Re: front loading; was Re: [asa] on miracles

From: Don Winterstein <dfwinterstein@msn.com>
Date: Tue Mar 17 2009 - 03:09:36 EDT

Jim writes: "So I am left with some greater (and more uncomfortable) sense of the enormous gap between my kind and that of God, and had to give grudging way to more - a lot more - agnosticism than I would really want."

The enormous size and age of the universe understandably lead people to see God as impersonal and uninvolved. That is, they do unless other aspects of experience counter that impression. In my case personal interaction with God has dominated my life since about age 19, when I became a fundamentalist fanatic, so I can't help but see God as intimately involved with the world despite its great age and size. Spiritual gifts vary all over the place largely for reasons unkown to their recipients. But starting in my late teens I fully devoted myself to seeking God, and God eventually satisfied me. That experience forces me to see the world in a way I would not have without it, and that way includes God's intimate involvement with the world from beginning to end.

One consequence is that the implications of front loading seem alien to me.

Don

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Jim Armstrong<mailto:jarmstro@qwest.net>
  To: ASA<mailto:asa@calvin.edu>
  Sent: Monday, March 16, 2009 9:23 AM
  Subject: Re: front loading; was Re: [asa] on miracles

  [Don - I intended to post this one as well. I guess failing to do so is an artifact of late hours and senior state! :-) ]

  I appreciate this exchange.

  I think I understand exactly how your "objection remains theological and personal: I think it makes God less personally involved than he actually is." That is of course the tension. [Deep breath...while pondering whether to continue].] It does indeed raise serious questions about deeply held understandings, for example the accuracy or degree of God's active sustaining of Creation. An absence of moment-to-moment active realization of Creation helps resolve some of the God-as-cause-of-bad-things issues, rendering them as a natural artifact of the workings of Creation, rather than forcing us to deal with the motivational "why" of horrendous (from our perspective) consequences of naturally occurring events like avalanches and errant asteroids. Otherwise, under God's active and involved watch, these are presumably preventable unless punitive or for some inscrutable purpose.

  [Another deep breath]

  Hopefully not over-responding to your partial comment in italics above, I fully take in, resonate, and respect the "I think ... actually is" portion. But for me - to put it in steely-eyed and unvarnished form - front loading and lesser involvement in the physical aspects of Creation might help explain a certain lesser interaction and responsiveness that in balance (as near as I can make out) has been my experience and observation, though I have wished and even trusted it to be greater. But I have also - in time - had to recognize that those were/are distinctly personal, human wishes, whether valid or not, and that the perspective of God is universe-size and then some, reaching quite beyond the limitations of my understanding or wishes. So I am left with some greater (and more uncomfortable) sense of the enormous gap between my kind and that of God, and had to give grudging way to more - a lot more - agnosticism than I would really want. The upshot of that is that a certain dispassionate (as best I can manage) scrutiny of experience and observation looms a little larger. In short, these seem not to be always consonant with the histories and propositions offered routinely (and sometimes all too glibly) out of the orthodoxy and tradition I have known and mostly accepted for the greater part of my lifetime.

  Does this mean that I push God to a back-stage or even off-stage position. Absolutely not, despite what I understand it might sound like. Instead, it seems to have led me to a bit of a different take on where God's interest and activity might lie, in short in the opportunities and choices and relationships that are part of living up to the potential that we as our kind of beings are apparently capable of. We can as a minimum bind the individual and even national wounds that occur from the natural workings of nature (as well as man's machinations). We have the creative impulse, allowing us to dream, and transform those dreams turn into reality, both personally and in our physical context. We have the powerful capacity for redemption in so many ways, restoring through medicine, restoring from descent into the lowest places in life, helping another become become more than they ever dreamed for themselves, allowing the music to flow unimpaired as well from the physically challenged and those different in other ways from ourselves, and actively opposing the negative and destructive faces of the same freedoms and abilities and choices that make enrich our lives, both individually and in community. And so much more, in thoughts and actions both grand and small.

