God Is A Poet

All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world. (Mat 13:34-35)

The book for this week is Science's Blind Spot: The Unseen Religion of Scientific Naturalism by Cornelius G. Hunter. Hunter holds a Ph.D. in biophysics, is a proponent of intelligent design, and has written several books on the subject of evolution. His earlier books are based on some of the latest information on DNA and such, and may be a little difficult for us non-biologists to follow. But this latest book delves into an area that has been interesting to me for many years, namely, the history of ideas and philosophy underlying modern thinking. Why do we believe there is a conflict between science and religion?

It is usually taken for granted today that there is "empirical science" and then there is "dogmatic faith" with the former being more reliable than the latter. Science, we are told, is "fact" while religion is mere "belief without evidence." Humph. Hunter's point (and one I agree with totally) is that the current thinking is based on a historical blind spot combined with a lot of unchallenged a priori assumptions about the ultimate nature of reality. Interestingly, as Hunter shows, western science gets its start, not in a rejection of theology, but rather from theology. Surprised? It's true. I figured that one out some years ago and have written about it from time to time, but Hunter goes into much more detail than I have been able to do on this blog. Consider this:

"Modern science is about four centuries old. The occasion of its birth was more of a change in thinking than a change in technology." (p. 13)

"One important theological argument for naturalism is that it would be clumsy for God to intervene against nature. God create the universe, so it hardly seems fitting that he would need to intervene in it. A nonintervening God is a greater God." (p. 20)

As Hunter explains, the 17th and 18th century naturalists believed that a perfect God would create a perfect world that would not need continuous intervention in order to work. Thus, knowledge of God could be obtained by studying nature, and, because God was not continuously changing things, we could discover consistent natural laws through empirical observation and reason alone. In other words, because God's creation is perfect, we don't need further revelation, or dogmatic adherence to tradition, only science, to understand God's perfection. Western science gets its start with the ideas that 1) there is a God who created all things, 2) nature is comprehensible because it was designed by a rational being, and 3) the mechanisms that are the basis of physical laws will not suddenly change because of divine intervention (i.e., miracles). Without those assumptions, science can't get started. If everything in the world moves about because of unseen spiritual influences, you might as well not bother trying to discover the mechanisms of nature. Get the picture?

So what happened? In short, scientists found out that the creation changes! This is the basis of the theory of evolution. Studying fossils, we find that there are species that once existed but no longer exist, and species that arose later and did not exist at an earlier time. Further more, there are parts of physical structures that don't seem to have much usefulness, leading to the idea that they are a remnant of an evolutionary processes. It seems the divine creator didn't get things right to begin with, and "it's a mess out there." This, of course, seems to deny the assumption of a "perfect creation by a perfect creator." The result was the abandonment of the idea of a designed universe and eventually the idea of a designer. What many people seem to miss is what Hunter calls "Science's Blind Spot."

"But what is right when it comes to design? Is judging what is right in a design merely a scientific exercise?...The modern age has brought with it the requirement that God's designs must be materially perfect. This was a consistent doctrine of the natural theologians, such as William Paley, and represents an important element of rationalism in modern theology. It seems self-evident to the rationalist that God would have had only material objects when designing the world. He certainly would not have intended a materially inefficient design. Today's origins debate inherits these ideas…" (p. 107)

Stop and think about this (if you haven't done so before) because IT IS VERY IMPORTANT. We were all indoctrinated into this "humanist-rationalist-materialist" premise from our earliest childhood without even realizing that it contains an assumption about God, man, and nature. Namely, the assumptions of materialism and an anthropocentric world view. In other words, "perfection" is considered to be whatever makes material life easy and good for man. (For some of us, like me, the indoctrination didn't work…) However, all the arguments over origins, naturalism, materialism, etc., evaporate when you turn around your premises and look at things with a theocentric (God centered) view of things.

I'll stop there with Hunter's analysis because I want to go in a slightly different direction here. First, a little of my own, confused, background. I started out studying music composition but then switched and became a professional computer programmer. That is surprising to a lot of people because these two activities appear to have little in common. In some ways, music composition and computer programming are similar. Both require creating complex structures of interacting parts and an attention to small details within a large, abstract structure. But, beyond that similarity, they have very little in common.

A computer program is an automaton, mechanistic and precise. It is "binary" and either works or doesn't. The microprocessor will gladly execute a meaningless series of instructions without complaint, and there is no moral or aesthetic decision involved. Or, as programmers say, "garbage in, garbage out." In contrast, a musical composition "works" when it expresses something. It doesn't have to follow any hard and fast rules, and composers often make up the rules of the composition as they go. As long as the result is internally consistent, and expresses what the composer desires, it is correct.

Let me put it another way…

A working computer program relies on precise expression of an algorithm. A piece of music relies on ambiguity to create a sense of motion. Both harmony and dissonance are required, and an important aspect of music is expressed as "varied repetition and repetitious variety." The same is true of all art, including painting, photography, dance, drama, and poetry. The visual arts rely on shades of contrast of light and dark. Poetry relies on the ambiguity of words to create simile, metaphor, metonymy, and other figures of speech. Hyperbole and sarcasm are just as important as literal statements.

When I read the Bible I see that it is filled with poetics, not science. The teachings of Jesus are often in the form of parables, and also include puns, double entendre, hyperbole and sarcasm. If you try to read the words of Jesus in a strict, literal fashion, you will miss the meaning entirely.

And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. (Mat 13:10-16)

Sayings such as these irritate many people. They can't believe that a good God would hide something from them. Man's ego is so arrogant that he thinks God must do things the way man wants, or God does not exist at all. At the very least, they say, the God of the Bible is not worthy of worship and they create a God more suitable to man. But God's revelation is that the problem with man is man's rebellious nature. The only way to correct the problem in man is to get us to stop rebelling and do it God's way. He speaks in parables so that only those who truly seek Him and are willing to submit to His way will know Him.

The complaints against God in the modern world can be summed up with "God is not a very good humanist, engineer and scientist." He didn't create a world that makes everything nice and easy for us humans. But stop and consider what that might mean. If God's creation is a revelation, then perhaps it is a "poetic" expression rather than a rational syllogism. Variation, conflict, ambiguity, etc., are the elements of drama. We should view the world we live in as an allegory, not a machine, and God as the consummate poet who uses dynamic mechanisms to express the totality of His being in a manner we can observe. So long, that is, as we have eyes to see and ears to hear. We must stop thinking in terms of the self and what we want God to be, and start thinking in terms of God and what He intends man to be. So, stop assuming you know how God should have constructed the universe and learn to read the poetry of His expression.



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