Flat-Earth Faith versus Evolutionary Faith

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A quote from Michael Dowd's book Thank God for Evolution!:

A distinction must be made...between flat-earth faith and evolutionary faith...What I mean by flat-earth faith is not people believing the world is flat. Rather, it refers to any perspective in which the metaphors and theology still in use came into being at a time when peoples really did believe the world was flat--that is, when there was no reliable way for humans to comprehend the world around them by means of science-based public revelation. Religious traditions that are scripturally based, and whose texts have not changed substantially since the time of Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Einstein, Hubble, Crick, Dawkins, and Hawking become, necessarily, flat-earth faiths when interpreted literally....

"Flat-earth" also characterizes literal understandings of commentaries on sacred scriptures that also predate (or ignore) the evolving cosmological perspective that is the fruit of modern science....Perhaps the most prominent flat-earth commentary in the Christian tradition is the Nicene Creed ("We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is , seen and unseen...").

Because the Nicene Creed is an interpretation of the core message of the early Christian scriptures, its flat-earth metaphors require modern Christians to speak as if they accept a literal translation of the Bible, although in their minds they may be making the requisite translations. Some liberal Christians bristle at the prospect of having to recite "We believe" for something that they do not in fact believe. Thus in many ways, today's continuing use of flat-earth commentaries to interpret flat-earth scriptures is the most problematic of all. Other Christian commentaries that often contain flat-earth components include papal encyclicals and thousands of sermons delivered every Sunday from pulpits throughout the world. (pp. 64-65)
Flat-earth faith makes the mistake of viewing past revelation as a fixed, immutable, and absolutely true and irrevocable message from God that is good for all time. Nothing could be farther from my understanding of what takes place. Past revelation reflects the Weltenschauung of the times. People with a three-tier cosmology invent mythologies to match that cosmology--such as in having Jesus ascend to heaven, whereas, as John Spong points out, with our modern cosmology we know that even at the speed of light Jesus would still be speeding through space 2000 years later and he would not even have left our Galaxy.

Flat-earth theology is stuck in a rut. It does not accommodate itself to continuing developments in the understanding of the world and the universe. Religious faith cannot help but be informed by the culture and world-view that produces it. That cannot help but be the case. 2000-year-old writings reflect the cosmology of 2000 years ago. But time marches on.

20 comments:

Chris said...

I agree with the sentiment, but I doubt we'll make headway with Creationists by caricaturing their faith as "flat earth faith".

Matthew said...

>>What I mean by flat-earth faith is not people believing the world is flat. Rather, it refers to any perspective in which the metaphors and theology still in use came into being at a time when peoples really did believe the world was flat--that is, when there was no reliable way for humans to comprehend the world around them by means of science-based public revelation.<<

Dowd continues the 'apples and oranges' slugfest between science and religion. [Big sigh]

If faith is TRUST, why compare it to BELIEF, which is about theories, which exist within a sphere of reason, limited to 'experimentally verifiable' quantities?

What should it matter if someone has faith (nonspecified), but believes the world is flat? Beliefs come and go (as they should), but faith continues to connect, by allowing a person to participate, without standing proud from reality.

One might wonder, 'But if someone has faith in God, mustn't s/he believe He created the universe, whether as a one time thing, or as a continuing process?'

Answer, 'Nope.'

There are no particular beliefs that must be held to have faith in God (as a particular example of faith), much less the concept of what God is, or how God works. Faith does not imply any belief(s) at all.

The conflict seems to start when people artificially unite 'apples' and 'oranges' (apples are the same as oranges), or claim one has the truth of the other, and more (oranges are a subset of apples).

People who claim that reason, and it's methods, are the only tenable (or best, or reliable) way to know what is real, must be overflowing with pride!

Matthew

Mystical Seeker said...

Matthew, I'm not sure why you characterize Dowd's position as a slugfest between science and religion, since what he seeks to to is integrate science and religion.

