Monday, January 30, 2023

Sacramental Actions?

 A few weeks ago, in a long stream of comments (here), some of which were about sacraments (and if you did not follow that discussion it is worth a look for several deep dive contributions into sacraments in Roman, Protestant/Anglican and Eastern Orthodox theologies), Mark raised the following questions with me after I had observed that in ACANZP we (officially) talk about two sacraments and certain other actions being "sacramental actions" (even though it is easy to hear Anglicans talking about "seven sacraments"):

"And, Peter, how come we need to invent other categories - "sacramental actions" - for rites that all my Anglican vicars so far have persisted in simply calling "sacraments". It's rather confusing and unnecessary, isn't it? A hangover of anti-Romanist identity formation?

The Anglican Church of North America (I think) delineates "Sacraments of the Gospel" from "Sacraments of the Church". If we want to emphasize which sacraments Jesus directly created (rather than simply participated in or inspired), that's a simpler, more sensible language than "sacramental actions", isn't it?

Wouldn't it improve our ecumenical relationships with the Catholics and Orthodox overnight if we made this simple acknowledgement?"

In response:

1. To get one issue out of the way: if the last remaining obstacle to unity with Catholics and/or Orthodox was that we Anglicans "conceded" on two becoming seven sacraments, then I wouldn't stand in the way ... save that, a lot of theology changes at that point, and my "concession" might be accompanied be deep reluctance etc! Conversely, I cannot recall ever hearing that it is Anglican stubbornness on the sacraments that is a vital blockage to unity.

2. The notion of seven sacraments is attractive numerically: seven is a perfect number, number of completion etc. But it obscures a simple fact in the development of these sacraments: there is no revelation in the early church's life that there are, or should be seven sacraments. Development was slow. I recall an eminent Catholic theologian, Denys Turner (in a lecture which I heard when in Cambridge in 2015, still noted at a link here) observing that marriage as a sacrament was finally agreed to by the church c. 1000 AD. Hardly a ringing endorsement for the notion that God willed marriage to be a sacrament whether from the beginning of creation or from the time of our Lord.

3. Thus there is a certain attractive honesty in the position of ACNA, two sacraments of the gospel and five sacraments of the church. But this approach begs two rather large questions. 

3.1. If a sacrament is an action of God, invisible grace through visible materials/actions, either a sacrament is a sacrament of the gospel (which is the announcement of God's grace towards humanity made visible in the person and work of Jesus Christ) or it is effectively a speculative guess of the church re when God acts (i.e. acts sacamentally, in some sense akin to baptism and eucharist) and when God does not. 

3.2. Why stop at seven when no revelation of God has specified seven as a limiting number? Why not, for instance, make the dedicating and consecrating of church buildings an eighth sacrament, noting that we envisage all kinds of gracious actions of God taking place in such buildings rather than elsewhere? Should Foot-washing be a ninth sacrament?

4. It is not "anti-Romanist" to question today whether there are in fact seven sacramental actions worthy of being deemed "sacraments." Sure, in the 16th century the power of the then understood sacraments was being abused and the Reformation was a reaction against that misuse of power, but the same reaction asked theological, not just ecclesio-political questions about the sacraments, and those theological questions (as I am noting above and below) remain lively rather than nostalgic. In the cold light of the gospel, what are sacraments which flow from the teaching of Jesus Christ? Answer, in summary: two, not seven.

5. Why then talk, in ACANZP at least, about "sacramental actions" (e.g. in the agreed catechism of our church, p. 934: Reconciliation of a Penitent, Anointing, Christian Marriage, Confirmation, Ordination)? I assume that this phrase arises because in a diverse church, at the time of settling the wording of the catechism found in NZPB, there will have been anglo-catholics arguing for seven "sacraments" and evangelicals arguing for two "dominical sacraments" and thus "sacramental actions" is a compromise which respects the historical and spiritual significance of the five actions in the list above but does not shift the historic, theological position of the Anglican church on the matter.

A potential strength of this position is that it leaves open possibilities for discussion about other actions which have sacramental aspects without needing to argue whether they are worthy of becoming (so to speak) the eighth, ninth and ... fifteenth sacraments. (My suspicion is that having reached the number of perfection, seven, there is little appetite for those who do hold that there are seven sacraments to add to their number).

