Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Let's ask the Catholic about science

Roman Catholic theologian John Haught, Landegger Distinguished Professor of Theology at Georgetown University, was interviewed by journalist Steve Paulson in the Salon article "The atheist delusion," on December 19, 2007. Though Haught is a follower of the late Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, deeply influenced by Paul Tillich, and, subsequently, a classic liberal when it comes to, say, the historicity of the physical resurrection, I found many of his comments quite helpful. Therefore, in the spirit of previous copyright infringements, I intend to copy from it liberally. Bold questions are Paulson.


On the Relationship Between Science and Religion


John Haught is quite plain that he finds Steven Jay Gould's idea of a "non-overlapping magisteria"--that science covers the empirical realm of facts and theories about the universe, while religion deals with ultimate meaning and moral value--too simplistic. Gould, he says "defines religion as simply concerning values and meaning. He implicitly denies that religion can put us in touch with truth." Paulson adds that the entire split "seems too easy, a politically expedient ploy to pacify both scientists and mainstream Christians."


By truth, are you talking about reality?


Yes, I'm talking about what is real, or what has being. The traditions of religion and philosophy have always maintained that the most important dimensions of reality are going to be least accessible to scientific control. There's going to be something fuzzy and elusive about them. The only way we can talk about them is through symbolic and metaphoric language -- in other words, the language of religion. Traditionally, we never apologized for the fact that we used fuzzy language to refer to the real because the deepest aspect of reality grasps us more than we grasp it. So we can never get our minds around it.


We can't get our minds around this transcendent reality because we're limited by our language and our brains?


We have to refer to it in the oblique and fuzzy but also the luxuriant and rich language of symbol and metaphor. But I still think we have the obligation today of asking how our new scientific understanding of the world fits into that religious discourse. I don't accept Gould's complete separation of science and faith. Theology is faith seeking understanding. We have every right to ask what God is doing by making this universe in such a slow way, by allowing life to come about in the evolutionary manner in which Darwinian biology has very richly set forth. So science cannot be divorced from faith. However, I think most people do resort to this non-overlapping magisteria as the default position. It's an easy approach. It allows you to put all your ducks in a row. But it avoids the really interesting and perhaps dangerous issue of how to think about God after Darwin.


In my view, after Darwin, after Einstein--just as after Galileo and Copernicus--we can't have the same theological ideas about God as we did before. My view is that theology, instead of ignoring or closing its eyes to [Darwin's thought], should look it squarely in the face. It has everything to gain and nothing to lose by doing so. In my view, Darwin's thought is a gift to theology because it goads modern theologians to clarify their thinking [and, says Paulson, reject "outdated arguments about God as an intrusive designer."]


[Richard] Dawkins argues that a lot of claims made on behalf of God -- about how God created the world and interacts with people -- are ultimately questions about nature. Unless you say God has nothing to do with nature, those become scientific questions.


Well, I approach these issues by making a case for what I call "layered explanation." For example, if a pot of tea is boiling on the stove, and someone asks you why it's boiling, one answer is to say it's boiling because H2O molecules are moving around excitedly, making a transition from the liquid state to the gaseous state. And that's a very good answer. But you could also say it's boiling because my wife turned the gas on. Or you could say it's boiling because I want tea. Here you have three levels of explanation which are approaching phenomena from different points of view. This is how I see the relationship of theology to science.


Of course I think theology is relevant to discussing the question, what is nature? What is the world? It would talk about it in terms of being a gift from the Creator, and having a promise built into it for the future. Science should not touch upon that level of understanding. But it doesn't contradict what evolutionary biology and the other sciences are telling us about nature. They're just different levels of understanding. Suppose you asked me, why am I thinking right now? I could say, my neurons are firing, the synapses are connecting, the lobes of my brain are activated. And you could spend your whole career, as neuroscientists do, unfolding that level of understanding. But I could also say I'm thinking because I have a desire to know. I want to figure things out. That's an explanation that can't be mapped onto the first because a dimension of subjectivity enters in here. You cannot find it by the objectifying method of neuroscience.


So science as it's now practiced has nothing to say about subjective experience, about what happens in our minds?


I think science, especially neuroscience, does a very good job of saying what has to be working cerebrally and in our nervous systems in order for consciousness to be present. And it can also do a very good job of pointing out what has broken down physically and chemically if my brain is failing to function -- for example, in Alzheimer's. But it doesn't have the complete explanation. Many cognitive scientists and brain scientists are saying the same thing. They're almost in despair at times about whether we'll ever be able to jump from the third-person discourse of science to the first-person discourse of subjective consciousness.


Let me try to pin you down a little more. You're saying the scientific method has only so much explanatory power. At least right now, it has very little to say about subjective experience. That still leaves open the question, is the mind more than the brain? Or does consciousness always have some physical correlate?


Don't get me wrong. I want to push physical explanations as far as possible. I'm a man who loves science. I'm in awe of science. I don't ever want theology to put restraints upon science. I believe every thought we have has a physical correlate. But at the same time, I believe there's something about mind that does transcend, while at the same time fully dwelling incarnately in the physical universe. I see that as a microcosmic example of what's going on in the universe as a whole. So I want a worldview that's wide enough to ask the question, why does the universe not stand still? Once radiation came about early in the universe, why didn't the universe say, "Well, we're just fine here. This is a pretty good universe." Instead, there's a restlessness, a tendency of the cosmos to go beyond itself.


We experience this in ourselves. We're just as much a part of the universe as rivers and rocks are. Therefore, we should use what's going on in our own experience as a key to what's happening in the cosmos as a whole. I call this a "wider empiricism." Most modern science has acted as though subjectivity and consciousness are not part of the natural world. It doesn't reflect adequately on why subjectivity enters the universe at all. Why does the universe transcend itself from purely material to living and then to conscious phenomena? Teilhard himself said that what science left out was nature's most important development--human phenomena.


Earlier, you said cosmic purpose is a question that lies outside of science. But it sounds like you're bringing it into science. If you want to look for purpose -- whether it's in evolution or the larger universe -- you'll find it in this inexorable drive toward greater complexity.


We have to distinguish between science as a method and what science produces in the way of discovery. As a method, science does not ask questions of purpose. But it's something different to look at the cumulative results of scientific thought and technology. From a theological point of view, that's a part of the world that we have to integrate into our religious visions. That set of discoveries is not at all suggestive of a purposeless universe. Just the opposite. And what is the purpose? The purpose seems to be, from the very beginning, the intensification of consciousness. If you understand purpose as actualizing something that's unquestionably good, then consciousness certainly fits. It's cynical of scientists to say, off-handedly, there's obviously no purpose in the universe. If purpose means realizing a value, consciousness is a value that none of us can deny.


