blip : Blog of Isaac & Jason :

Cosmology & Creation

October 21st, 2005 by Jason · 7 Comments

It’s been a while since I posted, with no real excuse other than not having much inspiration or commitment. Anyhow, school has fixed that problem with making writing a requirement once again. I’m putting up a paper I wrote for my Science, Philosophy, and Theology class at Fuller. entitled Cosmology & Creation [PDF]. Here’s the intro paragraph in case you want to know where it’s headed:

Science and theology are in a deadly conflict, with science as the herald of impartial truth and theology a dying relic of a bygone era. Or so goes the popular caricature of the “battle” between science and faith in contemporary Western culture. However, many are finding that good science and good theology can aid and challenge each other, and perhaps nowhere more than in the realm of the Christian story of creation and the scientific discoveries of our beginnings by cosmologists and physicists. In the past one hundred years, with the advent of the Big Bang theory and the increasing knowledge of the inner-workings of our universe, a realm has opened up between theology and science that allows for new discussions and intersections between the two.

Tags: papers · theology

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 isaac // Oct 22, 2005 at 11:52 am

    Jason, thanks for sharing your paper with us. I know this sort of thing—figuring out the relationship between science and faith—is close to your heart and mind. So, I can feel why this is important for you.

    I wanted to pull out some quotes and themes and see if you could say a little bit more about them. This first quote calls attention to an important move in your paper—namely, wondering about genre: “When reading anything, be it Scripture, the newspaper, poetry, or comics, it is important to ask what genre the writing is. This is because genre triggers our reading strategy” (p.2). This brings up something that I wonder about these days. That is, what should be the place of appealing to sources outside the text itself in order to situate Scripture? The root of my question centers around power—who has the interpretive power over our holy text? As soon as we frame the text between other ancient texts don’t we give priority to the historical scholar (and therefore the University, and all its accompanying power-politics—like professors trying to get tenure)? That worries me sometimes. I want to say that the job of the pastor-theologian is to give the text back to the hermeneutical context of the church—it’s her holy Scriptures after all. This is not to say that listening to genre changes aren’t important. Rather, it makes this discernment of genre part of the close reading of the whole canon. When we read the text as part of the story of canon, literary differences emerge that help us figure out what kind of text we are reading—why and how it is different and similar to the ‘law’ sections in Exodus or Leviticus. So, I’m wondering what you think. I think I am open to reasons why it is important to locate Scripture amidst other contemporary texts. The holy scriptures are human afterall. But then I also wonder about the prioritizing of one ‘contemporary’ time (i.e. the time of the writen text) over another ‘contemporary’ time (i.e. the constantly shifting time of the reader).

    Another thing that struck me was what you said about the ‘rational order’ of creation: “Another important feature is that God establishes order out of chaos – as opposed to warring with other gods – which means that the created universe is understandable and rational” (p.4). I want to say Yes here. I mean, God creates through the Logos, through a certain divine logic. But I also wonder about the strangeness of this divine logic. It’s a logic that looks like the witness of Jesus (Jn.1). So it’s a logic revealed between Cross and Resurrection. But that connection defies all conceptualization. Our human rationality cannot explicate the connection, the relationship, the line between cross and resurrection. It’s an equation that only the slaughtere Lamb can solve (Rev.4-5). So, all that to ask, in what sense can we say that creatio ex nihilo is “understandable and rational”? The rationality is there because Jesus made it all, so it makes sense in his mind. But how is that mind available to us? And if it is (and I want to say it is—Paul says something about putting on “the mind of Christ”), what does that mean about our desire to use pagan knowledges, and the powers of University knowledge production? I guess I am sounding like quite the sectarian, quite the Barthian. And I know that can be a tenuous position.

