This (l-o-n-g) blog reviews the recent book by William Dembski, The End of Christianity
The first two parts of this blog describing the theological problem are
. Summarizing, Dembski discusses the internal debate among devout protestants between young earth creationists (YEC) and old-earth creationists (OEC) as a question of whether text or science is a more reliable source of truth (epistemology). We argued that the epistemology question also hinges on a different views of reality (metaphysics). Thus, for example, even if we assert that text trumps science, the meaning of a word depends on what we think is the proper reference for it, which of course, depends on observations. Despite science being kicked out the front door, it sneaks in the back. So if we are going to resolve this YEC/OEC conflict, it isn't enough to win the epistemological trump suit, one still has to collect a metaphysical winning hand.
Dembski's book is organized into 22 short chapters, where each is almost independent of the others. So, for example, he deals with Special and General Revelation in chapter 8, and the primacy of text in chapter 11. There is nearly a circular argument in these independent chapters, where he first establishes the necessity of science the Godhead (metaphysics), then establishes the primacy of text over science in revelation (epistemology), and finally derives the interpretation of texts from science (metaphysics). There formal solution to this circular reasoning, with God standing behind both word-definitions and science-creations comes with the price of a serious ambiguity concerning God's relation to time. The epistemology argument is clear, but the metaphysical argument is muddy.
This isn't too surprising, since the Church has had 2000 years of clear epistemology, but only 150 years of metaphysical challenge. If Dembski is unclear, it is because we have had a century of theologians weaving and dodging the metaphysical pummelling of materialism. To quote GK Chesterton on the 20th century approach,
If it be
true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in
skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two
deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists
do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all
Christians do. The new theologians seem to think it a highly
rationalistic solution to deny the cat.
Chesterton's memorable phrase "that a man can feel..." with the
ploddingly pedantic "that evil exists", then his conclusion is clear,
"the new theologians think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny
the existence of evil." Dembski's contribution is to insist that "death"
is a reasonable substitute for "evil", and the 20th century OEC theologians, in defending an old earth, are
denying that death is evil.
Dembski critiques this "pro-death" compromise by first addressing the metaphysical necessity of "evil death", then epistemological primacy of text over science, then the metaphysics of causality. Since metaphysics and epistemology are somewhat interconvertible, we can rephrase that first goal as the epistemological primacy of experience, of science, within the Godhead itself. Then this book is his attempt to present twin epistemological goals: proving that science trumps text in the Godhead, but that text
trumps science in revelation; that Biblical theology remains rooted in
scientific realism, but that the Bible remains textually inerrant in the
face of scientific challenge.
The Primacy of Science in the Godhead
His chapter 1, introducing the theology of the Cross, argues that two kinds of knowledge exist: description and acquaintance (p 19). We interpret them as knowledge about something conveyed by texts, and intimate knowledge learned by observation: textual vs scientific knowledge. Dembski immediately confounds us by insisting that scientific knowledge trumps textual knowledge, that Jesus had to suffer on the Cross to solve the problem of evil, aka "theodicy", he had to experience death to conquer death, because he could not solve the problem of evil by fiat, by attribution, by texts.
This will be a recurring theme throughout the book, where Dembski transforms the epistemological or the metaphysical into a moral problem. He will often insist that if we make the wrong choice in models--say, that Christ never had to suffer (science) because the Father could remove our sins by a fiat declaration (text)--then we suffer the consequences of a contradictory (text v. science) theodicy. To a certain extant, he was forced into this corner because YEC defend their view against OEC by using theodicy, arguing that the death required by an OEC from the beginning of the world 4.85 billion years ago makes the Fall insignificant, without explanation for how suffering entered the world.
To Dembski's credit, he takes this YEC assertion at face value, and suggests that if OEC can develop its own theodicy (science v. text), there is no particular advantage to the YEC (text v. science) position theologically, but many disadvantages scientifically. This is why the jacket blurb talks so much about theodicy and the problem of evil. As I said earlier, I find this to be a red herring. The new theodicy Dembski presents is really a metaphysical not a theological novelty, and its major impact is on epistemology, not on morality, because Dembski did not want a new morality or a new legal defence for axe-murderers, but he wants to be squarely ensconced in the fortress of orthodoxy. So what he is producing is just a new path to an old destination
, and that new path is his novel metaphysics.
