(HT: Exploring Our Matrix)
(HT: Exploring Our Matrix)
Having decided to blog a couple of times per week about my blogroll, I’m going to start with a site I just added, Geocreationism.com. If you’ve been following this blog for any period of time, you will have noticed occasional comments from Geocreationist, and this is his blog.
I have a couple of reasons for including it. First, he disagree with a number of positions I take, but is open to dialog. That’s an excellent start. Second, his position on creation and evolution illustrates one of my key contentions: This is not a black and white issue in which there are only two sides. One of the defining features of the moderate position, as I see it, is refusing to be held to a choice of extremes. That’s why moderates are frequently very annoying to extremists–we refuse to get stuck with only two options. Sometimes even if you give us A, B, C, and D, we want E-none of the above.
Before I go to a particular post, let me look at Geocreationism’s subtitle: Geocreationism – Showing harmony between mainstream science and scripture. It’s very easy to forget that when we look at the interaction between science and scripture that both sides can vary. One can differ on a view of science or of a particular scientific theory, or one can differ on the interpretation of scripture. Any type of reconciliation or harmony involves both. This subtitle is one I would not use, for example, because I don’t think there is any need for harmony simply because I don’t believe science and scripture address the same questions. There are occasional overlaps, but these are incidental, I think. This is one of the issues for Christians. Just what is scripture trying to address, and in what way does it address it?
We’ll see some of this in action in a recent post, Evidence for Creation (Review) – Ground Rules for the Review. Geocreationist is reviewing Tom DeRosa’s book Evidence for Creation – Intelligent Answers for Open Minds. In laying out his own ground rules he distinguishes what he calls “Darwinian evolution” and “Theistic Evolution.” He defines Darwinian evolution as largely equivalent to atheistic evolution, though he sees little difference between that and the various deistic views.
He contrasts theistic evolution, in which he says that God not only starts everything, but “He started every wave of Evolution as well.” In his view, God is still distant in this view of theistic evolution, and thus he presents his own third view: geocreationism, or geocreationist theistic evolution. In this case, God is continually present and concerned. I’ll have to read more to see how this impacts the process along the way.
Now I must say that this terminology is somewhat surprising to me. For example, evolution occurring in waves with God starting each wave sounds very much like old earth creationism to me. Further, Geocreationist describes his view in this way: “Evolution would occur with our without the randomness, as long as God remains involved; remove God however, and the randomness would not be enough.” That latter view sounds somewhat like ID or “guided evolution” to me, depending on how one fills in the details.
If I’m reading all of this correctly, I’m going to fall into the “Darwinian evolution” camp. My problem with being placed there is that I don’t think God is distant. For each and every law of nature I believe we can say it happens “because God.” In other words God wills gravity, and should he stop willing it, there would be no gravity. Not to worry, however, he’s pretty fond of gravity. God also wills variation and natural selection, and those produce certain types of order according to that law. Remove God and you remove everything.
Now I know that there are some views that allow for indetectible divine intervention, but I’m not particularly interested at the moment in things that are even theoretically indetectible. I believe that God creates the laws, i.e. the system, which in turn produces everything that we see. God can intervene, but he would do so because he wants to, primarily because he wants to communicate with these weird creatures who have come into being.
I have one further comment initial comment. Geocreationist appears to be looking for at least an historical outline in the Genesis accounts. I think this is doomed to be a disappointing search in the long run. I do not believe that the literature involved was written with the intent to provide a narrative history of anything, but rather to express God’s relationship to creation using the cosmology and symbolic language of the time. I will blog more on it as time goes on, but I have found that everything tends to fit quite nicely when read in that context.
I would like two add just a couple of notes. First, I think we begin to depend on politics when we cease to depend on the gospel. If we truly believe that Jesus can change lives, then we also must believe that we have a better weapon to use fighting against evil than the law.
Second, I think it’s dangerous when we place our focus on being right about information, rather than on living right and on being in right relationship. Do I mean righteousness by works? No. That is simply another form of being right about things. Our right relationship with God should not make us feel better than other people. We simply have received more grace.
Finally, while the article I referenced is largely about the religious right, I think we must be careful never to make a political stance the equivalent of being Christian. There are activities we can definitely point to as un-Christlike, but we should not make a political philosophy–a strategy for living in this world–our criteria for one’s place in the next. That applies not just to [tag]right wing[/tag] politics (which I opposed), but to [tag]moderates[/tag] (with which I identify) and to [tag]liberals[/tag] (who make me more comfortable than the right wingers). None is a necessary aspect of faith, and none are excluded from the label “brother or sister” based on their view.
According to this story on MSNBC.com democratic presidential contenders are snubbing the DLC meeting in Tennessee this weekend. It’s a trend that I find annoying, though I do expect candidates to talk to the base of their parties during the campaign.
I’m wondering this: Is the base of the democratic party so partisan that it would actually harm a candidate to attend a moderate event?
. . . and some of them speak up, too!
