Amos Yong’s The Spirit of Creation: Modern Science and Divine Action in the Pentecostal-Charismatic Imagination. Pentecostal Manifestos 4 (Grand Rapids and Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011)
L. William Oliverio, Jr., Lecturer in Theology, Marquette University Department of Theology, Milwaukee, Wisconsin (email@example.com).
Christopher Vena, Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Chair, Department of Bible and Theology, Toccoa Falls College, Toccoa Falls, Georgia (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Jack Wisemore, Professor of Philosophy, Northwest University, Kirkland, Washington (email@example.com)
Frederick L. Ware, Associate Professor of Theology, Howard University School of Divinity, Washington, District of Columbia (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Douglas Olena, Adjunct Professor of Philosophy, Evangel University, Springfield, Missouri
Amos Yong, J. Rodman Williams Professor of Theology, Regent University School of Divinity, Virginia Beach, Virginia (email@example.com)
L. William Oliverio, Jr. - Introduction
At least since the late-1990s pentecostal theology has shown signs of a breakout from the important but fairly limited tasks of articulating pentecostal doctrine and spirituality.
In The Spirit of Creation: Modern Science and Divine Action in the Pentecostal-Charismatic Imagination, Yong forges ahead with an account of divine action which attempts to link together scientific and theological accounts. This comes not only through his pneumatological imagination but also through an eschatologically oriented attempt at retrieving a teleological understanding of the universe. In doing so, he is addressing broad and difficult questions.
Yong’s first objective, though, is simpler: to recount and move beyond the largely missing interaction between the Pentecostal-Charismatic traditions and scientific inquiry. He wants to claim space between reductionistic materialisms, on the one hand, and fantastic accounts of the spiritual, on the other. In going forward, he then draws on an axiom, which he has established as central to his theology: the many tongues of Pentecost represent the multiplicity through which truth is spoken.
After covering his methodological bases and recounting historical and current work at the intersection of Pentecostalism and scientific inquiry, Yong’s project gets into full swing as he draws on an emergentist anthropology where higher levels of reality, resulting in human consciousness and mind, emerge from but are not reducible to lower systems. He eschews both mind-body dualism and reductionist physicalism. This emergentist anthropology leads, in turn, to an emergentist interdisciplinarity as the emergent levels of complexity of human existence produce multiple modes of inquiry for the many aspects of human existence. On these grounds, especially, he justifies the complementarity of science and theology.
That scientific and theological accounts of reality can be said to complement is one thing. Identifying the work of the Spirit and how divine action occurs is another. Yong turns to the work of the Divine Action Project, co-sponsored by the Vatican Observatory and the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (1988-2003), and draws from it, affirming one view that emerged from the project called noninterventionist objective (special) divine action (NIOSDA) in which the laws of nature are not suspended or intervened upon yet God’s special actions in the world, as the biblical narratives witness, actually do things in the world which are not just matters of subjective interpretation but are objective actions. This has led some to query if the causal joint is at the quantum level. Seeking to avoid a “God of the gaps,” Yong offers a seemingly tentative affirmation of Robert John Russell’s position that God acted in all quantum events prior to human consciousness and only some since, taking on a passivity to allow for creaturely autonomy and safeguarding divine transcendence. Drawing on Russell, Wolfhart Pannenberg and Ted Peters, Yong theologically reorients this discussion of divine action pneumatologically and eschatologically. The resurrection of Christ is the proleptic anticipation, a work of the Spirit through which God works from the future rather than efficient causes in the past. While it may not be possible to find a causal joint or understand the how of the Spirit’s actions in the world, we can say, in faith, he says, that divine action has occurred. The objectivity of divine action is found in the eschatological inbreaking of the kingdom of God towards God’s final purposes in the world.
This account might not be coherent if Yong was to subscribe to a necessitarian view regarding natural laws in which natural laws are never violated. Instead, he finds justification for a regularist view of the laws of nature, understanding them as having emerged with the becoming of the universe and as not static but evolutionary and dynamic. In making this move, he once again turns to the American pragmatist philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce as a resource for his thought. Yong, properly understood on his own terms, is a Peircean. This regularist view is also further developed theologically as he finds divine empowerment and enablement to break into the world through those free agents who are amenable to cooperating with God’s purposes towards the coming kingdom. Thus charismatic gifts and miracles are “proleptic signs of the world to come” (128). Even as human will causes top-down action upon matter in regular human events, so also the divine will cause top-down action in the transformation of matter and the laws which regulate it.
For Yong, the cosmic history of the world is one which can be well accounted for by an emergentist perspective in which the new levels of reality which develop in cosmic and biological history are not reducible to their constituent parts but supervene upon them, even as they continue in dependence on their parts for their continued existence. This, he claims, correlates with a canonical-pneumatological reading of the creation accounts in Genesis 1-2 where the ruach Elohim, understood in light of the wider revelation of Scripture, breathes life into an emerging creation. Such an account, Yong believes, not only can bring philosophical, scientific and biblical accounts together, but it also accounts for both the immanent and transcendent aspects of divine presence and activity. At the end of the book, Yong takes a turn that might be considered surprising. He investigates parapsychological research and finds some of it to actually be helpful in understanding reality over and against reigning materialist notions. He then concludes with ten speculative theses for his understanding of the pluralistic cosmos. The Spirit of Creation contains many intriguing theologoumena which, even if speculative, provide fodder for both insight and criticism, engendering response.
At the 2012 Annual Meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, the Society’s Philosophy Interest Group provided an outlet for such. Four philosophically oriented scholars provided critical reviews of The Spirit of Creation, engaging Yong’s overall project along with many of his particular proposals. In this well attended session, a variety of scholars of Pentecostalism also had philosophical and theological as well as scientific questions concerning Yong’s book and the reviews of it. In this issue of Australasian Pentecostal Studies we are presenting slightly modified versions of these four philosophical reviews, along with Yong’s response to them.
Chris Vena, of Toccoa Falls College (Stephens, Georgia), raises paradigmatic and methodological critiques before offering a significant philosophical-theological critique of Yong’s use of NIOSDA where he contends that Yong is effectively utilizing a “theological-hermeneutical” approach in which “Believing is Seeing” and a participatory ontology where “Believing is Being.” Then Jack Wisemore of Northwest University (Kirkland, Washington) offers a sustained evaluation of Yong’s project coming from the basis of John MacMurray’s personalist philosophy, suggesting that a personalist approach would avoid some pitfalls for theology in its dialogue with science. Next Fred Ware of Howard University School of Divinity (Washington, DC) offers an assessment of the book from African American Pentecostalism, raises questions regarding a number of Yong’s speculative theses, and provides observations regarding the relations of science and theology to one another. The last review comes from Doug Olena of Evangel University (Springfield, Missouri), who offers a sustained philosophical reflection on emergence theory and related scientific, philosophical and theological issues in response to Yong’s. Finally, Yong himself responds with an appreciative and clarifying rejoinder, furthering the discussion in line with the critiques and suggestions from the respondents, providing interested readers with continued discussion from Yong on several themes from The Spirit of Creation.
Respondent, Christopher Vena
“Science, the Spirit, and Interdisciplinarity: A Review of Amos Yong’s The Spirit of Creation”
Recently, a very devout and very conservative former colleague of mine was shocked to learn that two of his three young adult children had walked away from Christianity and publicly embraced atheism. The tipping point for both of them had been an inability to merge the narrative of Young Earth Creationism (YEC)—which they believed to be foundational for Christian faith—with what they believed to be a more compelling scientific account of human and cosmological origins. In particular, the evidences for a cosmos several billion years old and an evolutionary structure to biological origins were too strong to ignore. In their situation, they felt they had to choose between science and faith, with truth and factuality residing on the side of science.
These and many similar cases underscore the need for theology to be conversant with contemporary science in a way that does not simply polarize the disciplines. If one must choose, more and more are siding with science. This should not be surprising since our culturally conditioned view of the world is deeply influenced and shaped by scientific disciplines. We have a scientific view of the world about most things; why not also in the realm of origins or the age of the cosmos? Is there a place for faith and theology in the discussion?
Amos Yong’s book The Spirit of Creation seeks to articulate not only the importance of Pentecostals engaging in and learning from dialogue with the scientific community, but also offers a way of thinking about how Pentecostals can contribute to it. There is much to commend in this work, not least Yong’s re-imagining the possibility of Divine Action (DA) in a scientifically informed reality that has often resisted the idea of God’s meddling in the cosmos. Furthermore, I think he is on the right track in mining the Christian theological tradition—and Pentecostal-Charismatic spirituality in particular—as a conceptual tool for explaining both scientific and pietistic experiences.
