Thursday, April 14, 2005

Academy for Christian Thought Seminar: The Natural Sciences & Christian Theology


The next ACT seminar on April 16th [What Every Christian Ought to Know About Science and Christian Theology] at the Empire State Building will be delivered by Ron Choong. This 3 hour seminar will consider the philosophical commitments intrinsic to the natural sciences and Christian theology. Each field of inquiry assume the significance of metaphysics to shape its ontology. The proposal for a doctrine of science will assess Alister McGrath's appropriation of Roy Bhaskar's critical scientific realism. In what he calls a scientific theology, McGrath argues for an a posteriori critical realist methodology to articulate a possible dialogue between science and theology. In addition, Wentzel van Huyssteen's postfoundationalism and Nicholas Rescher's mathematical notion of transversal rationality will be considered for a democratic platform by which to buttress McGrath's model. Ron Choong's notion of science as discovery of divine disclosure (DDD) and theology as a commitment to a convictional confession (CCC) will be used to describe a creational origination of reality. The case study for this will be an interdisciplinary redescription of the Christian doctrine of creation which can account for a scientific quest for the question of origins (universe, life and reflective consciousness). If it is possible to articulate a biblically faithful doctrine which is both coherent to revelational reflection and corresponds to observational speculation, a major advance may be claimed for progress towards a true theory of everything (TTOE), not one limited to just physics ala Stephen Hawking's TOE.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

The Trinity, Jesus and the Y-chromosome

Thinking Things Through

The Academy for Christian Thought
Bulletin #1 - March 2005

What we look forward to in 2005
Paideia Bible Studies for international students and scholars will reflect the Old Testament theme with a global perspective, asking after the relevance of the Hebrew-Jewish-Israelite experience for a universal faith. These studies engage contemporary issues prevalent on the campus and workplace.
The completion of the first full year of Project Timothy. This novel approach to a close reading of the Scriptures in community guided by lectures in theology, biblical history and philosophy provides a strong foundation to understand the Bible. Forming Prayer Triplets for accountability, each participant learns to use biblical tools such as concordances, commentaries and historical atlases and formulate their apologetic and missional thoughts responsibly. In having to offer a testimony to be critiqued by the group, each member has to rethink what it means to be a witness. I am assisted by two able tutors who are former PT graduates, Vivek Mathew and Gene Yuan.
The Areopagus Seminars for 2005 feature studies in Christianity and World Religions as well as Science and Theology. The 30 titles of ACT manuals are now available for purchase online. We began the year with a survey of the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds titled “What Christians Really Believe”. I spoke on the significance of a creedal faith in a relativistic world. The Scriptures serve as an anchor for the church and provide a peerless measure of confessional stability. This speaks against the charge that Christianity is what Christians practise. The February seminar was “Quest for the Christian Mind”, a survey of the 3 Cs of Christian belief - convictional commitment to the confession - that Christ is God and Lord. The next seminar is an introduction to the 1947 discovery of the “Dead Sea Scrolls” and its implications for Christianity.
The Kairos Lectures in Systematic Theology have generated requests for recordings. (see next point). In the first quarter, I examined the twin doctrines of creation and providence, topics which are crucial for our understanding of theology in a postmodern scientific world. Then we considered the doctrine of man, exploring what it means to be made in the image of God and how this can address the life sciences. Next, we will cover the Bible’s historical role in shaping the Church, including a survey of the Lost and the Banned Books.

