Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Who is Wright about marriage?

Here is NT Wright on marriage courtesy of First Things publishing a transcript of an interview:

"Now, the word “marriage,” for thousands of years and cross-culturally has meant man and
woman. Sometimes it’s been one man and more than one woman. Occasionally it’s been one woman and more than one man. There is polyandry as well as polygamy in some societies in some parts of history, but it’s always been male plus female. Simply to say that you can have a woman-plus-woman marriage or a man-plus-man marriage is radically to change that because of the givenness of maleness and femaleness. I would say that without any particular Christian presuppositions at all, just cross-culturally, that’s so.

With Christian or Jewish presuppositions, or indeed Muslim, then if you believe in what it says in Genesis 1 about God making heaven and earth—and the binaries in Genesis are so important—that heaven and earth, and sea and dry land, and so on and so on, and you end up with male and female. It’s all about God making complementary pairs which are meant to work together. The last scene in the Bible is the new heaven and the new earth, and the symbol for that is the marriage of Christ and his church. It’s not just one or two verses here and there which say this or that. It’s an entire narrative which works with this complementarity so that a male-plus-female marriage is a signpost or a signal about the goodness of the original creation and God’s intention for the eventual new heavens and new earth.
If you say that marriage now means something which would allow other such configurations, what you’re saying is actually that when we marry a man and a woman we’re not actually doing any of that stuff. This is just a convenient social arrangement and sexual arrangement and there it is . . . get on with it. It isn’t that that is the downgrading of marriage, it’s something that clearly has gone on for some time which is now poking it’s head above the parapet. If that’s what you thought marriage meant, then clearly we haven’t done a very good job in society as a whole and in the church in particular in teaching about just what a wonderful mystery marriage is supposed to be. Simply at that level, I think it’s a nonsense. It’s like a government voting that black should be white. Sorry, you can vote that if you like, you can pass it by a total majority, but it isn’t actually going to change the reality."

As a nice postscript, Wright makes an astute observation about history and making changes:

"All the press is on-side, most of Parliament’s on-side, and people are saying—get this—that unless you support this, you’re on the wrong side of history. Excuse me. Did you see University Challenge last night? There was a nice question: Somebody said, who was it who said in 1956, “History is on our side and we will bury you”? One of the contestants got the answer right: It was Nikita Khrushchev. When people claim, “We’re going with the flow of history,” that’s just a rhetorical smokescreen."

Wright's essential point is that maleness and femaleness is an intentional-and-creational binary quality to human existence and marriage is the description of that binary difference being overcome through sexual intercourse making one flesh between man and woman become husband and wife through entering lifelong commitment. A traditional understanding of marriage which, might I remind readers, our church recently affirmed in Motion 30. Wright's consequential point is that parliaments changing this understanding of marriage may attempt to redefine marriage but they may as well define black as white.

On that consequential point I think I disagree with Tom Wright. Definitions of words come and go, chop and change. I am not sure that parliament or, for that matter, Oxford University Press's dictionary department cannot change the meaning of such a word. But whether a new meaning sticks is another matter. The interesting postscript about history and which side 'history' is on alerts as to not second guessing what the meaning of 'marriage' will be in fifty years time.

Nevertheless, where Wright may yet be proven right re definition of marriage is that as a bare word, 'marriage' seems to be understood as 'man-woman-legal bit' so that qualifiers seem to be dragged into association with the word when variations occur. Thus, 'de facto marriage' when the legal bit is missing, 'gay marriage' when sexual complementarity is not present. 'Second marriage' has some implications re 'marriage' being intrinsically understood as 'for life' so that a further marriage being contracted after divorce is commented on via the qualifier

Wright is always very assured about being right. But he is not alone in the Anglican Communion today. Another fellow with strong assurance of being correct is Tobias Haller. Writing in response to Wright on his blog In A Godward Direction he shreds Wright's argument to a thousand pieces. Or does he? What do you think? [I want comments here re "Wright v Haller" - who has the better argument, who wins the debate in your opinion - if you want to argue the details of Haller's argument, please go directly to his site to engage with him on those details].

They cannot both be Wright. One is not like the other!

Questions Haller's response raise for me are these:

- How far can we go in the imposition of a critique of Scripture from a modern perspective before we deny Scripture as a revelatory word from God?

For instance, to claim that almost all talk of marriage in Scripture is irredeemably biased in a patriarchal direction, including the very analogy of Christ and the church to husband and wife, relativises scriptural talk about marriage. Does it go too far, making Scripture an interesting but anachronistic document, an historical curio in the face of a new word from the Lord via modernity?

- (Relating to many things being said these days about sexuality and marriage, not just in Haller's post) Are we authorised by Scripture and tradition to negate all talk of the binary nature of sexuality in favour of the plurality of sexual and gender identities?

Presumed and articulated in Wright's comments is a binary approach to sexuality and gender. Exceptions to the binariness intrinsic to Genesis' creation narratives exist as a matter of experience, but the binary approach treats these as exceptions to the general rule.

Presumed in Haller's response is a non-binary approach - there are a variety of sexualities and genders which the biblical narrative simply does not acknowledge let alone cope with. Far from being exceptions to some predetermined rule, the varieties of human experience beg the question how we might frame our application of the narrative to acknowledge (and ultimately bless) them all.

Thus each scholar is right according to their presuppositions. But are the presuppositions correct?


Caleb said...

Wright's argument is pure ideology - he's eisegeting a moral (based on pagan) logic of "gender complementarity" onto Scripture. Haller is absolutely right - Scripture is conditioned by patriarchal gender hierarchy, not modern 'egalitarian' gender complementarity.

You would think that if binary gender complementarity of binaries was so important to Genesis, it would form part of the justifications of marriage within the rest of Scripture. It doesn't. The marriage of Christ and the church transcends gender binary by portraying a collective, multi-gendered "bride."

Re: a "binary approach" versus a "non-binary approach." Whether gender/sex is a binary or a spectrum (more accurately: multiple complex spectra), is a scientific question. We shouldn't act like they're equally valid approaches. That's like saying young-earth creationism and evolution are equally valid approaches for describing scientifically how God created life on earth.

Caleb said...

The comments on Haller's blog are worth a read.

Jean said...

"Thus each scholar is right according to their presuppositions. But are the presuppositions correct?"

I think Wright is right about the power of words and their mis-use but wrong about the word marriage. In purely descriptive terms marriage means 'a joining'' and it seems always has. However, biblically the symbolism of a marriage between a man and women goes carries the concept of joining to another level. Seemingly in this case it's not the word itself but what is being joined that creates a concept powerful enough to represent Christ and His Church.

Haller's dismissal of complementarism holds little sway. What is the relation between the land and the sea, day and night (the joining of two different parts)... I am no expert but I believe the relationship between such parts is necessary for a balanced and healthy ecological system.

In respect to history I think Haller is right in that Wright uses quite extreme examples of political, and social pressures that have had drastic cosequences.

However, I think Wright is right in the same form of social pressure was used in these examples to gain conformity as is used today in regards to ethical issues. There is pressure to go along with a position simply because everyone else is and not doing so makes you a social anomally. An anomally that is labelled - intolerant, prejudiced...... A more interersting analysis of words might be how the meanings and implications of these ones have altered.

The question I am left with, is does applying scripture in a modern day context differ from interpreteing scripture to accommodate the ethical positions held at the present time?

camostar said...

Woah, there's a lot to engage with here. Haha, I thought Haller pretty much laid the smackdown. Although I disagree with Wright, to be fair to him his view was given in an interview where he probably gave it off the top of his head, though he may have been drawing on other material -- I don't know.

Totally agree with Haller that language is contingent. I would add that there was a time that marriage did not exist. Whatever meaning there is in the Genesis account, and I agree on its importance and centrality, we still need to say that God spoke to certain cultures at certain times in their own language and that this concept of marriage was not there from the very beginning.

I thought Haller was spot on with biblical marriage not being complementary or balanced too. Of course there's always a tension -- that we relativise revelation -- but that's a tension that's never going to be perfect and that we're always working out. Even though marriage is biased in a patriarchal direction in Scripture there is still something of God in that and it is upto the church (and of course welcome critiques from those outside the church) to negotiate interpretation for our time.

Finally, on binaries, Sarah Moon provides an alternative reading from Alan Hooker:

"‘Beginning and end’ is a pairing that represents the whole scope of history and time. ‘Alpha and Omega’ stretches from the first letter of the alphabet to the last, representing the whole alphabet in one swoop by referring to its extremities. ‘From head to toe’, ‘from top to bottom’, and ‘from cradle to grave’ all denote a spectrum through the use of pairs considered to be extremities of that spectrum. Take for example Genesis 1.1: God creates the ‘heaven and earth’, i.e. everything. Or even the phrase ‘there was evening and there was morning’, signifying the passing of a whole day.

Now return to Genesis 1.27: ‘male and female [God] created them’. Male and female. I think you can all see what I’m probably getting at here. The ‘and’ is not a binary ‘and’. Male and female can disclose a spectrum of varied gender identities in the same way that ‘Alpha and Omega’ discloses the whole alphabet, or how ‘from head to toe’ means the length of the whole body."

(Sarah Moon's critique accessed here http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sarahoverthemoon/2014/06/n-t-wright-queer-theology-lgbt-marriage-equality/)

Anonymous said...

"I think Wright is right about the power of words and their mis-use but wrong about the word marriage. In purely descriptive terms marriage means 'a joining'' and it seems always has."

No, that's wrong. "marriage" (from French 'mariage') is from Latin 'maritus' = husband (ultimately from mas, maris - a man). It has *always* meant a man taking a woman in the 'marital' relationship. 'joining' is coniunctio (cf. coniunx). The metaphorical use of gamos in the NT always presupposes this as well. (Haller is mistaken, once again.) The verb gameo means 'to take a wife'; when a woman 'marries' in Greek, the voice is middle.


Father Ron Smith said...

As commenters have mentioned here, the word, marriage, even in the scriptures, is not used exclusively of the basic, binary, relationship of male and female. The 'Marriage of the Lamb' has a muched more nuanced application - yet using the same word. Therefore; even Holy Writ does not confine marriage to the humn binary context.

As with mosr academic theologians - especially those of a conservative sectarian bent - Wright is sometimes Wrong on issues of gender and sexuality, he had to say something on this issue - based, one presumes, on a calvinistic theological basis rather than empirical knowledge - that God would never sanction a monogamously-partnered same-sex relationship that involved sexual expression.

Fr. Tobias Haller, a respected theologian in his own 'write', has probably researched and written a great deal more material on human sexuality than Dr. Wright has had the time to properly evaluate. I respect Tobias' logic and objectivity in this important area of human experience that requires a better understanding than Dr. Wright seems willing to be open to.

tachesterton said...

'Calvinist theological basis'? Come on, Ron - if Wright is a Calvinist, why are the American neo-Calvinists always so mad at him?

I don't know if you've read his big books (The NT and the People of God, Jesus and the Victory of God, the Resurrection of the Son of God, etc.), but he's about as far from being a Calvinist as a person can be. And he certainly isn't an inerrantist (is that a word?).

Tim C.

Anonymous said...

"The 'Marriage of the Lamb' has a muched more nuanced application - yet using the same word. Therefore; even Holy Writ does not confine marriage to the humn binary context."

No, that is quite mistaken. In the metaphor of the marriage of the Lamb (ho gamos tou arniou), Christ is always the Husband (aner, Rev 21.2) and the Church is always the collective Bride (vumphe; gune, Rev 21.2). Scripture is very clear on this, in both Paul and Revelation. It is simply biblically illiterate to assert otherwise. Haller is mistaken.


carl jacobs said...

Tim is right. I'm a Calvinist. NT Wright is no Calvinist. He is also not a conservative Evangelical. He is what remains of conservatism in the hierarchy of the CoE.

The problem with an article like this is that where you begin determines where you end. It serves no other function than to highlight the presuppositional nature of the argument. There is no point trying to reach common ground across that divide.

