Archive for the ‘Sharings’ Category

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do it again… and again

June 28, 2007

“(God) is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” G K Chesterton

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“With all deference to the sensibilities of religious people, the idea that man was created in the image of God can surely be put aside.”

June 28, 2007

excerpt from Nature, editorial, vol 447, issue 7146.

“The vast majority of scientists, and the majority of religious people, see little potential for pleasure or progress in the conflicts between religion and science that are regularly fanned into flame by a relatively small number on both sides of the debate. Many scientists are religious, and perceive no conflict between the values of their science — values that insist on disinterested, objective inquiry into the nature of the Universe — and those of their faith.

But there are lines that should not be crossed, and in a recent defence of his beliefs and disbeliefs in the matter of evolution, US Senator Sam Brownback (Republican, Kansas) crosses at least one. Senator Brownback was one of three Republican presidential candidates who, in a recent debate, described himself as not believing in evolution. He sought to explain his position with greater nuance in a 31 May article in The New York Times, in which he wrote: “Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as atheistic theology posing as science.”

Humans evolved, body and mind, from earlier primates. The ways in which humans think reflect this heritage as surely as the ways in which their limbs are articulated, their immune systems attack viruses and the cones in their eyes process coloured light. This applies not just to the way in which our neurons fire, but also to various aspects of our moral thought, as we report this week in a News Feature on the moral connotations of disgust (see page 768). The way that disgust functions in our lives and shapes our moral decisions reflects not just cultural training, but also biological evolution. Current theorizing on this topic, although fascinating, may be wide of the mark. But its basis in the idea that human minds are the product of evolution is not atheistic theology. It is unassailable fact.

This does not utterly invalidate the idea that the human mind is, as Senator Brownback would have it, a reflection of the mind of God. But the suggestion that any entity capable of creating the Universe has a mind encumbered with the same emotional structures and perceptual framework as that of an upright ape adapted to living in small, intensely social peer-groups on the African savannah seems a priori unlikely.

In Brownback’s defence, it should be acknowledged that these are deep waters. It is fairly easy to accept the truth of evolution when it applies to the external world — the adaptation of the orchid to wasps, for example, or the speed of the cheetah. It is much harder to accept it internally — to accept that our feelings, intuitions, the ways in which we love and loathe, are the product of experience, evolution and culture alone. And such acceptance has challenges for the unbeliever, too. Moral philosophers often put great store by their rejection of the ‘naturalistic fallacy’, the belief that because something is a particular way, it ought to be that way. Now we learn that untutored beliefs about ‘what ought to be’ do, in fact, reflect an ‘is’: the state of the human mind as an evolved entity. Accepting this represents a challenge that few as yet have really grappled with.

It remains uncertain how the new sciences of human behaviour emerging at the intersections of anthropology, evolutionary biology and neuropsychology can best be navigated. But that does not justify their denunciation on the basis of religious faith alone. Scientific theories of human nature may be discomforting or unsatisfying, but they are not illegitimate. And serious attempts to frame them will reflect the origins of the human mind in biological and cultural evolution, without reference to a divine creation.”

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The problem of divine hiddenness?

June 22, 2007

Van Inwagen’s formulation:

“(1) If God exists, he wants all finite rational beings to believe in his existence.

(2) If every finite rational being observed signs and wonders of the right sort, every finite rational being would believe in God.

(3) There is, therefore, something that God could do to ensure that every finite rational being believed in his existence.

(4) If God wants all finite rational beings to believe in his existence and there is something he can do to bring this about, he will do something to bring it about.

(5) But not all rational brings believe in God.

Hence,

(6) God does not exist.”

The Problem of Evil, p. 143.

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Genesis and the six-day creation: a response

June 20, 2007

My position on this issue involves the acceptance of two claims:

 

(1)   Nothing in the bible requires us to accept a literal six-day creation of the world.

(2)   We ought to believe what the relevant authorities of the various fields believe insofar as (i) we have not examined their claims in reasonable depth (or are not equipped to do so), (ii) there is a clear consensus among the authorities, (iii) there are no overriding reasons to reject their views (eg. contradict the what we have far stronger reasons to believe).