6. If the strength of the phrase "sacramental action" is that it offers some sense of an action having sacramental character (and thus offers a compromise for Anglicans, as noted above), then the weakness is that it begs the question why an action with sacramental character is not, in fact, a sacrament! I am afraid shortage of time this week means I am not going to pursue this question in depth or detail.

7. That is, I think I am pretty happy with the concept of baptism and eucharist being dominical sacraments and then leaving open the possibility that there are more than five other ways and means through which God's grace comes to God's people (whether we wish to call these sacramental actions or sacraments). 

8. There are mysteries here (to deliberately invoke an Eastern Orthodox approach to what the West call "sacraments")) and debate about them can distract. Might we not better focus on the greatest sacrament of all, Jesus Christ, the visible embodiment of God's invisible grace? What of our written Scriptures, bound together as the Bible: is this not also a visible embodiment of God's invisible grace because through this physical book spiritual transformation is achieved? (One might think of Augustine's famous conversion ...)


Anonymous said...

Baptism and Communion induct the believer into Christ himself. East and West, no other actions do this.

(Interestingly, the gospels describe corporal *works of mercy* as being done to Jesus himself, but these expressions of his will have never appeared on Western lists of the sacraments.)

Fun Fact: Medieval counts of sacred actions ran as high as forty. That list included church consecrations, monastic tonsure and bell-ringing.

But why count in the first place? If an angel arrived with a scroll saying, "There are three sacraments, except on Tuesdays when there are five" what would that change?

The NT mentions other sacred acts in congregations that have been regarded here and there as somehow like the two-- reading scripture, preaching, penance, laying on of hands after baptism, laying on of hands for ministry, anointing of the sick. These occasional acts of Jewish origin are usually regarded as the visibility of the Holy Spirit's action.

Back to the forty, the case that consecration, tonsure or bell-ringing that in each case the act can be identified with the proper work of the Holy Spirit. And it could be good to count the ways simply to be aware of that divine work in the Body.

Why not marriage? Nobody doubts that sex is the act. That is not congregational. Nor does it remit sins, etc.

That said, the East absorbed and reinterpreted folk ceremonial (crowns, three circumambulations of the altar, etc) as an allegorical representation of Christ. A sacred action, but mimetic rather than sacramental. More please.

Some Catholics now call everything-- your cat, my breakfast toast-- a sacrament in the way a toddler might call an orange an apple. That's just idiolect, but it's becoming common. What's the motivation for it?

Three guesses.

The Enlightenment West had a notoriously skimpy understanding of the Holy Spirit. The postmodern Body is open again to premodern awareness of the Third Person, but is held back from acting on this well by vestigial rationalism and sluggish retrieval of trinitarian practice.

(Some people prefer the vestigial and sluggish to the integral and engaged. "Your God is much too small." "Er, no, I like it that way.")

When all you have is a hammer, every problem is a nail. So if the only permitted word for a material experience of God's grace is "sacrament" then yes my breakfast toast is a sacrament. What else can one call it? A blessing.

Finally, a desire to take every exhilarating experience captive in Christ has nowhere to take it when faith is just *sin management*. Calling them sacraments is a way of insisting that good feelings must have some place in this religion, even if liturgists cannot figure out where that should be.


Anonymous said...


Ambidexterity can be helpful.

Some Rohr more about sacramentality in nature. Others seek Latin masses and can be surly about anything not Tridentine. Their sympathies differ.

But both are trying to retrieve tradition from modern institutionalism.


Mark Murphy said...

This sounds very reasonable to me. I guess that's also my discomfort...

Without going to extremes....

Why is it that seven sacraments have such a place in our hearts, not just my idiosyncratic heart, but gains the assent of so many well trained, reflective Anglican clergy and laypeople, too?

Thinking also of Tom Holland refer to the "weirdness" (read Mystery) of Christianity, and what a shame if that were lost to (Christian/Anglican) reasonableness.

Does it matter if the Spirit reveals a sacrament in A.D. 1000 as opposed to AD 10 (provided it is clearly consistent with the life and ministry of Jesus, and is reached through prayerful reflection and discernment)? Isn't that sort of ongoing, revelation of the Spirit envisaged by Jesus, by scripture?

