Fighting for Barth's Doctrine of Creation as Epistemology

Having recently had a (remarkably well-regarded, for me) public argument over the differences between Barth and Pannenberg over at Travis' blog, and having just yesterday taken a somewhat rambling path from McCormack to the necessity for a defense of Barth's doctrine of creation in its integrity as proper theological science, it's time I put up a preliminary declaration of another war I've been fighting for years, as a dedicated Barthian who does religion-and-science dialogue. If CD III.1 can be defended against its pseudo-scientific critics who prefer epistemological naturalism, this is the way I can see to do it. Follow along, and tell me what you think.


If there is a theological contribution to be made to the natural—and for that matter also, and even especially, the social—sciences, the Barthian of all people knows that it cannot come from simply placing God behind the history of the world. This is true whether we posit an interventionist or a non-interventionist deity, because Modern Christendom has long since found its way to an accommodation between a fully-ordered cosmos and a god who nonetheless is needed to tinker with its works to keep it in good repair.

This accommodation allows us to be selective about assigning positive value to realities in the world. So selective, in fact, that it is only the good values of our own cultures, and the reflected or appropriated virtues we are willing to see in other cultures, that qualify for divine maintenance. Such a god no longer is needed to tinker with the natural works of the cosmic machine, which we may safely understand in the grandeur of their functional arrangements; it is only the unnatural, that which we impose on the basis of human sin, that requires the god's attention and correction.

While fundamentalist inerrantism regarding scriptural narratives consistently raises objections to modernist portrayals of the adequacy of the natural sciences in this view, it is the only point of objection; were "science" to be replaced with the preferred exegetical approach of any given sectarian group, the framework would hold. These are the left and right flanks of our national religion in the United States, inherited as it is from comparable developments in European history: naturalism, tending toward a blessed nationalism, challenged only by the moral failures of deviant groups that present a danger to the body politic.


The casually-presumed normativity of the natural world—which is a rhetorical staple of epideictic morality dating easily back to the Hellenistic period—is of all things the least scientific about theological naturalisms. While normative images of the world commend themselves easily to the audiences of such rhetoric, and the collective force of those persuaded readily exerts itself upon others, reality is rarely so simple as it appears from within a worldview. And yet theological naturalisms are rarely couched in the language of experimental hypothesis, based on the admission of ignorance and the pursuit of a range of adequate models that can be further refined by comparison with objective data and disconfirmed where invalid.

For example, at the level of crass moralism, were we to approach the matter scientifically we could never reach the conclusion that monogamous heterosexuality was more natural than any of its possible alternatives—and we certainly could not reach the conclusion that some correlated form of familial life was more natural. In order to do any such thing, we would first have to compromise our methodology severely. And yet the existence of the binary mode of human sexual reproduction has lent itself, in combination with religious presuppositions that are in turn materially predicated on social norms (as well as reticence to inspect the relationship between primary sexual characteristics and gender too closely) to exactly this sort of worldview.


The separation that Barth imposes between natural and theological science, as a function of the separation between God and the non-God creature in its entirety, is a necessary one. It is a function, not of disregard for science, but of a far more careful regard for its standards than that held by rebellious students of Barth like Wolfhart Pannenberg, whose so-called "openness to the world" makes apologetics the basis for validity in dogmatics. Such an epistemological compromise, putting the natural world as we understand it before God and presuming God's necessary conformity as its Creator, is a failure as a solution to the basic dilemma Marcion poses to us.

That dilemma runs as follows: if the Creator is responsible for the ordered world, the Redeemer witnessed in Christ must be some other god. The god responsible for arranging the world, the "demiurge" because such organization is (in Greek) dēmiourgeia, has handcrafted what is in its details, and to suggest that what is is in conflict with God is already to suggest more than one such set of hands. The ability to affirm God and critique the world involves a necessary contradiction to the god of the world's order. If Jesus Christ is in fact in contradiction to the world's order, he cannot represent the Creator, unless we then posit the Creator as separate from some subordinate Arranger, etc.

This is the mainspring of theodicy, this opposition between God and the world. Well, that and our never-ending attempts to smooth it over in favor of theologies of order. Because we want redemption to come for the ordered, and not the disordered. We want the disordered to be redeemed toward order. And we mean "our culture and its table of values" when we say "order." If the Redeemer and the Creator are one, and there is conflict in the world, we will to have God resolve the conflict in our favor, at every opportunity, because we will to be ordered as God ordered the world from the beginning. (Which we don't, actually, but I think I've made that point perfectly clear.) Le péché, c'est les autres.

