T.F. Torrance on Knowing

‎’In all authentic knowing we distinguish what we know from our knowing of it and at the same time distinguish ourselves from whatever we know. We recognize our own free independent existence and are aware of ourselves as rational subjects in the activity of knowing. But obversly we recognize what we know as having reality “on its own”, independent of our knowing of it. In distinguishing ourselves from what we know we are aware of ourselves as irreducibly real subjects, who have reality in ourselves independent of other realities with which we stand in relation. But by the very same token we are aware of the other as having reality in itself independent of our knowing of it. It is this personal mode of being as subject which is precisely the mode of being in which we are aware of the objective world around us. Personal subject-mode of being is thus the bearer of objectivity.’ (T.F. Torrance, ‘Reality and Scientific Theology’, p. 109)


A Polemical Moment

Over at internetmonk, a post on some recent sexual scandals in the evangelical world was published. I won’t reproduce the whole post – but the part I wish to comment on I will. This will be a rhetorical, inflammatory and polemical post.

Folks, Christians are no more or less broken and capable of sinning than anyone else in this world. Simul justus et peccator — we are simultaneously righteous and sinful until the day we are glorified.

It is time to stop pretending. It is time to stop saying we have the answers and can rise above the moral degradation of our times.

All we can do is look to Jesus. We have no room to boast. We have no room to claim any kind of transformation that makes us “different” from our neighbors. We are not different. We are human. We fail.

It’s not about transcending sin. It’s about admitting our own sinfulness, naming our own sin, being harsh with ourselves and being kind and loving and forbearing toward others. It’s about being forgiven, again and again and again. (http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/the-church-cant-hide-its-sexual-brokenness)

This, to put it bluntly, is a load of theological bullshit, plain and simple. The simul justus et peccator principle invoked here is a mere excuse for the bad behavior of Christians – and while it is true that Christians are just as capable of sinning as anyone else, it absolutely does not follow that we have no answers and cannot rise above the moral degradation of our times. The entirety of Scripture testifies to the fact that such an assertion is completely unfounded. We do not have room to boast – but we DO have claim to a transformation that makes us different from our neighbors. Like it or not, there IS a code of conduct that Christian moral behavior is to follow, and it is a higher moral standard than the world outside the church.

While Christianity is not about making naughty people more moral, improved moral behavior is in fact a part of Christianity and one that is strongly commanded throughout the whole of Scripture, from the Mosaic law to the Apostolic writings. Christian character, both in the typical moral sense as well as in a more theological sense is to be visibly different than those outside the body of Christ such that the world outside the Church can do nothing but admit that a fundamental change in the innermost depths of their being, in their very fiber and fabric of their nature, in their very essence, has happened to those inside the church that could not have happened save for a radical encounter with Christ in which the aforementioned change is effected.

Christians are called to rise above the moral degradation of our times; our behavior is to be such that it is noticeable by those who are not a part of the church for both its moral uprightedness and its kindness, love and forbearance – not because Jesus died to make us more moral but because we are fundamentally, ontologically different. Christians are in Christ – our being has undergone a total and radical change its innermost depths such that our former, weaker nature is no more, period. The quoted piece above is nothing but cheap grace and theological bullshit.

The Place of Experience in Theology

Theology is not typically informed by personal experience with God – rarely do any of the thinkers of Christianity’s 2000 use their own personal experience to bolster a theological argument or idea, which leads me to wonder: why? If a Christian, in their own personal communion with God, has an experience or hears a word from God – wouldn’t said person be within their rights to put that at the forefront of their theological thinking?

It’s an interesting issue – the problem of subjectivity in Christianity and in Christian experience. I will devote more thought to this.

Conceiving of God

It’s not uncommon in the philosophy/theology/philosophy of religion world to come across the phrase, ‘how we conceive of God’ or ‘our conception of God’, or any number of variances on that theme. Is God, however, someone we simply conceive of? Is God someone we arrive at in thought?

I go back and forth on this issue – broadly it’s basically debate over the validity of natural theology. Can we get by reason from nature or the world to God? I generally lean towards a no – because I don’t think that God is something that we approach via our intellect alone, though one cannot be a Christian and deny the place of human reason.

I would say that no, God is not someone we conceive of – if our god is a god that we conceive of and not a God who makes Himself known to us then what have is not God but simply our own construct.

Insofar as we genuinely seek God, He will meet us along any road we travel as we seek Him – if we seek Him on the road of science, He will meet us there. If we seek Him on another road, He will meet us there – but we must genuinely seek. This is the ‘burden of seeking’ that Christianity has, as well as the promise it gives. One cannot simply treat God as an intellectual exercise.