Haught on ID


Ironically, ID advocates share with their ideological enemies, the evolutionary materalists, the assumption that science itself can provide uultimate explanations. Advocates of intelligent design are really proposing a kind of watered-down version of natural theology. That's the attempt to explain what's going on in nature's order and design by appealing to a nonnatural source. So it's not science. It's not a valid scientific alternative to Darwinian ideas. It's also extremely poor theology. What intelligent design tries to do--and the great theologians have always resisted this idea--is to place the divine, the Creator, within the continuum of natural causes. And this amounts to an extreme demotion of the transcendence of God, by making God just one cause in a series of natural causes.


This becomes the "God of the gaps." When you can't explain something by science, you say God did it.


Paul Tillich, the great Protestant theologian, said that kind of thinking was the foundation of modern atheism. Careless Christian thinkers wanted to make a place for God within the physical system that Newton and others had elaborated. That, in effect, demoted the deity as being just one link in a chain of causes that brought the transcendent into the realm of complete secular immanence. The atheists quite rightly said this God is unnecessary.


Haught on the Creedal Commitment of Science


[In response to naturalism's demand for proof of the existence of God:] The hidden assumption behind such a statement is often that faith is belief without evidence. Therefore, since there's no scientific evidence for the divine, we should not believe in God. But that statement itself -- that evidence is necessary -- holds a further hidden premise that all evidence worth examining has to be scientific evidence. And beneath that assumption, there's the deeper worldview -- it's a kind of dogma -- that science is the only reliable way to truth. But that itself is a faith statement. It's a deep faith commitment because there's no way you can set up a series of scientific experiments to prove that science is the only reliable guide to truth. It's a creed. The idea that science alone can lead us to truth is questionable. There's no scientific proof for that. Those are commitments that I would place in the category of faith. So the proposal by the new atheists that we should eliminate faith in all its forms would also apply to scientific naturalism. But they don't want to go that far. So there's a self-contradiction there.


Haught on the Confession that Ultimate Reality is Personal


God (ultimate reality) is personal, meaning he is intelligent and capable of love and making promises. Theologically speaking, personality is a symbol, like everything else in religion. Like all symbols, "personality" doesn't adequately capture the full depth of ultimate reality. But the conviction of the Abrahamic religions is that if ultimate reality were not at least personal--at least capable of everything that humans are capable of--then we could not surrender ourselves fully to it. It would be an "it" rather than a "thou" and therefore would not reach us in the depth of our being. It's when you come to the belief in a personal God that the question of science and religion becomes most acute.


Einstein is certainly relevant in this context. He called himself a "deeply religious nonbeliever." He talked about having genuine religious feelings when he marveled at the inherent order and harmony in the universe. But he thought the idea of a personal God was preposterous. He couldn't believe in a God who interfered with natural events or intervened in the lives of people.


Let's look at why Einstein found that idea of God objectionable. Einstein was a man who thought the laws of physics have to be completely inviolable. Nature is a closed continuum of deterministic causes and effects, and if anything interrupted that, it would violate the fundamental scientific worldview that he had. So the idea of a responsive God--a God who answers prayers--would have to violate the laws of physics, the laws of nature. This is why Einstein said the problem of science and religion is caused by the belief in a personal God. But it's not inevitable that a responsive God violates the laws of physics and chemistry. I don't think God does violate those laws.


I would think the biggest challenge that evolutionary theory poses to most religions is the sense that there's no inherent meaning in the world. If you look at the process of natural selection -- this apparently random series of genetic mutations -- it would seem that there's no place for ultimate purpose. Human beings may just be an evolutionary accident.


Yes, in the new scientific understanding of the universe, there are no sharp breaks between lifeless matter and life, between life and mind. It seems to many people that the new evolutionary picture places everything in the context of a meaningless smudge of stuff, of atoms reshuffling themselves over the course of time. The traditional view was that nature emanates from on high, so that when you get down to matter, you have the least important level. Above that there's life and mind and God. But in the new cosmography, it seems that mindless matter dominates the whole picture. And many scientists, like Dawkins and Gould, have said evolution has destroyed the notion of purpose. So one thing I do in my theology is to say that's not necessarily true.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Tweaking methodological naturalism

C Michael Patton on Parchment and Pen has an excellent post going about faith and science, and more particularly on methodological naturalism, which Patton defines as "a method of 'doing' science that does not assume the presence of supernatural phenomenon." Patton goes on to outline how the assumpution of methodological naturalism does not make an atheist of every scientist. Rather, it means that science as a discipline must frame its subject of study, and that the most helpful way of doing so is to bracket the supernatural. Science must, by definition, choose its instruments with a view toward that which is examined--in this case, the material world. Patton provides the example of a doctor who is asked to diagnose a man suffering from chest pain. "The doctor," he writes

does not attribute this chest pain to demon possession even though his worldview may allow for such. He or she must proceed by attempting to understand the ailment naturalistically. This does not mean the doctor does not believe in demon possession, it means that he is under obligation by his field of study to try to understand the problem without regards to the supernatural.

Patton goes on to link methodological naturalism with the historical/critical hermeneutic, which is a connection worth exploring.

In addition, comments to Pattons blog post also prove developmentally interesting. Beginning with a bit of trivia, they point out that the term "methodological naturalism" was coined by evangelical philosopher Paul DeVries at Wheaton College. They are quick to point out that methodological naturalism doesn't have to bracket God, but, instead, presupposes his general providence. As one commentator says, "God’s general providence indeed results in a creation that is extraordinarily consistent (i.e., God is not capricious) and this enables science to work." This is an important clarification because a purely philosophical naturalism has no way of explaining why the material world is subject to discovery. As Einstin said, "The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible."

Dennis Overbye in his article "Laws of Nature, Source Unknown" in the December 18, 2007, edition of the New York Times explores this very thing. Overbye cites the negative reaction Arizona State University cosmologist Paul Davies received when, in a NYT op-ed, he said that the scientific method presumes faith in an orderly universe. Overbye notes that "there is a kind of chicken-and-egg problem with the universe and its laws. Which 'came' first--the laws or the universe?" In a tradition goes back to Augustine, the orderly lawfulness of the universe was attributed to the general providence of God. But according to Davis, "God got killed off [in the seventeenth century], and the laws just free-floated in a conceptual vacuum but retained their theological properties." Scientists have since kneeled at many fonts looking to justify their faith. Some have become platonists and hurled the laws of the universe into the higher realm of the forms, meaning pure mathematics. Some, responding to the deep randomness of the quantum universe, state the the laws are deep generalities, which will continue to evolve. And some believe that the laws have emerged naturally from primordial chaos in which millions of universes are born and die unknown to each other, each with its own set of physical laws. But, as Overbye says, "The law of no law . . . is still a law." So, in the end scientists are the ones who are "playing their cards as if they can win, as if the universe is indeed comprehensible."

