St Paul the Humpian at the University of Athens (GA)

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Biology Faculty and said: “Hi Y’all! I see that in every way you are very statistical. For as I walked round and inspected your laboratories, I found a memo pinned to a notice board with this inscription: ‘Randomness is the measure of uncertainty’.

“Now, what you define as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in some non-overlapping magisterium. And he is not served by undirected processes as if they were autonomous, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. In one act he made every contingency of the Universe, and he determined the times set for them, and the exact places where they should occur. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own statisticians have said:

Chance isn’t a cause. Chance isn’t a thing. There is no chance present in physical objects: it cannot be extracted nor measured. It cannot be created; it cannot be destroyed. It isn’t an entity.

“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like ‘chance’ or ‘randomness’ or ‘indeterminacy’ – shadows made by man’s confusion and category error. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all scientists everywhere to repent…”

… When they heard about providential government of contingent events, some of them sneered, but others said, “Maybe you could do a piece for an obscure journal sometime, subject to space and favourable peer review, of course.” At that, Paul left the lecture theatre. A few men became followers of Paul and believed. But the University decided they were Intelligent Design Creationists and sacked them.

Acts 18:22-34, “The Metaphysical Message” translation.


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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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7 Responses to St Paul the Humpian at the University of Athens (GA)

  1. swamidass says:

    Cute =). But I’m not sure of the exegesis or the philosophy. Chance is a thing, it apparently exists at least as concept and observation in science. Also “creation” was “common ground” with the Greeks, but not with scientists. Paul started from common ground, and worked forward. You need a different starting point to translate the story into modern biology.

    The interesting thing about modern interpretations of Paul. He convincingly argued against Judaizers, explaining that Greeks could come to Jesus as they were, without first becoming Jews. But, in today’s world, must we all become Greek to come to Jesus? Or can we come from our own cultural starting points? If we are not careful, interpretations of Paul like can be too Greekified for our current moment.

    • Noah White says:

      I obviously don’t speak for him, but I think Jon’s point is to equate the shrine to the “unknown god” in Athens to “ontological chance” and, like Paul, point out to the worshippers that what they’re worshipping is really our God. I don’t think he’s saying we all ought to become Greek, but that this ontological chance (that so many say means God either doesn’t exist or doesn’t care or whatever) can (and from the Christian perspective should!) be seen as God’s hand.

      I don’t think the story is denying chance, but illustrating that it is only unknown to us, and any elevation to the ontological level is a metaphysical assertion, not scientific one.

      I’m not quite sure where you’re getting the connection to cultural starting points, perhaps you can explain it to me a bit more.

      • swamidass says:

        I understand what he is doing and think it is cute, in a friendly.

        But I am pointing out that the reinterpretation doesn’t work too well because it doesn’t correctly represent chance, what scientists actually believe and worship, or even the original meaning of the passage in Acts.

        A more salient retelling would align more closely with the scientific worldview, and Paul’s strategy for interacting with the Grecian worldview. He starts from common ground, to show that Jesus to the questions already embedded in their culture. His argument, if you follow the logic, is incarnational. He argues that Jesus is the true Greek God.

        How could this look in science? We have to start from common ground, and show how Jesus is the answer to the questions they already ask. We do not bring them to our worldview first, but we incarnate the Gospel into theirs.

        One way to do this is to use the Biblical teaching that natural theology is weak (Romans 1:18-23) as a place of common ground. My colleagues often ask, “Why is the evidence for God so equivocal and weak in science?” I agree, and explain that this is because, from Scripture, we find that we cannot reach God on our own. Not even with science. God has to reveal Himself. And he does in Jesus. The Resurrection is our evidence, and it is strong evidence that God exists, and is unimaginably good, and want’s to be known. Their “unknown god” is the idol of evidence and human science. Jesus the evidence the seek, and they are blind to him because He comes through history, not science.

        I’m sure their are other ways. But this model’s Paul’s tact. He starts from their point of view, to show how Jesus answers their cultural questions. He does not indoctrinate them first into his culture, inform them what the right questions are (e.g. who is the Jewish Messiah?), and an give them the answer to the foreign question. No. He starts from their Grecian point of view. We need to do the same in science.

        • Noah White says:

          I see what you’re saying now. Thanks for clearing it up, and what you provide here is actually really thought provoking. It’s along the lines of something I’ve been thinking a lot lately–it strikes me as significant that, when followed to its end, a worldview that elevates science to the level of God always ends in futility and entropy. Modernism thought we could save ourselves through science, but then we found out that science can’t save us from the earth being scorched or the heat death of the universe (or even from nuclear warfare!). That alone can be done by Jesus. Thanks for the discussion!

  2. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    Thanks for the conversation Guys. I won’t take too long to defend a loose analogy I dreamed up late the night before last in thinking about a conversation I was having at BioLogos.

    Noah has its scope and compass right. The guiding star was simply the word “unknown” as the proper scientific definition of “random”, and the fact that behind it there is a hidden metaphysical choice between Epicurean and Providential explanations of contingency.

    So the use of “definition” in place of “worship” was deliberate, with no implication that any of the fictional audience at the unjustly slandered University of Georgia actually drew any Epicurean conclusions rather than being properly and scientifically agnostic .

    Neverthless the piece was, of course, aimed at the tendency for metaphysical conclusions to be mixed up with scientific “unknowns” and “stochastics” – and to be honest it was more aimed at getting TEs (and any passing IDs) to think about, and lessen, such muddling in their own understanding.

    For example, over at The Other Place a dear brother was drawing his line in the sand between evolution being due to “natural causes” rather than “supernatural”. In the light of the above metaphysical discussion, that is a meaningless distinction: as soon as “random” enters the picture, science is blind, and theistic metaphysics is invoking divine providence rather than unguided Epicurean ontological randomness. After all, as Asa Gray said:

    Indeed, these pertinent words of the eminently wise Bishop Butler comprise, in their simplest expression, the whole substance of our later pages:

    “The only distinct meaning of the word ‘natural’ is stated, fixed or settled; since what is natural as much requires and presupposes an intelligent mind to render it so, i.e., to effect it continually or at stated times, as what is supernatural or miraculous does to effect it for once.”

    If he, and Butler, are right (and any other understanding is, I think, a little incoherent), our brother ought to have been implying that he believes evolution to be entirely determined by lawlike processes designed by God, with no element of chance directed by God – which I’m sure he doesn’t mean, though it would be a legitimate proposal for a new evolutionary theory. But an unclear doctrine of providence means that “supernatural” ends up as a synonym for “miracle”, and “natural” becomes distanced from the pervasive creative activity of the Logos.

    But since everything else in the OP was about squeezing the text of Acts into the analogy, it’s fair game to be shot down! Especially the punchline, which was an afterthought!

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