In this Bulletin, I would like to explain why we ought to be interested in apologetics (the art of giving a reasoned defense of what we believe). In the early Christian church, apologetics was the first duty of every Christian. Without it, the church as we know it would not have arisen and much of what we take for granted as ‘gospel truth’ would be nothing but blind faith.
Let me begin with a defense of the doctrine of the Trinity, the foundation of the Christian faith. Do Christians worship one god or three gods? Both options are incorrect. We worship the god who is one! The maker of heaven and earth, who spoke to Adam and Eve, saved Noah and his family, called Abram out of Mesopotamia, named Jacob Israel, called Moses to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt, and who guided Joshua into Canaan, is the God who is one and, not one god. The shema in Deuteronomy 6:4 [Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one ] and James 2:19 [You believe that God is one; you do well...] refer not to one God but God who is one. Christianity is not a monotheistic faith. It is a trinitarian faith. We have become theologically corrupted by well-meaning but biblically-challenged worship songs which have become a major source of our biblical knowledge, so we sing “The Lord our God is One Lord”, suggesting that we worship one God rather than the God who is one. But who can understand this mathematical conundrum? It is easier to say that we worship one God expressed in three forms rather than a unitary of three gods. Yet this has no biblical warrant. It is just a cop-out. We should be bold enough to say that God revealed in the Scriptures as the Father, the Son and the Spirit are titles describing the three distinct persons of the trinitarian godhead, for which any attempt at mathematical formulation will collapse. What they have in common is the same will. This we need not wonder about or guess at - they do not contradict each other. It is this character of God which makes our Lord one. In every other respect we do not have a biblical description of a singular god.
We conclude that our God is one, Father, Son and Spirit. While we testify to God’s singular and unified will, we cannot and need not explain either to the satisfaction of history, philosophy or science, any verification of just such a claim. All three fields of inquiry are limited by the powers of human perception. As a metaphysical claim, it is beyond the competence of human inquiry to devise a test, and if a test exists, no one can understand or even recognize it. The non-verifiability of doctrines is the consequence not of theological weakness but of the limits of human inquiry. In this apologetic, we use philosophy to keep both scientific and theological claims honest. The nature of scientific inquiry is to observe, ponder and explain natural phenomena by inference to the best explanation (IBE). It offers descriptive rather than truth statements. This is why progress in science, replacing wrong knowledge with better but not necessarily correct knowledge, is an acceptable practice. Theological doctrines however, are not observational approximations by inference. Rather, they are truth claims and may not be fully understood even by the messenger, since such claims are revelatory and not inferential. Science discovers what God discloses. Theology reflects on what God reveals. Philosophy keeps both of them honest. However, responsible doctrinal effort always takes into account the inferences of the sciences, the imagination of the arts, and the poetic expressions of literature as it reflects theologically. A complete theological construct of reality engages every sphere of human culture because that is the way we know knowledge about anything. We ask how this insight from revelation that God is triune helps us better understand the worlds of the natural sciences, the fine arts, literature, history, philosophy, the business world, economics, politics and “the man on the Clapham Omnibus” (man in the street). At the very least, it distinguishes the Christian faith from both Judaism and Islam. That God is trinitarian allows for a divine judge, redeemer, and comforter. That God is creator answers the question of origins. That God loves and judges answer the questions of ethics. No philosophy or religion offers such a comprehensive worldview.

In my next Bulletin, I shall examine the rejection of the virgin conception which led to the birth of Jesus, our Lord. This leads to two heresies, Docetism and Ebionism. The first is the teaching that Jesus is divine and cannot be fully human while the second is the claim that Jesus is a great human but not divine. One easy way to remember the difference is that just as D comes before E (Docetism before Ebionism), so the heresy about Jesus’ humanity comes before the rejection of Jesus’ divinity. The issue at stake is whether Jesus, if he was indeed fully human and male at that, had a Y-chromosome, which all human males possess? If he does not have a Y-chromosome, he is not fully human male. If he has a Y-chromosome, where in the world did he get it from? The only possible answer is that he got it at conception by the power of the Holy Spirit. All other human males received from paternity of another human but Jesus in this case, did not. Is this a serious argument against the doctrine of Christology, that Jesus is both God and man? While this may seem a flippant attack on Christianity, be assured that at biology classes all over the world, millions of Christian students who accept the doctrinal teaching of the Church begins to wonder when they come to Genetics 101.

