Wednesday, September 10, 2008

My thanks to Hans Küng

For kindly sending me a copy of the new book: Hans Küng – eine Nahaufnahme. A nice touch is that it arrived in the post on my last full day in Germany, and that in the front Küng wishes Anja and I all the best for, as he puts it, 'Merry Old England'!

I haven't gotten too far into the book yet, but Karl-Josef Kuschel's chapter, "Hans Küng: Neue Horizonte des Denkens", is simply brilliant – a must read for anyone interested in Küng's work.


Quote of the Day

"Christologie wird bei Küng wieder neu, was sie ursprünglich einmal war: eine Suchbewegung unter der Leitfrage: Wer ist dieser? Welchen Gott verkündet er?"

Karl-Josef Kuschel in his essay "Hans Küng: Neue Horizonte des Denkens" in Hans Küng – eine Nahaufnahme, p. 57. With an impressive list of contributors and at only 10 euro, this book is what German's would call a definite schnäppchen.


Friday, December 15, 2006

Küng and Hengel

What a busy last few days! However, a delightful gift came in the post a couple of days ago from none other than the great theologian, Hans Küng! One of the items in the package was a signed copy of the Lew Kopelew Prize ‘order of ceremony’, including speeches (mentioned here). What a lovely surprise!

As I read the speech it became clear that the translation we offered a few days ago on this blog was faulty. Rather than stating that Americans have been misguided ‘by a President arrogantly presenting himself as a Christian’, the German actually says: ‘daß sie von einem arroganten, sich “christlich” präsentierenden Präsidenten ...’ which is, if anything, an even stronger formulation!

Yesterday I was pleased to take part in the 80th birthday celebrations of the great NT scholar, Martin Hengel, in the Tübingen Theologicum. I made a couple of short videos (but as shall become abundantly clear – I will upload them later –, I’m really not film director material!) and managed to get a picture of the back of David deSilva’s head (I’m not paparazzi material either)! The wonderfully friendly, and massively learned, William Horbury gave the honorary lecture in pretty convincing German. Given that I deal with and take issue with Horbury’s thesis concerning early Christology in my doctoral work, it was a delight to hear direct from the ‘horses mouth’, even if I’m still profoundly unconvinced. I’ll blog more about the celebrations later.

By the way, for those who have e-mailed me in the last few days, thank you. I will reply as soon as possible.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Hans Küng receives the Lew Kopelew Prize!

I’m happy to inform the biblioblogging community that Tübingen based Theologian, Hans Küng, received the Lew Kopelew Prize for Peace and Human Rights last Sunday, for his ‘unermüdlichen Einsatz um ein besseres Verständnis zwischen den grossen Religionen der Welt’. It was a real joy to watch the whole presentation on TV. As to his speech, I was both surprised and pleased how bold and forthright he was in his criticisms of the Bush administration. For example, in the context of peace among the world religions, he courageously claimed that he:
‘considers it a positive development, at least since the loss of the congress elections in Nov 2006, and the long over due outing of the incompetent and warmongering defence minister, that most of the American citizens are slowly coming to realise – one has to say this clearly – that they have been misguided, yes misguided, by a President arrogantly presenting himself as a Christian, by a neo-conservative ideologist, and by a passive congress as well as willing mass media’ (translation ours).
Earlier he spoke that (our translation shortens the original German considerably):
‘Instead of effectively fighting a criminal network, this president thought he had to announce a war, marching into Afghanistan and, despite his father’s wisdom, into Baghdad, thereby turning his father’s idea of “the new world order” into a “new world disorder”!
Küng has never been one to duck a fight, at least one in the service of peace and human rights!

By the way, I hope the person from New Jersey, United States, found what he or she was looking for when their Google search for ‘The Biblical Significance of a Sneeze’ landed on my blog! Why oh why would anybody want to search Google for that?!


Saturday, October 14, 2006

Theologe Küng

Küng says Pope doesn’t know enough about Islam (hardly breaking news, but, hey)


Sunday, July 23, 2006

Final post in the Küng 'Der Anfang' series

This series has taken about 7 months, so it is good to finally post my last.

Following is a section outline of the book, followed by links to the relevant posts. I hope you enjoyed reading the posts as much as I had writing them.

What did you think of the book? Any general comments?

Part 1

A. A unified Theory for everything?
Part 1, part 2

B. God as the beginning?
Part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4

C. World creation or evolution?
Part 1, part 2, part 3

D. Life in the cosmos?
Part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8, part 9, part 10
(plus a three post response to Küng and miracles in Der Anfang: here, here, and here)

E. The beginning of the human race
Part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4

Epilog: The end of all things
Part 1, part 2

My concluding remarks. Part 1, part 2, and finally, part 3 (i.e. this post)

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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Concluding remarks on Küng's Der Anfang

Concluding remarks on Der Anfang Aller Dinge Pt 1 of 3

Now I’ve reached the end of my review of Küng’s book (and thank you for all who have read my posts and made many thought-provoking and helpful comments), I have just a few posts to put on the blog that will summarise some of my thoughts, and look back on the whole series.

The skeleton upon which the meat of the whole book hung can be summarised as follows:
Küng’s reliance on Kantian epistemology, the biblical narratives, existentialism, and an interreligious ecumenism, all surfaced at numerous points, and came to explicit expression in his repeated attempts to encourage epistemological humility from both those in the scientific as well as in the theological communities, while at the same time pointing towards a free and existential trust in an Urgrund. However, especially in relation to his eschatological arguments, the theology of God as Spirit, and his discussion concerning miracles, the influence of Hegel and his correlationist tendencies were also felt. This was all married to a strong, yet not uncritical, confidence in the proposals of modern science, and out of this dynamic his arguments found their form.

Some of the critical matters will be overviewed in the next post in this series.

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Sunday, July 16, 2006

Approaching the end of this 7 month review of Küng's Der Anfang aller Dinge!

We are fast approaching my final post on Küng's Der Anfang aller Dinge. There shall follow a couple of posts in summary of the whole thing, but this posts ends the commentary on the text as such.

Review of Hans Küng’s, Der Anfang aller Dinge, Epilogue, Pt. 2 of 2.

In short, Küng answers this question (cf. the end of part 1 of my review of Küng's Epilogue) in the negative. The end-time stories in the bible are not chronological revelations, satisfying our curiosity with mere information concerning the last days, and to read the bible in such a way is to misunderstand it. Rather:

‘The haunting visions of the Apocalypse are an urgent warning to humanity, and individual humans, to recognise the seriousness of the situation ... The bible doesn’t, therefore, speak in the language of scientific facts, but in a metaphorical picture language’ (223).

And this language, with its actual meaning, is to be translated into the horizon of modern people, and not to be taken literally. And what is the actual meaning? These pictures stand for the hopped for and feared, and particularly represent a faith confession about the completion of the work of God in his creation. ‘Therefore, theologians have no motivation to prefer one or the other of the scientific world-models over the other, though truly they have an interest to portray God as Origin and Perfecter of the world, understandable to humans’ (224). For if God exists and one accepts this, not in light of certain ‘proofs’ but in enlightened trust, then God is surely not only God for here and now, but also at the very end.

