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Diverse, respectful theological dialogue.

Theology & Science – Part 6

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Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for Theology & Science (Part 6)

This blog series will cover my final exam for my recent Theology & Science class.  Here is the second question and part two of my answer.

Click HERE for Part 1.              Click HERE for Part 2.              Click HERE for Part 3.              Click HERE for Part 4.

Click HERE for Part 5.

Exam Question:  This entire course has been aimed at addressing the particular problem of evolutionary suffering. As precisely as you can, describe this problem in relation to evolutionary theory (its cause, its range, its challenge, its distinctiveness, etc.).

[its cause and its range] The question assumes that evolution is true, and I agree that it is, so it is here necessary to show the difference in the way someone who assumes both the reality of evolution and the existence of a good God and how they would answer to the problem of suffering in nature. This is the cause, isn’t it? Suffering in nature is not the same for the creationist described above for the aforementioned reasons and it may not be much of a problem at all for the Atheist who doesn’t have to hold to a good God. The atheist can simply say that nature and its creatures suffer and that’s just the way it is. But this will not do for the Christian.

Another idea that Southgate shows will not do for the Christian comes from Kenneth Miller. His idea is that this whole issue is just a failure of perspective. We’re all giving this much too much thought. Everything hangs on if we’re looking from the perspective of the predator or the prey. That relationship is just a fact of nature. I agree with Southgate when he says that we can dismiss this case without much effort. I’ll make an epistemological sin and say, I just don’t buy that argument. It’s an argument by ignoring which to me makes it an ignorant argument. To quote Forest Gump, “That’s all I got to say about that.”

So, the Christian is faced with skepticism from interlocutors who press the famous question “How could a good God allow so much suffering in the world?” Pat answers like, “Well, it’s all a mystery” or “God has a plan that we just have to trust” may work for a good number of people, but not for me. In my way of thinking, these kinds of answers may not be the cause of the problem of suffering, but they certainly enhance it.

The second one in particular puts God in the place of being the cause for the suffering. However, it seems to me that God can’t be both all good and the cause of suffering. So, in terms of the range of the problem, it ranges as far as it is able to because it extends out far enough for some to question the very existence of God. Specifically in regards to range and the concept of evolution, I think there are a few paths a person could consider when it comes to the reality of God, suffering, and evolution in terms of a solution.

A person could consider the idea that God set up evolution from the start, or that God set up laws that allowed for the possibility for evolution and it then came to be. Further dialogue on the ramifications for those answers should be reserved for question 4. However, I point them out to show how deep and wide this question can get. Certainly, the range can go as far as the doctrine of God to ask what kind of God would create a (physical) nature with evolutionary suffering. However, I think it is sufficient to show that if the range can go as far out as the furthest possible place, by my definition the existence of God, that that is enough for our purposes here.

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Theology & Science – Part 5

[If you’re new to this blog, we’d love it if you subscribed to our RSS feed or email updates to the right. Should you decide to in the future, unsubscribing is easy, too. If you like it and share via Twitter or Facebook that’d be almost as good as a Star Wars movie.]

Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for Theology & Science (Part 5)

This blog series will cover my final exam for my recent Theology & Science class.  Here is the second question and part two of my answer.

Click HERE for Part 1.               Click HERE for Part 2.               Click HERE for Part 3.               Click HERE for Part 4.

Exam Question:  This entire course has been aimed at addressing the particular problem of evolutionary suffering. As precisely as you can, describe this problem in relation to evolutionary theory (its cause, its range, its challenge, its distinctiveness, etc.).

[its challenge] If one believes in a literalistic interpretation of scripture, with a 24 hour day and 7 day week of creation found in Genesis, in spite of the many clues for the necessity to include other interpretive frameworks on the piece, and an Augustinian “Fall” of mankind that sent a curse upon all humans as well as on all of nature, there will be a particular way of framing this question. However, if a person has moved away from this angle on scripture they would likely frame things completely differently from the start.

Usually the people in the literalistic camp will at some point go to ideas regarding the problem of suffering being simply the result of disobedient humans in Adam and Eve. Sideris has shown that holders of this view often hold to an idea that because God called creation good in the beginning, that there was a time that all the animals fed on plant life rather than one another. The escaton for them is then about God fixing everything so that things can go back to the way things were supposed to be all along. The lion will lay down with the lamb without feasting on the lamb. The way things are now is a result of the world being in a fallen state, according to this view.

