Friday, February 21, 2014

Teleological Value in the Kingdom of Heaven

“To be significant to God is to be significant in the most ultimate sense. No greater personal significance can be imagined.” –Wayne Grudem

This kind of significance is ontological. This is the value that we have simply because of who God made us to be. Two different ontologies can be understood in this. The first one is that all people are made in the image of God. That makes all of us intrinsically valuable for no other reason than we are his image bearers. The second is that some are his chosen people. These were the ancient Hebrews, and some still consider the Jews of today as their descendants to be God’s chosen people. But according to the Apostles of Christ, all those who have faith in Christ are God’s chosen people, his “elect”. By truly having faith in Christ, additional ontological value is added by virtue of the regeneration and indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The elect share a special relationship with God beyond simply being human.

But people also have teleological value. In one sense, teleological value is related to ontological value. In another sense, it is an independent value.

The teleological value of people can most easily be seen to be independent of their ontological value. Pharaoh was not ontologically one of God’s chosen people, but he was teleological instrumental in carrying out God’s plan to secure the identity of the Hebrews as his chosen people as a nation of underdogs. In their low position among the Egyptians, there was no way they could secure their freedom alone, much less assume possession of Canaan, without divine assistance. God used Pharaoh’s burdensome rule over the Hebrew slaves to create an apparent impossibility that served as a backdrop for the glory of God in the signs and wonders. So even someone of no faith in God can be used mightily to glorify him.

The link between ontological value and teleological value in the Kingdom of Heaven can be seen throughout the New Testament. I’ll  point to one passage. 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 both discuss teleology in the Body of Christ. In the middle of this discussion, in chapter 13, Paul brings up the ontology of the believer in sharing the relationship between members of the Trinity as Jesus taught in John 14. So the way we work together as the Body of Christ (teleology) is related to the relationship we have with God (ontology). The way this works is that the spiritual gifts each have been given are to employed with that same ontological relationship (love).

But even the way the ontological relationship is applied to employing the gifts is ontological. That is, it can be applied more or less faithfully. That’s the reason for Chapter 13 in the larger discussion. Paul’s admonition was to apply our ontological value as faithfully as possible.

But remember that teleology is also independent of ontology. Faithful application of ontology doesn't guarantee greater teleological value. That is, it doesn't mean that we will be more useful. Unfaithful application of ontology doesn't mean that we will be less useful. Many believers who unfaithfully apply their ontological value turn out to be quite useful in the body of Christ and many believers who apply their ontological value turn out to not be very useful at all. Nevertheless, Paul admonishes all of us to seek the greater gifts. That is, as we apply our ontological value faithfully we should also seek greater teleological value.

But God will use who he wants as he chooses, and that is good. For example, an older man I know has been creatively unemployed for years. He has used his time wisely to do such things as breed cattle and do contract finish carpentry. More importantly, he is involved in our local Child Evangelism Fellowship as a Shepherd and Teacher, he serves as a mentor for troubled teens in the community, and he helps out with a local ministry to at-risk children in the poorest neighborhoods in town. He is gifted only with a love of God and a desire to help kids know Jesus. He’s in the hospital on a long recovery after a severe automobile accident during a recent ice storm. He’s been taken out of the game for a while. He can barely move or speak. Once possessing great teleological value, that value is now on hold. If you have read thus far, you must know that few people will… read this far at least. You might acknowledge that I have a gift of understanding things that is at least exotic if not exceptional. But you might recognize that I don’t have a great ability to hold an audience such as to impart this understanding very effectively. I took one of those Spiritual gifts inventories and came up with the gift of knowledge, but not so much the gift of teaching. I certainly don’t have a gift of ministering to children effectively in any way. I write articles like this because frankly I don’t have anything better to do. This is one way of using this gift even though I know it won’t be very useful to anyone. So the man I know who isn't well gifted is teleologically more valuable that I am although I am apparently more gifted in some way. There’s no way I could take this man’s place in his absence. So while we are to pursue the greater gifts, even that doesn't necessarily influence our teleological value.

Now the message is often geared toward most people who either don’t apply their ontological value faithfully or don’t pursue the greater gifts. But the message also is given that we each have gifts that are useful. That teaching isn't in the text anywhere. Some gifts as given to some people are virtually useless. How many people die never having fulfilled their full potential? And yet God has given them gifts that were not used. We should try our best to steward our gifts and to be teleological valuable, that is, useful. But we are not promised to be successful, only that the attempt is required. Paul explains that different members have different functions, but that some should receive a higher honor.

Therefore, as we earnestly desire the greater gifts and faithfully apply our ontological value, we can only find contentment in our ontological value despite seeking satisfaction our faithful stewardship. Do not confuse your teleological value with your ontological value and rest in God whether you turn out to be very useful or not.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

What’s the Problem With Science?

