of Christ.
In the context, he is targeting Spinoza’s monism, which rejects any distinction between the divine and the natural, collapsing the former into the latter. Martensen sees this as the template for the naturalism of his own day, as popularized by David Strauss whom he also targets.
Martensen is arguing for a continuity within discontinuity, between the natural and the supernatural. The telos of creation is manifested through the miraculous, but the natural as such does not lend itself to the new creation bestowed by Christ and the Spirit. Nature is susceptible to the supernatural, capable of being molded by the supernatural, but it does not generate the supernatural. There is a real movement from God to us, from the beyond to the here. But this does not overthrow creation; rather, God is bringing creation to its proper end — the kingdom of God. The “lower forces” of nature, as we experience them now, are temporal and temporary. They give a provisional measure of freedom, but God is enacting genuine freedom in the new creation, inaugurated by Christ.
So long as nature is understood as fixed and eternal — or worse, commensurate with divinity itself — then the miraculous is impossible. It would be incoherent. The miraculous would have to be subjectivized, as in existential freedom (Tillich’s “miracle” of faith), which is the sort of thing that Martensen is wanting to avoid. At least, that is how I read him.
I have also provided an excerpt, later in the book, where he treats the bodily resurrection of Christ in similar terms. Herein, he also faults both Hegel and Schleiermacher.
Here we come to the opposing principles of Supernaturalism on the one side, and Naturalism and Rationalism on the other. If a distinction is to be made between naturalism and rationalism—they being in fact only two sides of one and the same thing, each necessarily leading to the other—the former is referable primarily to the objective, the latter to the subjective, side of existence. Both reject miracles; but naturalism directs its opposition chiefly against the miracle of incarnation, because it recognises no higher laws than those of nature; rationalism directs its main attacks against the miracle of inspiration, because it denies that there is any other and higher source of knowledge than reason. But, although there will always be men who affirm that the notions of nature and revelation, of reason and revelation (the latter taken in the positive, Christian sense of the word), are notions that exclude each other, yet within the Christian Church itself this can never be conceded.
We take first into consideration the issue between Supernaturalism and Naturalism. Here the decision of the question depends upon how the system of law and forces which we call nature, is conceived—whether it be conceived as a system in itself, finally and eternally fixed, or as a system that is passing through a teleological development, a continued creation. In the latter case new potencies, new laws and forces must be conceivable as entering into operation; the preceding stages in the creation preparing the way for them, and prefiguring them, though not the source from which they can be derived. This is the Christian view of nature. In terming itself the new, the second creation, Christianity by no means calls itself a disturbance of nature, but rather the completion of the work of creation; the revelation of Christ and the kingdom of Christ it pronounces the last potency of the work of creation; which power, whether regarded as completing or as redeeming the world, must be conceivable as teleological; operating so as to change and limit the lower forces, in so far as these are in their essential nature not eternal and organically complete, but only temporal and temporary. Hence the point of unity between the natural and the supernatural lies in the teleological design of nature to subserve the kingdom of God, and its consequent susceptibility to, its capacity of being moulded by, the supernatural, creative activity. Nature does not contradict the notion of a creation; and it is in miracles that the dependence of nature on a free Creator becomes perfectly evident. But, while nature does not contradict the notion of a creation, the assumption of a creation is quite as little inconsistent with the notion of nature. For, although the new creation in Christ does do away with the laws of this nature, yet it by no means destroys the notion of nature itself. For the very notion of nature implies, not that it is a hindering restraint to freedom, but rather that it is the organ of freedom. And as the miraculous element in the life of Christ reveals the unity of spirit and of nature, so the revelation of Christ at once anticipates and predicts a new nature, a new heaven, and a new earth, in which a new system of laws will appear; a system which will exhibit the harmony of the laws of nature and of freedom,—a state for which the whole structure of the present creation, with its unappeased strife between spirit and nature, is only a teleological transition period.
[Christian Dogmatics, pp. 19-20]
And here is how Martensen treats the bodily resurrection of Christ, related to the above discourse:
The denial of the miracle of the resurrection is not, therefore, the bare denial of a single historical fact, it is a denial of the entire prophetic aspect of the world which Christianity presents; which finds in the resurrection its beginning in fact. A view of the world which makes the present order of things perpetual, and which considers the eternal to be only a continual present, naturally allows no room for the resurrection of Christ, which is an interruption of the order of this world by the higher order of creation still future; and which is a witness to the reality of a future life; yea, it is even that future life itself in the actual present; the beginning of “the last things,” concerning which the Apostles witness that we who live after the resurrection of the Lord live “in these last times” (1 Peter i.20), and that it now remains for the risen Savior again to manifest Himself to judge both the quick and the death. This, the Christian view of the world, overthrows the mythical interpretation of the resurrection advocated now-a-days, and the biblical criticism resting thereupon. As Hegel omitted this Christian escatology, it was natural that those who followed in the steps of his philosophy would go on to deny the resurrection as something which had no foundation in fact. And when Schleiermacher, though reverence for apostolic testimony prevented his denying the fact of the resurrection, yet could attribute to it no doctrinal significance, nor draw any inference from it; this in like manner arose from the well-known uncertainty and indistinctness of his teaching in relation to future and final realities.