    And my last question wonders about what you mean by ‘literal’: “We concluded that we do not need to hold to a literal interpretation of every detail of the Genesis account, but that the overarching themes, especially those which were in contrast to other ancient near eastern creation accounts are essential for a Christian theology of creation” (p.10). I guess I wonder about the realationship between our ability to formulate ‘overarching themes’ of the text without a certain sort of ‘literal’ read. And then again I wonder about framing the creation accounts in Genesis in the millieu of Babylonian and Near Eastern texts. I can see why that is an interpretive helpful move. My professor Allen Verhey made that move when he lectured on the ethics of Genesis. Basically, he located the redaction of Genesis 1 and 2 in Babylonian captivity so that the text reads as a polemic text against Empire. Fun read, definitely. But then I ask, “Well, does that starting point just say more about your overall desire to combat Empire?” One could just as easily frame it with another story, another genre backdrop. Like Revelation 21, or something. Or the the backdrop of human experience, like folks who forgot the relationship between the earth and the human body. I don’t know. It seems like there are tons of ways of legitimately framing one’s read of the biblical text. I just wonder about the logic behind those choices. “Why read it that way and not another?”

    Just some questions. That’s for provoking my thinking.

  • 2 Jason // Oct 23, 2005 at 2:04 pm

    Isaac, thanks for asking such good questions! Let me try to answer them, though, I admit, I often feel as in the dark as you in regards to a faithful interpretation.

    In regards to genre: I do think it a good idea to remember that it is the church’s Scripture, and not the posession of academia. But, I want to define church as the church triumphant; the cloud of witnesses in heaven and on earth, and that includes the Israelites that wrote Genesis. I feel like we, the church militant, make the text work for us, reading what we want into the text (I’m thinking here of those who read Genesis as a polemic against evolution). To let the text speak in the genre it was written in by ancient Israel is a fuller conception of church, I would argue. Of course, in saying that I’m already in a pit of other problems. How do we know what genre the Israelites read Genesis as? We can’t be sure—we can only compare it to other similar texts that they may have known and modeled Genesis after (hence comparing with other ANE texts). But, in all honesty, I would guess that the Israelites read Genesis more literally than I would be comfortable with (though I feel there is some wiggle room here because they were comfortable leaving the two accounts of Genesis 1 & 2 in the canon.

    Regarding the rational order of creation: Here, I think you are right on. I think Scripture allows us to affirm both the “rationality” we find in the universe (I am thinking here, of the beautiful simplicity we find in so many of the natural laws, i.e. Einstein’s E = mc(2)). However, there is also room for the “rationality of the cross and resurrection” as you call it which often looks upside down to us. I think creation ex nihilo may fall here. In some ways in makes no sense. How can something come from nothing? It defies all our conceptions. Even if we say it comes from the “fullness of God’s being” it does not resolve the difficulties. Or, I think of Pi, that infinite number that seems to have no pattern and just keeps on going and going.

    Regarding not reading the text literally: again, I find much to agree with you here. Even as I wrote the paper I was suspicious about this idea of pulling out “overarching principles” from the text. That sounds too much like the modern project of taking out the “gold nuggets” of truth, the eternal principles, from a text and discarding the superfolous details. I don’t want to do that, I want to read Genesis as a story, a true story, where you can’t discard any of it without losing something. And yet. How then to relate a story to science, bioethics, or our lives, if we do not take something from the story? I’m not sure here. At the heart of this question is, what does truth look like in a story? All that to say when I wrote that “we don’t need to hold a literal interpretation” I had in mind six day creationists who feel that if we don’t read the six days of creation in Genesis 1 as “literal” and reject all forms of evolution and old-earth cosmology we will lose the faith (I’ve heard this taught many-a-time). I still want to hold to that statement, but does it need to be said differently?

    Ok, one question for you. You refer to our desire to use pagan knowledges. Are you referring to science here, or biblical criticism? And I wonder, what makes them pagan? The fact that they do not always speak from within the church? I think I am a bit more reformed here (but only in this way!), in that I want to affirm that where truth is found (and I think there is much in both disciplines) it is from God, even it is has its origins in the “pagans.” Thoughts?