In this essay, I will be responding to Yong’s claims as an Evangelical with Pentecostal-Charismatic (PC) connections and sympathies. I am denominationally affiliated with the Christian and Missionary Alliance and its roots in the Holiness movement. In addition I have a long family history in both the Assemblies of God and the Church of God (Cleveland, TN), so I am not a complete stranger to PC circles. However, while I can speak the language in this context, I do so with an “accent.” In many ways I am reminded of a summer I spent in England during college: I could understand most of the words, but they sounded and felt very strange.
After beginning with a brief overview of the book’s argument, I want to point out three areas of critique and conclude with a small list of minor concerns. The three points of critique are paradigmatic, methodological, and philosophical-theological. In most of these cases, I am looking primarily for clarification and/or justification of the ideas presented.
Yong deftly moves the argument from the generalities of pentecostal perspectives on science to a specific Pentecostal-Charismatic construct of a Spirit-filled creation. Along the way he takes time to build important conceptual markers that pave the way for Pentecostals to not just have a voice in the dialogue, but also to be in position to offer constructive explanatory proposals that move the dialogue forward. The first three chapters deal specifically with pentecostal concerns beginning with a history of engagement with science (chapter 1), then shifting to a scientific appraisal of pentecostal phenomena (chapter 2), before culminating in a pentecostal perspective on Divine Action (chapter 3). Perhaps the most significant moments of Yong’s argument are in chapter 4, where he suggests a reconsideration of the essence of Natural Laws using C. S. Pierce’s triadic metaphysics. Yong suggests that these “laws” are better understood as “regularities” or “habits,” which can explain both the normal repetitiveness of their occurrences and the possibility of deviations that do not violate the structures of reality. This leads to a reimagining of the possibility of Divine Action in and through the regularities of natural processes. This is followed in chapter 5 with a proposal for an eschatological, teleological, and emergent account of Divine Action through the Spirit that borrows heavily from Philip Clayton’s theory of emergence. Finally, these discussions pave the way for Yong’s admittedly speculative construal in chapter 6 of a pneumatological cosmology that arises out of and is shaped by dialogue with parapsychology.
Again, I like a good deal of what Yong does in this book. In fact, I see resources here for my own work in eco-theology, particularly in the conceptuality of Divine Action teleologically oriented and “charismatically accomplished” in and through the regularities of creation. However, I would like to address three areas for greater clarity.
A Paradigmatic Critique
The subtitle of the book speaks about engaging the science and theology discussion within a PC Imagination. I am assuming Yong’s idea of PC Imagination could be roughly paralleled to Charles Taylor’s idea of “social imaginaries” which constitute the way of and possibilities for understanding and interacting within the world that are shared by a community.
I wonder though if there is not a gap—perhaps only epistemological on my part—between PC spirituality and practice on the one hand, and Yong’s pneumatology on the other. This is not to question whether his pneumatology is an adequate theological model to account for PC experiences of the Spirit (I think it is), but whether it necessarily flows from these experiences. To put it less strongly, should we think of Yong’s pneumatology more as useful to PC spirituality than as distinctively derived from it? Could not this pneumatology just as easily have been constructed from the resources of Christian theologians, traditions, and experiences external to Yong’s own? In many ways I think we probably share a similarly shaped theology of the Spirit—one that illuminates my own, decidedly non-charismatic, experiences of the Spirit. This may have to do more with similar philosophical and theological influences in our graduate educations, rather than a shared form of spirituality and practice. This leads me to my next point.
I offer here an Outsider’s Perception—perhaps I am not quite catching the “accent” of the theological dialect. When I compare my experiences of Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism, it seems to me that the distinctiveness of the latter is seen most clearly at the ground level, in the lived faith practices of the worshipping local church, and not so clearly at the level of the academic practice of theology. In fact, very often there are no significant theological differences apart from those beliefs that touch directly upon issues of charismata. This leads me to wonder: Is there a unique theological paradigm, conceptuality, or methodology that can rightly be labeled “Pentecostal” that is not already employed by theologians of other traditions?
This leads me to again wonder what exactly is distinctive and unique about PC theology.
If I may make a challenge to Yong in this area, it would be to continue to bring in connections with concrete examples of PC practices. I know this topic has been treated elsewhere, but I would like it to be more explicit here. I think this only makes his argument stronger.
A Methodological Critique
The second critique is methodological in nature and concerns heuristic imagery employed by Yong connecting tongues at Pentecost with the idea of Interdisciplinarity. Yong makes the claim that the Tongues imagery of Acts 2 constitutes a theological justification for interdisciplinarity . Here I question whether justification is too strong of a term to describe the connection that exists in the illustration, and whether Yong’s own model reflect the same kind of relation between theology and other disciplines.
Yong makes the claim that pneumatology, and the particular image of the multiplicity of tongues at Pentecost, “provides theological legitimacy for the plurality of disciplines in the sciences” [169-170]. What I wonder is whether this “legitimacy” should be understood in a strong or weak sense? A strong sense would entail justification so that an imperative naturally flows from it; we must engage reality in this multidisciplinary way because theology demands it. A weaker sense of legitimacy would indicate that the plurality of tongues is simply a way of illustrating, from a theological perspective, an imperative grounded in the nature of reality itself. In other words, we must engage reality in this way because reality presents itself to us in this way.
In general, I agree with the multi-disciplinary approach, which could be referred to as a “mosaic approach” to understanding the world. Each scientific discipline renders a description of that dimension of reality that falls within its scope of inquiry. These descriptions overlap with other disciplinary accounts to give a richer “picture” of reality than possible through a singular lens. Theology, in theory, lends its voice—its piece—to the mosaic.
The challenge of this methodology, at least epistemically, is finding a way to link the descriptions into a coherent narrative, how to get them to speak with one another and not just as a cacophony of discordant, unrelated noises. The stated goal of the methodology is to preserve the distinctiveness of each discipline while not privileging one over any other [169-170]. However, it seems that Yong cannot help but to privilege theology (scientifically-constrained as it is) for its ability to provide a narrative cohesiveness to all other explanatory accounts.
Science is purposefully limited to descriptive claims about replicable inquiries presuming a causal sequence that can be observed in some sense…Theology can go further, in faith, to assert divine activity at each of these emergent levels (and more) and in providentially sustaining the world and its creatures even within these levels .
Yong’s is a scientifically shaped theology, one that gives cohesion and purpose to the plurality of voices. Theology serves as the narrative thread that weaves the diverse inquiries into a common story. It is both a focal point of inquiry, but also the glue that binds and connects disparate strands of inquiry. This does not reduce all accounts into theology, but it does seem to integrate them all into a theological framework.
While this move is largely acceptable to theologians, scientists without faith commitments may resist it. It also illustrates the tenuous nature of the dialogue between theology and science, especially as it regards the ways the disciplines influence one another. The tendency is for one to impose limitations upon the other, to assume a position of primacy. I again appreciate Yong’s navigating of these relationships and attempts to uphold a multi-disciplinary approach. What I am still unclear on is how the illustration of Tongues pushes the discussion forward.
A Philosophical-Theological Critique
My third and final critique will deal with philosophical and theological issues. In this section I will focus on two areas: the nature of the God-world relation and the possibility of an objectively knowable Divine Agency (DA).
God’s relation to the world
I find much of Yong’s theological argument compelling, particularly the re-imagining of the nature of DA in light of a contemporary understanding of the nature of natural laws. Seeing the regularities of natural “laws” as habits or tendencies opens up the conceptual space for conceiving DA in the world. This is done in part to satisfy the criteria of a scientifically acceptable account of DA .
My question for Yong here is: how does God relate to the world so that the Spirit can manifest noninterventionist/objective agency? In other words, how does Yong metaphysically preserve the immanent/transcendent dimensions of God so that a non-interventionist DA can be at work?
Perhaps Yong has addressed this elsewhere in his work, but I did not see it strongly presented here. He speaks of the need to understand immanence/transcendence in a pneumatological framework, but I would like to see how that claim is buttressed metaphysically. When Yong argues that a “pneumatologically informed metaphysic…requires is to hold the immanent and transcendent aspects of divine presence and activity together” , I think he is correct. But it is not enough to state this as true; I would like to see it fleshed out philosophically. From what I have read here, I would guess that Yong holds to some form of panenetheism, perhaps a version with a specific emphasis upon God’s being and presence as Spirit. I would also suggest that he make sure the construct is sufficiently Trinitarian.
Yong’s “charismatically accomplished” DA does fit nicely into an explicitly Trinitarian metaphysical framework . In this I see much consonance with the work of LeRon Shults, perhaps not surprisingly since Yong acknowledges Shults’s influence regarding the matter of absolute futurity [94, n. 59]. The latter’s conceptuality of true infinity provides a compelling argument for holding immanence and transcendence together in a way that does not collapse into either metaphysical dualism on the one hand, or a pantheism on the other.
