Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Whole, Part or Not?

Over on Undeception, Steve reacts to a Focus on the Family video in which one Del Tackett paints a picture of Creation inside a box and God existing completely outside the box, poking his finger in to move things along. Steve's reaction is to consider panentheism as a better possible model of God's relation to the universe. (For the uninitiated, panentheism claims that the universe is a part of God but that God extends infinitely beyond its confines as opposed to pantheism which claims that God and the universe and co-equal or that God is animating spirit of the universe).

Now I am reluctant to attack Christians directly. I don't want to be THAT kind of atheist. However, The Outsider Test can be a powerful tool to refining our thinking. I seem to have anointed myself The Outsider Test Crusader! Or is it the Hyphenated Avenger (See below)? In either case, if the job comes with a cape, I'll take it :)

As The Outsider, I must say that discussion of pantheism, panentheism and outside-the-boxism strikes me as an angels-dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pin discussion. While the selected view point may make sense of an individual's definition of God's nature, the matter is as immune to examination as invisible angels doing the hokey-pokey. Each theory produces the same set of results: the sun comes up and goes down, humans do bad things to each other, cries for deliverance from an indifferent universe rise up to the heavens. The position from which the creator hears these cries seems to have no impact on his or her or its response. Is there even a God? That is a separate question but spinning these bizzaro theories in order to save a concept based on personal preference and vapor makes you look irrelevant at best and kooky at worst.

Just to prove that I hold myself to the Outsider Test, I plan to give Tackett's critique of Carl Sagan's box - "The cosmos is all there is, or was, or ever will be." - a good think today.


Steve Douglas said...

Hi Scott,

From one perspective, everything we discuss in philosophy and/or theology is over angels-dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pin questions: we can't know any of it for sure. If knowing the number of angels that could dance on a pin helped convince someone to treat their neighbor better, does the further back question of the existence of angels show itself to be more than irrelevant and kooky sophistry, or mental masturbation?

While the selected view point may make sense of an individual's definition of God's nature, the matter is as immune to examination as invisible angels doing the hokey-pokey. Each theory produces the same set of results...

But to quote Weaver, ideas have consequences. The fact is, if you think your god's character condones condemning and/or killing the outsider, rejecting scientific progress that has real-world benefits, etc., what are you going to do? Sometimes quibbling over seemingly little things can have an impact worth considering that is more within reach than trying to get them to revise their entire worldview. Hardly irrelevant or kooky.

But the maddening thing is that this is all missing the larger point of my post, which was precisely to ask why Tackett and FoF felt the need to prescribe a single view of theocosmology. I do prefer panentheism to Tackett's view; I think there are good reasons to prefer panentheism over Tackett's view; but the Truth Project hems in Christians into one perspective without even letting them see anything else. This is indicative of other, perhaps more impactful, problems with the whole project.

Scott F said...


I realize that the panentheism question was not the thrust of your post but it did get me going on this particular tangent. I wanted to get my thoughts down partially because it helps me to examine them in the light of day, so to speak.

True, ideas can have consequences. But I am left wondering if quibbling over small details encourages everyone to ignore the big ones. Does debating the location of God's box encourage love for your neighbor? If it does it is only in a very very very indirect way. It seems that the question of where God lives has been bouncing around in various forms for ever and yet to how much improvement in human welfare can it be credited?

The times when religious thought has made contributions to civil society have been those when it did so directly: civil rights marches, abolition, universal education, care for the poor. I can imagine a situation where deism might be a position that affects the tenor of an argument but it does not have to. The varieties of God-involved-in-the-world stances would not seem to hold much relevance. Maybe I'm wrong.