The World Both as God’s Creation
and also as the Object of Science and Technology
by Dr. Arnd Hollweg
Editor’s Note: The first segment of this paper was presented in the previous May-June 2012 issue of this Journal; the second and concluding segment is featured below. – JP.
The witness to God the creator can only be understood as a statement of faith, not as a conclusion of rational thinking in terms of scientific and theological categories or as a symbiosis between the two. God’s creation is not a model of theology similar to models found in the sciences. God is not the creator of the mental world of scientific knowledge but of the human world in which we live, in which we think, understand and act together with other people. The creation narrative is not a theological theory of the origins of life but describes the world in which we live today as human beings, and in which we experience God’s work. The Biblical story tells how creation happens in God’s history with us human beings.
Scientific atheism as e.g. represented by Richard Dawkins, or a creation model without a creator as Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow postulate in their new book, are not able to discredit faith in God the creator with scientific arguments. Their theories are not scientific but ideological. It is quite in order for them to reject the hypothesis of a God of the gaps, for use in unsolved questions. God is no hypothesis but the ground of our life, of whom we are certain through the working of his Spirit. Scientific criticisms of a supernatural divine intervention into the causal chain of nature miss their target. They do not affect the Biblical witness of faith, that God through his Spirit in human beings acts in the world and leads them by his pneumatic word.
God’s creation mandate to humans
The fact that the two creation narratives are set side by side should warn us against considering time as a causal connection: one thing leading to the next one in time. When the theory of evolution establishes a causal chain between natural events and human history it does away with the relation of otherness between nature and humans. The causal connection is a consequence of instrumental human thinking in time projected onto nature, when humans turn nature into an object of study and action. This causes mankind’s misunderstanding of God’s instructions to dominate nature, which stems from people’s participation in the life of the world (Gen.1:28ff). God’s creative act makes such participation possible, which otherwise would be destroyed by human mono-causal instrumental thinking in the world.
The idea of a causal connection between human understanding and action, by eliminating the relation to God, to oneself and to one’s fellow humans and the world, leads to the disappearance of empirical time. Even nature, of which human life is a part, knows about time in own limited contexts. Migrant birds, for instance, know when it is time to change location. But, unlike human beings, nature lacks all awareness of its history on earth. This constitutes human beings’ superiority over nature on which, however, they remain dependent in their organic life. They cannot arbitrarily intervene in natural events without endangering themselves at the same time. In their mono-causal instrumental thinking they lose their link with nature and also with themselves because, isolated from nature, they cannot survive in the world. The special position of human beings therefore is no reason for the hubris of superiority over the other creatures and for using them at their discretion. Rather, in the way humankind deals with nature in the conditions of the cosmos, they are responsible for nature because they are able to understand the historical character of all that happens in it since they can live consciously in time. According to the second creation narrative humankind does not have “dominion” over the earth but is instructed to “till and keep it” (Gen. 2:15).
The creation mandate applies to all people on earth. Under God’s rule and as our responsibility to him we all share this mandate in our social life. That means that we can only follow God’s instructions if we do not try to exercise dominion over each other. Without God’s rule in Christ we can find no peace among ourselves. Therefore the liberation from the dominion of one people over another is linked with peace and reconciliation. In order to achieve this we first have to be reconciled with God’s rule in Christ and accept his will.
If we seek dominion for our own selves then we entangle ourselves in ourselves and ignore our fellow humans and the world even if, in metaphysical thinking, we replace the”I” with an idea. All that matters is the realisation of our own ideas as against the ideas of others. If we seek dominion of the world through our scientific thinking again all that matters is the realisation of our ideas. Then the human self and its identity are lost. But if we want to have both at the same time, everything in our life in the world will dissolve into nothing and we have to seek our salvation in a constructivism of thought, understanding and action in order ourselves to create the new person and the new world which God has promised.
The phenomenon of time in human life and action
It is impossible to define any one cause for what happened at the beginning of history, of nature or the cosmos because everything happens by interaction, together and after each other, in concrete situations. This then requires a detailed study of the connections between the different elements. The multitude of factors that are at work in our lives cannot be integrated into a mental system by conceptual or mathematical thinking. A priori theological thinking deals with the origins of human life in God’s creator Spirit who, through the ages, has revealed himself in human life through the pneumatic Christ-event. Therefore we do not need to deduce the beginning of the world causally and mentally in terms of a kind of historicism. Human life in the world empirically begins and ends in birth and death. God’s act of creation relates to the temporal earthly existence of humans. They cannot escape from this temporal existence.
