Book Review: Undeniable, by Bill Nye

Today I finished reading Bill Nye’s latest book, Undeniable – Evolution and the Science of Creation. You can find my review at Amazon here. I’ll also post it below…

BillNyeUndeniableBill Nye’s recently published book, Undeniable, is largely a response to the debate in 2014 between Nye and Young Earth Creationist, Ken Ham. I recommend this book to anyone still on the fence re evolution, which, for the most part are Christians. Very much the gentleman and good humored, Bill Nye elaborates on the topics touched on in the debate and adds much more toward making the case for evolution as well as debunking many YEC claims. Nye is engaging, humorous and self-deprecating.

In the audible version, Nye performed the reading himself and the book is better for it. I couldn’t think of anyone to more authentic and dynamic to deliver the story. While it is about science Nye is draws you in and convinces you that he is sharing something wonderful with you, his story -OUR story- rather than lecturing or forcing information on you. His more expressive moments took me back to his shows I watched as a kid.

As a Christian who adheres to evolutionary theory without reservation I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Though firm and steady in his affirmation of evolution he is never insulting or disparaging of faith, Young Earth Creationists nor of Ken Ham. It seems he knows that Xian minds are changing on the topic of evolution, that the tide is turning and that it is important for all to embrace evolution and science. It’s as though he’s destroying his opponents by making them his friends… killing them softly with kindness, loving them into the truth. Some authors I’ve read on the subject give you the feeling that even if you were swayed you’d have a hard time being a fan. Nye comes across as though he’s in your corner ready to welcome all who finally embrace evolution regardless of their faith. I think every American conservative evangelical should read this book, especially those who watched the Ham vs Nye debate.

What about Intelligent Design?

EvolutionAsAccident

I think this quote goes far in explaining my view of Evolution and Creation. However, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that how everything is today, including humans, is exactly how God intended they would be prior to creation. I’d rather say that humans today are within a range of potentiality that existed prior to the big bang. So, perhaps the species of which the Son would become incarnate could potentially have been like C.S. Lewis’ Hrossa, Sorns or Pfifltriggi. Here is also where I’d part with the ID movement because I think they go much further in their assertions of particular design. If the ID movement presented their views as I would I think they’d get a lot less flack than they are now and really what would be the point of railing against them? They would be in support of randomness and such a loose definition of design that it’d be indistinguishable from Evolutionary Creationists that now distance themselves from the ID movement (like I do).

Here’s the quote from the picture and a link to the original post.

“As to the Divine Design, is it not an instance of incomprehensibly and infinitely marvellous Wisdom and Design to have given certain laws to matter millions of ages ago, which have surely and precisely worked out, in the long course of those ages, those effects which He from the first proposed. Mr Darwin’s theory need not then to be atheistical, be it true or not; it may simply be suggesting a larger idea of Divine Prescience and Skill. Perhaps your friend has got a surer clue to guide him than I have, who have never studied the question, and I do not [see] that ‘the accidental evolution of organic beings’ is inconsistent with divine design — It is accidental to us, not to God.”

John Henry Newman, Letter to J. Walker of Scarborough, May 22, 1868

O To Be Open

Last night Brian Zahnd teamed up with Austin Fischer in a debate on Calvinism in Chicago. They were representing the anti-Calvinist/Arminian perspective and I must say did a terrific job. When I hear Arminians make the case for Libertarian Freewill I wonder how they personally reconcile NOT being an Open Theist. Roger Olson has long been a friend to Open Theists. He’s lent his support and made the case for Open Theists’ inclusion in Evangelical orthodoxy. We are now two decades removed from the publishing of the controversial book The Openness Of God that ushered in the theological movement. Open Theism is now an established and accepted theological perspective within most of evangelical culture. I hope and suspect that an increasing number of theologians, philosophers, pastors, etc will identify as Open Theists and champion the movement.

But, back to Zahnd and Fischer… I’ve communicated with Fischer regarding Open Theism and (if I recall correctly) it is something that he is “open to.” Thanks to a friend (AR) for making me aware of a poem written by Zahnd called, “O To Be Open”. I can’t help but think Zahnd has engaged the theology. Though I’m not bashful in asking I sometimes hesitate to ask public figures what is their stand on the issue. Zahnd is coming so close to affirming Openness here, do you think? Perhaps I’ll ask. I hope you enjoy the poet theologian’s poem as much as I have.

O To Be Open

Biblical Inerrancy: Civil Authority

I recently was a participant in a discussion about God’s providence in the establishment and maintenance of civil government, per Romans 13:1-7.

The comments of one person resonated with me:

“Paul was wrong. He was wrong about slavery (“Slaves, submit to your masters?” come on!). He was wrong about women. He was wrong about his fellow Jews. He was wrong about homosexuals. And he was wrong about government.

Any God who granted authority to the US government, which enslaved and dehumanized tens of millions of African Americans and robbed and carried out genocide on millions of Native Americans, is worthy of scorn and not worship.