Ending on a personal note, Küng writes: ‘Personally, I have accepted Blaise Pascal’s bet, and set myself on – not on the grounds of probability calculations or mathematical logic, but on the basis of a reasonable trust – God and the Endless, over against nil and nothing’ (225). Though Küng doesn’t believe in what he dismisses as the later legendary NT resurrection stories, he accepts their original core, that Jesus didn’t die into nothing, but into God. So die we, into God. And even if Küng’s Pascalian ‘bet’ proves to have failed, ‘I didn’t loose anything in my life. No, I lived a better, happier and more meaningful life than if I had lived with no hope’ (225).

The end of all things, then, is the hope to ultimately die into the light: ‘And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever’ (Rev 22:5)

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Saturday, July 15, 2006

Küng on the end of all things

Review of Hans Küng’s, Der Anfang aller Dinge, Epilogue, Pt. 1 of 2.

Epilogue. The End of all Things

Rather appropriately for the end of a book dealing with the ‘beginning of all things’, Küng concludes by asking: What will happen to the universe in the future? What is its end fate?

Scientists have made two suggestions. First, the universe will continue to expand until it stops, and becomes still. Then it will start to contract until it collapses back in on itself into a ‘big crunch’, one which could lead to another ‘big bang’. Second, the majority opinion among astrophysicians, is that the universe will continue to expand without ever stopping. Slowly, over millions of years, coldness will grip the whole universe until all that is left is death, absolute night (cf. 220).

The apocalyptic visions of the end of the world are common among conservative Christians. Indeed, they have also grabbed the imagination of the wider public in light of the Atom Bomb and the looming threat of ecological breakdown, and are expressed in numerous Hollywood films (e.g. Armageddon) and works of popular literature (e.g. the Left Behind series). In light of this, Küng laments that such works of fiction, and others like Dan Brown’s novels, could be taken as historically credible.

However, also in the bible, passages lend to the notion of a catastrophic end of the world (e.g. Mat 24:6-8, 29). But do they mean what many conservatives Christians think they do? We turn to address this question in the next post.

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Friday, July 14, 2006

Küng and the origins of the World-Ethos

Review of Hans Küng’s, Der Anfang aller Dinge, section E, Pt. 4 of 4.

5. Beginnings of the human ethos

The development of human ethical behaviour is linked to evolutionary and socio-cultural factors. They belong together. Indeed, there has never been a people group, Küng asserts, without a religion or an ethos. Even in the earliest cultures there has been a sense of justice, respect of life etc., and notably so the world over. This means that ‘Today’s living in space “World-Ethos” is based ultimately upon a biological-evolutionary pre-given, in the time tested “Original-Ethos” (Ur-Ethos)’ (213).

How does an Ur-Ethos relate to biblical ethics? First, those found in the bible are not necessarily original in and of themselves. The accounts of the giving of the law are original, not so much in the content of the morality commanded, but in the fact that it is a covenant command, involving exclusive allegiance to Yahweh. What about Christian ethics? Is there a specifically Christian ethic? Actually, the only thing unique to Christianity, Küng insists, is not morality, an abstract idea, or anything else, but the concrete and crucified Jesus as the living Christ’ (cf. 215). This Jesus, this Person, possess a realisability, clearness and audibility, more than any idea or abstract principle. He becomes orientation for an ethically floundering, meaningless, drugged up and violent society. He is, after all, called ‘the light of the world’ (Joh 8:12). However, this is not, Küng goes on, to deny the presence of ‘other lights’, as indeed Islam, Confucius, Hinduism etc. is for millions of other people in the world.

And what does a World-Ethos have to do with the religions? Küng answers:
‘The instructions of the World-Ethos can be for this world-responsibility, a ground-orientation, and one that in no way excludes the special orientation in ones religion or philosophy. Quite the opposite, each can contribute, in their own way, to a World-Ethos’ (217).

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Küng and the reality of human freedom

Review of Hans Küng’s, Der Anfang aller Dinge, section E, Pt. 3 of 4.

4. The limits of brain science

The most recent research has shown that the closer neuroscientists analyse the functions of the brain, the less they actually understand, in light of the usual models, central aspects of the consciousness. So, the prophesied explanation of the relation between brain and consciousness is not, now many claim, to be expected at all (cf. 200-201). Indeed, ‘Brain research offers, at this time, no empirically provable theory about the coherence of spirit and brain, of consciousness and nervous system’ (202).

In terms of the ‘freedom’ debate, in certain situations the decision process of our whole brain enables one to even resist limbic reflexes. And in that, Küng insists, is freedom of will made clear: to set goals and values, and to follow them through, independently of external or internal foreign influences (cf. 204)

But does an ‘I’ exists to make these goals and follow them through?

Citing the words of the neuroscientist, Wolfgang Prinz, Küng maintains: ‘Biologists can explain how the chemistry and physics of the brain functions. But no one knows, up till now, how this becomes an “I” experience, nor how the brain creates meaning at all’ (204). Besides, the ‘spirit’ of a human hardly resides simply in the brain, but in the entire bodily life of a human. The ‘I’ is certainly a social construction, but precisely therefore it is no illusion.

Furthermore, freedom is complex. One could probe around in a brain and never find ‘freedom’. And this is freedom comes to us as an experience. However conditioned I am by my environment and the processes in my brain, whether I sit or stand, speak or remain silent, the person is always conscious that responsibility for such decisions lays in his or her hands. This is, then, an understanding of freedom that doesn’t simply focus on this or that brain function, but on the whole bodily life of the human, and in this context makes a good deal of sense.

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Küng on freedom and neuroscience

Review of Hans Küng’s, Der Anfang aller Dinge, section E, Pt. 2 of 4.

2. Turning from physical development, Küng addresses the question of ‘freedom’.

The question of ‘freedom’ Küng calls a ‘problem’, one that shall concern him for much of the rest of the section. Having declared the traditional body/spirit dualism of Plato-Augustine-Descartes futile, Küng observes that ‘soul’ is hardly the commonly used label these days anyway. Today, one speaks of the psyche, thus resisting dualism. Agreeing with the general theses of Pannenberg’s extensive study, Küng concludes:

  • the Person, the ‘I’, is neither the ‘soul’ nor the brain, but the entire living, feeling, thinking, suffering, acting person – a line of reasoning that shall be of value for his later discussions on the nature of freedom in relation to the brain.
  • body and psyche are a unity, and ‘soul’ should only be understood metaphorically, poetically, liturgically etc., but never literally.
  • ‘Consciousness’ is a psycho-pyshcical process, not a spiritual ability outside neural substratum.
But does this mean that ‘spirit’ is just a secondary effect of brain functions? And does this not imply that any notion of human freedom is constrained by the neural workings of the brain? Indeed, recent studies in human sociality would emphasise that restrictions on human freedom are even more pronounced from without, not just in relation to patterns of neural synapses and the like.

Nevertheless, Küng affirms, the human is precisely within these constrains, free. Yes, the human is environmentally conditioned, but surely humans shape the environment. Yes, the human is genetically pre-programmed. But even here, the human is not entirely ‘pre-programmed’. However, Küng will devote considerable space in the following in expanding on how one can understand human freedom in light of modern science.