His objection is to religion that is either anti-scientific at worst, or at best just ignores the ways that a given world view has informed its own theology. Notably, this applies to fundamentalist religion that insists on assuming that there is something scientific about the Genesis stories or any other biblical story that was built on a three-tiered cosmology that has since been superseded.

I think that we humans cannot help but construct our theologies in ways that are influenced by our world views. This is Dowd's position as well, as far as I can tell, and I agree with him.

Matthew said...

>>...fundamentalist religion that insists on assuming that there is something scientific about the Genesis stories or any other biblical story that was built on a three-tiered cosmology that has since been superseded.<<

>>I think that we humans cannot help but construct our theologies in ways that are influenced by our world views.<<

Do we need theologies? Wasn't Jesus' 'theology' basically as simple as- God is a loving father, who is compassionate towards his children? Trust God and he'll take care of your needs. What theology do you need beyond that?

It's the unending interpretations, based on this set of assumptions, or another set of assumptions... the not really trusting, the attempts to 'make ourselves acceptable', manipulating God (to put it more dramatically) that is the cause of our over-complex theologies. Wasn't Jesus speaking out against the 'heavy yoke' of the Pharisees codes and laws?

Who is man to categories and study God? (What was Job trying to say?) Does it make any difference what we believe, so long as we love God with all our hearts, minds, etc, and love our neighbor as ourselves? Isn't this, not some complex theological doctrine, what makes someone a follower of Christ?

If rational understanding is so important to a better relationship with god, why didn't Jesus, as God incarnate, initiate a science program, based on Greek thought? (They had a pretty good start!)

It's because faith in God is the solution. But few follow Jesus' lead and trust God; or prefer to second guess his will based on interpretation of 'scriptures'.

No matter how well thought out, or up-to-date a cosmology may be, you're still emprisoned (the blind leading the blind) within a rational humanistic theoretical framework; alienated from God and struggling to make reality pay off the way you want it to.

This applies to Fundamentalists, who yearn for an earlier, simpler time; or cutting edge Western science, with it's high tech tools and complex mathematical equations...THEY ARE IN THE SAME PIT.

Matthew

Michael Dowd said...

Thanks for the quote!

If you've not already seen it, I think you'll enjoy my book, "Thank God for Evolution!" - which has been endorsed by 5 Nobel laureates and many other leading scientists, as well as ministers and theologians across the theological spectrum. It's available as a free pdf download from my site: http:ThankGodforEvolution.com It's also available as an inexpensive hardcover on Amazon.

Mystical Seeker said...

Do we need theologies? Wasn't Jesus' 'theology' basically as simple as- God is a loving father, who is compassionate towards his children? Trust God and he'll take care of your needs. What theology do you need beyond that?

Yes, I do think that we need theologies, even if they are provisional and open to revision. Even a simple statement like "trust God and he'll take care of your needs" is a meaningless statement unless it is fleshed out by theology. What is the theodicy that this implies? Does it mean that good things will happen to us if we just trust God? Does it mean that bad things never happen to the faithful? Does it mean that all things that seem to be contrary to our needs will always turn out to be beneficial? Does it mean that prayer is effective in helping us to take care of our needs or the needs of others? Does it mean tha God punishes the wicked?

And when you say that we should trust God, what do you mean by "God"? Do you mean a God who is omnipotent and who will change the outcome of events, either because the faithful ask or because God just feels like it? Or does it mean instead that the overall framework of the universe is the best of all possible world?

The list goes on and on. My point is that there are always hidden assumptions that lie behind even the simplest of statements such as what you are proposing. And assumptions are frequently built out of what we take for granted about God and the way the universe works. And that in turn depends at least to some extent on how we perceive the natural world.

Religion is, in my view, a meta-narrative that gives meaning and an interpretive framework for our lives, and this cannot help but be influenced by our greater understanding of God's nature, how God interacts with us, and how the world interacts with God.

Mystical Seeker said...

Michael, thanks for visiting my blog, and thanks for the recommendation.

Frank said...
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Matthew said...

