deism

This tag is associated with 6 posts

Theistic Evolution: The Charge of Deism- An answer from George Frederick Wright

A portrait of George Frederick Wright, attribution: Wikimedia Commons

George Frederick Wright (1838-1921) was one of the earliest Christian thinkers to hold the position now known as “theistic evolution” or “evolutionary creation.” He was also an incredibly thought-provoking author, having written numerous books on the subject of science and faith. In his Studies in Science and Religion (1882), he addresses a wide variety of issues related to science and Christianity. One of these was the idea that Christians affirming evolution may as well be deists.

One immediate difficulty with this notion, of course, is that no deist would affirm that God became incarnate and brought about the salvation of all humanity. But the charge is still leveled to this day: those Christians who affirm evolution are deists. Wright’s own answer to this charge took a different direction. Instead of pointing out the fact that theistic evolutionists/evolutionary creationists (terms not yet coined in his day, to my knowledge) affirm any number of doctrinal beliefs that exclude deism, Wright argued that evolution itself, understood holistically, would allow for the affirmation of things like final ends in nature. Thus, because final ends would mean telos or purpose in nature, the charge of deism must be mistaken. Moreover,  any number of things can be affirmed as having natural causes without entailing deism. Wright argued that speciation could be included among these things.

Regarding the latter point, Wright argued that:

The theologian stands in no more need of miracles for the production of species than he does for that of the planets and their movements. Direct providential interposition is not for the irrational creation, but for the rational. So we may divest ourselves of theological prepossessions of any kind in reference to the material machinery by which the diversity of animal and vegetable life has been produced. (In my Kindle version, location 1173)

Wright’s point bears some elaborating. His argument is that theologians do not need to appeal to special divine activity in regards to things like the motions of planetary bodies. These types of things, he refers to as “irrational creation.” Planets, asteroids, dirt, etc. are all “irrational” in that they have no rational self. Indeed, part of his argument is that it would not make much sense to posit divine activity for all of these movements, because they would merely show that God has chosen to do everything voluntaristically or on God’s own rather than using things like natural laws. Thus far, his argument is rather uncontroversial. Very few people continue to argue that the planets’ movement, the water cycle, and the like are all, without any mediation, direct acts of God. The controversy is found, instead, in Wright’s adding the “diversity of animal and vegetable life” in among the things which need not have appeal to divine action.

Thus, for Wright, speciation is itself one of the natural processes that goes on in our universe without God’s special intervention. Of course, this is by no means an uncontroversial claim, but it must, at least, make one think about consistency of the application of these notions. Wright is surely correct to say that the movement of the cosmos need not appeal to God’s direct intervention in order to explain it. If that’s the case, then could it not be the case that other things in nature may be of the same type? Wright argues yes.

Moreover, Wright confronts one of the primary reasons for the charge of Deism. He argues evolution does not take away the possibility of final ends in nature:

The real final cause of any contrivance in nature is the sum of all the uses to which it is ever to be put. Any use to which a contrivance in nature is put, we may be sure formed a part of the Creator’s purpose in causing it to be. An element in making up the final cause of the existence of a particular tree, for example, is the good the birds get out of it in building their nests in its branches. But the birds would be very far from the truth were they to regard that good as exhausting the purposes for which the tree exists. (Kindle Location 266)

Here Wright makes what is perhaps the most important point in regards to the charge of Deism against those Christians who also affirm evolution. Though his point regarding speciation as one of the natural causes would be up for much debate, the point he’s making here seems to be one that Christians of all other persuasions would also affirm. After all, if one wanted to strip away Wright’s point, one would have to deny that individual plants or animals have no final causes in them. Such a denial would mean that one takes all telos out of nature; there would be no divine guidance or purpose in any natural process or the lives of creatures and plants. Such a denial would, in fact, be deism. So no Christian is going to want to deny Wright’s point here. But Wright’s point would apply to all life were it to have evolved as well. Simply having something come to its current form by means of evolution rather than special creation does not strip final cause away from it. And because the Christian who is affirming evolution also affirms final causation, divine interaction in nature remains even on an evolutionary perspective.