And though current government has improved some, it still has miles and miles to go.

So, if Paul is right and government’s authority is from God (and what about Nazi Germany’s government? Soviet Russia’s Stalinist government? Pol Pot’s government in Cambodia? et cetera, et cetera), God sure has a lot to answer for. I’d say Paul is guilty of slandering God.”

It seems inerrantists and literalists are here in an exegetical and hermeneutical squeeze. They’ve got to maintain an argument that honors their aspirations to consistently champion the plain reading of scripture but they recognize that to maintain credibility they must relativize Paul’s instruction. How do the avoid the the fact that a plain reading of Scripture in effect legitimizes Stalin, Pot and the Nazis?

Living As If God Didn’t Exist

(The following are some thoughts I put together while out for a walk tonight.)

How do I express that I am a Christian trying to live as if God does not exist? It is obvious to me and in my opinion to all reasonable people that God often allows disastrous and terrible events to occur. One might lose sight of this fact so perhaps I should remind them here (link to follow… maybe some day). While allowing such atrocity is bad enough there are many who hold that he causes this evil.

So how do I reconcile these occurrences of evil with a maximally benevolent God? Let me cover a few bases first. I believe that nothing exists which God does not sustain. What’s more is that there is no evolving thing or event that does not have its beginning in creation (I hold that matters of logic and mathematics exist concomitantly with God’s existence). I believe that God is a maximally benevolent being. In fact I would say that God is maximally great in all aspects of what is admirable (and there’s the debate right?).

My current theodicy posits that the telos of all creation is to eventuate a people who are in loving relationship with, participate in the loving relationship amongst the Trinity and with one another. The metaphysics of love require that love be authentic, sincere, without the intent to deceive an other or oneself. Therefore while God is acting in such a manner, he makes metaphysical room for others to exist with a certain amount of creative ability to affect change, at least in order to become oneself. So, for authentic otherness to exist God allows the creation to “make itself” which gets me to another base to cover: possibility, chance and randomness are built into creation. In part of this creation-making-itself it is evident that God allows the creation to affect change not in only themselves but in others, for good or bad.

So, given these premises and preconditions how can we discern that God is doing all he can to maximize the good and minimize the evil in every situation? Since he allows things to happen as they do how does his existence make a difference? His affects and influence seem so subtle.

It is as though God wanted us to live as if he did not exist. Once we have our knee-jerk reaction to such an idea let’s consider it further. Why would this necessarily be so bad? I am a Christian after all. For me to live as if God did not exist should mean that I endeavor to do all I can to maximize the good and minimize the evil in every situation without halting in thinking that God would do this himself without needing my action. If I lived as if God didn’t exist perhaps I would be a better Christian.

Diffusion of Theological Innovations

I was reading about the diffusion of innovation and thought it might have a relative application in the realm of theological ideas. Just as technological advancements have a predictable method of acceptance in society, theological ideas will have a similar method. It seems to me that most people do not have an inordinate aversion to new technology besides the normal dislike of change. Theological innovations however seem to have much more difficulty and take much more time to reach general acceptance such that they reflect a negative skew curve, that is, the mean, median and mode are much farther to the right of the graph. This just means it takes a long time for theological innovations to become generally accepted/tolerated. The “early adopters” should expect a long fight but when it’s finally accepted it will be a much more dramatic tipping point than the standard “diffusion of innovations” graph.

So, I have a couple of graphs below: one representing the standard “diffusion of innovation” bell curve and the other is what I think would be the “diffusion of theological innovation” (yeah, don’t judge me… the image is a quick and dirty edit I made with mspaint of a negative skew graph  from a google search). My edits are intended to communicate my idea here and I imagine it could use some tweaking.

I originally thought of this negative skew in regards to how Open Theism has fared thus far in the market of theological/philosophical ideas and where I anticipate it going (obviously I think it will -or rather should- capture market share by 2040… right?). Though Open Theism actually has deeper roots in church and philosophical history than Calvinists and classical theists would admit, I see Open Theism as currently being in the “early adopters” stage, at least the current popular movement within evangelical Christianity. I also thought about how this negative skew probably represents other ideas affecting theology such as evolution, anti-inerrancy and same-sex monogamous relationships. One can also look at what are now normative ideas, like a spherical earth, heliocentrism, etc. and imagine that they took the same trek in the society of their day.

Diffusion_of_ideas Diffusion_of_Theo_Inno

Open Theism: An Allegory

Theologies in Allegory, Part 3: Open Theism

In my previous posts I presented the allegories of Molinism and Calvinism  (Part 1 and Part 2). Here I’ve constructed an allegory of Open Theism.

Is This World The Best of All Possible Vinyl Records?

