Intruding Upon the Timeless blurb, page 73

Another blurb from Gregory Wolfe’s Intruding Upon the Timeless, from his essay Religious Humanism: A manifesto:

    “On the face of it, the phrase “religious humanism” seems to suggest a tension between two opposed terms — between heaven and earth. But it’s a creative, rather than a deconstructive, tension. Perhaps the best analogy for understanding religious humanism comes from the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation, which holds that Jesus was both human and divine.”

    “When emphasis is placed on the divine at the expense of the human (the conservative fault), Jesus becomes an ethereal authority figure who is remote from earthly life and experience. When he is thought of as merely human (the liberal error), he becomes nothing more than a superior social worker or popular guru.

    The religious humanist refuses to collapse paradox in on itself. This has an important implication for how he or she approaches the world of culture. Those who make a radical opposition between faith and the world hold such a negative view of human nature that the products of culture are seen as inevitably corrupt and worthless. On the other hand, those who are eager to accommodate themselves to the dominant trends of the time baptize nearly everything, even things that may not be compatible with the dictates of the faith. But the distinctive mark of religious humanism is its willingness to adapt and transform culture, following the dictum of an early Church Father, who said that “Wherever there is truth, it is the Lord’s.” Because religious humanists believe that whatever is good, true, and beautiful is part of God’s design, they have the confidence that their faith can transform the works of culture.”

    “One might ask why the incarnational balance of the human and the divine is not so obvious as to be universally accepted. The truth is that human beings find it difficult to live with paradox. It is far easier to seek resolution in one direction or the other; indeed, making such a choice often seems to be the most principled option.”

This speaks to a number of things I’ve learned and talked about in the past couple of years, particularly people’s inability to live with paradox, to live with mystery. We as humans seem to be personally in the business of adopting strict dogma — whether derived from our parents, our faith, our friends, our education — which we are compelled to defend to the death, not willing to hear let alone consider feasible alternatives to our personal canons. Such polarized points of view seem to come to the surface most in the realms of politics, faith and science in my own experience.

Things seem to be changing though, be it ever so slowly. Two or three years ago an article in the missiological journal Mission Frontiers talked about the need for a conversational state of mind when dealing with scientific ideas (i.e., Creationism vs. Evolution. I personally subscribe to some form of Creationism, although readily admit that, empirically, neither can be proven. I further acknowledge that I’m not a scientist, and can’t begin to understand some of the complexities involved in much of modern science — at least not without an inordinate amount of study that I just don’t have time for.). I’m also encouraged by Ben Stein’s upcoming documentary titled Expelled: No intelligence allowed. Watch the trailer here. The website claims that Stein “blows the horn on suppression.”

I hope this isn’t merely a pro-Creationism documentary. I’ve been led to believe otherwise, although after watching the trailer I can see how some people may come away thinking this. “As a scientist, I am pretty hostile to a rival doctrine,” says Richard Dawkins* in the trailer. Stein suggests that the scientific community is hostile to criticism in general, which is, frankly, antithetical to the scientific process. This is easily believable; I’ve experienced such hostility in lectures as well as online discussions.

I don’t know why the scientific community harbors such hostility towards rival doctrines, other than we can’t cope with paradox as the above excerpt suggests. I don’t know why politicians can’t work towards compromise in certain issues instead of acting like their ideas and solutions are the only ones that will work. Is it pride? Is it a natural propensity to banter? Is it a personal defense?

It seems prudent for me to add that I don’t believe Wolfe’s commentary equates to the recently popular idea of “tolerance.” While tolerance could possibly be seen as not dogmatically subscribing to a particular extreme, the late 21st century connotations of the word seem to be more akin to a very broad ecumenicalism. Think of the old line “Can’t we all just get along?”

* From as much as I can tell this quote should be attributed to Dawkins, who at the beginning of a segment in the trailer is properly labeled as such. This quote, however, is taken from the end of said segment where the person is not labeled again, and because of the darkness of my monitor I’m not entirely certain it was him.

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About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at pcNielsen.com.

17 Responses to Intruding Upon the Timeless blurb, page 73

  1. Robin Edgar says:

    Considering just how openly hostile Richard Dawkins is to the doctrine of theism I would not at all be surprised if the quote is accurate.

  2. onein6billion says:

    “I hope this isn’t merely a pro-Creationism documentary.”

    Well, it’s “big bad science has oppressed some Creationists” complete with one side of the stories of a very few creationists who found that real scientists were not euthusiastic about a inapproriate possibly inadquately refereed article in a journal inserted by a creationist editor and not enthusiastic about granting tenure to a professor who had not published much and had no grant money and no graduate students.

    Then they misled Dawkins and others about the nature of the documentary and they have Ben Stein ask a question and who knows what question Dawkins was actually replying to when part of his reply is given in the trailer.

    There’s no definition in the movie of “creationism” or “intelligent design” or “evolution”. It’s just “freedom of speech is being denied”.

