RJS, on Jesus Creed

"Several of the scholars at the [Templeton Foundation] workshop on Evolution and Christian Faith referred to this book and the usefulness of Rau's discussion of models in framing the discussion."

"I recommend this book as an introduction to discussions of origins, for those who are interested, any criticisms are outweighed by the positive aspects of the book."

 

 

Following the review by Scot McKnight, RJS, who prefers to remain anonymous, wrote a series of seven articles on the Jesus Creed Blog (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/), jointly posted on his excellent blog Musings on Science and Theology (http://musingsonscience.wordpress.com/) summarizing and commenting on the book. Excerpts and links follow, along with comments on some of the points he makes, many of which I feel are valid concerns, but nuances beyond the scope of the book.

RJS1: Mapping the Debate

Commenting on the basic premise of the book he says:

This [difference between personal philosophy and worldview (p. 21)] is an interesting distinction to keep in mind when considering any part of the discussion of origins, including the appropriate interpretation of a biblical text. It is not one that I had separated quite so usefully before reading this chapter of Rau's book. Any text will contain a message shaped by both the personal philosophy (and theology) of the author and by the entrenched worldview of the culture. It is not possible to use language to tell a story without being influenced by this worldview.

Read more at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2013/07/04/mapping-the-debate-rjs/
Or at http://musingsonscience.wordpress.com/2013/07/04/mapping-the-debate/

 

RJS2: What is Science?

RJS was less impressed with my discussion of different types of science:

I don't think it is particularly useful to refer to experimental, observational, and theoretical approaches as different sciences (although I realize that this term is often used this way). To say that "something" is an experimental science (or an observational science or a theoretical science) is really only saying that this something falls within a particular methodological part of this overall quest to understand the natural world. I am an experimentalist. We do experiments in the lab. But these experiments are worthless without theory (whether we completely understand the theory yet or not). We must combine theory and experiment. Our experiments (combined with theory) may help make sense of observations in astronomy or climatology or biology.

Experimental and observational "sciences" are methods to collect data. Science (as I think about it) is the quest to make sense of this data. "Theories" make sense of the data. Theories are based on the minimum possible number of assumptions, from which everything else follows. Ultimately the laws of physics – which are not reductionist.

In my opinion historical science should not be a separate category. Historical "science" is really only observation – from which a story can be told because of the understanding that comes from theory and experiment. While it is true that different histories may be possible because the data underdetermine the system, these histories must be consistent with the constraints of theory, observation, and experiment. Ultimately we wish to narrow down to the actual history of our world, of course, but the fact that this may not be possible doesn't mean that anything goes.

Comment: I agree with RJS. These are some of the nuances I had to leave unexplored because that was not the focus of the book. All science does draw on theory, and any branch of science employs both experimental and observational methodologies. Sciences typically categorized as historical (such as origins) tend to employ primarily observational methods, but also may also utilize experiments to determine what would happen with similar conditions today, under the assumption of uniformitarianism. I offer the four as useful categories for a non-scientist to understand different general approaches to science, but no scientist uses only one method, nor do they think about what methodology they are using as they go about their work. I discuss this further in the Nature of Science section of this site.

Read more at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2013/07/09/what-is-science-rjs/
Or at http://musingsonscience.wordpress.com/2013/07/09/what-is-science/

 

RJS3: Models, models, models

In this post, RJS copies the Philosophical Axioms, Inferences, and Logical Conclusions I associated with each of the six models of origins and Intelligent Design, then comments:

I am not particularly satisfied with his descriptions of either planned or directed evolution. Neither really contains the right nuance.

Comment: Again, I have to agree. It is impossible to summarize any position in one hundred words, and although I struggled over each, I know they are not fully satisfactory. Moreover, my categorization of directed evolution changed between the time I started to write the book and the end, and continues to do so. I now would put non-Darwinian evolution as a branch at right angles to the main spectrum, and separate it into naturalistic and theistic (directed) forms. I have talked about that in recent talks, and will be publishing more on it in the future.

 

RJS4: The Origin of the Universe – Three Views

After a summary of chapter 3 (Origin of the Universe), in which he provides a few additional details, RJS asks two vital questions:

What role does assumption and preconception play in the development of any theory?

When is it appropriate to question the preconception rather than the theory?