What Barth knows, better than we ever have, better than any but the oppressed, is that we are the demiurge. These orders are ours, however much we may will God into existence as the basis for our authority over them. The Fall is not a doctrine of our declension from order; the Fall is a doctrine of our expulsion into wilderness. We are ejected from the experimental order of the garden laboratory into nature, and nature is simply us. Nature is and has always been what we make it—which means what we make ourselves, and what we make one another. The creature is released into self-ordering by its own free choice, to be determined only by its own free choice. There is no continuity between God and the non-God creature. There is only correspondence, which remains our true nature, the nature of the image and likeness of God to which we correspond as creature before the Creator even when we refuse so to respond. That correspondence has nothing to do with the shape of the world, and its gradual restoration in reconciliation does not change the shape of the world. It only makes it possible for us to begin to shape our worlds in greater justice, should we take responsibility for them by having faith in God.


Redemption is not the restoration of order, nor will that result from the coming-in-judgment as though God came to condemn all disorder and restore the garden laboratory. What would that be, after all, but starting over again? Small wonder that Augustine, favoring such an image, posited that God would remove from us the capacity that made the Fall possible—which is the capacity that makes us capable in freedom. Which is to say, the capacity that makes us like God: our correspondence to God's image and likeness as the one who loves in freedom. No, redemption is merely the other end of creation, the fulfillment of the creature just as creation is its origin. And that fulfillment has nothing to do with destruction, but not because God will validate any of our arrangements of the world. If we do not hear the judgment within the gospel, the unilateral condemnation that demands that we change by having faith in God and fervent love for one another, the demand that we be free and responsible, not to any order and its laws but to God and one another in grace, then we have not heard the gospel in its entirety. Grace does not validate order, let alone selectively. Neither is salvation a matter of such validation.

Our reconciliation, our atonement, is a thing that happens in the middle. It is a thing that happens for the sake of ethics, a thing that happens because of what Barth calls God's permissive grace, by which we exist and have not been destroyed in favor of some other new beginning that might preclude the Fall. It is a reality in which God works repair in the entire creation, in every individual member of it, without violating the freedom that is our ability to correspond to God and one another in love. But it is not a thing that bends the universe back into line so that (even part of) it might follow the path from creation to redemption successfully. The moral arc of the universe does not bend toward justice. To the extent that it ever does, it bends only to what we call justice, in whatever orders we have ordained, in the complicated interaction of our various wills as creatures. There is no moral arc of the universe, however much we might desire participation in one as a means of connecting our individual lives to a larger process toward truth.

And all of this is because the universe does not correspond to God, because it has chosen not to, and God has shown no desire to correspond to any part of it without demanding that it change its ways toward God's own way of free, just, and faithful loving. We cannot presume, therefore, upon any sort of evidentiary openness to the world in theology. Apologetics may make for palatable statements, but it cannot qualify good theology. God is not the demiurge, and we should be thankful for that even as it means we have no choice but radical faithfulness to God against our developed interests. There can be no gambit here, by which we give up a little to get more. There can be no detente, because God does not rest content with any treaty made with us. God is our Creator, and we are parts of the creature made strange by our own efforts. We cannot make ourselves into anything other than God's creatures, but we have long since demolished any points of reference by which a baseline of that created nature might be established for comparison.


What does this mean for the relationship between theology and the natural sciences? Or for theology and the social sciences? To borrow more popular terminology, it means that we are not even "non-overlapping magisteria." Gould's NOMA proposal attempts to grant authority to religious claims as though religion and science were equally valid ways of discussing the world. It is the natural outcome of the Enlightenment in its critique of the ecclesiastical domination of scientia, granting "religion" a place out of the way to practice the idiosyncrasy involved in supernatural explanations. A Barthian, of all people, should have no interest in defending the rights of religion to claim its own truths about the world. We are not "fideists," or ought not to be if we know our business as students of Barth.