  3. TAE says:

    @ onein6billion:

    Granted, the way trailers for films are manipulated these days, Dawkins comment could be completely out of context. And if the film is about freedom of speech being denied, I’m good with that. Of course they’re going to look like they’re whining to a degree: They’re the underdogs, the ones up against the “system” with the beef. To the bigger entity, whistle blowers probably always look whiney.

  4. onein6billion says:

    “And if the film is about freedom of speech being denied, I’m good with that.”

    But it’s a lie.

  5. TAE says:

    @ onein6billion:

    In my post I note my own personal experience with, how should I say, unthinking prejudicial hostility towards points of view stereotypically attributed to Evangelicals. I also note that I’m not a scientist and don’t have time to be immersed in news and journals which would affirm or deny your accusations of dishonesty.

    Regardless, this post was not about a particular scientific point of view but about people’s inability to deal with paradox. Creation/Evolution was just one example.

  6. onein6billion says:

    “Regardless, this post was not about a particular scientific point of view but about people’s inability to deal with paradox. Creation/Evolution was just one example.”

    Well, you’ve got it all wrong. There is no paradox between creationism and evolution. There’s religious faith on one side and scientific truth on the other side. A paradox would require a choice between nearly equal sides. So go find a good example.

  7. TAE says:

    I know based on what you’ve just said you won’t probably won’t concede this, but don’t you realize you’re proving my point:

    “We as humans seem to be personally in the business of adopting strict dogma — whether derived from our parents, our faith, our friends, our education — which we are compelled to defend to the death, not willing to hear let alone consider feasible alternatives to our personal canons.”

    Whether I have it all wrong or not is completely beside the point, as my last comment pointed out. People adopting such strict personal canons (or not) isn’t my beef. A strong set of beliefs is commendable; my lament is with people’s inability to see, hear, think outside of their own self-designed boxes.

    I’ve stated what I believe and you’ve stated what you believe, but I’m not going to turn this into a Creation/Evolution debate regardless of what either of us take as truth. It’s outside the scope of this blog and this post.

  8. onein6billion says:

    “my lament is with people’s inability to see, hear, think outside of their own self-designed boxes.”

    One box is scientific and the other is religious. Why should a scientist bother thinking outside of the scientific box? There’s nothing there. Tell me something “religious” that a scientist should think about.

    “in the business of adopting strict dogma”

    Nope. Dogma belongs to religion. Scientists should be skeptical and willing to overthrow existing theories given appropriate scientific evidence. But since creationism does not provide any scientific evidence, …

  9. TAE says:

    — “One box is scientific and the other is religious.”

    If you believe this, I’m thoroughly curious as to why you persist in this conversation. Are you trying to “convert” me?

    — “Why should a scientist bother thinking outside of the scientific box?”

    Hmmm, this sounds like Bones from the popular TV series — just an observation.

    Maybe scientists shouldn’t think outside of the scientific box. I’m not a scientist, as I’ve stated; I wouldn’t know. I suppose for scientific types the consequences of what might be outside of the physical realm is irrelevant??? The potential inability to discover all things by the scientific method, the potential for mystery just not an option???

    — “Dogma belongs to religion.”

    From Wikipedia: Dogma (the plural is either dogmata or dogmas, Greek δόγμα, plural δόγματα) is the established belief or doctrine held by a religion, ideology or any kind of organization, thought to be authoritative and not to be disputed, doubted or diverged from.

    Connotatively, yes. Denotatively (which is how I was using the term), no. If the term “dogma” carries too much baggage for you, replace it with “set of beliefs.” If you don’t consider science to have anything to do with belief (which I believe was implied in one of your earlier comments), I defer to my own conviction that much of what science puts forward as sound science severely lacks in what it calls evidence.

    No one will ever be able to prove how the universe was created. No one was there to observe it (and I don’t believe people will ever be able to travel through time). Certain things may provide evidence for theories which (red shifts and so forth, IIRC), but there is still an inordinate amount of reasonable doubt. And I’m not afraid to say the same about Creation or ID. Christians have a book that they put their authority in, which also cannot be empirically proven beyond doubt.

    Then again, I’ll say for the third or fourth time, I’m not a scientist. I’m curious to know your own credentials; are you trained as a scientist or is it an interest of yours outside of your profession? It is an interest for me, but I’ve resigned myself to the fact that “I just don’t have time for [it].” My real interest and talent lies with the arts and the built environment, with aesthetics and culture.

    Things that, I suppose, are completely foreign interests to people with scientific minds.

  10. onein6billion says:

    “Are you trying to “convert” me?”

    Absolutely not. I merely wish to point out that this film is a one-sided “mockumentary”. Now that you know that, you cannot be entertained by it.

    “I defer to my own conviction that much of what science puts forward as sound science severely lacks in what it calls evidence.”

    Well, as you say, you are not a scientist. I think your conviction is religiously based. Do you wish to be more specific about “much of what science puts forward”?

    “but there is still an inordinate amount of reasonable doubt”

    Only for non-scientists.

    “are you trained as a scientist?”