Another qualifier to methodological naturalism is its tendency toward reductionism, limiting the boundary of what is real to the measurable dimensions of res extensa and res cogitans. Dave Sims is the one who makes this comment, and it is so good that I'm just going to reproduce it:

If one assumes reality is reducible to material and efficient causes, it will be impossible to have a discussion about whole or purposeful substances with a scientist, at least where one assumes that the authority of science, so defined, is conterminous with theology. Any kind of detente with MN results in a very one-sided conversation where science always has the upper hand, and the sorts of theology that can engage the conversation are a very truncated group from the beginning. . . . The Christian community needs to be willing to re-examine the metaphysics of Bacon, Descartes, Gallileo, and others who left us with a rationalist/dualist science, and see if we can’t reform Aristotelian science without lopping Aristotle/Thomas’s heads off by ruling out formal and final causes by fiat. Until we can do that, any talk about integration and cooperation with Baconian science (MN) is doomed both philosophically and politically.

Sims puts a qualifier on scientific claims to dictate the borders of what is true. What is true, he says, encompasses a wider field that straightforward methodological naturalism allows. Science needs to adjust its assumptions: enlarging its epitstemological possibilities without distorting what already exists. "There are plenty of alternate metaphysical approaches," writes Sims.

Husserl, Whitehead, Bergson, and even Heidegger in his essay The Question Concerning Technology give good examples of how to approach a critique of Cartesian/Baconian science philosohopically. Hans Jonas’s Phenomenon of Life should also be looked at carefully as a template of how to construct a robust critique of contemporary science.

As Vance, another commentator writes, "much of the problem lies in the fact that we have adopted the Modernistic conclusion that science is the search for the ultimate answers, rather than viewing science for the limited scope in inquiry that it is: the search for the best existing natural answers." Vance goes to on to say that "Science should be viewed as just one source of information in our search for ultimate truth. And while [Christians] believe that this larger search should include the supernatural, we should not force this area of inquiry into 'the study of how the natural works naturally,' which is science."

I can see the point that Sims and Vance are making, but they should also ask whether their own (easy) critique of science in general and methodological naturalism in particular doesn't hide the secret desire to re-enchant the universe. "Priests," wrote Thomas Jefferson, "dread the advance of science as witches do the approach of daylight."

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

The universe in twain

It is my opinion that fundamentalists (and I’m using this term to mean conservative Christians in the first few decades of the twentieth century, the fathers and mothers of today’s North American evangelical movement), in the face of science’s Newtonian triumphalism and the liberalizing effect of compromises made by academics on the continent and in the more prestigious seminaries of the U.S., intellectually hobbled themselves and their children. By furiously barricading every door and window to dialogue with science, and by shutting themselves away from methodologies that too closely approached the method of Bacon and Galileo, they severed the cord of authority which secured them a voice in the public square. In time, they became a cultural museum.

Their children, the evangelicals, have tried desperately to return from the desert monasteries. And they succeeded in many cases—some may even say far too well where Smith’s free market and its corresponding political process are concerned. Ideologically, however, they have never known what to do with science. The result is a hundred years of catching up to do before conservative protestants in the West, at least (and perhaps their missiologically born descendents in the Southern Hemisphere), can credibly and intelligibly speak to the Western world.

This is evidentially real to me as I clumsily begin trying to live in a world where the Bible and science exist. It is a bifurcated world where the split is sometimes visible sometimes not; a double world in which truth goes by many names by no fault of its own. If I hold a mirror to my face you will see two of me, but not because there are two.

Attempts are being made to bridge the chasm. Postmodernity may even have succeeded in places. But the grammatical universes are still so far apart that, even where they reach a sympathetic parallel, one wonders whether these two seekers will ever touch. Christians are dogmatically right to courageously call out to the perplexed, “Fear not, we are one.” But the above-mentioned are a hundred years or more away from saying how.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Karl Jaspers on creation

Reading through a collection of essays by the mid-twentieth-century existential philosopher Karl Jaspers, I happened upon one entitled, "The Creation of the World." And though Jaspers was not a Christian, and certainly not a biblical theologian or historian, there is a great deal to be admired in it. Like his contemporary, Martin Heidegger, Jaspers affirms that human knowledge can be nothing but subjective. "The world in its entirety cannot become an object," because we aren't outside of it, but in it. "Fundamental, objectless cognition not only transcends all definite knowledge but defies knowledge." And because we arrive fully submerged in its current and remain so, objective knowledge is ontologically beyond us--even where mathematics is concerned: "Wherever deducations exceed the realm of possible experience and the results will not be subject to experience, either, we are about to delude ourselves. Constructions of mathematical possibilities are as speculative and deceptive as the old, conceptual ones of metaphysics, and equally tempting." But here is where Jasper's discussion of creation gets interesting.

Real knowledge, that is objective knowledge, of what exactly we mean by the word "creation" is impossible to us, he says. If we cannot achieve objectivity about the world we live in, how then can we expect to swallow the origin of this world? So, then, creation

is unimaginable, not to be visualized by any analogy in the world. It is not even a temporal process any more, since time itself has only been created along with everything else. The creation of the world is exempted from temporality, which is part of the world.

And what if we could swallow it? Then, he says, we would cease to be human beings, for "we would no longer be living in the possibilities of our situation; we would command a view of it, would have control over it, and would thus have terminated it. Everything would be manifest. Knowing our beginnings, we would be at the end of our humanity." In fully grasping it, we would step outside of creation into--what? And even if we could fully grasp it, would we grasp an answer to how we come to think and to know? Scientific knowledge--that is an arrived knowledge of the world through testable method--doesn't tell us that.

At this, Jaspers zeroes in on freedom, because freedom is the human way of being in the world. Human beings are fundamentally "en route to realization." We are explorers, forever pushing at the boundaries and possibilites built--thank God--into the very framework of our limited ontologies. "In the awareness of our freedom, which is incomprehensible in terms of the world, we transcend the incomplete world we can know." That is humanity. "As animated bodies we are part of Creation, but our freedom comes directly from God. Thus, while being in the world, we are also from elsewhere. We find ourselves in the world, and yet we are not of this world alone." That is humanity. "We live in time--that is to say, we are never finished; we are only searching and striving. We never know what eternity is, nor what is eternal in us and in our doings, but it comes to be present in ciphers, in parables, in reflections--for example, in the cipher of the idea of Creation." Yes, that is it exactly.

Creation is both beyond us and alien to us, and yet for us, for it insures our very being toward the future. Theologically, we read that creation insures our very being toward God's eschatological culmination of all things.