 

I shall say more about (1) below but let me start with (2). Some issues I have not examined in reasonable depth but believed based on authority are the Big Bang Theory, the germ theory of disease, plate tectonics theory, theories about chemical processes, the theory of evolution (more about this later), the theory of relativity. I believe there is no clear consensus among experts on the origins of life (biogenesis) and have not examined it on my own so I am agnostic on this issue. I reject the consensus of experts on most matter of theology (eg. biblical criticism) because I find their assumptions/theoretical frameworks unwarranted and thus their products implausible.

 

Now on to (1). Let me term the account of creation in Genesis as “G-creation”. I understand G-creation to contain at least some factual propositions regarding the origins of the physical world. Care is needed in not attributing to G-creation assertions it does not clearly make. One prominent example of an unjustified reading of G-creation is claiming it is a seven-day event, involving physically impossible occurrences like that of day and night existing before the existence of the sun, and of vegetation surviving without sunlight. A charitable understanding of the author’s intent and a close textual examination of G-creation in the original Hebrew provide good reasons to adopt a non-literal understanding of day. Samuelson (Judaism and the Doctrine of Creation, 1994, p. 159) suggests taking Genesis as describing creation with a seven-fold aspect, with the seven days representing seven components of a single act of creation. This parallels Augustine’s understanding that the seven days are one day in a seven-fold aspect (See Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, trans. Taylor, J. Newman Press, 1982: New York.). One could adopt a neo-Thomistic understanding of the days as representing non-temporal order in creation – a day of creation and three days each of distinction and adornment (see Aquinas’ “The Treatise on the Work of the Six Days”, in Summa Theologiae). There are plausible ways of understanding the concept of “day” which avoid involving physical impossibilities and contradictions.

 

One might respond that God is able to make day and night exist without the sun, and likewise, vegetation without sunlight. But I’d like to hear how this is done without making the account of creation awkward and the same terms meaning different things within the text. A separate concern is that “if the Bible is God’s revelation, there is no need for Him to enshroud it with mysticism- but would make it clear in the simplest way so that a simple man can understand.” I agree. But this turns on what we take to be mystical. If God should consider it more important to provide us with (for eg.) a thematic account of creation instead of a chronological one, why should we charge the former with mysticism? It’s just a different emphasis. I find no reason to think a thematic account of creation is significantly less simple than a chronological one, or that G-creation is beyond the grasp of ordinary humans. Can you provide any reason to think so?

 

Still, there seem to be some propositions clearly asserting physical states of affairs. Injustice is done to the meaning of text should one deny such propositions. Besides, in allowing much malleability to textual meaning, the clarity of its meaning becomes unclear, making no meaningful statements on its own but merely leeching on the prevailing body of knowledge. It is possible to take it as purely allegorical or mytho-poetic involving no observable factual propositions. In having no clear factual statements, such an account is virtually impossible to falsify – with adroit hermeneutic skills, it could be compatible with any scientific account. The danger is that in asserting possibly everything, it asserts nothing in fact. Besides, it seems an account including theological propositions requires some factual content to leverage on. Without the latter, the meaning of the former is vacuous and difficult to properly understand.

 

Some significant propositions I find are:

 

1.         God is the ultimate cause of the existence of the universe (Gen 1:1).

2.         God is the ultimate cause of the existence of earthly creatures (Gen 1:20-28)

3.         Humans are created in God’s image and have dominion over other earthly creatures (Gen 1:26-28)

I find it unacceptable to deny (1), (2) and (3). The role of God in G-creation is clearly described as indispensable. Besides, the Hebrew term for create in G-creation is bara. Samuelson notes that bara has a necessary relation to God – in all cases where this term is used, “the agent of the action is God”. Samuelson thus proposes translating God baras as God gods (p. 293), in order to demonstrate the necessary conjunction of the two words.

Brown, Fitzmyer and Murphy (The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, p. 11) observe that bara “is a word occurring 50 times in the [Old Testament], always with God as its subject.” Should we divorce bara from God, we would clearly be radically re-interpreting the author’s intent, for there exist several other Hebraic terms to bring out difference nuances in meaning and it is unreasonable to think the author wielded words so carelessly. Besides, other contexts involving the term would then be susceptible to radical transformation. In addition, scriptural passages like John 1:3

“All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” In The Holy Bible.

and Colossians 1:16

“For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible…all things were created by him and for him.”

reinforce this interpretation of God’s centrality in G-creation. Therefore, even when we allow for flexibility in interpretation, (1) and (2) must be taken as part of G-creation. As far as I can see, nothing in the theory of evolution contradicts (1) – (3). I’d appreciate evidence to the contrary.

