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Vibrant Dance 2: Reynolds: Reconciling the Cosmos: Orthodoxy and Beauty

{RJW Note:  The second position paper given was by Dr. John Mark Reynolds, Professor of Philosophy, Biola University, Los Angeles, California, and founder and director of the Torrey Honors Institute, a great books program, and fellow Celtophile. As a philosopher, he is a departure from the theologian-heavy lineup and his perspective helps also to define the discussions. Dr. Reynolds also comes from a young-earth perspective.

When I asked him for a copy of his notes as we walked down the hall, he stopped, pulled out a notepad and ripped out a single sheet of paper with a loose handwritten outline and handed it to me. Again, the generosity of these scholars in sharing their work for me to share here is humbling and I am very grateful. It is remarkable to see the different styles of preparation and presentation each uses. Today’s post will constitute a merging of his rough outline with my notes. Any inaccuracies in the substance and intent of his message are mine.}

Dr. Reynolds began by making it clear that even at this conference on faith and science, he was neither theologian nor scientist, and plays neither on TV or movies, as some might wonder given he’s in LA. To begin with offering his epistemological perspective, he defined and discussed the nature of science and then theology. He seemed largely unconcerned with the tensions between the two fields, and appears to be a NOMAist, one who adheres to the idea that they are non-overlapping magisteria (that science and faith answer fundamentally different questions and so do not overlap areas of expertise, so the tensions should be in mostly in appearance than reality). This is my assessment of his views, not an explicit statement by Reynolds.

What is science? It is a likely story of sensory experience that becomes rapidly complicated by philosophical assumptions. {See my 8-part series on “What is Science?”} To ask the question, ‘how to do science?’ is not a science question, but a philosophy question. To cloud it further, if you ask {most} scientists how they do science, their answer is {most likely} different than how they actually do it. Furthermore, scientists do not reject the ‘wrong’ model for the ‘right’ model, but make forward progress by getting rid of one wrong answer in favor of another wrong answer. {but maybe, hopefully, less wrong?} To muddy the waters further, it is possible to adopt the right idea at the wrong time and it could retard the advancement of science.

Science doesn’t deal with truth, but likely tells the likely story of how things are. He argues that many of Plato’s approaches are valid, and that those that are upset by that are likely really upset with the neo-Platonists, not Plato himself. {I do not know any specifics to expand here.} Plato was instrumental in developing modern science and the importance of mathematics in the language of science and Reynolds referred to Plato’s book Timaeus. Both Platonism and Christianity both helped and retarded the advancement of science through over-dogmatism. Plato suggested that if we can come up with accounts that are no less likely than existing ones, we ought to be content. Because we’re human, any story we tell will be flawed and likely to be replaced later. Furthermore, it is wrong to assume that only one interpretation of the data is possible. For example, Reynolds said he believes that evolution is the only best explanation we have right now in science but it doesn’t mean it’s right. On both theological and philosophical grounds, he suggests there is enough reason to think that modern evolutionary theory has enough wriggle room to find a revolutionary new theory.

Reynolds also argues that there is a bias against people to try to scholarly study young earth creationism, even in Christian college science departments, because of an embarrassment about folks that hold such views. He suggests that truly open scientific explorations would allow those to determine what scientific evidence might exist to support that viewpoint but has been hidden by philosophical and politically correct blinders. Thus, we have too narrow a view of science, resulting in us not letting alternative views have air and light.

Similarly, he argues that it isn’t appropriate to use modern science as part of our apologetic, because if it is overturned then we are left hanging. It is appropriate to say there is a correlation between scientific theory and the Biblical account, but don’t hold it too tightly. It is a problem to view science as True. {Science provides explanatory models, so we have uncertainty in every explanation and measurement.} Theology deals with Truth, science does not.

He defined theology as a likely story of revelatory experience, communicated through tradition, teachings, and personal experience. It is also rapidly complicated by philosophical assumptions.

He suggested that there are three aspects of life that point to God:  Wonder, Beauty and Love, and that an orthodox or traditional view of the Creation account best explains their presence. {Note:  I had a little trouble integrating my notes with his, and this section of his notes seems to be the substance of the three reasons from my notes given below.}

Wonder is a fruit of love, and once an object of one’s love no longer inspires wonder, then the love is gone. Somehow {I missed this part.} this relates to the problem of evil and the need to minimize it philosophically.