If you missed the debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye, I recommend watching it. It’s live only for a short time and then you’ll need to obtain a DVD of it. Ken Ham’s argument was based on a variety of presuppositional apologetics that applies well to the scientific arena.

In that vein, it’s been a few years since I’ve handled the particulars of the epistemic problems of the scientific method and I’m not even sure where that article resides online anymore as I have blogged in a few different areas in the past several years.

However, many people may find not my language here helpful. I’m neither a rhetorical nor a metaphorical thinker. Many people think in terms of the words that they use to represent ideas. That rhetorical thought. Most people are metaphorical thinkers. They understand more difficult concepts by think of simpler things that are similar in some way to the concept. Most people can hear a clever turn of phrase or a metaphor and it sticks with them because the logic seems to make sense. So, I will vie to explain Ken Ham’s argument, and the problem with the scientific method, in a way that hopefully can be understandable to most people.

Let’s look at the way we perceive the world around us. We have 6 senses, if you include balance. (I don’t know why balance gets left out of the list of normal senses that we have, but it always is: 1) touch 2) sight 3) hearing 4) taste 5) smell… 6) balance. Come one everyone, add it.) We can only perceive anything right now immediately. If I hear you talking in the next room, my ears aren’t in the next room. The sound of your voice has traveled through the air into the area where I am and is causing my ear drums to vibrate. My hearing starts when my ear drums are vibrating. I can put two and two together and reasonably conclude that you are talking in the next room.

Given that sound travels through the air at a certain speed, I am actually not perceiving you in real time. My hearing your voice is delayed by a little bit of time. I know you are in the next room because I don’t see you in the room where I am and it sounds like your voice is coming from elsewhere. I have enough evidence to reasonably conclude that you are in the next room.

But I can be fooled. Someone can set up a speaker system, even in my room, that I’m not expecting your voice to come from. Someone plays your voice such that it sounds like your voice coming from the other room. So I get up and go into the next room and discover that you aren’t there. I was fooled. Magicians capitalize on this kind of misdirection and misperception in order to produce entertaining illusions of the senses.

We experience the world in repeating ways every day such that we can expect to experience things the same way every day. I put on a pot of coffee and it brews the same way it did yesterday. If it doesn’t brew, I check to see what’s wrong and I expect to find the machine unplugged or broken. These are predictable things that I know from repeated experience.

Science works the same way. When we observe the same things using the scientific method over and over, we expect it to be the same way every time. This is called predictability. This is the argument that Bill Nye made and challenged Ken Ham to come up with something that creationism does that is predictable.

The thing is that Ken Ham actually answered his question. However, Bill Nye didn’t understand the distinction. The answer is that scientists who are creationists use the same science that scientists who are naturalists use. So there is the same level of predictability. Ken Ham’s argument actually went further to point out that predictability fall apart at a certain point.

This is the problem with the scientific method. We can be fooled, not only by magicians, but by the limitations of the way that we sense the world around us.

Scientists augment our 6 senses with the use of equipment that helps us detect things that we wouldn’t normally be able to sense naturally. But when detecting things outside of certain limits, our ability to understand what we sense requires that we make certain assumptions. Ken Ham pointed out examples of these assumptions.

The problem is that these assumptions are not testable. That means that we have no way of knowing of these things are true.

One example was radiometric dating. That doesn’t mean that we have radios going out on the town drinking liters of beer instead of pints. Radiometric dating is when the percentage of elements in rocks is measured to see how old they are. The observation is that one element turns into another element over a very long period of time and we can measure this over a very short period of time to calculate how fast it changes. So the theory is that we can measure the two elements to see how much of the one has turned into the other. It sounds pretty cut and dry, right?

Well, there are some assumptions made. The biggest one is that we don’t know if there was any of the second element in the rock to begin with. We have to assume that there was none. But if there was some, then we would conclude that the rock is older than it really is. The fact is that there is no way of knowing. So we really can’t tell how old the rock is. All we really know is what the rock is made up of today.

Everything in science, from the diversity of life on earth to the light coming from distant stars, requires these kinds of assumptions. Depending on what we think we know molds the assumptions that we have. Scientists who don’t believe in God will make certain kinds of assumptions. Scientists who believe in God will make different kinds of assumptions. So when different kinds of assumptions are used to evaluate the same evidence, different conclusions will be drawn.

Ken Ham understands this. Bill Nye does not.

So there is a problem with the scientific method. Bill Nye thinks we can know the history of the world by looking at it scientifically. Sure, we can get close. But it’s reasonable to understand how accurate our conclusions are based on the assumptions we use. Bill Nye thinks he can know for sure because he doesn’t understand how assumptions work. Reasonable people who understand how assumptions work will understand that there is a certain level of uncertainty in scientific conclusions.

But there is a certainty in some assumptions that have been given to us to know. I will address that in some later article series if I get it laid out properly. Stay tuned.