3. Brain and spirit

Discussions concerning ‘freedom’ have come particularly to the fore recently in light of the latest brain research. Surely the soul didn’t fall from heaven; it is a product of evolution. Hence, one may be correct to assert that the ‘I’ is entirely determined by physical-chemical brain processes. Thus ends the ‘freedom’ debate? Indeed, no theologian should ever, Küng insists, simply bring ‘God’ into this debate, and too quickly seek a theological resolution, as such language would simply speak past the scientist. Küng, on the other hand, wants to build bridges between theology and science and will do so by focusing his analysis upon the question: ‘Is freedom of will an illusion?’ In answer to this question, Küng simply insists upon more scientific humility. Physicists, Chemists and neuroscientists cannot answer such philosophical questions in their studies. They are focused upon the empirical, the concrete structures of consciousness, but to answer questions of freedom is to immediately colour scientific research with (perhaps unintended) philosophical commitments. Especially in light of the impotence of brain research to answer responsibly to questions of responsibility and guilt, one must resist reductionism. This line of reasoning, Küng expands in the next subsection.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Küng on the physical development of the human species, and their religiosity

(Note on the picture to those who know how hairy I am: This isn't a picture of me)

Review of Hans Küng’s, Der Anfang aller Dinge, section E, Pt. 1 of 4.

Are humans anything other than physical stuff, and is the person more than the firing of electronic synapses in the brain? What is a human? What is the ‘I’? To such questions, Küng now turns.

E. The beginning of the human race

1. The physical development of humans

Küng spends a while detailing the standard theory concerning the evolution of the human species (Homo habilis - erectus etc.), while at the same time dismissing some associated myths. During his overview, Küng points out the key role played, in this process, by the growth of the human brain, a subject that shall busy Küng later in the section. An important feature in this growth was the development of a complex syntactical speech, something that differentiates humans from their nearest relative, the Chimpanzee, and led to the human ability of strategic thinking and self-reflection.

Clearly reflecting something of Küng’s Welt-Ethos sensibility, he concludes the section with the words:
‘Never to forget: Aborigines, Bushmen, Asians, Europeans or Americans – these are not different kinds of humans, they all present one single kind of human, the same family of humans. And even if we are very different in our outward appearances, we probably all have, as molecular genetic analysis shows, one common origin. Under our skin we are all Africans’ (184)
In light of the evolutionary model expanded on in the previous section, Küng addresses the question: What are the earliest traces of religion?

In a nutshell, he argues that the two extreme theories concerning the development of religion (that use the Australian Aborigines as a test case) which purport, on the one hand, that magic was first then religion (e.g. Sir James G. Frazer), and on the other hand, that monotheism was first, followed by polytheism (cf. P. Wilhelm Schmidt), both lack empirical evidence. Indeed, an original religion (Urreligion) one can find nowhere. Nevertheless, following the recent presentation of Ina Wunn, Küng affirms that the earliest traces of religiosity are to be found in the Old and Middle Stone ages. Thus, even non-human extinct races of human relatives had religious tendencies, ‘upon which the religions of historical times built’.

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Reviewing Küng

My review of section D of Küng’s Der Anfang aller Dinge, was rather lengthy, not least because of the discussion it generated but also because the contents fascinated me. It is not finished either, as I intend to write a series of posts on the question of panentheism, a matter thrown to the light in Küng’s treatment of God’s activity in the world as Spirit.

However, I actually want to finish my review on the whole book, first – I’ve been writing this review on and off for over 7 months, after all!!

Section E is the last (followed only by a short Epilogue), and I shall not spend as much time on it for the simple reason that it didn’t interest me as much. Nevertheless, there are some fascinating topics covered by Küng, so I hope it will be of interest to my readers still.

The following review of section E (cf. here to orientate yourself) shall be divided into 4 parts.

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Sunday, July 09, 2006

Küng and God's presence in the world

Review of Küng’s Der Anfang aller Dinge, section D, part 10.

The Endless works within the temporary

God, understood as Spirit, works in the physical laws of nature, but is not identical with these laws. He acts, rather, as the absolute in the relative, as the endless in the temporary. He doesn’t work from above, or outside, as unmoved mover, Küng claims. He works and acts from within creation: in, with and under all things, whether humans or not, directly within the suffering and random processes of life. God is himself the origin, middle and goal of the world process.

This means, God doesn’t just work ‘every now and then’ at special points, like a ‘God of the gaps’ (what Borg, btw, would dismisses as ‘supernatural theism’), but continually. And to qualify, this doesn’t mean that God is the world (pantheism), but that God is in the world, and the world in God (ineinander).*

With this theological view in mind, and following John Polkinghorne, Küng denies it is possible to link God to this or that event within the evolutionary process in the causal network. The relation is more complex than that, one that can only be grasped by faith and is not ‘pin-downable’, scientifically, to this or that point-of-contact. Therefore, it is not possible to claim, Küng reasons, that the great plan of the creation of the universe ever existed as a formal blueprint, detailed to the last issue. Rather:

‘The actual balance that we accept between coincidence and necessity, contingence and possibility, appears to me to cohere well with the Will of a patient and subtle Creator, one who is satisfied to pursue and track his goals all the while he accepts, in the process he initiated, a measure of violability and precariousness, in such a way that always distinguishes the gift of his freedom and love’

Understanding the mystery of God’s activity in and with the world is however, at the end of the day, a mystery, much like the balance between grace and works which is likewise a problem the church has never managed to resolved.

*(A discussion concerning ‘Panentheism’ shall follow soon)

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Saturday, July 08, 2006

Küng, evolution, and God as Spirit

Review of Küng’s Der Anfang aller Dinge, section D, part 9.

A spiritualised God

An understanding of God as ‘up there on a throne who controls everything’ doesn’t really gel well with Küng’s suggestions so far. Indeed, he points out that such a theology cannot answer why the developmental process has led to so many evolutionary ‘dead-ends’, nor can it give an answer to the endless suffering of terrestrial life and the presence of evil in the world.

Hence, Küng advocates, against all crude anthropomorphised images of God, an understanding of God, drawn from the scriptures, as ‘Spirit’. This will, Küng argues, enable one to helpfully focus discussion in terms of God’s relation to the world in light of the evolutionary process.

‘Palpable, yet also not palpable, invisible, yet mighty, important to life like the air we breath, loaded with energy like the wind of a storm – that is the Spirit’ (175).

He spends a little time qualifying what he means by ‘spirit’, and in so doing impressively avoids the many potential exegetical pitfalls. In particular, he was clear not to buy into the peculiar tradition of German exegesis that insists on a ‘substantial’ Spirit (cf. e.g. Friedrich Wilhelm Horn’s, Das Angeld des Geistes: Studien zur paulinischen Pneumatologie (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1992).

The last post on section D shall follow tomorrow.