Beauty is both a gift borne out of love and produces love, and as such, cosmic beauty leads to cosmic love as an image leading to God Himself. Again, somehow, this is related to the Biblical record and the community {Cloud of witnesses?}, the importance of the Flood and the importance of Genesis as history. While there may be room for age, there is no room for the absence of a historical Adam. Since the Bible in both Testaments cite genealogies back to the Flood and all the way back to Adam, there is an appeal to explicit historicity. As God is free to act as He pleases, it makes sense to for him to act with maximum efficiency, even creating a universe with the appearance of age rather than waiting around for the age to actually occur.

Finally, love has an interactive relationship with knowledge. Knowing God truly leads us to love Him which draws us to know Him better, and vice versa. However, as both our knowledge and love are finite, they are provisional, which means our science is as well, though it may still help us in knowing and loving God further. Regardless, we must keep in mind that He does not change and is constant, whereas we constantly change.

Reynolds then gave reasons to pursue a scientific study of young earth theories:
1)      The best reason not to be a Christian is the problem of evil—it is an argument against an all good, all powerful God. The old earth model gives increased problems with this because of the aeons of gratuitous animal pain but this is a good reason to study for evidence of a young earth.
2)      The beauty of the cosmos is evidence of a good God—we cannot evolutionarily be hardwired to appreciate beauty—we have a beautiful cosmos with an ugly history.
3)      Read Genesis through the light of the Incarnation—it seems to be inefficient of a wise God to waste 15 billion years—there is no reason to demand that God actualize the ages of the universe when no one is around to view it and everything is according to His will.

Other plausible biblical interpretations have been advanced during the ages that were consistent with the science of their ages, but they have been mostly ad hoc, and no longer held. However, a young earth model is the only consistent thread throughout Church history. He predicted that in 100 years, young earth creationism will still be losing, but losing to someone new, so that says something.

He emphasized again the idea that science is not explaining truth, and that both our theology and science can both be entirely wrong and entirely useful—that we can still see the beauty and goodness of God through them.

{I feel a certain compulsion to comment on his reasons for studying young earth theories scientifically. I can agree that there is potential value to pursue a theory to test it, either falsifying or verifying it. However, the reasons Reynolds gives seem two dimensional. The problem of evil is real and THE critical issue with which any worldview must deal.

However, as distasteful as it may be for us, I am not convinced that animal pain/death necessarily must be gratuitous. I don’t like it any myself. As a scientist, I must consider other options than my emotional comfort. As a finite human being, I must remember that God’s ways are not ours, and that our understanding of goodness, righteousness and holiness is extremely superficial. Therefore, I must consider it an option that animal pain and death is somehow necessary and good and see what evidence there may be for or against that possibility. If we, who are created in God’s image, are yet clay in the hands of a potter, how much more so the animal and plant kingdoms? What if, in some way that is still obscure to us, what we consider the barbary of animal pain and death actually has some necessity? I am fully willing to be shown why this isn’t true, but the question should be seriously asked.

Regarding the beauty argument against evolution, were I a skeptic, I would dismiss this as a god of the gaps argument. “Since I can’t think of an evolutionary benefit, it must not exist, ergo God.” This is not a basis for scientific rationale.

Similarly, to an eternal God who is a Creative Being, 15 billion years to craft a vast and beautiful cosmos may be inefficient, but how does the infinite even count efficiency, when there is enjoyment of pouring love and beauty into a finely crafted masterpiece? There is an observer—He Himself, and for all of our crown of Creation status, His own pleasure is given throughout Scripture as sufficient cause for His action.

Reynolds is right to look at the roles of orthodoxy and beauty, and my comments are push back to explore more deeply the issues he raises.}

Day 6 Praise (I apologize –I forgot this segment the last two days):
May the Eternal Lord and Reigning King be praised for the love He lavishes upon us by not only providing what we need for Life but doing so in beauty and variety.


1 comment:

  1. Philiipk@netzero.netOctober 27, 2014 at 7:41 PM

    It appears that study and practice of religion , cosmos/astrology could bring a about a better understand of ones life direction for the good. Steering one clear of harm that could lead one to disaster.