What Tobias Haller writes has no weight with me. He begins with a flawed foundation and thus reaches a flawed conclusion. Others on the thread see it the other way around. That is inevitable. My only concern is that I do not by word or deed or affiliation or fellowship offer any explicit or implicit legitimation to the notion that Haller's ideas fall within the bounds of (little 'o') orthodox Christianity.


Bryden Black said...

What a "nice" mess we are in! It seems there's total victory to the sheer plasticity of human language. I can hear Derrida and Foucault laughing from beyond the grave... How silly of the Creator to try to inscribe His Word!

Jean said...

Grammaticus I bow to your superior knowledge of words and grammar. I was taken in by Haller's explaination of the origin of the word marriage. Obviously this is an area you have expertise in : ) ...

Bryden: My mother has a good saying which often comes to mind these days - be careful you aren't caught in ever diminishing circles.....

Blessings Jean

Glen Young said...

You hit the nail on the head,Bryden.Foucoult is not only laughing from the grave;but is ever present in the form of his protegee,Judith Butler and her corruption of womans' studies. Words,words and more words. If a picture is worth a thousand words; then I have a simple picture of Christ on the cross saying, "Father forgive them ,for they know not what they are doing".
Our local Church,[St Michaels/Henderson],is in crisis over the issue of Motion 30.The question is, not as to whether this argument is going to split the Church; it already has,with a number of congregation leaving. When we no longer have a local Church,I guess we can still debate whether Wright or Haller holds the most sway.

Anonymous said...

Bryden: you are right, and with your speech marks around "nice" I imagine you are making an ironic comment on the origin of that word (< nescius, 'ignorant'). Haller isn't a biblical scholar, he's a student of French literature and the Middle Ages - but with the facility of those atheists Derrida or a Foucault in deconstructing ( = breaking up and re-ordering at will) the Holy Scriptures. His comment on Sifra Acharei Mot 8.8 is nonsense: he doesn't see rabbinical irony when it stares him in the face. The fact that it is grammatically *possible* to say in Mishnaic Hebrew, e.g., 'A man married his horse' (laqah ish eth-suso) doesn't mean that it isn't ontologically possible in God's eyes (to go all Thomistic for a moment) or just a Levitical abomination (to'evah).
The trouble with being 'nescius', of course, is - as Donald Rumsfield would say - there are things that you don't know that you don't know. Better to be a Socratic fool (Spanish: 'un necio'!) who knows he's a fool than one who doesn't. The apostasy that is now destroying Anglicanism is led by false teachers who imagine they are doing right, but are ignorant (nescii) of the character and meaning of the divine Scriptures given by the Holy Spirit - as well as their own self-serving desires. If that means depending on Derrida and Foucault - that great 'unmasker' of sexuality who died how? - well, tant pis.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Grammaticus
I appreciate your erudition.
However if you are going to make claims such as 'X isn't a biblical scholar' then I think we could know your real name, not your scholastic nickname!

Speaking of Spanish fools, you aren't referring to the defence of their football team at the World Cup by any chance?

Kurt said...

We beat Ghana!

Father Ron Smith said...

And, Uganda is still beating gays - with the approval of the local Church. So, Kurt, what is different?

Bryden Black said...

Martinus grammaticus; delighted to see you in action! And yes - Mais bien sur: Le mot "nice" marche pour nous assez bien, n'est-ce pas?! Two can play, surely?!
More seriously: we are acting/playing as if our will determines the reality. And that stance can only be called Promethean. And if I recall correctly, such theft was not without its consequences. Kyrie eleison ...

Michael Primrose said...

Hi Peter,

It is with great gladness I find that scientists have not recently announced that, contrary to accepted and deeply held Christian belief, the Earth does, in fact, move around the Sun, and that the Earth is not the centre of the Universe. The Internet would be flooded with numerous relevant Biblical quotes, opinions from the Early Fathers and discussions of the Grecian etymology and historical definitions of the various terms used in the debate, all mustered in a heroic attempt to turn back the tide of knowledge. Fortunately, we seem to have given up the practice, at least in New Zealand, of burning heretics at the stake, or various parishes would be busily saving up the faggots, as we debate.

When we finally discover and encounter sentient life on extraterrestrial planets, one can only hope that the Church has grown up sufficiently to cope with the experience. Unfortunately, visions of debates as to whether aliens can have souls, since they aren’t human, and Interplanetary Wars of Religion and Conversion do dog the darker moments of contemplation.

The question “What is the problem that the Church has with Science?” still needs to be asked and more importantly answered.

Unfortunately, when we look at the Ma Whea? Report it appears obvious that portions of the Church still have difficulties dealing with Science. We come across the following quotes

“The Commission found it difficult to access dispassionate, neutral, objective scientific
investigation and research. Much of the research and analysis is directed or interpreted to support a particular belief or view, so its value is limited.”

“It seems clear that the available scientific evidence does not provide conclusive answers as to the causes of or reasons for homosexuality. But even if it did, definitively-nature (genetics) rather
than nurture (psychosocial); or nurture rather than nature – what would be the impact on the
considerations and deliberations on the issue before us? Science cannot have the determinative word on an issue which must engage the spiritual, theological and intellectual concerns and
positions of the Anglican Communion. Scientific knowledge and understanding is only one
aspect of this complex and important issue.”


“In sum, it would seem a good deal of scientific evidence would support
people who claim to have same-gender attraction and reporting that this is “natural” to them and it would be “unnatural” for them to deny this desire or seek to desire people of the opposite sex. The point that there is not complete consensus should not surprise us as there is not scientific consensus on other controversial (moral) issues, such as global warming, but this does not stop (most of) us from altering our behaviour.”

It is obvious from the above statements, that the Commission has very little, if any, understanding of what science is about or of the concept of the scientific method. The comment about the difficulty the Commission had in accessing “dispassionate, neutral, objective scientific
investigation and research” is, in my opinion, a slanderous put-down of the whole scientific community and would be worthy of being uttered an Australian politician.

I will point out that the comment “as there is not scientific consensus on other controversial (moral) issues, such as global warming” is the standard line used by climate change deniers worldwide and has been repeatedly proven to be incorrect. A few dissenting voices do not mean that the scientific community has not reached a consensus. Global warming is a controversial moral question? It is a scientific and political problem far more than merely a moral one.

Perhaps we should be asking ourselves, how much we can deny or sideline any scientific research which does not fit in comfortably with our Scripture-centric world view before we, in your words, end up making Scripture an interesting, but anachronistic document, a historical curio in the face of a new word from the Lord via modernity?

Michael Primrose, Christchurch

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Michael
My words particularly relate to the way T. Haller handles Scripture.
The question of science and the Bible has a particularly sharp edge around homosexuality. Whether answers given by science (assuming assent to them) then change anything in the Bible is up for discussion, and whether those changes head in the directions that some wish to take them is another discussion ... all of which is part of the discussion post Motion 30.

Jean said...

And methinks Michael your view of christians who are well known scientists is somewhat biased.

"The thumb alone would convince me that God exists"
- Sir Isaac Newton

We know the truth not only through our reason but also through our heart. It is through the latter that we know first principles, and reason, which has nothing to do with it, tries in vain to refute them.
— Blaise Pascal

Michael Primrose said...

Hi Jean,

I do not believe that a scientist would, or should allow his, or her own personal beliefs to get in the way of the neutral and dispassionate statement of the objective truth of a piece of research.

The Committee of the Ma Whea? Report is suggesting that the scientific research they have read is all done with the end result already known. They also suggest that the published results are tainted with the researchers subjective view of the question and by their personal beliefs.

This statement by the committee shows that it has no understanding of how scientific research is conducted, how it is peer reviewed, and what scientists believe in as members of the scientific community. It is a deeply insulting slur, by the Committee, on the professional reputation of every person, who would consider themselves to be a scientist.

One does not bring Faith into the Laboratory.

However, having invalidated all confronting and annoying scientific evidence as flawed and subjective, the Committee now has a useful excuse for ignoring anything save that with which it agrees.

That Newton may look at a thumb and see a convincing argument for the existence of God says much for the intellect of this giant amongst men. However, Newton was not reporting on the result of a sequence of detailed experiments carried out by himself; he was making a statement of faith. This is not a rigorous mathematical explanation of a physical phenomenon such as gravity, but rather a personal conjecture about the possible origin of a thing, in this case a thumb. There is a very distinct difference between a scientific experiment and faith statement.

And one must also remember that after Newton came both Einstein and Darwin.

Michael Primrose, Christchurch

Father Ron Smith said...

You are so right, Jean. And this is where an ounce life experience is worth a tonne of theory,

Kurt said...

"And, Uganda is still beating gays - with the approval of the local Church. So, Kurt, what is different?"--Father Ron

Unfortunately that is all too true, Fr. Ron.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Jean said...

Hi Michael

That is interesting. I didn't realise the commission had made such a comment.

Having not read the scientific evidence in question I cannot comment about it's subjectivity or not. I do think knowledge re genetics could add another dimension to the homosexual debate e.g. are the origins of homosexuality genetic or not?

I do however think science can be subjective even with peer reviewing, and it is not separate from faith.

It was Newton's scientific knowledge of the thumb and it's workings - it's incredible design and the inability of human's to reproduce it - which lead to his statement, not blind faith. Interestingly a natural scientist who once led a tour on was on in Milford sound when pointing out a micro-orchid said, I am not religious or anything, but one can't help but think when examining such a plant that there must be a designer.

Einstein well he was a Jew of course but also he made some of the most profound faith statements I have read. Darwin, well, he is a good example of the subjectivity possible in science. He believed in evolution and then set out to prove it. Just as currently scientists are attempting to 'create life' by getting the three strands of DNA to come into existence at the same time; because they believe in evolution.

So what one already believes can influence our actions and conclusions even those of scientists.

Back to the topic in question. Scientific investigation into homosexuality is a positive thing, however, I think it is also not without wisdom to examine it in the light of the possibility it could be subjective. I do not see such examination as a criticism of scientists but a safeguard.

It could likely be that it enters the endless discussions of:
Nature versus nurture
Evolution versus creation
With seemingly well researched and supported conclusions on both sides of the debates by respected scientists.

Blessings, Jean

Michael Primrose said...

Hi Jean,

If I might describe how, as a scientist, one comes to formulate a theory as to what is seen to be happening.

The first stage is to assemble the facts, or the data, either by personal observation, or by experimentation. This data is usually composed of a completely disparate set of points without any apparent rhyme nor reason. After examining the data for some time, various patterns may appear that allow you to link the points together and to provide some sort of explanation for what you are seeing. This is called a working hypothesis.

Once you have a working hypothesis, which may possibly explain what is happening, the scientist then conducts further experiments, or obtains further observations in the field. A scientist does this in order to see how these new data points agree with the possible explanation contained in the working hypothesis. If the data you collect fits within the boundaries of the working hypothesis, then you have a greater degree of certainty that the explanation being put forward is possibly a reasonable approximation to what is actually happening.

However, if the data points do not fit into the working hypothesis, what do you do? Do you reject the data points as being flawed, because they do not fit into the explanation you have come up with? What the scientist does do, is to go back to the working hypothesis and amend it accordingly, so that it better explains what is seen to be happening with all of the data points. You go through this constant process of collecting data and refining the working hypothesis, until you have a high degree of certainty that one hypothesis can explain all of the variations in the data .

What you do not do, as a scientist, is to fall in love with your initial working hypothesis and then only look for data points that agree with your explanations, and reject anything that contradicts your now deeply held view of what is right.

Facts are sacred, but hypotheses are malleable.

If you are really confident, after conducting a large number of experiments, that you have a working hypothesis that covers every eventuality, then you might try to formulate a theory. A theory provides a more encompassing explanation of what is happening, and may cover a broader group of similar phenomenon. Other scientists will look at the theory, and undertake their own experiments, to see whether they can obtain either similar or dissimilar results to those that the theory would pedict. The more results which fit into the result pattern predicted by the theory, then the greater the consensus will be amongst scientists, that theory appears to be a correct one.

If other scientists cannot duplicate the results predicted by the theory, then the theory may be wrong and should be discarded. If the results are dissimilar, then the theory may need to be altered and improved in order to accommodate this new, but variant data.