Time which we measure with our man-made instruments is different from the temporary character of the human life that God has created. Like the ever changing, transient history in which we have our being, time is constitutive for the reality of experience in which we live. This provides new challenges today, of how to order and shape life in its socio-historical setting with its questions of meaning and responsibility. We can only ever notice them when they are concretely present in our life situations but we must continue to share in the whole of what is happening without losing the link with the pneumatic ground of our being, in which the dynamism and direction of our life is rooted. An epistemologically constructed mental framework of thought, rooted in its own timeless systematic logic, cannot channel the flow of time. The history in which we live cannot be classified within this framework, whatever its form.
By turning the technological and functional structures into absolute, mathematical and physical epistemology today the links within the world of our life are endangered. Then, the inner life is turned into a function in order to fulfil outer goals in advertising psychology, coaching, the manipulation of public opinion etc. The functional laws which tend to damage our personal impulses for finding a holistic life, determine what we take time for. However, in everyday life we continually have to measure movements, speeds, intervals and distances which occur in the concrete reality in their material, visible shapes on earth, and which we can use in our thinking and action. The speedometer in a car shows the different speeds, the SatNav the place at which we find ourselves geographically. This makes it possible to measure the distance to our goal and the time needed to reach it. But what is the goal of my life? I cannot calculate how much time I still have left, and what will be its goal. For the construction and building of a technical apparatus I need a plan. But no such plan exists for the shaping of my life. I do not know whether I will still be alive tomorrow. How do I use my time? What is urgent? Is there any point at all in the time I spend driving my car? This may not be a question at all at my place of work. But may I allow my firm, or an institution or a private employer to dictate the rules of my life?
I only have one life, i.e. my life in time. My work and my tasks are part of it. This relationship cannot be reversed. It is not my ability to work that counts. I am not a machine, nor do I compete with the efficiency of one, but I am a human being. What is important is my identity which is not accessible to a rational or functional value- judgement. Only God can determine my identity. In it my humanness is at stake. I cannot renounce it in order to function in an industrial firm or in the service industry. Therefore I have to account for the relationship between instrumental time and the anthropological time of life, and the way they have been mediated. It is impossible to exclude God from this. One must not confuse this holistic and personal human experience of time with the mathematically measurable time of the sciences in which human beings implement the ideas in their minds. These ideas do not serve the understanding of the reality in which they live but the fabrication of a manageable reality, such as exists in machines and technical installations today.
The place and context of human life
Everything that exists in time, including temporary life itself, comes from God’s creative power. In it the cosmos, nature, history and humans in their finiteness and temporariness all hang together. Through the working of his Spirit in Christ he lets us share his divine life and, as the source of the inner life and light, he becomes the ground of the reality of experience in which we already live. We only need to become aware of it and try to understand and accept it with all its miracles and pitfalls. We cannot control it in our thoughts and we have to find our way in it even in the darkest times of life with its many questions, tribulations and contradictions. When we try to define in concrete form our thinking in metaphysics, science and dogmatic theology and believe our thoughts to be absolute and ontological, we make ourselves unable to realize where we have our place in life. We disturb our relationship with the reality of our life in the world when we try to understand from the outside what happens in our life, our thinking, our behaviour and our actions. What we turn into the objects of our understanding does not really exist. In elevating these objects in our thinking to the state of an objective reality as such we imprison ourselves within ourselves and excommunicate ourselves from the reality of experience in which, as both physical and spiritual beings, we live in our relationship with God, with our fellow human beings and with ourselves.
Ultimately this goes to the core of the Christian faith, i.e. the Trinitarian event. To the eyes of faith God is at work in his living Spirit in Christ Jesus in the socio-historical and inter-personal reality of relations in the here and now of our empirical life. This is the place where we find ourselves in our philosophical thinking, scientific knowledge and theological self-understanding in relation to God. Empirically, we do not live in a faraway place in an idealistically metaphysical or scientifically material or theologically doctrinal world beyond our understanding. We share in everything that happens where our physical and spiritual self is placed in its empirical environment.
We human beings in our bodily existence live, think and act in this pneumatic, historical and social reality of relationships. However, these relationships do not constitute the world in which we live, in its manifold appearances, which require many different human reactions. An isolated self as an object of faith, thinking and understanding does not exist. But neither is it possible to define in abstract terms what the world is. In any case the world itself is not identical with individual realities such as the earth, heaven, cosmos, nature, organic, social or mental reality, history or society. Only all of these together, linked in the reality of our experiential world, constitute what we call the “world”. In isolation the “world” would be a mental construct of our intelligence, ignoring everything that appertains to our human life.