Read more at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2013/08/13/the-origin-of-the-universe-three-views-rjs/
Or at: http://musingsonscience.wordpress.com/2013/08/13/the-origin-of-the-universe-three-views/

 

RJS5: The Origin of Life

After an excellent summary of the problems with origin of life research, including references to books written from a naturalistic perspective for both children and college students that minimize the problems, RJS concludes with another comment on PE and DE:

In Rau's discussion I find the distinction between planned and directed evolution unproductive because it doesn't really wrestle with what it means for God to be the creator and sustainer of the universe, including life. One of the commenters on an earlier post noted "All the categories seem to drive a wedge between God and nature, rather than view the workings of nature as the very hand of God; that the whole universe hangs together and is sustained by God." This hits the nail on the head in my opinion. The definitions of planned evolution and directed evolution both drive a wedge between God and nature. This is seen clearly in the discussion of the origin of life here. This wedge causes us to ask ill-posed questions and insist on incomplete answers. My philosophical and theological commitments on the origin of life are not well described by either planned evolution or directed evolution as described by Rau.

Comment: I would love to talk with JRS about his view, as it would help to clarify the definitions and boundaries of the middle positions, or tease out other nuances of those positions. Again, I admit that in order to try to fit everything and everyone into an overarching framework, gross overgeneralizations are necessary. I also admit that since my focus was on the scientific, I had to gloss over many important theological questions. To address them all would have required a book twice as long.

Read more at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2013/08/20/the-origin-of-life-rjs/
Or at: http://musingsonscience.wordpress.com/2013/08/20/the-origin-of-life/

 

RJS6: Humans ... Qualitatively or Only Quantitatively Different?

In discussing chapter 6, on human origins, RJS makes several useful comments:

Note – this does not mean that all who are not theists are automatically nihilists, existentialists, relativists, or hold to social Darwinism. Many are, in fact, active in a wide range of humanitarian activities. Rau is suggesting what he sees as the logical conclusions – but few of us carry our convictions to "logical conclusions."

He then returns to the PE/DE question:

Final Words. Rau's discussion here leaves room for a wide-ranging discussion. His categories help to frame the discussion. Again I find his rather rigid categorization of planned evolution and directed evolution unsatisfactory. The only choices are not a hands-off God, or an obviously hands-on God, non-overlapping magisteria or an "intelligently driven" process.

Comment: Again, I think these are very valid comments. RJS apparently falls near the 'right' end what I call PE (on the border with DE). In an earlier draft I wrote that those who are near the border between any two positions will not like my characterization of either, but that was cut from the final version. Nevertheless, his case proves it to be true.

Read more at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2013/09/03/humans-qualitatively-or-only-quantitatively-different-rjs/
Or at http://musingsonscience.wordpress.com/2013/09/03/humans-qualitatively-or-only-quantitatively-different/

 

RJS7: One Endless Debate

In a long and deep final post, RJS discusses several of my concluding arguments:

The final two chapters What Can We Learn From Each Other and The Heart of the Debate summarize his discussion and set the stage for moving forward. I can't do complete justice to the arguments he makes in one short post, and I won't try. I will highlight a few of the points that raise the largest questions for me. I recommend this book as an introduction to discussions of origins, for those who are interested, any criticisms are outweighed by the positive aspects of the book.

Final Reflections. This book by Rau makes a valuable contribution to the discussion of origins in the church. There is much that is good in the book, and it can help structure useful conversations surrounding the issues involved. His desire to lay out the issues and walk away from the culture war mentality that rages among Christians over these issues is commendable, and much needed.

Throughout the book I have had a nagging dissatisfaction with the line Rau draws between "Planned Evolution" and "Directed Evolution." Planned evolution is noninterventionist while directed evolution is interventionist. The problem is that the idea of intervention, when, where, why, and how, is ill defined. Most of the people I know that Rau places or would place into the "planned evolution" group hold that God underlies and sustains everything.

Comment: At this point in time I would agree with RJS. I think a better distinction would be to separate non-Darwinian and Darwinian approaches, and then within both approaches distinguish between those who think God took a basically 'hands-off' approach from those who are more 'hands-on', and maybe within that category between those who think his handiwork can be detected (ID) and those who think it cannot be detected by science. That leads to a very messy Y-shaped diagram, which I will one day attempt, because I think the answer lies somewhere near that juncture, but that must for now remain a future project.

Read more at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2013/09/10/one-endless-debate-rjs/
Or at: http://musingsonscience.wordpress.com/2013/09/10/one-endless-debate/