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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A friendly critique of Küng’s view vis-à-vis miracles Pt 2 of 2

3d) Whether Küng is correct in the historical doubt he casts upon certain biblical miracle stories is disputable - and readers will know that I actually admire and applaude Küng's openness to the results of biblical criticism. One or two of the examples Küng cites as ‘obviously legendary in character’ seem to presuppose a value judgment precisely according to modernist categories of closed and prescriptive (rather than descriptive) laws of nature. But one should perhaps be more careful in deciding what is legendary or not a priori (cf. Meyer, The Aims of Jesus). Furthermore, to claim that Küng's assertions are not made a priori but rather because of the results of biblical criticisms doesn't convince me.

3e) He uses that old chestnut of an argument: it’s the meaning that counts to the biblical authors, not whether something happened (‘Es geht ja der Bibel bei ihren Wundererzählungen ohnehin nicht primär um das erzählte Geschehen selbst, sondern um die Deutung des Erzählten’, p. 172). Although he sneaks in the word ‘primär’, it is doubtful that the flow of his argument justifies its inclusion. And surely sometimes the meaning of an event, the interpretation of an event, presupposes the occurrence of an event (cf. Jesus’ response to John the Baptist – though the interpretation was ambiguous, the happening of the miracles is presupposed – or the deck of cards has no table to stand on). Thus, to drive too firm a wedge between the event and its interpretation runs the risk of overstatement. Questions concerning the historicity of an event are an inadequate line of analysis, yes, but they are not ‘beside the point’ or irrelevant.

3f) I would suggest that it is one thing to claim as Küng does, and I think rightly, that miracles are not ‘proofs’ of God’s existence, but hints toward his activity in the world. However, it is quite another thing to assert that miracles are metaphors, and not about a ‘lifting of the laws of nature’ (whatever one is to make of such a phrase. It appears as a pejorative in modern scholarship in a way that brings less light than promised). These two issues are perhaps not distinguished firmly enough in Küng's rhetoric. To take a side-step out of the strict rules of academic debate for a moment: Try praying for a dying mum with cancer and tell her that she should not expect any miracle as (a hoped for) real event, but something only faith can seize in interpretation. This is not about proofs of the existence of God, but neither is it about simple metaphor.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A friendly critique of Küng’s view vis-à-vis miracles Pt 1 of 2

3) So, what are my difficulties with Küng’s presentation in Der Anfang Aller Dinge?

3a) I wonder if the ‘modern people’ he wishes to give ‘a helpful answer to’, are indeed modern? Modernist, yes, but modern? A generation raised on ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’, and such like, don’t, I think, have the slightest problem with miracles. The point: His claimed apologetic motives are, I suspect, simply out-of-date for many.

3b) Ben Myers quotes Küng’s Christ Sein in his comments to his first post on this subject: ‘[T]here is no question here of all or nothing, of everything being legendary or nothing being legendary. There is no need at all either to accept all miracle stories in an uncritical, fundamentalist spirit as historical facts..., or, on the other hand in a spirit of narrow-minded rationalism to refuse to take any miracle stories seriously. The hasty conclusion is a result of putting all miracle stories on the same plane’ (p. 229). This crucial comment, or something like it, is, however, missing in Der Anfang Aller Dinge.

3c) ‘In the Hebrew Bible and in the NT, nowhere does one differentiate between miracles that correspond to the laws of nature, and those that explode (sprengen) them’ (p. 171). This is, I suggest, an oversimplification of the epistemological Unterscheidungskraft of the ancients in the near east, who were quite aware of those things that normally happened, and those that didn’t. This is bordering, to use a C.S. Lewis phrase, on chronological snobbery.

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Küng and Miracles - a response (preliminary waffle)

Here I am sitting in Tübingen library feeling guilty that I'm not working, but blogging. So I'll keep this short:

It has been fun to read the developing debate in blogdom after my initial post on Küng’s position on miralces. Ben Myers was the first to respond, criticised by Mike of Pontifications here, then Ben retorted, and lastly a fourth, by Mike, here.

1) What do I not want to challenge? First, I do not dispute Küng’s claim that certain biblical miracle stories are best understood as legend (i.e. didn’t happen). Second, I leave unchallenged the assertion that certain miracle stories in the scriptures are simple faith interpretations of events that one could describe today as ‘natural events’ (I have in mind, for example, the Exodus miracles).

2) I will restrict myself to a critique of Küng’s views as presented in Der Anfang Aller Dinge, the source of my real quibble, and not get involved in his more lengthy (and less problematic) treatment in Christ Sein.

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Friday, June 23, 2006

Küng response to follow Moltmann Symposium

I will get around to responding to your comments, and posting my (of course, utterly devastating) friendly critique of Küng’s position on miracles. I’ve simply been enjoying the company of friends, and today – thanks to a tip from my dear friend, Volker – I shall be visiting a Symposium moderated by none other than Prof. Dr. Jürgen Moltmann. It promises to be a fascinating mini-conference, especially as the subject is one that personally interests me very much: The meaning and hermeneutical function of the biblical canon (Kanonhermeneutik. Vom Lesen und Verstehen der christlichen Bibel)

Here is some more information, if you really want to start salivating with jealousy ...

Until my Küng-rejoinder, I would point my readers to an excellent response to my initial post on Küng by Ben Myers, here (be sure to read the discussion on this one as well).

(Click to enlarge)


Thursday, June 22, 2006

Küng on miracles

Review of Küng’s Der Anfang aller Dinge, section D, part 7.

5. Miracles

Küng, now turns, briefly, to the question of the intellectual credibility of miracles – a matter he has treated at more length elsewhere (Christ Sein II, 2).

He prefaces his argument with the following:
‘I don’t want to hurt the religious feelings of anyone who finds a literal interpretation of the biblical miracles important. Rather, I want to give a helpful answer to those modern people for whom miracles are a hindrance to faith in God’ (171, italics mine).
It is necessary, claims Küng, to distinguish between the biblical and the modern understanding of reality. In the scriptures, he argues, no one distinguished between miracles that broke the laws of nature, and those that didn’t. Indeed, the idea that miracles ‘break the laws of nature’, is a modernist conception only.

As I pointed out in my ‘Why I love Küng’ post in Ben’s series, Küng’s sensitivity to the results of biblical criticism is something I appreciate. And to biblical criticism Küng turns in order to demonstrate that one should not take the biblical miracles stories literally.

Based on the different ways biblical writers saw the world, and the results of biblical criticism, Küng argues that biblical miracle stories are best understood as metaphors. What is important is not whether the miracles actually happened but what they mean.

I don’t find myself in disagreement with anything particularly noteworthy in Der Anfang aller Dinge, except, that is, for his arguments above.

An appreciative critique follows tomorrow.


Thursday, June 08, 2006

How can religion and science work together?

Not like this.

Rather, as Küng argues, desirable is:

* No confrontation model between science and religion: whether one of a fundamentalist-premodern origin, which ignores or suppresses the results of science or historical-critical biblical exegesis; or whether a type of rationalistic-modernism which right from the start declares religion as irrelevant

* Also no integration model of harmonising tendency

* but rather a complimentary model of critical-constructive interaction of religion and science in which their own spheres of specialisation are maintained, all illegitimate transitions avoided, and all one-dimensional totalising rejected.

(cf. Der Anfang Aller Dinge, p. 57)


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Evolution, the existence of God, Küng and his existential argument

Review of Küng’s Der Anfang aller Dinge, section D, part 5.