My first thought was that the fewer and weaker moderate Muslims are, the more we ought to support them. I have always maintained that we should be careful to distinguish the guilty form the innocent whilst being vigorously opposed to those radicals who would use violence.
But I think that our government makes a dangerous mistake when it puts democracy above freedom. It’s quite possible for a majority to be tyrannical, which was the major reasons that the United States places limits on what the majority can actually do. A major problem with “winning” the war in Iraq is that we have set goals that cannot be accomplished. One cannot blame the military for not being miracle workers. We somehow want a democratic, unified Iraq that will not be an Islamic state. We need to consider one or another of those goals
Consider this quote from the article, regarding Turkey:
This resolute stand against Islamism by moderate Turkish Muslims is the more striking when contrasted with the cluelessness of Westerners who pooh-pooh the dangers of the AKP’s ascent. A Wall Street Journal editorial assures Turks that their prime minister’s popularity “is built on competent and stable government.” Dismissing the historic crossroads that President Sezer and others perceive, it dismisses as “fear mongering” doubts about Prime Minister Erdo?an’s commitment to secularism and ascribes these to petty campaign tactics “to get out the anti-AKP vote and revive a flagging opposition.”
If the Turkish military helps keep the country secular, more power to them!
I frequently am asked what I mean by “passionate moderate” or how I can be a committed moderate Christian. These questions come even more frequently than ones that ask how I can be a “liberal charismatic,” probably because “passionate moderate” is my self-label, whereas “liberal charismatic” was assigned to me by someone else.
The term “moderate” has a bad reputation in some circles. It’s connected with “middle of the road” where there are, supposedly, only skunks and a yellow stripe. But I reject that characterization. I have indeed met “moderates” like that. Their answer to every question is to place themselves comfortably in a non-threatening center between all the people they know, and thus they are always arguing a mediating position.
I simply reject that definition, and I don’t think it is even accurate in describing both moderates. For me, being a passionate moderate means that I do not accept the extremes as the only options. There are issues on which I am extreme. That’s because I have examined the spectrum as I understand it, and found that I belong on one end of it or the other. On many issues, however, I believe passionately in something more to the center. There is no reason whatever that I cannot believe passionately in any particular position I choose.
I could try for another label, but I don’t know what it would be. It sounds “moderate” to me. Most self-identified moderates that I know would agree with my characterization. While some people fit the stereotype, the yellow stripe and dead skunks slur is just that for most moderates–a slur by people who want to force people into their extreme camps.
I reject the “extreme” plan for spirituality, for politics, for my personal lifestyle, and for my way of thinking about everything. Thus I am a moderate, and I’m passionate about it. I’m a moderate Christian and I’m committed to it.
PS: One last thing. I don’t reject the label “liberal” either. It’s a bad word to some people, but there are many ways in which I can properly be called a liberal. An opponent once labeled me a “liberal charismatic” and that stuck, so much so that I used it as the subtitle to one of my books, Not Ashamed of the Gospel: Confessions of a Liberal Charismatic. Others label me as evangelical, which seems odd, but generally when they define how they understand “evangelical” I find I fit. Labels are troublesome that way. When one is moderate, one’s labeling can be confusing.
I thought I’d blogged on this before, but I can’t find it. Eleanor Swift of Newsweek is writing about Unity 2008, a group that’s trying to create a third party movement and get on the ballot in all 50 states. The idea is to nominate a presidential candidate of one party and a vice-presidential candidate of the other. I would presume both would have to be moderates and would obviously not be intense party loyalists.
I do see quite a bit of moderation in the leading candidates this year, however, and it will be interesting to see what kind of impact that has on this idea. I would still favor a third party, if it can work up steam, because I believe the two party system has become far too ingrained in our political process. I would like to see a process that was more party-neutral.
Check out Unity 2008 for more information.
If I were to respond to only one item in The God Delusion, it would be this one. Put simply, I am a moderate by conviction, and Dawkins is most definitely not.
To illustrate, let me quote:
. . . Desits differ from theists in that their God does not answer prayers, is not interested in sins of confessions, does not read our thoughts and does not intervene with capricious miracles. Deists differ from pantheists in that the deist God is some kind of cosmic intelligence, rather than the pantheist’s metaphoric or poetic synonym for the laws of the universe. Pantheism is sexed-up atheism. Deism is watered-down theism. [emphasis in original]
Now to some readers this may seem like a gentlemanly opening for dialogue, but based on the remainder of the book, I would have to argue otherwise. Dawkins sees two possibilities–religion of all related varieties on the one side, and atheism on the other. He downplays moderation of all types. There was the time in reading this book that I thought I would respond only to that point, because for me this is the critical issue. Do we look at all the various options across the spectrum, or do we try to reduce them to a binary choice between two extremes? If we reduce them to the two extremes, I wind up with the religious fundamentalists. I’m not going to say that’s unfair. Fairness is not the most important issue. But it is inaccurate.