Objectivity of Divine Action
The second part of the philosophical-theological critique has to do with the second criteria for NIOSDA: objectivity of DA. In particular, I wonder if Yong is able to secure the objectivity of DA through his pneumatico-teleological framing. Throughout much of his earlier discussion on DA as “hidden except to the eyes of faith,” Yong seems to be advocating a strongly subjectivist position . Does the teleological aspect of future purpose rescue it from subjectivity? I like the hermeneutical-theological interpretation approach to DA, but I wonder if teleology is strong enough to secure its objectivity. What eventually becomes clear is that Yong is not altogether trying to avoid subjectivity by escaping into objectivity, but arguing for a subjectivity endowed with objective reality, albeit it teleologically located. His approach is clearly subjective; it is just not merely subjective (or epistemic).
Yong believes the objectivity of DA is secured in three ways . First, he argues against a strong bifurcation of objectivity-subjectivity or epistemology-ontology based upon the assumption of a relational, participatory universe. Thus one’s perspective is never “merely” subjective, but a means by which we engage and live in the world.
It could be argued that Yong is pulling a philosophical-theological “fast one” on the NIOSDA criteria. By collapsing the bifurcation of objectivity/subjectivity he is in effect denying the validity of the same criteria that he is trying to meet. While there may be good reasons to follow this route philosophically, does it not call into question the need to use objectivity as a criterion?
Yong wants to avoid a merely subjective or epistemic approach to identifying DA, and seems to be affirming that this can be done through a teleological reframing of perception. What also seems to be going on, at the very least in conjunction with this reframing, is the advocacy of a participatory ontology. If this is so, then the second part of this critique is connected to the first. What is a sufficient metaphysical account that can carry this claim? Without this relational ontology, a non-interventionist view of DA can only be subjective.
In contrast to a scientific-empirical methodology toward detecting DA (Seeing is Believing) stands a theological-hermeneutic approach (Believing is Seeing). The two are dependent on one another for a more comprehensive view of reality. The former cannot, in principle, provide anything other than a descriptive account of the physical world; the latter endows that description with meaning and purpose. A participatory ontology goes even farther, building on or supporting the theological-hermeneutical account. The subjective (Believing is Seeing) forms the participatory dimension of our being-in-the-world (Believing is Being). Again, I would suggest an explicit and robust Trinitarianism does all the necessary heavy conceptual lifting to make this plausible.
While I find this kind of a move compelling, I wonder if it will it be acceptable to those operating within the frame of criteria that constitutes NIOSDA, particularly those outside the disciplines of philosophy and theology? I do not see any reason that it cannot in principle satisfy those criteria, but it may require challenging and revising them. Perhaps this is one area where theology-philosophy can contribute to the interdisciplinary dialogue.
In addition to the three areas of critique above, I offer three minor concerns. First, I suggest that Yong’s ultimate conclusions may be too dependent upon emergence and supervenience theories. This is the classic concern about hitching one’s theological wagon to particular scientific or philosophical horses. It seems to me that Yong’s arguments and conclusions will be severely hampered if these fall out of favor. I understand that all constructive proposals are dependent upon conceptual structures, but is the success or failure (or explanatory power) of his approach contingent on the success of these philosophical theories?
A second concern is more practical and concerns relatability to the non-academic. Would Yong’s thesis be recognizable to the average Pentecostal (or Evangelical)? Even (and maybe especially) for those inside a faith paradigm, many will find this account of DA hard to swallow. For a culture that has been conditioned to understand “causality” in terms of efficient or material force, it is a challenge to think in teleological terms. I am not suggesting that this negates the validity of his arguments, but it may present a caution that there is still heavy lifting to do at the ground level. Powerful academic ideas, like the ones Yong presents, must find their way into the communities of faith if they are going to help facilitate the kind of dialogue and change Yong seems to desire. The PC imagination can only be fueled by these ideas if they can be understood by the majority of those living out of that imagination.
Third and finally, an analogical reading of Genesis 1 and 2 is not generally well accepted in conservative Churches. There is an a priori rejection of this hermeneutic approach among evangelicals (and in my experience, Pentecostals). Many in my educational and ecclesial context would be very uncomfortable with Yong’s reading, and likely to denounce it as a capitulation to “godless Evolution.” Again, this is more a challenge to communication and implementation rather than a direct challenge to the ideas themselves.
Yong’s arguments are complex, layered, and nuanced. While this adds richness to his work, it may also prove a stumbling block to undergraduate students, who may struggle to follow the current of thought without a sufficient background in the theology and science dialogue, or a similar grounding in philosophy.
That being said, I think Yong’s book can be an excellent resource for seminarians, graduate students, and studied laity. It makes a nice contribution to the ongoing science and theology dialogue, especially, but not limited to, Pentecostals interesting in exploring this intersection in their specific faith context. Perhaps this work, and others like it, can aid inquisitive and questioning minds seeking to make sense of their faith in a scientifically informed world. It is my hope that they no longer feel the pressure to choose between faith and science, but can come to see how the two may dialogue and enrich one another.
Respondent, Jack Wisemore
The Better Angels of Our (Emergent) Nature: A Pentecostal-Personalist Appraisal of Amos Yong’s The Spirit of Creation
Amos Yong’s The Spirit of Creation is an intentional and self-consciously pentecostal encounter with science. Rather than engaging in defensive polemics or doing obeisance to science, he utilizes a complementarian approach bringing both sides to the table in an attempt to gain a better understanding of each. As a result, Yong proposes a teleological model of divine action and a pneumatologically informed emergentist cosmology. No one should minimize the scale, scope, and difficulty of the project he has undertaken. The scale is immense—the very cosmos itself. The scope entails bringing into one conceptual space both Pentecostals and scientists, whose methods are often perceived as being diametrically opposed to each other. The difficulties include, but are not limited to, the following: (1) the problems of expressing new ideas within the conceptual framework implicitly enshrined in the standard languages of theology, philosophy and science; (2) including Pentecostals in the dialog—a tradition which is only recently finding its own theological voice; and (3) avoiding land mines and pitfalls all while taking fire from both sides of the discussion. Yong is to be congratulated for both the attempt and the result of this endeavor. This is an important work worthy of the title manifesto.
I will be focusing my comments primarily upon the ontological, and to a lesser extent the theological, aspects of the manuscript, what Yong calls the minor theses of the book (31), while only touching upon the scientific issues as they arise. This is as much an acquiescence to my lack of expertise in the philosophy of science as it is to the limitations of space and time. In doing this I am mindful that it places Yong at a slight disadvantage, with science hedging him in on one side while I have considerable room to maneuver.
One further disclaimer: I approach Yong’s work with a set of presuppositions that arise in part from my reading of John Macmurray—a Scottish personalist whose works I have been attracted to, in part, because of similar issues that I believe attract Yong to Peirce and Clayton.
Yong’s Ontological Proposal in Brief
Yong draws from a number of sources to create his ontological proposal, combining strong emergentism and weak supervenience, process philosophy, habituation, and teleology into one coherent package.
Yong utilizes the notions of emergentism and supervenience in his initial interactions with science (58–61). The simplest way to understand emergentism is to picture reality as a layered affair, where each layer has its own ways and means peculiar to it but which also interacts in some way with adjacent layers. The layer below is simpler than the layer above and when the lower level reaches a sufficient level of complexity, the upper level emerges from the lower level. The newly formed upper level operates according to its own novel and peculiar modes and processes which cannot be completely understood, explained, or anticipated from the qualities and processes of the lower level. The fact that higher levels emerge from lower levels implies that there is an upward causation which occurs between layers so that the lower level provides boundary conditions and influences events at the higher level. What distinguishes emergentism from materialistic naturalism (such as epiphenomenalism) is that in addition to this upward causation, emergentism holds to downward causation, where the more complex level is able to influence and effect change at the lower level. Yong sees the biological, psychological, and the sociological as the key emergent levels for ontological analysis (65).
In order to describe the manner in which the higher level interacts with the lower level, Yong adopts a form of supervenience advocated by Murphy. He approvingly quotes Murphy: “higher-level properties supervene on lower-level properties if they are partially constituted by the lower-level properties but are not directly reducible to them” (61).
Murphy’s form of supervenience, which Yong designates weak supervenience, is not universally accepted as true supervenience, as Yong duly notes (61). An example of this contrary position is found in the following:
The emergentist is obviously being guided by the metaphor of layers, and interprets supervenience in that light. However, while one sometimes uses the metaphor of layers to describe the world as portrayed by supervenience physicalism, it would be more apt to say—as Lewis says in the example of the dot-matrix picture that we considered above—that that [sic] doctrine presents the psychological, the biological and so on as patterns in the physical, rather than layers on top of the physical. So the picture implicit in emergentism is that of a layered world, whereas the picture implicit in supervenience physicalism is that of a patterned world.
Yong refers to this epiphenomena-like approach as strong supervenience/weak emergence where the direction of influence is always bottom-up. The form of emergentism that Yong is advocating, weak supervenience/strong emergence, however, allows for more novelty and unpredictability at the more complex level and for the existence of top-down causation.
