Saturday, October 31, 2020

Once again: Does Jesus Know Everything?

 

In one of those passages that have fascinated Christians through the ages, Jesus says, referring to His Second coming:
But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.
What does this mean? I certainly don’t know for sure, but I have some ever-evolving thoughts on the matter. 

First of all, there is general agreement that the human nature of Jesus was not omniscient. There is no problem in that regard. The issues becomes: what did the divine nature of Jesus know or not know? And what’s up with this puzzling choice of words that seem to limit the attribute of omniscience to the 1st person of the Trinity only? 

Broadly speaking, there are two views 

1) For the sake of the Incarnation, Jesus (the deity) “set aside” (by what mechanism, nobody knows) some of his Godly attributes in a cosmic lockbox, including some portion of his omniscience. So the passage means exactly what it says: Neither Jesus’ human nature (okay) nor his divine nature (surprise!) knows.

 2) Another view is that Jesus’ divine nature was, is, and forever will be omniscient, but by design this knowledge was not transmitted to His human nature, which is speaking here for himself and only for himself. Jesus the God knows, but he’s not telling Jesus the man through whatever mysterious data transmission channel connects the two. [1] 

 I support view 2, although it is fraught with danger. Crossing the threshold from Jesus’ natures being distinct into his natures being separate is to cross into the dreaded realm of Nestorianism. What about the choice of words: the Father alone [knows]. That's a hard pill to swallow. For even if you accept view 1, that Jesus set aside divine omniscience, why, according to those words, is the 3rd person of the Trinity excluded from this knowledge? 

On the one hand it is a sort of amusing question, but on the other hand the implications of such a reality on our view of the Trinity are enormous. 

I can think of two explanations. There must be more, because probably both are wrong. 

1) The first explanation follows on top of the fact that Jesus the man was not omniscient. In this explanation for "only the Father knows", not only does man-Jesus admit ignorance on the time of the Second Coming, he displays ignorance of even a working understanding of the Trinity. While it “works”, I reject view. Jesus' human nature may be missing some unessential information, but I will gladly make a fallacious argument from incredulity that it cannot be the case that Jesus the man had errors in his doctrine of God. May it never be. 

 2) My proffered explanation, though still probably wrong: Human language is simply inadequate. Here and elsewhere Jesus seems to refer to “God” as “Father” [2] . Why? Well I can think of a reason. If Jesus’ divine nature is (as I believe) omniscient, as well as the Holy Spirit, then Jesus (the man) could have stated, 
But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but God alone.
This would have preserved the omniscience of a persons of the Trinity. However, can you imagine what confusion that would have caused down the ages? It would have been used to “prove” (somewhat convincingly) that Jesus not only never affirmed his own deity, but by implication he denied it. To avoid that problem, Jesus would have had to pause at that point and give us an object lesson on the Trinity. Which would have been splendid, but apparently it was not the time or the place. So the words were chosen to strike a balance between creating confusion and unnecessary data overload. The blanks were left for the reader to fill in for homework. 

 I don't knowif that's right. I give it no more than a 25% chance But it's all I got.

 
[1] The divine nature can communicate to the human. Jesus can prophesy. Jesus can read minds and hearts. For example, he knew Nathanael before he met him:
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:43-49)
[2] E.g., on the cross: "Forgive them Father for they know not..". Since the divine nature of Jesus has the power to forgive sins, The human nature of Jesus could have prayed: "Forgive them God for they know not..". But great exegetical michief would have ensued.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Nobody's Right, if Everybody's Wrong

There's battle lines being drawn
And nobody's right if everybody's wrong

 The October 2020 issue of Table Talk is devoted to covenant theology. In an article entitied the Covenant in History, R. Scot Clark writes:

In the history of theology, the elements of what we know as covenant theology--the covenant of redemption before time between the persons of the Trinity, the covenant of works with Adam, the covenant of grace after the fall--have existed since the early church.

And here, in a recent (July, 2020) article on dispensationalism, entitled Dispensationism and the Early Church Fathers, William B. Hemsworth writes:

In this paper I will show that dispensationalism was not the invention of a 19th-century Biblical scholar, but that it has roots in the earliest days of the Christian church.

And of course there are the Baptist Successionalists, who argue that Baptists (not counting just "John-The") have been around since, you guessed it, the early church.