The idea of God's creation of the world will be a symbol, then, not a matter of knowledge. It is in the abyss revealed by the idea of Creation that we, along with all our mundane knowledge and activities, are engulfed and sheltered at the same time. . . . The idea of Creation stirs us by the very fact that it does not permit us to know. It points to depths in which, at the same time, it hides our origin. [And so] in all our human possibilities it remains essential to illuminate, not to conceal, the mystery that a world exists, and that we are in it. [And] if we are in the world from elsewhere, our mission in the world transcends the world.

So, finally, Jaspers leaves this challenge to those who would disagree with him. "Thinking through it," he says, "will serve to illuminate the absence of knowledge from it." And so he writes:

The symbol [creation] serves to support and to reassure us by the very fact of consciously uttering paradoxes. We say, "God created time"--but the word "created" describes a temporal process, contradicting the meaning of the sentence. We say, "God made the world out of nothing"--and we operate with the word "nothing" as if it were something, again contradicting the meaning of the sentence. What is conceived in the symbolic idea of Creation is not a process we might observe, not even as a figment of our imagination. What it means cannot be adequately meant by us, for it transcends our faculties of imagining and thinking. . . . Its unveiling would either be the delusion of a pseudo-knowledge, causing us to neglect what we can do, or it would be truth--and then it would mean our transformation into other beings that we humans are.

In the reorganization of my own understanding of creation and in the beginnings of an exploration of the disparate worlds of religion and science, I find Jaspers' ideas penetrating and reasonable. And though I am not yet sure what to do with the book of Genesis, nor how the fact of its deeply theological and symbolic nature overturns (or, what is more likely, deepens and expands) safe hermeneutical categories of genre, I believe it is not altogether stupid to propose a hypothesis.

It is my feeling that placing the cosmogenic sections in the early chapters of Genesis more firmly into their Ancient Near Eastern setting will reveal them to be not a "scientific" explanation, but a thorough going theological critique of the cosmogenic cosmologies and mythologies of the nations by firm assertion of the first commandment, and by critique I mean the simultaneously dual nature of judgment, which is to damn and to save.

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Friday, September 07, 2007

dug up from 5 Dec. 01

Going through some old files tonight, I came across this personal note from early December, 2001. Reading it now, it seems like good grist for the mill (meaning, good for blogging.)

This morning, while reading the preface to Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, I hit upon the idea for a new form of communicating theology. This form employs a style analogous to Wittgenstein's remarks, in that it is composed of short paragraphs. These follow one another in a long chain clustered around the same subject. The chain can also be broken by a sudden leap from one topic to another.

My intuition says that this form would respect the apophatic nature of Christian spirituality. It would suggest that Christianity is not simply a religion of texts but also of prayer, which exists outside definition. Its patron saint is the German mystic and priest [name illegible], and the various form of table talk popular since Luther. A helpful metaphor is also a scrapbook. When viewing a scrapbook, there is a sense of story, of movement, of life, but there are no pretentions about capturing the entire dimensionality of that life itself. Rather, the life is attested to by photographs. People sharing the experience of viewing the scrapbook together tell stories and reminisce, making connections between people and events in the past and present. Indeed, the best photos draw these connections from the viewer. Like loosely formed poetic images, imposed and creative meanings are welcome. The hope is that by stimulating dialogue, the remarks become a vehicle for theological impulses. They are midwives for theological contemplation.

I wonder if even the construction of these remarks is not done in a different way than is university theology today. University theology is thesis, body, conclusion held together by argument and adorned with bibliography and footnote.

This style, avoiding such ornaments, would be minimalist. The writer wants to only provide enough--and no more--to evoke and stimulate the reader. Footnotes and citations are too intrustive. They restrict interpretive power to the past.

This is not to say that this form is the only method for theology. For most types of theological argumentation, it doesn't work--but it may work for some.

I propose a system of doctrinal remarks stretching to no more than thirty pages.

[This proposal reminds me very much of remarks made in my post on Emile Cioran's use of aphorism.]

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Evolution, providence, and the political

Again, I'm going to go against copyright for a little while and reproduce a large chunk of a really fascinating review article by James Krueger in The Notre Dame Philosophical Review. Krueger is reviewing the book, Living with Darwin: Evolution, Design, and the Future of Faith (Oxford University Press, 2007) by Philip Kitcher.

"Kitcher argues that the reason so many find evolutionary theory so disturbing is that it truly is incompatible with a certain kind of religion, what he calls providentialist religion, which involves "belief that the universe has been created by a Being who has a great design, a Being who cares for his creatures, who observes the fall of every sparrow and who is especially concerned with humanity" (122-123). Evolution presents two problems for such religious views. First, it makes suffering an essential part of the world. It forces us to suppose that "a providential Creator . . . has constructed a shaggy-dog story, a history of life that consists of a three-billion-year curtain raiser to the main event, in which millions of sentient beings suffer, often acutely, and that the suffering is not a by-product but constitutive of the script the Creator has chosen to write" (124). Second, all providentialist religions accept certain truths about the supernatural (for example, asserting the existence of some god). Such claims, the argument goes, are simply not subject to rational evaluation and as such there can be no reason to prefer one supernaturalist story to another. Thus the basis for accepting any particular religion disappears. Kitcher contends that these kinds of arguments are at the heart of the enlightenment critique of religion, a broader set of arguments that the debate over evolution must be situated within, and that this critique is devastating for providentialist religions.


. . . .

"It does seem apparent that no amount of scientific response will silence creationist challenges, suggesting that the mistake that drives such arguments must be found elsewhere than in the scientific detail. Here, however, is where Kitcher's approach ultimately becomes counterproductive, for like other contemporary critics of religion, he is unable to take seriously that (providentialist) religious faith could be compatible with rational discourse, that religious believers could have reasons for what they believe. All it could possibly be is a way of satisfying some deep psychological need. If the enlightenment critique of religion is correct, then there can be no rational dialogue about the supernatural, all there can be is unthinking commitment to certain truths. If that is all that is available, then religious claims must be excluded from public debate, they cannot serve as the basis for defending commitments within the context of modern democratic societies (if such debates are supposed to proceed according to reason). In this sense, modern creationists can be understood not as failing to learn the lesson of the enlightenment critique, but of learning it all too well. Accepting the absolute division of rationality and faith, the route to assuring space for religious belief becomes making all beliefs essentially based on simple commitment, not rational defense. Hence, modern intelligent design comes to take on an essentially negative form, highlighting the limits of scientific rationality. There is no longer the need to defend a positive case, for no case can be made on rational grounds. All we have is commitment. All we have is political manipulation and indoctrination. There is no rational basis for any belief, no reasoned dialogue, so anything goes (this is the source of the winks in the direction of Genesis creationism). Thus, the public focuses on evolution being "just a theory," and attention turns to public schools, political action, calls for "equal time" and the like. Kitcher is right: the arguments don't really matter, because arguments can't matter; all that remains is political activity. Religious believers come, perhaps unwittingly, to accept a kind of postmodern critique of pretensions to enlightenment rationality once they are denied the possibility of rational participation in the public sphere by defenders of such pictures of rationality. Once this happens, the prospect for a reasoned resolution to the debate disappears. All there can be is political activity.