The briefest examination of Wright that we’ve put forward here could be expanded in looking at his many other works. But the point that we’ve made ought to carry. Evolution does not, in and of itself, remove the possibility of telos or final ends in nature. Because of that, theistic evolutionists (or evolutionary creationists, as many prefer the terminology now) are not deists. Wright’s other, more controversial, point is that evolution ought to be seen in the same light as the movement of planets and other heavenly bodies. Again, this is not to take away final ends or purpose in creation. Wright’s point was that even though we have natural explanations for the movements of heavenly bodies, we still observe final ends in those same movements. He extends that point to speciation, which will surely be controversial, but has precedent in Christian theology.

What is most interesting about all of this is that Wright was writing about this as one of the earliest thinkers on Christianity and evolution. Those who continue to spread the controversy about Christianity and evolution ought to listen to those who first thought on the topic. The wisdom we find there is often startling, and certainly illuminating.

Source

George Frederick Wright, Studies in Science and Religion (1882).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

What options are there in the origins debate? – A Taxonomy of Christian Origins Positions– I clarify the breadth of options available for Christians who want to interact on various levels with models of origins. I think this post is extremely important because it gives readers a chance to see the various positions explained briefly.

Origins Debate– Here is a collection of many of my posts on Christianity and science.

 

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

 

Natural Law, human morality, and self-interest in Leland vs. Bolingbroke: A centuries-old discussion that remains relevant today

leland-viewJohn Leland’s (1691-1766) epic takedown of Henry St. John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke’s (1678-1751) argument for natural law from a deistic perspective as found in Leland’s A View of the Principal Deistical Writers That Have Appeared in England in the Last and Present Century (available free online) is a wonder to behold. Leland’s work is a massive 2-Volume tome that basically surveys the entire field of the deistic controversy in the 18th century and provides not just an overview of the deists’ writings, but also response to them and extensive commentary on other written responses. In other words, the book is probably the single most valuable contemporary account of the deistic controversy that was written.

Leland deals extensively with Bolingbroke and engages nearly every part of Bolingbroke’s argument for deism. Here, I want to highlight one passage from Leland’s account:

Those may justly regard universal benevolence as a fundamental law of our nature, who suppose a social principle, and a benevolent disposition, distinct from self-love, to be an original disposition, natural to the human heart, and implanted by the Author of our beings; but if self-love be, as [Lord Bolingbroke] represents it, the only original spring of human actions, and the centre of the whole system, universal benevolence cannot be properly represented as the fundamental law of our nature. Upon this scheme the private interest of the individual, whenever it happens to come in competition with the public good, ought to be preferred.

The relevance of this very argument to modern debates over morality, particularly on atheistic schema, is immediately apparent. Without God, in a universe sans not just creation but also sans design, sans lawgiver, etc., it seems self-interest is really the only possible “ought” to be found. But if that is the case, why not acknowledge that morality in the best interest of “all” or “the group” is at best a fiction? Let’s not be mistaken; many atheists do acknowledge exactly that. But there remain holdouts, certain that a framework for discovering morality.

As Leland notes, however, it would be very difficult to get around the notion that without some kind of divine law or lawgiver, self-interest seemingly must become the basis for morality. Indeed, though Leland lived before Darwin, it would seem that non-theistic evolution would suggest this as well: self-preservation and the passing on of one’s genes as the greatest good. But if that is the case, it becomes clear that no matter how lofty our expectations or claims about morality become, when it comes down to it, self-interest will be the final arbiter of morality. If that is the case, then it becomes difficult to maintain that universal benevolence or some other good could be actually attainable on such a system.