However, through all of this process, it is the facts and the data that are sacred, not the theories or the preconceptions. One alters the theories to fit the facts, not discard the facts to maintain the theory.

One goes into this process as a blank slate, upon which are then inscribed the data you have obtained or observed. It is only once you have the data may you start to think about what the relationships may be between different points of data. If you go into an experiment with strongly held preconceptions, then the danger is that these beliefs will act as a filter, or a set of blinkers, that mean that you only see that data with which you agree.

Thus scientists conduct their research objectively and not subjectively, because to research subjectively is to deny the chance of ever finding the truth.

On the question of intelligent design versus evolution and natural selection, might I recommend “The Blind Watchmaker” by Prof Richard Dawkins.

Michael Primrose, Christchurch

Father Ron Smith said...

"Back to the topic in question. Scientific investigation into homosexuality is a positive thing, however, I think it is also not without wisdom to examine it in the light of the possibility it could be subjective.' - Jean -

Likewise, of course, any theological speculation - just has to be subjective, surely? As far as I know no-one has been able, scientifically, to prove the existence of God.

That is the wonderful thing about Faith - it does not require proof!

Bryden Black said...

I think we might be getting ourselves into another right old mess here. What you describe as being the relationship between theory and fact Michael is in fact a form of positivism. Every fact is such a thing because it is theory laden, brought to light as it were by the proposed theory; the two necessarily require each other. As for faith; well, let me introduce Michael Polanyi's Science Faith & Society into the discussion. Here he describes the relationship among a society of peers - scientific, religious, it matters little - their collective faith(s), and their respective goals in seeking understanding. I was first introduced to this text as a schoolboy doing hard science by my divinity teacher who subsequently became Dean of Coventry. As for further texts on the philosophy of science, let alone the relationship between science and the Christian Faith, I'd never cite Dawkins; rather, names like Polkinghorne, Lennox, McGrath, Torrance and Polanyi come easily to mind.
As for Ma Whea and their lack of appreciation of 'science': I agree their approach was/is a tad confusing and confused. Yet we are not helped I suggest now by further confusion re how human faith and human reason necessarily work together - in whatever domain of understanding we engage ourselves upon.

Jean said...

To be sure Ron!

The speculation may be subjective but God's existence is objective - He either exists or He doesn't. Truth of course is not limiited only to the scientific arena, even if the methods of reaching it are different : )

Thanks for the insight Michael will find time to reply tomorrow.. cheers...

Glen Young said...

Michael,Do yourself a favour and read Popper on scientific methodology.As for Darwin-he offers nothing to Empirical Science.when fully assimilated,his theory is a total denial of FREE WILL.Where that fits into Christianity,I dont know.Darwinism has no place in genetics.It was Gregor Mendel who the Father of Genetics.

Michael Primrose said...

Hi Bryden,

I think I am being softly accused of being a British Empiricist. As a working, and practical scientist, I would I would have no problem with that appellation. Whilst I realise, that a recourse to Wikipedia in an argument is either a sign of sloppy research, or of being an Australian Minister for the Environment, I will plead, in my defence, that my library is currently inaccessible in a container.

To quote from the sub-section on Beliefs and Biases in the Wikipedia article on Scientific Method

“Scientific methodology directs that hypotheses be tested in controlled conditions which can be reproduced by others. The scientific community’s pursuit of experimental control and reproducibility diminishes the effects of cognitive biases.
For example, pre-existing beliefs can alter the interpretation of results, as in confirmation bias; this is a heuristic that leads a person with a particular belief to see things as reinforcing their belief, even if another observer might disagree (in other words, people tend to observe what they expect to observe).
In contrast to the requirement for scientific knowledge to correspond to reality, beliefs based on myth or stories can be believed and acted upon irrespective of truth, often taking advantage of the narrative fallacy that when narrative is constructed its elements become easier to believe. Myths intended to be taken as true must have their elements assumed a priori, while science requires testing and validation a posteriori before ideas are accepted.”

If I was having problems with my car, I would prefer to take it to a practical mechanic rather than to someone who fixed cars by faith alone. When you are speeding down the Port Hills, it is scarcely comforting to remember that you were told that

“I believe the problem is with the suspension, rather than with the brakes!”

Michael Primrose, Christchurch

Bryden Black said...

Love the quote Michael! Alas! I too am parted from my library - which is a good thing as it means I've to rely on something perhaps as sloppy as Wiki, my memory in holiday mode ;). That said, to use your label I will repeat it like this: we may not separate the empirical from the theoretical, the theoretical from the empirical; the two are necessarily conjoined. Your previous methodological description had abt it the distinct air of the Positivist! Where's Popper when one needs him?! But all this only means we agree on one thing: Ma Whea's need to get its scientific act together.

Glen Young said...

Michael,Am still interested in your explaination of how Darwinism fits into Emperical Science.Prehaps Ma Whea was right when it quoted Professor Harrison,"...there is evidence that some indivduals can achieve significant changes in patterns of unwanted SSA".Am I correct in assuming that would indicate, that SSA is not a deterministic issue.

Jean said...

Hi Michael

I would have to agree with Bryden. Being the congenial person I am. And drat, I use wikipeadia all the time : ) but it was helpful to look up positivism Bryden.

You provide a good description of how scientific analysis works. The use of Richard Dawkins, well I am not so sure he is a convincing argument that hypothese always remain unbiased. On page (146) of the book you recommend he states in reference to the three parts needed to create life, "My personal feeling is that, once cumulative selection has got itself properly started, we need to postulate only a relatively small amount of luck in the subsequent evolution of life and intelligence." Hopefully he doesn't project any such feelings or luck into formulating future hypothese for investigation of how cumulative selection gets started, although this missing piece doesn't appear to bother him?

Although stimulating, debating evolution is an offshoot here. Personally I have read volumes for the sake of knowledge to upskill when talking to friends for whom this was a stumbling block to faith. Personally it was not for me, my faith being based on belief in Jesus's life death and resurrection for which there is plenty of evidence. However, much to my chargrin, after they came to believe in Jesus they had no issue with creation versus evolution.

Acknowledging as Bryden does, and I have previously done, that science albeit it not perfect has a lot to offer, do you know of any extentsive research that has been published on the genetic origins of homosexuality?

Blessings Jean

Father Ron Smith said...

On the subject of Aversion Therapy for Homosexuals; there was an excellent documentary last night here in N.Z. where an English Doctor, Christian Jessen, was investigating therapists in the UK and the US. He himsiefl is gay and was subjected to both chemical and psychological torture, with no discernible benefit. I wonder if any people on this thread saw it. What was your reaction?

Michael Primrose said...

Hi Jean,

Even as a researcher, I use Wikipedia all the time, but mostly as a quick reference guide for those pesky terms, that one can’t quite remember the definition of. It has become the replacement for those massive, ageing, leather covered, multi-volume behemoths of encyclopedias, which used to grace every well appointed personal library. The problem is not so much in using Wikipedia for a quick reference, but when you use it as a sole reference without doing the additional reading into the actual research. Even worse. Of course, is quoting Wikipedia as the authoritative reference, hence my gibe at a certain, rather silly, Australian Minister for Abusing the Environment.

Hence my apologies for utilising it, when I should have spent time constructing a more detailed response, but the quote was apposite.

In the reference you mention, I think Prof Dawkins was implying that, once cumulative selection had commenced, there were any number of probable pathways that the evolutionary path could have taken, however, with a relatively small amount of luck, serendipity, call it what you will, we ended up with the subsequent evolution of life and intelligence. In other words, the evolution of life and intelligence was more likely than not.

Personally, I have no problem with the idea, that the evolutionary tree could have sprouted in any number of different ways, which may have not included Homo Sapiens, but would have included life and intelligence. The pathway through the branches and the twigs of the Tree of Life, that ends up with us debating politely here, is so improbable, given the myriad of other possibilities and permutations, which might have eventuated, that we may consider ourselves lucky to be here at all.

The working of probability doesn’t frighten me as a scientist. Things happen all the time, but describing them as “good”, or “bad” events, is to be subjective. Things may not happen the way that I want them to, but that is the way that probability works; without fear or favour, the dice rolling as it may. Probability doesn’t conflict with the empirical process, it just tells you that you may not get the results that you want, and why.

I once knew a reasonably good research palaeontologist, who was also an ardent creationist. How he reconciled the two conflicting disciplines was something I never bothered asking, since he was a rather intense individual, at the best of times. Theme parks, where dinosaurs walk with Man, are probably the result of such intellectual conflict.

Unfortunately, I can’t really help you with the current state of research into the genetic basis of homosexuality. Whilst I used to write, and lecture about the nature of human sexuality, as a personal and political interest, I have not done so recently, and hence my understanding of the current state of intellectual play is limited, but dated. It is not my professional field, so the obligation to keep up to date is needs driven rather than compulsory. However, this current debate may force me to start reading it again.

Life is too short to have to read Foucault again! After all, one good quote was all you ever needed to generate a ream of articles.

Michael Primrose, Christchurch

Michael Primrose said...

Hi Glen,

You ask whether the Ma Whea? Commission was right in quoting Professor Glynn Harrison saying “... there is
evidence that some individuals can achieve significant changes in patterns of unwanted SSA” Obviously the Commission had not read the lengthy statement put out by Church House, Westminster, saying, in part:

“Professor Glynn Harrison does not believe in concepts of ‘gay cure’ or ‘gay conversion’ and has never been involved in offering any formal counselling or ‘therapy’ in this area himself. Such descriptions, because they depend on inappropriate notions of ‘sickness’, convey simplistic and stigmatising views. In addition, as he has made clear, all bullying and prejudice toward people, whatever their sexual interests and attractions, is a violation of the inclusive call of the Christian Gospel and the way of Jesus Christ.”

“In these publications, Professor Harrison challenges the simplistic binary model (‘either/or’;
‘gay’ v. ‘straight’) of human sexual orientation often assumed in popular discourse. He notes
that the most reliable research evidence points to a spectrum of sexuality, with many
individuals experiencing bisexual ‘orientation’ and varying degrees of fluid ‘orientation’ in
their sexual interests. Thus, there is a range of ‘orientations’ and little reliable evidence to
suggest that these are fixed and enduring in all people. In fact, population surveys now
indicate that bisexual or ‘unlabelled’ are the most common identity labels claimed among
sexual minorities, larger even than ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’.”

“In his
articles, Professor Harrison notes (along with various secular commentators) that there is considerable anecdotal evidence in popular media, as well as in the research literature, of people who experience varying degrees of change in the pattern of their sexual attractions. This appears to be a shift along the sexuality spectrum rather than a ‘switch’ from one kind of ‘orientation’ to another. Such change may occur as part of an individual’s normal life
experience, a particular philosophical or religious journey, or in the setting of some form of counselling process”

“There is no high quality evidence (in the form of scientific trials) for or against specific counselling approaches aimed at promoting such shifts along the spectrum. Prof. Harrison therefore agrees with the American Psychological Association that ‘there is little in the way of
credible evidence that could clarify whether [such an approach] does or does not work in changing same-sex sexual attractions’. ”


when there was controversy over Prof Harrison being a lay member of the panel to choose the new Archbishop of Canterbury. Nor can the Ma Whea? Commission have read the rebuttal of Prof. Harrison’s views by Prof King, of University College London Medical School, when he said. In part:

“Treatments (of whatever form, including counselling) should never be offered on the basis of “anecdotal” evidence of change, particularly in controversial areas of ethical practice such as this one. I am sure Prof Harrison would object to the use of anecdotal evidence as a basis for other psychiatric treatments.” and

“If he wants to use anecdotal evidence then there is also plenty such evidence for harm – our research showed that many people and their families have been harmed by such treatment. (there are also several videos to this effect on YouTube if he feels such evidence is valuable!)”

You can find this discussed in more detail in an article on the Thinking Anglicans website. This is presumably another resource that the Ma Whea? Commission had not thought to access before it quoted Prof Harrison


As to the question of how Darwinism fits into Empirical Science, I am not sure why my opinion would be of any interest. However, I assume you are able to tell me how it does not fit.

Michael Primrose, Christchurch

Jean said...

Thanks Michael for your reply. If you do have time to look into current research it would be interesting but I know we are all faced with personal time limitations.