No matter how much rhetoric is expended to try to pretend otherwise there is a difference between me and an old earth creationist, and in turn between the old earth creationist and a young earth creationist. There is even a difference, hard as it may be for a defender of the theory of evolution to see, between someone like Kent Hovind and Kurt Wise (pp. 284-286). The world doesn’t divide itself into only these two extremes.
Now while I consider this an extremely important point, it might be irrelevant to the theme of the book, except that Dawkins regularly attacks those who take a more nuanced position than his. An entire section is titled “The Poverty of Agnosticism” (pp. 46-54) and it is not at all kind to agnostics.
I would have to admit that this section annoyed me even more than most of the attacks on Christianity. I would regard Agnosticism as an extremely rational alternative. In fact, from a purely intellectual point of view, barring any leap of faith or other such maneuver, I would probably fall into that camp. But Dawkins is fully convinced that there is or will be a natural explanation for everything, and thus even suggesting that one doesn’t know simply strikes him as too weak.
This results, again, from that simple binary approach. If you make the assumption that there are two alternatives, either it can be demonstrated that God exists, or atheism is true, then if you can show that the demonstration of God’s existence has failed, atheism is the only remaining option. It’s no surprise that agnosticism draws Dawkins’s ire here! It’s the obvious alternative. If you fail to demonstrate that God exists, you don’t assume the alternative; you realize that you don’t know.
If one forms the question instead as “How do we understand the existence of the physical universe?” the answers are somewhat different. They would include God, a self-existent physical universe (so atheism), and no possibility of coming up with an understanding. Each of these alternatives would need to be examined on its own merits.
One more note on the issue of moderation:
As long as we accept the principle that religious faith must be respected simply because it is religious faith, it is hard to withhold respect from the faith of Osama bin Laden and the suicide bombers. The alternative, one so transparent that it should need no urging, is to abandon the principle of automatic respect for religious faith. This is one reason why I do everything in my power to warn people against faith itself, not just against so-called ‘extremist’ faith. The teachings of ‘moderate’ religion, though not extremist in themselves, are an open invitation to extremism. (p. 306)
One of the most common arguments I face from fundamentalists and also some conservatives is the “slippery slope” argument. If you give anything away, it’s only the first step to giving everything away. But this is a fallacious argument because it has built in the assumption that the correct position will result from choosing one of the extremes. Perhaps the position in the middle is the most correct, and in that case we would have a “slippery slope” on either side.
This quote is also further evidence that I did not miss the nature of the book in my comments on Plantinga’s review. Put simply, there is no religious position which Dawkins finds tolerable. All of the positions in the middle are simply dangerous compromises.
According to Cardinal Biffi, who gave the Lenten message this year, the antichrist could be “a pacifist, ecologist and ecumenist”.
OK, I resemble that remark. Of course, I’m not nearly important enough to be the actual antichrist. Probably I could just encourage and support him:
Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, 78, who retired as Archbishop of Bologna three years ago, quoted Vladimir Solovyov (1853-1900), the Russian philosopher and mystic, as predicting that the Antichrist “will convoke an ecumenical council and seek the consensus of all the Christian confessions”.
So I can’t convoke an ecumenical council, but I can really wish one would happen, and pray for it regularly. I can be pretty green on environmental issues, and I can pursue peace. Does that count?
For further proof that one need not be intelligent to be a cardinal, consider this:
Cardinal Biffi said that Christianity stood for “absolute values, such as goodness, truth, beauty”. If “relative values” such as “solidarity, love of peace and respect for nature” became absolute, they would encourage “idolatry” and “put obstacles in the way of salvation”.
I’m glad to hear that “beauty” is a more absolute value than say “love of peace.” Got that.
. . . but they need to learn to live with them. I recommend reading the Washington Post article The Woman in the Middle about Democratic congresswoman Ellen Tauscher of California. A number of left wing bloggers and other activists are apparently targetting her. They would like to replace her with a more liberal democrat. Now I’m not certain about her district, although she won re-election with 68% of the vote, but in general the Democrats will need moderate support if they are going to keep a majority in congress and elect a Democratic president.
My own political journey started in the Republican party, and watching as moderates and libertarians were progressively sidelined. I never switched to the Democratic party for one reason–the Democrats behave in precisely the same way. The Democrats should take to heart the message that the New Democrat contingent grew from 47 to 60 members. Those who want to call the last election a “liberal victory” had better think twice. Considering the state of the Republican party at the time, bogged down about Iraq, and seemingly careless in leadership, it’s not surprising that the “other guys” managed to win election. What should give Democratic strategists pause is that, with the massive opposition to President Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq, and the Foley scandal, they didn’t win a bigger victory than they did.
Liberal activists can end up destroying their potential to accomplish good things with the majority they have won by ignoring the moderates. The majority of the country is moderate. If you continue the search for ideological purity, you will simply write yourselves out of history. Governing involves compromise. Voters and activists together need to realize that. Compromise properly acknowledged and carried out openly is not deception or promise-breaking. It’s governing. If the Democratic left wing can’t get along with someone like Tauscher, I think they’re going to have a terribly difficult time maintaining a majority, or governing.