>>My point is that there are always hidden assumptions that lie behind even the simplest of statements such as what you are proposing. And assumptions are frequently built out of what we take for granted about God and the way the universe works.<<

What assumptions am I making Mystical? Let me repost some of the assumptions, and 'payoffs' you listed:

>>..What is the theodicy that this implies? Does it mean that good things will happen to us if we just trust God? Does it mean that bad things never happen to the faithful? Does it mean that all things that seem to be contrary to our needs will always turn out to be beneficial? Does it mean that prayer is effective in helping us to take care of our needs or the needs of others? Does it mean tha God punishes the wicked?<<

I make few, if any assumptions, and
I don't need them. I trust in God (although I prefer the word Reality). What happens, happens and I accept it.

So is there any 'payoff'? I think this passage gets to the matter pretty well:


Mt 6.25 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?

I've found LIFE.

Matthew

Frank said...

Matthew,

I like a lot of your points and you are painting a nice picture, but I have to side with Mystical Seeker in thinking that without theology we can fall into a lot of traps. But we can also fall into traps with theology, as well. You are right that in the end love and strust matters. In fact, all that really matters is whether you are letting your love or your fear drive you. The theology you are describing is all theology out of fear. Theology is just fine when driven out of love, but that takes risk.

Too often, scholars try to take out the mystery from religion. Its really an exercise in fear, a desire to make everything known because ultimately they are scared that they aren't in control. Fundamentalists control God in their own way, too. But theology can also be an incredible vehicle for exploring the mysteries of the divine and spirituality.

This is why "fear and trembling" have been such good traditional symbols of the spiritual path... not because we should be afraid of an intolerant, judgemental God in a long robe and white bear, its because when you are at the cutting edge and your heart is on the line and your knees are shaking, you have the potential for really doing theology!

Reason is important. But so is faith. So is humilty. And awe. You gotta have all of that. And you have to somehow trust in the midst of all of that. Fall back into that pool of love that you describe and trust.

Mystical Seeker said...

What happens, happens and I accept it.

That's very Buddhist of you. :)

Seriously, though--if that works for you, that's great. I am not one to condemn a religious life that works for another person.

But for me, theology matters. And, to be honest, a statement such as that raises further questions. Why do you accept whatever happens? Is it because you think that God will always see to it that you are taken care of? If so, then that, in and of itself, is a theological statement about God's nature--it says that God is omnipotent, that God intervenes in the world, and so forth.

On the other hand, if it is a more Buddhist-inspired means of achieving peace, or a simple agnosticism about God's role in the universe, then I think there is value in that if it works for you. I can understand the value of taking a healthy and mature acceptance of human limitations and living with things that we cannot change (as in the much overquoted serenity prayer).

But another question comes to mind--does accepting whatever happens mean complacency in the face of injustice, war, poverty, and oppression? And does one believe that God cares about such things as well? That, too, is a theological statement. And that is one area where I see no value in simply accepting what happens. Bad things do happen to people. Bad things happen to good people. And I believe that God calls us to right injustice and help others. This, too, is a theological statement. I refuse to simply accept whatever happens. I try instead to influence the outcome of events.

Mystical Seeker said...

Reason is important. But so is faith. So is humilty. And awe. You gotta have all of that. And you have to somehow trust in the midst of all of that. Fall back into that pool of love that you describe and trust.

I like that statement, Frank. That was well put.

To me, it isn't the outcome of events that I trust in; instead, I trust in God's love, regardless of what the outcome of events are. I don't believe that things always turn out for the best, but I do believe that God is with us every step of the way.

Then again, that is my theology talking. :)

Mystical Seeker said...

I think that one of the values of science in influencing religion is that it has, at least in my case, enhanced my sense of awe. Knowing that the unbelievable size and scope of the universe, both in terms of size and the 13.7 billion years it took to get here, is something that the ancient three-tiered cosmology of the Biblical writers never fathomed. This only serves to enhance my sense of the immensity of the project that God embarked on when the universe was created. This in turn influences my own sense of wonder in the face of the Divine.