So, is it God who throws dice?

Küng is of course clear: Certainly it would be unfair to postulate God, as Monod insists, from molecular indeterminacy, or other such facet of the evolutionary process. This would merely project a ‘God of the Gaps’. However, Monod’s rejection of ‘creation-mysticism’ is also hardly ground for the rejection of a Creator and Director (Lenker) of the world.

Under the subheading ‘An existential alternative’, Küng presses his reasoning: Either a person says ‘no’ or ‘yes’ to an original foundation, and original goal (Urgrund, Urhalt, Urziel) of the evolutionary process. If a person says ‘no’, then he or she must also agree to the senselessness of the whole process, and the loneliness of humanity. If a person says ‘yes’, then this person may accept a sense in the whole process of evolution, even if it is not based on the process itself, but, trustingly presuppose it (cf. p. 163). Those saying ‘no’ must still answer, ‘Why is there something, and not nothing?’ - a question Küng himself addressed in part B (section 5) of the book. Indeed, there appears to be an unavoidable metaphysical element in human thinking, one that cannot simply be turned off. Metaphysics is not answered, proved or disproved through an acceptance of the physical and chemical nature of evolutionary development. And so the ball ricochets off the hard wall of evolutionary chance, and lands back on our court: Will we say a ‘yes’ or ‘no’?

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Monday, May 22, 2006

Küng on evolution

Review of Küng’s Der Anfang aller Dinge, section D, part 4.

3. Chance or necessity?

If the development of life, as Küng insists, is to be understood as a physical and chemical event without any divine ‘breaking of the rules’ at some stage, is everything simply pure chance? Is life, you, me, just an accident? Reiner Zufall?

Küng’s argument in this section is multi-layered. In noting the contribution of the late Jaques Monod (French Molecular Biologist and 1965 Nobel Prise Winner), he asks whether the Frenchman’s dispute with ‘animistic projections’ into the evolutionary process really can be taken as credible polemic against a creator God per se. In his response to Monod, Küng cites the Physiochemiker Manfred Eigen (University of Göttingen) who writes in the foreword of the German translation of Monod’s Chance and Necessity:

‘As much as the individual form thanks its origin to chance, as much as the process of selection and evolution is unavoidable necessity. Not more! Thus, there is no secret inherent ‘life-characteristic’ [Vitaleigenschaft – i.e. animism] in material which should in the end determine the process of history! But also not less!’ (cf. p. 160).
Küng, in quoting Eigen, aims to break down the inherent either/or, the either Zufall or theology in the rhetoric of those who affirm, as he does, evolution as explainable within the natural process of evolution.

This is, however, but the first step in his argument. Küng wants to, rather than positing chance or necessity, understand the notions as both/and.

Naturally with such language on the field, as a further movement Küng turns to investigate the contribution of Chaos theory. With this examination, Küng concludes more firmly: ‘Für die Erklärung der Evolution sind Zufall oder Notwendigkeit, Indetermination oder Determination, ja, Materialismus oder Idealismus faslche Alternativen’.

The evolution or life is, therefore, not chance or necessity. It is not an assertion of animistic life force or atheism. Fascinatingly, what this means, if the logic is pursued, is that God indeed appears to throw dice – but within certain rules.

The question then, however, becomes: But is it God who is throwing the dice? Küng's response to this queston shall be explored in the next post in this series.

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Monday, March 06, 2006

Küng – Der Anfang aller Dinge. Section C, pt 3 of 3.

This is the final part of my overview of section C in Küng's, Der Anfang aller Dinge. If any want the German translated, leave a note in the comments.

Part 6 (of 6) of section C

According to Küng, the message of Genesis, that science can neither prove nor disprove, is ‘In the beginning, God created the world’ (a rather unfortunate typo occurs here that the German editors missed: ‘Im Anfang der Welt is Gott’!! p. 139). Furthermore, in light of the previous discussion, it is clear that creation is not just something in the past, but something that continues; there is creatio continua as well as ex nihilo (of course, see Moltmann, Gott in der Schöpfung for more on this). Nice dogmatic statements. But all of this still begs the question to which Küng will turn to in the final part of section C: ‘What is the meaning of faith in a Creator God today?’

His answer: It should be understood that not scientific, but rather existential questions are addressed by the biblical authors and editors. The meaning of the biblical account of creation is that it gives life orientation, not scientific facts: ‘Es läßt den Menschen einen Sinn im Leben und im Evolutionsprozeß’ (142). To quote Küng at more length:
‘Das Ganze stammt nicht nur aus einem Urknall [Big Bang], sondern einem Ur-sprung: aus jenem ersten schöpferischen Grund der Gründe, den wir Gott, eben den Schöpfergott, nennen ... Auch wenn ich dies nicht beweisen kann, so kann ich es doch mit gutem Grund bejahen: in jenem für mich so vernünftigen, geprüften, aufgeklärten Vertrauen, in welchem ich schon Gottes Existenz bejahte ... Nur so, scheint mir, wird uns das Universum plausibel in seiner Existenz als Kosmos: in seinem mathematisch geordneten, hochkomplexen und ungeheuer dynamischen Wesen’ (ibid., italics his).
Thus, to believe in a Creator doesn’t mean to believe this or that myth literally, but invites us to trusting faith in the wider meaning and orientation in life it offers, and thus concretely in God himself– and not just for our sakes, but also for the good of all our fellow humans, and the environment.

But if evolutionary theory is to be accepted, in what way, then, are we to understand God's role in the evolution of life on our planet? In the next section, Küng turns his attention to the question of what in English speaking circles has been called ‘theistic evolution’.

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Sunday, March 05, 2006

Küng – Der Anfang aller Dinge. Section C, pt 2 of 3.

Parts 4-5 (of 6) of section C.

In part four, Küng attempts to briefly develop a way of using the word ‘God’ that avoids the many potential pitfalls and abuses. In my mind this part jumped out of the blue, but it was nevertheless a helpful discussion that albeit very briefly attempted to give scientists pause for thought, rather than simply having the scientists making the theologians twist and bend. In this short section he merely makes a number of theologically orthodox statements in light of creation, i.e. ‘God is not the same as creation’, ‘God is in the universe and the universe in God’, etc., and concludes that ‘Man kann das Verhältnis Gott-Welt, Gott-Mensch nur dialektisch formulieren’. Finally, he spends an entire subsection on the question, ‘Is God a Person?’, in which he answers essentially ‘yes’ and ‘no’! So, nothing unorthodox nor new, especially if you’ve read your Moltmann, but a refreshing break from the documentation and scientific details of the previous pages.

‘Bible and creation’ is the theme addressed in part five. First, and perhaps a little surprising given the subject to be tackled, in a fascinating few pages he overviews the account of creation found in the world religions. His point appears to be that science cannot say it all, and that religion has ‘room’ for its claims. A scientist cannot give the full picture of creation, especially as he cannot answer fundamental questions. However, before Küng attempts to bring the biblical story to bear on the wider questions, he turns to the complex issues of biblical-criticism and the Pentateuch. He concludes that the only constant in the changing biblical records is God.