Sacraments belong to the Mystery of the Body of the Church. They weave us in, cradle to grave, into that body, that mysterious participation and unity. In other sorts of language, one might call this putting teeth to discipleship, sanctification.

Why seven rather than 40? Why these rather than those? Rational cases for and against miss the point.

I see the seven as symbolic of completeness and eternity - they say to me there are an infinite number of sacraments or sacramental actions (for God's grace in action has no limit), and these accompany and hold us physically and spiritually throughout our life on earth. But if we starting writing them all down, enumerating the heavens, we'd look like spiritual accountants rather than surrendered hearts.

Mark Murphy said...

What does it mean to think about sacraments *down under*? terms of our lived, Pakeha spiritual experience? terms of our dialogue with Maori, even with *matauranga Maori*?

In the last 10 years or so of his life, Reverend Maurice Manawaroa Gray, Anglican priest and Ngai Tahu kaumatua, began to share the immense body of knowledge he had received from his kaumatua and ancestors. It was lucky enough to attend several *wanaka* (and cups of tea) with him during this new teaching period.

He didn't talk about Christianity very much *publicly* on these wanaka - not because it was unimportant to him, but mainly, I think, because he believed in the rightness of presenting the (Banks Peninsula based) knowledge that he had received in its own right and integrity, first.

The one theological concept Maurice did drop in there, quite early on, that he began a wanaka with, was sacrament. For Maurice, I think, sacrament was both a cherished Christian *taonga* and also a dialogical bridge (much as some use 'covenant' to help us think more deeply about Te Tiriti).

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Mark
The seven sacraments bear scrutiny of a kind you appear reluctant to give!
Ordination (until comparatively recently, and then only in Protestant/Anglican churches) was exclusively male: no sacrament was developed/endorsed by the church for, say, women becoming nuns. Marriage did not also yield a sacrament for single people. And, the "sacrament of marriage" was not available to all who marry, even in the Catholic church: only to those couples who both enter into the fullness of Catholic life (so I understand).

That is, notwithstanding the number of completeness, the "seven sacraments" are something of a miscellany and do not cover all major aspects of life as experienced by both males and females.

Mark Murphy said...

Hi Peter,

I don't think that patriarchal restrictions on ordination, hetero-normative restrictions on marriage etc., invalidates the idea and practice of sacraments (as supporters of women's ordination and equal marriage make clear - otherwise, why the fuss?). Likewise, baptism and communion - communion especially! - don't stand up to the kind of scrutiny you are wanting to specially reserve for the 'the other five', And yet we don't downgrade the first two because of that.

I don't think we need to *individually* and *literally* receive all seven to feel complete as Christians. That would be quite an individualistic interpretation of something that at its core is about one collective Body.

Sacraments also have an important status in a symbolic, inward way - don't they? IMHO many have and may receive the grace and sacrament of ordination, likewise of marriage and confession etc., without literally having it conferred by the church. This inward, spiritual reception isn't without precedent in the Protestant tradition (c/f. reformed and Anglican/Book of Common Prayer notions of receiving the Lord's supper inwardly and spiritually instead of inwardly and physically at times).

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Mark
The two dominical sacraments are (in a certain sense) beyond scrutiny, given their dominical origination.

What you say about the other sacraments is -in my view - somewhat in agreement with what I am saying: that thinking about sacraments / sacramental actions beyond the dominical two is not helpfully limited by thinking there is a specific limited number and that number is seven.

Mark Murphy said...

"...the "seven sacraments" are something of a miscellany and do not cover all major aspects of life as experienced by both males and females."

1. Birth (physical and spiritual): baptism.
2. Feeding (ongoing spiritual nourishment): communion.
2. Adulthood (physical and spiritual): confirmation.
3. Metanoia/a process for catharsis, forgiveness, and reorientation: confession.
4. Faithful, commitment, life-long relationship: marriage
5. Illness: anointing of the sick.
5. Being set aside for special ministry beyond one's baptismal vows: holy orders.

Looks like they cover pretty significant existential, developmental, and spiritual territory to me, Peter. Sure, these are not the only rites of passage/significant life transitions we face, but it certainly covers some of the biggies.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Peter and Mark.

After a period of uncertainty, *sacrament* in say the 39A grounded the Body in acts of Christ. That done, they acknowledge that the Body can and does mark *conditions of life* with further material signs like confirmation, marriage, etc. A rooted yet still open system, which is just what we would expect of a movement that recalls the springtime of the faith.