Concerning the passage by Williamson, God is certainly capable of creating the world in six days. But we also accept that God cannot act deceptively – he wouldn’t create the world such that there is decisive reason for us to think it is billions of years old but is in fact one minute old. To use Williamson’s example, if all we see is Adam, we have no reason think he has a prior period of development just because every other human after him has. But I think the evidence goes beyond that. For instance, dating methods show the earth to be a lot older than humankind. Geological records from sedimentary layers show a progression of organisms from simple to complex kinds. I’m not in a position to argue about the reliability of dating techniques nor about the veracity of geological findings so I accept it in accordance with what I say in (2). I think there are other evidences against a six day creation which I accept on authority: distance from earth to stars, radiation from the Big Bang, etc. Thus, the defender of the six-day creation account has to consider these additional data and explain them without making God out to be deceptive. I’m not optimistic about this project.

One question that might arise is why God chose evolution over direct creation when the former involves natural evil. I think natural evil is a challenge for both parties and the theistic evolutionist could claim that satan and his consorts warped the laws of nature (and thus the process of evolution) at an early stage. I suspect the direct creationist would similarly appeal to demonic forces to explain natural evil though in a different way. But in any case, natural evil is no special problem for evolution as opposed to literal creation.

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Favourite Hymn during Church Camp!!

June 17, 2007

GOD MAKES NO MISTAKES 

My life I give to You, O Lord

Use me, I pray.

May I glorify Your precious name

in all I do and say.

Let me trust You in the valley dark

as well as in the light.

Knowing you will always lead me;

Your will is always right.

I know God makes no mistakes.

He leads in ev’ry path I take

along the way that’s leading me to home.

Though at times my heart would break,

there’s a purpose in ev’ry change He makes:

That others would see my life and know

that God makes no mistakes.

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Did God create the world in six 24-hours?

June 17, 2007

Dear Pink, hope the past week has been a fruitful one for you, both in your academic pursuits as well as spiritual growth. 

The church camp has been a spiritual blessing for me. It had the chance to talk to a lot of people that I haven’t got chance to talk to- to get to know more people and to let people know who I really am, and I thank God for the opportunity. Indeed He has been very gracious to me. I’ve got the chance to talk to several spiritually-matured people and I began to understand why the BP movement is very persistent when it comes to doctrinal issues and I thank God that I belong to a fundamental church, though I guess the word “fundamental” may not be altogether very inviting. 

Our church follows what is commonly known as “The Reformed Faith” as expressed in the Confession of Faith as set forth by the Westminster Assembly together with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms Confession of faith which are based on the teaching of the Church fathers. I must admit that my walk in Christ is very much built on people rather than doctrines (no I am not exactly proud of it) Well I guess this camp has made me reflected more about this and I have decided to live a more consecrated life, growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

 I would be more than willing to discuss the reasons behind the positions for the BP movement (to the best of my knowledge) on why is it a reasoned faith, because I am very sure it will help me in my walk. Perhaps let us begin with the six literal days of creation: I guess it will be helpful if I lift from the G I Williamson, who wrote a study help for understanding the Westminster Confession of Faith:

 “… Finally, there is the assumption that such a process as is recorded in the creation account (and as is theorized of in modern science) could not have occurred in six twenty-four-hour days. Another way of putting it is this: it is assumed that God could not (or would not) have quickly produced the world which so evidently bears the appearance of great age. But if we merely supposed that God created man, we are immediately confronted with such a necessary “appearance of age.” If God created Adam as an adult person, he would have appeared as an adult appears to us now, and yet would really have had no long period of prior development. The Christian position is that God did so create Adam. And so in this instance it is compelled to assume the very difficulty supposed by scientific dogma. Why should we then care to avoid this difficulty respecting the rest of creation? For our part we can see no good reason to doubt that God did create the world in six brief days, with the appearance of age (that is, with maturity) in the things created, and that the fossils were caused by a great catastrophe, probably the flood, which occurred after creation.” 

I think the position here is that there is no reason why we shouldn’t interpret the “day” here as a “24-hour day” and I think I am agreeable to that, because I believe if the Bible is God’s revelation, there is no need for Him to enshroud it with mysticism- but would make it clear in the simplest way so that a simple man can understand. I understand that your reservation is on the notion of “days?” Would love to hear more about it. 🙂