An element of human empirical life is the language through which humans communicate verbally in their inter-personal relationships. This is not possible without a personal “I” which can express itself in language. In language I experience myself. In language my relation to myself and to my fellow humans is different from the one I have with animals and plants. When we exchange opinions about the non-human world by means of language we use terms which we create and agree for our dealings with nature. But that does not mean that nature only exists in connection with humans and for their use. Conversely, we humans have our being in the living context of nature but we are not absorbed by it, become identical with it or can derive our empirical human lives from it.
In our spirit we live in our bodies and, through it and its senses, are linked with the physicality of nature. Our relation with the life in our body is different from the one to life in nature although both share organic life. The bodies in nature lack the conscious life of the human spirit. It is irritating when we try to relate to nature only in the imaginings of our instrumental mind without the personal self-consciousness of our spirit. Our behaviour in it is complex. As in the social history of humankind we experience ourselves in the history of nature and the cosmos as being linked with them, and remain tied to them in the activities of our intelligence. In our theological, philosophical and scientific thinking we cannot escape from the empirical setting of our lives. Only in our relationship as a living partner to God in his pneumatic presence in our lives can we experience ourselves as separate from the immanent anthropological empirical reality of life.
Organic physicality and the world of technology
Among the things that we humans can see with our eyes in the manifold world of nature are animals of all sorts, such as elephants, dogs, cats, birds and worms, and plants in their diversity such as grasses, flowers, trees and much more. What human beings share with them is organic physicality. But what we cannot see from the outside is organic life itself. Are we so ignorant in our scientific understanding of organic life because it concerns the, for us human beings, invisible world? We talk about natural science but we lack a way of understanding its inner world, its organic life. Without it we human beings wouldn’t exist, nor would all human sciences. Since earliest times there has been a certain indirect knowledge of physical organs since many people and tribes lived by hunting or, as farmers, by the meat of animals. “Meat” however is not a living organism even when, with humanly produced instruments, we can turn organic life into meat. The process cannot be reversed even when, in modern times, it became possible to extract dead organs from corpses for scientific reasons. But living organs are different from things because they are included in the context of nature. By naming them like other objects we do not turn them into objects which we construct and produce.
Since the earliest history people have always been making things; vessels such as pots and vases, tools such as knives, forks, spoons, scissors, hammers, tongs and other ever more complicated instruments and appliances. Today we are inventing different kinds of things which can produce all these objects independently: instruments and machines produce much for us that we ourselves or nature couldn’t. In order to produce independently these machines only need to be switched on and off by humans. Thus they make our work easier and save time. Does that mean that a new power is now active in our world which recreates and makes it new and different from what we originally found in our lives? Does that mean that we are entering a new world which we humans are producing? Today we live in a world of all kinds of instruments and machines. We speak about a technological world and note that it produces new and different conflicts with living nature. Our social life however cannot be contemplated separately from our organic life even though the two function quite differently. How can the two come together? And how can the visible reality that challenges our eyes be reconciled with theoretical scientific thinking that challenges our brains? Both are ultimately organic. When in theoretical thinking we intervene from the outside in the events of the world, where humans live, it can appear as if we could seize power over them.
Can methods of automatic production of objects become the model for human life and be applied to it? Can there be self-creation by the power of human beings in a new world that they have created themselves? If so, they would become their own gods. When human beings no longer need God he will merely prove an obstacle to human progress. Belief in God would thus become superstition. Human omnipotence in the ability to produce objects that change the world today seems to become ever more boundless. What is the basis for our fantasies of being omnipotent in technological knowledge? These fantasies relate to the world of feasible things and not to the world we humans live in. Human life in the world threatens to turn from being a factor in it into being just a function in the functional and instrumental technological world of work. These functionalised structures of thought and action keep humans imprisoned and separate them from the world in which they live.
What then will be left of our humanity on earth? Are we not starting a powerful mechanism of reduction in our lives which knows no bounds? We rarely stop to consider critically what is happening with us in our lives in the uniqueness of time. We may still be living in the same world as at the beginning of humankind. Even in the technological world we remain dependent on God, earth, nature and our work within it. In this regard, nothing has changed. But the living connections in which our human activities occur have dissolved. We are less and less self-aware. Earth and nature belong together as God’s creation. We must not separate them with ideas of instrumental pragmatism. Everything that grows in nature sprouts from the same earth on which, today, cars and trains travel, ever more networks of roads and railways are constructed, and more and more skyscrapers and parking lots are required. The human functional world is ever spreading and the world in which human beings live degenerates. Where will this development lead us when the modern industrial world spreads over all the earth?