Until the next Bulletin, may the grace of the Lord be your peace, Ron Choong

Kant and Christianity

What follows is very brief summary of an essay I wrote some years ago at Yale for a seminar rethinking Kant's posture with respect to the Christian doctrine of atonement. John E. Hare had just been appointed to the Noah Porter chair in philosophical theology to replace my other teacher there, Nicholas Wolterstorff (who retired). Hare is both an internationally recognized Kant as well as Kierkegaard scholar. I quickly wrote to ask if we could do a one-on-one tutorial comparing the two masters of philosophy. he agreed and two other doctoral students joined us for a semester (12 weeks) of intense close reading. Both Hare and I studied under the same professor at Princeton, the just retired Diogenes Allen (for whom I served as his last teaching fellow), famed for his absolute intolerance for any lack of precision and rigor in philosophical argumentation.
Both Hare and I were taught (many moons apart) by Allen and his generation of Oxford trained scholars, that Kant moved away from orthodox Christiantiy. However, starting some 15 years ago, a fresh generation of thinkers began to change their impression of Kant's famous First Critique. Among them was a young John Hare, son of Oxford's legendary philosophy don R. M. Hare (an atheist). John's view piqued my interest and I decided to read for myself and hear John out in a serious engagement where the stakes really count - in a seminar where as a student, I have everything to lose. I was duly impressed by Hare's principal argument and explored Kierkegaard myself to make a comparison.
Here, I argue that Kant has been misunderstood for several generations and a new generation of Kant scholars, including evangelicals, have begun to question the popular view that Kant was anti-Christian.
Due to the length of the essay (almost 60 pages), I am posting a summary and a part of the conclusion. Please ignore the numebrs (footnote numbers)


“Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe... the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me. I see them before me and connect them immediately with the consciousness of my existence” Immanuel Kant - Critique of Practical Reason, 1788

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) and Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) deny that we can acquire a theoretical knowledge of God. For Kant, we know of God by intuition and for Kierkegaard, by experience. By objective and subjective ways of knowing God, both try to show that God cannot be known with objective certainty, i.e., by verification, but can be known through religious belief.
This paper will examine Kierkegaard’s criticism of Kant’s notion of atonement as insufficient and ask if Kierkegaard had correctly interpreted him. For Kant, religious belief is found in pure practical, as opposed to pure theoretical reason. Belief in God is generated by human reflection of the moral gap between what we are and what we ought to be. He has often been thought of as negating the true meaning of Christian theological doctrine of atonement by his rejection of divine grace in favor of auto-salvation.
We begin with a brief survey of Kant’s notion of religion and atonement found in his second critique and his major work on religion. Then we shall summarize Kierkegaard’s three stages of life in his pseudonymous Either/Or. Next, we will discuss Kierkegaard’s critique of Kant’s theory of atonement. We conclude with an appraisal of Kierkegaard’s critique with a commentary on the advantage of literary pseudonymity and the limitation of writing within the limits of reason alone.

The key to understanding Kant is to note his thought experiments in his preface to the second edition of Religion, in which he explains the title of the book. Consider a sphere of pure religion of reason within a larger sphere of historical revelation. All confessional statements describing historical events fall within the part of the larger sphere outside of the smaller sphere, while matters of reason fall within the smaller sphere. He explains that “The philosopher, as a teacher of pure reason, must confine himself within the narrower circle ... and waive consideration of all experiences”41 . While the inner circle rules out parts of the historical revelation as it is interpreted, it does not rule out religion.
This distinction between religion per se and historical events of religious significance is important because it hints at Kant’s determination to control the selection of what is properly within the confines of knowledge by reason alone. He also considers a second thought experiment in which he privileges some alleged divine revelation and leave out the pure religion of reason to examine the revelation as an historical system in the light of moral concepts and see where it leads. If the experiments are successful, he wishes to show that “reason can be found to be ... compatible with Scripture [and] also at one with it, so that he who follows one will not fail to be conformed to the other”. Otherwise, we will have two religions, one of human reason and one of divine revelation42 .
When we read Kant’s notion of atonement in Religion, we must bear in mind the purpose for which he wrote it. Kant’s project of translating religiously significant historical events known to us by divine revelation to the religion of pure reason is not an act of reducing religion to morality. It is an interdisciplinary attempt to speak confessional language in philosophical terms of reference.
Even when he speaks of “Man himself must make or have made himself ... in a moral sense ... whether himself good or evil... an effect of his free choice”, Kant qualifies this statement by limiting it to the moral sense. Likewise he writes that we must understand the phrase Man is created good as Man is created for good, i.e., the original disposition of man is good43, even if his propensity is for evil.
Kant adopts the Lutheran form of the doctrine of total depravity and the human propensity to evil which corrupts us all in the whole along with the original predisposition to good, which helps us survive the Fall.
What of grace then? Is there space for grace in Kant’s view of religion? For Kant, the pure religion of reason can admit the concept of divine grace as something incomprehensible but cannot adopt44, in the doctrine of atonement because grace is beyond the possible scope of sense experience. This does not deny grace if understood from an exposition of religion not limited to the limits of reason alone.
Another feature of Kant’s doctrine of atonement is that it does not permit the transfer of liability because this cannot make sense to pure reason45. But does the transfer occur in Kant’s historical realm? We have to speculate that Kant would say, sure, strictly from the point of view of the historical realm.
Hare argues that Christ takes over our failures when he takes us as members of his own body. The Christ-human relation is qualitatively different from the inter-human relation46 . Will this overcome the Kantian objection against the transmission of liability? From the general perspective of theology, this makes sense, but within the limits of reason alone, I fear not. For reason alone cannot be made to comprehend divine-human relationality short of a confessional conviction that Jesus is God. The framework Kant set up limits his ability to make such a claim, even if he himself believes it, like a faithful Lutheran.

