(These are notes toward a potential project on a scientifically-informed Christology.)
|Your brain with its sensus divinitatis|
I've been reading Justin Barrett's Cognitive Science, Religion, and Theology. Barrett, a cognitive scientist now teaching at Fuller Seminary, demonstrates how cognitive science provides an understanding for the human mind. The development of the human brain with various key characteristics like an innate sense of teleology (things happen for a particular end or "telos") form the basis for a natural "sense of the divine," or to use John Calvin's terms a sensus divinitatis. As Calvin wrote,
That there exists in the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, some sense of Deity, we hold to lie beyond dispute (Institutes I.3.1).
Barrett, and now I'll join in, offer this sensus divintatis as a background for faith in God, arguing that this basic belief is endemic to human life and therefore an important component in building a theology informed by science. For him, this is Cognitive Science of Religion (CSR). For me, it represents the proper use of natural theology and thus one of the key contributions that the sciences provide for theology. This awareness of the divine has been noted in the writings of Paul in Romans 1:19-20. (And I'm certainly not the first person to say that.)
For what can be know about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.
|This is a cool book|
Nonetheless, this sense of the divine, however, remains vague. As Michael Welker noted in Creation and Reality, it is a "vague knowledge of a vague power" (p. 25), open to serious distortions and manipulations. C. S. Lewis, when analyzing the similar concept of a "minimal religion," with a broad sense of the divine (and immortality), offered this critique; it
cannot exclude the Christian view that He [God] was present in a special way in Jesus, nor the Nazi view that He is present in a special way in the German race... In practice it will not be a religion at all; it will be merely a new coloring given to all the different things people were doing already.
We therefore need more clarity for an informed, and ultimately, beneficial belief, a belief that gives comfort, that changes our behavior toward the good, and really, that converts. Here the Gospels are critical because there we don't see abstract Deity, but the concrete and definitive revelation of God in Jesus. In Karl Barth’s words, we cannot focus on an “abstract deity,” but what “actually took place in Christ" (Church Dogmatics IV/1, 186).
And thus we arrive at the best news of all. We are created for God, and this is affirmed by the insights of cognitive science, but to have definitive knowledge of "the Deity" we need to look at Jesus Christ, who is indeed "is the image of the invisible God" (Colossians 1:15).
What do you think of all this?