Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Monday, February 25, 2008

God is Too Small

I have been thinking about this possible debate with my colleague about science and creationism. I am certainly not interested in explaining the theory of evolution. I am interested in talking about the need for Christianity to expand its awareness.




A parishioner lent me an interesting book: The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God by Carl Sagan. This was edited by Ann Druyan. It is a publication of his 1985 Gifford Lectures.







I have been trying to say the same thing that Carl Sagan has been saying since I was in junior high. That is, Christian theology's God is too small. Here is an excerpt:

"Let me read a passage from Thomas Paine, from the Age of Reason. Paine was an Englishman who played a major role in both the American and French revolutions. "From whence," Paine asks--"From whence, then, could arise the solitary and strange conceit that the Almighty, who had millions of worlds equally dependent on his protection, should quit the care of all the rest, and come to die in our world because, they say, one man and one woman ate an apple? And, on the other hand, are we to suppose that every world in the boundless creation had an Eve, an apple, a serpent, and a redeemer?"

Paine is saying that we have a theology that is Earth-centered and involves a tiny piece of space, and when we step back, when we attain a broader cosmic perspective, some of it seems very small in scale.

And in fact a general problem with much of Western theology in my view is that the God portrayed is too small. It is a god of a tiny world and not a god of a galaxy, much less a universe. (p. 30)


15 comments:

  1. I have been thinking about this possible debate with my colleague about science and creationism. I am certainly not interested in explaining the theory of evolution. I am interested in talking about the need for Christianity to expand its awareness.

    The first thing I thought of when I read this is that for your colleague and a good portion of the audience, you're going to be debating their preconceived notions about evolution. It's one of the irritating things about trying to talk with creationists; they have evolution so very, very wrong in their heads that you have to take so much time to explain what the theory actually says.

    I wonder if Newton had this trouble.

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  2. It's one of the irritating things about trying to talk with creationists; they have evolution so very, very wrong in their heads that you have to take so much time to explain what the theory actually says.

    Actually, it is one of the hurdles one must overcome in talking about evolution with those on all sides of the issue, as so few are versed well enough in the current state of the field so they can speak beyond the stereotypes!

    Beyond the simple foundational principle that evolution is defined as common descent with modification, things get really over-simplified in many cases.

    How many will take the time to read even one of the texts from the Vienna Series in Theoretical Biology?

    The simple truth is that actually the science of biology is in the middle of revolution that leaves many of the stereotypes on both sides of the debate looking rather anchronistic.

    If Christianity wants to expand its view it needs to go beyond the lazy mans technique of adopting the current scientific dogma about evolutionary theory and delve into the new information found in Evo-Devo, Epigenetics, Emergent Evolution, and the current transformation of theoretical biology based upon the last 20 years of empirical research in these fields.

    To wit:

    "We are in the midst of probably the biggest revolution in biology that is going to forever going to transform the way we understand genetics, environment, the way the two interact, what causes disease; its another level of biology which for the first time really is up to the task of explaining the biological complexity of life."

    (Mark F. Mehler, A. Einstein College of Medicine in NOVA's Ghost in Your Genes. PBS.org: WGBH Educational Foundation; 2008. DVD)

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  3. John:

    Its going to be really hard to work out what this debate will be about, it seems. I mean, are you debating a 6-day creationist who believes in a 6,000 year old earth or whatever? Or an "intelligent" designer who thinks God created "forms" and then these forms might change a little over time but never become other "forms"? I imagine the old chestnut of "transitional forms" will come up - "Show me a monkey becoming a human before my eyes!"

    You might just need to stake the territory you want to inhabit and stick to that - theological, biological, theoretical, etc. What's at stake, really? Because most of your audience won't know enough to have their minds changed - they'll see all evidence presented in favor of what they already think is true as confirmation, and all opposing evidence is garbage, because likely very few of them will be well-trained enough to understand the distinctions (for example, I'm not, I just don't get my science from fundamentalist theologians - I stick to getting it from scientists, thankyouverymuch).

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  4. Doug,

    That is just it. This guy is a six day creationist. I am trying to think what the goal (for me) of such a debate might be. My general thrust is "Given what science continues to show us about the universe, how does this impact theology?" He can do whatever he wants, I suppose. The point for me is to offer a different look at Christianity then what folks are used to in the Bible belt. The setting of the debate will be important. If it can be held at the local university, it might be interesting. I have no illusions of "winning" although I think he does.

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  5. So yeah, my humble advice, for what its worth, is this. Figure out what you want to say, how you want to present yourself. It sounds like you want to talk about rejecting 6-day creationism doesn't in any mean rejecting the important things about Christianity. Stick with that.