    Essentially, yes. My degree is in physics. But that was more than 40 years ago. But I have never stopped learning. I recently attended all 4 days of the convention of the American Astronomical Society. I understood what they were talking about. Would you like me to explain some of it to you? Bottom line – 2500 astronomers and interested people attended and they have “reasonable doubts” only about some of the complicated details on the cutting edge of astronomical research. They have now discovered over 250 extra-solar planets, but none that are “earth-like” yet. They have ambitions to discover “life” on other worlds by observing certain infra-red absorption lines using the infra-red space telescope or telescopes to be launched into space in the future. Many of the 45 minute talks are on the web as video and audio. The video includes the power point slides describing the research.

    “Things that, I suppose, are completely foreign interests to people with scientific minds.”

    Everything is of interest to a scientific mind – even the question “why are some humans religious?”

  11. TAE says:

    — ” I think your conviction is religiously based.

    My conviction is religiously based, at least in part, no denying that. Is that all bad in your estimation? Is it forbidden that scientists have faith in something other than that which is gained by “systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.” But whether the earth is 6,000 or 6 billion years old won’t change my own faith.

    Do scientists look down on the rabble without scientific learning who have faith in something besides science?

    –“Do you wish to be more specific about “much of what science puts forward”?”

    I meant for my commentary on the origins of the universe to speak to this.

    Physics and astronomy were the branches I was most interested in when I did the little proactive study that I did.

    –“Only for non-scientists.”

    Is this because they understand and study the science and “non-scientists” don’t understand?

  12. onein6billion says:

    “Is it forbidden that scientists have faith in something other than that which is gained by “systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation?”

    No, but scientists understand that this is not science.

    “Do scientists look down on the rabble without scientific learning who have faith in something besides science?”

    I think that many scientists do hold that opinion. So what? Are they condemned for their thoughts? Of course religion holds that they are.

    “No one will ever be able to prove how the universe was created.”

    Of course “ever” is potentially a long time. Humans have come a long way in the last 10000 years, the last 1000 years, and the last 100 years. Where will we be in another 10000 years?

    And the word “how” is tricky. How does “something” “create” a “universe”?

    It is scientifically clear that this universe was actually created about 14 billion years ago. It is clear that life arose on this Earth over 3 billion years ago. It is clear that life has evolved over that 3+ billion years into many related branches including humans. (This week’s Nova – chimpanzees and bonobos are almost as intelligent as humans, but they don’t cooperate very well and they do not understand the concept of one individual “teaching” another individual.)

    But the origin of the universe and the origin of life (see speculation in the Feb Discover magazine) are quite different subjects from evolution. But no, what is in Discover magazine is speculation, not yet “sound science” and everyone knows that.

    And the word “prove” in this context is a religious word! No scientist ever thinks that anything is “proven” beyond a shadow of a doubt. All scientists are skeptics – doubters. But they do wish to agree on the “best explanation” presently available. So they evaluate the evidence for the Big Bang and come up with explanations that fit the evidence. Or they evaluate the evidence that the formation of ice concentrates certain organic chemicals and that could lead to the formation of certain “pre-life” molecules.

    —“inordinate doubt”

    –-”Only for non-scientists.”

    -“Is this because they understand and study the science and “non-scientists” don’t understand?”

    Scientists have non-inordinate doubt – they understand the limitations. Non-scientists have inordinate doubt because they don’t properly understand the science, its limitations, and/or the criticisms of the science. So yes, the primary problem is that non-scientists simply don’t understand the science.

  13. Pingback: Global warming robots fail, or is it the scientists? « The Aesthetic Elevator

  14. Arnold says:

    This exchange is an excellent example of the fact/value, science/faith split that exists in Western thought. This topic of a split is superbly handled by Nancy Pearcy in her book, Total Truth, Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity. I encourage all to read her work.

    I, personally, have been on both sides of this issue. I had only heard one side of the story when I was younger. Through high school, college, and public televison programs such as Cosmos I learned that everthing came to be from natural laws & nothing else. However, I have since heard the opposing arguments and have found that there is enough there for some serious doubts about naturalism.

    We are so conditioned to think in terms of reason vs faith, and compartmentalizing our thoughts often resulting in contradictions in our lives. I hope I can think more in terms of reason and faith, facts and values.

  15. robin says:

    I still can not understand which camr first the chicken or the egg…..?

  16. onein6billion says:

    Some dinosaurs laid eggs and all birds are descendants from dinosaurs.

  17. onein6billion says:

    Nancy Pearcy: “Christians will then be in a position to challenge the fact/value dichotomy that has marginalized religion and morality by reducing them to irrational, subjective experience.”

    Riiiiight. Well, that was 2004 and we’re still waiting. Oops. They tried the “intelligent design” gambit at Dover and lost. Maybe we’ll be waiting a looooong time. Well, I don’t really want to marginalize morality, but …

    “serious doubts about naturalism”

    Riiiiight. It’s so unnatural to be restricted to naturalism when there’s a whole wide world of superstitious nonsense available.

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