  A friend of mine might respond (as he once did), "But the secular humanists do THAT!" So is this way of framing this aspect of our interrelationship with God "merely humanistic"? I don't think so. It might even amount to an unintentional slur. "I think" this is the real field of dynamic and interest to God, not anything so trivial as keeping all the cosmological plates spinning. It seems in keeping with Micah 6:8, that I've found helpful to reflect on over time. "I think" the cosmology, whether micro- or macroscopic is for the most part, or even entirely, merely backdrop or context for the real emergence of interest. "I think" that the potentialities of the preceding paragraph are the real articulations of divine intent, though they have a certain physical potentiality analogue in the substance and character of the cosmos (a la Howard Van Till, in limited form). "I think" that it is in the arena of life and living in community that the spark of divinity brightens - the "image of God" if you will - through that exquisitely altruistic and creative potentiality resides within each one of us. In a sense, counter-intuitively, it elevates our status in creation, but not because of what we are as some finest and ultimate product of Creation, but because of our privilege of participation and our potentiality, ...our place in the ever-evolving tapestry of divine intent.

  Once I came to engage and more fully appreciate that notion of potentiality, it seems to have become almost impossible for me to loosen my grip on it. It is truly ubiquitous in Creation, perhaps even to the point of constituting something akin to the "logos" of the physical universe. Which is more stunning, creation of a static universe, or one that embodies a continuous unfolding of newness, a continuous ongoing realizing of potentiality as a part of the fundamental framework of divine intent?

  Still, that ubiquity transcends the physical as well, whether in measure or totally. And so the principle extends yet further.

  The complementary idea of redemption - in its many realizable forms - including OUR capacity for redemption - has similarly acquired "I think" status for me as a part of that same fundamental framework of divine intent.

  "I think" mere cosmology, and a need for God to actively sustain it, is what recedes into the background.

  But then, this is still a work in progress...I hope.

  JimA [Friend of ASA]

  Don Winterstein wrote:
    After further thought I think your position is very similar if not identical to (what I recall of) Van Till's. And of course this is not necessarily atheistic. Atheists can't explain why anything exists, for example. It's a perfectly rational view of the world, as I understand it. But see my additional response to your initial message. (I thought it was worth sharing with everybody.)

    Don

      ----- Original Message -----
      From: Jim Armstrong<mailto:jarmstro@qwest.net>
      To: Don Winterstein<mailto:dfwinterstein@msn.com>
      Sent: Saturday, March 14, 2009 8:24 AM
      Subject: Re: front loading; was Re: [asa] on miracles

      Yes, but I do not subtract out initial cause. The lessening of God's active involvement in the ongoing universe is a viable notion when thinking along these lines. And that does certainly does have implications with respect to both comfort and tradition. But it does not of necessity wind up in the atheist camp. I struggle with the questions(s) related to the degree of involvement of God, but at the end of the day, my reasons for struggling seem to be more about what I would prefer than what appears to make sense (to me) from observation. Among the questions for me was why the universe is so large, and what that immensity brings into play. Another was the unfeeling capacity of raw nature to inflict harm without conscience (and the whole theodicy question). In time, these sorts of things led me essentially to the question about God's relative interest in purely physical vs other aspects of creation..

      I encountered Howard Van Till (sorry for the misspelling earlier) a few years ago as I was leaning strongly along these lines. I found in him a fellow traveler who shared much of what I was coming to prefer as a working model. I think we essentially share the robustness notion.

      JimA

      Don Winterstein wrote:
        Response to Dave: Our existence proves the mass extinctions helped or at least didn't significantly hurt our bio-trajectory. Paleontologists have pointed out that the destruction of the big dinosaurs was helpful or necessary for enabling mammal dominance. So it's quite believable that the extinctions worked to our advantage, though we'll probably never know how in any detail.

        The part I choke on with this as a front-loading model is that God presumably had to control the Big Bang in such a finely detailed way that everything worked out to lead explicitly to us. I can swallow the physical parts--i.e., formation of galaxies & planets, etc.--as direct consequences of the Big Bang, but to contend the Big Bang controlled biological development seems far-fetched, especially in view of the extinction events.

        Response to Jim: I think we agree that the spiritual aspects are more important than the physical, but the reality is that we're physical beings. Because of this our physical origin is of considerable interest if not importance. It is in fact important for my theological views.

        Your version of front loading incorporates robustness as key. Robustness for you means that, because the world does a "huge number" of experiments, one of them is likely to succeed. God could have arranged the number of experiments to be large enough to more or less guarantee success.

        Actually, if you subtract out any reference to God, this model is identical to that of the atheistic scientist. So I can't object to it on logical or scientific grounds, and I can't say that I have difficulty taking it seriously. My objection remains theological and personal: I think it makes God less personally involved than he actually is.

        Is your robustness the same as what Van Till with his RFEP meant by robustness? Somehow I got a different impression.

        Don

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Received on Tue Mar 17 03:10:20 2009

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