"If this story is right, the way forward is to take very seriously the kinds of theological and philosophical arguments Kitcher takes up in his last chapter, and respond to them with careful, rational arguments defending religious faith, not to abandon rational dialogue about substantive (providentialist) religious claims. This means religious persons must move beyond unthinking acceptance and build on rich traditions of theological and philosophical reflection, and critics of religion must recognize the role of reason in such reflections and engage them on that basis. By rebuilding the long tradition of rational engagement with religion, we can give religious believers a voice that eliminates the driving force behind such ultimately skeptical arguments (exclusion from rational public discourse)."


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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Integrating Davies and Weinberger

I found two interviews on Salon today that really got my brain going. Unfortunately, I can only post the chunks that inspired me. Over time I'll whittle them away so I'm not participating in copyright infringement and begin to add my own thoughts. Anyway, here are the two interviews:

Steve Paulson “We are Meant to Be HereSalon July 3, 2007. Interview with physicist Paul Davies.

There are some obvious questions about the big bang. Can we really talk about it coming out of nothing? Don't we have to ask, wasn't there something that caused the big bang?

Many people fall into that trap. But Augustine, in the fifth century, pointed out that the world was made with time, not in time. I think he got this exactly right. Of course, most people think that there must have been a previous event that caused whatever event we're talking about. But this is simply not the case. We now know that time itself is part of the physical universe. And when we talk about the big bang in a simplified model, then we're talking about not only matter and energy coming into being, but space and time as well. So there was no time before the big bang. The big bang was the origin of time.

People want to ask, what happened before the big bang, or what caused the big bang? But in a simple picture where there's just one universe, the big bang can be the ultimate origin of space and time as well as matter and energy. So unless the universe has always existed, you're faced with the problem that time itself comes into existence. And any attempt to talk about causation has to be couched in terms of something that comes after the beginning and not before the beginning ... because there was no before.

There are some obvious religious implications to all of this. My sense is that a lot of Jews and Christians are actually quite delighted with the big bang -- the idea that the universe was created out of nothing. It seems to correspond to the story of creation in Genesis.

I think there's a misunderstanding by religious people if they think that creation ex nihilo is anything like the big bang. People misunderstand what creation ex nihilo is about. It's not that there existed a God within time who was there for all eternity and then at some particular moment, on a whim, decided, "I'm going to make a universe" and then pressed a button that made the big bang. That raises exactly the objection that Augustine was addressing: What was God doing before making the universe? If the universe was a good idea, why wasn't it made an infinite time ago?

I might also say that it's always a bad idea for people to decide what to believe on religious grounds and then to cherry-pick the scientific facts to fit, because these facts are likely to change. And we may find that the big-bang theory goes out of favor at some point in the future. And then what? Religious people will have backed the wrong horse. So it's fraught with danger to seize on these cosmological ideas. But I personally think we can draw the conclusion that we live in a universe that's deeply imbued with meaning and purpose.

You want to stay away from God.

I want to stay away from a pre-existing cosmic magician who is there within time, for all eternity, and then brings the universe into being as part of a preconceived plan. I think that's just a naive, silly idea that doesn't fit the leanings of most theologians these days and doesn't fit the scientific facts. I don't want that. That's a horrible idea. But I see no reason why there can't be a teleological component in the evolution of the universe, which includes things like meaning and purpose. So instead of appealing to something outside the universe -- a completely unexplained being -- I'm talking about something that emerges within the universe. It's a more natural view. We're trying to construct a picture of the universe which is based thoroughly on science but where there is still room for something like meaning and purpose. So people can see their own individual lives as part of a grand cosmic scheme that has some meaning to it. We're not just, as Steven Weinberg would say, pointless accidents in a universe that has no meaning or purpose. I think we can do better than that.

Do you think one reason the multiverse theory has become so popular in recent years is to keep the whole idea of God at bay?

Yes.

Because a lot of physicists seem to be at a loss for how to explain this cosmic fine-tuning. But with the multiverse, you can say there are an infinite number of universes and we just happen to be lucky to live in one that supports life.

There's no doubt that the popularity of the multiverse is due to the fact that it superficially gives a ready explanation for why the universe is bio-friendly. Twenty years ago, people didn't want to talk about this fine-tuning because they were embarrassed. It looked like the hand of a creator. Then along came the possibility of a multiverse, and suddenly they're happy to talk about it because it looks like there's a ready explanation. Only those universes in which there can be life get observed, and all the rest go unobserved. Notice, however, that it's far from a complete explanation of existence. You still have to make a huge number of assumptions. You need a universe-generating mechanism to give you all these universes. You need a set of laws that can be scattered across these universes, distributed in some way, according to some algorithm. You're no better off than saying there is an unexplained God.

Even the scientific explanations for the universe are rooted in a particular type of theological thinking. They're trying to explain the world by appealing to something outside of it. And I think the time has come to move beyond that. We can -- if we try hard enough -- come up with a complete explanation of existence from within the universe, without appealing to something mystical or magical lying beyond it. I think the scientists who are anti-God but appeal to unexplained sets of laws or an unexplained multiverse are just as much at fault as a naive theist who says there's a mysterious, unexplained God.

You say in your book that there's another explanation for how the universe is structured. You suggest we may actually live in a fake universe. We could be part of an "ingeniously contrived virtual reality show," as in the "Matrix" movies. Do you really think that's a possibility?

Clearly, it's a logical possibility that this entire universe could be a simulation, if we imagine that in a hundred or a thousand years we'd be able to make computers that are sufficiently powerful to simulate consciousness. You need only to believe that consciousness is ultimately a physical process, which in principle we can mimic. Then we clearly have the possibility of building a machine and feeding in electrical impulses to produce this or that sensation. So this raises the obvious question, is there a real world out there? And how do I know that it's not all a gigantic virtual reality show, with my own mental experiences being created by some super-duper computer, so that I'm just living inside this machine? Now, there are a number of philosophers who are enamored of this idea. How would we know from within the simulation that it is a simulation and not the reality? If it's a good simulation, we couldn't know. So we must be open to the possibility that this whole world is in fact a gigantic simulation.

Near the end of "The Cosmic Jackpot," you say that all these explanations about the universe are probably wrong, and "Perhaps we have reached a fundamental impasse dictated by the limits of the human intellect." Do you think future scientists will ever resolve these questions?

If future scientists are human beings, they may be stuck with the same problems that we have. The way we think, the way we like to analyze problems, the categories that we define -- like cause and effect, space-time and matter, meaning and purpose -- are really human categories that cannot be separated from our evolutionary heritage. We have to face up to the fact that there may be fundamental limitations just from the way our brains have been put together. So we could have reached our own human limits.