  • 3 isaac // Oct 29, 2005 at 4:58 pm

    Oh no! Reformed!! What happened to you? Always remember Jean Calvin was a lawyer at heart. He reads the bible like a lawyer. That at least should make us a little suspicious :). How about you go with Augustine instead? I would much rather call yourself an Augustinian than Reformed. In On Christian Teaching/Doctrine he draws on the story of Israel taking the gold and silver from Egypt as they leave for the Promised Land: “Just as the Egyptians had not only idols and grave burdens which the people of Israel detested and avoided, so also they had vases and ornaments of gold and silver and clothing which the Israelites took with them secretly when they fled, as if to put them to a better use.” But, then he adds that these wonderful treasures of the Egyptians are actually from God too: “These are, as it were, their gold and silver, which they did not institute themselves but dug up from certain mines of divine Providence, which is everywhere infused, and perversely and injuriously abused in the worship of demons” (2.40.60). So, I think that works for your point: “I want to affirm that where truth is found…it is from GOd, even if it has its origins in the ‘pagans’”. Yeah, man. That works for me. And Augustine saves you from the Reformed crowd (Why not go with the Roman church? just kidding).

    So, yeah. I think you are right. We should plunder the ‘Egyptian’ university!! But I also think there should be some more fear and trembling going on with these choices. I am thinking about how Israel uses these Egyptian gifts to make that golden calf. We can easily turn those academic reading strategies into gods, idols. I mean, I get so frustrated with how people think they can’t read the bible rightly with a bunch of people at bible study. It’s always, “Well, the footnote in my study bible says…” The text is not ‘solved’—nobody knows what it really ‘means.’ It’s always discovery. I worry about the way biblical critical methods shut down conversation. That’s all.

    Ok, there may be more here that you are picking up on. This is where my position gets shaky because as much as I try, I can’t get Karl Barth out of my head. I always here echoes. I guess I hesitate every time I enter into the whole science and theology conversation because I wonder about who is setting up the terms of the conversation. You know what I mean? It’s like the politician who gets up in front of a press conference and doesn’t answer the question; she doesn’t accept the premise of the question so she formulates another question and answers that one. It’s an issue of power. Who has the power to set the bounds for the conversation, for the argument? So, this is what Barth says: “The pressure exerted by science on theology could have been resisted if theology had been more energetically and effectively concerned with its own…divine science: if it had realised that it is primarily the creature and not the Creator of whom we are not certain, and that in order to be certain of him we need proof or revelation. If it had said at once in this comprehensive sense that the creation of the world by God can be known only by faith, the unfortunate appearance of a rearguard action would have been avoided” (CD III/1: 6). So, it seems like the whole conversation is changed if we go with Barth. Instead of fitting Scripture into the framework of something called “science,” Barth thinks the very presuposed foundation of that inquiry into the beginnings of things is shaky. It’ the creature and its created knowledges that are uncertain. If our only starting point in what we know by faith, by revelation, then we have to wonder about how certain their starting point it, and if their starting point already dooms their project. That’s the problem Barth poses. And that’s the voice I hear when I try to think about whether or not Science and Theology can meet.

    I guess your Reformed (or, if we let me rescue you from that theological project, let’s call it Augustinian) premise of revelation diffused throughout the world awaiting our discovery can give you more “common” knowledges (i.e., natural theology, natural grace, all that sort of stuff). But still, it seems, you have to wonder about what enables you to discern properly. I mean, how do you know you are using what you find in Egypt for the building of the Tabernacle and not the golden calf? If, as Calvin says (who am I kidding… I got some Reformed theology flowing through my veins), our ability to perceive is damaged and we always deceive ourselves, then how can you be sure if what you are finding in pagan resources is at all good? Calvin tells us we need Scripture to help us see properly, to heal our vision. If that’s the case, then it seems we need to turn to Israel to figure out what to do with their holy Scriptures. We need to figure out how Israel reads those creation accounts. Before we think we can say that Genesis speaks about what Science is speaking about, we have to see how those creation accounts are used throughout Isreal’s story, throughout the OT narrative (and maybe that means we should turn to Jewish interpretation for insight as well—it’s their text too). What if we find that the Israel isn’t really interested in questions about the “big bang,” that the creation accounts are used instead as a polemic against Babylon and their systems of gods? Does this mean that the creation accounts should teach us that we must attack the principles (gods?) of scientific systems, the foundations of that sort of faith? I don’t know.

