To Wittgenstein, With Love: Towards a Comprehensive Theology of Origins

Tony Sig
It will appear after this post that it would seem Dan was using a labeling-gun with no glue. For our tags continue to fall off as it would appear so far that nobody believes that the whole of the cosmos was created in six twenty-four hour periods.

I might start off by adding, in concert with the others that I am not a scientist, physicist, mathematician nor even an able theologian and so I suppose that in this regard my post will bring no finality to the conversation either. But I do hope to bring some epistemological light to this nihilistic darkness.

I will start by stating what it is I do believe, not necessarily why I believe it or how I came to believe it. In light of other Near Eastern evidence it would appear that the Genesis creation stories are not merely a statement or revelation about ‘what happened’ nor even just about what God (here I believe the name used is Elohim) is like or His design for creation; that is developed more fully in later tradition. Rather it is a statement that God will brook no rivals. Marduk needs slayed dragons in order to shape the world, Israel’s God creates by speaking. God calms the waters of chaos and does not struggle to calm them as do other gods. And all this likely created as early Hebrew tribes are being oppressed by a kingdom who by all traditional accounts stands in judgement of their God. He who’s kingdom is ruling has the God who is ruling. Not so say the ancient Hebrews.

Because this is what I believe is being communicated I do not find a ‘belief in science’ in conflict with this story or with our testimony as Christians. Yet that does not mean that my position is that God as Creator is a sort of ‘theological’ or ‘spiritual’ truth unrelated in any way to ‘the facts on the ground.’ Perhaps the ‘Big Bang’ occured, but where did the matter come from? How about the physical laws that command the matter to behave in said way as to predicate and demand a Big Bang? And so I believe in Creation Ex Nihilio even though Gen 1-2 does not necessarily demand that it be so. If one should wish to say that this position is a bare and childish ‘statement of faith’ then they are welcome to. As the phenomenon was not observable, testable nor repeatable I would argue that both ‘creationists’ and ‘scientists’ are on even footing. (But this split is itself a line created by the thinking of ‘Modernity,’ reality, thankfully, is much more complex than ‘science vs religion’).

I am actually an enthusiastic supporter of Evolution. Perhaps not taken to a crude extreme, but I have found it to be a theory that makes a lot of sense of what we can discern about how life progresses. I think it makes sense of this physical world, but also of free will, of the fall, and subsequent and progressive ‘recreation’ of a creation gone amiss. In the same way that we humans can ‘guide’ or ‘manipulate’ the life around us (for instance by selective breeding and even advanced gene manipulation, cloning, etc…) so God would act upon and guide creation by ‘natural’ means. Humanity is the apex of creation, the product of millions of years of careful and tender care and growth. I used to say that to suggest that God took millions of years to create would be to not give God His place or to limit His power. In reality that was simply my own prejudice. I judged that length of time meant weakness, but it need not be so. Therefore there is no mystical ‘supernature’ whereby God does magic tricks, but He acts as He also sustains and heals by the same manner. By allowing for infinite possibilities, and endowing His creation with freedom there is the potential for a ‘falling’ whereby free agents act against the perfect wisdom of their Source and so fall into disrepair. (As I recall there is a story about how God is going to restore His creation, but that is another essay)

There seems to me to be way too much concern with why we believe what we do. Or how we came to believe what we do. Or even a mourning over the inability to discern things ‘objectively’ and so what we really do is just pick a worldview, as if it were a supermarket and one simply just happens to like oranges to apples. Here are a few quotes to this extent:

Reed:

“Thus, (while fully admitting I’m inescapably tied to my own worldview) I’ve made a decision to believe in a creator who has a purpose for his creation”

“Because no matter what criteria you’re using to discern the origin of the Universe, you will inevitably encounter the same limitation: your own point of view.”

“From this place of preference we choose which evidence to accept”

Jeremy:

“I am not opposed to the existence of an intelligent God figure, in fact I am strongly in favor of inclusion of this character to the equation. However, this predisposition for me is based on desire more than conclusion and as such I find it difficult to choose a specific divine representation.”