A tool of catechesis, the list of seven is confusing about sacrament per se, but is almost a picture of the cycle of life as a soul experiences it in the late medieval Body. It bears comparison with the Hindu *asrama* or ages of the observant householder-- preparation in youth, work in marriage, contemplation in retirement, renunciation toward death. The Catholic list is less clearly rooted in acts of Christ and perhaps more closed, but answers tolerably well a universal question about the shape of life.

In practice, Anglicans have it both ways because the reformed, neo-patristic definition allows that. In subtly differing ways, the TEC and ACNA catechisms both make that point. Stepping back, it makes organic sense that in resetting to an earlier time, the English reformers conserved all of its later potentialities insofar as they are consistent with the apostolic witness.

In contrast, Catholics doubled down on the late medieval pattern to improve the practice of it. This too has been very fruitful. But today, they seem to disagree over precisely what that much-abused definition clarifies for us: what in the ocean of medieval and modern rubrics and canons is from God, what is valid paradosis, and what is merely "a tradition of men?"


Anonymous said...


If there are close readers of the foregoing comment, they may find it odd that it speaks so well of both the ancient church and the 39A that a definition of the latter is described as "reformed, neo-patristic." Is this an anachronism?

No, it's the 39A Anglicanism of Matthew Parker where many expect the 42A Anglicanism of Thomas Cranmer. Parker faced, and for most Anglicans authoritatively answered, the question of the Church of England's relation to the original undivided Body. And concretely, the fathers have had the prominence in Anglican ministerial studies that confessions (Book of Concord, Westminster Standards) have had in other magisterial Protestant churches. Hence Anglican evangelicals, for example, are far more likely to have read say Athanasius or the Cappadocians in ministerial training than evangelicals of other persuasions.

The anachronism is projecting the reforms of oh Edward VI or Cranmer's 42A into the later 39A to arrive at a fixed pattern for the ages from which all deviation is decadence. Obviously, the articles themselves were not fixed because they were changed. And the changes made were a step away from the trajectory of Beza on which the Reformed were fast advancing. They correlate with Parker's view that the CoE had settled into a shape in continuity with the Body in the first centuries. Anglicanism is the English way of what other Protestants have called paleo-orthodoxy.

To many conversations here, it is salient that a church in conscious continuity with the early Body has open possibilities ahead of it, just as a stem cell in the body is pluripotent, able to become any of the several kinds of cells that together make the living whole. So Parker's perception, ratified by the actual practice of Anglican churches, authorizes organic differentiation.

This is not at all to deny that John Jewel, Lancelot Andrewes, Richard Hooker, etc produced in their days a churchmanship worthy of emulation. By all means be George Herbert's Country Parson if you can do that where you are. But it is to insist that they did all of it in a dialogue with the past that should continue today.

If you desire uniformity in all things, Parker and the 39A are not your friends. And if, conversely, you have been hating the 39A all this time to win psychological permission for candles on altars, etc then you have been tricked into believing an anachronism.


Father Ron said...

Some of us crazy Anglo-Catholics believe - like the majority of Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians - that 'The WORD' (in the Bible) had to become Flesh in Jesus Christ BEFORE God was fully (sacramentally) revealed (via the Holy spirit) to a waiting world! That's why the Eucharist is so vitally important in our corporate worship. Christ is The Living Word, no longer buried in a series of books, no matter how 'holy'. "Christ IS The Way!"

But what do I actually know really - except in my own (purely spiritual) experience?

Mark Murphy said...

Sacraments as a training to receive God-in-the-world (1)

Thank you, gentlemen, for your focus on this subject, and for bringing an Anglican view of sacraments forward for my/our sustained consideration. As with everything in life, and everything on ADU, I’m making it up as I go along!

When push comes to shove, I find that the “great colossal claim” is ultimately most attractive:

“that the whole of life is sacramental, that there are innumerable ‘means of grace’ by which God is revealed and communicated – through nature and human fellowship and a thousand things that may become, ‘the outward and visible sign’ of an ‘inward and spiritual grace’” (A. Barratt Brown, The Quaker Book of Christian Experience).