    I guess there is another problem that sneaks in the backdoor at this point. And that might be that I am giving ground to those who frame the passages according to historical critical methodologies—they become the ones who have the power of interpretation because they can properly situate the stories in their appropriate historical perspective. And I don’t like that. I also want to say that our questions and problems, our experiences, can provide new vantages points for framing the text, for situating the proper meaning of the narrative. That’s a dilemna. But I guess I also want to say that our experience, our questions, must be judged by the text. Sometime we just ask the wrong questions, and that takes us down wrong paths. So, I guess there has to be some way that the canon sets the terms for the sort of inquiry in which we are engaged as “people of the book.” Now I am turning to ramble. I hope you get my drift.

  • 4 Duane Ertle // Nov 2, 2005 at 12:27 pm

    Cosmology needs to have a basis for that which exists. The following may be of help.



    (C) 2004, Duane Ertle

    In order to introduce the problem, I am going to quote a few sentences from a book “The Universe and Dr. Einstein,” by Lincoln Barnett, published in 1960 by Mentor Books. The quotes are from pages 61 and 63 respectively.

    The first concept involves that of mass.
    “In its popular sense, mass is just another word for weight. But used by the physicist, it denotes a rather different and more fundamental property of matter: namely, resistance to a change of motion. A greater force is necessary to move or stop a freight car than a velocipede; the freight car resists a change in its motion more stubbornly than the velocipede because it has greater mass. ... But Relativity asserts that the mass of a moving body is by no means constant, but increases with its velocity relative to an observer. In short, energy has mass!”

    Next, we need to look at the reason for this belief.
    “By further deduction from his principle of Relativity of mass, Einstein arrived at a conclusion of incalculable importance to the world. His train of reasoning ran somewhat as follows: since the mass of a moving body increases as its motion increases, and since motion is a form of energy (kinetic energy), then the increased mass of a moving body comes from its increased energy. ...”

    Now I am going to quote a paragraph from “The Bones of Time,” copyrighted in 1978 by Duane Ertle, it is from the chapter “Flexible Time.”

    “The reason a fast moving mass is so difficult to stop, or have a direction change in, is due to its becoming frozen in a linear manner so energy cannot pass through its total volume as happens when it is at rest. When a mass moves at one-hundred thousand miles a second, the energy existent and having potential movement at right angles to its direction of travel could be at most a distance of eighty-six thousand miles a second. When moving at the speed of light minus two feet per second, the potential energy existent at right angles to its forward motion would only be two feet in one second. At the speed of light the mass would convert from being a three-dimensional object and would become a single beam of high energy photons streaking through space, all existing in only one dimension. Obviously there would be zero energy potential at right angles to the direction of travel.”

    Moving mass does not acquire additional mass as it moves. Atomic matter is composed of waveform. As electromagnetic energy (a wave) has differing energy values, so, also, does mass at different speeds have an overall differing waveform. The waveform is derived from the moving mass itself, as energy at right angles to direction of travel decreases in line density with movement, and transfers a proportional amount of that frequency toward the direction of travel. In this sense greater mass is being added to the forward motion of the mass at the expense of the energy/mass at right angles to it.

    There is an expression that deals with frequency density and an increase of energy as the lines of frequency increase. The expression in question says that E=hf. The energy of an electromagnetic wave is equal to that of a very small numerical constant times the frequency of the wave. The greater the frequency of the wave, the more energy the electromagnetic wave would have. Radio waves may have very long peak-to-peak distances of thousands of meters, while cosmic radiation is able to have its frequency so compressed that it acts as dimensional mass, and there may be trillions of frequencies, or waves within a single meter. Now consider how the frequency at right angles to direction of movement changes from having great potential in those directions, toward having less, thus giving up mass/energy potential. Energy, in form of greater frequency, converts to an overall change of mass, or as some would say, “... resistance to a change of motion.”

