Creation science makes sense, but . . . .

Creation  science makes sense, but . . . .

Many Christians, and almost all adamant atheists, see creation science as a backdoor to sneaking God into school curricula, and public life generally.  Among most educated people, creation science lacks respect.  Wikipedia defines creation science as “a pseudoscientific form of . . . creationism, which claims to offer scientific arguments for certain literalist and inerrantist interpretations of the Bible.”  But what if we think about creationism more generally, as the claim that mind created the universe?  Then it makes perfect sense, especially when you consider the alternatives: that the universe created itself, or that it has existed forever.  “Perfect sense” doesn’t mean automatically true.  It just means that it rests on a good argument.

The Odds

One argument for creationism is that the conditions under which the universe could form, including planets on which people could live, are so unlikely as to be virtually impossible.  Roger Penrose estimates it as 1 in 10 10123 . That is, 1 in 1 + 23 zeros.  It’s a big number.  Physicists have estimated that the entire universe contains “only” 1080 elementary particles (Moyer, p. 238).*  

The only alternative is God, or so some creationists conclude.  But that puts it too narrowly.  What if instead of God we say “mind”?   We’ll see.  But couldn’t life have formed itself, lightening setting off a chain reaction in a pre-biotic chemical soup?  It’s possible, but again unlikely in the extreme, perhaps impossible.  As John Walton wrote in the Times Literary Supplement, “intense laboratory research has failed to produce even one nucleotide (RNA component) under geologically plausible conditions.”  Scientists have faced “insuperable problems” in explaining the origin of the information that would need to be present in “the chains of nucleotides required for the RNA world.”  RNA is the first genetic molecule capable of reproducing itself. 

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Kierkegaard on Prayer. Who Knew?

Kierkegaard on Prayer.  Who Knew?

Three times I’ve posted on  Kierkegaard.    I thought  I understood him.  He is an existentialist for whom belief in God is a subjective truth.  The decision cannot be justified; one can barely give reasons.  All one can know is what one knows about any subjective truth: that it is based on a decision to believe it.  No wonder that Kierkegaard is often called the first existentialist.

Recently I came across a book of Kierkegaard’s prayers.  You could say I should have known about his prayers before.  Perhaps I should of, but philosophers don’t write about this aspect of Kierkegaard’s work.  Neither do most theologians.  It seems irrelevant to most of them.  It shouldn’t be.  The prayers turned my view of Kierkegaard upside down.

Kierkegaard’s prayers

I’ll just summarize the content of several of the prayers.  You will lose the poetry, but you’ll get the idea.

  • “Thou hast loved us first” (prayer 8), Kierkegaard asks God to help us avoid the seductions of the world, and to love others as much as we love ourselves.
  • “Thy forgiveness” (prayer 21).  We are to forgive others seventy times seven.  Will you, God, ever tire of forgiving us?
  • “For faith” (prayer 27).  Teach me not to get bogged down in stifling reflection, but simply to have faith.
  • “To know thy will” (prayer 37).  Keep us vigilant so that we may work for our salvation through fear and trembling. But “grant that we may hear also a gentle voice murmuring to us that we are Thy children, so that we will cry with joy, Abba, Father.”

The first sentence of the last prayer sounds like the Kierkegaard I am familiar with, the author who dwelt on the anxiety and dread that accompanies the life of the faithful.  But the second sentence is like that of a little boy rushing to sit on the lap of his beloved father.  Abba is best translated here as “daddy.” 

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Atheism or God as other

Atheism or God as other.  My original idea for this post was to review a book defending atheism and promoting humanism.  As I said in a previous post, on some days I think I’m an agnostic, and I’m open to a good argument against theism. 

The book I chose, after looking at several, is The God Argument, by A. C. Grayling.  It is so bad it’s hardly worth reviewing.  Still, I’ll briefly summarize it before going on to explain the position shared by a number of theologians: that God is completely other.  This isn’t the term used by most theologians, but I think it captures their position.

The reason the “God is other” argument is important is because most critics of religion criticize a version of Biblical literalism, showing almost no awareness of theology. 

Grayling,The God Argument

The justifications offered by religious people for their beliefs very often turn out to be . . . rationalisations for something that is in its deepest depths is non-rational. (p 4)

Well of course religious people don’t base their arguments on reason; they base their arguments on faith.  If you don’t understand this, then you don’t understand religion.  Elsewhere Graying argues that religion hasn’t “passed the test of reason.” (pp 49-50)  But of course that’s the wrong test.

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Camus’ absurdism lacks imagination

Camus’ absurdism lacks imagination.

Camus insists that he is an absurdist, not an existentialist.  OK, but it is important to figure out what he means.  Camus thinks a Christian can be an absurdist.  I don’t.  I do think that absurdism is the leading alternative not only to Christianity, but religion. 

Religion is said to be based on faith, as it is.  Camus’ absurdism is based on a particular heroic ideal, a man who faces the truth head on, as if it were that simple.  All quotations are from Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays unless otherwise noted.