In Defense of the Wager

Pascal is known in the religious/philosophy/apologetics world because of his (in)famous wager. I won’t review the argument here – it can be found online in various translations quite easily.

When one views just the argument on its own, without any context, one comes away less than impressed. A brief look at the context of the argument as well as Pascal’s overall method and goals, however, throw the argument into sharp relief.

Pascal spends a number of pages in his Pensees on boredom. He sees mankind as a fundamentally bored species, who seeks all manner of diversions so as to keep the boredom at bay. Pascal’s aim, then, is too argue against this indifference and boredom and jolt the passive unbeliever not into believing but into taking seriously the notion of belief. The wager is not a slam-dunk argument, but it’s not meant to be. It’s not meant to stand up to rigorous analytic philosophical dissection. It is the climax of Pascal’s efforts in the Pensees. After spending page after page detailing the misery of man in his boredom, the wretchedness of his reason and his pathetic attempts to keep boredom at bay, Pascal’s wager then is meant to move the apathetic person from his state of boredom and diversion into a frame of mind that takes seriously Pascal’s religious claim – that apart from God, man is only in misery and darkness.

A Few Thoughts on Science

I recently bought Fire in the Mind: Science, Faith, and the Search for Order, by George Johnson. I’ve only just started reading it – I’m only a dozen or so pages in. and so far it is quite enjoyable, well-written, engaging, somewhat in the vein of Timothy Ferris’ books like Coming of Age in the Milky Way and Seeing in the Dark. The introduction, however, contained a couple interesting passages:

‘There are two opposing ways to view the scientific enterprise. Almost all science books, popular and unpopular, are written on the assumption that there actually are laws of the universe out there, like veins of gold, and that scientists are miners extracting the ore. We are presented with an image of adventurous explorers uncovering Truth with a capital T. But science can also be seen as a construction, a man-made edifice that is historical, not timeless – one of many alternative ways of carving up the world.’ (p. 5)

So what we have here are two theories of science – discovery and creation. I actually wasn’t aware of such a debate in science, but apparently there is. But at any rate, it seems to me that to posit a dichotomy between doesn’t make much sense – it makes perfect sense to me to think of science as both a process of discovery and one of creation/creativity. Actually, it seems to me that unless one takes this view, one ends up with some a pretty deficient view of science. Humans are creative beings – a central theme of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis is that because we are made in the image of God, who is a creator god, we are also in a sense creators. It would make sense, then, that there is a definite creative element in the process of science – the greatest minds in science have been the most creative (one thinks of minds like Planck, Einstein, Galileo, etc, etc). But this view doesn’t necessarily entail any kind of theism – one can note and praise the brilliant creativity in science whether or not one holds a belief in God.

Science as discovery also seems to me to be a pretty fundamental aspect of science – the discovery of the laws of nature, specifically. Recently, however, there have been attacks and criticisms of this view, that there aren’t laws of nature. This, I’m afraid, seems to be pretty incoherent, for reasons I’ve gone over before here.

But at any rate, to separate the discovery aspect (discovering the laws of nature, etc, etc) of science from the creative part of science (various quantum mechanical models, developments of mathematics, etc) is just silly.  How can there be a coherent, unified process of science if either of the two aspects required to harmonize the process are turned into the process itself?

A Few Thoughts on Morality

Much is made by theologians, apologists and philosophers by morality, and various moral arguments – some attempting to demonstrate the reality of God, some for other reasons. The Christian claim generally goes like this:

Objective moral values exist.

If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.

Therefore, God exists.

Pretty simple argument. A few definitions: objective moral values = things like  murder is wrong in an absolute, objective way – it is true whether or not anyone believes it to be. It *is* wrong – not just determined by societal values or cultural values, but objectively wrong.

There are differing views on this line of argument (there are some pretty interesting takes on the argument, but this is pretty much the core of it). Firstly, is there such a thing as objective moral values, and, if there are, can the leap to God be made so quickly? Many would claim that no such OMV exist. Morality is simply a product of society, evolving with society.

Others would argue that a kind of natural law exists – that there are natural moral laws, such as don’t kill, etc. Most of the time these are grounded in some kind of theism, and most Christians would take this line. Folks like C.S. Lewis argued quite powerfully about the reality of the natural moral law. Aquinas was a key figure in the development of natural law ethics – the gist of his thought was that we could grasp the natural law by human reason apart from faith.

Not all theists agree with natural law ethics, however. Bonhoeffer, for example, denied that there exist natural moral laws that we can know apart from faith. This puts him quite apart from the Aquinas tradition.

There have been a lot of attempts to ground morality in something other than God, some good, some not so good.