Perhaps a counter-argument could be that we could set the goal at universal benevolence, but acknowledge the failings of the system. But if that is the case, it seems the failings of the system itself–allowing self-preservation/interest to be the true ultimate arbiter of morality–decries the system. The goal would become “universal benevolence, so long as it does not impede my self-interest” and that seems to be a very problematic way to view morality. Of course, one could simply bite the bullet and acknowledge this as the best possible moral system to offer without God. So be it.

Links

Historical Apologetics– Check out all my posts on historical apologetics.

For more reading on the psychological studies behind spanking, see Psychology Today as well as the summary article linked above (or here).

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for posts on Star Trek, science fiction, fantasy, books, sports, food, and more!

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts 1/20/17- deism, geology, and more!

postHello dear readers! Sorry for the long absence from Really Recommended Posts. It’s been insanely busy, and with a baby due any day now, I may not have another of these for a bit. So enjoy the posts I have compiled here!

Young Earth Creationists arguing in circles– I’ve seen the claim made time and again: the fossils date the rocks, and the rocks date the fossils–it’s a circle! Young Earth Creationists frequently make this claim. Here is a look at one such instance of the claim and the facts behind the tools of geology.

Lies about Relics– An interesting look at the proliferation of relics in the Middle Ages, what Martin Luther had to say about them, and the meaning and usage of the term. I highly recommend readers subscribe to the Christian History magazine. It is free (donations encouraged) and excellent.

John Leland– John Leland was a pastor who wrote extensively on the deist controversy in the 17th and 18th centuries. He wrote a two-volume work that surveys the entire field, offering both exposition and refutation of the works of basically every major player in the controversy. Read more about him and his work here.

Herodotus, Osiris, Dionysus, and the Jesus Myth– A brief look at the historical method of those who claim Jesus is a myth, with a specific look at Herodotus and his discussion of Osiris and Dionysus.

The Wheel of Time “Winter’s Heart” and “Crossroads of Twilight” – A Christian Reflection

cot-jordanRobert Jordan’s epic fantasy series, “The Wheel of Time,” has much to reflect upon from a Christian perspective. Here, I’ll be examining books nine and ten, “Winter’s Heart” and “The Crossroads of Twilight.” There are SPOILERS from both books here. Please do not share spoilers from later books for the sake of readers.

Violence and the Sword

In Winter’s Heart, we find that great restrictions are placed on the use of weapons in Far Madding, a city which has great buffers against use of the Power. The question is, does violence cease when weapons are taken away? A guard in the city explains the reasoning:

“No need for any man to defend himself in Far Madding… The Street Guards take care of that. Let any man as wants start carrying a sword, and soon we’d be as bad as everyplace else…” (538)

However, the guardsman apparently was scarred–from some previous conflict. Moreover, the pages preceding this quote and afterwards spoke of how violence continued whenever the Guards were not immediately in sight. Yes, it may have been thwarted to some extent, but people still found ways to fight and murder. How is it that in a place which attempted so much to restrict violence, violence was perpetuated? It seems that it is because people continued to find ways to do violence, despite said restrictions. The world is in need of redeeming from its own self-centeredness and focus on doing harm.

Deism

Perhaps the most lengthy theological discussion which has occurred in The Wheel of Time yet is found in Crossroads of Twilight, as Rand reflects upon the way things are playing out:

Did he think the Creator had decided to stretch out a merciful hand after three thousand years of suffering? The Creator had made the world and then left humankind to make of it what they would, a heaven or the Pit of Doom by their choosing. The Creator had made many worlds, watched each flower or die, and gone on to make endless worlds beyond. A gardener did not weep for each blossom that fell. (558)

The quote speaks to a kind of deism found in The Wheel of Time. The Creator laid down the pattern, which continually repeats throughout history. It weaves as the Creator willed it. But the Dark One continually tries to make the pattern “fall into the shadow.” One wonders, then, whether Rand al’Thor is correct here. After all, the Creator has held off the Dark One from utterly overthrowing the Pattern–perhaps only through setting it up in such a way that it could correct things. But even that much foresight refutes the notion that the Creator would not have cared whatsoever about the suffering of men cursed to insanity.