Kant’s view of atonement is inadequate for Christian orthodoxy if understood to be an historical explanation but within the limits of reason alone, it is an adequate and not unfaithful presentation. The question of whether it will be useful as an apologetic is a different matter.
Was Kierkegaard’s demonstration of Kant’s theory successful in showing the inadequacy of Kantian ethics? Again, as a historical account, Kierkegaard was correct, but within Kant’s own stated terms, he was probably misunderstood by Kierkegaard.
If Kant is read as limiting reason to make room for faith in the sense of partitioning knowledge, he would have done Christianity a disservice. However, if we take him on his word that he sought to see what can be universally understood by all humanity regarding God with the use of pure reason alone, he in fact advanced our understanding of God. Hare argues that Kant wished to translate rather than reduce religion to morality. He attempts to recover a Kantian reading that is more in line with orthodox Christian teachings, especially with regard to the doctrine of atonement. How persuasive is this argument?
The title of Kant’s book, Religion Within The Limits of Reason Alone does not refer to a reduction of religion to morality, but rather to a limitation of pure theoretical reasoning as opposed to pure practical reasoning regarding the nature of religion. Short of practical reasoning, one cannot understand historical events such as the virgin conception and incarnation of Christ. This explanation seems to be in line with Hare’s claim that Kant has been unfairly treated and badly misunderstood. I shall argue that Kierkegaard himself failed to carefully interpret Kant. But why did this happen? Why does it continue to happen? I think it is because of Kant’s ambitious project coupled with an inadequate use of literary style for which Kierkegaard was a master.
We are quite aware of the intended effect of Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous writing style, of which Either/Or is one. It permits Kierkegaard to make statements he would be reticent to make if he wrote it under his own name. While it limits what the book can say, what it permits it to say, it can be said very well. In the same manner, Kant’s writings on religion and atonement in the Critique of Pure Reason and in Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone reflects a self-imposed writing paradigm which limits what Kant can say, but permits us to understand from the point of view of someone not confessionally committed to the Christian faith, the limits to which reason alone can comprehend the nature of religion and specifically, of the Christian religion. Kierkegaard adopted a pseudonymous writing style to lead the reader into an apologetic for the Christian faith. But he seriously misunderstood Kant’s style of writing, one strictly from the point of view of a pure atheological philosopher. Kant was perhaps also as a nuanced apologist for the Christian faith, to show that the belief in immortality, God and divine grace is not a violation of pure reason in its complete, theoretical and practical senses. The advantage Kierkegaard has over Kant is that the former wrote under several pseudonyms, so that as Victor Eremita in Either/Or, Kierkegaard is free to express rather extravagant statements about life and faith which he himself does not share, while as Anti-Climacus (the only pseudonym who knows Christianity from the inside47 ), in Sickness Unto Death, he was able to present the view that sin is innate to the human condition and yet can be eliminated by the atoning effect of Jesus Christ, who bears infinite responsibility48 .
Kant does not share the privilege of this literary tool and he paid the price of flying too near the sun without protection. His project to demonstrate the philosophical cogency of the Christian belief in God did not manage to persuade a Christian writer of Kierkegaard’s genius.

Where did the Bible come from?

Who wrote the Bible?

The world’s all time bestseller, the Christian Bible, has been translated in part into over 3000 languages. A closer examination reveals that none of the writers of the 66 ‘books’ claim authorship, i.e., they acknowledge penmanship without claiming to be the authors of the material. While most contemporary books identify their authors by name, the Holy Bible makes its own internal collective affirmation that the primary author of the text is none other than the God who made the universe.