Using the weak form of supervenience as a means of explaining emergentism, Yong then integrates this into the more comprehensive process-emergentism of Clayton (64, 144–51). It is this larger perspective which allows Yong to re-introduce the notion of final causes, or teleology, to account for the direction of development in emergent reality, an emergent reality where there is weak supervenience between levels or layers of reality. Yong understands this teleology to be particularly eschatological and proleptic (87–88) and therefore theological—not scientific (141–44).
To the personalist it makes perfect sense to combine the notions of emergence, process, habituation, and teleology because all of these concepts are seen as being guided by the same organic metaphor and therefore make natural bedfellows. These concepts are conducive to evolutionary theory (a particular advantage for Yong in his dialog with science), making them strongly developmental without becoming merely mechanistic.
Advantages for Pentecostals (and Others)
There are many reasons in general for Pentecostals to embrace Yong’s proposal. Regarding ontology there are four aspects that are particularly attractive. First, Yong’s process-emergentism provides a way to navigate between the false dilemma of physicalism and dualism. Physicalism has never been a strong option for Pentecostals because of the recognition that there is more to this world than the merely physical. Dualism, however, is more of a temptation, but it leads to numerous problems for Pentecostals in a number of core theological areas, such as healing and eschatology, which are often variations of the classic mind–body problem.
Second, and related to the first, is the relativizing of deterministic cause-and-effect. Even for those who do not hold to physicalism, the cultural pressure to understand change in terms of mechanistic causation is substantial. Whether it is expressed in terms of magical forms of prayer where God is treated like a vending machine or when human choices are rendered impotent by mechanistic views of God’s sovereignty, cause and effect is powerfully present. Teleology, with its flexibility regarding actual outcomes, is much more in keeping with pentecostal sensibilities about how human beings participate in the world—impinged upon and limited but not forced or controlled.
Third, Yong’s proposal allows for the inclusion of angels and spiritual reality, an inclusion which is neither ad hoc nor bordering on special pleading. While one may be an emergentist and not incorporate or address angelic being Yong’s discussion arises organically (no pun intended) from his overarching framework.
A fourth advantage is the way emergentism allows one to embrace science while at the same time relativizing it by restricting it to its appropriate sphere and concerns. At the very least emergentism helps to account for the variety/plurality of sciences and for the faithful it can also justify the belief that not all realities are open to exhaustive scientific explanation—leaving the world open to mystery and the Divine.
While this is not an exhaustive catalog of the benefits of Yong’s ontology there are clearly advantages commending it for pentecostal adoption. As with any complex proposal such as this, however, many questions arise regarding both the proposal itself and its implications.
The first question raised by Yong’s emergentism is the utility of supervenience to describe the relation between emergent levels. Yong recognizes that supervenience is a contentious term and that Murphy ultimately is using it in a Lakatosian sense as a research program (62). He ultimately defends it pragmatically:
However, I see it [supervenience] linked closely to emergence theory, and at present do not know of a better overall metaphysical hypothesis that can adjudicate between the methodological naturalism of scientific inquiry and the metaphysical pluralism of theological reflection (61).
But does it actually have this capacity to act as a bridge? My sense (and, admittedly, this is not my area) is that those who hold the more traditional strong supervenient position do not accept the weak form and all it does is raise the specter of vitalism for them. Admittedly, I enjoyed the discussion describing how the layers interact, but fundamentally the problem of describing any causation is problematic and so I do not see how this really contributes to justifying emergentism; it only seems to raise additional red flags for those he is trying to convince.
A second question regarding emergentism is its temporal nature.
One of the greatest attractions of emergentism is its superiority over various Cartesian solutions to the mind–body problem. Within this emergentist framework there are various types of emergentism, including property emergentism, substance emergentism, and Murphy’s non-reductive physicalism. While it is clear from Yong’s writings that he is advocating emergentism, it is not clear which particular type of emergentism he holds. Substance emergentism holds that what emerges from lower levels may be sufficiently different so as to constitute a new ontological reality able to exist independently of the lower level. Hasker, for example, holds that there are two levels of substance, the physical and the spiritual, where the physical exists prior to the spiritual but that once the spiritual emerges from the physical it is capable of existing separately from the physical.
Property emergentism holds that while many levels of reality may emerge, what emerges is never sufficiently different so as to be capable of independent existence apart from the lower levels.
In the case of Yong, what is interesting is sometimes he talks as if he holds to the property emergent form of emergentism, for example when he explicitly states that he sees his emergentism as a defense against dualism,
The final issue I will raise is completely driven by personalistic presuppositions and intuitions: emergentism has always struck me as atomism-plus. Its foundation functions like atomism at lower levels of reality and then tacks on the bare minimum necessary to account for reality at the higher biological levels. From within emergentism this can be seen as an advantage because it is consistent with emergentism’s own methodology and is parsimonious. Yet these very aspects, for a personalist, appear minimalistic and are seen as part of the reason that it needs to be augmented with a more full-blown system like Clayton’s process philosophy. Yet even Clayton’s process-emergentism seems reductionistic to the personalist, for while it calls for a personal God (151), the descriptions ultimately seem more organic than fully personal.
Differentiating Teleology and Eschatology
Yong accurately identifies the importance of eschatology in pentecostal thought and he is right to introduce it into his ontological discussion. He does a great service by emphasizing that an eschatological approach does not simply substitute a form of post-determinism for the prevailing pre-determinism (94). In personalist terms this mistake is simply reversing the mechanical-causal flow and is therefore sub-personal.
However, the teleological descriptions of eschatology still sound, to a personalist’s ear, as too organic, too developmental, too evolutionary. In fact, Macmurray used the term teleological (in an Aristotelian sense) as a hallmark of organic thought. I have tried to not simply read this term through Macmurrian lenses, but Yong’s eschatology seems consistent with other emerging realities—so that one could understand the emergence of life (or self-consciousness) as an eschatological event, as what occurs when the underlying reality becomes sufficiently complex. I think the eschatological action of God is more than an unpredictable eruption from the complexity of the present world. The coming of the kingdom is not caused by the increasing complexity of the world, the kingdom is not a natural process born out of the present world. It is an act of a personal God, where God’s future transforms the world.
In Yong’s statements regarding the kingdom one might hear the echoes of process theologians’ notorious discomfort with God acting within creation in concrete ways.
Perhaps this a good place to remember that when discussing the eschaton we are thrown back on metaphor and analogy. Yet, when we choose our metaphors and analogies, it is wise to choose rich metaphors and in my judgment those with strong inter-subjectivity and active agency are strongest.
When speaking about the relation of the present age and the age to come I differentiate between apocalyptic dualism (an atomistic approach where the old is annihilated and completely replaced by the new creation progress), progress (an organic understanding where the new develops or evolves out of the old), and the eschatological (a personalist understanding where the new radically transforms the old).
Perhaps it is unfair but I picture emergence and process thought as being developmental in this evolutionary, progressive sense. I am sure that my preferred imagery is inadequate and open to criticism as well but I think that it does get to a point of real differentiation between an emergent (natural) universe and a personal universe.
Emerging Angelic Beings
Some may see Yong’s engagement with the topic of angelic beings
Following his emergent-process approach, Yong sees angels as post-human corporate beings emerging from the complexity of human interactions in a way which is unpredictable and governed by differing norms and processes.
Coming from a personalistic perspective, however, I see human beings as essentially communal, as persons-in-relation, and so I place that ontological reality clearly in the realm of the personal and this would militate against Yong’s understanding of the angelic—which is essentially the emergent social reality. Furthermore, there is a feature of human existence which the biblical texts do not (at least to my mind and/or recollection) include in the accounts of angelic existence; this is the capacity for friendship with God. We see angels portrayed as servants of God, as worshiping God, and as rebelling.
Another question is the manner of the relations between persons and institutions. For Yong, institutions of sufficient complexity generate emergent spiritual beings. This position helps emphasize the role of institutions in effecting human life, as opposed to certain individualistic positions, and it underscores that institutions almost take on a life of their own (205). However, the question to my mind is as follows: are the very real influences of institutions upon human beings more like fully personal intentional actions or are they more like ingrained habits or organic teleologies? Are they like decisive interventions in the normal course of events or are they more like nature gone to seed? I think that they are more like habits which can be challenged and changed by overt, thoughtful action on the part of human beings, but I also realize that I may be overly influenced by Macmurray to render an unbiased opinion.
Finally, I am intrigued by how this emergent, eschatalogically-oriented ontology handles the particulars of human eschatology, particularly the resurrection of the human body.