Prof Dawkins still avoids how cumulative selection could originate by chance. Creationism as a science is interesting to read about.

I have no personal dislike of probability, but if I were a beating person when it comes to the end of life I would find myself cashing in all my belief on the chance I was created and going home, as oppposed to being the result of a 'lucky' natural selection process - regardless of the odds!

Out of pure curiosity, do you hold the position one can be both a christian, scientist and evolutionist, or does for you to be a scientist rule out the possibility of believing in christianity?

Blessings and keep warm for the weekend, Jean

Michael Primrose said...

Hi Jean,

One is reminded of the reply made by councillor of King Edwin of Northumbria, when asked what he thought of the doctrine preached by St Paulinus

“The present life man, O king, seems to me, in comparison with that time which is unknown to us, like to the swift flight of a sparrow through the room wherein you sit at supper in winter amid your officers and ministers, with a good fire in the midst whilst the storms of rain and snow prevail abroad; the sparrow, I say, flying in at one door and immediately out another, whilst he is within is safe from the wintry but after a short space of fair weather he immediately vanishes out of your sight into the dark winter from which he has emerged. So this life of man appears for a short space but of what went before or what is to follow we are ignorant. If, therefore, this new doctrine contains something more certain, it seems justly to deserve to be followed.”

Possibly the councillor was a betting man, to use your words.

To not answer your question directly, I would say that I would think it would be extremely difficult to be both a scientist and a biblical literalist and to successfully reconcile the two world views.

I shall warm my hands over the fire, this weekend and ponder the darkness before, and that which is still to come.

Michael Primrose, Christchurch

Michael Primrose said...

Hi Jean,

I realised that I had not responded to your query about how cumulative selection could have originated by chance.

Cumulative selection could possibly, I suppose, not have existed and in which case we would probably all be single celled organisms, wondering whether to bother dividing this weekend. As it is, cumulative selection did, by chance, exist, so we can happily spend the weekend discussing how we came to be.

Since we are talking about a theory i.e. the theory of cumulative selection, then “existence” is possibly not the correct term to use in conjunction with it. A theory is an idea, an intellectual construct, formulated to explain how a process works. You can’t pull apart evolution and hold in your hand a small, quivering thing and say “This is cumulative selection and therefore, it exists!”

Rather you look at the process of evolution of an organism and say that the theory of cumulative selection can possibly explain how we manage to get from A to B, via a number of incremental steps. There may be a number of equally valid ways of explaining the process via analogy, or theory, but the theory of cumulative selection is the one used by Prof Dawkins to best elucidate his argument.

Cumulative selection is the description of a possible process, that is imposed on a sequence of observed data points, by the scientist, in order to try and explain why the data points have behaved in a particular way. It is an example of a posteriori reasoning, though Bryden will no doubt prove me wrong. Cumulative selection cannot exist without the scientist describing it, since it is purely a theoretical construct.

The “luck” he refers to, in the quote, is more related to the fact that we ended up with intelligence, I suppose. We might just as easily have ended up with none.

Michael Primrose, Christchurch

Bryden Black said...

Ok Michael; I'll bite - well, nibble at least. Quite happy with a posteriori methodology actually! But more to the point would be the "anthropic principle", the acute set of parameters which have brought sentient, self-conscious, intelligent creatures into existence. Jaki et al make quite a bit of it FYI. And the other day I read a book review of a new book, The Lucky Earth which may also discuss the same approach. Enjoy!

Bryden Black said...

Michael; you love this: "Data trumps models". See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-27935479

Jean said...

Hi Michael

You have impressed me in two thing this morning...
A scientist skilled in literary analogies (coming from or should I say, being fortunate enough to be randomly selected by chance, into a family of chemists this is an admirable trait for a scientist; I enjoyed the quote), and also getting Bryden to bite - twice!

As you stay warm and ponder the darkness before and to come, as I am solar powered I shall ponder the Light of the world who is and was and is to come. And shall give thanks that like the sparrow one greater than me knows my coming in and my going out.

So cumulative selection is a possible theory of how we got from A to B but there is yet no data of how it originated if the theory is indeed true, one just has to accept by faith that it did originate by chance? As for being lucky and ending up with intelligence - smile - one might be able to contend with the intelligence component more easily than other parts : )...

Keep warm...

Bryden Black said...

G'day Jean! I'll bite wholesale: you hit the nail on the head with the emergence of "intelligence". Here's a thought: Mathematics was waiting for a mathematician to emerge...

And with that back to Peter's basic question: basic intelligence will posit the obvious complimentarity between a man and a woman, while it takes a postmodern denial of essential logic to posit whatever "the heart of man" may devise.

Just so, from the dark into the darkness vs. the entirety of 1 John. Thanks Jean!

Janice said...

The fact is that the binary male + female is the one the produces life. Other sexual couplings are sterile.

Light + dark, heaven + earth and sea + dry land are binaries necessary for life. God has life and is the source of all life. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. The goodness of the original creation was not so much that there were complementary pairs involved but that these things, all put together, sustain life and enable fruitfulness. Life is what is important.

Given that sexual intercourse between a male and a female tends to produce new life, marriage developed as a social institution, "designed to regulate individual selfish behaviour that gets in the way of producing successful children," (Douglas Allen, An Economic Assessment of Same-Sex Marriage Laws) so that these children can be best equipped to go on and produce successful children of their own. Marriage is not just, "the domain of lovers" (Douglas Allen, cited above). It provides, a "unique social ecology ... which offers children vital and fundamental bonds with their biological parents," and their extended family (Roger Scruton and Phillip Blond, Marriage equality or the destruction of difference?
). The demand for the lifelong commitment and fidelity of marriage partners to each other was not so much for their own romantic benefit but for the good of their children.

Haller completely misses all this but, then, he's not alone. Too many people assume that because some marriages don't, or can't, produce children then marriage is, therefore, all about just the couple. Those who buy the argument are either indulging in juvenile romanticism or the stamping-foot selfishness of those who want want they want because they want it. A wedding can just be a big fancy dress party with all the bells and whistles and one's friends in some exotic location with, perhaps, a flash mob song and dance, all captured on video, not a joining of families who will be there to witness and acknowledge the formation of a kin relationship with one member of the couple and with any children born of the marriage, with all the possible burdens that might entail in the future.

But who cares about children? They don't vote - not in Synod and not anywhere.

Glen Young said...

Bryden,While we are pondering about the emergence of intelligence;would it be an oppotune moment to throw in "personality".Can the effect ever be greater than the cause?.

Anonymous said...

Alvin Plantinga launches a strong *evolutionary* argument against naturalism as a sufficient explanation (also available on the web somewhere as an mp3):


As Bryden may be hinting, atheist or agnostic thinkers do struggle with the philosophical implications of mathematics: is it real and empirical (as J. S. Mill thought) or just logical analytical statements (Russell) or phenomenal (Ayer, I think).
But here we have a universe that obeys the theorems (I will not say 'laws', a highly charged term as the later Wittgenstein discerned!) of mathematics - way beyond anything needed by the "mind" (whatever that is! - just brain states?) of homo sapiens to survive.
And Janice is right - if 'marriage' is anything we decide it to be, then there can be no final case against polygamy. That might even solve a lot of social problems.
If it is what the Lord Jesus Christ says ('For this reason a man shall leave his parents and cleave to his wife and the two become one flesh') then we have something 'totaliter aliter'.


Michael Primrose said...

Hi Jean.

Thank you for the compliment. I am a scientific child of Lord Snow’s “Two Cultures” and was trained to enliven the bread of my science with the leaven of traditional culture. As with the apocryphal Anglican Bishop, I am quite content to curl up in bed with my favourite Trollope, but also appreciate the joy that a scientific proof can give to the spirit. Beauty is in the eye, and the mind of the beholder, and I try to encompass as much as I can.

Bryden conjures a marvellous vision of a young and wistful Mathematics, sitting wallflower-like, at some great, vast Cosmic Ball of the Verities. “Someday, my mathematician will come!”, Mathematics sighs and a single, adamantine, imaginary number, glistens, then falls unnoticed onto her bouquet. Is Mathematics doomed to wait for an Infinity, ever the blushing equation and never the blooming Theorem?

If mathematicians were never invented would Mathematics have existed anyway, independent of any human thought? Bryden seems to be suggesting such a case. Can I postulate the other argument?

Mathematics is a set of languages and stories, that could, and can describe a vast realm of things, both real and imaginary, possible and impossible, seen and unseen. To paraphrase Roger Bacon “Mathematics is the key and the gateway”. With the key in your hand you can ultimately describe and understand anything and everything, or perhaps, as some may argue here, almost everything.

Mathematics is a human construct, a way of seeing and defining the universe and the interactions that occur in it, but it is without any independent existence. It is as if one could claim that English exists without anyone ever having spoken it, or speaking it in the future. Or that a piece of music by J.S.Bach would exist, unheard, for eternity waiting for the correct Bach to come along and write it down.

The dusty Platonic attic must be very large indeed, to hold all the ideas that are yet to be thought, or perhaps we are simply not looking at the right place on the cave wall to see the myriad dancing shadows.

I can remember listening to a distinguished cosmologist, whose name escapes me, argue that creation happened when a random perturbation, in an endless, uniform field of energy caused the first particle of matter to form. At the time I thought, others have described this as the wing-tip of an angel coming close to the surface of the eternal ocean and touching a wave. Random chance or external intervention, perhaps we can never know except through intellect, or through faith.

Whilst we are shining the spotlight onto those classical dichotomies, male and female and their sexual reproduction, can I introduce, from the wings, as it were, asexual reproduction, parthenogenesis and all those marvel creatures that can change their sex as the needs of reproduction demand. These have all existed before the “heart of man” devised them.

Obviously, we have to dream of more philosophies to cope with our reality.

Michael Primrose, Christchurch


Glen Young said...

Hi Michael,I spent the last 20 years of my life in a health system that was more insane than the patients. Every week there was a new theory or practice.There is the ever present danger that we know,either a little too much or not quite enough to be wise.Perhaps we should also look at the question of the emergence of "wisdom and Understanding".St.Paul told the Romans: "Professing themselves to be wise,they became fools".Rom.1:22.
Bonhoeffer says:"The wise man is not necessarily the man with the most facts at hand, but the man who sees Christ in the world and the world in Christ in the same instant."

Bryden Black said...

May I crash your scene Michael, for when you say, Mathematics is a human construct ... Without independent existence, you completely fail to account for those occasions mathematics has 'created' notions which subsequently become indispensable for dealing with the 'objective' world. Engineering has seen this at least three times to my knowledge. Ie. Maths is NO MERE construct. That's why I picked it ...

Anonymous said...

"Mathematics is a human construct, a way of seeing and defining the universe and the interactions that occur in it, but it is without any independent existence."

Really? You know this for sure? Then you are an anti-realist idealist that would put Bishop Berkeley to shame. Just what was the universe doing before the mind of man (or the brain-states of Ug if you prefer) conceived of number and shape? It seems it has been following mathematically-conditioned physical laws for billions of years ....

"It is as if one could claim that English exists without anyone ever having spoken it, or speaking it in the future."

Not so. No one makes this claim because English, as a discernible, independent language distinguishable from Old Germanic, goes back only about 1400 years, maybe less, and its Proto-Indo-European forebear, maybe to 3000 BC. As for the origin of language itself, no empirical study can answer that one.

"Or that a piece of music by J.S.Bach would exist, unheard, for eternity waiting for the correct Bach to come along and write it down."

No, again the same category mistake. You need to distinguish between meta-language and particular languages. Similarly, in mathematics, the conventional signs used are not the same as the realities signified (and they are realities, not mental constructs). Atheism and especially scientistic atheism is a self-refuting ideology.


jean said...

Hi Michael

I really think you should work on that literary career : ) .. Well done on being a student of two cultures it shall serve you well, interesting article in many instances true (she says thinking of the engineering versus art student jibes while at university) but I would say the gap is somewhat less pronounced than it used to be. All being said I have noticed a few other culture clashes, my engineering/science family/friends have a particular disrespect?/condescension? for IT/computer professionals!

