A Religious Liberal Blog

This site hopefully can provide some vehicle by which I can comment, complain, and once in a while praise the state of religion in this country and around the world from a liberal protestant perspective.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

I wanted to thank folks for the thoughtful responses to my easter post. Here's some of the thinking behind my post. Process thinkers make a distinction between objective and personal immortality. One is focused on the way our actions carry on beyond us to affect the future while the latter is some personal existence after death.

I recognize that the church has largely pinned it's hopes on personal immortality, but I was seeking to recast the resurrection in terms of objective immortality. One reason is that I have reason to believe in the latter while after life language has become largely inexplicable to me, especially given an evolutionary understanding of the world.

Should our religious language relate to our understanding of the world? I'd argue yes. I'm not suggesting that such language can fully capture matters of religious concern...only that there is something of it which references the world as we know it. If this is given up, we have the problem on the left of an abandonment of checks over what counts as a valid religious claim.

On the right we have an abandonment to some religious authority which dictates how we will think. But in directing religious claims to the world of experience, we make claims public, subject to criticism, revision and we provide the place where religion can impact and be impacted by other fields of inquiry. It could be one route for a religious vision which integrates all areas of human life.


At 11:56 AM , Anonymous Jeff said...


I'm not very well versed in Whitehead, et all, so just an opening question that may show my ignorance--do you think that process theology perhaps commits a catagory error by recasting everything in evolutionary terms?
It seems that one can hold both to a view of evolutionary biology and a theistic God.

And doesn't such a view of "ascending evolution" reflect an earlier cultural idea that evolution has some "plan" behind it? If it is random mutation, then there is no overarching goal. Increasing complexity, indeed, may be devolution instead of evolution.

My ignorance fully established, I cease. Selah.

At 7:02 PM , Blogger virusdoc said...

As an evolutionary biologist, I'm interested in a clearer description of why an evolutionary worldview precludes personal immortality in your view. Regardless of our biological origins (creation ex nihilo in an instant vs. gradual evolution from lifeless matter over eons), personal immortality seems an equivalently ridiculous leap of faith. And if equivalently ridiculous, then also equivalently believable.

At 9:41 PM , Blogger greg said...

Dwight says "Should our religious language relate to our understanding of the world? I'd argue yes." If fact the Gospel writers were of the same opinion, and that was why they included all of the miracles in the Gospels. 2000 years ago everybody knew how to recognize the hand of God - miracles. Including the miracles in the Gospels was a way of conferring authority on Jesus, of establishing his claim to be the Christ.

In the last few hundred years, it has become apparent that miracles of the physical sort described in the bible simply don't occur. Apparently, God doesn't work that way. With this new knowledge, the technique used by the Gospel writers to bolster Jesus' stature backfires badly. In fact, because many of the claims in the bible fly in the face of our current understanding of the world, they actually form an impediment toward the acceptance of Jesus' good news, rather than an aid.

What is amazing to me is that virtually everyone on both the right and the left spend endless energy arguing over the meaning of the rhetorical devices which the Gospel writers used to convey Jesus' good news, and almost no energy talking about the good news itself. And even less energy actually trying to lead a Christ-like life.

The ancient Israelites, through the various prophets, were constantly improving and refining their understanding of God. Why Christians have seen fit to try and freeze our understanding of God at the point that it reached 1900 years ago with the writing of the material in the New Testament is simply beyond me. Yes, Jesus represents a singular event, but our understanding of that event has been, and should continue to be, evolving. God may or may not be changing (that's really up to God, isn't it?), but since our understanding of God will always be incomplete and partially incorrect, it must always be evolving.

At 10:51 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

I agree that theism and evolution can work together, pretty well actually. Most accounts of theism along these lines in the last century make God far more active in the ongoing flow of events then many forms of traditional theism one comes across these days.

I'm not sure that you'd find process thinkers speaking about some inevitable ascent or overaching telos. But it does seem that increasing complexity means increasing fragility of the organism. And yet there is also increasing chances for novelty.

When you have communication there could also be increasing levels of inter-connection. C.S.Peirce calls this agapic love. If there's an active process which works in this direction, then it's possible to participate in it in a manner which leaves it's mark on future events. That's what my post was shooting for in any case.

I didn't mean to suggest that personal immortality was precluded. I'm agnostic about the subject but I was trying to say that I don't know how to make sense of it. What is a soul? Is it our personality? How could that work outside of our bodies? How would an evolutionary account work with such ideas? Not sure but help is appreciated.

I think you hit on a key issue. Especially this "since our understanding of God will always be incomplete and partially incorrect, it must always be evolving" A big concern for me is to make sure the church provides space, allows for that sort of reconstructing work.

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