Saturday, August 14, 2010

You know, I can recall getting rather heated with a friend of mine when he read a quote from a Francis Collins book (one of the human genome dudes) defending Christianity from atheists (ironic, that) via also defending evolution. It was one of those "make your head explode" kind of quotes like, "No reasonable person of any intelligence denies the science behind evolution." Granted, I am a Christian, and a deeply "conservative" orthodox (whatever that means) one, at that. I am not a scientist, but I was under the distinct impression that science at its best draws provisional conclusions that are always testable and falsifiable, and that "what we know" can change radically based upon new information. It just seemed like a very unscientific statement from a man who should know better. I always identified very sympathetically with Michael Crichton's portrayal of R. Karp, a fictional scientist in his master work, The Andromeda Strain. Karp had discovered living microorganisms in meteorites, and, realizing that he was not in possession of a "mainstream" opinion on the existence of such life, he worked extra hard to eliminate legitimate challenges to his conclusions, so that his work might be repeated and accepted. It did not go well for him, but the other characters in the story draw insight from such work. I thought of the history of Western science in the midst of that discussion, replete with men and women mocked for drawing conclusions, that, at one time or another, were not accepted. Many saw death before they were vindicated. It strikes me that perhaps certain systems of thought (intelligent design, or Duesberg's theory of HIV, to name two notorious examples) may grow to have more explanatory power than they do at present, if the dogged pursuit of the scientific method is upheld. For all I know, I was just mad that my friend had abandoned Christianity* for what seemed to be intellectually indefensible reasons. But I told you that story to tell you this story, as Ron White would say: I made a new friend who is having difficulty with certain traditional readings of St. Augustine et al re: the resurrection in light of certain insights from biology and physics. I couldn't hang with any of it, so I won't try, but I feel the need to issue some sort of admonition in light of the problem, "separated brethren" or no: If I find some conflict with Christian dogma as revealed and some discovery or system of discovery, is it not of faith to say, "One of my premises which led to this conclusion must be in error" or, if the contradiction is only an apparent one, "The harmony of these two truths is yet to be revealed"? We should be cautious not to demand of the family of God that it answer the almighty god of Science when its sacred cows demand. Genesis 1-2 is always a barrel of, well, something, because we forget that God isn't terribly interested in solving our scientific conundrums, as he is in showing us his beloved Son. Two forgotten aspects of that text: 1. Its purpose is polemical; that is, God's chief concern is glorifying Himself over against Ancient Near Eastern polytheism; and 2. The apparent contradiction in what was made when in Genesis 2 versus what is given in Gen. 1 at creation is easily resolved if one of these if liturgical, not cosmological. [You see liturgy everywhere.--ed.] True enough. But I'll bet I'm not far off. Look, I don't have a dog in the evolution fight. Just know that I'm liable to stick up for the underdogs in every argument where a small ragtag band dares question What Everybody Knows. I'm sure I could find some fascistic Jesus-freaks I definitely wouldn't have a beer with. (Not that they'd approve most likely; I do love and respect those principled teetotalers among us, BTW. TRB, I'd have a fruit juice with you anytime, chief.) But certain kinds of evolution are quasi-religious; the New Atheists have their priests and prophets, too. It is a step of progress (pardon the pun) that the latest versions of evolution don't have such an obvious teleology; that's easy pickings for a theist, and the secularists who do this deserve the gentle teasing they get. (We call this the "Carl-Sagan-Makes-Billy-Graham-Look-Irreligious-By-Comparison" Defense, and we're totally right. Advanced alien races vs. Jesus. Which sounds more crazy to you?) Full disclosure: I could give a flying fart in the wind what the current state of science re: our origins really is. I would definitely qualify as a "literalist" in terms of the biblical text, in that it doesn't conflict with any theory I know of. Bruce Waltke is free to be an evolutionist in my book, so long as he doesn't deny the Creed (Protestant qualifications notwithstanding). I would not have asked him to resign. But if he wanted to be cool and intellectual rather than actually believe in the God-man rose from the dead, I might have a gripe. I would not teach intelligent design in a public school science class, but a Philosophy of Science class or forum would be the perfect place to discuss harmonies with theistic views, and I would not discourage it, so long as it was respectful.

Friday, August 13, 2010

So there I was, reading Jurgens on the Fathers, (pp.87-89, for those scoring at home) when I came across this breathtaking paragraph from (St.) Irenaeus:
“It is possible, then, for everyone in every Church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the Apostles which has been made known throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the Apostles, and their successors to our own times: men who neither knew nor taught anything like these heretics rave about. For if the Apostles had known hidden mysteries which they taught to the elite secretly and apart from the rest, they would have handed them down especially to those very ones to whom they were committing the self-same Churches. For surely they wished all those and their successors to be perfect and without reproach, to whom they handed on their authority.”
Yikes. Give me a moment. [Birthing a Reformation-era bovine with a tasty, er, um, disposition, God-willing.] OK. A few things to notice here: First, unless The Artist Formerly Known As Joseph Ratzinger has some mischievous buddies who erased his short-term memory, spirited him off in Bill and Ted's phone booth, (let the reader understand) took him back to the late second century and started calling him 'Irenaeus' just to mess with him, this kat sure sounds like a present-day Catholic apologist on this point. I've heard the phrase 'apostolic succession' almost as much as 'grace builds on nature' in the last year and a half. Ahem. Anyway, I eagerly await a Protestant/Reformed answer on two curious points: 1. What do we do with that word "bishop"? Or, more bluntly, who is it, in our system? Bonus question: What do we do if our more democratic approach to church government is not found anywhere in pre-Reformation church history? 2. The physical succession of bishops seems quite connected to doctrinal truth for many of these kats. Is this significant? Why would the magisterial Reformers (pardon the phrase) reject this after consenting to it without incident their whole adult lives until the split? 3. Would severe sin and corruption necessitate a whole new method for ascertaining truth for Christians? Or, could the sin be named and removed?