Bowman has consistently argued that sacrament isn’t the only – or in his view the best – way of understanding this Spirit/matter, inward/outward, sign/grace mix-up. He might be right, but it is that which my whakapapa has given me (and of course many, many others – the majority of Christians, of Anglicans?).

I do believe that sacraments or sacramental actions develop spontaneously through the work of the Spirit, and that there is solid biblical, traditional, and experiential support for believing this way….

That one can receive the grace of marriage, yet not have it literally conferred by a church….that, as therapists and clients experience daily, we make acts of confession that mysteriously involve God, ourselves, and others, and that can be filled with the Spirit’s transforming power….

“When lo, on one never-to-be forgotten Sunday morning, I found myself one of a small company of worshipers, who were content to sit down together without words, that each one might feel after and draw near to the Divine Presence…a place of the most soul-subduing, faith-restoring, strengthening and peaceful communion, in feeding upon the bread of life…” (Caroline Stephen, 1890)

Perhaps some Quakers take this too far in saying that we only need inner experience and not external rites. The creative movement of the Spirit is of passionate involvement with matter, with the elements. But these rites need not be limited to the form of the seven (or two ‘dominical’) sacraments, or administered by an outward, visible church, however much this can perform an important function of spiritual safeguarding.

Perhaps we are all variously and inexplicably being drawn to a time (now, not yet) when “the law” is “within” us – written on our hearts – and we no longer have need of external teaching, guidance, or structures (Jeremiah 31: 31).

Mark Murphy said...

Sacraments as a training to receive God-in-the-world (2)

Then why do I defend the seven sacraments?

Partly because they provide us with a training for the soul, a grace and sensitivity to explore and receive further. They train us to be open, to receive in this way. They provide a concrete, publicly shared, lifelong gateway or series of gateways into a sacramental, grace-soaked universe.

Partly because as seven they symbolize an infinite horizon of possibility.

Partly, because they are part of the life-giving mystery of our tradition.

Partly because **Western moderns, including sacramentally-parsimonious Protestants, tend to disembody and intellectualize at the point of experiencing Spirit (and emotion!)**. Our services and Christian practices can become quite wordy, arid, dull – or pumped up, manic, which is another form of being ungrounded. (Contrast that with the experience of Māori tikanga and kawa/protocol and ritual).

I support the inclusion of ‘the other 5’ for the above reasons; because they are signs of the Body’s openness to the ongoing revelation of the Spirit (as Jesus promised), because they demonstrate our faith extending deeply into so-called profane or secular human life, because the medieval soul has great gifts and deserves a place at our table, and because they hold us publicly and corporately in moments of great need, of great existential despair or challenge.

Father Ron said...

I still remember - just to keep the matter of the Sacraments of the Church in perspective - the old hymn which looks forward to the time "When Sacraments shall cease"; that blessed time when we shall all be 'in the nearer Presence' of the God whom we now see dimly (sacramentally), but will then experience 'face to face'. (Personally, I can hardly wait) In the meantime, Sacraments are tools of the Church, 'works of mercy' we all need for spiritual sustenance and growth in grace

Anonymous said...

Whatever we call them, the same numbers of people will enact the same kinds of ceremonies with the same zeal or lack thereof. Some will be of the Church of England and others will be of the Order of the Golden Dawn and still others will be of Hindu temples. Also, those with no ceremony at all can still be married and those with elaborate ceremony can still be dead.

All that I have insisted is that a clear definition for the scholastic concept *sacrament* was eventually found. Using that definition, our speech is clear.

Not using it we are oh cultivating delectable doorknobs, battling angry bathtubs or racing fast wastepaper baskets down the street. As when every thought in business is "strategic," when every good feeling is "sacramental," a concept is disintegrating into puffery.

Some people like puffery; I despise it. If you want to fight about that, well, here, have some ice cream. It's fresh, made just this morning.

Nobody expects (scary chord) the Anglican Inquisition, whose chief weapons are surprise, superb sherry, and cozy libraries. But this may be a case for L'Academie Francaise.


Mark's allusion to Quaker mystics points down one of a few more alluring and important paths.

When by the spiritual sense we are aware of an affiliation with other creatures, anything material in that relation is sensed as a sign of it. So in that way, we have a spiritual recognition of material things.