What does this mean and why is the answer thus far seemingly unsatisfactory to most of us? This is because we are creatures of habit and culture, in their historical contexts. It is the habit within living memory that anything published in documentary form usually identifies the author/s or if not, evidence can point to the writers, always of human origin.

The astonishing claim of the Bible is that the author is non-human (in fact, divine). Furthermore, the books were written over a great span of time and geography. Is it reasonable to accept that the writers (human agents) of the Bible, who wrote largely in ignorance of each other, converge on a united theme which stands the test of time as well as it does? Let us examine some of the objections to this claim.


1) No known book or work of literature exists which spans such vast stretches of time and geography.
Answer: This absence of comparable collections is no obstacle to the possible existence of such a work. It is like saying that because machines which can travel faster than the speed of sound did not exist in 1920 must mean that the Concorde airplane cannot now exist.

2) There is no externally corroborative claim to support the internal claim of the Bible.
Answer: In every other field of intellectual inquiry, scholars always look to internal evidence of documents to establish their character and thereby privilege what the document says of its identity. To disallow this methodology for one of the world’s oldest known collections of literature is disingenuous.

3) The Bible does not explain how it came about, mechanically. Answer: According to our best scholarship, history and tradition show that the textual materials were inherited from an ancient oral tradition which dates back to at least the twentieth century B.C. with the earliest written forms emerging around 1500 BC. While the collection of the Hebrew Bible was more or less completed by 200 B.C., the texts of the New Testament became a fixed compilation only in the fourth century A.D. Over time, various translations have been effected to accommodate the changing speech and literary patterns of human languages.

If these objections hold, they pose compelling arguments against the Bible’s own claim. If not, the objections are exposed for what they are - mere prejudices!

Bible Tidbits: Did you know that ...
Before the invention of mass-produced printing (c.1455 A. D.), the Bible was transmitted by anonymous monks who patiently copied biblical manuscripts by hand.

It would take months to copy a single book such as Jeremiah.
Today, there are about

2300 surviving Bible manuscripts copied from 300 to 1500 A.D.
55001 Greek manuscripts that contain portions of the New Testament
8000 in Latin and
1000 in other ancient languages2 .

Most copies are about 100 years later than the autographs (originals).
Hand copying was tedious and errors invariably crept in due to the frailties of human effort. The invention of spectacles in 1375 A.D. helped greatly, as did the invention of the movable printing press in 1455 A.D. The earlier the document used, the closer to the original. The KJV used Greek and Hebrew manuscripts from the 12th and 13th centuries. Modern translators use New Testament manuscripts from as far back as the 3rd century and Hebrew Old Testament manuscripts from the time of Jesus

The Need for a Complete Bible
The last great persecution of Christians under the Roman Empire came under Emperor Diocletian in February, 303 A.D. Its failure to eradicate the faith completely led to the victory of the church. In 306 A.D., General Constantine was declared ‘Augustus’ by his troops at York in ‘England’ and in 312 A.D., was so affirmed by the Senate at Rome, (becoming sole emperor in 324). In 313 A.D., Constantine issued the Edict of Milan which declared Christianity a legitimate religion (it became the official religion of the empire in 381). The new capital of the empire was now Byzantium, later called Constantinople (modern day Istanbul in Turkey). In 332, Emperor Constantine himself ordered from bishop Eusebius, 50 copies of the Bible in vellum.

The Greek New Testament was written as a series of unbroken letter formations. One had to determine from the context, where one word ended and another started. Chapter divisions were created in the 1200s A.D. by a lecturer at the University of Paris and its current verse divisions were completed in 1551 A.D.

For example, the Gospel according to Mark in early documents might be written something like

or rather

which had to be broken up into discrete words, like so
????- ??? - ??????????? - ?????- ???????- ????- ????
which transliterate into English as

“Beginning - the - Gospel - (of) Jesus - Christ - Son - (of) God”
and translate into
“The beginning (of the) Gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God”

Today, we know it in the modern Greek form (UBS4) as
???? ??? ??????????? ????? ??????? ???? ????
and in English

“The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God”

Learn more about the canonization of the Bible from the ACT Seminars or from the ACT Canonization Manual.
ACT, Box 20376, New York, NY 10001