What then will we do with ourselves, with the earth, with nature, with inter-personal relationships in the midst of over-population? The global perspective today shows us how miniscule the earth really is. But it is not only a planet in space, it is more; something different, full of life. We dwell on this planet and live on its fruits. But it is steadily shrinking. It is being replaced by man-made material objects which the industrial society produces in limitless and uncountable numbers. What are we to do with all of that? We continually pile up those material objects we are creating onto natural things and have to make room for them and stow away anything old. That is seen as waste, to be “disposed of” because it hinders our progress.
Forward or backward steps?
Are we making progressing? Long-term developments are barely noticeable. Because of the technological processes much has changed during the last century and some of the changes cannot be undone. Much of what we find in the world today formerly did not exist. We cannot deny that technology has brought great relief and improvements in many realms of life albeit still mainly confined to the European and North American industrial societies. But a discussion of progress or regression during the last century is pointless because all opinions will be entirely subjective. General evaluations, which do not take account of the many different life situations of people world-wide, and especially of the growing gap between rich and poor, only block the view of reality. What matters is how the people who live in these situations are affected by the operational processes.
We already cannot live without the media that, by electronic means, transmit knowledge onto our screens and a ceaseless stream of information about any and everything. In our media and industrial societies we sit daily in front of our screens and watch the misery of the world go by. As long as these stories do not affect us personally the horror pictures only serve as entertainment. In the increasing isolation from one another we tend more and more to lose our relationships with real people in their inner and outer sufferings. What good are fridges to the starving people around the world, what good are the labour-saving devices to the unemployed? Much of what we ought not to do we still do unless something from outside stops us. And many of the necessary things we do create are misused despite our best efforts. We forget that the objects we make are not just objects. They carry within them the invitation to be used. Otherwise we would not make them. Even the atom bomb carries such an invitation to be used. It was built before the nuclear power stations in which nuclear research can be used for peaceful ends. But today even these power-stations endanger the relationship between earth, nature and human beings.
The automated world of technology as a human product has long since lost its connection with the human empirical world. And yet the two are daily in deadly struggle with each other. If we see and admire nothing but technological progress, are fascinated by it and under the spell of being able to observe it, then we end up entirely self-centred in our life, thinking and actions. The reality in which we humans live is not only visible, thinkable and feasible. In our human life, thinking and actions we separate ourselves from the actions of God who alone can create life and, through the work of his Spirit present on earth ensures the cohesion of everything in life. This includes the organic life of the human body. Our human endeavours would come to nothing if they were not driven by the living and active organism which is God’s work. Without God acting in his Spirit human endeavour loses its basis. This also is a question for scientific understanding.
When human beings identify the organic structure of their bodies with the technical and functional structures of their work place, they themselves turn into a function of their own technological and instrumental thinking and acting and therefore can no longer discover the way to understand the empirical world in which we humans live. It will be too late. Are we already in this situation? Through the constructivism of scientific epistemology we are trying to destroy the God-given human world in which we live in order to make it possible for us to construct a new world and a new human being. This means the domination of nothingness in life and thought. The mental power of our technological and instrumental intelligence distinguishes us from the world of the animals and the life in nature on earth but, by claiming absolutism, turns the reality in which we live to nothing in order to dominate it. Thus humans lose their living relationship with God their creator who has called them to till and preserve the earth.
The other side of technological developments today are global developments. These are inseparably linked and permeate the external and internal events in everyday human life. The technological instrumental constructivism has produced a world-wide media and an industrial, economic and scientific society among a mixture of different people in which many national and cultural traditions come to an end. But human history continues, only in a different way. Technology is a dynamic process which permeates our thinking and understanding and thus our life and our actions. It produces a global change of consciousness which is already entering into many of the world’s social structures and changes them. Where do we find our direction in this unstoppable process?
In the mental world of constructivist and technological sciences but also in traditional philosophical and theological metaphysics we search in vain for God, for the human being, for ourselves and for life on earth. It is an urgent challenge to look for ways in which scientific understanding, philosophical thinking and theological reflection, on the basis of faith, can find an awareness and understanding of the empirical anthropological life in which they occur. On the one hand, as our human life is constrained within time, we cannot return to an idealised past period of history, on the other hand, the socio-historical reality of experience, and thus also the world of technology, are part of our anthropological empirical life. We already inhabit this socio- historical reality whatever we may think happens within it. We cannot bypass it on the way to the future. We must accept both this reality and the challenges of God’s presence in it.