Scott Rosenberg, “Delight in disorderSalon May 23, 2007. Interview with David Weinberger, author of Everything is Miscellaneous.

You've described your book as an "argument with Aristotle." Here you are, it's a book about "the new digital disorder," and we're arguing with the ancients. How did that happen?

Our culture's been arguing with him for a long time. The argument is, whether there is a right order of the universe -- one right order. Aristotle didn't come up with the idea, but he was the person who articulated it so forcefully that for 2,000 years he was simply believed. This is an order in which everything has a place, and to know what something is is to know that place, and in knowing it you're seeing what makes it what it is. That's why it can't be in two places on the chart, on the diagram -- because then it's two things, and that's chaos.

You also need to know within a category, things are different from the other things in that category -- this is the genus/species idea. It's a deep and fascinating notion -- that to be something is to both be like something else and be unlike it. And it works really well -- it allows you to construct a universe. And it allows you to keep some things implicit. We know this is a bird without also having to think, oh, bird, that's a type of animal, oh, and animal therefore is a type of thing, and things all have these properties. That's one of the mysteries of knowing -- that we don't know everything simultaneously all the time.

So we have this definition, and it's clear and it's precise. The entire system is beautiful and balanced and harmonious. And this is the vision that we carried with us for a long, long time. But we've been shaking it off for generations now -- it's not like, the Web came along and suddenly we were free of Aristotle.

Multiculturalism, relativism, postmodernism -- all these things are disputing the notion of a single order. The Web just slaps us in the face with the fact that there's lots and lots of ways of slicing up the world.

But how we slice it up, how we cluster it, how things connect, depends on what we're trying to do. It's an amazing tool for consciousness to have, to be able to see the world according to the relevant attributes based upon a project -- that's what lets us survive, and do more. But that places the clustering of the universe, to some large degree, on our interests and our cares. Which is, from the Aristotelian point of view, to put it in the realm of whim and madness.

This is also why it seems to me so important that we're doing this socially. One of the mistakes that we've made in our history is to think that if there isn't a single order that's right, then it's up to every person to make it up for herself. And that's what we call madness.


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Friday, July 27, 2007

I'm late to the confessing meme

Forgive me, but I'm at least a month late to jump in on the confessing meme--though I have enjoyed reading the confessions of others. This is a start, and I hope to add to it until I've confessed everything that seems proper.

I confess that I think the sturm und drang over Darwinian evolution is the nasty product of a faulty understanding of metaphysical transcendence and of the relationship between the triune God and the world subsumed under the category "Creation." Therefore, I carefully embrace Darwinian evolution as the best biological science that we have, including an old earth, the fossil record, and the mechanism of natural selection.

Further, I confess that I find Intelligent Design to be an embarrassing return to the argument from design, also called the teleological argument. In my mind, not only does it attempt to resurrect that argument at any cost (where the designer could be a god, an alien, a computer, an invisible force?), it represents a theology of glory, and so is no help to either science or theology.

I confess that I think the universe is enfused, baptized, and besotted by the kenotic agape of the Trinity, its creator. This is, perhaps, a pseudo-scientific way of repeating Rahner's rule, as well as saying that history, human or otherwise, is the love story of the relationships of the triune hypostases stretched out upon the wood of time and space. But note that I am also saying that, like mathematics (physics), ethics is encoded into the deep structure of the universe. There is a morality at the very heart of it all, and that morality is trinitarian, it is kenotic, it is Christological, it is universal. And if, then, we should ever meet or discover in this world a being from another, it too would agree that "Thou shalt not kill" and be judged accordingly.

I confess that I suspect at least the first half of Genesis to be closer in genre to a saga or myth whose theological repercussions may still be said to properly inform the edifice of biblical theology.

I confess that I am completely skeptical about anyone attempting to use God language outside of the context of a lightly-held but rigorous hermeneutic.

I confess that I find myself and my fellow human beings so governed and awash in the power of metaphor that some days I barely know if I know anything at all and stew in a kind of mental skepticism. An addendum: that I know far too little about the proper history and place of the via negativa in historical systematics.

I confess that I have yet to hear an argument against women in the pulpit that fairly takes into account the cultural and historical circumstances of the apostles. And, as an addendum, many of the male pastors I’ve met have been egoistic blowhards.

I confess that I find the soteriological argument between free will and the sovereignty of God to be excruciatingly boring. In my mind, the call of the Kingdom of God is primarily doxological and ethical. Orthodoxy in every detail is of secondary importance--not of no importance, but of secondary importance.

I confess that I'm quite suspicious about the wisdom that comes from psychology, and especially in its affect on religious literature, anthropological understanding, and preaching.

I confess that after nearly twenty years and two degrees, I still wonder just what following Jesus should look like, and, I’m ashamed to say, I irresistibly resemble far more the middlebrow bourgeois culture of white America than I do a disciple of the crucified God.

I confess that I don’t know any poor people, and up to this point have been unwilling to change my and my family’s routine in order to do so.

I confess that it makes no sense to me why so many models in theological metaphysics require divine self-limitation. Beside the impossibility of demarcating or limiting a personality that is by definition unlimited and undemarcated, that entire line of thought seems begotten of the limitations of human imagination.

I confess that I should read Calvin, but wind up reading Luther instead.

I confess that the majority of what passes for Christian culture sounds and feels to me like so much voodoo—far more about personal lusts for power than about the Kingdom of God and true religion. I suspect that what true discipleship demands is far more simple, and far more pervasive: not a new font, but a new word.

I confess that I believe the New Perspective on Paul / Third Quest for the Historical Jesus people have the better argument, and that the resistance to that argument is due far more to the human desire to protect our personal projects than to an honest thirst to discover the best hermeneutical horizon possible for understanding what the triune God is doing in the world.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

the imago Dei and the Happy Life

Genesis chapter one reads:

Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." (vv. 26-28 NRSV)

This text is the origin of the biblical and theological understanding of human beings as made in the image of God (imago Dei). It is a doctrine with profound implications for our understanding of the meaning and value of human life. It is also a doctrine about relationships: the relationship between God and humanity; the relationship between human beings and the creation; and the relationship between the sexes—“in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

What I want to do here is to summarize a chapter entitled “The Image of God: A Theological Summary” from the book Created in God’s Image (Paternoster Press, 1986) by the late Reformed theologian Anthony A. Hoekema. And why am I doing this? Well, I find that over time I refer to this book quite a bit. It was my first introduction to the centrality of the imago Dei, and continues to be a touchstone to which I return. And the overall point is that the re-creation of the image of God in human beings is the goal of human life and the recipe for human happiness. Psychology has a definition. Aristotle had a definition. So does Scripture, and that definition is the imago Dei.

