Monday, October 15, 2007

Accomodation and Naturalism

FYI, this is a continuation of a discussion started at You might want to catch up there if something here doesn't make sense...

The 7-foot ninja is not a fan of poor thinking of inconsistent reasoning. And he's certainly not going to let me or anyone else get away with our own constructs. Here's a quote from is post:

What about the idea of accommodation, which Gordon invokes and you do as well? The idea that God withheld the whole truth from the ancient Israelites and just adopted the common cultural outlook to somehow express his word through is by no means a new thought. As a formal theory it goes back at least to J.S. Semler well over 200 years ago. The idea that we today have reached the maturity and intellectual capacity to really grasp what God has to say smacks of the chronological snobbery that C.S. Lewis so disdained. This is not postmodern, but thoroughly "modern".

I make no claims that we have "reached the maturity and intellectual capacity" to speak accurately for God. I would go so far as to say that 1,000 years from now those alive then will be questioning our understanding of both Science and Theology on various aspects. They will have progressed in the accumulation and sharing of knowledge in ways we can't imagine, just like we have in the previous 1,000 years. But any smarter? I doubt it. And certainly not any more mature, especially in the things that matter, like practicing the things that the Bible calls "wisdom" or avoiding the things of "fools."

I do however think that there is some merit to the idea of progressive revelation. God did not reveal the whole picture to those who lived before Jesus. And while I fully believe that Jesus' sacrifice was complete for our redemption, I don't think we know everything today that there is to know about that either.

Yes, God accomodates his communication to people for the situation that they are in. He speaks in their language, within their cultural limits, in ways they can understand. Does this mean he accomodates his message? No, not necessarily. And it certainly doesn't mean he waters down his message. Does it mean that we sometimes hear our own voices--whether our own wishes or our cultural norms or whatever--and attribute God's voice to them? Absolutely not. We do this both inside and outside the church, speaking for God or in the name of God in such definite terms on issues that we may have simply made up or we may be crazy or whatever. Do pomos often go overboard and throw out the baby with the bathwater on this accomodation idea? Sure they do.

Then he says, quoting someone who wrote on another blog I referenced:

Gordon says, "If the purpose of the Hebrew creation story was not to provide Israel (or us) with accurate scientific knowledge about the cosmos, why then do so many Christians reject any version of natural history that fails to conform to the Hebrew account?" In response I ask you, "If 'natural history' and 'science' by contemporary definitions automatically exclude God and his intervention in the world, why then do so many Christians accept the presuppositions of such theories and the slanted results that they produce?"

I do not think that "natural history" and/or "science" do automatically exclude God. Every human being has levels of constructs by which they view the world. As you have often pointed out, we rarely examine these constructs, or what Lesslie Newbigin called "plausibility structures" in his great book "The Gospel in a Pluralist Society." I on the other hand, in the proper contexts, love to deconstruct my own and others constructs. I'm wrong (probably a lot) in my assessents. I do it way too much for most of my Christian friends, including my own wife. But I think I do it BECAUSE I'm often proven wrong on things, not because I think I'm right on things. Perhaps I'm getting off point here, but I have come to see at least one aspect of maturity as being a healthy self-criticism. When I was 22, there were 4,208 things I knew to be true about theology, science, philosophy, etc. They were black and white. Now there are only 4 or 5 that I'm willing to stake my life on being true. I think that I have matured, but I certainly don't think that means I can speak for God with his authority on hundreds of topics and viewpoints.

So back to the matter at hand--just because (some, most, even all) materialistic scientists say that the theory of evolution denies the existence of God does not mean that evolutionary theory isn't a plausible scientific theory, anymore than just because Tim LaHaye says that the Bible clearly teaches a pre-trib rapture, premillenial eschatology means that if he's wrong (I think he is) Jesus isn't coming back at all (which I believe him to be).


BWolf30 said...

If I am not a fan of poor thinking or inconsistent reasoning I need to retract/revise both of my quotes you posted. Of course, it is hard to make a good, concise point in a couple of sentences on a blog... Anyways, certainly there is accommodation in the Bible - the holy, infinite, transcendent, Creator God has stooped down to make Himself known to us in ways that we can understand. He uses human language and thought forms to express and reveal himself. And certainly throughout the biblical period the fullness of God's revelation was progressively unfolded and culminated in Christ. I don't argue with these points at all.