God’s omnipotence and omnipresence are the grounds of our salvation and trust. He alone can blow away the forces that destroy our lives, and he does so in the pneumatic power of his love and truth in Christ Jesus. This knowledge changes the way we see events in the world and in the history of humankind. We owe our life to him, and that includes everything, even the thoughts of our instrumental intelligence, scientific understanding, the human ability to construct, the organic and social life of mankind – all this is not evil in itself. These are God’s gifts for a meaningful life in the world, a life that is grounded in him and receives the gift of the light of his Spirit. People of all professions in the working environment have a share in it. God is present in them and reconciles us with our lives through the power of his Spirit in Christ. The external conditions of our earthly life do not determine its contents, which come from God and therefore are not the result of human achievements, whatever they may be.
To understand the world rationally from the outside, pneumatically in faith from the inside.
In our human life, our place for thinking, understanding and acting is in the socio-historical reality of experience. Even when in our mind we manage to escape from our bodily conditions we still always remain present in our bodies in flesh and in spirit. The state of our bodies also influences the circumstances and possibilities of empirical and theoretical thinking. We cannot replace them by our human work because they are a given factor. They are and remain God’s work, who has created them. This is a statement of faith; our intelligence cannot retreat behind the reality in which we live.
We must not confuse faith with our own ideas of reality, nor with speculations, imaginings and convictions which take the place of our thinking and understanding. Faith, when it is given by God’s creator spirit, includes experience, knowledge, thinking and understanding. It understands in a light which does not come from us but from God. It is a personal light; it emanates from the contact of human beings with God in Christ. In it, our humanity shares the energies of God’s spirit which slumber in us and light up in our mind a part of the pneumatic Christ-event. We experience it in us, in the world in which we live.
I understand the term “world in which we live” to mean theologically God’s creation. His eternal spirit is active in the world, in the limited time of our life on earth. We know no other world. We are subject to its conditions but it does not absorb us because the ground of our being is our relationship with God in Christ Jesus. We are tied into the world with all its living and material conditions but at the same time we are not simply a part of it; we belong to God in his world. God is beyond our world and therefore cannot be comprehended or seized by our rational understanding of the world; he is the origin of its creation. But in his creative acts through his spirit and his word he reveals himself to us in the pneumatic Christ. In this revelation we recognise that the dynamic spirit of God creates the inner coherence of our lives in the world.
For that reason, when dealing with our relationship with the world, I start with the workings of his spirit. When we open ourselves to his living word and, in our thinking and understanding, allow him to lead us, our inner life will be imbued by his power. Access to the understanding of the world as God’s creation therefore lies in us because the same spirit of God works in the world as it does in the ground of our being. In it the cosmos and nature are linked together as of the world that is God’s work. Humans inhabit it as living creatures which he has created as his partners in a relationship of otherness. In this relationship human beings find their identity which they retain in their dealings with the world. The powers at work in the world no longer dominate their lives, thoughts, behaviour and actions. Instead, in sharing and living in this relationship, they belong to God who has created it.
Thus the relationship between humans who have the ground of their being in the living God and the earthly world, in which they live their temporary lives, is characterised by the structure of otherness. Sharing in the events of this world they also share in God’s world beyond this earth. During their earthly life their only access to this world beyond is through the working of God’s spirit. Through him they realise that, whilst sharing in the world, they also belong to God’s world beyond. In human life in the world, earthly world and the world beyond are both experienced in their relationship with God, personally, pneumatically and socio-historically. Because of the otherness of both these worlds we can neither identify them nor see them as analogous. However their connection can be experienced in human life on earth.
Through theoretical, mental and mono-causal instrumental thinking human beings can only engage with these differentiated life structures from the outside. But it is self-contradictory if they so do because their lives are already imbedded in these very structures. Human beings lose the ability to understand the events in which they participate in the world. In turning these events into the objects of rational understanding in their mind they can no longer experience them in their living spirit. This means they can no longer perceive the body/spirit union of their human lives in the world because they have separated from the ground of their being which lies in their relationship with God. Their lives become devoid of relationships and locations.
 “This chapter deals with statements of faith which concern human existence here and now. When ancient Orientals speak about creation and order of the cosmos these were very topical matters (v. Rad, 36).
 Cf. R. Dawkins, “The God Delusion”, London 2006; S. Hawking/L.Mlodinow, The Grand Design, New York 2010.
 In this context, the meaning of the term “pneumatic Christ-event” is the theme of the whole book. Briefly, it means a dynamic and personal understanding of the “Christ in us” which Paul, among others, explains in Romans 8.
 One of the schools of thought that has critically studied the term
and still has great influence on our thinking is the so-called
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