The Image of God: A Theological Summary

The entire constitution, every bit of a human being, mirrors and represents God. As a mirror reflects, so people should reflect God. When a human being is what he or she ought to be, others should be able to look and see something of God: something of God’s love, God’s kindness, and God’s goodness. Human beings also represent God. As God’s ambassadors to the world, humanity represents the authority of God, speaks for God, and should be wholly about the furtherance of God’s program in the world. And no one should neglect the body in this, for the body is absolutely necessary on both counts.

Structural and Functional Aspects

Does the image of God refer to something innate in the person—to what people are—or does it refer to actions—to what people do? Theologians have stressed one or the other aspect over the centuries.

Those who place the image in something innate, something in the structure of the human person have cherry-picked various capacities: reason, for example, or morality, religious sensitivity, responsibility, free will, and even aesthetics and creativity. Really, though, it is all of these. By the image of God in the broader or structural sense, we mean the entire endowments of gifts and capacities that inform what human beings do.

Now in the twentieth century, the stress has been on functional, on what people do; on human beings as they worship, serve, love, etc. Relationality is the key word; people are incorrigibly related, both to one another and to God. People aren’t just what they are, but are also what they do. This addresses a narrower slice of the human being, the relational slice, and so it is absolutely ethical, concerned chiefly with relationships. That means, of course, that in every way it should be informed and governed by the character of the triune God, who is relational in his very being.

Hoekema argues that both is and does, structure and function, should be taken together to circumscribe the whole of what is meant by the image of God. Yet, the structure he takes to be secondary and the functioning as primary. What we have (structure) is given for a purpose (function), and so it is the function which is more important (and it was the function that was lost).

God has created us in his image so that we may carry out a task, fulfill a mission, pursue a calling. To enable us to perform that task, God has endowed us with many gifts--gifts that reflect something of his greatness and glory. To see man as the image of God is to see both the task and the gifts. But the task is primary; the gifts are secondary. The gifts are the means for fulfilling the task. (73)

The biblical data is quite clear: even after the fall, the image of God remained in humankind, but it was also lost. And this division between structure and function allows us to see just how this could be. For the structure remained unchanged, but the function was twisted, broken, and perverted. Human beings were no longer related to God, and so, when that chief relationship left, its straightening and informing effect on all other acts and relationships was taken, too. Indeed, what makes sin so serious is precisely the fact that humanity now uses God-given and God-imaging powers and gifts to do things that are an affront to its maker. The image of God is not lost, but marred in fallen human beings—and that damage must be renewed even as the relationship is renewed.

Christ as the True Image of God

Jesus Christ is the image of God par exellence (Col. 1:15). Looking at him, we see what human beings as the image of God should be like. Obviously there are aspects to Jesus that are removed from us. Not many persons have joined to their human nature one that is fully divine. Yet, this divine nature doesn't really come into play here. We aren't asked to be God, but to image him, and so the human Jesus, being truly and completely human, is not removed from us. And what is imago about Jesus is not reason or intelligence, but, as Hoekema points out, love in action. Hoekema plots this in 3 directions.

  • Jesus was wholly directed toward God, (Matt. 26:39).

  • Jesus was wholly directed toward the neighbor, (Mark 10:45; John 15:13).

  • Jesus rules over nature, (Hoekema refers to Jesus's miracle-power over nature and the demonic).


These three directions prove quite helpful in our developing understanding. First, we saw that the imago takes in the complete human being both structurally and functionally. And now we see the whole person in action along three broad relationships. "In sum, from looking at Jesus Christ, the perfect image of God, we learn that the proper functioning of the image includes being directed toward God, being directed toward the neighbor, and ruling over nature" (75). (All three of these relationships can be found in our Genesis passage, and I hope you'll take a second and re-read it with them in mind.)

Human beings in This Threefold Relationship

Hoekema spend a few pages detailing each of the three relationships just mentioned, but we don't have the space for that. Instead, I'm going to pull out the best material from his discussion of each one.

To be a human being is to be directed toward God. Human life is entirely lived coram Deo--as before the face of God, in love, trust, obedience to him, in prayer and worship, thanksgiving and in public, familial, corporate, and even political action. This vertical relationship is basic to a Christian anthropology. Indeed, here is where we pick up that thread of criticism with psychological well-being.

All views of man that do not take their starting-point in the doctrine of creation and that therefore look upon him as an autonomous being who can arrive at what is true and right wholly apart from God or from God's revelation in Scripture are to be rejected as false. (76)

Human beings can never be "man-in-himself" (G. C. Berkouwer). We are responsible to God, and do all to and for the glory of God.

To be a human being is to be directed toward one's neighbor. "Male and female he created them," that's what the Genesis passage says. People are not complete in themselves, they need others. The imago doesn't exist alone, but in community with others--and though the marriage bond is discussed in this passage in Genesis, Hoekema and all other theologians do not limit the image to covenantal/sexual union. Jesus, after all, was never married. And in the life to come, when humanity will be totally perfected, there will be no marriage (Matt. 22:30). Human beings are incomplete apart from others.

Man's relatedness to others means that every human being should not view his or her gifts and talents as an avenue for personal aggrandizement, but as a means whereby he or she can enrich the lives of others. It means that we should be eager to help others, heal their hurts, supply their needs, bear their burdens, and share their joys, loving others as ourselves. It means that every human being has a right to be accepted by others, to belong to others, and to be loved by others. . . . Man's acceptance of and love for others is an assential aspect of his humanness. (78)

Note that here we discover an argument against racism or sexism that isn't rooted in 1960's-era rights-speak.

To be a human being is to rule over nature. The main thing here is that dominion does not mean what you think it means. We hear that as absolute power over, and for the purposes of fulfilling our wants. But, remember, the restored image of God always takes God's desires into account. The Hebrew roots behind the words in Genesis translated "subdue" and "have dominion" are more about gardening, shepherding, and cultivating than they are about the industrial revolution. And Hoekema is careful to say that this Genesis mandate includes the development of human culture "not only agriculture, horticulture, and animal husbandry, but also science, technology, and art." Theologians today are making much of the green-aspect of this part of the image; we should take care of the planet we're on, its flora, fauna, and wildlife. It is a better basis for ecological stewardship than arguments that either equate human beings with animal life, so that we should conserve because everyone has a right to a piece of the pie, or that try and motivate a green attitude by painting picture of ecological apocalypse. The Christian needs neither argument, but only that God be glorified in our use of his creation.

All three of these relationships are interrelated, and only human beings operate simultaneously in all three. They also reflect God's own being. Humanity's responsibility to and conscious fellowship with God reflects God's own love and fellowship with humanity. The relationship of human beings with others reflects God's own inter-Trinitarian life. And humanity's stewardship of the earth reflect God's own supreme dominion (see Psalm 8.5). The image of God flows out from human beings along these three planes, and it is within them that we perform the image.

