Conference Highlights

By | April 14, 2008

Just got back from the Open Theology and Science conference held April 10-12, 2008 at Asuza Pacific University.

It was quite a fun conference. My wife and baby daughter accompanied me, and we all had a good time. Baby Janelle was a big hit with the other participants. Unfortunately, one of the presenters, Bill Hasker, was not able to make the conference due to the whole airline grounding fiasco.

The conference opened with a plenary session by Francis Collins, head of the human genome project. He had a lot of good things to say about the integration of religion and science and even closed his talk by whipping out his acoustic guitar and leading the audience (about 300 people) in signing a hymn, “God of Faith and Learning”.

I have two points of critique regarding what Collins said. First, he conflates the notion of common descent (for which he gave some rather impressive evidence) with naturalistic evolution, the idea that the historical process of descent that has given rise to the “tree of life” has involved no non-natural causes. The evidence for the latter thesis is scant and much less impressive. Second, his criticism of Intelligent Design invoked the standard “cooption” response to Behe’s irreducible complexity argument. What Collins does not seem to realize is that this response in not even close to being a refutation of ID. That the bacterial flagellum “might” have been cobbled together from existing molecular components does not show that such a scenario is even remotely plausible.

The following morning, things got underway with a devotional from local pastor T. Scott Daniels of the Pasadena Nazarene Church (he called it “Paz Naz” for short). His talk was entitled “Waiting for the Church to Open”. He told of a homeless woman who, despite the assistance they’ve tried to give her, always waits outside for the doors of the church to open so. When they do, she partakes of the free coffee and refreshments inside and attends the service. Daniels related this to the position of many open theists, who often feel rather “homeless” in the modern American church scene. Often suspected (wrongly, I submit) of heresy, some have found themselves booted out of or ostracized from the fellowship of other Christians. The analogy certainly resonated with a number of people at the conference, myself included.

I’ll spare a detailed recounting of each of the presentations I heard. All of them were interesting, and everyone at the conference was exceeding nice. One thing I particularly enjoyed was the opportunity to hang out with the likes of Robin Collins, Dean Zimmerman, Greg Boyd, and Patrick Todd (a grad student at UC Riverside whom I’ve interacted with by email but had never met face-to-face).

My own presentation on “The Fourfold Openness of the Future” went quite well. I had a good discussion with the above-mentioned folks, as well as Alan Padgett. I’ve still got to iron out some kinks in my argument. When I get in polished a bit, I’ll post it here.

The final evening all of us involved with the conference went over to Karen Winslow’s house (she’s an Old Testament scholar at Azusa Pacific) where we ate dinner and hung out discussing things like the problem of evil, the metaphysics of time, and South Park until late in the evening. Sunday morning, my wife and I went to the Winslow’s church (Karen’s husband, Dale, pastors a Free Methodist church a couple blocks from Azusa Pacific). I had never been to a Free Methodist service before. It was nice. The people there were very friendly.

7 thoughts on “Conference Highlights

  1. Patrick

    Hey Alan,

    It was good to meet you too.

    By the way, one thing I’d be interested in hearing more about is how you’re thinking ontic openness (i.e. non-eternalism) follows from the other relevant theses.

    (If I recall, you were thinking you can get ontic openness from alethic openness and TSB. Is that right?)

  2. Alan Rhoda

    Hi Patrick,

    I’ve been thinking things through a bit more since the conference and I’m no longer confident that I can derive the fourfold openness of the future simply from my definitions and the four assumptions I enumerated.

    As for getting ontic openness (O) from alethic openness (A), that’s easy if one grants that God has unrestricted omniscience. For if the future were ontically settled (~O), then God would know it as such, so it would not be epistemically settled (~E), and since knowledge entails truth it follows that it would not be alethically settled (~A). Thus, ~O–>~E–>~A. Contraposing, we get A–>E–>O.

  3. Patrick

    Hey Alan,

    The reason I asked was that I recall Ian Spencer mentioning – and I could be getting this wrong – that one could hold to a sort of eternalism on which there isn’t a maximal set of truths about what will be. Again, that would be exceeding bizarre, but I just mention it for the following reason.

    Suppose someone thought that ‘being’ outstripped truth, i.e. that there’s more being than there are truths specifying what that being is like. Again, this would be … bizarre, but just suppose. So one thought, say, that there’s a world with 4 (concrete) spheres in it, but it’s only true that there are three spheres.

