Philosophy of Creation Class Discussion

I recently conducted a class on Creation, Fall and Redemption, with the emphasis on creation, for a colleague’s Essentials of Philosophy class. Our conversation ranged over a number of important issues in the Christian philosophy of creation, helped by some particularly sharp and engaged students. I offer the Powerpoint here in case it’s of help. (Just discovered I have to upgrade if I’m to include the audio.)

Note of a change: I’m putting the file directly into WordPress, so anyone who couldn’t reach it before should be able to access it now.

Creation, Fall, Redemption – Ess’ls of Philosophy

I’ll have to look into that audio! I received some very intelligent questions.

The key philosophical question about creation in my mind over the past 12 months or so is, “How long of a leash does God give the created order?” That is, is every event in the world God’s doing quite directly, as Luther tended to think? Is apparent cause and effect in nature really something of an illusion? Jonathan Edwards was quite strong on this too, and the classic figure who really unplugged natural events causally from one another, I understand, was William of Ockham with his ‘occasionalism’, as it’s called. Natural law, in this model, is a way of describing the regularities in God’s actions. Then if God chooses to be ‘irregular’ and do miracles, he’s not breaking any higher law, as it were. It keep the Lawgiver in charge of the laws. That’s attractive, and protects the sovereignty of God.

But there’s also something to be said for God giving creation its own, robust existence – allowing the natural world enough autonomy that one thing can really lead to another. Billiard ball A striking billiard ball B will send it off at the appropriate angle and speed without God needing to ‘micro-manage’ that interaction. Creation is programmed to behave regularly by God, in the way it will need to if human and other life is to be possible:

As long as the earth endures,

seedtime and harvest,

cold and heat,

summer and winter,

day and night,

will never cease.

Gen. 8:22 (NIV)

Genesis 1 perhaps hints at God’s delegation of causal power to creation when it says, “Let the land produce vegetation” (Gen. 1:11), or animals (1:24). In any case, there are theological virtues that may be argued for this position as well, e.g. that it gives better assurance that we as human beings are given real existence involving genuine moment-to-moment continuity. If we follow a full-blown creatio continuua model, we might find ourselves saying that God effectively creates the world anew moment by moment. The risk there is that we become like video images, an illusion created by a rapid raster scan rate.

So for God to give natural bodies and living creatures a real moment-to-moment existence and continuity would be a true condescension and giving on his part – to introduce into existence other real entities where previously there had been none besides Him. Pondering that will rock your philosophical socks. But there is risk at this end too. Make the position too strong, and you have a creation that, once made, no longer needs God in order to ‘do its thing’. Further still, and you’re into process theology, where God is another cork in the stream of time, trying to manage things as best He can, like a very good chess player who still doesn’t know exactly what the opponent will do. I get that there are bits in the Bible where God speaks of a future that’s unresolved because of the human freedom factor (e.g. Jer. 26:3; 36:3), and we ought to take those seriously. But to imagine God as lodged in the stream of time just because we are is small-minded. I recommend Crysdale & Ormerod, Creator God, Evolving World, for an intelligent treatment of this issue. For a scientist out near the edge of a creation that’s too independent, in my view (i.e. risks dabbling with deism), but raises the same sorts of issues check out:

Van Till, H. J. “Basil, Augustine and the Doctrine of Creation’s Functional Integrity,” Science and Christian Belief 8 (1996), 21–38.
Advertisements

Creation and Time in Basil’s Hexaemeron

The wise old monkey in The Lion King told the young lion character, whatever his name was, that the whack on the head he had just applied with his stick was “in de past,” so it didn’t matter. I’m like someone who has had a good whack on the head when it comes to things further into the past than about 10 minutes, so forgive me if I’ve already posted this, but in May I had a post about Basil (‘the Great’), the Cappadocian church father who lived c. 330-379 AD/CE, published online by the Creation Project, operating out of the Henry Center, an arm of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago, USA. It went by the above title, and its concern was to explain how Basil viewed creation in his famous nine-part Lenten sermon series on the subject, dating from about 376. It’s the first stand-alone piece of speaking/writing on the creation week or ‘hexaemeron’ in Genesis 1:1-2:3 to have appeared in the church, and gave birth to an entire genre of similar writings, as well as embedded treatments within Genesis commentaries and other types of writing, that lasted for more than 1,000 years. Basil was no dummy, and though he regularly disparages secular philosophy in this sermon series, he utilizes quite a bit of it as well.

Here’s the mug shot of Basil from the Henry Center page, with Basil looking suitably transcendental, if not somewhat spaced out. Hey, he did have his mystical side…

Basil Mug Shot from Henry Center Basil Post

So you might find this an interesting read, if you’re following discussions about historical Christian thinking about creation and/or Genesis:

Creation and Time in Basil’s Hexaemeron

Science and the Bible Video Series

I recently completed a four-part series on Science and the Bible for a suburban Melbourne church, Eltham Baptist. Here are the links to the four entries in the videos taken of the series:

The Philosophy and Theology of Creation

Science & The Bible (Part 1) – Andrew Brown from Eltham Baptist Church on Vimeo.

