Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Spontaneity and Freedom

The following crossed my mind a few days ago, but the latest xkcd (above) reminded me of it again.

The hubbub in the popular press this past month over Stephen Hawking's new book has surely generated more heat than light, although I imagine that there is some apologetic use in engaging with it insofar as Christians in the pews are confused or scandalized by certain scientific or theological theories with which they are not familiar or not equipped to engage.  But for the most part, the discussion seems quite old and rehearsed.

One thing I was wondering, however (and I have not read Hawking's book... only an article or two about it).  If Hawking's argument is for "spontaneous creation," isn't this relatively fertile ground for theological conversation?  I'm thinking in particular of theological ontologies that place a strong priority on divine freedom in explanation of God's self-determination.

Many of the more theologically interesting responses to the Hawking soundbytes argued against his idea of "spontaneous creation", and did so basically by appeal to traditional metaphysical proofs that make God necessary for the explanation of the universe, etc. etc.  That these represented the bulk of the theological defenses over the question of God's existence is telling, I think, and should naturally situate those theologians who have qualms with the traditional proofs on Hawking's side of this "debate" (or whatever) rather than with their fellow theologians.  (For what it's worth, this is also probably why so many theologians didn't see any need to respond to the Hawking press releases at all... it was one more yawn of a headline for them insofar as they were already more or less on the same page).

This means, however, that such a theological discussion would not concern whether or not there is a God or what science can tell us about divine existence.  The point of contact between Hawking and the theologians is structural, and while it's an interesting point of contact, it also presents some problems.  Hawking's "law" is a good deal different than the theological correlate "God", and Hawking's "spontaneity" is a good deal different than the theological correlate "freedom" or "election".  So there's a good bit to work out, and the point wouldn't (or shouldn't, at least) be to make Hawking into a certain sort of theologian or to translate theology into scientific idiom in order for it to sound relevant.  The point, I think, would more constructively be to talk about necessity, law, freedom, etc. as theoretical concepts in themselves and only secondarily as applied to theology, physics, philosophy, etc.  It seems that this particular conversation between theology and physics probably has a bit more potential than the rather mundane stuff that has so far circulated.  I'm not the one to pursue such a conversation further, but others might feel that doing so is fruitful.

(and another point to add... for those theologians who have a problem with such understandings of divine self-determination and freedom, the option is always open to carry out the above conceptual analysis but conclude from it that these theologies of freedom are inadequate on the basis of their similarity to Hawking's physics, post-Scotus and post-Kantian bogeymen, or what have you.  This at least would offer a more detailed and interesting genealogy than the responses that simply reassert a cosmological argument against Hawking and leave it at that.)

Friday, September 17, 2010

A few items...

  • The latest issue of the Ecclesiastical Law Journal is out.  Most noteworthy is Norman Doe's treatment of Anglicanorum Coetibus, which has been made available for free by the publisher.  Norman Doe, for those who are not aware, is one of the most well-regarded Anglican canonists working today.  When I was doing my canon law paper a few years back, it was Doe's work that I pursued as the standard of excellence as I was trying to navigate a new field.
  • Adam Kotsko has posted a version of his "Gift and Communio: The Holy Spirit in Augustine's De Trinitate", which is currently sitting in the long tunnel of Scottish Journal of Theology forthcoming articles.  Adam also mentions some points about access to journal articles that should be heeded and discussed further.  I'm never as comfortable about posting drafts publicly, but it's also worth noting that journals are usually fine with authors sharing the final article pdf's with "colleagues".  This creates the nominal hurdle of needing to distribute pdf's individually, but I'd always encourage people to email article authors and ask for a copy from them.  I'm always happy to send copies of articles that remain under a copyright barrier of some sort (those that don't have such a barrier are available publicly on this blog and on my page).  I have also heard of these copyright terms being negotiated with publishers, but I've never done something like this and don't know where in the editorial process you would request a change in the contract (or which journals are open to such changes and which are not).  Any information from others on personal experiences with this would be appreciated.
  • The Center for the Study of Law and Religion has received a grant for an extended study of sharia.  The project will focus specifically on marriage law in Nigeria and the United States, and will be led by M. Christian Green, Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na`im, and John Witte, Jr.  
  • The Anti-Moderate has some thoughts on writing for primary- and secondary- text purposes.  This is worth reading and considering; I have my own thoughts and personally would enjoy offering a defense of writing specifically for secondary purposes, but I will be away for a few days and wouldn't want to start a conversation I can't follow up on.  Perhaps I'll join the comment section next week, or mention something here.  (Also, if you haven't already, note that the Anti-Moderate has a new url)