Coming back to his method, he argues that for God, scientific supersedes textual knowledge, whereas for humans, God's knowledge revealed textually supersedes man's knowledge gained scientifically (p20). That is, man has gotten himself into such a mess that his scientific knowledge is too contaminated, too noisy, too unreliable to extricate himself. However, God's uncontaminated scientific knowledge can be communicated textually (with implicit error-correction) such that it supersedes man's faulty observations. (This implies that in the absence of noise, science trumps text, but in noisy environments text trumps science. We'll come back to this implication later.)
The next three chapters (2-4) trace the origin of this noise, these faulty observations, to the Fall, which is principally of theological interest. Then in chapter 5, Dembski gives a brief introduction to the YEC position and its antiquity, followed by chapter 6 on its scientific inconsistencies. Despite much effort over the past 50 years since "The Genesis Flood" was
published, there really hasn't been a successful resolution to the
chronological inconsistencies of a 6000-year old earth, not least among
them is that YEC have no trouble accepting scientific
chronologies after Abraham, but baulk at all scientific chronologies before Abraham. Chapter 7 recounts several YEC attempts to resolve this conflict by hypothesizing some discontinuity in physics that would allow two different chronologies. None of them hold up to scrutiny, leaving the YEC playing his trump card--when God created the earth, he made it appear old, like Adam's assumed navel or the wine of Cana.
Here's where the metaphysics begins to show.
For the YEC takes some Biblical words--morning, evening, day--and interprets them from scientific observations. "Twenty-four hour days" is often insisted upon, despite the lack of a Hebrew word for "hour" in this text, or even the absence of the number "24" associated with "day" in all of Hebrew scripture. (Jesus, however, does define a day as 12 hours long.) Obviously, this refined definition is based on some recent observation, some recent scientific knowledge assumed by the YEC. Yet when the OEC attempts to use some recent scientific observation to appeal to, say, a million year-old rock, the YEC insist it is invalid. Why should one scientific observation--24 hours per day--be valid, and another--million year-old rock--be invalid? The YEC would say that the first is based on a correct view of reality, and the second on an incorrect view of reality, so that the truth about words depends on possessing the proper metaphysical reality.
But what then is that "proper metaphysical reality" based on? A "literal" reading of Scripture, the YEC replies.
And what makes one reading "literal"
and another not? Agreement with observations, not fanciful like myths. If the text says that Moses' staff turned into a snake, then it is not literal to say it turned into a turtle, or to say Moses cleverly moved it around like a snake, or even to say the verb is properly translated "to speak like a snake".
So the construction/interpretation of a word must be observation, but the construction/interpretation of a sentence must not yield to observation? How many words must one string together in revealed texts such that it ceases to be observationally validated and begins to validate observation? Is grammar uninspired while semantics is? Are periods the metaphysical converter from fallible science to infallible text? There's an entire philosophy or "hermeneutical" science of Biblical interpretation that is being subsumed into the word "literal," and it doesn't necessarily support the YEC theodicy.
Dembski describes this conundrum at the end of his chapter 7, where he uses the word "backdrop" to describe this assumed hermeneutics, this metaphysical model.
On the other hand, questioning the constancy of nature as a whole does not seem possible. For in the very act of questioning one must hold constant the backdrop against which the question is posed. Questioning nature's constancy in general would deny this backdrop and thus be self-defeating.
We take Dembski's criticism as arguing that text and science are recursively related through hermeneutics, so that changing the metaphysics for some science but not some texts becomes an unstable system. The positive feedback
of the system rapidly drives the interpretations to a bimodal, saturated state, which is as much a post-modern critique of science, as it is a Dembski critique of YEC. That is, it is obvious where YEC get their hermeneutics, but where does OEC get theirs? From the methodological naturalism of Science? Certainly Dembski would object to this oft-made YEC claim. Yet if all these metaphysical models are recursively related to text, then no matter where we start, we will end up in a circularly reasoned
, bimodal solution. Is there any way out? Dembski says there is.