I shall have to leave the mathematical debating to Bryden and Grammmaticus as I would say they are more qualified than I in that area.

"Random chance or external intervention, perhaps we can never know except through intellect, or through faith." - perhaps you hit on the central tennant of contention:

God has "undertanding no one can fathom" so however we probe scientifically or otherwise we acknowledge his superior intelligence;
'the life I now live in the body I live by faith in (by adherence to and reliance on and complete trust in) the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself up for me."
Galatians 2:20c (AMP)

Or we deem own intelligence capable of discerning the truth of the mysteries of the universe.

It has been an enjoyable discussion, have a good week, Jean

Michael Primrose said...

Hi Peter,

If a tree falls in a forest, and no mathematician is around to describe its fall, does it actually happen?

If a coherent set of words, governed by rules of operation, is put together, and no-one ever speaks or uses the language, can the language be said to exist?

If a particular sequence, and combination of musical is present in the Spheres, and no composer ever writes down the piece of music, will it ever be performed?

If the Red King ever wakes up, do any of you still remain?

Mathematicians, and scientists use the language and rules of mathematics to describe the way in which this, or any other physical universe, may react and perform given a particular set of physical laws and constants. Mathematics is a tool with which to model the actions of a real or imaginary environment. It is a filter through which we gaze at reality and seek to interpret it.

Ptolemy and Copernicus both produced mathematical models that described the motions of the heavenly bodies. Both mathematical models could, with reasonable accuracy, account for the previous positions of, and the future movements of those bodies. One mathematical model described the motions of the bodies from a terracentric viewpoint and the other model described the movements from a heliocentric viewpoint. The two mathematical models were not about the Truth, but rather about which hypothesis provided the more reliable computational method.

The Church, in its wisdom, declared that the Sun moved around the Earth and burnt as heretics those who disagreed. The Earth, with blasé indifference to the stated doctrines of the Church, continued to revolve around the Sun, as it had done for billions of years, its path predetermined by the Physical Laws and Constants of this particular Universe.

Long before Evolution brought forth the first mathematician, the Earth pursued it stately way, and for long after the death of the last mathematician, the Earth will continue to revolve around the Sun. Were mathematicians and their language of mathematics never to have existed, the Earth would have turned about the Sun in the same way.

However, if you change the Physical Laws and Constants of the Universe then the path the Earth takes will be different. And if this new Universe is blessed with mathematicians, then they will find another language to model and account for that which they see. A different mathematics for a different Universe.

Does the number of angels, who can dance on the head of a pin, depend solely of the size of the angels dancing, or rather does it depend on the size of the pin? And does anyone actually care?

Michael Primrose, Christchurch

Father Ron Smith said...

" Atheism and especially scientistic atheism is a self-refuting ideology"

- "Grammaticus' -

Exactly the same could be said of 'creationism' . We just have to pick our own shibboleth. The only real difference with creationism is that it is patently obvious to anyone is that it is scientific hogwash.

Glen Young said...

Prehaps mathematics arose in the mind of the Eternal Godhead prior to the creation.Could not the order,to which maths gives expression;simply be one of the facets of His Nature and Character.Did not the form and order of universe arise out of His Word.Some may think, that it all occurred by random chance; but such a proposition, must limit every occurrance after that to be the result of chance as well.So prehaps the correct answer, in the case as to who is Wright about marriage; is that it is simply a random chance occurrance.

Anonymous said...

Michael, do you read what you write?

"If a tree falls in a forest, and no mathematician is around to describe its fall, does it actually happen?"

What is the point of this allusion to Berkeley? The fall of a tree can be described equally well (or OK!) by a lumberjack.

"If a coherent set of words, governed by rules of operation, is put together, and no-one ever speaks or uses the language, can the language be said to exist?"

If someone "puts together" these set of words with rules of operations, then of course the language exists. This applies even to Klingon. Think what you're writing!

"If a particular sequence, and combination of musical is present in the Spheres, and no composer ever writes down the piece of music, will it ever be performed?"

Well, if you believe in the music of the spheres, I don't know anyone who can help you.

As for Ron Smith's off-topic comment on 'creationism": this conversation is actually about mathematics, empiricism and idealism, not the origin of species. Do contribute your insights on this or follow Wittgenstein's concluding dictum of his 'Tractatus'.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Grammaticus
I am prepared to keep posting comments from you which are comments on technical issues and do not refer by name to other commenters.

If you are going to use the names of other commenters, let alone tell them what to do, I think we deserve you using your first name as given in baptism rather than a nickname.

Further comments of the kind immediately above will not be published under your pseudonym.

Glen Young said...

Hi Peter,
Many more decades ago than I care to think about;evolution seemed to me ,to account for how life is present. However,Gregor Mendel came into my botanical studies and it was apparent that he and Darwin could not both be "Wright" on life or marriage. I chose to follow Mendel in more ways than one. I accept that all human attributes, except for our rebellious and sinfull natures arose out of the Perfect Nature and Character of the Eternal Godhead. Francis.A.Schaeffer and C.S. Lewis were amongst the authors who enlightened me.I am now relieved that I have left all the mind-bending searching 'for the how' in the past and can accept in Faith that God did create. How He did, puzzels me from time to time, but it aint a preoccupation for me.

Peter Carrell said...

Thank you for ongoing comments here.

My own views on evolution are ... evolving!

On the one hand I acknowledge all the evidence which points to evolution as a satisfactory explanation for many aspects of life. On the other hand I find various explanations of the wonder of life, the amazing set of coincidences which enable life to be as we experience it on this planet, without God's purposive hand upon us, to be hard to swallow. The more I read one of Dawkins' books the more my heart wanted to sing in praise to God!

As for maths and the universe, my first degree was in maths ... though I have forgotten more than I ever learned. I suggest there are harmonies in the universe which are in keeping with the latter 'on the other hand' above and there are quirks and irrationalities about the maths of the universe that are consistent with the universe as a random event unguided and unguarded by the finger of God.

Caleb said...

Good points, Michael Primrose! No scientific consensus on climate change?!?!? How can we take the report seriously on anything to do with science (arguably: anything at all) when they make such a comment?

Glen Young said...

Hi Peter,Is it possible that your 'quirks and irrationalities'are just the exceptions which prove the rule. I understand God to Master over the unity of both similarity and diversity.It strikes me that many issues arise which can be considered 'interesting if true'.If we have discovered information which did not exist in the mind of the Eternal Godhead prior the Creation:have we arrived at the conclusion that it is possible for us to things that God does not know?

Glen Young said...

Caleb,You make a good point.And if the science in the Ma Whea Report is as faulty as Michael states,then,I am left with the impression that Gen.Synod is lost at sea without a compass or sextant.Why do we congratulate ourselves for selling our shares in fossil fuel companies?

Glen Young said...

Hi Peter,I find the word 'evolution' interesting.The embryologists of his day, accused Darwin of stealing the word off them.For them the word had a very precise meaning;far different from how Darwin used it.Atheists such as Dawkins ridicule 'Faith' and yet ask us to believe that all around us is a mere random chance.Surely that requires a far greater leap of faith.

Peter Carrell said...

We do not know what God does not know! Does God know what I am going to eat for breakfast tomorrow (I do not always have the same thing)? Some say God must know that; others say that is inconsistent with freewill. Etc. Mathematical quirks are presumably not beyond the knowledge of God, but is it a function of God's knowledge to know every last aspect of the hidden mathematics of the universe? There are an infinite number of primes (perhaps?): is God still working them out?

It is simpler not to speculate!

Anonymous said...

"We do not know what God does not know!"
- Are there things God doesn't know? How can this be squared with omniscience, a function of divine omnipotence?
"Does God know what I am going to eat for breakfast tomorrow (I do not always have the same thing)? Some say God must know that; others say that is inconsistent with freewill."
- "Open theists" say no; the orthodox doctrine of God's nature and powers (defined in 18 categories by John of Damascus but implicit in Augustine centuries earlier) says yes. Molinism (middle knowledge) deals with hypothetical counterfactuals as well.
"Mathematical quirks are presumably not beyond the knowledge of God, but is it a function of God's knowledge to know every last aspect of the hidden mathematics of the universe?"
- Omniscience is a zero sum game.
"There are an infinite number of primes (perhaps?): is God still working them out?
- Euclid's proof of the infinitude of primes has stood the test of time. No one has ever established that pi, the square root of 2 or the golden ratio are anything other than irrational numbers either (much to the distress of the Pythagoreans). The really interesting question is: do infinite sets have an independent existence apart from God - as Platonic thinking would suggest? Augustine handled that one by arguing that the 'forms' are 'rationes aeternae' in the mind of God, participating in the Logos. Craig has also been writing on this theme recently.


Father Ron Smith said...

As for me, I'm all for an omniscient God! This, despite the fact that I also believe God has given us free will. It is just that, if God is outside of time and space, God also could have unlimited knowledge of what is contained therein - from alpha to omega. That's the sort of God who holds the world together - not by force, but by love.

Anonymous said...

The orthodox catholic faith, as elaborated by John of Damascus in the face of the radically reductionist view of God promulgated by Islam, never contrasts, priotitizes or privileges one of God's attributes or perfections over the others. Perfect power, love, holiness and righteousness are inseparable in the being of God, otherwise one or more 'perfection' would not be perfect, and God would not be God. You would likely have instead some version of Islam, whether mystical (Sufism) or rationalistic (Wahhabism).
What distinguishes biblical theism from the finest natural conceptions of deity (the Platonic and Aristotelian notions of God) is that the latter lack some of the perfections or the sole possession of them. Augustine was (excessively?) indebted to Neo-Platonism in formulating his doctrine of God but the biblical material also required him to be a critic of the philosophy. That God is light and God is love are the twin emphases of the Apostle John.


Glen Young said...

I would agree with you Grammaticus ,that to create an imge of God which only looks at selected attribues of His full Nature and Character;amounts to false imaging.Therefore while it is abundantly clear from Scripture that God's Love is a primary attribute of His nature,it is also abundantly clear from Scripture that He has many other glorious attributes to His nature.These other attributes are not lesser.God is infinitely perfect and pure through all His attributes.God has no inner conflict over the attributes that comprise His Being.God expresses Himself through a totally of integrated and harmonios series of glorious attributes.

Father Ron Smith said...

What, Glen, could be a more 'glorious' attribute than unconditional Love? It has been sdid that: Everything of loving contains something of God! ' "And perfect Love is this....."

Anonymous said...

Love, as Augustine eventually came to see, through Cicero's 'Hortensius', Plotinus's 'Enneads and most importantly Ambrose's sermons, needs to be rightly ordered to its highest end (the leitmotif of 'The City of God'). It is not true to the Bible or the history of Christian doctrine elaborated by the Catholic Church that God's love is 'unconditional'. The Scriptures make it abundantly clear that God hates evil and sin, and I can find no warrant in the words of Christ that God "goes on loving" (impotently?) those who wilfully and impenitently reject His ways. Milton's Satan says: 'Evil, be thou my good!' How does this square with what we know of God through Christ, who said, 'Fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell'?


Bryden Black said...

While I can only agree with you below re love's true ordering ala Augustine's City of God, my own views on his seeming indebtedness to Neo-Platonism has had to be modified via Lewis Ayres' work, most recently Augustine and the Trinity (2010). Enjoy!

Jean said...

Hi Glen, I cannot but agree with you comments about the health system you worked within being more insane than the patients. Perhaps now you are no longer there you could be a good advocate for change!


Jean said...

Hi Peter

"We do not know what God does not know....(true it is our knowledge that is limited not God's).

Simpler not to speculate?"

Is it all unfounded speculation....

Did Jesus know the rooster would cry three times before Peter betrayed Him? Or that "I will destroy this temple and rebuild it in three days" ... would actually come to pass.

Knowing what you will eat for breakfast tomorrow appears a little simpler?

"He determines and counts the number of stars; He calls them all by their names.
Great is our Lord of great power; His understanding is inexhaustible and boundless." Ps 147

Blessings Jean

Glen Young said...