Apparently the early church fathers were covenant theologian dispensationalists who baptized infants and re-baptized them later, as adults, for good measure, and held regular pot-luck dinners, at least until they had their fill of green-bean casseroles. Their views on dancing (and eschatology) were presumably quite muddled.

Systematic theology. It sounds good, It sounds wholesome even. Who could not be in favor of Systematic theology?

Well, I'm not. It is a trap. In my opinion, it is humanly impossible to champion a systematic theology and be free of confirmation bias. 

In my experience (and I was once there) as soon as you are heavily invested, your hermeneutic becomes: how can I make this passage fit my systematic theology? It devolves into a massive "cart-before-the-horse" scenario.

A relatively benign version of the syndrome is "Cage Calvinism." If you have this malady, you try to make everything you read fit TULIP, especially the U.  Annoying, but not fatal.

When systematic theology is the illness, the disease is more virulent, especially as it first infects theologians and academics at a higher rate than the normal population. They then become effective super-spreaders. 

I have seen systematic theology destroy relationships and cause some to leave a church.

And, by the way, there was absolutely nothing resembling full-blown covenant theology or dispensationalism in the early church. They are both modern inventions. Yes, there were elements of both present--but those elements are so generic that only confirmation bias makes one see them as meaningful confirmation.





Thursday, September 10, 2020

We are not charged with Adam's Sin

There is no solid biblical support for the “federal headship” view that argues that “as our representative, when Adam sinned, we all sinned.” This view goes on further to claim that Adam’s sin actually appears on our transgression debit ledger. I really don't know how people simply overlook how this view thoroughly impugns the character of God. God does not charge one person with the sin of another. May it never be.

Nor does the "our representative" analogy even work, at least not very well. If our representative in government is guilty of malfeasance he or she (let’s naively assume) would be removed from office and jailed. However the people who elected the ne’er-do-well are not charged with the same crimes. That would be injustice. This injustice is precisely what is leveled against the character of God by those who hold to this variation of federal headship. 

The analogy does work if you say that we suffer the consequences of the sins of our representative. We, for example, would suffer the consequences of a representative who was negligent in, just to pull something out of the aether, the handling of a  global pandemic. And we indeed suffered the dire consequences of Adam’s sin, i.e., our moral DNA was corrupted  to the point where it doesn’t really matter in a salvific sense if we are charged with Adam’s sin, because we’ll drown it out by committing beacoup of our own, even before we are out of our nappies. However the principle is still important: God will not charge you with someone else’s sin, representative or not.

Proponents of this view like to point to a symmetry that is only roughly present and treat as if it were a perfect symmetry. Namely they will point to passages like this:

So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. (Rom 5:18),

which is certainly written with symmetry in mind. But it is only a perfect symmetry if you are a Universalist, because while the transgression (through the inheritance of corrupted moral DNA) did indeed result in the condemnation of all, only a subset of the “all” will be justified. Justification for all manner of men, surely, but not universally.

One verse earlier the same “symmetric” argument is made, but the imperfection of the symmetry is made explicit:

For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. (Rom 5:17)

The righteousness of the One does not balance, in some symmetric sense, the transgression of the other. No, in some divine moral calculus it completely obliterates the transgression.

A final breakdown of the symmetry is that we suffer the consequences of Adam’s sin whether we like it or not (and I don’t like it at all!) while the justification must be accompanied by, regardless of your soteriology, a positive response of the will (even for Calvinists.)  

I blame the Platonic fixation with perfect geometric shapes. When Platonism is applied to theology bad stuff always happens. In this case a symmetry that is only presented illustratively is elevated, because Plato would be pleased, to possessing an unwarranted meaningful perfection and resulting in a bad doctrine.

Well, that's my opinion.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Got milk?

Paul, writing to the Corinthians and the writer of Hebrews (Paul? Apollos? Priscilla? Barnabas?) writing to whomever [1] use the same metaphor to describe the theological immaturity of the recipients. Paul writes:
But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. (1 Cor 3:1-3)
Likewise in Hebrews we read
12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.(Heb 5:12-13)
Paul, to the Corinthians, says in effect: “You are not ready for advances topics. You need remedial education.”

