Introduction to Trilogy of Papers

1. Somewhat over a year ago we heard a conference speaker predict the split of the mainline churches over various social issues-many no doubt revolving around human sexuality. We see this erosion of, and thus diversion of focus on, morality as a looming tragedy-partly since a focused church in the U.S. has great potential financial resources to direct toward meeting word and deed need worldwide if we choose to mobilize them on behalf of others in Jesus’ name. In this regard, it is interesting to note that a multiyear seven-volume study out of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary observes that, for most of this century, mainline and evangelical Christians have been engaged in an internal civil war. As a result, the study states, we Christians have been losing the war with secularism. The summary volume of this study, The Reforming Tradition: Presbyterians and Mainstream Protestantism by Milton J Coalter, John M. Mulder, and Louis B. Weeks, makes an interesting observation:

The church must recognize the urgent need to recover the authority of scripture as the Word of God, and it must regain its ability to interpret biblical authority in a way that will give life and meaning to Christian teaching. For American Presbyterians, there is no recourse to simple formulas of inerrancy or infallibility, but the rejection of such inadequate formulas for scriptural authority does not solve the problem. The key to the renewal of American Presbyterianism and mainstream Protestantism is a recovery of theological insight and biblical wisdom, and it must include a reaffirmation of the Bible as the authoritative guide to Christian faith and witness).1

2. However, the plot thickens. Can we, with integrity, “recover the authority of scripture as the Word of God”-particularly at the academic seminary level-without addressing essential underlying issues of philosophy? Here we would agree with Kenneth Baker, translator and editor of the American edition of the Philosophical Dictionary, the original German edition of which was edited by Walter Brugger. In an introduction to the American edition, Baker writes,

For Catholic Christians who are at pains to preserve and reconcile the due claims both of reason and revelation the present decline of philosophy is a matter of real concern. … Now as far as I can see, since about the end of World War II, at least on the Catholic scene, most of the action of an intellectual character has been taking place in the field of theology. … But, unfortunately, there has not been a corresponding advance in the philosophical thinking of Catholic Christians; and what advance there has been seems to be in the area of adaptation of insights from other philosophies, such as Marxism, existentialism, analytic philosophy, personalism, pragmatism, positivism, etc. It seems to me that, while theology is making bold attempts on almost every front, philosophy is standing on the sidelines watching the show and having little influence on the outcome of it all. But in order to make solid advances in the study of hermeneutics, doctrine and morality theology is in desperate need of a vitally aware philosophy.2

3. A few years back, we committed the following line of reasoning to paper. Infinite space or distance is an irrational concept. Energy or matter that exists without a cause is an irrational concept. Therefore, the universe does not exist on a rational basis. Therefore, that there may be slight historical evidence of the existence of a creator God-another irrational concept-is, theoretically, not any more irrational than the existence of the universe. This line of reasoning is presented in the enclosed copy of “A Treatise on the Irrationality of the Existence of God and the Universe.” We have been circulating this paper privately to a number of thinkers from various disciplines since 1989.

4. The main critique to the aforementioned “Irrationality” treatise we have received in correspondence, is that causation is no longer a necessary or valid assumption in science. We more recently addressed this issue briefly in a paper entitled, “Causation: Observations and Dialogue,” a copy of which is enclosed.

5. When we presented the “Irrationality” treatise as part of a weekend retreat we conducted for one denomination’s national mission staff, we attempted to make the concepts a bit more alive through the use of what we call “The Marble Exercise,” a copy of which is enclosed. In this exercise, we use slides that we selected with the help of an astronomy faculty member at the University of Illinois. Our attention over the last several years has been focused both on stewardship research and attempts to launch a movement within the church in the U.S. toward more faithful word and deed mission discipleship. However, we have thought that if the occasion presented itself, it would be good to develop the marble exercise from a slide presentation into a planetarium event. The idea was that such a presentation in conjunction with some of the thinking in the “Irrationality” paper might be a way to involve seminary students and faculty around the country in useful discussion-at least in those geographical areas which have a nearby planetarium.