Hi Peter,
I seek your indulgence to repeat here what I have said on one of your other sites recently in response to Ron's statement.
I agree with Grammaticus about God's attributes. Besides His Love, Grace, Mercy, and Gentleness; He also manifests Righteous Hatred, Righteous Anger, Righteous Vengeance, Righteous Judgement, Righteous Justice,and Righteous Punishment, etc.
To create an image of God which only looks at the "seemingly nice" attributes of God such as love, gentleness, tenderheartedness, compassion, etc. and ignores, suppresses or leaves out all the other important attributes of His full nature, is to fall into falsely imaging God, which is idolatory.

"...Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God....."

Jean said...

I have to side with Ron on unconditional love. Albeit I do not believe unconditional love rules out the other attributes alluded to above.

In my understanding love is not an attribute of God it is the essence of His very being, 'God is Love'. The unconditional love we receive is given through Jesus, 'God by Jesus Christ will judge men'.

This does not mean all man's actions are approved of by God or evil does not exist. Does a mother who loves her son stop loving him when he goes to jail? Can she consider his actions evil and disapprove and yet still love?

As for the individual themselves I believe in His love God gave us free will and with the popular saying the 'gates of hell are locked from the inside'. It is us who choose to not believe and abide in Christ who saves not God who stops loving us.

"39....nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Blessings Jean

Glen Young said...

There is a habit amongst those who follow Jesus the man which Dr. Hort refers to as "Jesus Worship" - a perverted and sentimental devotion to our Lord, not as the revelation of His Father and not at one with Him, but as a tender and not too exacting saviour who will be a refuge from the Father's Holiness and Justice.
(Hort, Life and Letters Vol. 2 pg 49).

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Jean
Even the Son of Man knows neither the day nor the hour :)

Jean said...

Hi Michael

Finally I return to our former discussion in this post after a little consideration of the relationship between science and religion.

You prompted me to research a little of the evolving history of science and it's relationship with religion.

In doing so I have come to a few conclusions:

Science originated from philosophy which held sway over popular cultures view of the universe.

The Roman Catholic Church at the time gleaned a lot of it's understanding of it's worldview from Aristotle who was not a Christian and the church made perhaps an easily made but dangerous error of fitting scripture to justify a theory. Alongside the fact that the church held political power and so was able to enforce popular opinions.

Copernicus who first proposed the earth moving around the sun concept had scientific and religious opponents. Although his theory was allowed by the powers that be so long as the boat wasn't rocked too much.

Galileo believed in God, however, his religious and scientific thought was founded primarily on scientific methodology taken from Copernicus and alongside this Augustine's biblical scholarship as opposed to Aristotle's philosophical worldview.. "infinite thanks to God for being so kind as to make me alone the first observer of marvels kept hidden in obscurity for all previous centuries." (Galileo)

So one must remember: this was primarily a battle between a change in a worldview which challenged previously held thoughts in religion and science. Acknowledging the Roman Catholic Church didn't help matters perhaps they should have employed Augustine as a consultant.

So it seems a pity such an event in history has led for some to separate religious belief from science. Perhaps one day we and hopefully you too will not see them as so mutually exclusive, and that indeed parts of the bible are literal if read in context, others by their literary form were never meant to be.

Blessings Jean

Jean said...

Huh. True Peter but does God? Or are they one in the same? Another debate : ) jean

Glen Young said...

Ron,I agree with Grammaticus that 'unconditional love' is not Scriptual.It would be hard to imagine anything more unglorious.Surely it negate all of God's Mercy and Justice.It is a distortion of God's Love and Grace to believe that Christ's death and resurrection justifies the sinner's sin as well as the sinner.
Jean,Thankyou for your thoghts on the " health system".I tried for 20 years to motivate change but they were more resistant than the liberal revisichand verbsionists in the ACANZP.

Glen Young said...

"UNCONDITIONAL LOVE" Love with no conditions attached.Jesus said to the woman brought before Him:"neither do I condemn thee:go and sin no more".John 8/11.The place where Christ meets us is unconditional buit that love ,at that precise moment, does not justify or sanctify us.It is not the Love of God which the disciple lives in and by.Unconditional love, as a law or principle for life merely leads to libertinism.

Jean said...

Truly Glen although I dislike getting into a scriptural quoting discussion:

9Therefore, since we are now justified ([B]acquitted, made righteous, and brought into right relationship with God) by Christ’s blood, how much more [certain is it that] we shall be saved by Him from the indignation and wrath of God.

10For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, it is much more [certain], now that we are reconciled, that we shall be saved (daily delivered from sin’s dominion) through His [[C]resurrection] life.

Romans 5:10 (AMP)
Romans 5:9 (AMP)

This is the love I long to live in and by.

As for a theory devoid of moral restraints (libertinism), although it may seem contraditctory - which a lot of truth does - unconditional love leads to a greater desire to not sin not the reverse. As seen in the life of Paul the 'greatest of all sinners'. And wasn't it Peter who denied Christ who became the rock on who God built His church?

Unconditional love transforms a life.

Blessings Jean

Anonymous said...

"Even the Son of Man knows neither the day nor the hour :)"

Shall I take the emoticon as an ironic disclaimer? The knowledge of the Incarnate Son in his 'status humilitationis' is one thing; in his exalted state, another. Anyway, as Jean notes, the Father in heaven certainly knew, and so does the Son in heaven.

As for 'unconditional love', the phrase is nowhere found in Scripture. All our knowledge of God is grounded either in right reasoning (natural theology, if this is possible - and I think it is - Barth over-egged the pudding here) or revelation (God's self-communication to us). Natural theology at best can tell us only something about the power and rationality of God but not His love. For the meaning of the latter, we have to look to the words of our Lord and His Apostles. Otherwise we are guilty of idolatry.


Jean said...

Point taken Grammaticus. However, I would argue Love (as used in scripture) is by nature unconditional. Can love actually be conditional and be true love?

"I have loved you with an everlasting love...'

Blessings, Jean

Peter Carrell said...

Neither, Grammaticus, is the word 'Trinity' found in Scripture but it seems proper and appropriate to use it.

Is the love with which God loved the world according to John 3:16 unconditional or conditional?

Is there a condition attached to declaring that 'God is love'? Or is it true without conditions?

When the Fathe ran to meet the prodigal son were conditions attached to the outpouring of his love?

Did the good Samaritan check whether the beaten man qualified for his love?

Michael Primrose said...

Hi Jean,

You might be interested in listening to the following debate on “Science and Faith - Is it possible to reconcile faith and science - particularly when talking about the origin of the universe?”. The two debaters are Marcus Chown and Francis Spufford on the ABC Big Ideas series.

The program can be found at


and the Podcast can be downloaded at


Hopefully, you will find it stimulating

Michael Primrose, Christchurch

Glen Young said...

The word Trinity was used by the Church Fathers to express a particular theological idea.
The King James at John 3:16 reads:"For God so loved the world,that He gave His only begotten Son,that whoever believeth in Him should not perish,but have everlasting life".Would you not agree that His love here is conditioned by believing in Him?Is not His love conditional on repentance? Does this unconditional love flow on as a river of forgiveness, washing the unrepenant sinner clean on Jugement Day?
Bonhoeffer writes on this at length in 'The Cost of Discipleship'where he refers to 'cheap grace'.It is obvious that we need to covered by an amazing love because of our very natures.John Newton [Amazing Grace] said words to the effect:"He must be a great God because I am a great sinner".

Tobias Haller said...

What a long and wide-ranging thread! Let me just address the two points made above by Grammaticus. 1) He commits the "etymological error" of suggesting that a word's meaning is limited by its origins. I am of course completely aware, as a student of Medieval French (though very long ago!), that the English "marriage" has roots in the Latin and French words for husband. But that does not mean that the word "marriage" can only be applied to the marriage of a man and a woman. The word "marriage" has long been applied, as the dictionary tells us, to many other forms of "joining" or "union" -- including uses in fields having nothing to do with human weddings. Shakespeare famously, and wryly (with a nod to "traditional marriage") wrote of not admitting "impediments" to the "marriage of true minds."

2) He appears to misunderstand the relevance of Aharei Mot to my argument. It demonstrates exactly what I claim contra Wright: that it is possible, in Hebrew, to use the same word normally used to describe "traditional marriage" to describe "untraditional marriages." Ironical or not, that is the use of a word to express an idea -- and that is the essence of what language is all about.

My issue with Wright's "binaries" are that they are not all of a "complementary" sort -- as usual he is trying to read too much into the text. "Male and female" are not really like "Sun and moon" or "sea and dry land" or "night and day." As noted above, male and female join to bring new life. Sea invading dry land is the means by which God chooses to end it! A reading better informed by Jewish tradition would see the "divisions" of sea and land, light and dark, and so on as standing in contrast with the "union" of male and female, and make a note about the notion of Havdalah. But Wright is trying to prove a point, so he attempts to group together notions which really belong in separate categories.

Peter, I saw one of your colleagues, Jacyinthia Murphy, a little over a week ago. A delightful woman with a wonderful sense of humor and life!

Blessings and joy to all.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Glen
There are conditions to receiving God's love but no conditions to God, who is love, being loving and acting in love.

God so loved the world that whether or not anyone would believe in his Son (receive God's love), God yet sent the Son in order to save the world.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Tobias
Kiwis fly everywhere!

Anonymous said...

Tobias Haller has misunderstood what I wrote.
1. I did *not* commit the 'etymological error' of saying a word is restricted to its original meaning. I am perfectly aware that 'words change their meaning over time', or rather that old words are pressed into different service by later users. Anyone reading Yeats' 'Lapis Lazuli' thinking its description of 'poets who are always gay' had anything to do homosexuality would be completely misunderstanding it. So too would those who read back modern notions of 'marriage' into old texts. That's the elementary blunder of eisegesis. The NT meaning of 'ho gamos' is contextually determined.
2. Tobias Haller should engage with what I wrote above about the nature of marriage as defined by our Lord Jesus Christ: 'For this reason a man shall leave ....'; as well as the authoritative statements made about marriage by the Lord's Apostles. As a Christian leader and preacher, I am not really interested in the humanistic arrangements that may be devised by post-Christian societies - as well as those who use 'traditional' language but mean something quite different.
3. I also stated that it is possible to express all kinds of ideas *linguistically which are *ontological nonsense. 'I have drawn a square circle' is something one can write in all kinds of languages, Hebrew included, but it doesn't refer to anything that actually exists; that's the error of reification, imagining that something that can be expressed in words can also exist in reality. Caligula made his horse a senator; was the nag *really a senator because a legal power said so? Or consider the situation in 1 Cor 5.1: the man who had taken 'hoste gunaika' the wife of his father; i.e. he was living in sexual, supposed marital relationship with her. Whether on not this was "legal" in Corinth (as a vast variety of sexual conduct was) is of no matter; for Paul this was NOT a marriage but 'porneia'.
In the end, suggestive literary 'binaries' in Genesis are not decisive one way or the other it comes down to what Jesus the Lord of the Church says about marriage, and this is what Tobias Haller really should engage with.


Anonymous said...

"There are conditions to receiving God's love but no conditions to God, who is love, being loving and acting in love"

Then does God love Satan?
And if so, is that love salvific or ineffectual?

These are seriously meant questions.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Grammaticus,
God is love does not mean God is love except when Satan is around.

The question is better posed as, Is Satan capable of receiving God's love?

Tobias Haller said...

Well, I will take Grammaticus' word for it that I misunderstood him (I assume the gender, and apologize if mistaken). But it also seems he is asking for answers to questions somewhat removed from what NT Wright claimed, and to which I made a response.

Perhaps Grammaticus misunderstood me as well. I did not claim that "marriage" has _not_ always meant "a union of a man and woman" but that it has also always been used to describe other unions or joinings; sometimes this is by way of figure or analogy to male-female marriage; at other times in contexts far removed from connubial situations. I have demonstrated that the words used in Hebrew that are commonly translated as forms of "marry" in English have a similar range, including, in at least one instance, to refer to same-sex couples.