“My personal affinity is for a theory which aligns itself with man’s current knowledge while still leaving room for an intelligent designer.”

I greatly appreciate conversing with people so honest as to critique themselves with such veracity. Both essays have been a pleasure to read and great to mull over. If I am discerning their argument I would put it as follows:

1-Nobody can have ‘objective’ or ’empirical’ ‘proof’ of a particular interpretation of Origins or really any worldview at all

because

2-We all interpret reality through our cultural history, our life experience and/or preferences

therefore

3-In lieu of this inability to make a comprehensive and unhindered decision, at the end of the day what we really do is pick an interpretation on the basis of personal desire or as Jeremy puts it, “this predisposition for me is based on desire more than conclusion.”

I would argue that this line of reasoning is a Non Sequitur. That is to say I believe not that we cannot know something objectively, but rather that there is no such thing as objective knowledge. Not just that it is unattainable, but that it does not itself exist. All knowledge involves the object which communicates to another object, which interprets the stimuli as it is able to do so. When I see a tree I am actually seeing light, put out, or reflected off of it. The tree is not itself light, but I can only discern it by light or by running into it. When I read an essay or hear a lecture the communicant uses different words, rhymes, rhythms, grammatical structures, tenor, tones, pauses, etc… to communicate. I cannot discern mere words because words do not stand alone, they are only discernable via context and delivery and even then one can misunderstand the original intent.

And so when one might say, because I cannot objectively prove a worldview I must resort to matters of taste or even of reasoning and/or argument. Because there is no objective knowledge there is not even knowledge of why we prefer one thing to another. One cannot say: “I like this so I will choose it.” One can only say “I am predisposed to believe this for what reason I know not why.”

And so I do not offer my testimony that

I believe in one God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth,
And of all things visible and invisible

with reservation knowing that I have no ‘proof’ in an empirical sense. I offer it with confidence, being convinced of it’s truth not knowing why it is that I do believe it. In a way, by uttering it, I create the worldview itself, to be accepted or rejected by others for what reason they themselves do not know. This is frighteningly the closest I have ever gotten to Calivinism (Irresistable Grace)

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14 Comments

  1. There is not such a thing as complete objectivity, and I do not think that this is oft-debated; however, I do think there are positions that are either more-objective or less-objective.

    With all respect, I fear that the dialogue is leading toward obscurantism. Of course the issue of language is vital, but I do not think that we should force ourselves into a corner with Wittgenstein. Science is natural, religion is supernatural. Science is physical, religion is meta-physical. Of course Genesis is not a prolegomena for the scientific community, it is a myth. Not that the story is a farce, but it is actually saying more than it says, which the reader should understand. The statement: the thorn in my flesh, says much more than what it actually stated. If the matter was really about a thorn in his flesh, then one would simply suggest that it be removed by quickly picking it out of the skin. The story is understood to say something more, it is not a scientific issue and if it was one would hope that Scripture is not the only guide for the medical community.

    All of this is to say that I believe that something can be said. I believe that this is an important issue/topic and I do not want to end up in a battle of word games. Science and Religion are two separate categories and although I do believe that they can be in dialogue with one another, I also believe that they must first be addressed and understood individually if they are communicate effectively.

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  2. Thanks Josh for bringing your perspective to the conversation. Although I do not feel we three are getting on about words and shades of meaning. When Jeremy responded to Reed he asked:

    “Is a theology of origins and concurrently sustenance objective or simply open to preferance? I believe there are those in this group that would espouse the former rather than the latter.”

    I was just adding to the conversation, not starting a word game. I look forward to their critique.