The History of Interaction of the Bible and Science

Science & The Bible (Part 2) – Andrew Brown from Eltham Baptist Church on Vimeo.

The Cosmos

Science & The Bible (Part 3) – Andrew Brown from Eltham Baptist Church on Vimeo.

The Earth Sciences
Science & The Bible (Part 4) – Andrew Brown from Eltham Baptist Church on Vimeo.

I didn’t hold strictly to my titles at all points, but you may find something interesting there.

Some Creation and Science Issues – A New Video

This video features a talk that I gave recently at Melbourne School of Theology, where I tried to put Christian debates about science and the Bible into some historical (and at a basic level, philosophical) context. On some points I have more thinking left to do. It was a follow-up to a visit by the CEO of Creation Ministries in Australia, Dr. Don Batten. I wanted to agree with him on some points, disagree respectfully on others, and generally to point out that all of our schemes for reconciling the Bible/Christianity with science involve interpretation and rationalizing.

So, here it is for your judgment:

Here is a talk by Creation Ministries’ Dr Don Batten that took place a week prior to my own talk and forms the background for some of my comments: audio on YouTube.

Otherwise, as audio file for downloading:

PowerPoint Presentation: Athens & Jerusalem: Science-and-Religion Strategies among Interpreters of Genesis in the Modern Era

This is a talk I am due to deliver to ISCAST (Institute for the Study of Christianity in an Age of Science and Technology) at the University of NSW tomorrow night, 4/6/15. It is based on my research into interpretations of Genesis 1 down through time, with an emphasis this time on unpacking the way certain interpreters treated the relationship between scientific knowledge and Christian teaching.

Please note that the formatting of the graphics is a bit corrupted when viewed as an online PowerPoint, but it displays fine when downloaded. View with the notes showing to see my sources. If you prefer, try the PDF version:

Micro Book Review – Sam Berry’s Lion Handbook of Science and Christianity

Berry, R. J. (ed.). The Lion Handbook of Science and Christianity (1st ed ed.; Oxford : Chicago: Lion Hudson ; Distributed by Trafalgar Square Pub, 2012).
Lion Hbook Science and C'ty

I have recently given a thorough browse to this attractive work from our college (Melbourne School of Theology) shelves. Let me tame my prolix (verbose (wordy)) ways and give you a few pros and cons:

Pros

  • Really well presented, with lots of colour, diagrams, pictures, great layout, visual differentiation to make it easy to face each page. Books have come a long way in user-friendliness in the last century! If only my book looked like this!
  • Reasonably bite-size portions, with many 1- and 2-page treatments of science and religion issues.
  • A great coverage of such issues, offering a really useful overview of what might be debated under the heading of science and religion.
  • Scientifically well-informed, as far as I am qualified to tell.
  • Currency – it’s right up to date.
  • Evangelical Christian standpoint. (If you’re not an evangelical Christian, you might put this under ‘Cons’, but I still encourage you to check it out.)

Cons

  • Naturally, there is a sacrifice in depth where there is gain in breadth of coverage. So this is really an introductory volume, designed I think for the college student as an introductory science and religion textbook (but what a textbook!) or for the interested layperson.
  • We might wish for a deeper and more determinate handling of texts like Genesis 1 (though see pp. 152-153).

The Wrap

  • This makes a great starting point for your research into science and religion. It will orient you to the issues and get you pointed in the right direct. With lots of eye candy along the way.
  • I would recommend following up with some deeper reading on the issues of concern to you. There is a good-length list of further reading in the back of the book, so you won’t be short of ideas.

Mini Book Review – Creator God, Evolving World

Crysdale, Cynthia S. W, and Neil Ormerod. Creator God, Evolving World (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013).

I didn’t really know what to expect from this book, which I picked off a bookshelf on spec about a year ago because it was of interest to me, and because I’m tight, more importantly, it was on the discount shelf. As so often the good stuff, that people ought to read but don’t, is. And I noticed that one of the authors, Neil Ormerod, is an Aussie, and teaches at the Australian Catholic University in Sydney, while Crysdale is based at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, USA. The perspective of the book is Catholic, with an appreciation for the deep tradition of Christian thought back through influential figures such as Thomas Aquinas, as well as what looks to me, as one not scientifically trained, like a solid feel for the sciences (e.g. biology, physics) as well as the philosophy of science.
Crysdale & Ormerod - Creator God
As the title suggests, biological evolution is taken for granted in this book, and for some evangelical readers that may be a deal-breaker. I personally see Neo-Darwinism as another knowledge paradigm, like so many composed by humans over the years to make sense of their world. One day it will give way to a replacement paradigm, though many of its composing elements will be carried over into whatever follows. So a further century or two of history will give its verdict on which parts of the Neo-Darwinian synthesis deserve to be retained and which ones are no longer persuasive. This means I find myself pretty relaxed about paradigms generally, and I find some evolutionary belief elements more persuasive than others. So it was not something that stopped me reading.

Continue reading