What we are, if we know our business, is scientists of a different object. While these objects—God and the non-God creature—interact, they do not overlap. All scientists are specialists, by necessity. Even specialists in broader theoretical work have specialized in some specific area of the general field. One may specialize, odd as it sounds, in abstraction at a certain level. Natural and social scientists study the creature, to the extent that it shows itself—or can be made to show itself at greater and more intrusive depth. This is not a path to knowledge of God, but it is a valid path to knowledge of the states of affairs that present themselves to us. If we want this knowledge, we have no good theological paths to it; even as theologians we must engage in natural and social sciences to understand nature and society. To bend the tools of theology to study of the world as the primary object is to misunderstand both theology and the world. At best we will understand how theological witnesses before us have understood the world—and we will not even do that, unless we approach theological witnesses with thoroughgoing skepticism.

As Barth once said of Thomas Aquinas, with a candor reserved for his friend Eduard Thurneysen:
"The problem of Catholicism absorbs my attention, now as before, in the most lively way. This has been occasioned, most recently, by my reading of Thomas whom I am treating in my seminar. Every page I have read has been strangely instructive; strangely, because this man has gone to work with a meticulous precision which has not allowed us, up to now, to raise a single objection. He knew everything, but everything, leaving aside the one thing that he didn't know, viz. that man is a liar. But without really knowing it, he knew this truth too and took it everywhere into consideration, displayed it to its best advantage and, as a consequence, knew everything else so brilliantly and comprehensively that one feels blown away and would have to become Catholic if one were not held fast by that one point. On the basis of that one point, one must—even while being continually instructed, grateful, and full of admiration—one must understand everything else differently, even in those cases in which one finds nothing to oppose." (BT Briefwechsel vol. 2, December 23, 1928, via BLM)
We know "that man is a liar," and it obliges us to a science of God that is not merely skeptical of the world the way its sciences are, but skeptical of the world as also not-God in our pursuit of knowledge of God. We cannot therefore walk the path of a "non-overlapping magisterium," as though we could speak our own non-scientific truths about the world, any more than we can walk the path of a magisterium that is conformant with the natural and social sciences. Our properly scientific skepticism must lead us away from both naturalism and supernaturalism. We must pursue the God who has been witnessed but never captured. We must use the sources available to us, in scripture and tradition, with a critical attention born of this knowledge: "that man is a liar," that our witnesses are not possessors of the object but rather authors of subjective voices. Only for as long as the object possesses them do they speak truth—and even that truth comes to us witnessed from outside.

This is why CD III.1, for all that it has been maligned as non-scientific because Barth chose to analyze the Genesis narratives with utmost care, is some of the best theological science we can do on the doctrine of creation. It is not a doctrine of the world-cause, not a doctrine of how what is today came to be this way. It is a doctrine spoken against order, a doctrine of profound subversive effect, by which we place the God of our trust beyond all such usurpation. And it is a doctrine, for this reason, that leaves to the sciences of the creature the right to say in detail how the creature really is, and how it has in fact become this way, as far as we can discern the matter from attention to the evidence. Knowing "that man is a liar," and that the universe is nonetheless susceptible to rational analysis and explanation, we will not pretend to know therefore that God made us this way. The creature in its internal coherence can only point back along its path, as far as it can remember that path; it cannot demonstrate the leap of faith involved in asserting that path as continuous with God, which is ultimately a product of faith in itself. Faith in God requires that we leap beyond ourselves, that we trust outside ourselves, and so that we abandon any and all of the tools of the triplex via: positive assertion from causation of good realities, negative assertion from transcendence of bad realities, and the assertion of eminent qualities that are original in their superiority to our own virtues. As students of God we cannot begin by studying ourselves without knowing what we cannot know: how different we are from our origin, and in what direction our fulfillment lies—if it is even achievable along a path from where we are.

I suppose that means the next topic is the vicarious humanity of Christ...


  1. I'd love to read your thoughts on 'the vicarious humanity of Christ.' Thanks for sharing your reflections;)

  2. It's a meaty post -- perhaps your most extensive articulation of some issues we've discussed before -- and I find it fascinating.

    The question of whether Aquinas knew that "man is a liar" I'll leave to a proper Thomist to sort out.

    But my questions and potential sticking points with your argument have to do with providence: What place is there in your proposal for the Creator to exercise loving care and governance in and through the created...well, I won't say "order," but to be a little more neutral, let's say natural and historical processes? Your starting point -- one of them, at any rate -- is the radical distinction between Creator and creature. The way you play this, and some of it's implications, does seem pretty Barthian to me, or at least Barth inspired (for example, some of the socio-political implications you draw out).

    But how does this relate to what Barth writes of providence in III/3, where the thesis of par. 48 reads: "The doctrine of providence deals with the history of created being as such, in the sense that in every respect and in its whole span this proceeds under the fatherly care of God the Creator, whose will is done and is to be seen in His election of grace, and therefore in the history of the covenant between Himself and man, and therefore in Jesus Christ"? However Barth's exposition may line up with Scholastic treatments, I have always understood him to positively appropriate traditional notions of concursus and dual causality in his doctrine of creation -- all, of course, with no violence to human free agency? Am I right about that, and if so, are you proposing a critical modification of Barth on that score?

    1. Okay, Scott: Nimmo (2007) also has your problem re the concursus Dei, even as he's right to nix Hunsinger's notions of "Chalcedonianism" as an effort to conform Barth to an outside constructive proposal of confessional fidelity about which Barth doesn't care. Barth has far more of the tradition in view, far more critically, at all times. But back to your issue: it's basically the standard problem, esp. since McCormack, of going from CD II.2 as the basis for the covenant and picking up creation piecemeal in conformity with it, instead of following the integral path through CD III and letting Barth show us the real foundations (vs sketching the bird in flight through history). If you followed CD III.1 and .2 to get to .3, and you really paid attention to the text along the way, you wouldn't be able to escape this conflict to which I'm pointing. It is, at root, a conflict between the creature in its created intent, towards voluntary and responsible covenant partnership with God in God's work, and the creature in its chosen realities in the worlds it has arranged for itself through the liberal use of negation.

      This is what Barth means about the "impossible" actuality of sin. Remember that "impossible" for Barth never means "not actual"; it means we have actualized what God did not will—and how should that be possible? It simply should not be that we have done what God chose against in creating all that is ... and yet the world is in fact this way. There can for this reason be no simple concursus, no reducibility of the dual agencies at work. There was supposed to be—but always voluntarily, as the responsible acts of the covenant partner in response to God. This is covenant as the built-in purpose of our being-created. It is not the nature of the history of the creature, however. The creature does not work out the covenant itself. It only begins to do so in those moments when it sees and recognizes and becomes responsible to God as its Lord.

    2. For Barth, God's creating and God's providing are necessarily separate moments of the doctrine. Providence does not continue creation. Creation is finished on the seventh day. The creature exists, in all its fullness, complete in every particular, at that point. The creature at that point lacks nothing. There is no process required for its completion, no pursuit required for fulfillment of its being. The creature is, on that first sabbath, God's perfectly-made partner in gracious covenant. So, to the extent that there are, possibly, natural processes that still function as God intended (even though we have no possible baseline for determining what of the natural is related in any positive way to its original state), this is not providence. It isn't God at work; it's the creature continuing to function. God does indeed "exercise loving care and governance"—but not through the functions of the creature in its parts and combinations. God does not do what the creature does.

      Note carefully in what you cited: "whose will is done and is to be seen in His election of grace, and therefore in the history of the covenant between Himself and man, and therefore in Jesus Christ"—not in the actions of natural or historical processes, not in the history of the creature, but in divine action taken within the theater of nature and history, action that is in no way natural or historical in nature. That we are "under the fatherly care of God the Creator" does not in any way imply that our actions should be mistaken for God's actions. The Lordship of God is exerted over against the worlds of the creature, who should know better, and whose actions should participate in the concursus in which it does not in fact participate. The history of the covenant of grace is a history of election and reconciliation as Barth defines them because it is the history of God's relationship with the creature between the Fall and the final eschaton. Election and reconciliation after the Fall are what providence looks like. This is the history of the creature whose participation in covenant cannot ever be presumed, because it has chosen over and over again to use its freedom in usurpation of divine prerogatives, systematically structuring its worlds to work the existence of what God chose against in creating the world. It is the creature's obligation to do what God does, in responsible correspondence to God, and providence is God working us around to that end.

  3. The follow-up question would be: You've guarded well against the danger of collapsing salvation into creation, but have you possibly risked separating them so radically that salvation is no longer seen as, in any sense, the fulfillment of created being?

    1. Redemption is the fulfillment of created being. What I've done, what I see Barth doing, is guarding against the danger of collapsing order into creation, and redemption into fulfillment of order. And this happens by separating two terms very carefully: world, and creature. Salvation is not, and should not in any sense be seen as, the fulfillment of the ordered world.