To set the stage for his metaphysical model, Dembski discusses in chapter 8 the two forms of God's revelation, Special (text) and General (science). Presenting the two antagonistic views of modernism (science v. text) and YEC (text v. science), he then defends a non-contradictory and complementary position. Here are the concluding paragraphs:
Except for preserving the face-value [literal] interpretation of certain Old Testament passages (like Psalm 93), nothing of theological importance is riding on geocentricism. The same cannot be said for a young earth. A young earth seems to be required to maintain a traditional understanding of the Fall. And yet a young earth clashes sharply with mainstream science. Christians, it seems, must therefore choose their poison. They can go with a young earth, thereby maintaining theological orthodoxy but committing scientific heresy; or they can go with an old earth, thereby committing theological heresy but maintaining scientific orthodoxy.
Are the Book of Scripture and the book of Nature therefore irreconcilable? No. As we will see, a traditional understanding of the Fall is tenable regardless of one's view of the age of the earth.
Let's unpack Dembski's view. In God's knowledge, science trumps text, but He conveys it to us in both manners--the two books of nature. In our noisy "fallen" world, text has the superior error-correction, so God's knowledge is conveyed best by revealed text, but the text cannot contradict the same information that is transmitted by revealed science. Therefore it is wrong to force text and science into conflict, because at a deeper level they must be in agreement. Accordingly, our task is to use the relatively noise-free revealed texts as a guide to clean up the noise in the created science, without making their differences essential or fundamental. YEC, in arguing for an "apparent age", is making these differences fundamental and essential, which is a big mistake because it is both unnecessary and distorts revelation.
In chapter 9, Dembski then takes mainstream OEC to task for having neglected the theodicy of the Fall. Here his argument is more theological, but my reading of Dembski is that he wants a symmetry. If what Christ did on the Cross had to be experiential (science v. text), then what Adam did in the Fall had to be experiential as well. It wasn't enough that Adam was promised (text) death, on the day you eat of it you shall surely die
, but there had to be an experiential (science) death as well. And if Christ redeemed the world through his death (science) rather than having God "treat" his obedience as righteousness (text), then likewise Adam had to damn the world to death (science) rather than have it "treated" as sin (text). Required in Dembski's symmetry, then, is that real death, real suffering, real natural evils (earthquakes, plagues and the like) must be a consequence of the Fall, not merely attributed or intentioned or foreshadowing the Fall. So when the mainstream OEC view evil as nominally (in name only=textually) caused by the Fall, then it is paradoxically engaging in the same error as YEC, privileging text over science in God's knowledge.
Dembski doesn't quite put it this way, but invokes some psychologizing which obscures the point above, concluding his chapter 9 with, "A benevolent God will allow natural evil only as a last resort to remedy a still worse evil, not as an end in itself over which to glory"
, where I interpret his "remedy" as an action or science whereas his "an end in itself" is an attribution or text. Thus Dembski is once again insisting on the primacy of science over text in the Godhead, in the theology of the Church. But his primacy of science leaves him unprotected against the more liberal Christian interpretations which argue that if science/experience contradicts the revealed text, it is clearly the text that has to be modified.
That is, if extinct jellyfish are discovered fossilized in rock from the Pre-Cambrian 600 million years ago, then it is foolish for Dembski to insist that real death only came with the Fall some 599.99 million years later. Perhaps the "noise" of fallible science might account for 10% error in this scientific measurement, perhaps even 50% error in the K-Ar dating, but surely not all of it. Even allowing for the finitude of man and the degeneracy of his science, how are these real chronological discrepancies between the Bible and Science to be handled? Surely it is the text that must be modified to accommodate these recent scientific findings, no?
But if one massages the text, say, by allowing a thousand years per day, or squared to get a million, or even cubed to get a billion, one still has the problem that death and suffering preceded the Fall, which propagates through the analogy to Christ to suggest that the atonement was not a observational/ scientific event but an attributed/ textual event like attributed death. How can we modify the text without destroying our theology? Doesn't theology require an absolute commitment to text?
In part 3, starting with chapter 10, Dembski addresses this problem.
The Primacy of Text in Revelation
Having defended the view that experiential "scientific" knowledge is necessary and superior to textual in the Godhead, Dembski now has the opposite problem of demonstrating that textual knowledge is superior to scientific in human experience. He is forced to defend this position because so much of 20th century theology has either asserted the primacy of experiential human knowledge over textual revelation (modernism/ atheism), or has attempted to separate the two so thoroughly that in practice textual knowledge becomes a "set of measure zero", an oxymoron of emotional anti-facts (existentialism, "new theologians").