February 7, 2014
This is rich:
The central issue last night was really not the age of the earth or the claims of modern science. The question was not really about the ark or sediment layers or fossils. It was about the central worldview clash of our times, and of any time: the clash between the worldview of the self-declared “reasonable man” and the worldview of the sinner saved by grace.
This is Mohler’s standard line, as I have discussed previously. Nature lies to us. Even the objective field of investigation is distorted, somehow connected to the Flood. But Mohler does not normally spend his energy here. More decisively for him, we cannot trust our sense experience because we are fallen, prone to distort any and every evidence, so that we can use it to subvert the Word of God. Everything is reduced to epistemology — namely, one’s presuppositions about where truth is found. Mohler, the tireless combatant of all things modern and postmodern, is actually a committed disciple of the subjective turn in philosophy, from the 17th century onward.
This actually makes Mohler a more extreme, and more insidious, proponent of Creationism than even Ken Ham. You see, Ham truly believes that the science is in his favor. That’s the main thrust, aside from the moralism, of Answers in Genesis, his ministry. By contrast, Mohler is truly indifferent to what science — including “creation science” — has to say. It does not matter. He’ll support AiG, of course, and the fake science it produces, but he really doesn’t care. The whole debate, not just this week’s Nye/Ham debate, is all about epistemology. This is the “worldview culprit.”
What this means is that evolutionists are not humble enough or Christian enough to recognize their fallen condition and, thereby, their utter dependence upon grace alone and God’s Word alone. If an evolutionist insists upon his fieldwork and peer-tested models, he has supplanted the Word of God for his own autonomous “word.”
Mohler is the truly humble Christian, unwilling to let any other authority assert itself. Mohler is humble enough to recognize his sin and distorted vision. Evolutionists are not.
That, my friends, is Mohler in a nutshell. It should make you angry.
February 5, 2014
Against my better judgment, I decided to watch part of the Nye/Ham debate last night. For the uninitiated, Ken Ham is an influential leader within the Young Earth Creationism (YEC) movement, for decades now. Science and history are selectively determined according to one’s prior commitments, not the objectivities of nature itself. Ham’s YEC is eerily similar to traditional Mormon apologetics and historiography. His opponent, Bill Nye, is the beloved “Science Guy” from our childhood, teaching untold numbers of kids about the excitement and adventure of exploring our world. Nye is not a religious man, but he manages to uphold the intelligibility of creation better than his YEC adversaries.
There are many people who opposed the debate for the simple reason that it gives legitimacy to YEC. There is some truth in that. YEC does not care about science and has no impact whatsoever upon scientific dialog today, so why treat it as a legitimate dialog partner? The answer must be practical — purely practical. If we ignore it, the insularity that fosters these cultic manipulative strategies, and credibility from within, will go unabated. This is not to say that Nye actually changed many YEC minds, but every little bit helps. (I surely speak for many other evangelical students on this.) I have some, perhaps small, hope that last night’s debate may have actually opened, however little, the door for some evangelicals — especially college students — who are struggling mightily for their faith, in an unnecessary struggle wherein cultural idols have merged with the gospel.
From the bit I observed of the debate, I was pleasantly surprised by Nye’s cogency and demeanor. YEC apologists have deftly honed their “skills” over decades of mastering misdirection and red herrings, so I was not sure if Nye would be prepared. If Tyler Francke’s review of the debate is accurate, as I have no reason to doubt, then Nye was prepared and handled himself well throughout the debate. This is a win for sense experience! I am not a Thomist, but we all need a little Aristotle.
Tyler’s description of Ham is a nice summary: “His presentation was childish and moralistic….” Ham’s success has little, if anything, to do with his “science.” Rather, he appeals to the moral and cultural values of his audience, manipulating their emotions in the process.
Image: “Einstein” by Rob Gonsalves
January 29, 2014
Taking a break from theology and philosophy, I read a history of accounting! Yes. The book is Jane Gleeson-White’s Double Entry: How the Merchants of Venice Created Modern Finance (Norton, 2012). It is the story of how Venetian bookkeeping — “double entry” wherein every transaction is entered twice in separate columns, debit and credit — revolutionized the world. The natural order became controllable and less mysterious, such that nature could be quantified and calculated. The concept of “capital” was born, though not theorized until the late 19th century.