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Kierkegaard is wrong: an absurd God is not good

Kierkegaard is wrong: an absurd God is not good.

I’ve posted three times previously on Søren Kierkegaard   As with all my posts, I’m always trying to figure out the gist of someone’s argument by presenting it to others—that is, you dear reader.  I think I’ve finally “got” Kierkegaard, and I think he’s fundamentally wrong.

The three stages of life

Kierkegaard says that there are three stages to life: the aesthetic, the ethical, and the religious.  The aesthetic life is concerned with pleasure.  The ethical life is concerned with living by principle.  If married, I should follow the principles of marriage, which are loyalty, care, and love.  The ethical man acts in a way he would want others to act.  It’s actually pretty close to the golden rule, which in turn is pretty close to what Immanuel Kant called the categorical imperative.

The religious stage is where it gets complicated, because Kierkegaard subdivided the religious stage into A and B.  We reach the religious stage when we see that the principles that guide our lives are not merely a product of human reason, but a divine imperative.  Failing to live up to these principles is not only unethical; it is an insult to God.

Kierkegaard makes a big deal out of the difference between what he calls “religiousness A and religiousness B.” (CUP, p 494)  The main difference is that in religiousness A, God is thought of as comprehensible by humans, and understandable by reason, at least to a certain degree.  There is continuity between the ethical and religiousness A.

Stage B, which Kierkegaard sometimes calls simply Christianity, is where God is beyond human reason, infinitely different and utterly inexplicable.  Kierkegaard frequently uses the term “absurd” to characterize this God and his commandments.  The experience of God as absurd is good, for it means we have abandoned trying to understand him.   To act on the absurd is to act completely on faith (Journal).

“Religion B” is a bad idea

In Isaiah 55:8, God says “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.”  This makes sense.  We should not expect God to be a larger and more powerful version of a human.  To fail to recognize and appreciate God’s otherness is a mistake.  Nevertheless, God’s commandments, his presence in our lives, must be recognizably good, decent, and moral, or he is no longer a God that humans can worship.

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What’s so great about faith?

What’s so great about faith?  It depends on what you mean.  Most people today seem to regard faith as a so-called “leap of faith,”  in which we simply choose to believe something that can’t be demonstrated or proven.  Society, or one’s own needy self, says that I need to believe, and I do, keeping quiet about my doubts, if I even let myself have any.

Real faith is given by the grace of God.  We don’t choose faith; faith chooses us.  Nevertheless, there are things we can do to receive it.  Prime among these is humility, and living as Christ would have us live, as though we were men or women who deserve grace.

But how do I know if I have received grace?

There are two answers.  If you have to ask, you haven’t.  If you think you have received grace, you haven’t.  Just continue to live as though you were worthy of grace.  In the end perhaps this is the most we can hope for.  What’s more important: to know that you have grace, or to be worthy of it?

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A sociologist who turned to God, but never understood faith: Peter Berger

A sociologist who turned to God, but never understood faith: Peter Berger, March 17, 1929-June 27, 2017.

When I was in graduate school many years ago, The Social Construction of Reality, by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, published in 1966, was my bible, and I was not alone.  Berger and Luckmann argued that what we experience as reality is socially constructed by men and women.  Over time, this construction is forgotten and the reality taken as given.  It’s a good argument, but it doesn’t work very well with God.  Berger acknowledged as much in a book written a few years later, A Rumor of Angels: Modern Society and the Rediscovery of the Supernatural, published in 1970. 

Where Berger was right

Berger seems right that what has failed in modernity is not a belief in God, but belief in “another reality.”  Some theologians seem to have gone along with this.  Paul Tillich understood the task of theology in terms of the “method of correlation,” by which he meant the interpretation of Christianity in the language of philosophical and psychological thought (p 11). 

Rudolf Bultmann exaggerates, but has the right idea when he says that no one who uses electricity and listens to the radio can any longer believe in the miracle world of the New Testament.  His response was to translate the Christian tradition into the contemporary language of existentialism (p. 41).

Bultmann’s definition of the disease has proven useful.  Today many of us are enthralled with the things humans have made, like smart phones.  (Confession: I bought my first smart phone a couple of weeks ago, and something about it is compelling.)  So how should religion respond?

Berger’s answer is that we should not capitulate to modernity, but anchor belief in God in human experience. Good diagnosis, poor remedy.

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Kierkegaard and the tragedy of grace

Kierkegaard and the tragedy of grace.

God grants us grace, but we have to accept it. I argue that bad social conditions close some people to grace.  Kierkegaard would disagree.

Most Christians agree that we cannot save ourselves.  God offers his grace freely, not because we merit it, but because God loves us.   Paul writes,

For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves.  It is the gift of God—not by works.  (Ephesians 2:8-9)

The difference among Christians is how we earn grace.  Faith or works is the usual distinction, but of course that is too crude.  I’m going to follow Kierkegaard (as far as I can), who is generally considered the first existentialist.  So, choice must be important. 

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