I hope my very real appreciation for The Spirit of Creation has shone through this review. It is a work of creative synthesis in which I recognize authentic pentecostal theological commitments as well as genuine engagement with areas of ontological investigation which arise when attempting to conceptualize the nature of reality in light of those commitments. The consistency with which he has formulated his proposal and the consistency with which he has teased out the implications of his position are to be admired. And even though Yong does not share my personalist orientation, I recognize he is wrestling with similar questions and concerns. For me The Spirit of Creation has generated both heat and light. I highly recommend it.
Respondent, Frederick L. Ware, Ph.D.
The Prophetic Voice and Silence of Pentecostalism in the Theology-Science Dialogue: A Response to Amos Yong’s The Spirit of Creation
Amos Yong’s The Spirit of Creation: Modern Science and Divine Action in the Pentecostal-Charismatic Imagination is best described as a pneumatological theology of nature (26). Theology of nature, as he defines it, is a reading of the world or nature through the lens of faith (17). According to Yong, a distinctly pentecostal faith perspective on nature is “pneumatological (related to the Holy Spirit) and eschatological (anticipating the future [culmination of God’s creation])” (73, 90). He treats creation not as an event in primordial space-time but rather as a dimension of theism (belief in God) crucial for explaining the existence and contingency of the universe and for proposing that the universe is characterized by purpose and value. Written from a pentecostal perspective, his book interprets divine action (God’s activity) in terms of pentecostal understandings of the Holy Spirit’s action in the world. His thesis is that modern science, and emergentist cosmology in particular, illuminates many important features of and processes in nature and affirms the spiritual realities experienced by Pentecostals (31).
The Story of Pentecostalism and Modern Science
Yong provides a truthful account of Pentecostals’ encounters with modern science (2-9). Indeed, the story of pentecostal encounters with modern science has been filled with hostility, indifference, and evasion. However, the story, if it does not change, certainly becomes more intricate with acknowledgment of the complexity of pentecostal identity and varied experiences of Pentecostals when gender, class, race, and ethnicity are factored into their perceptions of science. Pentecostals have “complex identities.” Any one pentecostal believer may live and function in multiple social settings and therefore does not have a singular identity. Still most Pentecostals, and Yong is correct to point this out, compartmentalize their life and thought so as to avoid the tensions and conflicts of engagement and interaction of theology and science (14). The Spirit of Creation demonstrates a positive and constructive way forward for Pentecostals desiring to dialogue with non-Pentecostals about developments in and insights of modern science.
Unfortunately, Yong’s narrative does not take into consideration those Pentecostals who have pursued most or all of their education in non-pentecostal schools. For example, many African American Pentecostals have had no curriculum for alternative study of science, as have those Pentecostals attending predominately white pentecostal schools (4). African Americans without their own schools but seeking to advance educationally and economically have adopted a variety of postures toward science. African American Pentecostals have long since aligned with the Black Church theologically, socially, and politically. Since the late 19th Century, Black church opinion about modern science has been divided, ranging from uncritical acceptance to vehement rejection.
The Prophetic Voice of Pentecostalism
Yong’s pneumatological theology of nature has a prophetic quality. He depicts Pentecostalism as counter-modernist, not anti-science, discourse (11, 29). Pentecostalism, as a theology, is a critique of idolatry and false absolutes in science. As expressed within Yong’s pneumatological theology of nature, Pentecostalism is a counter to scientific and positivistic reductionisms and naturalism and materialism (29). He argues that science is limited with respect to its capacity to illuminate pentecostal phenomena (32-33). Pentecostal experiences represent alternative frames of reference for rethinking special divine action (92). Pentecostalism is an alternative perspective of the future containing meanings that cannot be translated into other languages (93, 129, 131). According to Yong, though Pentecostals cannot explain the HOW of the Spirit’s work in the world, they can, in faith, that is, eschatologically and teleologically, say THAT the Spirit’s action makes a difference (98-99). Pentecostal perspective of divine action (the Spirit’s activity) is teleologically discerned (73, 93, 98-99). As a Christian theologian, his aim is to maintain the autonomy of theology in discussions on teleology (144).
The Idea of a Pentecostal Worldview
Yong proposes ten theses for elaboration of the pentecostal worldview, what he calls a “pluralistic cosmology” (208-225). While not necessarily his own position, he claims that if Pentecostals enter the theology-science dialogue, these are the basic premises that define their sensibility. Several of these theses as well as his claim to be doing theology from the depth of pentecostal experience raise questions as to whether there is truly a depth or essence of Pentecostalism (29, 32). It would seem that given the diversity of the pentecostal movement, there is no essence or shared worldview. Even if Pentecostals supposedly share a common language, they hold different opinions about the ontological status of the “objects” commonly referenced in their speech.
Yong argues that the pentecostal worldview, outlined in ten theses, is defensible within the contemporary scientific context (x). However, the theses which may raise the most concern are numbers five, six, eight, nine, and ten (213, 217, 222-24).
Theses five and six raise the question: Do angels and demons exist? Thesis five states that angels are realities that emerge from and supervene upon material and personal relationships through God’s works. Thesis six states that demons are realities that emerge from and supervene upon human alienation, mounting malevolent opposition to the salvific grace of God in human lives. The question raised by these theses is a bit more challenging than asking whether angels and demons are supervenient. The question deals with determinations about which things empirically are in the inventory of what is. In George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s study of metaphor, they demonstrate clearly that not all “objects” in speech are strictly physical.
Thesis eight states that the work of the church is to name, resist, and exorcize the demonic. Some persons might want to give more specificity to the work of the church, claiming that the principal work of the church is evangelism or social reform. Too often talk about spirits, mostly demonology, distracts attention and effort from constructive action towards addressing the needs of persons and communities. Seldom, almost never, does demonology lead to social analysis and strategic planning for remedy of societal and personal problems.
Thesis nine states that resurrection is of persons and communities. In philosophical debate, the question is raised: Is bodily resurrection logically and physically possible?
Thesis ten states that certain persons will be eternally lost. Some Christians would raise concerns about the implied cruelty of a God who punishes forever or totally annihilates persons. Would not the idea of conditionalism or conditional immortality, as proposed by Philip Hughes, be more moral and theologically correct with respect to defense of belief that God is maximally great and morally perfect?
The postulation of a pluralistic cosmology further raises the question: Is cosmology essential or necessary for Christian faith? Yong’s aim is to remythologize, that is, preserve New Testament cosmology and ground Pentecostalism in the same. His pluralistic cosmology obscures the fundamental meaning of the Christian gospel. Following the work of Rudolf Bultmann, it would seem that Christian theologians should be working to not only demythologize the biblical text but also distinguish Christian faith from cosmology. It is not in our beliefs about physical reality (cosmology) that we encounter Jesus Christ; it is in the kerygma that we encounter Jesus Christ and attain insight into and experience of the authentic existence that Jesus Christ offers.
Theological Dualism, Natural Law, and Methodological Naturalism
As argued by Philip Clayton, theological dualism is necessary for maintenance of the distinction between theology and science and for each’s autonomy. Theological dualism establishes a radical difference between God and the world, underscoring teleology as a discourse that cannot be constructed using the methods of science, and defending teleology as an area for engagement between theology and science. In Clayton’s conception of theological dualism, cosmology is not the domain of theology but rather the domain of science.
Yong modifies Clayton’s theory of emergence in order to create space for human minds in his “pluralistic cosmology” (208-25). Yong favors Clayton’s philosophy of emergence but chooses to support emergentist anthropology with minimal assertions drawn from analogies instead of the supposition of Clayton’s theological dualism (63, 64, 145-51, 162-63, 169-72). Yong’s move raises questions about the meaning and place of the soul in this emergentist framework. In Christian tradition, the soul is not synonymous with the mind. It would seem that the concept of soul is intelligible theologically as God’s act of grace rather than by some postulation of divine intervention (involvement) in the natural process. With supposition of theological dualism, there is no pressure to equate soul with mind and to locate it as a reality in the processes of nature.
Science and Law-Governed Universe
Yong favors a philosophical and theological assessment instead of a scientific explanation that makes room for the interjection of teleology (128). Yong favors Charles Peirce’s conception of natural law as rhythm (habits or tendencies) arising from chance, irregularity, and indeterminacy (120, 121, 122, 124). It is true that reliance on science may lead to a “God of the gaps” theology. Still we must not overlook the opportunities where they do appear in order to take advantage of recent scientific theory that does make “room” for God to act in a law-governed (a thorough naturalistic explanation of the) world.
In the theology-science dialogue, it is crucial to maintain (even insist) that science functions as science providing, through its methods and as much as possible, naturalistic explanation of the world. Important advancements in science provide insight into the physical world. Cosmic and biological evolution adequately explains nature. For example, Daryl Domning and Robert Ulanowicz demonstrate that life is an emergent property of distinct processes of matter and energy.