    The concept of E=hf is an equation that works for three different elements of nature:

    1. E=hf, is an equation that describes why electromagnetic energy has greater and lesser energy values. Radio waves have very little energy value, while gamma and cosmic radiation have a great deal. And it all is dependent upon wave frequency and the density of that wave in a particular space.

    2. mk=hf, (mass kinetic energy, equals hf) describes why mass shrinks to an observer as it moves. Because mass is composed of electromagnetic energy, it has the same wave values as electromagnetic energy, but in a very condensed manner. Electromagnetic energy remains in three-dimensional space in form of standing waves, yet having the same linear value of 186,000 mps all the while. Like a runner on a racetrack traveling all the while at that great speed. The same distance is traveled, just not in a straight line. As long as the velocity value within mass maintains the value of “c” it does not matter how small the “race track” becomes.

    The, mk=hf, value demonstrates that the shrinkage of a moving mass is constant with frequency change. There are no sudden changes in mass/energy values. It also explains why the energy transfer takes place as frequency converts at right angles to that of forward motion. Just as sound waves have greater frequency with greater mass speed (thus the lines of frequency shrink, or become compressed) so, also, mass in the direction of travel shrinks in proportion to a greater or lesser internal frequency or energy values.

    3. c=hf, is that for the relationship of a gravitational field and its frequency. It is possible that a “graviton,” a single gravitational wave, has the same frequency as all other gravitational waves, no matter where they form; and what we consider as field of gravity has to do with quantity and not quality. Even though it might be either way, at present it appears that a gravitational field is formed of a quantity of waves (a greater multitude of waves all exactly the same no matter where in earth they formed) and not their frequency; although the c=hf concept would be valid in either sense.

    Dr. Einstein understood moving mass from the perspective of how it related directly to that of energy – and it worked for him. He arrived at E=mc2! But the same result is able to be found by understanding that mass is composed of waves, and the moving mass undergoes a change from being greater in mass in three dimensions toward that of becoming greater in waveform in one direction and less in the other two dimensions.

    In order that the reader may understand the thinking of today concerning the potential ramification of compounding mass, I am going to quote a paragraph found in a book entitled “Asimov’s Guide to Science,” (c) 1972; published by Basic Books Inc..
    “... When Oppenheimer worked out the properties of the neutron star in 1939, he predicted also that it was possible for a star that was massive enough and cool enough, to collapse altogether to nothingless. When such collapse proceeded past the neutron star stage, the gravitational field would become so intense that no matter what, no light could escape from it. Nothing could be seen of it; it would simply be a “black hole” in space.”
    To which concept I would say; Oppenheimer did not realize that the force of gravity is a field of energy, c2=E/m, initiated by the heat energy within a solar mass. No heat – no energy.

    Black holes today are an attempt to explain why so much mass is missing from creation – 90%. The galaxies have been stretched out, and there is not enough mass in empty space to account for distances outward and their being so far apart from each other. But, that condition is not really new news. In the book of Isaiah 45:12 God said 2700 years ago that the heavens had been stretched out. “I have made the earth, and created man upon it, I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded.” So, then, it is not ‘black holes” that mankind needs to find, but God.

    The conclusion is this. Because moving mass has increased frequency change in direction of movement until it reaches the speed of light, it then converts into radiation; there is no manner by which a black hole is able to form under any condition. There is no manner whereby the mass in question may be anything other than the original mass converted into what it already, intrinsically, was. This means, if it is impossible for a black hole to form, then it is just as impossible for the “big bang” to have happened. Neither of these events ever did exist nor shall they. They both soon shall disappear with a “little poof” into an obscure page somewhere in antiquity.