To Mark's Quakers-- but also Liz's Plymouth Brethren-- a meeting house is emphatically not a sacrament. But as their fellowship in the spiritual sense uses it as a physical means, they have at least a sentimental attachment to it.

That would not seem strange to a parish altar guild. Nor would it have seemed strange to that Byzantine monk who thought bell-ringing was a sacrament. It's plainly not a sacrament, but, unless we deny that we have a spiritual sense, it is something.

If you have browsed the books in cozy Inquisition libraries, you've probably read about that something in the genre that now leads devotional writing in English. Booksellers usually call it nature writing, but writers like Annie Dillard, Barbara Kingsolver, and Belden Lane say things that a naturalist might not understand but that St Ephraim of Edessa probably would.

Mark may have encountered that something in an unexpected even secret venue-- unchurched, usually atheist, psychoanalysts. The late Dan Merkur discovered that several of the psychoanalysts influential in the last century were not only mystics, but mystics with a vivid awareness of their unity with the natural world.

What is this something? Cheerfully dogmatic as I am, my first guess is that it is awareness now of the relations in Christ that creatures will have in the New Jerusalem.


Mark Murphy said...

Gladly sign up to the 39A for a fine sherry in a cozy library.


Sacramentally or otherwise, our relationship to the material world might be the defining spiritual issue of our generation.

Mark Murphy said...

Thomas Reese, The Eucharist is about more than the Real Presence...

Anonymous said...

By Design: Behe, Lennox & Meyer on Evidence for a Creator.

Another Peter Robinson interview. The empirical limits of natural selection as an explanation for natural history. The breadth of the gap between those limits and things well known. Whether the least explanation for those things is some kind of Creator. Whether there is more to rationality than natural science with a materialist methodology. The long cultural history and present influence of materialism from Lucretius to Richard Dawkins. The predictive success of the intelligent design hypothesis. What science may become after materialism. Open society with metaphysical pluralism in science. Here and there, the mind/brain problem.

In the discussion of culture near the end, Steven Meyer mentions *cancel culture* once to answer a question from Robinson about academic intolerance. But these are scientists who like truth-seeking; they are not ranting about other people.


Mark Murphy said...

“Now was I come up in the spirit through the flaming sword into the paradise of God. All things were new and all the creation gave a different smell unto me than before, beyond what words can utter. I knew nothing but pureness and innocency and righteousness, being renewed up into the image of God by Christ Jesus so that I say I was come up to the state of Adam which he was in before he fell.”. (George Fox)

Anonymous said...

Mark, you're wise to be alert to generation- defining trends. Simply for reasons of temperament, I myself have usually looked instead to transitions in the culture that successive generations inhabit.

Obviously, I've seen both secularity displacing the last of the old public Christendom and the thawing of high modernism. The coincidence is a surprise.

When I was young, forward-looking churches hoped or feared that more secular societies would be also be more straightforwardly modern. As it turned out, their older sorts of churchmanship do not stock the glue that holds this unexpected society together.

Postmoderns for whom authenticity is criterial do not want either compromise with the past or authority against change. They want personal knowledge that is more independent than crowd-pleasing mediations and more opportunistic than confrontational line-drawing.

They can't trek over frozen lakes as their great-grandparents did, but they would like to orienteer well enough to explore the trails that are no longer blocked by avalanche.


Mark Murphy said...

For Coleridge, "imagination is the condition for conscious participation in a sacramental universe."

Gregory, A. P. R. (2003). Coleridge and the conservative imagination.

Anonymous said...