I look forward to seeing how theology develops in the Wheel of Time as the final battle approaches.

Fatalism

The Pattern itself is something which garners much discussion, and it seems to point to a kind of fatalism found in the beliefs of many in the universe. For example, Perrin has a discussion with an Aes Sedai about how the Pattern weaves in Crossroads of Twilight:

“You are ta’veren, yes, but you still are only a thread in the Pattern, as am I. In the end, even the Dragon Reborn is just at thread to be woven into the Pattern. Not even a ta’veren thread chooses how it will be woven.” [Annoura–the Aes Sedai–said]
“Those threads are people,” Perrin said wearily. “Sometimes maybe people don’t want to be woven into the Pattern without any say.”
“And you think that makes a difference?” Not waiting on an answer she lifted her reins and [galloped off]. (588)

The notion of fatalism is prevalent throughout the series, but one wonders whether it will hold sway. After all, it really does appear as though some people are able to change things for the better or worse, even working against the Pattern (or going outside/beyond it).

Back to Our World

These themes hare found in many discussions outside of the world of fantasy. Is God so distant that we may not approach Him? Are our destinies simply wrapped up in uncaring fate? Can we stop violence by taking away all weapons? These are questions which speak to moral and transcendent spheres of reality, and interaction with them is beneficial. The Christian view would note that the “Creator” in fact cared so much about creation–each individual–that God sent the Son to redeem the world. It’s a powerful message–one which goes beyond that found in the world of fantasy and takes us into a new plane of reality  in which we are redeemed people living in Christ.

We need not worry about fatalism or the possibility of evil overcoming a plan simply wound up and left to unravel. Instead, God intimately cares for and about each individual.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sources

Robert Jordan, Winter’s Heart (New York: Tor, 2000).

Robert Jordan, Crossroads of Twilight (New York: Tor, 2003).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Handel’s “Messiah” as Apologetic

hmcgp-stapert“I should be sorry if I only entertained them [the audience], I wish to make them better.” – Handel 

Handel’s “Messiah” is one of the greatest pieces of music ever composed. It has been performed constantly since he wrote it. There is no doubting the enduring popularity of the piece and the way it brings comfort to God’s people. It is often played during the Christmas or Advent seasons and has become a way for many to hear the message of Christ during this time.

One aspect that is not often explored, however, is the way the piece may be seen as an apologetic for Christianity. Calvin Stapert, in his work on the piece, Handel’s Messiah: Comfort for God’s People, notes how the work was written in part as apologetic. The biblical selections which were put together to form the lyrics of the performance were selected by Charles Jennens, whose brother had committed suicide during some doubt-inducing talks with a famous deist (77-78, cited below).

Moreover, Christian apologists during this time–during the height of Enlightenment–were beginning to realize that simply making arguments from natural revelation or reason alone was in some way to not engage with the Deists who were at large. After all, Deists could agree God existed. The question was which God and whether God was personal. So although the arguments of natural theology were helpful, they could not do all the work on their own, and Christian apologists set about the task of proving Christianity through the Scriptures (75-77).

By simply putting forth a different narrative than that of the Deists, Handel and Jennens challenged the notion that God was impersonal. Moreover, they pressed home the need for a savior due to our own futile raging against God. The beauty of he piece serves to enhance its apologetic narrative, making it entice the heater to keep listening. The music forges links between the notion of he need for a savior and the Incarnate Son.

The Messiah, then, is part of this project. It is a story of prophecy and the way that God sent the Son into the world, incarnate in the flesh, to bring about salvation. It is a masterful interweaving of Old Testament prophecy and New Testament fulfillment. More than that, it is an apologetic voice in the wilderness.

Source

Calvin Stapert, Handel’s Messiah: Comfort for God’s People (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2010).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy

 

 

Arguing for Deism?