My point of contention (very poorly stated) was that Gordon and you both (though perhaps I am misinterpreting) seem to lean towards a stronger meaning of accommodation, more like that found in much higher criticism. Semler, for example, was the first to separate the Bible and the Word of God, saying the the second was what mattered but only parts of the Bible actually contain it. The job of the theologian was to rummage through the Scriptures, sift out the culturally conditioned dross and end up with the pure Word of God which was the essence of real religion. Clearly, on this view the natural meaning of the text couldn't be the real revelation, and the natural reading and the historical events behind the text surely didn't coincide either. A non-biblical framework had been subtlely invoked and the Bible was subordinated to it. The natural reading of the text had to thus be explained away as God accommodating himself to an ignorant and unsophisticated people. If he used error, no big deal, they really couldn't handle the truth anyway - I think you can agree with me that this is a far cry from God expressing Himself to us in our language and cultural thought forms.

I guess my concern was over the accommodation through scientific (and potentially historical and theological) error. I think that is the crux of the issue. Is your position, and that of Gordon, in the same vein as Semler? I don't know, probably not, but it would take one of our famous email wars to find out. I would simply say that God adapted himself to the times, but I see no reason why this must include intentional error. This would amount to deception and comprise the character of God. And in any case, much of the alleged "error" can legitimately and adequately be explained in different ways. Of course the arguments are much more involved, so please don't blow this off as irrational fundamentalist reactionism. It might overlap in some ways but I don't think this exactly an inerrancy debate. But let us not forget - to stand outside the Bible and invoke general canons of reason with which to criticize the Bible leads to difficult problems as well. If the ancients had to be deceived, can we not be as well? If there is error in the biblical accounts, by what methods do we separate the truth from it? How do we know if we have the truth? What is the relation between the text and actual history? What is the relation of the real biblical subject matter to actual history? etc.

A quick comment on the science thing - I agree natural history and science don't have to be defined that way, I am just saying they almost always are in academia and pop-culture. Properly situated in a biblically informed worldview that can't and won't be, although in many aspects and levels they won't need to make direct reference to God. He will, however, be presupposed in the overall picture. Either way, a presuppositional apologetic is necessary for any Christian in this area - engaging theories that define God away before even starting can't be done at an evidential level. I guess I was saying in my quote that blindly accepting theories that militate against Christ and His Word without even examining the basis on which these things are being said is ridiculous.

However, exposing the biased worldviews that end up producing such theories (like the Document Hypothesis) is only half the battle. Evolution stripped of its ideological and quasi-religious underpinnings can still be (and should be) evaluated on such a level - although the evolutionists fight tooth and nail to prevent this from happening (I presume they know what the outcome would be). I am opposed to evolution because I think it is fatally flawed apart from the materialist worldview that so strongly supports it. All this being said, I am not neeeaaar as old as you, but like you, the more I learn and experience the harder it is to define things down to minutae. Hey, we might both be wrong but that shouldn't stop us from talking!

Arnie Adkison said...

I just wrote a whole long thing and it didn't publish correctly. That would be the proper place to use a cuss word. Insert one here.

I'll have to rewrite later, I'm about to have dinner.

Arnie Adkison said...

Okay, now I'm pissed. After I retyped the whole @&!*^$ thing, it didn't publish again! I'm really cussing now!

Arnie Adkison said...

So, in summary of my summary, neither of which posted.

You're too humble, yada yada yada

Gordon I can't speak for, we won't mention him anymore, yada yada

I don't believe Semler's theory, or at least your application of it. The Bible is God-breathed, all of it, and useful for all the stuff that I've written out twice now from 2 Timmy and don't want to friggin' write again, yada yada (can you yada the Bible?)...

I think your use of "error" and "deception" throw me. God didn't deceive the Hebrews. He just spoke to them according to their language and worldview and understanding. So it's not error to me, or deception, when Gen 1 & 2 is not a scientific description of how the cosmos came into being. I had some really good thoughts here, but after typing them twice, I just don't have the energy for it anymore. It's stinking 85 degrees at 8:45pm. I love SA weather when I can play golf in January and it's 75. But when it's still 85 and 90% humidity at 8:45pm in mid-October, I wish I was in Canada or something. I'm sweating on the keyboard...

We'll have to talk about historical accounts and potential inaccuracies some other time. I'm done. If this one doesn't post I'm going ballistic. Except I'm copying it first. Fool me 3 times...

Arnie Adkison said...

Of course. I copied it this time and it published. I thought about copying it last time but thought, hell no, it won't happen twice. Am I ranting too much?