Bowman, interesting that you watched the Peter Robinson interview of Meyer, Lennox and Behe. I watched it as well, having read a number of books by all three and having heard Lennox in public a few years ago.
The main points (as I recall) in their critique of Neo-Darwinism included these:
1. The Cambrian Explosion as a problem for the Darwinian 'tree of life' notion, suggesting not a tree but 'whole orchard': the appearance of all the phyla within a short period of geological time (I think Darwin was aware of this problem) - Meyer's book 'Darwin's Doubt' is largely on this.
2. The enormous advances in cellular biology from Darwin's time, showing that the cell is not a basically simple jelly but a system of incredibly complex molecular motors which build (and deconstruct) pathways and transport proteins within cells (Meyer, Behe).
3. The exquisitely fine-tuned character of these molecular motors as well as the structure of the DNA molecule; the problem of combinations for exponents of 'random chance and time' as an explanation for organic chemistry (Meyer, Behe).
4. The problem of the origin of information in the gene, which is likened to
a computer code more complex than anything men have devised; all systems of information that we know point back to a creative mind (Meyer, Lennox).
5. How evolution works *within systems through the breaking of genes (e.g. brown bear to polar bear) rather than the creation of *new information (Behe); the discovery that much so-called 'junk DNA' actually plays a vital regulatory function within a system (Meyer).
6. The problem of the origin of life and questions about the Miller-Urey experiment, almost contemporaneous with Watson and Crick discovering the structure of DNA. It would have been interesting to hear nanologist James Tour's take on this.
7. The problem of the origin of consciousness and the unresolved issue of the relationship between brain and mind.
The three pillars of modern materialist secularism are those 19th century intellects Marx, Freud and Darwin. Marx and Freud have long been refuted (though their malignance continues, especially in university common rooms), and I increasingly believe Darwin has to join them.

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

Mark Murphy said...

The idea of an unus mundus [one world] is founded on the assumption that the multiplicity of the empirical world rests on an underlying unity…Everything divided and different belongs to one and the same world…. (Carl Jung, Collected Works…)

I think you are correct in assuming that synchronicity, though in practice a relatively rare phenomenon, is an all-pervading factor or principle in the universe, i.e. in the Unus Mundus, where there is no incommensurability between so-called matter and so-called psyche. (ung, Letters…)

Only numinous experiences retain their original simplicity or oneness which still gives us intimations of the Unus Mundus. (Jung, Letters….).

Mark Murphy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MsLiz said...

Thanks kindly for the content warning BW, I watched the 'By Design' interview last night, right through. High-level stuff for me, but I enjoyed the bits I could cope with!

I was ecstatic last night to read the Foulden Maar campaign finally succeeded and DCC will purchase the property (in a rural area on the far outskirts of Dunedin).

"Foulden Maar is the site of a crater lake from 23 million years ago with the diatomite of the lake preserving a fossil treasure trove and a climate record covering 100,000 years from that period."

Current RNZ article:

I'd just joined twitter in May 2019 when this issue exploded. I saw an Otago scientist alert Helen Clark via a tweet and saw the power of twitter.. everything escalated quickly!

Now the scientists will have access to the fossils again, much better access, and I'm so relieved and happy!

An excellent article from back then, 1st published 10 May 2019:

Moya said...

Thank you William for pulling together some various things I have read or heard around evolution, in an ordered way. I have read a number of books in the last year or two, including ‘Evolution 2.0’ by Perry Marshall about the amazing complexity of cells and their interactions. ‘The Phenomenon of Man’ and its theory on the development of consciousness appealed to my heart and imagination and I wonder if that links with the sense of connectedness that Mark has been sharing? (Though maybe Teilhard de Chardin has been debunked now - I hope not!) Interesting stuff

Anonymous said...

High moderns associated reason with anti-scholastic empiricism with eliminative materialism with natural history with a faith in progress and some alternative ideas about human nature and social order.

We no longer hoist weight with that whole chain. Some links still hold, others are broken, a few lost, and a couple have already been recycled to novel uses.

Time's arrow has not reversed; the crystals in the kaleidoscope have not resumed a classic pattern. The periodic chart of the elements still makes sense and we use it without surprise. A few modern ideas look better today than they did then.

Still, the New Jerusalem has not descended. We retrieve what works, invent what we must, and make the sense that we can in the time that has us.


Anonymous said...

Moya - a *very long tine since I read "Le Phenomène Humain' (at university) and I wasn't paying much attention at the time. Teilhard wasn't in good odour with the Vatican for many years, although Cardinal Ratzinger would later say positive things about his thought (I don't know what Pope Benedict thought about him). I don't think secular biologists had much time for this "poetic" philosopher. Of course, Teilhard's work was pre-DNA, pre-molecular biology.
But of course, any way you look at it, the questions are inescapably philosophical: whether materialism and naturalism are sufficient in themselves as explanations of reality (which of of course they are not because nature herself has to be explained) or whether the mechanisms of common descent and natural selection by random mutation are sufficient explanations for life. My own conviction is that the Neo-Darwinist synthesis can't bear the weight placed upon it and rather that there have been successive acts of special creation over hundreds of millions of years. One of my goals this year is to read Edward Feser's "Aristotle's Revenge", on the relevance of Aristotelianism-Thomism for science today. Feser himself is no fan of "Intelligent Design" but does think that the absence of teleology in modern biology is a deficiency to correct understanding, and this is surely correct.
A Happy Waitangi Day to everyone,

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

Anonymous said...