    🙂

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  3. I also disagree with you on your statement:

    “Science is natural, religion is supernatural. Science is physical, religion is meta-physical”

    Any worldview is wholistic. As a theist I will interpret so called “natural” phenomenon through my foundational beliefs; that God exists and has created the world. An atheist scientist also has a worldview through which she/he views “natural” phenomenon and interprets accordingly. You are right to say that some knowledge is more objective than others. But I believe the statement to be flawed. It would be more accurate to say that some knowledge is much more sound, or is contingent with our current understanding of the world. In this Jeremy is surely right to emphasise that our knowledge is imperfect, which is why, even if for desire’s sake, he says that he can make room for a God figure. That is why knowledge and theory should be made public, for critique, in this way our inherent bias’s can be mostly overcome and we can arrive at a conclusion much more sound than it would have been had one simply made up one’s own mind by themselves.

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  4. There is much to say on this, some of which is clarification.

    First, while I fully admit to humanity’s inability to know truth empirically and objectively. I do not believe such truth cannot exist. I do not mourn this, I celebrate it for the same reasons Tony discussed above about making information public and turning it over and analyzing it and having other people look at it and all that good stuff. Were it possible to know these metaphysical, “meaningful” things empirically… well, we’d all know it then, wouldn’t we? and that would be the end of our blog and most of our academic careers.

    The debate of origins should not play out like the supermarket scenario above; arbitrarily choosing between bananas or oranges or apples when what we really want is a superfruit that encompasses all that a fruit should be and thus makes all other fruit pointless. (Incidentally I think Naked juice has a drink called superfruit). I simply want to acknowledge that ultimately life requires us that we choose some worldview. Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking it is a choice based on evidence, and reasonable theories, and all that but I believe it’s really just a choice based on preference.

    I’m well aware that I’ve chosen a worldview that centers on a creator, let’s call it Bananas. I know the Banana worldview can’t explain everything that the Apple worldview can, but Bananas are good in their own way, and to abandon my Banana for the Apple is simply to abandon one set of pros and cons for another. The superfruit exists somewhere, but I don’t see it. The banana certainly isn’t that superfruit, but it’s close enough for me.

    Second, I echo Josh. Science and Religion explain different phenomena and should be allowed to function differently in society. Worldview is NOT wholistic.

    Christianity makes every kind of sense to a Pastor’s son until he befriends a Muslim. Agnosticism makes every kind of sense to a Physicist until she experiences something powerful, beautiful, and supernatural that her experiments can’t explain. Worldviews are incomplete, subjective attempts at putting together a framework for reality. They are organic and fluid. They shift from person to person, from region to region, from era to era.

    The idea that we might some day arrive in an advanced age where Science and Religion line up perfectly and become best buddies to explain everything is a masked attempt at saying we might someday discover objective truth. I’m not sure if this is what you’re arguing Tony, but it’s what this post (plus a few discussions we’ve had on this subject) have sounded like to me.

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  5. Thanks Reed for your comments. It does clear up a bit about what you think. Unfortunately I still disagree with almost everything you just said.

    I still disagree about knowledge and worldviews. I believe in the “objective object,” that there are idea’s, rocks, people etc…They exist as something that is not myself and not something else. But knowledge of these things is by it’s very nature subjective. I am not trying to say that what may ‘seem’ to be a cup is really a car because I am interpreting it; nor am I saying that there is not a ‘wholistic truth’ (I object on many levels to using the word ‘truth’ with such singularity) about the entire cosmos. But still, the knowledge of that would be by it’s very nature an appropriation of knowledge, which always involves the knower, and so is subject to the knower’s process’s. And so I do not believe in objective knowledge.

    I find the split between “science and religion” to be an unnecessary split and has really only existed in the last 200 years. “Scientists” before this point had no problem reconciling their “religion” to their “science,” nor did they find the two to be mutually exclusive. Neither do I understand what you mean by “allowed to function differently in society” Could you explain to me what you mean by that?