On the other hand, the writer of Hebrews takes the “let’s toss you in the deep end” approach. For just after telling his audience they still need to be on a milk diet, the writer declines to oblige them. We read:
Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity (Heb 6:1a)
Then, in what is really illuminating, the writer gives us a list of what is not going to be covered because it’s too basic—they were supposed to have already mastered the topics. The list included:

  • Repentance from dead works 
  • Faith toward God
  • Instruction about washings 
  • Instruction about laying on of hands 
  • Resurrection of the dead 
  • Eternal judgement 

Notably absent from the list of basic doctrine is anything regarding when or how the earth was created. Nor is that in the advanced doctrine to follow, which is all about Christ being the new and better (and eternal) high priest of a new and better law and a new and better covenant.


[1] The title “To the Hebrews” is an uninspired editorial addition, for the letter, uniquely, contains no salutation. It was perhaps assumed, early on, that the readers were Hebrews on the evidence that the letter appears to assume a fair amount of knowledge of Jewish practices. But the bottom line is that while there are various theories about the recipients, at the end of the day there is nothing but uncertainty.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

When rainbows give me heartache

Reconciling science with scripture is a good thing. I’m stating the obvious here because some Christians—quite a few actually, suggest, albeit often through the technique of passive aggressiveness, that it is not good, not good at all. As if you were being disrespectful to God and/or allowing humanism to trump the faith or at least trump scripture. In fact, those who look down upon efforts at concordance are at risk of relegating general revelation to the status of a second-class citizen and in elevating their ability to exegete into realm of infallibility. General and special relativity should be treated on equal terms, as scripture itself reminds us.

Counterintuitively, the easiest events to reconcile are miracles, because they don’t need to be reconciled. By their very definition they cannot be reconciled—a miracle is a violation of the natural laws. One of the most bizarre activities ever attempted is when believers try to explain miracles through science, as in “the parting of the sea was due to a fortuitous gale force wind in concert with an equally fortuitous temblor and everyone in Asia jumping up and down at the same time during a full moon.” 

I’ve never really had much trouble reconciling science and scripture. Oh, for a while I struggled to make the order of created things in Genesis align with the order we see from science, in order to affirm the day-age interpretation, but after a while I decided I really can’t make that work. So, recognizing that both science and exegesis are fallible, I did what I had to do, I abandoned one, in this case it was the day-age view. I went on to adopt the Framework hypothesis.

All is good. Ducks in a row. 

Except for the blasted rainbows. I don’t know what to do with rainbows. 

We “know” their origin. A covenantal sign that a flood will never again be used to wipe out all of humanity. We read in Genesis, chapter the ninth:
11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth. 12 And God said, This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. (Gen 9:11-15)
The plain reading, and the way I believe most people interpret this passage, is that rainbows did not exist prior to God’s invoking of his decretive will following the (local) flood.  

But this is not like any of the miracles—those are isolated events, not repetitive. An analogy would be that once Jesus fed the multitudes, feeding a small town with a single Chick-fil-A sandwich and having some strips left over for tomorrow became commonplace. And besides, we know exactly how rainbows develop, it’s simple first year physics. If there were no rainbows before, then the physics was different before, and the change stuck. But the physics could not have been very different before—that would have left a mark that we’d detect today.

The advent of rainbows, if that’s what it was, is unlike anything else in scripture.

I would like to interpret Genesis 9 along the lines of God decreed the mother of all rainbows, in magnitude and brilliance far greater than the ordinary, perhaps in a clear blue sky, to Noah and his offspring, when he made the covenant. And that super-duper rainbow was the supernatural sign. But the text doesn’t really support that, not without excessive exegetical gymnastics.

I think I’ll go to the grave not getting my head wrapped around Genesis 9. But that’s okay, given that I do have a good feel for John 3. Priorities.

Friday, August 07, 2020

Not all young earth creationists are YECs

On the same site where I was debating yesterday, a discussion arose as to whether Augustine and other ancients were YECs (Young Earth Creationists). Some atheist scientists (one in particular) were arguing that they were, while a few of us argued that they were not.

