Sunday, February 08, 2015

God, miracles and free will


Butte College philosophy instructor Ric Machuga, my friend and colleague, has just published “Three Theological Mistakes: How To Correct Enlightenment Assumptions About God, Miracles, And Free Will” ($33 in paperback from Cascade Books).

For Machuga, the European “Enlightenment” of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with the flourishing of experimental science and consequent love of mechanistic explanations, seriously distorted the thinking about God. The consequences, he writes, have been profound, and profoundly disturbing.

Mechanism assumes that “physical causes always have predictable effects fully determined by the laws of nature.” If that’s the case, so Enlightenment thinking goes, then these laws can be fully quantified mathematically. The implication is that “if something is physically caused, then it was not caused by God” (and vice versa). And the cause has to be one or the other. If an outbreak of cholera devastates the invading Assyrians, then the Biblical tradition ascribing the cause to God (Isaiah 37:36) is rejected.

These are all bad ideas, Machuga argues, because they’re false, but also because they embroil Christians in controversies over free will vs. an all-powerful God; who or what is responsible for evil; whether God acts miraculously; how hell can exist if God is good; and whether God’s existence can be known in the first place.

By contrast, the author responds with comprehensive “correctives” drawn from the perhaps surprising agreement between St. Thomas Aquinas, the thirteenth-century Catholic philosopher, and Karl Barth, the Reformed Protestant theologian in the twentieth. The book will repay careful reading and may lead to an “enlightenment” of a far better sort.

What unfolds is an understanding of God and his creation that transcends either/or thinking, exposes Enlightenment errors, and sets the stage for the working out of a deep and winsome Christianity.

The author will be presenting a talk on “two views of God” at the Science and Religion conference, February 6 (5:30 - 8:30 p.m.) and 7 (8:00 a.m. - noon) at Colusa Hall on the Chico State University campus. Suggested donation at the door is $10, $5 for students. Check “Science and Religion Conference (2015)” on Facebook for details.

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