As I noted in the article to which Peter referred, usage determines meaning. Wright seemed to me to be holding out for a kind of lexical absolutism in which words cannot be changed. Grammaticus appears to agree with me that Wright is mistaken in that regard. If Wright wants to argue that same-sex couples cannot (or should not) marry, that is quite another argument. He is simply mistaken on the linguistic one. I believe he is also mistaken on the "binaries" issue, for the reasons I've laid out.

As to the other matters about which Grammaticus wrote, I've conversed here and elsewhere, and written extensively on them. Suffice it here to say that I do not regard our Lord's comments on remarriage after divorce or its status in the life of the resurrection, or Paul's comments on marriage in the Corinthian correspondence, or on married life in Ephesians, to be exhaustive of the subject. Neither Jesus nor Paul, it seems to me, is addressing marriage in a definitive or definitional way, but rather engaging in a somewhat rabbinic style with particular legal and moral matters surrounding marriage and married life.

Jean said...

Thanks for the link Michael.

Hi Glen

I believe God loves all those he created whether or not they believe in His son. As He said to my Buddhist friend after his conversion, "I have waited for you for 30 years I am not going to let you go now."

He can only save those who choose to believe in His love for them through the Son he gave to save them. Love is the one thing no one can force another to do, or else it is not love.

If one needs to fixate on conditional, the condition of belief in the love of God through Christ relates to receiving eternal life and a relationship with God, it does not mean God stops loving the people who don't. Actually doesn't he compel us to everything we can to reach them? Isn't His desire for them to know exactly how much He loves them?

Grammaticus. Did God love Satan, well I hope so since he was formely an Angel. Ineffectual since Satan rejected that love. And I am not entirely sure how salvation applies to Angels.

Anonymous said...

"The question is better posed as, Is Satan capable of receiving God's love?"

That's petitio principii, if you mean 'God loves Satan but Satan cannot (or will not) receive that love."

Is that what you mean, Peter?
I think my question 'Does God love Satan?' is quite a fair one and worthy of consideration.

Of course, I know that theological liberals don't believe this is a real question, because they don't Satan personally exists and so Satan is really an idea to be demythologized, but suspect you think differently.


Father Ron Smith said...

I've just come back to this threas and noticed this howler; by Glen:

"It is a distortion of God's Love and Grace to believe that Christ's death and resurrection justifies the sinner's sin as well as the sinner.'

I think Jean's subsequent remark covers the subject of intentional justification. If that is not enough, perhaps an informed understanding of the story of the Publican and the Sinner might help - with the words of Jesus: "Who, then, went away justified?". It certainly wasn't Goody 2 Shoes!

As Peter has already said: "God loved the world so much....."
The bias, n.b., was towards love not hatred. And that is at the very meaning of the world Gospel - Good News. Not Bad!

There are too many Bad News advocates in God's world. We need more propagators of the Gospel.
No wonder Jesus had such a hard time with the pharisees of his day! His reward? Crucifixion!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Grammaticus
Yes, your question is a worthy one.
My answer is that God loves Satan because God cannot not love that God has created. Thence my point that the better question is whether Satan can receive that love.
But I think Jean's point is fair too: can angels be saved?
I know not the answer to that question.

Glen Young said...

Hi peter,
That 'God is love' does not equate to 'love is god'.From recollection,the Jewish Nation ran into this issue with the 'Law'.It would appear that this is not the first time this issue has been debated.Dr Hort saw the ease, with which it is possible, to slip into the error of seeing God's Love as the absolute panacea of life at the expence of His Total Attributes.Yes ,Satan is capable of recieving God's, but the question is will he? Is God's Love of any value to those who reject it? With the word'unconditional',are prehaps trying to define the undefineable.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron at 10.16 am
I am only just publishing your comment. I think you are having a 'go' at Glen which is not on.
His comment is quite fair re justifying the sinner and not the sin and your response does not actually deny that!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Glen
I don't think talk of 'unconditional love' need occasion any great difficulty in understanding what it is: it is the love of God which comes to us without conditions in the same way as the love of the Waiting Father for the Prodigal Son, as the love of the Good Samaritan for a beaten up Sworn Enemy (Jew), as the love of Jesus on the cross as he forgave his executioners for they knew not what they did, as the love of God for Israel/Judah which blessed the remnant and did not let the nation be completely destroyed, as the love of Jesus for the woman caught in adultery whom he freed from her would be executioners not knowing whether she would or would not sin (in that way) again ... there is nothing difficult to grasp here is there?

Michael Primrose said...

Hi Peter,

Whilst like Alice’s White Queen I am quite prepared at times to believe six impossible things before breakfast, now, in the bright light of morning, I do think that a discussion, on the physical, or personal existence of Satan, would be asking us to stretch our collective credulity a trifle far.

This debate has shown that there are too many people around, who, given half the chance, won’t be satisfied until they have a few witches to burn. However, raising Satan to reality is, I would suggest, only going to fuel their obsessions.

Michael Primrose, Christchurch

Glen Young said...

Hi Peter
Do not dispute any of what you say about God's Love.
However,there is always the lurking danger of the liberal theology which teaches that God loves me just as I am, and there is no need to change.To me,the expression 'unconditional love'is loaded secular terminology; which was at the forefront of all our humanistic self esteem building ideology."you are okay,I'm okay,we are all okay".
Anyone who does not think that this theme is being promoted in parts of the ACANZP needs to read the June 2012 edition of 'The Anglican'published by the Auck Dio.In this article a lesbian says,"God didn't just make me the way I am;God thinks the way I am is awesome".Hello Episcopalin Church USA.here we come.

Anonymous said...

‘My answer is that God loves Satan because God cannot not love that God has created’. – Peter C

Peter, could you elaborate/unpack:

How do you know that?
Does God love evil?
When you read about God’s wrath, hatred, judgement, rejection, punishment and destruction … what do you think?


Peter Carrell said...

HI Katie
IN saying that, I am thinking of Satan as a fallen angel, one of God's creatures, a personal being, according to the beginning of Job, with whom God can work.

However the 'who' and 'what' of Satan/devil/Belezebub is tricky to work out within 'this dispensation.' There is an approach which would see Satan as a kind of 'sum of all evil' or a personification of evil and all its dastardly, dark power. Against that, God's love (for us, as those who suffer oppression and slavery) becomes wrath and judgment in the battle to destroy evil.

In respect of us and the experience of God's wrath and judgment, I believe God's love is expressed in a just manner. My sin is my contribution to the lessening of love and goodness in your life - why should such injustice not receive just response from God? Cue explanation of justification/mercy/atonement/the cross!

Bryden Black said...

"Neither Jesus nor Paul, it seems to me, is addressing marriage in a definitive or definitional way, but rather engaging in a somewhat rabbinic style with particular legal and moral matters surrounding marriage and married life." TSH

Thank you Tobias for stating your position so clearly. I have to say, it seems to me, a classic expression of the liberal position generally. What I mean is this.

Some schools of hermeneutics set out the situation by speaking of three worlds: the world behind the text, the world of the text, and the world in front of the text. In either Mark 10 or Matthew 19, we may have in the first instance debate regarding divorce ala the scribes or rabbis; but Jesus homes in very quickly on the primordial texts which define marriage, from which he deduces what could be called a legal conclusion. But such a conclusion requires just such a premise from which to operate, from which to draw.

My own hermeneutical conclusions. The world behind the texts of Mark and Matthew might suggest a certain initial rabbinical colouring. But the text itself is very clear: marriage gains its definition by Jesus himself acknowledging the primordial texts of Gen 1 & 2, which overthrow any Mosaic provision. Similarly, Jesus' granting the woman capacity to divorce and/or be unfaithful establishes her equal status within the marital reality, overthrowing the world behind the text, where men were fully calling the shots, returns us to that primordial textual world.

The hermeneutical crux and the point of division between countless Anglicans (& others) is whether the world in front of the text overthrows the text itself. For again and again in countless debates I've had (including those with you) it is precisely our own horizon's centre of gravity (read: our experience & understanding) that is allowed to outweigh the text's weight itself, thus effectively silencing its due authority. In this way, our world becomes the authoritative voice, as we manipulate by whatever means the text itself onto the margins.

Once more, with Paul, we are in fact "most to be pitied".

Father Ron Smith said...

"However,there is always the lurking danger of the liberal theology which teaches that God loves me just as I am, and there is no need to change.To me,the expression 'unconditional love'is loaded secular terminology; which was at the forefront of all our humanistic self esteem building ideology."you are okay,I'm okay,we are all okay".
- Glen -

Dear Glen. and herein is one of the most subtle temptations to be encountered in the supposed propagation of the Gospel.

God cannot be likened to humankind in virtue. The only human being who is 'like unto God' in every respect is His Son, Jesus. He is proof definitive of God's great love for us all - quasi-saint or sinner.

When Scripture says, of God, "My ways are not your ways", this means that we can hardly conceive of the absolite love with which God regards his human creation, as our P.B. has it: "In darkness and in light, in sorrow and in joy", God knows everything about us and loves us, with an everlasting love.

As Peter has already explained, we need to remember that the scriptural Satan was once an Angel of Light. Does God still love Him?
"God hatest nothing that God has made".

n.b. Not all of God's provenance is found in the words of the Book. God's Word has become flesh - and "dwells among us". (eucharistic)

Oh love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in Thee.
I give Thee back the life I owe -
That life may fuller, fairer, be!

Jean said...

Michael I guess you would not find it surprising that I believe Satan is real, smile. Although I do agree discussions on this post debating his relationship to God seem to defer a little from constructive dialogue....

Glen I can understand the frustration of words becoming 'loaded' and applied in ways contrary to their intent. I would though hold fast to the nature of (unconditional) love being associated with Jesus, rather than succumb to referring to it as secular.

The 'anything goes or is acceptable' attitude is not one born of love. If I have a friend who is obviously beating his wife, out of love for him (and her) I am going to disagree with that behaviour and do what is in my power to stop it from happening. The point I wish to make though is that in doing so I am doing it out of love. I think secular and christian people can confuse love with approval of all things.

What I find a difficult concept to convey to people mostly outside the church is the statements/instructions/teachings of Jesus are born out of God's love for us.

Why does God hate divorce? Not because he hates divorcees but because he knows the damage and heartache divorce can cause to all involved.

Why does he warn us against 'gaining the whole world but forfeiting our soul'? Because He knows nothing we can gain in this world comes close to the worth of our own life.

Blessings Jean

Tobias Haller said...

Bryden, thanks for your measured response (except, perhaps the last line ;-)...

However, we've been round this path a few times before and I do understand, but disagree with, your position: that Gen 1 and 2 offer a limiting "definition" rather than 2 different descriptions that are not congruent in significant detail when it comes to the issue of marriage.

This is indeed a hermeneutical issue, and the first charge, it seems to me, is not to deal with the "worlds" before or behind the text, but with the text itself. And neither of the Genesis accounts appear to me to offer a clear "definition" of marriage.

Taking a canonical approach, what Jesus derives from these texts is that marriage is indissoluble (except by death). Going beyond that to make broader claims such as you appear to be making, seems to me to be exactly and example of tilting it in favor of your own preferred "center of gravity." If you and others were mounting a campaign against remarriage after divorce -- the actual substance of Jesus' teaching in this case -- I would not raise an eyebrow.

Thanks again, to Peter for his hospitality.

Anonymous said...

"Neither Jesus nor Paul, it seems to me, is addressing marriage in a definitive or definitional way, but rather engaging in a somewhat rabbinic style with particular legal and moral matters surrounding marriage and married life." - Tobias Haller

In other words, neither the words of God Incarnate nor his chosen Apostle ('We have the mind of Christ) have anything definitive to teach us about 'marriage'. Nothing could be more contrary to the ways of Catholic Christianity.