In the following pages, things get interesting. Given his distillation of the biblical constant (i.e. = God), and that the bible is God’s word in human words, the human witness to God’s revelation, the biblical metaphors can be no proof for a ‘cosmic designer’, but rather are an invitation to believing trust in the one God. This means that there should be no harmonising or mixing of the biblical accounts of creation with science. They speak in two different ways, are two different languages:
‘Vielmehr hat sie [Naturwissenschaft] die physikalische Erklärbarkeit unseres Universums so weit wie ihr möglich (!) voranzutreiben und zugleich Raum zu lassen für das physikalisch prinzipiell Unerklärbare. Davon redet die Bibel’ (137).
Indeed, whether one wants to speak of God at all is one’s own decision, but science has nothing to say against it.

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Saturday, March 04, 2006

Küng – Der Anfang aller Dinge. Section C, pt 1 of 3.

At last, the continuation (and eventual completion) of my overview/review of Küng’s Der Anfang aller Dinge. I now turn attention to section C and the question: ‘World creation or evolution?’. As previously, the overview of section C will be spilt into three posts.

About 13.7 million years the universe came into being, then, 4.5 million years ago, our own planet earth, and for about the last 3.5 million years, complex life existed on earth. What does all of this mean theologically? It is to this question that Küng turns in section C. He divides the section into six parts.

Parts 1-3 (of 6) of section C.

In the first part Küng summarises the Darwinian theory of evolution (variation plus selection), and some of the impressive reasons for affirming its correctness. Then, in part two, he turns his attention to the theological defence or reaction to of churches to evolutionism. In short, the question became for the church: ‘If Darwin is right, won’t creation be de-mystified (entsaubert) to a random process without purpose, goal or meaning?’. Naturally, as part of this overview, Küng takes particular delight in poking fun at some of the related papal pronouncements, but he also deals with protestant fundamentalism and, in this context, the concern for such matters as original sin, humans in ‘the image of God’ etc. Here, Küng is not trying to engage questions theologically, as he will do later, he is merely listing responses of the church to evolution.

Particularly noteworthy, I thought, was the fact that a 2001 Gallup poll in the States disclosed that 45% of adult Americans believe the Genesis account of creation literally. And there is some evidence that this is the case not just in America. (A side note: I personally became a Christian after hearing a creationist talk about Genesis. For the first time in my life I started to believe that the Scriptures were more than just dusty old irrelevant books, but were important for me. When I dropped faith in ‘creationism’, I truly did experience a moment of existential shock, of hard adjustment. It was not comfortable, and so such statistics should perhaps be less remarkable to me than they are. But nevertheless, I’m still surprised. Do so many really believe Genesis literally?)

Küng then addresses the question: ‘Is evolution with or without God?’, in which he over views the contributions of Comte (evolution without God), Teilhard de Chardin (evolution to God – he takes another pop at the Catholic church here!), and Whitehead (process theology).

However, all of this is rather documentary in approach and not as engaging as his discussion is about to become in the last half of section C.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Küng – Der Anfang aller Dinge. Section B, pt 4.

This is the 4th and final part of my overview of section B in Küng’s Der Anfang aller Dinge.

God as Hypothesis and God as Reality

That ‘God’ be respected at least as a hypothesis is to be seen in the fact that an ultimate cause of the universe deals with that which is beyond our three-dimensional and probably limited, universe i.e. that which is beyond empirical science. And indeed, if God does exist, then the questions concerning the ultimate Reality, the conditions at t = 0, can all be answered. However, of course the big question is: does God actually exists?

More precisely, how is one to answer this question, how is one to find access to the Ultimate Secret of the universe? How can we get from ‘God as hypothesis’ to ‘God as Reality’? Certainly not through theoretical operations of pure reason, but also neither through irrational feelings. Rather: ‘on the grounds of a trustworthy, rationally defensible fundamental decision and standpoint (Grundentscheidung und Grundeinstellung)’ (98). To use his analogy: If one learns to swim, it is not done by standing in the dry bank, reading a ‘how to swim’ book, but comes about through risk, through getting the hair wet, and finding out that the body will not necessarily sink. You learn to trust the water through real life trying and risk. Applied to real life and the question of God's existence, this is, in effect, a hermeneutic of trust that Küng is suggesting. Despite doubts, the secret Reality of all things can be accepted and be the basis for one’s entire experience, behaviour and actions.

His reasoning continues: While an absolutely logical proof or disproof of God is not possible, it is viable to suggest that ‘practical reason’ (as opposed to ‘theoretical’ - cf. Kant) can function as a guiding introduction (hinführende Anleitung) into the reality of God – one based on the entire person. This is, for Küng's theological epistemology absolutely crucial. On this, let me quote him at more length - a citation that I think clearly displays the nature of Küng’s approach and hermeneutic.
‘Die Aussagen über Gott sollen im Erfahrungshorizont unseres Lebens und der grundlegenden existentiellen Fragen bewährt und bewahrheitet werden: nicht in zwingender Ableitung aus einer angeblich evidenten Erfahrung, die eine Entscheidung des Menschen erübrigen würde, wohl aber in klärender Ausleuchtung der immer problematischen Erfahrung, die zu einer freien Entscheidung des Menschen einlädt’ (99).

Indeed, only when talk of God is covered by, and related to (and with) the concrete experience of the reality of humanity and the world, can its ‘believability’ be grounded. And while for some, the ‘unprovability’ of God is enough to affirm atheism, Küng’s conviction is: the ‘yes’ to God enables a radically grounded basic trust towards reality. Uncountable existential questions can then, in principle, be answered; the human has an ‘archimedischer Punkt’ from which to view reality, and questions such as ‘what can we know?’, ‘what should we do?’ and ‘what can we hope for?’ can be answered so that, from deep within, it is possible to understand why such contingent and pitiful creatures, which are humans, can still be beings of unlimited expectation, hope and longing. It is to answer such questions from the ‘archimedischer’ standpoint of ‘God exists’ Küng now turns to address in the rest of the book. Does belief in God help to explain the mystery of epistemology, the question of appropriate praxis, and the nature of human hope?

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Monday, February 06, 2006

Küng – Der Anfang aller Dinge. Section B, pt 3.

This is part 3 of my overview of section B in Küng’s Der Anfang aller Dinge.

It is time to turn to the question that will engage Küng for the rest of the section.

5. Why is there not nothing?

Science, Küng insists, can only take one so far. Furthermore, such questions as those concerning the condition at the Absolute Beginning of all things cannot help but swerve into metaphysics. Indeed, many scientists freely admit, the more of the universe one discovers, the less it is understood. Despite the enormous and wonderful contributions and advances of scientific knowledge in the last century, room must also be made for scientific humility. Indeed, the 96% of the universe that remains beyond human knowledge, also remains beyond entirely reasonable explanation and understandability. And this is not merely the sort of mystery that can one day be resolved, rather, quoting Pascal, Küng is speaking here of the ‘secret impénétrable’, that which is beyond ‘theoretical reason’ and empirically bound scientific research.