While some thinkers have resorted to naturalism for support of materialism and atheism, naturalism may be adopted methodologically as a way of challenging and correcting religious truth-claims in the broader context of human existence and experience in the world. Naturalism is not anti-religion or anti-God (atheism), but an intellectual discipline needed for curtailing multiplication of entities and the excesses of Pentecostals’ biblical literalism. Yong conceives a pentecostal worldview which is a Spirit-filled cosmos inclusive of human minds and angels and demons (173-83). While he acknowledges that Pentecostals’ language is metaphorical, he does not address the distinctions that Pentecostals themselves make between the literal and figurative in their language. Not only from science but also from historical-critical biblical study and pentecostal self-critique (denunciation of snake handlers), there is much doubt about the ontological status of angels and demons. Even Pentecostals would object and consider offensive the association of their spiritual experience with the paranormal (184-98). I wonder: Could Yong’s pneumatological theology of nature be amenable to (and possibly even be improved by) the adoption of theological dualism and methodological naturalism?
The Silence of Pentecostalism
In The Spirit of Creation, Yong not only emphasizes tongue-speaking as a unique phenomenon in Pentecostal-Charismatic religious experiences but also as metaphor for multiple languages that glorify God and illuminate human understanding (29). According to Yong, theology and science are complementary tongues/languages (27). Yong admits, however, that there are meanings in some languages that cannot be translated into other languages (27, 29, 93, 129, 131). To repeat, Yong says that Pentecostals cannot explain the HOW of the Spirit’s work in the world but they can, in faith, that is, eschatologically and teleologically, say THAT the Spirit’s action makes a difference (98-99). This inability to explain the HOW implies a silence on the part of Pentecostalism.
Though Pentecostalism makes a difference through its prophetic voice, it is, at times, marked by silence. At some point, tongues and prophecy will cease. “Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end” (1 Cor. 13: 8). All that will remain is love— love for God and our world and what God had placed in it. This love is the greatest virtue among our other virtues of faith and hope. Yong correctly points out that, in the dialogue, the stakes are the same for both Pentecostals and non-Pentecostals (227-28). The great challenged faced by humanity is the task of developing a moral sensibility that responds adequately to the advancements and hazards of our science and technology.
Some Remarks on Amos Yong’s Spirit of Creation
It does seem odd . . . that just when physics is . . . moving away from mechanism, biology and psychology are moving closer to it. If the trend continues . . . scientists will be regarding living and intelligent beings as mechanical, while they suppose that inanimate matter is too complex and too subtle to fit into the limited categories of mechanism.
I will focus on emergence theory for this review. Schematically, emergence theory seeks an explanation for two major problems: the emergence of life from non-living matter, and the emergence of mind from living matter. Despite the difficulties of unambiguously defining life and mind, I will treat their existence as self-evident. The puzzle set before us is how to explain their appearance in the universe. The puzzle for naturalism is to define the mechanisms of their appearance. The puzzle Amos Yong attempts to solve, or at least set up a context to discuss, is how God the Holy Spirit interacts with the universe, specifically people, emergent beings who are the product of the Holy Spirit’s interaction with the physical universe. The reason I suggest Yong’s puzzle refers to context is that he begins the discussion with people in the universe, a long way down the timeline of beings. His reference to geologic history and emergence is a way of drawing out the conversation from what exists to the cause of what exists.
Yong, as a theologian, takes his empirical evidence from the naturalist, without imputing miraculous instantiation of life and mind, and seeks to find the locus of interaction between God and the created universe. This is not a trivial problem, first of all, because the grinding wheels of science still press on to better explanations. Second, understanding the mechanism of emergence may be one of the deepest problems facing human science. Its resolution may require the advancement of every associated discipline and the complicity of metaphysical rules of thumb, transitionary theses that hold the threads of this problem under appropriate tension waiting for empirical resolution fine enough to resolve the difficulties. The difficulties lie at the lower levels of organization. One locus of interaction with higher levels of emergent reality exists at the level of mind, and embodiment. Conscious sensibility of the presence of the Holy Spirit, for the theologian, is a compelling clue to the work of the Holy Spirit at lower levels. As well the Bible attests to the activity of the Spirit at the level of physical organization as Yong notes.
It is not my intention to draw lines between life and non-life, or mind and non-mind. Without life and mind neither reasoning nor these comments would exist. I am also uninterested in the squabbles between eliminativists and vitalists. In the form of knowledge suggested by G. E. Moore, I can declare with some confidence that I know there is life and mind because they are present in front of me. The additional puzzle surfaces when the standard account of cosmic history is taken into account. It can be stated in this conditional form: If the universe started at some time in the past, then everything in the universe had its beginning at that point,
On one hand, the difficulty lies in the realm of physical causation. Some expect that every pattern in the universe can be explained in terms of causes that can be traced to axiomatic physical rules lower down the chain of causality while others like the defenders of Intelligent Design suggest that complex systems like life cannot be reduced to elemental causes: an argument for theistic intervention. Emergence theory agrees that there are irreducibly complex systems, but that they arise at the borders of the thermodynamic limit creating asymmetrical constraints that perpetuate self-replicating and self-sustaining patterned elements. The laws of nature are statistical regularities that can only be roughly defined at the limits of our perception. Terrence Deacon demonstrates this when he discusses the second law of thermodynamics.
Yong wishes to argue in this fashion, while defining the interaction between God and the universe, specifically the operation of the Holy Spirit in the formation of the constituent parts of the universe including energy, matter, life, mind, spiritualities, and powers.
The ground of Yong’s suggestion is that God’s activity at the highest known emergent levels is cognizable in those levels. In other words, God interacts with people through bodies and minds. The eliminativist has problems with this, because of constraints of bottom up descriptions of causality. Life to the eliminativist is purely mechanical, and mind only an epiphenomena of physical brain activity. Adopting an eliminative stance comes at the cost of human experience. My suspicion is that we haven’t figured out the relationship between mind and body (neither themselves discreet dualistic elements in human being), and that we have a long way to go before we do.
One problem that a theory of emergence tries to address is the causality problem. Without relegating God to the form deism suggests as a mere origin, and without expanding his interaction with the universe to the miraculous creation of every being, emergence theory from the scientific side wishes to retain the breadth of human experience, the intentional reality of biology and mind, while emergence theory from the theistic side wishes to discover the active engagement of God with the universe without also suggesting an engagement with the universe outside the laws of nature. As to the status of causal laws, it is generally considered at the moment that the laws of nature are not fixed deterministically, but again are statistical regularities that can be only roughly defined. Therefore the eliminativist is left without an axiomatic foundation for causal interactions. It is no wonder that every bottom up attempt to explain life and mind fails. Its rules are insufficiently subtle.
Yong’s thesis with respect to emergence is that the Spirit of God is present and active at all stages of creation and organization, including participation in the emergence of life and mind. I think this position comes out of the Scripture itself. However, Yong does not reject material mechanism. He allows that the scientific approach will yield fruitful answers given enough time. In other words, he sees no apparent conflict between the material causes of emergence and the design and interaction of the Spirit of God. There is an apparent conflict between the two only if God’s interaction with the universe is miraculous, that is, if the interaction between God and the universe is contrary to the discoverable probablistically describable regularities of the physical universe. Yong’s position can be described as rejecting Stephen Jay Gould’s non-overlapping magisteria
History and Difficulties:
The history of emergence theory has ancient roots, and even when an author proposes a form of emergence without consulting their predecessors, there are similarities between narratives. The narratives take four forms: spontaneous generation, divine causality, vitalism, and material mechanism. It may be of some use to explain why these narratives seem necessary. What drives a tension into the discussion about causes is that biological and rational beings have goals toward which they move. This teleological component in living matter brings up the problem about how those goals are set, where they come from, and where, ultimately, they are leading. This is not a trivial problem, but one of the keys to understanding the difficulties in the science/theology discussion.
As Terrence Deacon describes in Incomplete Nature, the scientific enterprise since the eighteenth century has been attempting to banish any teleological concept from the practice of science. Any trace of teleology in a scientific explanation immediately makes it suspect. Deacon, wishing to ferret out every possible trace of homunculi guiding material systems, is successful in taking material science to task for smuggling in many back-door versions of teleological theory implicit in their explanations. This purification ritual has two purposes. The first purpose is to note the persistence of teleological language in material science, illegitimate only if there are claims about avoiding teleology as a causal mechanism. The second is an effort to clear the ground in order to discover the material causes for self-directing and goal-directed biological and mental characteristics.
Deacon gives us good guidance to discover clues to the first question above, that is, what drives the tension into the discussion about causes. The tension resides in the implicit requirement that a discussion about causes should not adopt a teleological explanation. However, biological life and mental events have characteristics that seem, on careful examination, teleological in nature. So, the scientist is caught in a bind.
Deacon admits that his illustrations are halting and incomplete. That’s fine. He successfully sustains his argument with fair examples, without also appealing to ghosts. He also carefully retains the absential features that provide a thicker explanation of human being. How does this relate to The Spirit of Creation?
