Re: The state of suburban theology

From: Howard J. Van Till <>
Date: Wed Jun 16 2004 - 10:57:13 EDT

On 6/15/04 4:57 PM, "George Murphy" <> wrote (in response to
Steve Peterman):

> But I simply don't see how one is going to specify the "causal
> joint" with anything like the precision that a physicist might expect.
> Anyone is welcome to try, but if someone claims to have a precise
> description of the causal joint between two systems, I want as a physicist
> to see some math & not just talk. If you're going to pursue that, you have
> to have mathematical descriptions for the free systems which are then
> coupled by the putative interaction term, & in this case that means you have
> to have a mathematical description of God. & while this isn't a /reductio
> ad absurdum/ in the technical sense, I think it is absurd if one has any
> meaningful concept of God.

If I understand your remarks correctly, George, I'm inclined to agree.
Trying to model the God/World relationship/interaction in the physics-type
language of an energetic interaction between two "things" (or "substances,"
to use an old philosophical term) is inappropriate.

Perhaps that should be taken to suggest that we err if we think that the
referent of the word "God" is fundamentally some kind of "thing/substance"
-- say, something like an unembodied Spirit/Person who ACTS ON members of
the world. Perhaps we would do well to think of the referent to "God" as an
entity more like "love," "joy," "grace," and the like -- each of which is
the name of a life-enriching experience rather than a thing/substance.

Perhaps we need to give more serious and critical attention to re-evaluating
the basic metaphysics that has long been assumed by Christian theology.
Perhaps even the metaphysics of panentheism (the World is in God, but God is
more than the World) should be given respectful evaluation by the larger
Christian community.

....Skip a paragraph...
> If you're going to call anything that involves faith fideism, then
> this is fideism - but then we need to point out that science, & indeed any
> intellectual enterprise, requires postulates, axioms &c that have to be
> assumed rather than proven. In that sense everyone is a fideist. &
> theologies, like scientific theories, shouldn't be evaluated in terms of the
> a priori plausibility of their postulates but by their fruitfulness in
> enabling us to understand ourselves and the world.

Well said. Theology is a thoroughly human enterprise. Theological theorizing
could learn something from scientific theorizing -- good theories should
score high on epistemic values like fruitfulness in accounting for what we
actually experience as humans in this world.

The job of theories is to account for experience, perhaps even to provide us
with ways or suggestions for enriching our experience; stories of our
experience should not need to be twisted to conform to idolized theories
inherited from the past. We don't do that in physics, and I don't think we
should do that on theology either. So, when a certain family of theories
repeatedly encounters deep difficulties, perhaps it is time to go back and
re-evaluate the fundamental presuppositions on which that family of theories
was based.

Howard Van Till
Received on Wed Jun 16 11:25:11 2004

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