The basis of our argument is not that Augustine and his brohs believed in an old earth (why would they?) but rather they were not at all like what the the term YEC has come to mean. I had this exachange:

Me: People are concentrating on Augustine as an example of someone who believed in a young earth (why wouldn’t he?) and yet was not a YEC. (@dga471 is, IMO, correct. Usage is king and today’s usage is that YEC == somewhere in the neighborhood of Ken Ham.) 

Augustine wasn’t the only “church father” (if you can call him that) who was not a YEC. YECs generally interpret God’s warning “on that day (that you eat from the forbidden tree) you will surely die” as meaning something like on that day you will begin the process of dying. The problem being that Adam breathed for another 900+ years. 

But in the early church famous figures solved this problem differently, with a millennial day solution. 

For example Justin Martyr (c. 100-165) wrote: 
For as Adam was told that in the day he ate of the tree he would die, we know that he did not complete a thousand years [Gen. 5:5]. We have perceived, moreover, that the expression ‘The day of the Lord is a thousand years’ [Ps. 90:4] is connected with this subject" (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, 81 [A.D. 155]).
 What Justin is saying, is that a solution to the Adam-did-not-die-as-God-promised problem is to take “day” in Gen. 2:17 to mean a thousand years, a la Ps. 90:4 and 2 Pet 3:8. So he was a young earth creationist, I suppose, but definitely not a YEC. 

Others had, at least at times, similar non-literal views of Genesis days, including Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen.

Someone else: That, however, is not a requirement for being a YEC. In fact I’ve commonly heard another explanation/excuse: that the death referred to is spiritual death rather than physical. 

Me: You may have heard the spiritual death explanation commonly, but not commonly from YECs. It is a position of many OECs to explain how, as scripture says, death could enter through one man if in fact there was lots of death prior to the fall. At the 99% level when OECs make that argument, YECs say “no, no, no, Adam’s death must refer to physical death.” You are simply wrong. 

Same someone else: And I’d say that anyone who thinks that the days of creation were each a thousand years long is still a YEC. Sorry. 

Me: No worries, we live in a post-modern world where everyone is entitled to their own definition of words. 

Same someone else: Your definition seems particularly odd, as you say that some young earth creationists are not YECs; you’re defining the acronym in opposition to the words it stands for. 

Me: It is not odd at all. The term YEC has come, from usage, to mean the form of young earth creationism that sprung up as a result of the advent of evolutionary theory. It was recognized that evolution needed a great deal of time, and so modern YECism arose in an attempt to deny it that time. YECs proclaim a young earth in spite of the overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary. That is the distinguishing mark of a YEC, and it is not shared by the ancients. Augustine and others from the first 500 years? I don’t actually know how old they thought the earth was, they probably just accepted whatever the consensus was, which was certainly not billions of years. But they didn’t dig their heels in in the ground in the face of scientific evidence. You really don’t see the difference? 

In the very same way, ancients who might have believed the earth was flat are not the same as modern “Flat Earthers” who, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, still proclaim flatness. Again, you don’t see a difference? It’s one bin for all? 

And there the discussion ended.

 Soon classes will start and I’ll have no time for these guilty pleasures.

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Can a YEC do science?

On another site, I was in debate about whether Young Earth Creationists (YECs) can do science. Now anyone who knows me also knows that I am no fan of Young Earth Creationism. Theologically I consider in a secondary or tertiary doctrine. Yes, I was in a church where I was told that my views on creation posed a stumbling block to other believers, and that made me incredibly sad, but the concern was not reciprocated: those who believe in a young earth pose no barrier to fellowship, as far as I am concerned.

However, those who go beyond a theological perspective and argue that science done right (a la AiG or CRI) actually supports the YEC view, e.g., that dinosaurs lived within the last 10ky and walked alongside people—they are (at best) severely misinformed folk being led by (at worst) liars for Jesus. [1]  

If you have a YEC view, then your view about science, if you are honest, should be: “Science disagrees with my view of creation. So be it, I don’t care. It'll all sort itself out in the end.”

I have total respect for this view.

Back to the debate. This is a site frequented by scientists and science lovers, theists and atheists.

Several atheists were arguing that YECs cannot do science, at least science related to evolution or the age of the earth/universe. This is total nonsense. You could argue that YECs ought not do such science, or that you would never knowingly hire a YEC to do scientific research in these areas, and I might (or might not) agree with you. That is a different matter altogether, and one fraught with value judgements and legal considerations.