    I also disagree that ‘science and religion explain different phenomenon’ For instance the phenomenon of ‘demon possession’ can be ‘explained’ according to psychology or according to a ‘meta-physicality.’ I see no reason why the split is necessary. Perhaps some outside energy is acting upon the person and this is manifested by severe psychological problems including chemical imbalance and all that. Both could be used in harmony to explain a single happening, this would be ‘science and religion’ colluding, perhaps being ‘buddy buddy’ or whatever you wanna call it. I call it wholistic knowledge or comprehension. You could “choose” to pit one against another, or to say that they describe ‘different’ phenomenon but I would disagree with you. So, because I do (choose to? :)) believe in a wholistic worldview then I find your last paragraph to be redundant.

    It borders on insulting (although I am sure that you did not mean it that way) to say “Christianity makes every kind of sense to a Pastor’s son until he befriends a Muslim” Yes, perhaps this ‘pastor’s kid’ initially had a shallow faith. The befriending would bring two ‘worldviews’ into conflict. But conflict does not then equal ‘we’re all right then, in our own way’ Idea’s have always been in conflict, and this does not automatically make all equal, but the idea’s are tested and tried and compared. Perhaps some things will need rethinking, but this does not mean paradigm shift every time. Even if it did it makes my point all the more, that some can and some do change their beliefs based at least to a degree on some evidence they find compelling. Perhaps Apples are better for me even if they are not as tasty as Bananas.

    All this to say that I do enjoy your testing me and would love it if by all of this I might come to a clearer understanding of what I mean and what you mean. Perhaps we do not disagree as much as it seems? Perhaps my reasoning will prove to be short-sighted, but it has sort of become a life motto for me that in lieu of conclusive and compelling evidence to the contrary, I do not change by mind because of mysteries or quandries. I simply search and question harder. Please ask if you still have questions, or press if you object.

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  6. Tony writes:

    “I still disagree about knowledge and worldviews. I believe in the “objective object,” that there are idea’s, rocks, people etc…They exist as something that is not myself and not something else. But knowledge of these things is by it’s very nature subjective. I am not trying to say that what may ’seem’ to be a cup is really a car because I am interpreting it; nor am I saying that there is not a ‘wholistic truth’ (I object on many levels to using the word ‘truth’ with such singularity) about the entire cosmos. But still, the knowledge of that would be by it’s very nature an appropriation of knowledge, which always involves the knower, and so is subject to the knower’s process’s. And so I do not believe in objective knowledge.”

    I’m not quite sure that you’re saying the same thing here as what it sounded like you were saying in your initial post – or, at very minimum, that your initial post said something about this topic that your argument as such cannot support. Namely, you said in your initial post that you did not believe in the existence of objective knowledge, as all knowing ultimately involves subjective appropriation of life experience, etc., which surely colors the way we view everything about the world.

    I’d certainly agree with you that far. Where I’d like to press you a bit based on your initial post has to do with the relationship of our subjective knowledge to ‘objective reality’ – what actually exists. I took your posts to mean that because all knowledge is subjective, thus objective ‘truth’ (read: reality?) does not exist. Could you clarify that a bit for me? Even as I’m writing this, I’m not sure that I’ve gotten your argument right.

    I think I would argue for more of a ‘collegial’ model of the interplay between science and religion – this terminology is borrowed from Luther Seminary theologian Alan G. Padgett (Science and the Study of God ), who presents a model for understanding this interplay using an analogy of college professors in different disciplines talking together ’round a table to illustrate this. I find British physicist (and Anglican priest) John Polkinghorne helpful at some points in this discussion as well, though he and I have some difficulties at points with his theological presuppositions. Thus, I’m closer to Tony’s position on that than Josh’s. The NOMA (non-overlapping magisteria) position on this topic just isn’t compelling for me; I don’t know as that I’d go so far as to say that our worldviews must provide us with a ‘theory about everything’, but I do think that NOMA puts science and religion into neat little boxes much more than I’d like.