In response to this 20th century remythologizing, Dembski begins with some modernist communication theory that supports a basic Platonism, and moves into a Johannine theological reinterpretation of Stoic philosophy, and finishes off with an Existential critique of 20th century neo-Orthodoxy. It is impressive tour de force
combining modernist science with ancient philosophy.
Answering the materialist critique of texts in chapter 10, which see texts as epiphenomena of a material world, mere references to material reality, Dembski introduces the concept of text as communication, using Claude Shannon's work at ATT to discuss signal, noise and error correction, which we have alluded to earlier. By casting the ancient dogma of revelation as a modern problem in communication theory, Dembski demonstrates both the relevance and the necessity of revelation. By drawing an analogy between communication and the Trinity, he argues that concept, message, and transmitter are functions of, respectively, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, so that Shannon's information theory is directly applicable to the Bible as revealed truth. He then finds the gospel in the process of receiving the message, arguing that God must employ a (unspecified) method of error correction for us to reliably get the message.
Having learned this trinitarian argument
for communication at seminary, I very much enjoyed this tenth chapter. However there is an ambiguity of mapping, since Dembski puts the Holy Spirit in the transmitter (2 Tim 3:16?) whereas I usually put the Holy Spirit in the error correction (1 Jn 3:19ff). Obviously then, the mapping is not so very precise, despite Dembski's assertion (p88),
None of the preceding analogies between information theory and the God-world relation is, I submit, strained. Quite the contrary, they match up precisely and capture the essence of Christian metaphysics.
But the philosophical purpose of this analogy functions to tie the science--the actions, the experiences of God--directly to the word of God. By making the Creation a word-event, and then making the word-event a member of the Godhead, the Logos
, Dembski establishes the complementarity, the tri-unity of word and act and actor, of concept and message and transmitter. This is how he solves the dilemma of science versus text, not by making them equivalent (which loses their separate identities) nor by making them equal and potentially conflicting (Hegel's dialectic and Kant's dualism), but by invoking a third thing, a tertium quid
, a tri-unity.
Now I am beginning to really like this chapter!
But Dembski surprises me again, introducing John Wheeler
's metaphysics as the bridge between the science/ text duality and a trinity. Wheeler, who was somewhat heterodox in his theology, described his scientific life as divided into three periods: Everything is Particles (materialism), Everything is Fields (Dualist Copenhagen QM, Gnosticism), and Everything is Information (?!). This was captured by his memorable phrase "it from bit", where existence (material or QM) derived from information. Here is Dembski's conclusion from the chapter,
Wheeler is in fact tracing a revolution in physics and in our understanding of the world generally. Other scientists are now likewise beginning to see information as the fundamental stuff underlying physical reality. Information is the rock-bottom of reality, providing the final bridge between science and theology.
In Chapter 11, Dembski fleshes out this new metaphysical object uncovered by physics, attempting to demonstrate how information is at the same time non-material and yet determinative of the material. Some of the weird world of quantum mechanics
is used to bolster the reality of this new metaphysical construct, which Dembski then identifies with several theological entities: the "new bodies" and "new earth" of St John's Apocalypse. Very roughly, Dembski identifies this metaphysical entity "information" with the Biblical entity "soul", which, if the remainder of Wheeler's three-realities are also mapped, would identify "particles" with Biblical body, and "fields" with Biblical spirit.
(I think previous theologians have made the opposite choice, identifying the soul with some materially-connected "ectoplasm" and "spirit" with the information or will, which is proof again that these analogies are not unambiguous. I think my blogs also have demonstrated a naive enthusiasm in finding an
escape from Christian dualism, so perhaps the importance of this chapter is simply that there is justification within science for a trinitarian metaphysic.)
In any case, in chapter 12 Dembski will now identify this tertium quid
with the Logos
(John 1:1ff), invoking the entirety of St John's theology in support of a new equilibrium between text and science. The information of Logos
preceded Creation, and preceded the words of Creation. Thus in some sense, we have primacy of information over both text and
science, though Dembski does not clearly differentiate information from
text. Thus in practice, Dembski collapses this new-found trinity of information back
into a duality of text preceding science in the
Creation. Note how Johannine theology which identifies Logos
with Christ, and Christ with God ("In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God...")
nevertheless insists that the Christ is eternally begotten of the Father, and therefore secondary to the Father. So in the Godhead, text is second, but in the Creation, text is primary.