  • 5 isaac // Nov 3, 2005 at 11:23 am

    Wow Duane, that was a mouthfull!! Just to let you know, I think using the ‘trackback’ option would have been more approrpiate. Anyhow, so, I read your argument but am still not quite sure what you think how Christians should think about the dialogue between science and faith. You used a lot of scientific argument, but how does theology or faith work into that? Or is that a stupid question for me to ask? I mean, the only time you looked to the Bible was that passage you quoted from Isaiah 45. And it was interesting that you took a literal approach to that passage: it sounds like you think God has hands and stretches material particles across the universe. That’s interesting. Does that mean you read the bible like a science textbook? I am wondering how you think about the diversity of knowledges you find in scientific modes of inquiry as distinct from biblical sorts of knowledge? I think that those are the questions Jason and I are talking about. I would love to hear your voice in our conversation.

  • 6 Jason // Nov 8, 2005 at 10:27 pm

    Isaac, thanks for following up with a bit of Barth for me. However, I just don’t think I can go with him here. The seperatist account of science and theology doesn’t fit my experience or epistemology. As for experience, I find that what science discovers shapes what I believe. Science says the earth is round and so it changes my (and the church’s) interpretive strategy on texts that talk about the sun rising and setting or the four corners of the earth (not that this was an easy interpretive shift for the 16th century church!). Or again, if science says life evolved or the universe evolved it has profound effects on how I read Scripture and develop a theology of creation. And epistemologically speaking I think knowledge is unified. How could it be otherwise, for if truth comes from some outside source besides God then we’re left with a dualist account of reality. I find a complementarian view of science and theology to work better, where each discipline provides ideas, models, and analogies that can deepen and extend the other.

    However, all that said, I think you have a point about the noetic effects of sin and not trusting any one “avenue” of truth as 100% timeless and sure. But even given the caveat that what science says now may change later doesn’t mean I want to just abandon the process. We deal with this uncertainty when we look at how psychology, archaeology, or philosophy can be brought into discussion with theology. And, I guess I think the risks are worth it because the potential for fruitful insights is so high.

  • 7 isaac // Nov 12, 2005 at 12:57 pm

    “I find a complementarian view of science and theology to work better, where each discipline provides ideas, models, and analogies that can deepen and extend the other.” I thought you said you thought knowledge was unified? But then, it seems, you can’t say that there is something called “scientific” knowledge that is different from “theological” knowledge, right? If it’s “one” how can it also be “complimentary”? If it is “one” then there can’t really be an “other”, right? So, I still wonder: what is the status of the authority of science? I think I want to say that knowldge is unified (Logos, Sophia) and that means that all non-theological explorations of reality (including science) should be appealed to with a skeptical ambivalence. Their authority to describe reality must be questioned because their epistemic foundation is quite shaky. That doesn’t mean that our ability to see God’s creation for what it is must not use the resources of science. It just means that our interactions with pagan sciences (by ‘pagan’ I mean those knowledges that reject a christological starting point) must be careful, with the knowledge that most of the time their architectures of knowledge are doomed to fail, but we might be able to recuperate them.

    All that to say, I don’t know if I can buy what you call a “complimentarian” view of science and theology. I have a hard time seeing how those who deny that creation relates to itself through the logic of the Logos can ever claim authority to disrupt theological conceptions of reality whose knowledge is held accountable to the christological logic of creation revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. I think I want to say that those scientists don’t know what they see. They definitely see something with their tools and techniques, but they are in the dark about what it is that they are seeing. That means that the church’s responsibility is to shine the light of Christ into those hypothesis. And this light might just explode their frameworks. But I have a hard time believing that ‘they’ would be able to get a handle on the reality of the way all things “live and move and have their being” in God in such a way that calls into question the theology of the church.

    I have a hard time seeing how a “complimentary” correlation between theology and science escapes the temptation of idolatry. Let me repeat what I said above: “But still, it seems, you have to wonder about what enables you to discern properly. I mean, how do you know you are using what you find in Egypt for the building of the Tabernacle and not the golden calf?” That image still haunts my thinking about science and theology.