    At the heart of the 6-day argument is the terror that accepting another explanation for the universe means the whole baby of Christianity goes out with the bathwater of literally accepting BCE cosmology. I think you show them - hey, the baby we all love is still there, and the bathwater is dirty, so we can toss it and not worry. Hell, you don't even need to toss out the creation story, or the idea that God is governing creation. God is just governing a creation that is actually *interesting*, rather than a cardboard cutout that doesn't accord with what we observe and experience.

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  6. But, how does Christianity teach that God has just abandoned the care of the entire universe to redeem creation. This sounds crazy to me, and a real caricature of Christian faith.

    It reflects a child's understanding of the witness of the church. God sustains the whole universe.

    In Him all things hold together..as the Scripture teaches.

    It's possible there may be some type of life on other worlds, but I can't think we can know this.

    And, I actually remember reading somewhere that it's partly the vastness of the cosmos that helped make life on earth possible. (I would have to dig around to find the reference.)

    You know, I think part of the difficulty is that our understanding is finite, and we see everything from this limited, human point of view.

    I mean how can we comprehend the awesome omnipresence, and vastness of God. He sustains the whole universe, but yet as Jesus shares even the hairs of our head are numbered, and nothing is hidden from Him.

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  7. Doug,

    I don't personally agree with a six day literal creation, but I don't think for a minute that for these scientists terror is at the heart of it.

    I believe they sincerely feel that there are other dating methods out there which seem to indicate a younger age for creation, and that present day methods for dating the age of the universe are flawed, and dependent on evolutionary theory to work.

    Oh, it would be so interesting to have two equally informed scientists, you know with the requisite PhDs., and research experience to boot debating this together.

    But, I don't think these two preachers goin at it, is going to make the cut.

    Sorry John. You know I love ya!! :) But, I'm being honest.

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  8. Grace,

    No kidding. Creationists and IDers are not debating with me. Their beef is with foundational science. It is not as if what you desire has not happened. Among scientists there is no debate! If you want to know the science pick up an elementary biology book or visit your local museum.

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  9. I believe they sincerely feel that there are other dating methods out there which seem to indicate a younger age for creation, and that present day methods for dating the age of the universe are flawed, and dependent on evolutionary theory to work.

    Grace, bless your soul, but you are flat out ignorant of the truth and only repeating creationist claptrap here.

    The scientific means for dating the earth are on the solid grounds of physics, and if you understood what you were talking about rather than repeating the falsehoods spread by the ignorance of creationism you would know this.

    Do you care enough about the truth to try and learn and understand just how the scientists do date the Earth? Or are you just conent further spreading falsehoods?

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  10. but I don't think for a minute that for these scientists terror is at the heart of it.

    Sorry, Grace, but at least one preacher came right out and admitted, in a letter to the editor that John quoted from, that he opposed creationism because his entire theological edifice would come crashing down otherwise. All this "sincere belief" that there is supposedly scientific evidence for creationism stems first and foremost from this dogmatic belief that the book of Genesis must be literally true; they then search for "evidence" to back this up. Ask most evangelical anti-evolutionists if it really doesn't matter one way or another whether evolution is true or not, if they would be perfectly fine from a theological perspective if evolution is true, and you'll get the same answer we got from that minister who wrote the letter to editor--no.

    It matters deeply to them that evolution must be false. That is why they fight against established science so strenuously.

    And John is right, of course, that there is no scientific debate on this subject. The "debate" is between science and a bunch of dogmatically religious yahoos.

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  11. Grace states,

    Present day methods for dating the age of the universe are flawed, and dependent on evolutionary theory.

    This is one of the patent falsehoods and ignorant teachings being spread by creationists. The truth is that the dating of the earth is NOT dependent on evolutionary theory at all; it is based solely upon the science of physics and radiometric dating.

    See Radiometric Dating.

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  12. Well, Rob, at least thank you for "blessing my soul."

    Blessings right back atcha.

    I guess I"m just this eternal skeptic, a real orthodox Darwinian doubter.

    I wonder if that Dr. Monkey is blessed by any of my comments. Dare I venture to his blog??

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  13. I guess I"m just this eternal skeptic, a real orthodox Darwinian doubter.

    Grace, the dating of the Earth has abolutely nohing to do with neo-Darwinian theory. You feel at home in a self-chosen state of ignorance, but others do not. Some, actually desire to "know the truth," which will set them free ;-)

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  14. Rob,

    You're misunderstanding my post. I personally do not agree with the theory of a young earth. But, I am open to trying to understand other points of view in this whole thing.

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