One curious objection I have seen and heard to arguments for the existence of God is that these arguments apply to deism, not Christianity. For example, Michael, an atheist blogger, writes, “Note that these are effectively arguments for deism, not Christianity!” about the Moral Argument (here). Another example is found in the irrational and rather virulent attack on theistic argument (laughably, they use Dawkins as the primary source for saying that all arguments for God’s existence have been refuted) can be found here. The author, confused about the implications of the cosmological argument, writes, “YECers actually deny the Big Bang, but Craig appears to be a deist.”

I must confess at least a little confusion about these comment and others which I have seen and heard. The objection seems to be that an argument for the existence of God (such as the cosmological argument) that could be utilized for deism doesn’t help the epistemic justification for belief in the Christian God. This objection is completely misguided, however, for a number of reasons.

First, Michael objects in this way in his discussion of the Moral Argument. But deism is the belief in “a creator who has established the universe and its processes but does not respond to human prayer or need” (Honderich, 195 cited below). Clearly, then, this god of deism cannot be the God towards which the Moral Argument points. The moral argument places God as the objective standard of morality for the universe (note, it doesn’t place God as the arbitrary decision maker for what is right or wrong–but argues that God has objective goodness necessarily or essentially, thus avoiding the Euthyphro dilemma Michael presses). It is hard to see how a god which doesn’t care about or respond to human need could be the objective standard of morality.

Second, the classic arguments for the existence of God don’t each point specifically to the Christian God, but serve as a cumulative case to demonstrate His existence and attributes. The Moral Argument argues for omnibenevolence; the teleological argument demonstrates omniscience and omnipotence (along with omnibenevolence, to a lesser extent); the cosmological argument illustrates omnipotence, transcendence, and necessary existence; the transcendental argument shows God’s transcendence and necessity; the ontological argument combines all of the attributes into its first premise (usually); the argument from consciousness demonstrates God as mind; the argument from reason demonstrates the rationality of God; the list could continue. Furthermore, almost all of these arguments show that God is personal, and therefore, by definition, not deistic but theistic. The objection is specious already.

Furthermore, how is it an objection to these arguments to say that they don’t each individually demonstrate the Christian God is the one true God? This seems to be a confusion about how arguments work. Argumenst for the existence of a god, as long as they don’t contradict the God of Christianity, can be taken as evidence for the existence of the God, namely, the Christian God.

Take an example of a case in court. A man is accused of committing murder. The victim was found hung in his room. The prosecuting attorney argues that the accused had the means–he recently bought some rope. He then argues the accused had motive–the victim had recently gotten a promotion for which the accused was vying. He also shows that the accused has rope marks on his hand and scratch marks on his face, which show the struggle which occurred as the accused allegedly hung the victim. He argues, finally, the accused had opportunity–he was in the room at the time the victim died and he was also the only other person in the room.

Now imagine how ridiculous it would be if the defense attorney stood up and complained that these arguments don’t really apply to the case at hand, because none of them demonstrates the accused committed the murder! They just show, individually, that he had means, motive, and opportunity; not to mention the strong evidence for the accused being involved in a struggle with some rope and another person. But to demonstrate the guilt of the accused, the defense continues, the prosecution must come up with an argument that demonstrates all of these things at once! Otherwise, they just demonstrate the other things individually!

Obviously, the defense attorney has something wrong here. But then the atheistic objector also has something wrong. The Christian philosopher of religion has argued that God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, transcendent, necessary, etc.; the atheist responded by saying “those arguments individually only demonstrate a deistic God!” [Discounting, for the moment, that a deistic God wouldn’t share some of these attributes.] But that isn’t how the arguments work. Any argument which demonstrates that a God exists, as long as that God is not contradictory to the Christian God, can serve as evidence for the existence of the Christian God.

Source:

Ted Honderich, ed., The Oxford Guide to Philosophy (New York, NY: Oxford, 2005).

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation and provide a link to the original URL. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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