Yong examines emergence theory from a theological perspective. In chapter five, titled “Ruach Over the Primordial Waters: A Pneumatological Theology of Emergence,” his explicit intention is to see how one could take “a pentecostally informed eschatological and teleological framework” (133-34) to offer an account of the natural history of the universe without also engaging in the debate centering around a conservative reading of the Genesis account. In other words, Yong is not engaging any of the numerous literalist accounts of universal history. He assumes, rather, a generalized version of the history of the universe adopted by the scientific community. His entire account in The Spirit of Creation would have no bearing if he countenanced the possibility of a Narnia-like creation story (see Table 1, 136). Rather, Yong bypasses that debate entirely because of the fruitlessness and anachronism of its assumptions. If the answer to how the universe, the earth, life, and mind came to be is that God did it, then there is nothing to discuss or discover. In addition, if a literalist account is correct, then there are specific logical problems that are unresolvable within the text of the Bible without the addition of ad hoc theological insertions.
With respect to fellow believers who hold to one of the variety of catastrophist views, the plausibility of their assumptions about a young earth (or at least younger than that posited by the scientific community) are not data driven, or scientific from even a generous non-eliminative perspective. The primary target of their investigations is often the fringes of normal science where there is no consensus and the data is problematic; for example, the narrative of the Piltdown Man scandal becomes a “refutation” of paleoanthropology.
Let’s take an example of literalist interpretation and show why it is problematic. I am not here discussing sophisticated and scientifically driven attempts to understand scripture like those of the astronomer Hugh Ross,
When cracks appear within the biblical chronology, attempts are made to shore up the text by inserting explanations. Most of the educated public thinks the earth and the universe are extremely old, so the literalists have variously added a time gap between the first and second verses of Genesis 1, or suggested that the days of creation are extremely long ages. But this doesn’t solve the logical problems in the differences between Genesis 1:1 to ~2:4 and ~2:4-25. Those problems are often reductively harmonized in order to tell a coherent story.
But, there is no way to make the Biblical account of creation literally coherent. That project is an anachronism. The problems emerging from that account as a technical and logical exercise lead to a theoretical cul de sac. The matrix of biblical interpretation is far deeper than the literalist can plumb.
If, however, the answer is to be found in the clues of history and traces of life, then a scientific examination should prove fruitful. It is not only for this discussion that science should be left to run its course, but rather, the fruitfulness of science often means the abandonment of false ideas, and the possibility of the emergence, in time, of probably true ones. To wish for more than merely probably true beliefs is to require a problematic reductionism.
Yong has set himself a difficult task, partly because scientific emergence theory and pentecostal theology are as yet in their infant stages. The youth of a scientific emergence theory has had to wait for contemporary discoveries in science, a recognition that evolution is a purely negative proposition. It is a culling and not a productive mechanism. Theology has had to wait for a serious engagement with the scientific enterprise, a return from the arrogance of certainty to an inquisitive childlike attitude that is also a preliminary attitude for kingdom entrance.
Emergence and Supervenience
At the level of biology and mind, with all their attendant complexity, there is evidence of downward causation. In other words, biology has an effect on structures lower down the chain of organization, and mind has an effect on biology and material structures.
With Philip Clayton, Yong adopts a view capable of acknowledging upward causality of a law-like sort while at the same time acknowledging the fact of downward causality from emergent entities (144-51). “Strong supervenience finally allows only for ‘upward causation’ wherein brain states affect mind states, whereas weak supervenience accounts for ‘downward causation’ as well” (148). The problem for strong supervenience is that it fails to account for the effects of biological or human action on the world, supposing that they can be explained ultimately by the rules of physics. For example, since the beginning of civilization we have abundant evidence that humans have been adjusting their own evolutionary trajectory. If physical rules can explain human action in terms of causality from the bottom up, then we are no closer to that explanation than we have ever been in the past. My suspicion is that this explanation will be unfruitful both for explanation and prediction. Strong supervenience will bring us no closer to an explanation of emergent behavior.
How have humans been adjusting their evolutionary trajectory? Simply by making choices about what we value places a formal structure on future emergence. The Spartans, by leaving defective children in the wilderness ensured, in brutal fashion, the robustness of the species. The modern West, by maintaining the lives of those afflicted with deadly childhood diseases increases the proliferation of genetic disorders when the defective genome gets passed down. But because the West values the mind, spirituality, and life over quality of life, it perpetuates defective genomes. The robustness of the race is being set aside as a value hoping that the brilliance and value preserved in the race will grant an appropriate technological or spiritual fix. If it does not, then the race risks setting itself up for an early demise when in a moment of weakness an evolutionary mechanism culls the defectives.
It is easy to see why an eschatology of a certain kind would play a part in a teleology that typifies the extension of foresight and expectation. It provides the justification for choices of behavior that would not be obvious without it. It sets up an expectation of progress even with the experience of failure. It gives courage to live when ordinary life is chaotic and problematic. It enforces a conservative stricture on behavior, and a reason for reaching out to save fellow humans. An eschatology provides hope when things seem otherwise hopeless. It gives reasons to live and reasons to die, even in the case where the eschatology is populated by Nietzsche’s Übermensch, the replacement of humanity with something beyond itself. As humans we become a mere bridge to the future, an evolutionary road instead of an endpoint, part of a process instead of the end of all things. Living eschatologically, the self, its interests, and civilization become defocussed.
In Christianity, the world awaits the emergence of the sons of God as an answer to the pain creation now experiences. This is a culmination of God’s plan, and a driving force in the expectation of the end of times. The imagination of a scientific worldview awaits the phase shift of a singularity of knowledge apprehension, and the emergence of humans from their nursery in a pre-technological era, toward an intelligent universe. Both worldviews hope for the emergence of homo-transcendicus, the next phase in human being. The visions differ in many aspects, but the apocalyptic and eschatological expectation is active as a context for worldviews of many sympathetic sorts.
Emergence theory then is not merely an explanatory algorithm, but a context for life and research and the promotion of human and humane values. In Yong’s work it is the means whereby the Holy Spirit in cooperation with the universe brings forth life and mind, but not without purpose and an endgame. The dark side to emergence, the possible cancers of human being remain possible, and have been vigorously explored in art, literature, and media, and have been played out in politics. Utopian, political, economic, and spiritual ideals fail in light of the singularity of the eschaton. We all hope, however, that our choices do not leave us below the threshold of survival. The Christian and spiritual hope is that by cooperating with the Spirit that keeps humanity on God’s way, the darker possibilities may be avoided. The secular enterprise hopes that by searching for truth in a moral context, the worst depredations of the darker possibilities will be forestalled. But as recorded history tells us, humanity’s journey has often found itself traveling down numerous blind alleys and cul de sacs. The chance for failure remains.
The Spirit of Creation as part of the Pentecostal Manifestos collection starts a conversation with the breadth of scope hardly imaginable in a previous age. Amos Yong manages to keep up with many streams of thought, is conscious of the turns of historical narrative, the sociology, philosophy, and practice of science, and contemporary movements in the theological landscape. The ambition of Yong’s project is partnered with a deep humility and humanity that manages to gather the clues and signals of the modern voice into a manageable volume. This book starts a conversation whose echoes will be heard in many fields of endeavor. Yong make allies out of seeming enemies in the search for truth, for life, and for a more generous humanity.
Response, Amos Yong
Science and the (Super) Natural: Can Pentecostals Mediate any Conversation?
Chris Vena, Jack Wisemore, Fred Ware and Doug Olena have responded with critical questions but set these within what any constructive theologian would aspire to receive from his or her readers and peers: proposals to think with and beyond what is being attempted in the volume under discussion.
Methodologically, the most pointed questions come from Chris and Fred. The former wonders –and here I am collapsing what he distinguishes as paradigmatic versus methodological critiques of my book – to what extent the proposal sketched in The Spirit of Creation is distinctively Pentecostal or Charismatic (PC), whether it may be presented more adequately as a trinitarian rather than specifically pneumatological contribution, and to what degree there is a privileging of theology over other academic disciplines, among other questions. The latter is more attuned to the cultural and racial dynamics of the history, not to mention contemporary context, of the global renewal movement, and how pentecostal engagements with the theology-and-science conversation may, or perhaps ought to, be impacted by these matters. I am especially sensitive to these concerns of Fred and have sought, in previous work, to encourage other PC scholars to engage these matters without being fully constrained by the western and Eurocentric frame of reference.
Chris’s queries actually map well onto the trajectory of my work which has from the beginning sought to blur boundaries but yet do so precisely through accentuating possible pentecostal perspectives on and responses to wider theological discussions. What I mean is that as a non- or post-foundationalist, I have never provided any more than a phenomenological definition of PC Christianity and so have never relied on an essentialist view of what it means. Hence, my concerns have never been to be distinctively PC, although I have always acknowledged that my work – whether on political theology, theology of religions, disability theology, and now on theology-and-science – is certainly informed by such experiences and perspectives. This applies also to my work in pneumatological theology. Those familiar with it will recall that I have never presented the “pneumatological imagination” as “owned” by PC Christianity and always suggested that this was merely one PC contribution to what was and remains at the root of the Christian tradition but which has been, as widely recognized, neglected, ignored, or even dismissed variously throughout its history.