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  7. Thanks Dave,

    Yeah, I may have confused my own phrases. Undoubtedly I have not thought everything through well enough. But I would call my second statement, the one that you quoted, the answer that most accurately represents what I mean. That there is no objective KNOWLEDGE. Not just that it is unattainable, but that it cannot exist. Only the object can be ‘objective.’ Or to put it differently ‘existence’ is objective, but even that cannot be perceived objectively.

    I read through my initial post and subsequent response and I only spoke of ‘objective KNOWLEDGE’ being non-existent. As far as “truth” goes, I find that truth is not a word with a singular meaning and so to speak of “ultimate truth” or “objective truth” is so vague as to not be of any use. What “truth” would we be talking about?

    I agree with you about the analogy of professors of different disciplines talking together. My point is that they are all, according to their ability, speaking of the SAME WORLD (I don’t know how to do bold or italics in this format), the one same cosmos. Both can and should be enhanced by one another.

    I hope this clears some things up.

    Reply

  8. Let me briefly state my concern with the present situation regarding a “Theology of Sustenance/Origins”:

    My concern is that we do not have a definitive enough statement as to what it is that we are attempting to accomplish. Yes, perhaps there is a general idea, concept, and direction, but nothing with specificity. Is the goal to establish a particular theology from “what we know” or to develop a particular understanding of “sustenance” from a theological perspective building upon historico-theological perspectives that are already established? Is the telos of this project primarily to develop a particular “Theology”? Why? How?

    These are several of my thoughts (not necessarily pertaining to this article).

    Specifically, in regard to this article:

    Perhaps I should state more cogently what it is that I am trying to say: I do not maintain a strict position of non-overlapping magisteria (although I do believe that Stephen Jay Gould does make a good case from the scientific perspective). What I do support is a dialogue between science and religion with the understanding that if (honest) academic dialogue is to take place between the two then they must be understood in their own camps. I am not attempting to argue that the two are mutually exclusive; rather the two must be understood independently if a rigorous dialogue is to take place.

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  9. I should have been attempting to rein this in a little earlier.

    Our goal here at the time being is to establish a foundation for origins. From which we will build a theological premise for sustenance.

    My lack of specificity was intentional. And from it we have garnered a series of differing thoughts all building upon the same idea from different modes ways of viewing this subject.

    Ultimately I view these scientific arguments as part of our historic rationalization of the earth’s origins. Though Reed’s comments (much too scientifically specified) were the more modern trend of the scientific bend, I see these assertions as just part of the way we choose to see the cosmos for the time being.

    I really like where most of these conversations have gone, though I believe Josh and Dave (as well as myself) could benefit the group by revealing their own pithy origins theories so we could hear where it is they are coming from. This is not to say Chris, Marquel and Tony Jr are not invited to write, they just have not been making comments on this subject.

    If I may make one request. I did say this to Tony Sr briefly and I believe it would help us continue on the topic more quickly; please do not get stuck on epistemological arguments. Though I know on some level this will be difficult, if not impossible, our ‘way of knowing’ will come out more clearly in dialogue than it will in script. Therefore, if we are to get stuck in this string of arguments, I would like us to reserve it for a sunday meeting.

    Now —

    Separating science and religion as mere physical and metaphysical descriptions of our world is a oversimplified view of these trades.

    It is for the lack of scientific evidence and more theoretical, analytical, metaphysical assertion that individuals at the upper echelons of scientific theory get PhD’s (doctorate of philosophy) rather than MD’s or some other degree in the “scientific” field.

    In the same respect, theologians have acted often upon scientific results (cause-effect, controlled experimentation) rather than acting in faith to explain the divine significance of sacramental theologies and charismatic experience in even not-so-recent history. *I believe this may be the reason the A.G.USA tongues doctrine has gotten so out of control, rather than acting as COGIC or other pentecostal movements in their free flowing explanations of ‘the lord’s grace’.

    I have basically said a lot to say, separating science and religion into ethereal and physical realms seems a bit trivial.