    That’s crazy, but isn’t a violation of TSB. It would only be a violation of TSB if one went on to claim that other worlds identical in being to the four sphere world were different with respect to truth. In other words, so long as one is willing to say that all worlds that duplicate the four sphere world likewise duplicate it with respect to the truth that there are only 3 speheres, then one isn’t violating TSB.

    Anyway, hope that’s worth something.

  4. Alan Rhoda

    Hi Patrick,

    You’re right if we take TSB to entail a one-sided conditional (if p is true then there exists some state of affairs in virtue of which p is true), but not if we read it in a stronger, biconditional way (p is true iff there exist some state of affairs in virtue of which p is true).

    The one-sided reading may be standard, but I have a hard time understanding how a theist in particular could avoid the two-sided reading.

  5. Ian

    Hey Alan and Patrick,

    Here’s another way of getting eternalism plus indeterminacy. One way you could retain the strong reading, some semantic indeterminacy about the future, AND eternalism is if you had a weird ‘Growing Determinacy View’ of the Universe which would be much like a Growing Block View except that what is growing is not the extent of reality but its metaphysical determinacy. That is, future times are marked out from the past or present in that certain sorts of features of them are METAPHSYICALLY indeterminate (and therefore future tensed statements concerning them are indeterminate in regards to their truth or falsity). As time passes, what was once metaphysically indeterminate between two contradictory situations becomes determinately one or the other. It’s a pretty strange view to my tastes since I like to avoid indeterminacy in reality (as opposed to semantics) if I can help it, but it is an option. (I think Ross Cameron is co-authoring a paper about this sort of view)

  6. jprapp

    Alan, you may have seen my windy mathematical/metrics question on the other thread. I finally broke down and read Collins’ “Language of God” for myself since my first-love is biology (and biophilia in general). My hunch was correct that Collins uses a Bayesian metric in inferential reasoning toward God “events.” He gracefully notes passim that one needn’t have all the formal Bayesian apparatus in order to get the intuitive gist of how the illative system works to approximate inferences of God “events.”

    I think the same metrics could be used bi-conditionally by God and humans in mutual negotiation. But, see below on Muslim attempts.

    I dig this other thread on getting to God’s openness in contingencies. My favorite entrance into speculation on that question comes from Freeman Dyson in his “Infinite in All Directions,” which would preserve a symmetry between probabilities and certain knowings (on a scale) across all dimensions to an omega point of human comprehension. Except that Dyson generally holds that religious inquiries are at best orthogonal to modal-logical and scientific ones.

    A better rendition for 3-manifold friends would be a Poincaire conjecture condensing God’s knowledge to a point likely containing sub-atomic ingredients described potentially by the unitary equations: redux an absolute bar to what we can know of what God knows, and perhaps an equally ontological boundary on God internally to God’s own knowledge. Depending on God’s knowledge of initial conditions.

    An Islamic mathematician-theologian (Alcel?) has written equations and some modal logical notation for all this.

    But, it’s my understanding from reading and from conversations with Muslims that Muslims are generally more interested than Christian process thinkers in this kind of metricized approach (beyond your formal logical notation), because of their love for geometrization and topological thinking as applied to God in general.

    Most Christian work done on the subject of contingencies is done in prose. And this subject strains the prose beyond what language can bear. There are extremely powerful maths for dealing with classical “uncertainties” wherunder “indeterminism” (say ala Quine) can be assigned a scale.

    But, all this hifalutin ontological stuff bores me and is not my main interest. I’ll leave that to you guys in fancy systematics. And I wish you well. I was really going after Collins on his broadcast claims that he had metrical reasons for believing in miracles. And my hunches paid off in discovering that he is throughly Bayesian. The praxes ties from Collins’ induction of maths over to contingencies in openness theism are plentiful, really, unlimited to mock-ups. And extremely fun.

    Thanks for your report on the conference.



  7. Rob R


    I thought I knew what “alethically” meant from your post on the 4 types of open theists.

    I geuss I don’t. As best as I can gather now (after some googling), alethical means “pertaining to truth”. Is this so? let me know so I can throw something up on wiktionary sometime. I put your comment on the 4 types of open theists on wikipedia under and it probably should have a hyper link for that term.


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