Moya, Jews and Christians do need some scriptural way of orienting their thinking in the deep time of natural history. A good way will account, not just for origins, but also for the relation of consecrated humanity to the orders of creation. If it is also Christian, it will acknowledge the Father's will to perfect the creation, the Son as the coherence of all things, and the continuing agency of the Holy Spirit who hovered over chaos in the beginning. To many readers, Teilhard de Chardin has offered a reasonable first draft of just such an orientation.

You ask, I think, whether a chastened view of natural selection in which that mechanism does not explain very much of the history of life is necessarily also a chastened view of Teilhard's exuberance about the further evolutionary development of humanity-in-Christ. Offhand, I doubt it, although a reader who is already working through idiolects like *noosphere* may have to do more imaginative work that he did not. For example, Sarah Coakley investigated the question how altruism and cooperation could emerge from natural selection where that might apply.

For many, the obstacle to appraising Teilhard is not what they don't know about paleontology, but what they do not hear in either the creeds or the scriptures. If one's religious ethics lacks reference to either wisdom or apocalyptic, then one might resist even caring about any horizon as wide as the Bible's or Teilhard's.

Readers like that were surprised to find an ecological chapter in Roger Hurding's Five Paths. Why is a very keen evangelical writing stuff like this?, they wondered. Roger had read and liked Teilhard, but he cared about that synthesis mainly because OT scholarship had already opened his eyes to the cosmology of Israel's faith.


Mark Murphy said...

Kia ora koutou!

Meng Foon on Waitangi Day: A day for difficult conversations

Anonymous said...

But Bowman, you have to reckon with the fact that Teilhard fell between two stools, the scientific and the theological. Both camps thought of him as an amateur with a poetic but imprecise pen who misunderstood and misrepresented both disciplines.
The evolutionary biologists faulted him for not really following Darwinism - or now the modern neo-Darwinist synthesis in which the origin of species is explained (they believe) by natural selection and random genetic variation (caused by copying errors that very rarely convey enhanced survivability). Stephen Toulmin says Teilhard's evolutionism was really inspired by Lamarck and Bergson and not Darwin. Darwin didn't believe in 'the Main Road of Cosmic History'. Dawkins is right that Darwinism does not believe in any purpose, goal or direction in biology, and certainly not one that has man in mind (cf. Teilhard's 'orthogenesis' and 'Christification').
His Catholic theological critics were equally unimpressed: the incarnation of Christ is not one particular action of the evolutionary process ('Christogenesis') but a supernatural act of salvation. Nor will the spiritual perfection of mankind come about as the automatic result of biological forces but from a divine gift outside of the natural order.
For Toulmin, what Teilhard proposed was really a new kind of natural theology (perhaps distantly inspired by Herder or Goethe) within the new, evolutionary view of nature. If some Catholics were warmly disposed to him, perhaps it was the sacramental view of the cosmos that he proposed.

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

MsLiz said...

Tēnā koe Mark. Good to have the Meng Foon opinion piece link. After reading that, I tried to access the mentioned reports (by going to the Human Rights Commission website) but they've done a new website.. so slow I could barely use it! Hope they get it sorted soon.

Anonymous said...

Believe it or not Liz, these are North American evangelicals too--


MsLiz said...

Thanks for the links (7:16), BW! Straight away I'm finding interesting, topical articles :)

Anonymous said...

Glad to be helpful, Liz 🙂 To hear two evangelicals-- a Canadian and an American-- discuss spiritual formation in relation to practice, lost faith, sex, race, family legacies, etc--

The conversation turns to spiritual formation after a 20 minute chat on stepping into senior ministry.


MsLiz said...

The two evangelicals (6:54). Awesome! Thanks heaps BW, a while back I came across Rich Villodas via Twitter so remembered his name as someone I'd like to know more about.. it was wonderful to find this is a conversation with him! Really enjoyed the whole discussion, amazing flow of interesting thoughts and ideas. Wow.