But to argue that they can’t, because they lack some proper ideological viewpoint, is nonsense.

Science is not a religion. Scientists are practitioners of a craft, not clergy. To do science means to follow the scientific method. That means: experiment and/or calculate, document, and disseminate. And the holy of holies, never falsify (by addition, subtraction, or modification) your data.

Science does not ask you about your motivations, beliefs, religion or lack thereof, color, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, party affiliation, etc. It simply doesn’t give a rat's derriere about any of these.

This is what a lot of scientists have trouble with: science does not even care if you love science or if you believe in the results you are obtaining. So a YEC astronomer could make the most precise measurement of the Hubble constant, while not believing for a second that the reciprocal of the Hubble constant gives the age of the universe. His measurement, that is his science, is no less valid because he does not believe what he measured reflects reality.

Why would a YEC want to be an Astronomer? It doesn’t matter, as far as science is concerned. A person whose motivation is ideologically pure: “I want to know the secrets of the universe!” does science the same exact way as the person whose motivation is: “I want tenure and a paycheck” or "I want to learn how to blow up the world."

One of the atheist scientists posted a scenario that I though made my point better that I did. He wrote:
If you go to a candidate talk and they give an impressive, rigorous, detailed and well supported study and then at the end the punchline comes and they say “of course none of this is actually real because it contradicts the Bible” then no person with any academic integrity would take them seriously. 
To which I responded:
This. A thousand times this. They just gave a talk that was “impressive, rigorous, detailed and well supported” and then came out of the closet. How does that retroactively affect the science they just presented? If what they presented had you excited and could further your own research, would you now say: “Well darn, I guess I can’t use that after all!” 
This isn’t hard. Science is agnostic about everything you are as a person. It cares only about one thing: that you follow the method.


[1] Another repulsive (but common) position is that a young earth view is a first tier doctrine and, via the slippery slope, if you deny the young earth view you'll soon be advocating universalism and denying the trinity and justification by faith alone. Because of "metaphysics."

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Maxwell's Equations make me think of Priscilla and Aquila

In teaching the history of science to an honors class, I eventually arrive at James Clerk Maxwell. Here is the Scot who has perhaps the most famous set of equations in physics named after him, equations that represent the first unified theory in that they synthesized the fields (in two unrelated senses of the word “fields” no less!) of electricity and magnetism into what then became known as electromagnetism.

But wait, there’s more.

The equations related to electricity included a constant that had to be measured from experiment, εo, the permittivity of free space.

The equations related to magnetism included a constant that had to be measured from experiment, μo, the permeablity of free space.

Maxwell combined his equations in a way that formed a description of waves, and so the electromagnetic wave (right down to your wifi) was “born.” The velocity of the wave turned out to be the square root of 1/εoμo. And evaluating that gives you—the speed of light. Awesome.

I always told my students: imagine what it must have been like for Maxwell to see waves traveling at speed of light pop out of his equations. A true Eureka! moment.

And then, on a study abroad last summer (seems like last millennium) we stopped at St. Andrews in Scotland [1] and heard a lecture from a true expert on Maxwell. I (big mistake!) asked her about Maxwell’s reaction to the speed of light being related to two constants that seemingly had nothing to do with light. She said, paraphrasing: “Meh. It was not a big deal. Maxwell and others were expecting it.”

Balloon, deflated. Well, it’s certainly more fun to teach history when you don’t actually know history and can embellish it willy-nilly!

Which brings us to Priscilla and Aquila, two of my favorite characters from the New Testament. [2] Priscilla and Aquila (wife and husband) were this remarkable couple, Jewish exiles from Rome, whom Paul encountered in Corinth on his second missionary journey. The bible is silent on what must have floored Paul: at that time he was the world's most far-ranging missionary, and yet he encountered two Christians from Rome. And they appear to be mature in their faith. (And they share his profession!) No missionary of note had yet been anywhere near Rome. How delighted and flabbergasted he must have been.

But that is speculation only, because the bible does not record the matter of his reaction. I hope my fantasy of Paul’s delighted surprise in encountering Priscilla and Aquila doesn’t end like my fantasy about Maxwell and the speed of light.


[1] It turns out they have a golf course at St. Andrews! Who knew?