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  10. While I understand what Dan is aiming at here, I think it is impossible and probably entirely unfruitful to avoid the epistemological arguments here – a very important underlying philosophical conviction of mine is that whatever topic is under consideration determines how we are to know about it (which comes to me by way of Barth [I think…] via T.F. Torrance). Furthermore, if this isn’t an epistemological debate at its very core (what does science help us know about the world? what does religion help us know about the world), then I think I’m misreading it entirely.

    As far as my underlying convictions about the origins of the world, I suppose a simple “I don’t really care” won’t suffice for the sake of the conversation here. What I think the Genesis account communicates is that God created the world. God maintains the created order, and takes a very involved interest in the continuing well-being of that created order. I would cautiously describe myself as a theistic evolutionist, though mostly because I lack a better alternative – the intelligent design movement and others are simply not compelling to me in the least.

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  11. Dan, I’m not so sure that it is as trivial as you say. I think that if we are to develop a theology in which science and religion not only interact but are in a sense intertwined then it is important to understand them within their own fields, in order to properly discuss them together. I do not feel as though it is a stretch or entirely un-objective to say that at the core science is the study of the structure of the natural world and religion is a system of beliefs and values of a particular people group. I think this is important to agree upon in order to discuss the two together.

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  12. At the risk of oversimplifying this conversation I feel it vital that we move on. In a sense I agree with Josh, we have let this discussion slip into symantics. To quickly reply to the majority of posts in this strand, yes science and religion are seperate, yes they should be used together, yes they speak of differant things, yes those things are intertwined. Now I feel it more beneficial to move on to discussing our various models for theology of creation and sustenance. I appreciate your response Tony to my question of objectivity. However, I am realizing that my attempts to lay down boundaries for this discussion have had a large role in moving this discussion off course.While it may be fun to banter about how we choose (or know) our specific theological propositions, it does’nt move us any closer to our goal of comparing our views with each other. I believe this was the original goal of this discussion. Though, like many of our discussions, it has gone off course. So to move the discussion further along let me summarize the views of those who have posted. I choose to believe that there is a divine source out there who may be behind creation and sustenance. Reed chooses to believe that there is a God who is behind creation and sustenance. Tony Sr. knows that there is a God who is behind creation (possibly evolution) and sustenance. Dave seems to agree with Tony Sr. though he like me is fairly agnostic. I am beginning to wonder if there is enough disagreement to even bother continuing this debate. Maybe there will be once Dan posts his views (if that ever happens). My guess is that he will fall somewhere between the rest of us on this issue. I think this topic was entincing originally because of the hope for extremist views on the parts of some of us (specifically Reed and myself). However, we have both disappointed in our seemingly common stands. Therefore, I propose that anyone who wants to continue this topic present a view that we can debate. If not then maybe we should move on. If it provides resolution we could draft a letter putting down our various nuanced positions and post it so that people can see our resolution. Please forgive me if this post seems harsh. I am just beginning to wonder if this group has the ability to address an issue without going off on bunny trails. We have all expressed a desire to be productive on some level with this group. In order for this to happen we will all have to be a bit more disciplined in our approach to discussions.

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  13. I agree with Jeremy’s conclusion. It’s time we provide more structure to this argument or we move on.

    I feel that I’ve spent too much time repeating and clarifying myself trying to combat what people think (presuppose?) I believe and not enough time actually engaging in fruitful discussion. We’ve said a lot but we’re still misunderstood (Dan, I never wanted to express the “modern scientific bend” as my own. I simply wanted to illustrate it as a worldview.)

    This discussion can be a good lesson for us. I’ve learned that we need: 1) clear, simple prompts that build towards some sort of conclusion, 2) overall shorter, more concise posts [this, I admit, I am fully guilty of breaking]

    With these guidelines in place, we can begin to accomplish what this blog was truly meant to discuss: celebrity gossip and our favorite recipes for gazpacho.

    Reply

  14. Brilliant. I agree we should reduce rabbit trails and attempt to be concise. Lets finish the last of the posts on the subject of origins so we can move on to sustenance.

    Reply

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