One last methodological point, here in response to what I feel are the pressures I fell from Doug and Fred to my “left” and from Jack and Chris to my “right.” What I mean is that those on my “left” seem to be quite comfortable with what might be called the methodological naturalism of the sciences, with Doug seeming to want me to explore even further the emergentist trajectories opened up in my book and Fred advocating a more robust programme of demythologization. On the other side, Jack’s personalism and Chris’s evangelical commitments press me to clarify if and how my proposals are consistent with more classical and traditionalist categories of thinking about these matters. I am un-enthused about demythologization, although I am just as concerned as Fred is, if I understand his worries, that Pentecostals and Charismatics all too often spiritualize their world in ways that are counter-productive to engaging it in responsible ways.
Materially, I want to address four domains of questions concerning the content of my proposals at this theology-and-science interface: that pertaining to my metaphysical hypotheses, that relating to my theological anthropology, that concerning my constructive theology of divine action, and that attending my speculative cosmology (of angels and demons).
One of the perennial concerns about doing theology in dialogue with or in light of the sciences is the changing nature of science. True, that is a challenge, but it is not more or less a challenge when we consider that theology itself, as second order discourse, is also dynamic rather than static. So yes, emergence and supervenience, as metaphysical constructs, may not be in vogue tomorrow. One response would be to be silent about such matters, but this is irresponsible, actually, since it does not provide the community of faith any confidence that it has anything to say in the public square, much less that people of faith belong in that domain (in scientific work, for instance). This is also a practical matter since we otherwise would be sending our children off to study science in our universities without having made any serious efforts to think through the theological ramifications of what they (and we) are learning from other fields of knowledge. So certainly to take science seriously in theological work is risky. It is surely not for the faint of heart. My only advice is this: constructive theologians need to do their homework, and then venture a provisional articulation of how to understand things given the current state of knowledge. It is dogmatic claims in the face of uncertainty that exacerbate our anxieties. Fallibilist proposals, however, are appropriate, especially in the dialogue with science, for which all hypotheses, rigorously constructed, are testable (to be discerned by the relevant communities of expertise, to put it in other terms) – those having greater explanatory power persisting and others falling by the wayside.
But what about my adoption of emergence as a metaphysical hypothesis? Is this warranted by the evidence? Of course, any large scale hypothesis – and emergence would certainly fit – will have its critics. Doug Olena seems to think this appropriate at least at this stage of the dialogue between theology and science. Others like Chris are more hesitant.
Yet I would claim that even to take a narrative or literary approach to theology, for instance – which is not to say that this is what Fred is advocating – is to presume some kind of constructivist approach to these matters of perennial philosophical concern. Thus even Fred, for all the intimations in his response about going in the direction of a metaphorical theology, cannot refrain at the end from asking about the ontological status of my pluralistic cosmology (especially of angels and demons). While I will return to engage with this question momentarily, his return to this issue confirms my point: that no systematic theological articulation can avoid taking some kind of stance about how its core assertions hold up against our knowledge gained from other fields of inquiry (in this case, science), especially if it presumes to make any claims about the nature of God and of God’s relationship to the world we inhabit. To be sure, not being able to avoid taking a position does not mean that it is easy to delineate just what the nature of that position is, particularly with regard to the metaphysical, ontological, and cosmological aspects of our theological ideas. None of these are for the faint of heart. My intuition, however, is that any efforts to take on the big questions of life will require bold metaphysical hypotheses, matched by equally ambitious speculative endeavors regarding cosmological and ontological matters. There is no reason why pentecostal and charismatic scholars should not be primed to take steps toward making contributions to these matters. The Spirit of Creation represents one such leap. May my mistakes chart for others the way not to go as they construct better hypotheses at this interdisciplinary juncture.
But note simultaneously that my appropriation of emergence operates at a high level of generality. More than one of my interlocutors wants me to specify what kind of emergence I have in mind, particularly with regard to my theological anthropology. As a metaphysical construct, however, I think that if there are no good reasons to opt for more specificity in our theological and theoretical work, then don’t get committed. To insist on either emergent dualism (William Hasker) versus nonreductive physicalism (Nancey Murphy) or even a third alternative – like an emergent-constitutional materialism (Kevin Corcoran), for instance – opens one up to further levels of empirical falsification over time.
To be sure, walking such a fine line might mean that I might have little to say, at least at present, on some or other aspects of the theological task. This plays out in both my theological anthropology and my scientific theology of divine action. With regard to the former, being noncommittal on the more specific kind of emergentist theological anthropology I am working with may put me at a disadvantage in answering questions related to what happens to the human person after death. At one level, my reply – tongue fully in cheek – is that if I answered all the questions related to the pentecostal theological research program, that would leave little work for others to do (and working in a PhD program, that would not be very nice for doctoral students). At another level, one always has to decide to what degree one reiterates some work done elsewhere and to what degree one simply points readers to those other places.
Operating at the level of generality that I do also raises suspicions that I am not playing completely by the rules of the games at hand with regard to my scientific theology of divine action. Thus Chris suggests that I might be pulling a “fast one” on the NIOSDA criteria with my teleological model, which is another way of putting Jack’s point that the trajectories I chart expose me to critiques from both (or more) sides. However, except for the one moment in which Chris frames my project as seemingly “advocating a strongly subjectivist position,” I think he actually gets me right and answers his own questions. So although he worries on the one hand that my sketch does not preserve the immanent/transcendent dimensions of God, he then also realizes on the other hand that I am defining transcendence, in this dialogue with science, teleologically rather than spatially. Further, he also recognizes that my teleological model has the effect of “collapsing the bifurcation of objectivity/subjectivity,” which I am suggesting makes possible another way of conceptualizing divine action in a scientifically understood world.
Of the major theological proposals in The Spirit of Creation, I had anticipated that my speculative cosmology of many spirits might be the most controversial. My respondents have not let me down, although, since I really don’t know much about angels and demons, I wish they would have! Here are the constraints, of which Jack Wisemore was certainly the most sensitive to, at least in print. On the one side, science is limited to what is empirically observable. Its scope is the natural world. Yet the Christian doctrine of creation insists that all things apart from God are creatures of some sort or other, and if angels and demons are creatures of any kind, then why might they not be studied or researched in some way? Or, put alternatively, might not their effects, at least, be observed, if we could find ways to sort out the many variables that might need to be isolated in order to conduct anything close to what would be called scientific experimentation on such realities? I have recently been involved in projects with social scientists, for instance, who are developing research methods to study the perceived effects of divine love, without being committed one way or the other to the existence of God.
Jack Wisemore, however, very gently but no less pointedly invites consideration of these matters within a personalist metaphysical framework. I am actually not adverse to personalism and its philosophical and theological benefits, having at one point studied in depth at least one strand of the personalist tradition.
Pragmatically or practically, however, I agree with what I take to be the gist of Fred’s point that we should emphasize the power of the kerygma of Jesus Christ rather than focus on the powers. Hence we ought not to get bogged down on these speculative points, especially if they do not help us to engage the very real life issues of injustice, poverty, oppression, and other urgent matters. It is in part for this reason that I would also advocate for a kind of ontological apophaticism about such things.
Part of the response to this touches on Chris’s question about whether what is being proposed in this book would be recognizable by or representative of PC laity. Church theologians walk a fine line between their apologetic and constructive tasks. The former involves reinforcing the plausibility structure of what the ecclesial masses believe, while the latter involves helping the masses reconsider new aspects of what they have always taken for granted. For me as a pentecostal scholar, this translates into a tension of remaining in continuity with my tradition in some respects but yet forging ahead in discontinuous trajectories in other respects. Yet even our engaging the latter tasks should always bring with it this question: “does it preach?!”
Yet as academics, we realize we remain always in via. The task here involves mobilizing and empowering others to take up important aspects of tasks that are otherwise overwhelming. Our faithful interface with the churches thus should model a PC life of the mind so that there will be another generation of scholars, academic, scientists, and theologians who will take up these matters, hopefully informed by a broader diversity of cultural-linguistic perspectives and experiences than the present one. It is no less than such a Spirit-filled pluralism of voices engaging the theology-and-science dialogue that is needed to advance the conversation as we anticipate the middle of the twenty-first century.
Also note there is a significant difference between Macmurray’s form of personalism and Boston Personalism.
Although Yong provides this definition he does not deny the possibility that at least some angels could also have a different evolutionary path and so not be directly emergent from the human ontological level, at least this seems to be the implication of his discussion of Wink and the powers (204).