The book is really twofold. The first section, about 2/3 of the book, is a recounting of the history of “double entry,” including the necessity of Arabic numerals and the gradual de-mystification of mathematics. The industrial revolution of the 19th century is when “double entry” would come into its own, resulting in the explosive growth of the newest trade, “accounting,” which fought hard to justify its respectability alongside law and business. The final portion of the book is a fairly swift transition to the financial scandals of the 20th century and, especially, the first decade of this century. It is here that her Keynesian side is most pronounced, irksome to many reviewers. I appreciate both the strong points of Keynes and his opposition at the University of Chicago, so I was not bothered. I rather enjoyed her passionate defense of federal regulation. Her main thesis is that far too much that is valuable to humans — the environment is the main example — is not “quantified” and thereby “valued” by all of the measures for a nation’s well-being and success (such as the GDP). This is especially problematic for developing countries where vast natural resources are not measured and, as a result, do not account for the country’s value in the global market, until these resources become commodified. This thesis is set alongside a parallel thesis, tangentially related, about the manipulation of financial records by accounting firms (and auditors), with hardly any “accountability” of their own because accounting is treated as purely objective (“scientific”) and above reproach. This will be the most compelling to a broad range of readers.
You can watch a presentation of the book: “Monks, Maths, and Magic.”
November 20, 2013
I cannot adequately express how much I loved Mark Noll’s response to John Piper in the following video (HT: Justin Taylor). Piper is challenging Noll’s claim that Young Earth Creationism is “suicidal.” Piper affirms that the “two books” — Bible and nature — are in perfect harmony when interpreted in ways that are proper to their own respective spheres (“coming and seeing” in each case). Yet, he is not sure how that principle excludes Young Earth Creationism today! Umm, yeah. I have transcribed Noll’s response (beginning at the 47-minute mark):
I think that Young Earth is suicidal because the “coming and seeing” that has led the scientific establishment — to believe in an old universe for example — has not been quick, has not been for many people aimed in any way at taking away from the goodness and glory of God, has been reaffirmed by people in many cultures, through many experiments, through many different varieties of coming and seeing.
Now, there is a factor of reliance upon testimony, which has actually been written of quite well in the history of science. If you ask me to explain why looking at what physicists do or what molecular biologists do can justify talking about a long earth, I can’t do it. But I’ve talked to people who have trained, disciplined their seeing, checked their seeing by many other people, believers and nonbelievers, and shown why following what they have seen need not be destructive to Christian faith. They are persuasive to me.
On the opposite side, I have read, and have been reading since I was 9 years old, Creation Science literature which does almost none of those things. It’s very few people seeing. It’s not disciplined seeing. It’s not well-trained seeing. It’s not careful construction of what has been seen.
He then notes the difficulty of the question of human origins, exhorting theologians and pastors to take the matter seriously. Here is the video:
This is the Q&A that followed a lecture presentation by Noll. I commend Piper for recognizing, earlier in the Q&A, that his ministry has neglected the wider world of knowledge, failing to encourage students to pursue these fields of scientific research. He recognizes his culpability in this respect. Yet, he fails to recognize that it is precisely his highly restrictive view of biblical inerrancy — cloaked in pious expressions about “magnifying” God with a “high view” of the Bible — which is the problem. As such, it is not at all surprising that Piper and his followers are myopically focused on biblical exposition, with little care or interest in other intellectual pursuits. Piper’s view of nature study is dreamy and romantic.
February 25, 2013
[UPDATE: I have added an addendum at the end.]
It is refreshing to read a scientist’s perspective on the evolution/creationism debate: An Insider’s View of the Academy (ht: Vincent Torley). The author is James Tour, the Chao Professor of Chemistry at Rice University.
Tour is questioning the scientific academy’s confidence in macro-evolution. To be clear, this is not an apologia for either the Intelligent Design community, much less the Young Earth Creationism folks. He expressly rejects both. Rather, it is an honest assessment of the academy’s willingness to recognize certain weaknesses in the evolutionary theory. Here is a snippet:
Although most scientists leave few stones unturned in their quest to discern mechanisms before wholeheartedly accepting them, when it comes to the often gross extrapolations between observations and conclusions on macroevolution, scientists, it seems to me, permit unhealthy leeway.
…It is not a matter of politics. I simply do not understand, chemically, how macroevolution could have happened. Hence, am I not free to join the ranks of the skeptical and to sign such a statement without reprisals from those that disagree with me? Furthermore, when I, a non-conformist, ask proponents for clarification, they get flustered in public and confessional in private wherein they sheepishly confess that they really don’t understand either. Well, that is all I am saying: I do not understand.