 [2] And Priscilla’s name is usually given first, which denotes her as the more prominent. And this in a culture of patriarchy, so she would have had to rise even further to be given the marquee position. And, blissfully unaware of notions of biblical manhood and womanhood that would develop over the next two millennia, she participated in teaching a man, Apollos. And he wasn’t just an unschooled layperson convert, but an established missionary. [3]

 [3] And Apollos was not told to get a degree in Greek philosophy to master ontology and epistomology and then attend seminary for four years and affirm a lengthy, uninspired, extra-biblical confession. No, he was given simple correction and sent on his way. It is a lot harder to become a preacher or missionary today. It is not at all clear that the results are commensurate with increased cost.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Aristotle has caused a lot of trouble

Galileo’s first trouble with authority was not with the church [1], but with the philosophers. As we read in Timothy Ferris’s book Coming of Age in the Milky Way[2]
Galileo was twenty-five years old when a scientifically inclined nobleman, Francesco Cardinal del Monte, took an interest in his abilities and got him appointed professor of mathematics at Pisa. There he lectured on astronomy, poetry, and mathematics and resumed his hectoring of the Aristotelians, at one point circulating a satirical poem poking fun at the Scholastics’ habit of coming to school in togas, like little wax Aristotles. The students were delighted but the Scholastics were in the majority on the faculty, and when Galileo’s contract expired he was let go.[3]
It is often argued that medieval Christianity delayed the development of science, which while exaggerated by the critics of Christianity may be at least partially true. [4] But as the Dark Ages ended, the renewed adoration of Aristotle caused, at the very least, unnecessary additional delays. Aristotle’s horrible science was considered by many (the scholastics mentioned above) as beyond refute, solely because of its pedigree. However what Aristotle taught, when it comes to science, was nonsense. Probably the best example is that he taught that the starry realm beyond the “air” (outer space, if you like) was absolutely immutable.

Then, praise God, we have the suddenly appearing supernova of 1572 [5] which closed the door once and for all on Aristotle's "science". The scholastics, you see, would have it that something that appeared out of nowhere had to be a close-by atmospheric phenomenon, not far away in the Aristotle's immutable aether. But the development of triangulation demonstrated beyond any doubt that the supernova was not in the atmosphere, but distant, among the stars.[6] When Aristotle's "so bad it is not even wrong" view of the cosmos was finally jettisoned, scientific progress took off on an exponential trajectory.

Another aspect of the discipline of philosophy that Galileo objected to was its penchant, still evident today, for proof by an appeal to authority. (In some sense one feels for them, what other arrow do they have in their quiver?) Ferris quotes a passage from a book written by Galileo's father that might well have been Galileo's motto:
It appears to me that they who in proof of any assertion rely simply on the weight of authority, without adducing any argument in support of it, act very absurdly. I, on the contrary, wish to be allowed freely to question and freely to answer you without any sort of adulation, as well becomes those who are in search of truth. [8]
The problem with Galileo, as Ferris points out, is that while he had a laudable disdain for relying on arguments from authority, he reached a point in his life where he demanded that others accept his conclusions on precisely that basis. That's what got him in trouble with the church, not his support of heliocentricity.


[1] And his trouble with the church was not really about his Copernicanism, but rather because he was an arrogant jerk and a political imbecile. He actually had important supporters in the church early on, but he got too full of himself.

[2] A great read which I use in my Honors course on the history of physics.

[3] Ferris, Timothy. Coming of Age in the Milky Way (p. 85). HarperCollins e-books. Kindle Edition.

[4] Another reason is the Romans loved engineering, but not so much pure science, and their influence lasted well beyond their empire.

[5] It cannot be overstated how important to modern science was the 1572 supernova, only to be followed a scant 32 years later by another supernova, so that both Tycho Brahe and Kepler had ample viewing opportunities. There would not be another one visible to the naked eye until my lifetime. It was in 1987. Some see luck, I see providence.

[6] Because the super nova looked like it was in the same place to observers that were far from one another, just as stars do. If it were in the atmosphere it would have looked very different for distant observers (not even that distant) against the background stars.