"My own hermeneutical conclusions. The world behind the texts of Mark and Matthew might suggest a certain initial rabbinical colouring. But the text itself is very clear: marriage gains its definition by Jesus himself acknowledging the primordial texts of Gen 1 & 2, which overthrow any Mosaic provision. Similarly, Jesus' granting the woman capacity to divorce and/or be unfaithful establishes her equal status within the marital reality, overthrowing the world behind the text, where men were fully calling the shots, returns us to that primordial textual world." - Bryden Black

This is pretty much correct. *Every* word of Christ has its 'local colouring' - Roman Judea, Galilee and Samaria in the early 30s; controversy with Pharisee opponents etc - but it's a fundamental mistake in reading to see only the immediate context and miss the profound theological and *Dominical* content. 'It was not so from the beginning ... For this reason a man shall leave his parents and cleave to his wife and the two become one flesh.' Jesus was not first of all speaking as a rabbi but as the Son of God ('But *I say to you ...'); and Paul spoke and wrote first as his Apostle.
Liberal or 'progressive theology' marginalises the words of Christ to deal instead with protean abstractions. And is this not the very definition of 'progressivism'? The horizon always lies ahead of us; there is no finality of revelation, only 'forward movement' to the horizon, discarding previous 'conclusions' as only staging posts. In other words, romantic Hegelianism, not catholic Christianity.


Tobias Haller said...

I penned a brief response to Bryden which appears to have been lost in the ether. Briefly, then, and this responds to Grammaticus as well, the issue is not a disrespect for the words of Jesus of Paul, but rather a very strong respect for them, and that we not apply a hermeneutic that reads too much from our own perspective (or "horizon").

To take G's point in particular: Catholic Christianity took the words of Jesus alluded to above in the sense in which he undoubtedly meant them: as a strong reasoning against divorce, and even stronger against remarriage after divorce. That does indeed tell us something about his view of marriage, namely that it is indissoluble except by death. This is consistent with the Apostle's teaching as well.

The problem we are now facing is that people such as Bryden and Grammaticus are attempting to read Jesus' teaching on divorce (as understood in the Catholic Tradition) as really being about a different issue altogether -- an alleged limit on who may enter marriage, not about its termination.

I do believe that Jesus, and Paul, give us guidance on this subject, but not in the texts cited here. It has nothing to do with Hegel, by the way.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Tobias
If Catholic Christianity on the question of who may enter a marriage is not reading from Genesis or from Jesus' words based on Genesis, then I sure would like to know where you think Catholic Christianity derives its answer from Scripture!

Tobias Haller said...

Peter, the point is that "Catholic Christianity" has not spoken on the question in large part because the question didn't arise. Some might say that was simply because it was "out of the question." But I know of no patristic or classical reflection on the subject of who may marry other than those concerning the issues that were topical in the times in which they were written. For example, there is significant debate and discussion (and a conclusion thereto) in the patristic era that a Christian may not marry a non-Christian (based on Paul's teaching) and that a divorced person cannot remarry (based on Jesus' teaching). There are also opinions that held sway for a time, but not with "catholic" universality, that widowers should not remarry, or that couples who went past the age of childbearing should cease from carnal contact, and that those past childbearing should not marry.

We now have a new "topic" to address. Asserting that Genesis 1-2 places an absolute and intentional limit on who may marry is one way to read the text. But it is not a way in which the text has been read. And it may be read in other ways: you and I have discussed several of them from the scholastic era, such as Aquinas' wiggle around God's command to the male and female t "be fruitful and multiply" as applying to the species as a whole, rather than to each individual. (I've suggested this wiggle also might apply in our present circumstance.)

There is an old saying that to every complex problem there are answers that are clear, simple and wrong. That is the hermeneutical dilemma we find ourselves in as we seek to discern from texts which give no direct answer to questions they were not asked.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Tobias
I think we are agreed that we do not want to run around the circle of argument, again!, re understanding the Bible in some kind of 'general terms' re these matters.

But on the question of 'Catholic Christianity' I suggest you are offering a tendentious reading of the tradition. In both its Roman and Eastern forms that tradition has spoken clearly about marriage being confined to men and women and clearly spoken against the possibility of God's blessing being invoked on a union between two men or two women. In doing so, the Roman tradition via its Cathechism invokes texts from Genesis in order to support its statements.

To suggest that if the specific question of 'May two men marry?' were directly addressed by, say, the Catechism, it would offer some kind of other reading of, or even ignore Genesis is tendentious.

My point: how about declaring that it is not 'catholic Christianity' which could be brought into line with your views? More honest, without tendentiousness would be say, 'This is a liberal, progressive Christianity at work in the reading I am offering.'

Tobias Haller said...

Peter, you have misunderstood me, and I you. By "Catholic Christianity" I was referring to the historic faith through the centuries -- not the relatively recent pronouncements by Roman Catholics.

ON the substance, I think they are reading into the text things that simply are not there. I do not think Genesis answers the question, "May two men marry." I would suggest that Leviticus offers an explicit answer, (concerning men) if one wants to understand it that way, but that is another matter.

There is no negative command in Gen 1, only the positive one to be fruitful and multiply. As I noted, Aquinas saw a way to reconcile that with Jesus (and Paul's) commendation of celibacy. But the command "men and women: multiply" does not automatically imply "ONLY men and women may marry" or "ONLY men and women capable of multiplying must marry and multiply" (though, as I note, there was a time when that view was held, locally, and not universally.)

If it makes you happy to label readings as "liberal or progressive" fine. I prefer "novel" as it is not tinged with political overtones, and appeals to me as a historian. In that sense, the current teaching of the Roman Catechism is a "novel" reading of Genesis. It is not the traditional reading. I confess that my readings may be equally novel, but only because, as I say, the question itself is novel. (As I say, a real "traditional" condemnation of [male] same-sex marriage would go back to Leviticus, not Genesis. Indeed I cited just such a traditional view in the essay that gave rise to this thread! (Aharei Mot on Leviticus 18:3.)

Antiquity does not prove an idea right, nor novelty that it is wrong, by the way. But it was the difference between antiquity and novelty I thought you were addressing in the word "catholic." Sorry for the misunderstanding.

Bryden Black said...

Thanks for your replies Tobias. I shall respond when down from the clouds and over jet lag ...

Peter Carrell said...

A novel understanding it is!

Bryden Black said...

If I venture, albeit briefly in summary form, down paths previous trodden, Tobias, it is to gain some perspective for the present thread (and its readers).

Naturally, being from the 20th and now 21st C, I view Gen 1 & 2 as being two different literary accounts - as opposed to say Origen’s view that Gen 1 speaks of human being as spiritual and rational - and just so is the “image and likeness” of the divine so viewed - and Gen 2 of humanity’s being also bodily and so changing and all that that entails (for classical Hellenism). But just as Jesus dares to bring these two accounts together, so do I follow suit. To sum up: I have revisited many a commentary since our last go at these texts and have had to conclude your view of the poetic parallelism of Gen 1:27 is in the minority - of 1! And so to repeat, what we have here is adam/the human found in the differentiated form of a male and a female, uniquely complementing each other, which together images the divine, fit for God’s purposes, vv.26-28. Then again in Gen 2, we have this singular nephesh/creature, adam, requiring a “companion/helpmeet, opposite him”, in order to be complete - “it is not good that man be alone”, again to fulfill the divine purpose, 2:15. Once more, there is ‘sameness’ - “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh” - as we have in the adam of Gen 1:26-28; yet there is also similarly differentiation - “opposite/corresponding to him”. [Not insignificantly, these previous conclusions were endorsed by the likes of Seitz and Radner a year ago.]

Now; it may be somewhat “novel” to apply these primordial texts to delineate/describe/define “marriage”. Yet Jesus himself needs just such a definition if only to highlight its breakdown when “tested” by his opponents with the initial trigger happening to be “divorce”. His climactic use of Gen 2:24 is telling! It is hardly a Jesuitical ‘convenience’; any argument needs its premise to be satisfactorily resolved.

Our contemporary ‘difficulties’ may not be similarly resolved however, when our own cultural assumptions are based on a form of morality where each individual determines his/her own identity according to each one’s own will. And this, BTW, is a complete departure from even a traditional depiction of the divine “image”, wherein ‘will/love’ is utterly integrated into the mind’s rational understanding (so e.g. Augustine). It’s not for nothing that Michael Hanby in Augustine and Modernity (Routledge, 2003) points the finger at Descartes and the Stoics for laying the foundations for this contemporary expression of an unbridled human will, ably summarized by Philip Turner as follows:

“Within a liberal social economy, the notion of moral agency gives particular significance to issues of sexual preference and sexual satisfaction, since such a society’s members think of themselves not as inhabitants of a pre-established moral order but as individuals who are utterly unique, as selves that have particular personal histories and needs, and as persons who have rights that allow them to express their individuality and pursue their personal well-being. For moral agents who think of themselves as individuals, selves, and persons, sexuality becomes, along with money, both a marker of identity and a primary way of expressing the preferences that define identity.”

As I am almost tired of saying, our present Anglican ‘dilemmas’ are essentially driven by the question of authority. For who is the Source/Author of human being, after all?!

Anonymous said...

Bryden remarks: "It’s not for nothing that Michael Hanby in Augustine and Modernity (Routledge, 2003) points the finger at Descartes and the Stoics for laying the foundations for this contemporary expression of an unbridled human will".

I am not sure why the Stoics are bracketed here with Descartes; their concept of cosmic order and logos accords pretty well with natural law (see Romans 2). But ever since my university days I've agreed with William Temple's bon mot that the most disastrous day in European history was when Descartes entered his stove-heated room with nothing but his own thoughts. His intention was the complete opposite, of course, but he provided no answer to individualism, solipsism or the problems of knowledge - though it must be said that the seeds he scattered didn't fully flower until the Triumph of the Will in Nietzsche - the father of post-modernism, where we create our own heroic morals. So, yes, I will happily agree with Tobias Haller's own designation of his theological views as 'novel' - where 'novel' denotes this is not what Jesus meant but could certainly fall under the description of 2 Timothy 4.3.
The Catholic faith is not a wax nose to be shaped however we will; it is first and always about listening with ever greater attentiveness to the given Word of Christ.


Peter Carrell said...

But, Grammaticus, if the Word of Christ is about marriage in the course of a word about divorce then we may only 'hear' the divorce part. :)

Glen Young said...

'Antiquity'does not prove an idea right,nor 'novelty'that it is wrong:Tobias.
[...Nothing is clearer than that the Church in the early days did not claim any powers of adding to the faith:'novelty was a sign of heresies.]Bicknell.
St.Vincent of Lerins stated:
"Ubique,semper,ab omnibus".
The issue appears to revolve around the authority put on the 'inspiration of Scripture'.
If the words of Matt.19 are seen as being spoken by'The Incarnate
Son of God';are they 'authoritive'
or not? These words were not just those of a 'good teacher'but the Pre-existent Logos,who through the Holy Spirit inspired both Gen.1&2.
In Matt.19,the Pharisees who came
'tempting'Him,with a question concerning divorce, got a lesson on the history of marriage as well.v8;right out of the mouth of Him who made Adam.He also states quite clearly that divorce was a permission and not a commandment.
It was permitted by Moses because of what might have happened to the woman,otherwise.The woman,who was God's gift to the man.
Rebellious man who had treated God's commandment [Gen 2:16&17] with contempt,now treated His prize gift with disdain.

Bryden Black said...

Thanks for the teaser Grammaticus! I'd only suggest you engage with Hanby; he convinces me at least. Though I suspect the "seeds of the Word" stuff re the Stoics is not that feature Hanby homes in on.

Father Ron Smith said...

".The woman,who was God's gift to the man.
Rebellious man who had treated God's commandment [Gen 2:16&17] with contempt,now treated His prize gift with disdain."

- 'St. Vincent'?, via Glen -

And, even, in some parts of The Church, women are still being 'treated with disdain' by patriarchal men! (Sydney Diocese and new ACNA Archbishop Beach).

Glen Young said...

Hi Ron,
Thanks for refreshing my failing memory, on where thart part of my thinking came from.
Perhaps there is a difference between treating woman with disdain;and recognising God created gender norms.One might argue, [philosophically of course],that, to not recgnise that difference, is an abuse of their God given natures.
Once when the question of male/female natures came up in a issue before the French Parliament,the whole Parliament rose to the Cheer,"Viva le difference".

Father Ron Smith said...

Fortunately, Glen; in the Christian ethic, it is what (or Whom) we have in common that is more important than any differences. That may be why Paul said: "In Christ........."

Glen Young said...

Hi Ron,
But is it a false commonality when we discard God's created norms?