Early in July I’ll (all going well) spend a week in Cambridge with other Christian PhD students, mostly drawn from around Europe. Just how exciting and well suited this is for me I’ve refused to let hit me, that can come later.
One of the preparatory activities is three short writing assignments, on set questions. I’ve posted my answers, blatted out this evening, below – on science, evil, and leisure. Perhaps the most fascinating (as fun as it was to summarise my thoughts on science in 300 wds) was the one on leisure, based partly on the set reading of some chapters from Joseph Pieper’s “Leisure the Basis of Culture”. One day I will read this gem in a more leisurely fashion.
What are the epistemological implications for science and Christianity if facts are not self-interpreting?
In order to relate facts to theories and laws, they must be interpreted. What counts as a ‘natural fit’ or as the ‘best explanation’ will necessarily rely on claims which transcend empirical facts, such as a criterion of simplicity. The potential for differing non-empirical criteria implies a potential for differing interpretations of scientific facts. Two possible implications are ‘skepticism of science’, and ‘possible support for Christianity from meta-science’. I briefly discount the first and argue for the second.
It may be thought that the non-self-interpretability of facts implies complete scepticism about our ability to reason inductively from facts to broader theories. But this is only true if there are not bounds on the possible legitimate interpretations of facts. A Christian worldview provides reason to suspect the existence of consistent deeper metaphysical structures which limit what is physically possible, grounded in the orderly and rational nature of the triune God of Christian faith. Naturalism, by contrast, (as one alternative worldview – though the point likely applies to pantheism, panentheism, and polytheism as well) does not give independent reason to posit these, so it seems the attempt must be made to reason to them inductively from scientific facts – a difficult, and perhaps impossible task.
Following on from this, we can argue that Christianity may derive support from ‘meta-scientific’ claims such as the orderliness of nature (specifically, exhibiting a law-like order – this goes beyond mere observations of past regularities, and adds that the regularities are binding and hence predictive), that nature is mathematically describable, and that nature is intelligible to humans. If we accept that the goal of science is understanding, and that true understanding requires more than arbitrary collections of facts, the door is opened to investigating ‘meta-science’. The aspects of meta-science listed are each a basic requirement of modern science.
Is there some way in which evil is necessary to the plan of God? That is, are there some necessary goods for God’s plan for humanity that require evil?
The central evil in cosmic history is the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth outside Jerusalem in c. 30AD. This central event was planned from before the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8), and it constitutes the basis of the new creation that shall last eternally. So, at least one evil was a necessary part of God’s plan for humanity (necessary for God’s chosen end, not necessarily ‘logically necessary’.) It seems unlikely that the good of redemption could have been achieved without some evils – ‘o felix culpa’, as the ancient phrase has it.
If all other evil is in some sense ‘swallowed up’ in that one event, perhaps there are implications for the ‘problem of evil’ viewed from a Christian perspective. Extensive foreknowledge on God’s part regarding the evils of the world that were to be paid for at the cross would fit well with the biblical picture. I think the biblical text underdetermines the question of whether libertarian free will (LFW) exists – the text doesn’t obviously require it. If LFW does not exist, it is possible that all evils have been indirectly chosen by God, while also more directly and culpably chosen by other agents, hence none are gratuitous.
Even if LFW does exist, it may be that God’s foreknowledge is such that the world has features such that gratuitous evil is not instantiated (as the Molinist could hold).
The defender of libertarian free will has the free will defence of Plantinga et al. at her disposal. One sceptical of LFW may have access to a greater good theodicy. Whichever line is taken, an evangelical approach to the topic may be enriched by seeing the cross as both the central evil in human history and the centre of good in God’s plan.
In what way would a correct understanding of leisure affect our view of work?
Everything that we have is a gift of God, including our very human nature. An obsession with work, a kind of ‘workolatry’ is perhaps best avoided with a proper conception of God’s providence, expressed through theologically-aware appreciation of leisure. A proper situating of work within this framework will help work to be aimed towards its proper function, whatever exactly that might be. After all, the man who built his house on the sand may have exerted a lot of effort doing so, but it was all to little avail. I think it is easy to fall into the trap of assuming that busyness or activity are inherently good – but some work is better left undone. Working out what this work is, is of course hard work.
For the Christian, the end which is worked for is extremely important, and worth contemplating. Reorienting ourselves towards that end, through various means, is probably a better use of time than much everyday work. Leisure can help one to see the wider dimensions of human life and the world beyond work – whatever work we take part in, it is only a small part of the wider world. It is important to be able to recognise that there is good in the world which is given to us (as a result of God’s work) independently of our own work.
At the same time, leisure too is not the whole of life, and there is work to be done. It is not demeaning of this work however to say that its meaning is derived from outside itself. The meaning of work in this inherently gifted world is perhaps best seen with the aid of leisure.
I’ve been listening to Rend Collective heaps too. I like the words “the infinite is immanent” here.
Soli Deo Gloria.