In chapter 13, Dembski turns to answer the existential critique, that existence precedes essence, that being precedes purpose, that ontology trumps teleology. From the existential view, the most important thing is, like Descartes doubting his own existence, that we are here, that all texts are mere rationalizing of this obvious fact making texts secondary, that purpose is in our head not in reality. (You can see how this is can fit nicely with the materialist critique, and is in fact, a response to materialism that "remythologizes" the texts.) That is, answering the materialist critique requires that Dembski demonstrate why text precedes science chronologically leading to scientific primacy, but answering the existential critique forces him to demonstrate why text precedes science philosophically leading to moral or theological primacy.
Dembski does this by claiming that the Creation was created by language for a purpose, and therefore being was designed to be in communion with God. Contrary to the existentialists, we along with the entire universe of stars and rocks and hoarfrost were created for a purpose, and that purpose was the communication of God's glory. Purpose precedes existence, and language reflects that purpose. Far from having text be an afterthought of rationalizing our existence, a philosophical derivative of our creation, language has a deep relation to the forethought of God, a Platonic relationship to ideas, to the Logos
in the mind of God.
In Chapter 14, Dembski attempts to combine his two critiques of chapters 12 and 13, by arguing that creation involves two steps: a purely informational step, and an active, materially effective step, where the informational step chronologically precedes the materially effective step. From Aristotle's four causes, Dembski is arguing that the final cause precedes the material and formal causes. Why does this matter? Because later on he wants to argue that final causes are a-temporal, they don't have a timeline, they exist in the mind of God outside of time and temporal causality, unlike the material causes.
But before he can use this observation to solve his theodicy problem of the reason for suffering, he must first address the Kantian claim that final causes, or timeless information in the mind of God, doesn't actually do
anything. That is, Kantians argue that if ideas moved particles, they would be material causes, not final causes, and thus it is irrelevant whether final causes precede material, or even if they exist at all, because we can never know them except through the material. Hence the real philosophical divide between thought and action, between noumena and phenomena.
In chapter 15, Dembski responds with some physics-based arguments that material causes are equivalent to forces, that forces are equivalent to energy (since force * distance = energy), so any cause that does not change the energy is in fact, a non-material cause. Finally, using the weird world of quantum mechanics, he demonstrates effects caused by information that are non-material. (The quantum eraser
experiment, for example.) He goes on to argue that most of the objections to "miracles" are based on the assertion that a causally-closed system is both necessary and observed by science, but that such a closed system appears to be fixed and determined with no room for choice or morals. However by allowing the system to be susceptible to final causes, to be informationally open, one can obtain decreases in entropy without violating any material or physical laws, and thereby solve both the mystery of free will and the apparent violation of the law of entropy in one blow.
Not everything in his proof is beyond dispute, there are those that would argue information is related to
energy, or else memory states would be disrupted by thermal fluctuations. Therefore information flow is energy flow, and Dembski cannot quite avoid the criticism that he has merely relabelled a material cause. In a recent
and controversial paper, a theorist argues that the entropy of space-time information is what generates forces, which would likewise prevent the Aristotelian distinction between material and final causes. In the end, the debate probably hangs on the scientific definition of information, but it seems unlikely that Dembski has solved the problem of free-will and determinism.
In conclusion, Dembski has argued for the primacy of text over science in the Creation, that purpose precedes existence, that plan precedes action, that information is the critical ingredient of design with matter and material causes being secondary. Thus we can trust the Bible over the science of Creation, without making the metaphysical mistake of positing the primacy of text in the Godhead itself.
This has been a thoroughly theoretical discussion, yet has not addressed the root of the theodicy problem formulated at the end of chapter 9: if suffering is a consequence of man's Fall, then why does science describe death before the Fall?
The Parallel Universes of Revelation and Science
Dembski's moral dilemma is how to keep science primary in the Godhead, while keeping text primary in Creation. These two objectives collide in the Genesis account, where the science of God meets the texts of Creation. Which one wins?
