Man can adhere to falsehood, but he never does it and never can do it save as he holds it to be truth, and thereby pays homage to the truth. He can be the servant of sin, but he never is nor ever can be, except as he reckons evil to be good and so pays his respect to the good. He can kneel down to an idol, but he never does it and he never can do it except as he thinks that in the idol he sees the only true and living God and confesses awe and fear of the Eternal Being. God leaves himself without witness to no man. (Herman Bavinck, “Creation or Development”)
Category: Science, Theology, and Priestcraft
If you look on the world with the eyes of science it is impossible to find the place, the time, or the particular sequence of events that can be interpreted as showing God’s presence. God disappears from the world, as soon as we address it with the ‘why?’ of explanation, just as the human person disappears from the world, when we look for the neurological explanation of his acts. So maybe God is a person like us, whose identity and will are bound up with his nature as a subject. Maybe we shall find him in the world where we are only if we cease to invoke him with the ‘why?’ of cause, and address him with the ‘why?’ of reason instead. And the ‘why?’ of reason must be addressed from I to you. The God of the philosophers disappeared behind the world, because he was described in the third person, and not addressed in the second. (Roger Scruton, The Face of God, p. 45)
If nothing exists beyond perceptible phenomena, then we can access only perceptible phenomena.
But if we can access only perceptible phenomena, then we can’t know (or say anything intelligent) about the existence, nonexistence, or activity of imperceptible phenomena.
In an early chapter of C. S. Lewis’s last book, The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature, there is a curious passage where Lewis contrasts the medieval concept of “Nature” with earlier pagan deifications of “Nature” as a goddess. Here is the paragraph in full (pp. 38–39):
As long as the concept [of Nature] covers everything, the goddess (who personifies the concept) is necessarily a jejune and inactive deity; for everything is not a subject about which anything of much interest can be said. All her religious, and all her poetic, vitality depends on making her something less than everything. If she is at times the object of real religious feeling in Marcus Aurelius, that is because he contrasts or confronts her with the finite individual – with his own rebellious and recalcitrant self. If in Statius she has moments of poetic life, that is because she is opposed to something better than her self (Pietas) or something worse (the unnatural, such as incest and fratricide). Of course there are philosophical difficulties about this opposing to the goddess Nature things which the concept Nature must certainly include. We may leave Stoics and other Pantheists to get out of this scrape as best they can. The point is that the medieval poets were not in the scrape at all. They believed from the outset that Nature was not everything. She was created. She was not God’s highest, much less His only, creature. She had her proper place, below the Moon. She had her appointed duties as God’s vicegerent in that area. Her own lawful subjects, stimulated by rebel angels, might disobey her and become ‘unnatural’. There were things above her, and things below. It is precisely this limitation and subordination of Nature which sets her free for her triumphant poetical career. By surrendering the dull claim to be everything, she becomes somebody. Yet all the while she is, for the medievals, only a personification. A figurative being on these terms is apparently more potent than a deity really believed in who, by being all things, is almost nothing.
Viewed in this light, the modern concept of Nature appears as a regression to pre-medieval paganism. For the modern, Nature is all. Never mind that we don’t use the term “deity”: all that shows is that we’ve jettisoned the old pagan personification while retaining the pagan concept. Nature is everything, which means everything is Nature; this means we can contrast and confront Nature with nothing above or below her (nothing can be supernatural, or unnatural, if Nature is all and includes all). This, in turn, means Nature is invisible to all evaluation, there being nothing with which to compare her – she is, in short, “almost nothing.”
Of course, in practice it’s not quite so simple. On the modern view of things, human choice is the great rudder by which the ship of Nature shall be steered; one might even go so far as to say we’re Masters of the collective fate. If so, we’re better than anything we profess to believe: our modern creed offers no reason whatever to think of ourselves as anything more than a plank in the ship. Indeed, we can’t even distinguish sea from vessel – for again, the vessel is all, and all is the vessel.
Medieval might be an upgrade.
The Genesis narrative stands in contrast to the myths by reason of the historicity that it attributes to evil. The whole biblical conception of evil, we dare suggest, is inextricably linked with this unique feature. Nowhere else is evil denounced with such a tireless zeal, intransigence, horror and indignation. It is the disorder that finds no justification, the enemy and the work of the enemy. Nowhere else is the problem of guilt placed in such a central position. Nowhere else do you find such a clear insistence on the conversion of the human heart, that heart from which evil emerges and which must turn away from it. This ‘nowhere else’, which is plain for all to see, has an explanation, which we shall now disclose. Since elsewhere evil is inherent in the original being of reality and is part of the very definition of humanity, then elsewhere it must be excusable because it belongs to fate, and as such it must be invincible. There can therefore be no voice raised in protest against it. The myths and the philosophies that spring from them inevitably stifle the innate sense of the intolerable nature of evil, whether it is the evil one commits or the evil one suffers. But the Bible can stand as accuser and can awaken this sense, because it knows that evil was not there in the beginning, but arises from a subsequent, historical use of human freedom. (Henri Blocher, In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis, p. 167)
I’ve been debating an atheist of the “New Atheist” variety over on Facebook. In the context of our discussion, a question occurred to me:
Assume for a moment the validity of materialist evolutionary cosmology. If over billions and billions of evolutionary years, natural selection has (so far as we can discover) eliminated biological life in every corner of the cosmos except one fleck of dust we happen to call home, and if the total elimination of all life at some future point is scientifically inevitable, why on earth (!) would natural selection favor the survival of our (or any) species? How could we possibly make the fantastic claim that the cosmos, in any sense, exists for our species (i.e., the processes of nature in some sense work in our favor)?
I don’t know what I was expecting when I began listening to Hans Halvorson’s presentation at the recent Calvin College lecture series on Philosophy of Science, Faith, and Science, but it is a staggeringly brilliant piece of analysis. I would have to think when I have read or heard anything better on the subject of how the natural sciences interrelate with Reformed theological reflection upon scripture.
Halvorson’s Reformed intuitions (inculcated from childhood) lead him to conclude (with Augustine and Calvin, to name no others) that God is free over against His creation. This may sound obvious, but of course it has enormous implications for our thinking about whether certain actions predicated of God in scripture are scientifically “possible.”
He argues that proponents of the Divine Action Project have treated “nature” as something essentially autonomous, as something with the freedom of which God will not interfere; and that this notion of radical, autonomous freedom is anti-Augustinian. Think about it. Naturalistic, uniformitarian science and Pelagian soteriology are metaphysical sisters!
I hope this lecture gets trumpeted from the housetops in Christian colleges and universities.
The possibility or impossibility of a thing is determined by the parameters set for what is possible. Many divine activities described in scripture simply can’t be fit into the laboratory of uniformitarian science, let alone analyzed there. And so when a uniformitarian scientist says something described in scripture couldn’t have happened, he should be told he needs a bigger laboratory.
“What must be grasped from the very beginning is that evolutionism’s cosmology involves an intellectual sleight-of-hand operation. It appears initially to denigrate man’s position in a universe of infinite (or almost infinite) space and time, only subsequently to place man on the pinnacle of this non-created realm. Man becomes content to be a child of the meaningless slime, in order that he might claim his rightful sovereignty in the place once occupied by God. By default – the disappearance of God the Creator – man achieves his evolving divinity.” (Gary North, The Dominion Covenant: Genesis, p. 253)
I’m no scientist, but if this is even close to accurate, it makes my head swim: