Classical Theism Debate

Elizabeth Johnson argues that the concept of God being holy, mysterious and beyond the human imagination is one of the main factors that attracted my attention. The concept of God and the way people speak and think about him has been a hotly contested topic. The definition of God as a supernatural being has also gone through different interpretations, particularly as a result of the influence of different religious leaders, scholars, and other critics. In her book entitled “Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God,” Elizabeth Johnson analyzes the evolution of theology and its impact on understanding the ‘living God’, a process she refers to as modern theism. Another popular religious scientist is Frank Collins, who published a book entitled “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.” Collins argues that scientific discoveries present people with an opportunity to worship. He refers to his beliefs as BioLogos, and they are based on theistic evolution, also known as evolutionary creation. Collins attempts to examine the scientific basis of God’s existence. It is evident that both Johnson and Collins believe in the existence of God, with most of the evidence presented by Collins having both scientific and religious attributes. This paper seeks to examine the concept of God as presented by the two scholars, and how human beings use this concept to establish God’s relevance in their lives.     

As a renowned professor of theology, Johnson based most of her works on a wide range of sources, including the writings of Augustine, Aquinas and Scotus, Calvin and Luther, Vatican II up to the idea of transcendence by Karl Rahner.  Johnson argues that people may think that the quest for the living God can end simply by tracing the origins and divine revelations of religions such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. However, the traditions of such faith are founded on the ideology that self-disclosure of God took place during the historical events that are written in their holy books. However, the open-endedness of the search for the living God is based on three basic factors. The first one is “the very nature of what is being sought is incomprehensible, unfathomable, limitless, ineffable, and beyond description.” This implies that it is not possible to compare God to anything or any person in this world, and doing so implies that divine reality is being reduced to an idol. The second factor is that search for God never end since human beings have an insatiable heart. The human spirit has always been adventurous, always seeking to understand God and the deeper meaning of people’s lives in this world. Third, human cultures have gone through constant changes throughout history, with the God’s experience continually being meditated in people’s lives. This implies that whenever situations change, there is always a shift in the divine experience in terms of intellectual constructs, images, and rituals.     

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As the head of the Human Genome Project, Francis Collins bases most of his theological beliefs on science, arguing that the DNA of living things is the language of God to express the complexity and elegance of the human body as a reflection of God’s plan. Collins was not a religious individual in the past, and he was actually an atheist before converting to Christianity. He says, “Science’s domain is to explore nature. God’s domain is in spiritual world, a realm not possible to explore with the tools and language of science.” He adds that to understand God and his purpose, the human mind, heart and soul should be examined, and the mind should be able to embrace both the science and God’s domain. It can therefore be argued that both realms usually coexist in a way that enlightens and enriches the experience of human beings. Collins argued that Christians should be able to integrate their religious faith to modern science in order to understand the significance of scientific ideas and their relationship to their faith. Science is essential in analyzing the natural world since its tools can be used sufficiently to understand material existence. However, Collins says that science becomes insignificant in understanding issues such as the origin of the universe, the purpose of existence of human beings, and where a person goes after death. 

The views of both Elizabeth Johnson and Francis Collins, when it comes the analysis of theology and understanding God’s purpose, have a huge correlation. To start with, Johnson attempts to start the journey to understanding God by first enabling people to realize that God is incomprehensible. This is because he is not a mere human being or a mortal soul that can be analyzed based on human understanding. She says that “People are discovering God again not in the sense of deducing abstract notions but in the sense of encountering divine presence and absence in their every experiences of struggle and hope, both ordinary and extraordinary.” It is from this ideology that people are able to understand God’s divine presence and the blossoming nature of his powerful grace. This resembles Collins’ analysis of God’s nature when he says that Christianity should have the capacity of merging their belief and the abilities of science. He says that “The consideration of such weighty matters can be unsettling,” and human beings should have a deep longing of establishing the truth and avoid distractions from mundane activities. The belief of the two religious scientists hold that people should accept their mortality and have a serious consideration on external issues of human existence. 

Nevertheless, it is evident that there are certain pertinent views of theology expressed by Johnson that tend to differ from those expressed by Collins. To start with, Johnson’s views on theology tend to steer clear from science and she solely expressed her deep conviction on God’s incomprehensibility. She ponders that modern theism and the departure to understand God “In a fascinating way it compromises both the transcendence and immanence of God as honed in classical Christian theology.” She believes that the existence of God can be reasoned starting from the natural world utilizing a process of inference. This enables people to develop a theology where God is understood as the highest level of the intellectual process. It is from this perspective that it can be argued that Johnson tends to differ from Collins since she does not pay tribute to the force of science when one embarks on a journey to understand God. Although both scholars believe that God is all powerful and beyond the perception of the mortal human beings, it can be argued that Johnson’s theological philosophy transcends the definitions and descriptions that can be given by man. This can be translated to mean that science does not have the capacity of defining God, just as Collins had said that “….science is powerless to answer questions such as ‘where did the universe come into being?” It can also be argued that although Collins believes that science is an essential factor when it comes to enhancing human understanding, Johnson believes that God cannot be effectively comprehended by man’s creation.

Johnson argues that there are ground rules that should be adhered to when it comes to exploring and understanding God. She argues that there are three ground rules of engagement and they play a critical role in the enhancement theism. Johnson argues that “The most and most basic prescript is this: the reality of the living God is an ineffable mystery beyond all telling.” Whereas this statement is closely associated to what has been stated above, what Johnson means is that the ‘Holy One’ goes beyond human understanding, or in essence, worldly understanding. According to Johnson’s theology, God is infinite and it is not possible to separate him from that experience. Johnson says that the “Catholic theology has traditionally explained the indirect play of God language by the theory of analogy.” In addition, evidence indicates that there are numerous explanations for God. Even in the Bible, Timothy 6: 16 describes God as one who “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see.” This implies that despite of the mystic reflections and the wisdom of the saints, it is not possible to comprehend the status of God. Therefore, it would be an understatement for a human being to say that he can glimpse and describe the image of God. 

In comparison to Johnson, Collins introduces another important concept when it comes to the description of God. Apart from putting emphasis on the significance of science in understanding the tenets of the natural world, Collins says that believers should not dismiss science by arguing that it is not compatible with their religious beliefs. Collins arguments are supported by a report published by Dan Gilgoff on the number of individuals who believe on the scientific basis of God’s existence. For instance, Gilgoff says that a current Gallup Poll indicated that 45% of people in the U.S. do not believe in evolution, and they believe that humans were created the same way they are now, as well as the way they were in the past 10,000 years. Collins puts emphasis on the compatibility of science and the religion, arguing that Christians should seek to understand the scientific basis for God. This concept not only embraces science, but also relies on it. His project “emphasizes the compatibility of Christian faith with what science has discovered about the origins of the universe and life.” Basically, it can be argued that unless human beings are able to combine their religious beliefs to science, then they will be stuck to untruth concerning issues pertaining to evolution. 

Collins argues that people may tempt to question the presence of God, particularly due to the fact that he is invisible. He says that human beings can ask if God is really present, or does “the search for the existence of a supernatural being, so pervasive in all culture ever studied, represent a universal but groundless human longing for something outside ourselves to give meaning to a meaningless life and to take away the sting of death?” In classical theism, the urge to find the divine tends to be crowded out by people’s overestimated and busy lives. However, it still remains as one of the most important and universal strivings of human beings. It is from this perspective that people are able to see that the evidence presented by Collins are aligned to those presented by Johnson. Johnson argued that with the current formation of numerous cultures in the contemporary world, people are trying to seek the meaning of life by seeking to understand God. Whereas it may not be easy to understand the true meaning of existence and what God wanted people to do in this world, it can be deduced that God is a supernatural being whose presence surpasses man’s understanding. 

Basically, it can be described that the theological arguments presented by both Johnson and Collins have a close relationship since they put emphasis on the significance of God as a supernatural being. Both scholars are of the opinion that seeking God is one of the most important requirement that a human being is required to pursue. Johnson says that the mystery of finding God is not only greater, but it is always nearer to the needs of human beings. In classical theism, the urge to find God continues to become greater, despite the fact that this journey begun years ago. Movements such as “the Reformation, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment” made the seeking for God to take a deep root, and” it flowered into a “culture that was recognizable modern and secular.” Both religious scientists have played a critical role in analyzing the path people have taken towards seeking God and finding his intention for people in this world. 

Whereas Collins has based most of his findings on theology and related them to science, it is evident some of the theological findings presented by Johnson also have a close relationship to science. For instance, Johnson says, “scientifically, rapid advances in discoveries about the natural world provided empirical explanations for events, leading to a pragmatic mentality rather than one oriented to supernatural causes.” It is important to note that from this cause, Johnson puts emphasis on the natural world, as well as other advancement in the technological innovations that resulted to a control over nature. Johnson argues that the mystery of God continues to become greater, and the starting point is the presence of humans. The ideology of God begins with the natural world. However, Johnson argues that the “whither of human self-transcendence is and must remain incomprehensible in depth and breadth, forever.” This is because it is not possible for human being to fathom the significance of God, and it is not possible to reach the depth of exploration. The significance of the quest for God is so deep such that human beings do not have the capacity of comprehending him. 

Collins then comes with the final arguments by arguing that theistic evolution is a science in harmony. He argues that there is a huge possibility that if theistic evolution is given enough publicity, it can become more popular than the divisive creationists as well as ID advocates.  Collins argues that theistic evolution tends to have a more consistent and satisfying synthesis of science and faith which provides him with a better opportunity of knowing and understanding God. He also adds that such a viewpoint tends to prevent certain pitfalls such as arguments of ‘God of the gaps’ which concern issues associated with science and faith. It is important to note that although Collins paid huge tribute to science, he believes in the presence of a Christian theistic evolution and a divine God. 

Collins has spent an extended amount of time discerning the natural world and he came to a conclusion that God exists. He remembers, “I spent considerable time trying to discern his characteristics,” and after he had considered all options, he was convinced that God possessed a perfection that cannot be matched by any other human being. In fact, Collins argued that he was not in a position of meeting God’s perfection. On the other hand, Johnson begins her theological journey by asking why human beings should seek to understand God. She argues that for an individual to fulfill such a task, he should begin by having an open mind.  Open-mindedness is an important attribute that man has faced since the early ages, and it often inspires him to understand what exists beyond the universe. Since man has an insatiable desire to understand the tenets of lives, and the origins of the universe, he always seeks to understand what the divinity of God means. The fact that the nature of God is incomprehensible implies that it is not possible for a mortal being to clearly understand the real attributes of God, despite the scientific tools or the level of knowledge that an individual possesses. 

In conclusion, this paper has critically analyzed how Johnson and Collins examine the concept of God and his relevance to the lives of human beings. From the above analysis, it is evident that Johnson believes that God is incomprehensible and beyond human understanding. Open-mindedness is one of the requirement that propels an individual to quest for a living God. Furthermore, it is important to understand that God is beyond human description and Johnson argues that it is not possible to limit God to a single description. On the same note, Collins argues that there is a scientific basis of describing the existence of God. The DNA of living things is an intricate factor that enables human beings to understand the complexity and the beauty of God’s creation. Collins is of the opinion that although science is important when it comes to analyzing the natural world, it becomes useless when people fail to consider the spiritual world. This is because the natural world cannot exist in the absence of the natural world. Overall, the two religious scientists believe on the existence of a divine God who is beyond human understanding. The only difference between the theologies of the two scholars is the fact that Collins believes that science is intricately connected to the natural world. 

Bibliography

Collins, Francis S. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006)  

Euklund, Elaine Howard, and Christopher P. Scheitle. Relion among Academic Scientists: Distinctions, and Demographic. Social Problems. 54(2). 289-307

Gilgoff, Dan. Francis Collins: A Scientific Basis for God. [Online]<https://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/god-and-country/2009/05/04/francis-collins-a-scientific-basis-for-god>[Accessed April 21, 2018]

Johnson, Elizabeth A. Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God. (New York: A&C Black. 2007)

Marroquin J. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis Collins. Proceedings Baylor University Medical Center. 2007;20(2):198-199.

Petsko Gregory, A. Render unto Darwin. Genome Biology. 2009;10(5):106.

Raitt, Jill. Elizabeth A. Johnson, Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the theology of God. New York: The Continuum International Publishing. http://catholicbooksreview.org/2008/johnson.htm

Weinberger, Lael. Harmony and Discord. Journal of Creation. 21(1). 33-37. 

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