Matthew said...

>>Why do you accept whatever happens? Is it because you think that God will always see to it that you are taken care of? If so, then that, in and of itself, is a theological statement about God's nature--it says that God is omnipotent, that God intervenes in the world, and so forth.

--does accepting whatever happens mean complacency in the face of injustice, war, poverty, and oppression? And does one believe that God cares about such things as well? That, too, is a theological statement. And that is one area where I see no value in simply accepting what happens. Bad things do happen to people. Bad things happen to good people. And I believe that God calls us to right injustice and help others. This, too, is a theological statement. I refuse to simply accept whatever happens. I try instead to influence the outcome of events.<<

Seeker, I wish I had more time now to go into greater detail (perhaps later)...but simply, we are called to 'be compassionate (perfect) as God is', which boils down to loving everything that God loves.

If we trust God, and do what he wills, then we love what he loves and participates with him as required. We aren't supposed to decide ON OUR OWN what needs to be done (second guessing God, or usurping his authority to make the choices- you've got to know HOW to listen and follow).

Essentially what you get is the recognition that God IS IN CONTROL, and the acceptance of FOLLOWING HIS LEAD. If you don't accept what is, you're denying God is in control, or that he knows what he's doing. You've taken control of reality into your own hands. This is the essence of sin, of falling away from God and how he participates with everything. Once a person is alienated from God, that person may do all sorts of things that God doesn't 'want'; usually this is where we find 'evil'.

Jesus went to his death in accordance with what he recognized as God's will for him. And wasn't it Peter who told Jesus that this (being executed) could/shouldn't happen to him. Jesus' response was to tell Peter he was siding with Satan, not God!

People are killed or die, things happen...do we know everything would turn out perfect if we could get in there and 'fix' it? Is that our 'job'? Is God messing up? When do we need to act, and when do we need to allow what's happening to happen, because it really might work out for the best?

I understand your concern for wanting to right 'the wrongs' in the world, but what causes them? That's the way most people feel, but I think there's a 'bigger' way to handle evil in the world.

We don't consider natural disasters evil. The actions people perpetrate on others is where we usually find 'evil'. Aren't those 'evil' people alienated, angry, anxious and hurting? They don't have the peace and love that one receives from participation with God. They're struggling. Why else would they do such things to others...certainly not out of love!


I like Jesus' advice, 'Love your enemy' and 'Pray for those who do evil to you'. The idea is to forgive them, love them, as God does, and allow God to do the work of transforming them (maybe you'll be involved, but not because it's your 'plan'.)

God will tranform things much better than we can. Our meddling to eliminate, or emprison, or modify those things we don't like, doesn't have the same effect. Often it generates more and worse problems.


I hope this clarifies more of my thoughts clearly.

Peace,
Matthew

Mystical Seeker said...

Essentially what you get is the recognition that God IS IN CONTROL, and the acceptance of FOLLOWING HIS LEAD. If you don't accept what is, you're denying God is in control, or that he knows what he's doing.

Okay, fair enough. I understand that this is what your religious faith means for you. But I will only point out that when you say that God is in control, you are making a theological statement. You can't escape theology. The only way to completely escape theology within religion that I can possibly imagine would be to escape theism altogether--perhaps by being an agnostic even about God's existence. In fact, even just saying that God exists is a theological statement. Certainly, to say that God is "in control" is a definite statement of theology.

Similarly, to say God will tranform things much better than we can. Our meddling to eliminate, or emprison, or modify those things we don't like, doesn't have the same effect. Often it generates more and worse problems." is also to make a theological statement about God's nature, and how God acts in the world.

There is nothing given about the assertion that God exists, or that if God exists, God is "in control". Process theology denies that God is in "control". You may disagree with process theology, which is your right, but the point is that these are all debatable points, and one cannot take for granted a given set of assumptions as if they were not debatable and then deny that one is engaging in theology when one does so.