6. While the design, or more recently the anthropic, argument is a scriptural argument which will presumably be effective in helping move some in a positive direction in their faith journey, it does not seem to chart new intellectual ground in ways that will move the academic seminary community with regard to its approach to scripture and morality. The December 28, 1992 issue of Time magazine provided a cover-story critique of the anthropic argument:

One intriguing observation that has bubbled up from physics is that the universe seems calibrated for life’s existence. If the force of gravity were pushed upward a bit, stars would burn out faster, leaving little time for life to evolve on the planets circling them. If the relative masses of protons and neutrons were changed by a hair, stars might never be born, since the hydrogen they eat wouldn’t exist. If, at the Big Bang, some basic numbers-the “initial conditions”-had been jiggled, matter and energy would never have coagulated into galaxies, stars, planets or any other platforms stable enough for life as we know it. And so on.

Some physicists have tried to drain these coincidences of their eeriness with something called the anthropic principle, which dismisses humankind’s perspective on the cosmos as inherently biased. It’s no surprise, they say, that the universe is conducive to life. After all, if it weren’t, we wouldn’t be here to argue the point. For all we know there are zillions of other universes that don’t have the dimensions for life. Marveling at the exquisite fine-tuning of physical reality is like viewing a winning lottery ticket as proof of God’s existence-forgetting about the less blessed tickets lying in trash cans all over town.

Argument over the anthropic principle has gone on for decades now, with little progress. Its backers, having accused others of straining to see divinity, are in turn accused of the reverse-harboring a deep-seated aversion to the simple religious idea that the universe was designed for our existence.3

7. In contrast to the anthropic argument, the “Irrationality” paper enters temporarily into, and attempts to argue more fully from within, the logic and presuppositions of secular science. We are working with the assumption articulated by Antony Flew that,

Organized empirical science provides the most impressive result of human rationality and is one of the best accredited candidates for knowledge. The philosophy of science seeks to show wherein this rationality lies….4

From within this perspective, we are contending that rationality breaks down in terms of infinite distances and uncaused energy and matter (this line of reasoning has nothing to do with and should not be confused in any way with the classic argument that there must be a God to account for uncaused matter). The breakdown of rationality, at what might be termed the outer edges of existence, does not prove the existence of God, but merely helps establish the idea that the existence of God, along with God’s intervention in the world, is no more theoretically implausible than the existence of the universe.

Then, faith is understood as a response to the thin thread of historical evidence for the existence of God that does exist-primarily, for the Christian, the accounts of miracles found in scripture, culminating in the recorded witness of the resurrected Jesus Christ.

There is an advantage, it would seem, of pressing the limits of the secular science model of rationality. The advantage of this approach, particularly for the seminary level, is that it rather aggressively provides a theoretical or philosophical basis for approaching scripture with a theoretical presumption of validity-both in terms of scripture’s articulation of God’s intervention in the world, and therefore, in terms of scripture’s presentation of God’s view of personal and social morality.

Thanks very much for this opportunity to share these thoughts, and those contained on the following pages with you.

by John Ronsvalle and Sylvia Ronsvalle
empty tomb, inc.
Champaign, IL

February 20, 1995

The first section of the Trilogy is titled The Marble Exercise

1Milton J. Coalter, John M. Mulder, and Louis B. Weeks, The Reforming Tradition: Presbyterians and Mainstream Protestantism (Louisville: Westminister/John Knox Press, 1992), 282-83.
2Walter Brugger, ed., Philosophical Dictionary, trans. and ed. Kenneth Baker (Spokane, WA: Gonzaga University Press, 1972); originally published as Philosophisches Wörterbuch (Freiburg in Breisgau: Verlap Herder KG, 1967), xiii
3Robert Wright, “Science, God and Man,” Time magazine, 28 December 1992, 40.
4Antony Flew, editorial consultant, A Dictionary of Philosophy (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1979), 297.