He goes on to offer warnings to his younger colleagues and students who share his concerns about the integrity of the scientific academy on matters pertaining to macro-evolution. This unwillingness to challenge the mechanics of macro-evolution is, it seems to me, a mirror image of the fear and protectionism in certain segments of evangelicalism. There are strengths, to be sure, in the overall evolutionary paradigm, namely the evidence for an old earth. Yet, the mechanics of the evolution itself between species, and especially the emergence of life, is notably weaker. John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics at Oxford, touches upon this in his excellent (and highly accessible) book, Seven Days that Divide the World. With scientists like Tour and Lennox, the dialogue between science and theology can be far healthier than is found, especially at certain seminaries. It will also bolster the credibility (both scientific and theological) of those of us who refuse to be pushed into either the strict Darwinian Evolution camp or the Young Earth camp.
Addendum — Just to be clear, I am not offering this as any sort of proof against macro-evolution or against the viability of a theistic evolutionary framework. Much less would I argue for a “God of the gaps,” which is the danger of offering these sort of questions about macro-evolution. In the spectrum from YEC to Theistic Evolution, I have always leaned heavily toward the latter but not uncritically, and I find the mediating positions to be fascinating (OEC and Progressive Creationism). As a theology student and seminarian, I just want to see a more productive dialogue between evangelicals and the scientific establishment. I’ve criticized the former several times on this blog (e.g., here and here and here); now I am offering a criticism of the latter.
May 17, 2012
In light of Sarah Coakley’s recent Gifford Lectures, I’ve been reflecting once again on the proper way to formulate the relation between natural and revealed theology. In particular, I am rather committed to Barth’s project of subsisting the doctrine of creation within the doctrine of the covenant (which is to say, within the doctrine of God). Thus, as Barth formulates this in the beginning of his doctrine of creation (CD III.1), creation is the external basis of the covenant, and the covenant is the internal basis of creation.
This means that there is such a thing as a natural theology, just not the sort that dominated either classical Christian theism or Protestant liberalism. The importance of this (and the importance of CD III) is that we are able to move beyond a merely existential theologia crucis that overly emphasizes the eschatological side of the creation-redemption dialectic.
Moreover, in regard to the concerns of Professor Coakley, this means that theology can give proper attention to creation as it presents itself to us (and to scientists). The natural world is a legitimate material field for theological formulations. Revealed theology provides the structure in which natural theology is given the right terms and conditions for its advancement, and (in turn) natural theology provides the material for those terms. There is a correlation in this reciprocity between revealed and natural theology, not a crude accommodation of one to the other. T. F. Torrance aptly expresses this correlation for how “we must advance through and beyond Barth” (not against Barth):
If we are to take as seriously as Barth himself did the relation between the incarnation and the creation in God’s creative and redemptive interaction with the world, then a closer relation must be established between natural theology and revealed theology. Karl Barth rightly attacked traditional natural theology as constituting an independent conceptual system on its own, and therefore as constituting the prior and prescriptive framework within which revealed theology could only be distorted and misinterpreted. He attacked it on a double ground:
(1) from the actual content of positive knowledge of God which called in question prescriptive forms derived from ground on which actual knowledge of God did not arise — the effect of that he held, was to split the concept of God into two, evidenced by the sharp division in mediaeval theology between the tractate on the one God and the tractate on the triune God;
(2) and also from the side of rigorous scientific method which will not allow such a bifurcation between prior epistemological structure and empirical content.
But for these same reasons, which presuppose a rejection of deistic and epistemological dualism, the theoretic and empirical components of our knowledge of God in and through the space-time structures of the creation must be brought together. There is a close parallel here to the advance of physics in its relation to geometry, as Einstein has expounded it. Euclidean geometry was pursued as an independent theoretic system, antecedent to physics, but that has proved an idealisation which falsifies our understanding of the real world when applied to it. But with the discovery of the four-dimensional geometries of space and time, geometry is brought into the heart of physics and pursued in indissoluble union with it. There it becomes, as Einstein said, a kind of natural science, for its structure changes, but it remains geometry and constituted in that organic relation with physics its epistemological structure. Similarly, I would argue, natural theology must be brought within the heart of positive theology, where of course its structure will change, for then physical statements and theological statement will be intimately correlated. This means that positive theology will change also, for it will have to be pursued in indissoluble relation with the space-time structures of the creation, which in a different way are explored by natural science.
[Thomas F. Torrance, “Newton, Einstein, and Scientific Theology,” in Transformation & Convergence in the Frame of Knowledge (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1998), 281-282.]
May 16, 2012
I happily discovered today that Aberdeen has posted the video for Sarah Coakley’s Gifford Lectures. They are immensely stimulating, as usual with Professor Coakley. Here are the links:
If you would like to download the videos, keepvid.com is an easy way to do so.