Grandmaster Flash, out of love for music, wants to produce and record a record. He enjoys and appreciates the collaboration of other musicians and so he invites several to a recording session. He determines the basics of what kind of music will be composed, what tempo, instruments used, etc. but encourages free expression in this collaborative jam session. For the sake of authenticity they agree to only one attempt at a recording and then to press this recording into a vinyl record regardless of mistakes or regrets. With that being the case Grandmaster Flash initiates the project and, having set the arrangement, he and the other collaborators are still improvising in their live production.

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Using the above as a basis for a thought experiment, I’d like to represent my understanding of Open Theism:

God, out of love of relationship in the Trinity, wants to select the best *kind* of a world to share relationship with others. This kind of world would be one in which there are some things that are settled, or “closed”, and some things that are as of yet undetermined, or “open”. Confident in his intellect and resourcefulness in responding to these open possibilities God actualizes this world (the Big Bang). Since this kind of world is open to seemingly endless possible outcomes the analogy of creating a recording is a better fit than to listening to a record. So, in contrast to Molinism, Openness holds that within this world there are multitudes of possibilities.

Open Theism: one real world with endless possibilities.

Molinism: the termination of real possibilities at the selection of one theoretical world.

Open Theism maintains the authenticity and congruity of God’s original purpose and his continued activity. It allows for real “others” to exist which makes the relationship of love legitimate. Cake, anyone?

(*Note: I’m looking into whether Molinism entails worlds with complete histories… that is, complete at least to a certain point. I think it does but I may be wrong.)

Calvinism: An Allegory

This is Part 2 of the series, “Theologies In Allegory”. Here I represent Calvinism, as I understand it and with an attempt to irenically represent it with the hope that Calvinists would nod in approval, yet I don’t think I can actually achieve both… so, I’ll forego the hope of their approval. (Here’s part 1 on Molinism)

Is This World The Best of All Possible Vinyl Records?

Grandmaster Flash desires to glorify himself with the production of a awesome vinyl record. Though the effects on this record sound like it is the collaboration of many individual jazz and hip hop artists, it is ultimately God inspiring and manipulating them. It is the sound of a great musical Rube Goldberg machine (I really like this one). This is really all there is to know, regardless of how beautiful the record sounds.

Even this post and your experience reading this post is part of his composition. Feel the love? Now, this surfaces the tension with theistic determinism… it is a parody of itself. All of the purposes the Deity hopes to achieve in his act of creation, ie his own glorification, really seem more like a masterbatorial act, kind of like successfully tickling oneself: It can be done through a series of secondary causes but you’re only fooling yourself. One must deceive himself to appreciate the authenticity of glory given to him by his creation – wait! How can such an endeavor be thought of as “authentic”? How can God fool himself? We find the Calavinist, like the Molinist, wanting to have their cake and eat it too. As C.S. Lewis has said, “Nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.”

Here we have the Calvinist having their cake and eating it too, whether they want to or not.

Next, in Part 3 I’ll allegorize Open Theism.

Molinism: An Allegory

This is Part 1 in a three part series in which I relate the main Christian theologies via allegory. My original allegory was first developed for Molinism and so I’ll try to use the same scenario for each.

Is This World The Best of All Possible Vinyl Records?

Grandmaster Flash, out of love for music, wants to select the best of his records to play for his own enjoyment. Grandmaster Flash has a huge set of vinyl records that he produced. These vinyl records consist of a combination of sounds , rhythms, tones and lyrics that he himself made as well as some of these effects made by other accompanying jazz and hip hop musicians. Being confident of all he knows he will hear during the song, he can really focus on enjoying the experience of the moment. And so, from his incredibly vast indexed collection he locates his best record and dropping the needle he gets his groove on.
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Using the above as a basis for a thought experiment, I’d like to represent my understanding of Molinism:

God, out of love of relationship in the Trinity, wants to select the best world to share relationship with others. Knowing a potentially endless selection of worlds, using his intellect God would select the best world that would suite his intent. God knows all reality, so there is nothing that ‘is’ which he does not already know it to be. Therefore the outcomes of all events (determined , stochastic and free choices) in these worlds are known. All of these potential worlds were therefore complete static sets from creation to the end, similar to a vinyl record.

This is the crux of the matter so let me repeat, all events -events caused by free agents and even all of God’s acts of free agency- are rendered certain and unchangeable once the selected world is activated, aka the Big Bang. Once a world is selected and actualized there is no purpose or possibility for any event to deviate from the ‘record’. Informed by his Middle Knowledge God makes a selection. (Middle Knowledge is knowing what a being would do in a given situation.) His choice of this one world is conditioned upon the fact that as few people as possible would perish and that the maximal number of people, using their own libertarian free will, would accept him. What God did not causally determine within this static set world, he meticulously chose. This choosing is not to be to his shame, however, but to his credit, since what he chose results in what is best.

The above is my best representation of what I understand Molinism to be. I’ve presented this to Molinists and all, save one, have accepted the analogy. The one exception proceeded to modify my allegory in such a way that I found it indistinguishable from Open Theism. A Molinist cannot have her cake and eat it too.

In Part 2 I’ll attempt to similarly allegorize Calvinism.