Anyway, now we turn to the imago Dei as it has existed historically. In order to understand the imago, we have to understand it in the light of creation, fall, and redemption. Remember, though, all three of the above relationships exist at each stage.

The Original Image
Hoekema, following in the footsteps of theologians before him, wants us to know that human beings were not created as consummate, perfect images of God. They were, as it were, "in a state of integrity" but had not fully developed in the image of God. Theirs was a provisional existence that awaited a probationary test for completion. At this stage, see, there was still the possibility of sin. They were able not to sin (posse non peccare), but were not yet not able to sin (non posse peccare). Their image of God existed at a boundary, and God's command "not to eat of it" stood in the way of its perfection.

The Perverted Image
Alas, they sinned. The fall into sin does not annhilate the imago but perverts it. "The image in its structural sense was still there--man's gifts, endowments, and capacities were not destroyed by the Fall--but man now began to use these gifts in ways that were contrary to God's will" (83). In the place of the relationship to God, there appeared idols (Rom. 1:20-23), perversions of man's capacity for worshipping God. In the place of a loving relationship toward others, those relationships are selfish manipulations, or indifference, or alienation. "Hell is other people," (Jean-Paul Sartre).

He uses his gifts of speech to tell lies instead of the truth, to hurt his neighbor instead of helping him. Artistic abilities are often prostituted in the service of lust, and God-given sexual powers are used for perverse and debasing goals. Pornography and drugs have become big businesses; their purpose is not to help others but to exploit them. The motto of many in today's world seems to be, 'Every man for himself, and the devil take the hindmost.' Man is still inescapably related to others, but instead of loving others he is inclined to hate them."

And, finally, human beings now exploit the earth for selfish purposes, exploiting and stripping it, polluting it and using its secrets to wage war. Human culture--literature, art, science, tecnology--magnifies the whole, praising it and its achievements instead of God.

The image is still there, but malfunctioning. Crippled all the way down. Corruptio optimi pessima: the corruption of the best is the worst.

The Renewed Image
It is the redemptive process, the ordo salutis that describes the restoration of the image. Human beings are set right again, so that they can properly function in those three relationships. All three persons of the Trinity are intimately involved. The ordo salutis, then, is this (and remember, though we list them they are actually a unitary work of God often occuring simultaneously to each other):

  • regeneration: by the preaching of the Word, the Spirit acts to make dead people alive again, placing them into living union with Christ. This is the cause of faith, and the beginning of every other part of the order of salvation.

  • conversion: confession of faith and act of repentance in the believer

  • justification: an instantaneous act whereby the sin and guilt of a believer are imputed to Christ and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the believer. The believer is made righteous.

  • adoption: believers in Christ become sons and daughters of God, joint-heirs with Christ of every blessing, with all the corresponding rights and priviledges.

  • sanctification: Pimarily the work of the Holy Spirit operating through Word and Sacraments, the restored image of God is manifested to greater and greater degrees.

  • glorification: The image is perfected in the new creation, and human beings, now dwelling in perfected bodies, no longer have to worry about sin, being now non passe peccare, not able to sin.


The renewal of the image of God involves a broad, comprehensive vision of the Christian view of man. The process of sanctification affects every aspect of life: man's relationship to God, to others, and to the entire creation. The restoration of the image does not concern only religious piety in the narrow sense, or witnessing to people about Christ, or "soul-saving" activities; in its fullest sense it involves the redirection of all of life. . . And is discovered in its richest form in Christ together with his church, or in the church as the body of Christ. (88, 89)

Finally, in this section, Hoekema spends some time making sure his reader understands that the renewal of the imago, though primarily accomplished by the Holy Spirit, is also a cooperation. We are encouraged to put to death our old self, to cast off sin, and to pursue holiness. The renewal of the image is something in which we take an active part. While in this present life, believers are genuinely new but not yet totally new. The image is breaking out through believers into the world, but it is not yet seen competely and perfectly in them.

The Perfected Image
The imago Dei in humanity will only shine out in perfected brilliance when believers are finally glorified. And glorification is not a return to Eden, but a fuller form of human being. Adam and Eve could never have been said to "partake of the divine nature." Just as Christ has been raised and glorified, so those in him will be raised and glorified--their image patterned after His. We can't say much about what this state will be like, but we can say that it will still include all three of those above-mentioned relationships. Hoekema goes to great lengths to stress a new creation that is full of variety and expression, creativity and energy, a world in which the imago Dei as it finds fulfillment in the whole of the perfected human race acts perfectly along all three of those dimensions.

In the life to come we shall see the image of God not only in its perfection but also in its completion. All of God's people, from every age and every place, resurrected and glorified, will then be present on the new earth, with all the God-reflecting gifts that hae been given them. And all of these gifts, now completely purged of sin and imperfection, will be used by man for the first time in a perfect way. Then, throughout eternity, God will be glorified by the worship, service, and praise of his image-bearers in a scintillating and totally flawless recreation of his own marvelous virtues. (101)


Concluding Observations
Hoekema's conclusing observations amount to three points. First, that we must always treat people in light of their destiny. Quoting C. S. Lewis: "It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit." And this should drive us to corporate holiness and also to mission in the face of perdition. I like this quote by John Calvin:

We are not to consider that men merit of themselves but to look upon the image of God in all men, to which we owe all honor and love. Therefore, whatever man you meet who needs your aid, you have no reason to refuse to help him. Say, "he is contemptible and worthless"; but the Lord shows him to be one to whom he has deigned to give the beauty of his image. Say that he does not deserve even your least effort for his sake; but the image of God, which recommends him to you, is worthy of your giving yourself and all your possessions. (Institutes III.7.6)

Second, that the imago Dei should deeply inform how the church is and acts. "Our concern in evangelizing people is not just to "save people's souls," but to restore the image of God to its proper functioning in all of life, to the greater glory of God. And third, that sexual difference does not cease in the new creation. Not that sexual procreation will continue--Jesus was plain on this one--but that our sexuality, such an intimate part of our individuality, will not only be retained but enriched, and that the future community will demonstrate the complex wholeness of men and women properly related to each other. This is a strange ending, but one that affirms rather than denies God's creation, and though I don't understand in a logical way why God would continue male and female into the next world, I see that a neutered humanity is no real humanity at all.

The doctrine of the image of God touches so many aspects of the Christian life. The imago to me is the central "why" behind so much of Christian ethics and ecclesiology. Understanding this gives great value in seeing so many disparate ideas congealing underneath one great head. It is Christian anthropology, and it does not deny, or limit, but fulfills everything about human being and life, affirming human beings in their physical, psychological, spiritual, economic, cultural, and indeed in every portion of their lives.

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