You have chosen a theology that makes sense to you. That is your choice. And the theology you have chosen matters to you. Which is exactly the point I have been trying to make--that theology matters.

Rob said...

I like this definition of theology:

"Theology is the study of the actions and reactions of the human spirit; it can never become a science since it must always be combined more or less with psychology in its personal expression and with philosophy in its systematic portrayal. Theology is always the study of your religion; the study of another's religion is psychology."

"When theology masters religion, religion dies; it becomes a doctrine instead of a life. The mission of theology is merely to facilitate the self-consciousness of personal spiritual experience. Theology constitutes the religious effort to define, clarify, expound, and justify the experiential claims of religion, which, in the last analysis, can be validated only by living faith. In the higher philosophy of the universe, wisdom, like reason, becomes allied to faith. Reason, wisdom, and faith are man's highest human attainments. Reason introduces man to the world of facts, to things; wisdom introduces him to a world of truth, to relationships; faith initiates him into a world of divinity, spiritual experience."

Matthew said...

Seeker,

>>when you say that God is in control, you are making a theological statement. You can't escape theology.<<

I'm non-theistic. I see theology as using anthropomorphic phrases and I don't believe those are accurate or appropriate.

I'm sorry if I was misleading by using the word GOD, but from experience I've found it simpler to make a point using that word. Most people have no idea what I'm talking about if I use my own terminology (which makes sense.)

When one speaks of 'no self' (using it in a meaningful Christian way) what terminology can one use to make that clear? Most people seem to think it's meaningless, or downright dangerous to think that way.

Change the word GOD in my writings, to REALITY and I hope you get a better understanding of how I see things.

Matthew

Rob said...

God has many names:

Such terms as the Real, the Ultimate, Ultimate Reality are commonly used to refer to this supposed ne plus ultra. None of them will suit everybody's linguistic taste. Accepting this I propose, arbitrarily, to speak of the Real, corresponding as it does to the Sanscrit sat, the Arabic Al Hagg, and the Chinese zhen. And I shall be distinguishing between, on the one hand, the Real an sich--to use an expression which avoids the neuter as well as the masculine and the feminine--and on the other hand the Real as variously thought and experienced within the different religious traditions. (165)

(....) Thus Christian thought has sometimes distinguished between God in God's eternal self-existent being, before or independently of creation, and God in relation to and thus as known by created beings--God a se and God pro nobis; Judaism, in its mystical Kabbalistic strand, has distinguished between the infinite divine reality, En Soph, and the concrete God of the Bible; Islam, in its own mystical Sufi strand, has likewise distinguished between the ultimate reality, Al Hagg and the Qur'anic Revealer to humanity; again Hindu advaitic thought distinguishes between nirguna Brahman, beyond the scope of all human concepts, and saguna Brahman, humanly known as Ishwara, the personal deity; and Buddhist thought, in the Mahayana, distinguishes between the eternal dharmakaya, which is the ultimate and ineffable Buddha nature, and the sambhoga-kaya and nirmana-kaya, in which that nature takes the form of individual Buddhas, some of whom become incarnate on this earth; and again, in recent Western thought, Paul Tillich has distinguished between God and the God above the God of theism, and Gordon Kaufman between the real God and the available God. (165-166)

-- Hick, John wip. Disputed Questions. New Haven: Yale University Press; 1993; c1993 p. 164.

Matthew said...

Rob,

Thank you for sharing those quotes about names for God, in different religious traditions.

Thoughts and words seem a poor medium to express what we sense in silence, and in participation with what is.

Peace,
Matthew

Rob said...

"Primitive man made little effort to put his religious convictions into words. His religion was danced out rather than thought out. Modern men have thought out many creeds and created many tests of religious faith. Future religionists must live out their religion, dedicate themselves to the wholehearted service of the brotherhood of man. It is high time that man had a religious experience so personal and so sublime that it could be realized and expressed only by 'feelings that lie too deep for words.'"