So how are we to approach the question of the ‘secret impénétrable’? In this following passage, Küng introduces a crucial part of his argumentation:
‘Während die Argumente der Physik, auf Beobachtung, Experiment und Mathematik aufgebaut, einen logisch zwingenden Charakter haben, können die philosophisch-theologischen Argumente für die Annahme einer metaempirischen Wirklichkeit bestenfalls eine Hinführung und Einladung sein. Das heißt: In diesen letzten Fragen herrscht kein intellektueller Zwang, sondern Freiheit’ (95).

The events of t = 0 are simply beyond the reach of our Physics. This doesn’t mean ‘God’-speculation is merely introduced where there exists gaps in scientific knowledge. Rather, it is about the nature and the scope of the questions that asks about the ‘ultimate secret of Reality’, the original ground, foundation, the original goal of all Reality. However, to speak of this ultimate Reality in terms of God … isn’t that simply a pious hypothesis that scientists cannot allow? ‘No’, says Küng: ‘Ich möchte dem Naturwissenschaftler empfehlen, Gott zumindest als Hypothese in Betracht zu ziehen’ (97).

How this Empfehlung is to be justified will be overviewed in the next, and last post on section B.

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Sunday, February 05, 2006

Küng – Der Anfang aller Dinge. Section B, pt 2.

The continuation of my overview of Küng’s book, Der Anfang aller Dinge, will now proceed.
At the moment, I am working through section B (‘God as the beginning?’). To orientate yourself, see the bottom of my introductory post here.

The first part of the overview of section B, dealing with points 1 to 3, can be found here. This is part 2, and there will follow 2 more this week, making the total number of posts on section B as 4.

Why so many? Well, I have decided to spend more time on this section of the book as I felt it was so crucial to Küng’s understanding, general approach and hermeneutic. Plus, its given me lots to think through, and writing it down helps!

4. Reactions to cosmic ‘fine-tuning’ (Feinabstimmung)

Before Küng turns to develop his own answer to cosmic ‘fine-tuning’, he addresses two approaches that have sought to answer the question, ‘how can the beginning of the universe and its balanced intricacy be properly explained?’

Under the title ‘cosmological speculation’, he first overviews the claims made by those promoting ‘alternative universes’, as a way to balance equations and explicate the conditions at the very beginning – even proposing a self-creating universe. Küng’s main criticism revolves around the fact that such speculation is hardly science in an empirical sense, and thus, while it may be correct, cannot compel assent. Not, at least, in the name of that which is true science.

The second approach to the question asked in the first paragraph is that of ‘intelligent design’. Some have attempted to use the ‘big bang’ and ‘expanding universe’ models to justify belief in the Genesis account of creation. These models, after all, point to a definite beginning, a moment of ‘creation’ at which the universe began. However - and here Küng shows that he is no mere apologist - in light of such argumentation, he writes:
‘Ich gestehe freilich, daß mich das ganze Beweisverfahren für eine Anfangssingularität und einen Designer-Gott kaum zu überzeugen vermag’ (87).
And why? Apart from a couple of minor issues, the main reason remains: no physical law can imply a factual endlessness. The sort of arguments he used against scientific arrogance (drawing largely on Kant), he now, entirely consistently, uses against an over self-confident apologetic stance. However, one could challenge Küng’s precise formulation at this point (as quoted above). In the same paragraph he writes that ‘theoretical reason’ cannot compel one to assent to a factual ‘beyond time-space reality’. But ‘to imply’ and ‘to compel’ are two very different notions.

Update: Re-reading this, I am not convinced that my summary is altogether comprehensible for those who may be fresh to such discussions. Unfortunately, as I am condensing a rather complicated argument, this is somewhat inevitable - but hopefully the following two posts will make matters clearer.

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Friday, January 27, 2006

Küng – Der Anfang aller Dinge. Section B, pt 1.

I’m sorry, I wanted to make this review of Küng’s book far shorter, but I’m finding it too interesting to simply skim over. And writings these words down is helping my think through matters myself!

The following is part 1 of the overview of Section B.

(To orientate yourself as to which part of the book I am presently overviewing, click here for the introductory post. Previously, I examined section A in two parts: part one, and two).


Section B deals with the question: ‘God as beginning?’ – not from the perspective of cosmology, but rather based on philosophical-theological reflection.

1. The question concerning the beginning of the beginning.
First, through a brief analysis of the ‘original singularity’ (die Anfangssingularität), Küng argues for the impossibility of explaining the absolute beginning (the t = 0 moment) without some recourse to meta- or proto- physics. Second, Küng argues that science certainly cannot determine God is irrelevant to such considerations. He attempts to demonstrate this, based on Kant’s critique of ‘pure reason’: the limits of reasons must be admitted, and this is not to be taken to be the same things as limiting Reality. ‘Das heißt: Was die Vernunft nicht erkannt, kann dennoch wirklich sein! Auch Gott?’ (63 – if a translation is desired, please indicate in the comments). Turned around this means that scientific proof of God is also, according to Kant, impossible.

2. Science blocked through religious criticism?
This is all agreeable enough, but in the light of Kant, Küng turns his guns on the likes of Sagen, Dawkins and Atkins, and other such ‘prophets of science’, who come along proclaiming an atheistic critique of religion in the name of science. Their scientific work, he argues, has no real relevance for the truth or falsehood of most religious claims.

Through an overview of the contributions of famous religion critics (Feuerbach, Marx and Freud), Küng rather helpfully points out that their conclusions may well be accepted, but that hardly determines the absolute truth of Reality. For example, along with Feuerbach we may agree that ‘God’ is a human projection, but only a projection? Küng is adamant: Science must leave God out of their considerations, they simply have not the tools to deal with such questions. God is not an object of the observable universe to be placed under a microscope. And while atheism may be understandable, it is therefore most certainly not necessary.

3. Where do the nature-constants (Naturkonstanten) come from?
In all of this, Küng is, of course, setting his argument against certain apologists who want to suggest that an Absolute Beginning is positive proof for a creator. Things are not so simple. However, does this mean that we can forget about such questions as ‘what are the conditions of the Absolute Beginning’? Certainly not, he insists. It is simply that such questions cannot be answered by science as they overstep the boundaries of ‘pure reason’. Rather, and this is a point he will expand on later, it is that they need to be addressed by a decision of the entire human (eine Entscheidung des ganzen Menschen).

Once again, ‘where do the cosmic Ordnungsprinzipien come from?’ Of course, astrophysics cannot answer this. The generally accepted ‘expanding universe’ model helps to explain some things, but not the basic cosmic ordering principles. It cannot describe the conditions for the beginning of the universe. This doesn’t mean that we should import God into a scientific lack of knowledge ( a God of the gaps), but that this is rather an invitation to think over the fundamental conditions of the scientific world model, one upon which scientists themselves recourse to feeling and instinct, rather than to scientific arguments.

To be continued …

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Monday, January 09, 2006

Küng – Der Anfang aller Dinge. Section A, pt 2.

