Re: The state of suburban theology

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Thu Jun 17 2004 - 22:36:58 EDT

----- Original Message -----
From: "Howard J. Van Till" <>
To: "George Murphy" <>; "Steve Petermann"
<>; "Ted Davis" <>; <>
Sent: Wednesday, June 16, 2004 10:57 AM
Subject: Re: The state of suburban theology

> On 6/15/04 4:57 PM, "George Murphy" <> wrote (in response
> 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
> > to see some math & not just talk. If you're going to pursue that, you
> > to have mathematical descriptions for the free systems which are then
> > coupled by the putative interaction term, & in this case that means you
> > to have a mathematical description of God. & while this isn't a
> > 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
> 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
> 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
> the basic metaphysics that has long been assumed by Christian theology.
> Perhaps even the metaphysics of panentheism (the World is in God, but God
> more than the World) should be given respectful evaluation by the larger
> Christian community.

    Certainly substantialist metaphysics has its drawbacks. I think though
that even in that framework the idea of a precise description of the "causal
joint" is problematic simply because (with any metaphysics) the claim to
have an exact description of God is rather foolish.

    One problem with traditional ideas of the immutability & impassibility
of God is that while God "acts on" things in the world, the world cannot in
any way act on God. There is no _inter_action. & thus in the last analysis
what happens in the world - including the cross - can't have any effect on
the divine nature.

    The belief that "God is love" has profound implications, but of course
has to be fleshed out. Whitehead, Teilhard & Juengel, E.g., have done that
in different directions.
> ....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
> > 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
> > 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
> 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
> 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
> was based.

    Theology is a human enterprise - but what does the qualification
"thoroughly" mean? Surely not that God has nothing to do with it, since in
both traditional & process theology God is involved in everything that
happens in the world.

    & I don't think what's at issue is simply "idolized theories from the
past." The real question is whether or not there is any "special
revelation" that has happened at particular historical events, or whether
there is only "general revelation" which is, in principle, available to
everyone everywhere - just like (again in principle) scientific data. If
there has been such special revelation then the witness to it, while not
necessarily infallible, will have some sort of normative value for theology.
& if (as I argued above) God has been involved with that witness then it's
not too much of a stretch to think that God would work to ensure some degree
of reliability for it - & in fact of later theological reflections of the
community formed around that revelation.

Received on Thu Jun 17 23:04:28 2004

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