We can see then, that for all the publicity given by the populous over the issues of science and theology relating to our reading of the 7 day creation narrative, the real issue is tied more closely to the popular theology of the Fall. I won’t take the time here to directly show the problems with this line of thinking but I will state the reason for bringing it up. It is to show that the route one takes on the issue in the beginning has a direct effect on the position taken regarding the problem of suffering.

So, one of the major challenges with this problem is that if we don’t get the launching point of our theology correct, we will have created lots of problems for ourselves far down the road. Often, theologians don’t discover these theory holes until they are so far down the road that it becomes difficult, for reasons of pride, investment, stubbornness, etc., to abandon the theory and start over.

Another challenge that Southgate points out is that not only is natural selection, which includes sometimes seemingly horrible acts, a reality, but it is these very horrible acts that leads to the life we currently see in the world. Life forms evolve and adapt as a means of avoiding suffering, amongst other reasons. So, the question for some theologians is whether or not God purposely caused the suffering to allow natural selection to do its thing. Once again, since this essay is more about the setup and the questions, I’ll defer that part that seeks to answer these questions for now. What we can see by now is that if there is evolution, natural selection and an all loving God in the world, there is a challenge to figure out how to coalesce these streams at the brackish.

Theology & Science – Part 4

[If you’re new to this blog, we’d love it if you subscribed to our RSS feed or email updates to the right. Should you decide to in the future, unsubscribing is easy, too. If you like it and share via Twitter or Facebook that’d be almost as good as an ice bucket challenge.]

 

Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for Theology & Science (Part 4)

 

This blog series will cover my final exam for my recent Theology & Science class.  Here is the second question and part one of my answer.

Click HERE for Part 1.

Click HERE for Part 2.

Click HERE for Part 3.

Exam Question:  This entire course has been aimed at addressing the particular problem of evolutionary suffering. As precisely as you can, describe this problem in relation to evolutionary theory (its cause, its range, its challenge, its distinctiveness, etc.).

[its distinctiveness] There seems to be a bit of a difference regarding the fact that there is suffering in the world of nature versus the fact that there is suffering in humans. Whether or not there should be a difference is the topic of another essay. However, one thing is certain. More work has been done theologically with the problem of suffering in humans than has been done with analyzing suffering in all the rest of creation.

This points to one aspect of the problem which is that humans are basically anthropocentric. So, it’s not surprising that we’ve looked at the human piece more than the other. I myself have spent most of my time studying the problem of evil in relation to humankind and almost no time in relation to nature. Even when I did spend time on nature it was usually things like natural disasters that had a disastrous effect on humans, usually ignoring the devastating effects on others in God’s creation.

However, I don’t think that the fact of selfishness is a distinctive feature. I see that in evolution there is rampant selfishness, as pointed out by Dawkins in Foster’s work. However, even though there is selfishness that has infected both humans and non-humans, it’s only on the human side that we should expect to see a rising out of this conundrum. More on that in a second.

One question we need to ask first is whether there is evil in nature? I agree with Reynhout’s assessment that to call disvalues in nature evil is a category mistake. I don’t see animals having the same moral ability and therefore responsibility as humans have. Because of this ability and responsibility humans also have the ability to sin. Sin is evil. However, animals can’t sin in my theology. So, when a lion brutally attacks, kills and eats a gazelle, or when an orca playfully kills its prey, I don’t think it is evil. That doesn’t mean I don’t think that there is something not right in all of that, though. I’m different in my thinking here than people like Rolston and Sideris. I am hopeful that someday those disvalues will no longer be a part of creation.

So, the most salient difference that I see between the human realm and the non-human realm as it relates to this question is the existence or the type of free will. Presumably, at least some, although not all, suffering in the human world can be attributed to human sin. But this can’t so easily be done in the animal kingdom, for example. Nor can it be done in a single celled ameba (I hope I’ve gotten my science right here!) It seems impossible to make a case that these forms of life have the same kind of free will, if they have any free will at all, as humans do. So, I suggest that the main difference in the suffering topic on the nature side is the existence or type of free will.