… continuation of A. A Unified theory for Everything? (Pt. 1)

A. A Unified theory for Everything? (Pt. 2)

An important facet of Küng's argument against the sort of scientific 'over-confidence' that jumps in bed with logical-positivism and consequently marginalizes anything theological, draws on the work of Karl Popper. In particular, he addresses the claim that everything metaphysical must be delimited as 'meaningless' by justifiably asking: "Ist es legitim, bestimmte Fragen von vornherein als »sinnlos« auszuschließen, wenn man empirisch-mathematisch gar nicht definieren kann, was »Sinn« überhaupt ist?" ("Is it legitimate to bracket certain questions, right from the beginning, as 'meaningless', when it is not possible to define what 'meaning' is at all from a mathematical-empirical standpoint?") (42). Science, indeed, can never prove its statements in an absolute sense. They, according to Popper, can only be falsified! Science has its limits.

None of this is to be understood as an attack on the whole scientific approach, however. Rather, Küng's objective in this first chapter is to blunt the unrealistic self-assurance and philosophical naivety of its logical-positivist infected branches. Küng wants to emphasise that Reality cannot be defined 'von vornherein' ('from the start') by some kind of absolutised Rationalität. Reality is multifaceted and complex beast that is best approached through a variety of means employing a variety of methods, though each be very different. Not only that, but it is clear that no one operates from a detached Spock-like rationality, but has desires, feelings, intuition, fantasy, emotion and passion. Again, this is not meant as an argument against rationality, only the absolutisation of it.

Science and theology, he suggest, are both legitimate perspectives with which to analyse the complex of reality. However, just as he pressed in relation to the natural science and mathematics, theology also cannot claim to own the Truth 'von vornherein' absolutely. Theologians too must always be prepared to revise old models and think new thoughts. In particular, they shouldn't withdraw to the alleged infallibility of the Pope, Bible or any creedal-pronouncements of the Church. Rather, science and theology can work together over the question of Reality, something that the schools of Barth (and his aversion to 'natural theology' [three cheers for Brunner!]) and Bultmann (and his neglect of cosmology through his preoccupation with human Existenz) have generated a need for. And theologians must be careful to note that this working together should most certainly not flip into a defensive apologetic stance. On the other hand, instead of a pure integration of science and theology, Küng suggests a complementary relationship. Following Kant he affirms that science has its focus on space-time phenomena, but cannot overstep this world of phenomena. The world "in-itself", the questions concerning the ground and meaning of Reality as a whole, are beyond just science and mathematics.

In the next section, Küng will attempt to employ this 'complementary model' as he bores deeper into the question of the mathematical structure of the physical world.

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Sunday, January 08, 2006

Küng – Der Anfang aller Dinge. Section A, pt 1.

A. A Unified theory for Everything? (Pt. 1)

The first section begins with a narrative detailing developments in science for the last few hundred years (and the largely poor reaction of the Church to these movements) – from Copernicus through to the proponents of Quantum theory and the Big-Bang ("Urknall").

This overview reaches its climax in his analysis of the optimism displayed by 20th century scientists that a World Formula ("Weltformel"), or Grand Unification Theory (GUT) could be discovered - a complete description of all Reality, with or without God. As Hawking famously suggested in the popular A Brief History of Time, such a theory would enable us to even 'know the mind of God'!

However, such confidence that a GUT or Weltformel could be discovered, has, Küng argues, turned out to be a great disappointment. In fact, he notes that none other than Hawking himself in a recent and surprising pronouncement states that he has 'given up' on the search for a GUT. But why has he given up?:

"Hawking beruft sich dabei überraschenderweise auf den ersten Unvollständigkeitssatz des österreichischen Mathematikers Kurt Gödel (1906-1978), vielleicht der bedeutendste Logiker des 20. Jh. Dieser Satz aus dem Jahr 1930 besagt, dass ein endliches System von Axiomen immer Formeln enthält, die in diesem System weder bewiesen noch widerlegt werden können. Die Sachlage ähnelt dem bekannten Beispiel aus der Antike, wo jemand die Aussage macht »Diese Aussage ist falsch«. Wenn man voraussetzt, dass alle Aussagen grundsätzlich entweder wahr oder falsch sind (dies wäre die Vollständigkeit des System), dann ist die genannte Aussage genau dann wahr, wenn sie falsch ist. Also ein Widerspruch." (33) [if anyone wants this translated, put a note in the comments]

This is a debate, of course, concerning the foundational presuppositions of mathematics. Referring to Gödel again, Küng notes that most "Axiomensysteme der Mathematik sind nicht in der Lage, ihre eigene Widerspruchsfreiheit zu beweisen", and thus "Man muß den Anspruch [of mathematics] auf einwandfreie Beweisführung aufgeben" ("The axiomatic systems of mathematics are not in the position to prove their own freedom from contradiction", and thus, "one ought to give-up the claim for faultless scientific/mathematic proof") (35-6). This is, in essence, what Küng wants to say, in one way or another, throughout the entire chapter.

He also notes that many mathematicians and physicists rarely busy themselves with admitting the reality of such debates. However, here I felt Küng was a little unfair on Hawking as his backtracking on the issue of Black-Holes and the escape of 'information' from them. The polemical nature of Küng's language is understandable in the light of what many theologians legitimately see as the pretentious and naïve confidence of mathematicians and physicists concerning the 'absolute truth' of their pronouncements. Nevertheless, such honest turnaround by Hawking is also something to be applauded - especially as the famous scientist lost a bet in the process as well!

to be continued …

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Monday, January 02, 2006

Küng - Der Anfang aller Dinge. Introduction.

I am just about to start a small series on Küng's new book, Der Anfang aller Dinge. I am not yet finished, and so I will write brief summaries of each part as I complete them. I shall quote the German, and then provide a rough English translation, thereby hopefully making it a smidgen more accessible to my non-German speaking readers.

Although I'm only 100 pages or so through, I can already report that it is an exceedingly well written book, a highly engaging. And what book by any intelligent author could be anything else when it concerns such a broad and fascinating a subject as the "Ursprung und Sinn des Weltalls als Ganzes, ja, der Wirklichkeit überhaupt" ("origin and meaning of the universe as a whole, yes, reality in its entirety")!

The book does, however, focus in on and address two primary sets of questions:

  1. The key question about the "Anfang überhaupt: Warum existiert das Universum? Warum existiert nicht nichts? Die Frage also nach dem Sein des Universums schlechthin" ("the ultimate Beginning: Why does the universe exist? Why does not nothing exist? The question. then, concerning the Being of the universe, in its entirety")
  2. The framing question concerning the "Anfangsbedingungen: Warum ist das Universum so, wie es ist? Warum hat es gerade diese Eigenschaften, die für unser menschliches Leben und Überleben entscheidend sind? Die Frage also nach dem So-Sein des Universums" ("the Beginning-conditions: Why is the universe the way it is? Why does it have exactly these qualities - qualities decisive for our human life and survival? The question, then, concerning the type-of-Being of the universe") (p. 16).
The book is divided into six parts including the epilogue:

    A. Eine vereinheitlichte Theorie für alles? ("a unified Theory for everything?")
    B. Gott als Anfang? ("God as the beginning?")
    C. Weltschöpfung oder Evolution? ("World creation or evolution?")
    D. Leben im Kosmos? ("Life in the cosmos?")
    E. Der Anfang der Menschheit ("the beginning of the human race")
    Epilog: Das Ende aller Dinge ("The end of all things")

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