[7] The modern scholastics still get immutability wrong, not of the cosmos but of God, and like the physical error eradicated by the 1572 supernova, the theological error is traceable to Aristotle. His damage continues, with a common view of divine immutability as much closer to Aristotle's distorted view of God than anything found in the scriptures.

[8] Ferris, Timothy. Coming of Age in the Milky Way (p. 84). HarperCollins e-books. Kindle Edition.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Those darn Christians and their pseudo-intellectual anti-science nonsense!

As I have argued many times, only Christians can harm Christianity. Atheists can’t harm Christianity. Proponents of other religions can’t harm Christianity. The government can’t harm Christianity. COVID-19 can't harm Christianity. No, the church of Christ is immune to all save self-inflicted wounds.

Among the most dangerous are: legalists who sacrifice the gospel for a yoke and demand that we live as if Christ never freed us from bondage, cultural warriors who think our living the correct way for a Christian means that we are obligated force unbelievers to live the same way [1], and those who apply highly fallible human philosophy to theology, and especially when they do it with an anti-science agenda. The latter group is far more dangerous to sound doctrine than the scientist-Christian. Well, at least I think so.

Human philosophy is nothing at all like science. Virtually every scientist agrees that quantum mechanics is the best description of the microscopic world, that Maxwell’s equations are the way to describe electromagnetism, and that General Relativity is our best theory of gravity. There are not Maxwellians and non-Maxwellians as there are stoics and epicureans and Aristotelians and Platoists and neo-Platoists. The complicated taxonomy of human philosophy testifies to its uselessness for anything but, well, idle-philosophising.

If we are generous and give credit to philosophers for the Law of noncontradiction[2]—well that is about as far as it goes. It was all down-hill after that. The garden-variety philosopher-theologian writes pseudo-intellectual word-salad, which would be easily dismissible except they tend to have the credentials and jargon-speak that cause others to take them seriously.

I recently saw this from a philosopher-theologian on twitter: [3], [4]
Tbc: I reject Darwinism totally. It is bad sc. resting on worse metaphysics. I'm tired of wild-eyed schemes for integrating it into Xian theology. We ran that experiment & it led to pantheism. [Rolls eyes]
I replied:
This is nonsense and a form of lying for Jesus. Darwinism (I think he means evolution) might turn out to be wrong or like most science incomplete, but it is not bad science. Human Philosophy is more of a risk to sound Christian doctrine than science.
To rephrase my response, since this is not twitter: Evolution is the best scientific theory we have to explain the diversity of life. While like all science it will undergo refinement, it is not likely to ever be proven wrong in a global sense, unless the fossil record is afforded a better scientific explanation or anachronistic fossils are discovered.

I would like to think that if I found the theory of evolution incompatible with scripture (I don’t) I would take one of these two approaches:

  1. I don’t care, I believe the bible.
  2. I believe evolution is wrong, and I going to study it with all my ability and demonstrate in the lab how it is wrong.

I hope that I would not pretend that I could trivially dismiss the theory by dropping some nonsensical pseudo-intellectual jargon.

You know,  I believe that, with little effort, much philosophy applied to theology could be Sokal-hoaxed as easily as post-modern drivel.


[1] There was like a zillion opportunities in the New Testament for a teaching moment that would justify the Christian engaging in the culture wars. The Holy Spirit availed himself of none of them. Just saying.

[2] In truth credit should go to Logicians, as should credit for enumerating the logical fallacies.

[3] This philosopher thinks it is clever to use the phrase Darwinism instead of evolution. Insistence on using that term, which is completely inaccurate, is a red flag. Darwin’s theory is not the modern theory of evolution, for one thing he knew nothing of genetics. I heard something similar in a different venue the other day: “Evolution has not changed much since Darwin”. Why do Christians say things like that, things that easily fact-checked and demonstrably false? Saying you don’t believe in evolution because you find it incompatible with scripture—while I would disagree I would and do respect that position. But just making up stuff that isn’t true—that I cannot condone.

[4] Later in the twitter exchange, this philosopher argued that philosophical naturalism and methodological naturalism were a distinction without a difference. That is total nonsense. The former argues that the natural world is all there is and everything we really know is through science. That latter argues that the study of the natural world is through science—it is basically the philosophical backbone of the scientific method. The former is incompatible with Christianity, the latter is not. That is not a distinction without a difference.