McFague, whom I criticize but whom I also regard as a person with great erudition, seems to have tapped into at least a bit of my idea of responsibility and accountability here. She says, “The only difference between us and the rest of creation is that the others reflect God, tell of God, simply by being, whereas we must will that it be so (The Dearest…, 113). She assumes here that both humans and non-humans are in a state that is not full, there is something missing, something that we are striving towards. However, humans have the extra responsibility, due to the extra capacity we have, to align our actions with the Trinitarian God’s character.

Theology & Science – Part 3

[If you’re new to this blog, we’d love it if you subscribed to our RSS feed or email updates to the right. Should you decide to in the future, unsubscribing is easy, too. If you like it and share via Twitter or Facebook that’d be almost as good as an ice bucket challenge.]

 

Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for Theology & Science (Part 3)

 

This blog series will cover my final exam for my recent Theology & Science class.  Here is the first question and part three of my answer.

Click HERE for Part 1.

Click HERE for Part 2.

Write an essay explaining (A) what hermeneutics is about, (B) what hermeneutics has to do with theology and science, and (C) why hermeneutics was important for the topic of this course (give examples).

C) Most of the time, hermeneutics is done quite naturally. We do it better with more and more experience. However, there are some extenuating circumstances that can make hermeneutics a much more difficult task. One of those is the analyzing of very old communication, such as biblical texts. Another is when we look at texts that are interdisciplinary, especially when we are unfamiliar with the language that is used in one of the disciplines.

When a scientist who is used to reading science books picks up a modern-day novel, they seem to know it’s a novel and they seem to have the ability to read it as such. However, possibly due to influences from popular, often uninformed theology, the same scientist often seems to be unable to remove their scientific proclivities when they pick up the bible. Maybe they have looked past the fact that they have put down the reading of one genre and picked up a book of another genre. Certainly all scientists are not guilty of this offence just like all Christians are not guilty of this genre mistake. However, Christians have often been unable to remove their narrative proclivities when looking at science.

Young Earth creationists have needlessly gone to great lengths to attempt to explain away scientific findings. When there were scientific findings in the single digits that needed to be explained away, the task wasn’t so great. But, it seems to me that there has gotten to be so many things now that scientists have found regarding the age of the Earth and evolution and such, which these well-intentioned folks feel they have to explain away, that the weight of the task has made the arguments in defense of a young Earth look a bit foolish.

I remember a number of years ago listening to a Christian making the claim that the “so-called” dinosaur bones that were “discovered” were all fake. Or, that God miraculously put them there to test our faith. I also remember thinking, “Really, all of them are fake? There sure do seem to be a lot of them.” Regarding the planting of fake bones, well, obviously that kind of act would go against everything scripture claims about the character of God.

The trouble is, according to Charles Foster, that both the Atheist (Dawkins) and the Young Earth creationist are looking for one grand theory that explains all the difficult questions of the world. It seems to me that this is a failure of hermeneutics. Good hermeneutics would recognize the milieu and genre of each discipline and modify their interpretation of things accordingly. Here the scientist or the fundamental Christian may shriek, “How dare you modify!” I remind both that science and theology has to modify when new information comes along. Copernicus modified his science when new information and a relooking at old information came along and many expectant Jews who were looking for an earthly warrior Messiah modified their theology when Jesus came along. So, hermeneutics is always interdisciplinary at some level.

Reynhout has supported this claim in his introduction as well as throughout his book. He says that, “theology’s interdisciplinary character is fundamentally hermeneutical” on page xii (emphasis his). The very definition of hermeneutics includes interpretation, which is at the very least one person with their own set of notions attempting to correctly understand another from their own set of notions. This, of course, comes after the step of interpreting the data provided to the first person. Let us not forget that if I asked someone to show me science they would likely wander off and bring back a science book or drag a professor in to talk science. Either way, they would be bringing back science as communication. Reynhout shows that they would be sharing meaning and this meaning has to be interpreted. Imbedded in all of this is an “author, context, and receiver” as well as a gap between the author and receiver. This gap is where either communication or miscommunication can happen. (122-123)

Since this is the case, it is most prudent for both the scientist and the theologian to study hermeneutics.