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Theology & Science – Part 4

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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 first question and part two 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

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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 two 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.

Theology & Science – Part 2

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Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for Theology & Science (Part 2)

 

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

Click HERE for Part 1.

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).

B) Hermeneutics is generally about interpretation and not just interpretation of communication. We reflect back on our lives and interpret our whole story, even though it is unwritten. So, hermeneutics has to be used in the realm of nature and when that nature is evaluated in the context of communication between scientists and theologians and between regular folks like me with interest in one or both of those topics, there is no questioning the certain need for the discipline of hermeneutics. Each of these two disciplines of knowledge are seeking to understand truth, and once discovered they each tell the story of that truth. The moment that story enters into the picture there is a hermeneutical requirement.

In science observations have to be interpreted and communicated and once that communication happens, it is necessary to interpret that. Theology is not much different except our observations largely come out of a text that tells a story where we notice certain things within a text rather than inside a beaker. Theology and science both have within them an art and a science. In theology, one might easily think of the art side first. We think of theology differently than we think of doctrine or dogma. Theology is freer than doctrine or dogma to explore possibilities. It is about piecing things together to create something that is expressed uniquely, something expressed differently than at any other time.

However, theology, at least if it is going to be good theology, has to contain an element of science as well. Anything and everything is not permissible to the church regarding theology. There are checks and balances, tradents within the church. There is a great community also interpreting and reminding of certain truths when someone goes too far. There is history and those who interpret history and its truths. Like the world of science those truths are not always agreed upon by everyone, but also like science certain false truths eventually fade, unable to stand the test of time and the scrutiny of their growing number of interlocutors.

Neither science nor theology is strictly logical. For many, it may be easier to think this way in the realm of theology. But science has been characterized by logic. It would seem to many people that that is the purpose of science. However, Reynhout uses Heidegger to show that science is not a place of strict logic, allowing for no infiltration of things like subjectivity (Reynhout, 104). Like theology, science has a search for meaning, and wherever there is a search for meaning, there is interpretation. Reynhout says that “the most unbiased experiment conducted under ideal conditions will still involve a certain kind of interpretive process” (Reynhout 121). If science was only based on facts and no interpretation was needed, there would never be any changes to scientific theory. But changes come when new information is discovered, just like changes to theology as one grows in that field of knowledge come.

P.S.  For information on participating in our dialogue group, click on the “Become A Participant” tab and tell us if you’d like to join us in person or via the web.  We’d love to be in community with you!

Brian Bram August 30, 2014 3 Comments Permalink

Theology and Science – Part 1

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[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 totally rad.]

 

Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for Theology & Science (Part 1)

 

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

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).

A) I have borrowed my definition of hermeneutics from Grant R. Osbourne in his work, The Hermeneutical Spiral (pg. 5) as the art and science of interpretation. I like both sides of this definition. Hermeneutics is about precision in communication and this is where the science comes in. There are rules to be followed in interpretation. Not just anything will go. “I love dogs.” cannot be interpreted as “The weather is cold today.” There may be a range of interpretation but there remains the ability to go outside of the range to a place where the interpretation is wrong. For example, when a communicator wants to exaggerate and intends to use hyperbole, it should only be interpreted as such. If the intention is to go over the top to make a point, the interpreter is obligated to read (not necessarily just text) the communication as hyperbole.

However, there is a certain art to hermeneutics, as well. Typically we don’t have the time to clarify every intention, and often we don’t have the communicator present to ask for clarification. But, original intention has to be at least a part of our hermeneutic. Some people recognize figures of speech more easily than others. This is also where the art comes in. The kind of art I’m thinking about here isn’t some sort of “born to do art, gifted directly by God” kind. Becoming someone who excels at art takes practice, even from those it comes most naturally to. Hermeneutics also takes practice. The good news is that we do hermeneutics every day. We’re constantly interpreting communication. However, those who get really good at it tend to be those who reflect on it and study it.

Reynhout has used a slightly different definition which serves to enhance the one I typically use. He says that interpretation is “the dialectical process of understanding through explanation” (Reynhout, xv). Reynhout’s focus figure, Paul Ricoeur, agrees with the idea that all interpretations are not equal (Reynhout, 73). The fact that there are arguments about the correct interpretation shows they are not all equal. If hermeneutics was only a science or only an art, then the case could be made that all interpretations are equal. But that is not the case. For him, we go back and forth in a dialectical way from understanding and explanation. I liken this to Kierkegaard’s idea of going back and forth from epistemology to hermeneutics.

P.S.  For information on participating in our dialogue group, click on the “Become A Participant” tab and tell us if you’d like to join us in person or via the web.  We’d love to be in community with you!