I am reminded of Numbers 9
, where the Israelites point out a conflict of two of Moses' commandments: to keep the Passover, and the uncleanness acquired from burying the dead before sunset. My first solution would have been to prioritize the Mosaic commands, and allow a greater to trump a lesser. But Moses doesn't do that. Instead he petitions God, who invents a third rule to handle conflicts--they can take a 30-day delay on celebrating Passover, but only on conditions of duress. So also, when text and science conflict, one would expect God to provide a third way of triangulation. Dembski does not disappoint.
In three short chapters, 16-18, Dembski defines the terms he is going to use to reconcile this epistemological conflict. Using chapter 15 as a springboard, Dembski argues that material causes are chronologically causal--if A causes B, then A preceded B chronologically--but in contrast, non-material causes (final causes) are a-temporal--if A is the purpose of B, A neither precedes nor follows B, since both are conceived together. This leads Dembski to posit an orthogonal axis (think vertical versus horizontal time axis) for purposeful relations. Whether A is the purpose of B, or B the purpose of A relate to their position vertically, whereas their chronology is determined by their horizontal relationship. Dembski employs some questionable Greek etymology to label this vertical axis "kairos
" and the horizontal axis "chronos
", but the significance is that they are independent quantities. He then defends this independence of the two measures by discussing Newcomb's paradox, where knowledge of the future can affect the present, reversing the usual material causality between past and present. (Of course, the paradox is how precisely kairos
if they are really independent, a matter Dembski seems to skirt.)
With this textual machinery now in place, he argues in chapter 18 that the material causality of evil death in chronos
could be a consequence of the Fall in kairos
. That God, knowing the future perfectly, anticipated (kairos
) the Fall of man and the spread of evil, by creating (chronos
) the death that afflicted dinosaurs and jellyfish of the old Earth. Here's his concluding paragraph,
In summary, God has employed both the intentional-semantic [kairos, textual] and the causal-temporal [chronos, science] logic in creating the world. The essence of evil is to assert the all-sufficiency of the causal-temporal [science] logic, allowing it to swallow up the intentional-semantic [text] logic. To understand creation aright, we need to understand how both these logics figure into creation. Specifically, we need to understand how the order of creation (which follows the intentional-semantic logic) relates to natural history (which follows the causal-temporal logic). Young-earth creationism attempts to make natural history match up with the order of creation point for point. By contrast, divine anticipation--the ability of God to act upon events before they happen--suggests that natural history need not match up so precisely with the order of creation and that the two logics of creation can proceed on independent, though complementary, tracks.
Now this idea of orthogonality is not new, in fact, it bears a striking resemblance to Kant's separation of the noumenal and the phenomenal, but what is new is that Dembski allows them to affect each other. This also is not entirely new, because Hegel saw in these dualities an infinite conflict, where thesis is opposed by antithesis leading to a synthesis that in time also generates an anti(syn)thesis and so on to eternity. So in chapter 19, Dembski responds to the criticism that he is merely channelling Hegel, by claiming that this interaction between kairos
converges at infinity, that God who knows the end of all things, also knows the purpose of all things, so there is ultimately a divine theistic unity. This, Dembski argues, solves the Kantian problem of transcendence, as well as the existential problem of immanence. (The usual theological resolution finds this unity in the God-man, Christ, so Dembski's solution might be viewed as an alternative Christology, or perhaps, a christological ontology of the Father. Another reason for arguing Creation from a Trinitarian perspective.)
Finally in chapter 20 with all of his machinery in place, Dembski addresses the Genesis 1-3 account in the longest chapter of the book, cutting straight to the chase in the first paragraph:
We are now in a position to offer a reading of Genesis 1-3 that reconciles a traditional understanding of the Fall (which traces all evil in the world to human sin) with a mainstream understanding of geology and cosmology (which regards the earth and universe as billions of years old, and therefore makes natural evil [death] predate humanity). The key to this reading is to interpret the days of creation as natural divisions in the intentional-semantic [text] logic of creation. Genesis 1 is therefore not to be interpreted as ordinary chronological time (chronos) but rather as time from the vantage of God's purposes (kairos).
Accordingly, the days of creation are neither exact 24-hour days (as in young-earth creationism) nor epochs in natural history (as in old-earth creationism) nor even a literary device (as in the literary-framework theory). Rather, they are actual (literal!) episodes in the divine creative activity. They represent key divisions in the divine order of creation, with one episode building logically on its predecessor. As a consequence, their description as chronological days falls under the common scriptural practice of employing physical realities to illuminate spiritual truths (cf. John 3:12).
