Review of Hans King
Written by: Wendell Krossa
Hans Kung’s new book, ‘The Beginning of All Things: Science and religion’ is a good read. He displays the usual quibbles that anyone will find with any other person (none of us agree entirely with one another on most things). He’s a bit down on human use of the environment and doesn’t see technology as beneficial, and he’s dated on his evolutionary material (still accepts the discredited selection acting on mutation scenario). In other places he qualifies the human stewardship of nature, and this is common sense. Overall, his material on science and faith is helpful, delineating boundaries, and his material on how to think of God is very good. The man is also a pastor at heart and this shows through in much of his material. Kung is at the cutting edge of human exploration and understanding. This is a good and there lots of stimulating material here.
In The Beginning Of All Things he says, “It is surprising how in the question of the initial conditions of the cosmos, cosmologists labor to overturn elementary philosophical statements such as ‘ex nihilo nihil fit’, (nothing comes out of nothing) Some people, in all earnestness, seek to avoid the problem of origins by creating a universe that functions as its own mother. ‘It created itself’ (Richard Gott and Lin-Xin Li)” p.71. This follows a section dealing with the “instinctive opposition” among physicists to the obvious conclusions that such things as the Big Bang points to (a moment of creation).
Ah, the motivations behind how we think and reason, eh.
All good material where he covers the creation story (P.114-15). He notes the various contributing writers- Elohist, Yahwist and Priestly, and Deutoronomy. He draws out some main points they make – the transcendence of God, human dignity, the order and unity of creation, etc. Then he says, “The Priestly Writing does not report a creation from nothing but a creation of order out of chaos; God stands at the beginning of all becoming, including the original chaos, which he put in order afterward…”. This is good. We are told that God wishes to remain hidden, but the creation of order out of chaos is not about hiding but about profound revelation. This greatest of all miracles is evident right at the beginning of all things. Only infinite intelligence can order or organize out of chaos. It is such a blatantly public display right at the start of the cosmos (which means order). Nothing of hiding here.
Also, that God is transcendent and invisible, and unknowable or inconceivable is also without question, but this too is not about hiding. Human consciousness has made us aware and we will never return to any form of unawareness. But as Kung argues, it is not about abandoning the idea of God, as abused as this idea has been (he does one of his best sections on this), but about learning to think more correctly about this primal mystery.
There is no hiding of God from humanity but rather an amazing revelation everywhere; something that explains everything. Jesus saw this in nature and referred repeatedly to it. Theistic naturalism was someone’s term. Kung, Vaghese, and many others are engaging this new natural theology in their science and religion books. The entire reality – the natural realm of the universe – is an expression of a Creator. As another said, it is an expression of Love. Love must express itself. It must share. The core reasoning around this is so obvious to those with eyes to see. Hence Jesus’ plain and simple expressions of divine care evident in daily mundane natural things.
Only a strange philosophy of unreason based on an “instinctual reaction” leading to nonsense counter arguments, would counter such a blatant revelation and turn it all into centuries-long arguments over existence or not of ultimate Reality. In saying this I am not dismissing the valid elements of the reaction against religious views of divinity and related mythical distortions.
Kung’s has some interesting comments on his rational faith. I still have many questions here, but maybe I am still suffering an ‘instinctual reaction’ to how faith was treated in Evangelicalism. It was made an issue of heaven or hell. You must believe (kind of like the coercive push for belief in Polar Express, the movie) or else. You had to believe in God and Jesus; you could not just be aware of such and appreciate it for what you felt it all meant. You must believe – you must have faith. Oh, really. Now I can appreciate that faith is part of general human knowing. And it has the special elements of trust and hope; and this in respect to the unknowable, and invisible and inconceivable, but I find it so integral to the whole arena of human knowing and have difficulty in seeing it as something uniquely separate from all the rest. It has much to do with intuition and the basic human sense of things; what is truly human; and it cannot be irrational or non-rational; so it is tied in very much with our scientific movement and discovery. Its all part of the mix of human curiosity and knowing.
My further thinking on creation.
God creating (ongoing creation) and sustaining, is the rational basis of theology and science. This theism is fundamental to a rational worldview. No, I am not speaking of how one should communicate within naturalist science. How does all this fit in with faith; with human knowing; with truth?
Just an aside on my version of vitalism. You cannot get higher level realities from lower level components; not aside from some additional creative power and intelligence intervening. Y ou can’t get conceptual thought from clay by itself; you can’t get roses from a rock by itself. There is nothing in the natural that can produce the higher level realities that keep emerging. Self-organization is a naturalist god of the gaps (something made up, some unprovable speculation to make things happen according to one’s theory). This is a denial of rationalism (theism being ultimate rationalism).
This fundamental impulse behind all reality and life toward something better, is the primal force behind all things. It is another way of stating that love is the foundational reality; the impulse to improve, to create something better. Even death is part of this, in that it makes way for the new in the ongoing process of creation. The desire to survive is also part of or an expression of this fundamental impulse. All things work to make something better. Our survival drives and skills arise from this and lead us to creating a better world and life. We want to live and do well and prosper, and we want to avoid death as long as possible – to avoid suffering. All this survival desire inspires us to seek to make life better and more humane. This impulse toward something better is behind all economic, political and social activity; to create the new, to renew and to revitalize.
As Denis Edward noted there is a necessary incompleteness in creation, a necessary imperfection and lack of fulfillment. All striving for the better arises from this incompleteness and imperfection. This helps in understanding the “necessary” presence of all that is dark in life; learning, growth and perfecting, all come from this.
The musing around this is just trying to understand the thinking of the “Old One”. That thinking is ultimate truth.