Despite assurances that this is going to be a really different solution, it comes out looking a lot like the despised "framework" model. Claiming that the language is not "exact" sounds a lot like saying it isn't literal, and claiming that the language "employs physical reality to illuminate spiritual truth" sounds a lot like "literary". So other than making "literary" more precise by employing all sorts of philosophical distinctions, is there any positive, constructive difference from the mainstream OEC interpretation?
Dembski claims there is. If Genesis 1 is to be taken kairologically, there is still information in the ordering of kairos
--one of those many unspecified interactions between chronos
. Here's the opening to a paragraph that reconstructs the framework hypothesis:
A kairological interpretation of the creation days in Genesis now proceeds as follows: On the first day the most basic form of energy is created: light. With all matter and energy ultimately convertible to and from light, day one describes the beginning of physical reality. With the backdrop of physical reality in place, God devotes days two and three to ordering the earth so that it will provide a suitable home for humanity.
Which is to say, the kairological perspective permits violence to the chronological ordering. But what Dembski really wants, is an answer to the problem of death, and the origin of evil. He finds kairos
can solve that too,
To understand how the Fall occurs chronologically and how God nonetheless allows natural evils [death] to rage before it, we need to take seriously that the drama of the Fall unfolds in a segregated area. Genesis 2:8 refers to this area as a garden planted by God (i.e., the Garden of Eden)....But in fact, [because critics argue Gen 2 is a kludged retelling of Gen 1] the second creation account, depicting the Garden, is just what's needed for kairos and chronos to converge in the Fall. It constitutes the "second creation" in the sense of chapter 14 of this book [final vs material causes]...In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve simultaneously inhabit two worlds. Two worlds intersect in the Garden. In the one world, the world God originally intended, the Garden is part of a larger world that is perfect and includes no natural evils. In the other world, the world that became corrupt through natural evils that God brought about in anticipation of the Fall, the Garden is a safe haven that in the conscious experience of Adam and Eve (i.e. phenomenologically) matches up exactly with their conscious experience in the perfect world, the one that God originally intended.
So finally we observe how Dembski's metaphysical furniture solve the problem. We define two kinds causation, and from that construct two kinds of time, justifying an orthogonal, Kantian sort of separation. But we allow some interaction too, lest we end up with Barth's transcendence dilemma which excluded science from text. With two possibilities of time to choose from, we use whichever definition is convenient to interpret the text (Gen 1), and when paradoxes arise, we use them both at the same time (Gen 2).
Does this kairological solution address the science of evolution? Dembski spends chapter 21 arguing that kairos
is compatible with non-Darwinian evolution, e.g. theistically-directed change over time. He writes,
Does evolution therefore undermine the theodicy I am proposing? Not at all...On this view evolution is not so much a method of creation (though it can be that also) as a method of judgment by which God impresses on the world the radical consequences of human sin.
So practically speaking, Dembski's solution is indistinguishable from the mainstream OEC. It discards literal chronology, it retains the empirical truth claims of evolution (minus the metaphysical materialism), and it allows some theological textual overlay to exist without negating the observational science below. In some respects it is more radical than OEC, because it allows the ordering of Genesis 1 to be non-chronological, and even more radically than YEC, allowing theology to be a-causal. Note carefully the differences between YEC, OEC and Dembski: YEC demands science to be a-causal to solve a chronological problem with text; OEC demands text be non-chronological to solve a causal problem for science; and Dembski demands that text be both a-causal and non-chronological, so as to leave science both causal and chronological.
That is, a surface reading of Dembski's solution looks as if text and science are made compatible by making them complementary--very much like Kant's solution. And like Kant's solution, it suffers from all the ills of a dualist metaphysics. Unlike Kant, however, the exact relationship between chronos
, between material and final causes, between science and text is left unspecified, so only time will tell if this model evolves along the Kantian path, or takes a turn toward trinitarianism. In any case, it is unlikely if this theodicy will be convince YEC advocates to abandon their hermeneutical method for one that is still so undefined.
In the next blog, I will offer a constructive critique of Dembski's view, suggesting alternative
ways to achieve the same ends that will perhaps avoid some of the common pitfalls of a dualist metaphysic.