      Election and reconciliation, as gracious providence toward covenant participation in grace, are also a kind of fulfillment of the creature, but not in the ways we mean when we talk about "salvation." And here Barth is most adamant that fulfillment of the creature in covenant partnership is not something we can discuss from the world, on terms derived from it. So also with the redemption of the creature, and for that matter with its creation. We cannot speak of these ends from the middle, as though we were logically in flight between them, and as though the middle told us anything about either end. We want a mediation of divine action that simply isn't real.

  4. Fascinating post. I am starting to gain clarity about your position. On the whole, I like a lot of what you are saying here. We can pick through some of the details later.

    What I want to query is the rejection of NOMA. I am at a loss at this point, because it seems to me that you are actually making a case for NOMA. Here's what I hear you saying. NOMA posits religion and science as both speaking about the same object in a noncompetitive manner. You argue, by contrast, that there are actually two sets of sciences: theology and the non-theological sciences (i.e., natural and social sciences). These two sets of sciences have different objects. As such, NOMA does not go far enough, in your view.

    The problem here is twofold. First, it misunderstands NOMA. Gould's use of the term magisterium encompasses the object of inquiry, so that two separate magisteria have two separate objects of inquiry. They don't overlap because they are speaking about different things. For Gould, these were the world of empirical fact and the world of human purpose and value. It seems to me you could apply this to your position just fine, replacing "human purpose and value" with "God."

    The second problem is that, even on your understanding of NOMA, I still think your position qualifies, because at some level the objects have to overlap. When you speak about "creation" or "redemption," are you not speaking **in some way** and **at some level** about the world that we experience and see around us? Is not the doctrine of creation a truth about the world, albeit a truth utterly incomprehensible to the world and completely at odds with our daily experience? For instance, when Barth says that "man is a liar," presumably this "Mensch" is related to the neighbor I encounter in my daily life, a neighbor that a social scientist can analyze using the tools available to her.

    Insofar as "God" is the object of theology, then obviously we are dealing with an entirely separate object, but do you really want to posit the same kind of complete separation when it comes to creation or theological anthropology? Is the "humanity" discussed by theologians a different object entirely from the one discussed by general anthropology? Would it not be more reasonable to say that theology and anthropology speak about the same object in different dimensions of depth? Put another way, theology and anthropology (or some other science) are actually two different hermeneutics: they interpret the same object in nonoverlapping ways. Maybe you call "object" what I call "dimension" or "way," but then it seems to me we arrive at the same conclusion: some version of NOMA is correct and laudable.

    In any case, you raise some really important issues here. Thanks.

    1. David, I'm not willing to take the fact–value distinction as a delimitation of where natural and theological sciences meet without overlapping. First off, you have to be able tell me what a "fact" is, and draw a bright line between that and "values," such that these are themselves non-overlapping regions. Which involves a high degree of artifice, and relies entirely on worldview. There can be no such objective distinction; it's an artifact of the Enlightenment compromise, an attempt however charitable to give religion something legitimate to do out of the way. We have never actually been ceded ethics as our domain, nor has the tradition ever felt content to do ethics without facts, or merely in a fact-adjacent role. The contention remains about what the facts are. Framing religion and science as "non-overlapping" is a way to force out actually overlapping religious claims.

      Second, Barth is certainly not talking about values as opposed to facts! Nor are these actually two different things; they are two approaches to the same thing: the world. The separation of "human purpose and value" from "empirical fact" relies on a basic separation of humanity from the empirically stable world, which is not itself tenable. We are neither separable from the rest of the creature nor set above it. We are not its irrational portion, much less the only part of it afflicted by sin. We cannot, further, be separated internally along fact/value lines and made partially empirically stable. The contagion of uncertainty and disorder cannot be isolated as though order were objectively normative and natural. None of what we attempt so artificially to stabilize is God's preservation, much less original. We have tried this over and over and over again. Brunner was immensely fond of it, and Barth rejects the entire edifice.

    2. Of course the objects have to overlap. I refuse NOMA as a way of negotiating our discussions of the world as object. I am not merely speaking in some way, or at some level, about the world. But my speech about the world is also not contending facts with physics, or chemistry, or biology, or sociology, or psychology, to the extent that they speak about the world and objects in it from particular perspectives grounded in the nature of the parts of it we as natural and social scientists focus on. "Religion and science" as a conflict isn't about theology and physics and chemistry and biology and sociology and psychology, etc. These are merely its victims, and to the extent that we can make common cause as scientists we can overcome the conflict of overarching worldviews neither/none of which we participate in as scientists. When we dialogue, it is to find common cause as methodologically driven, skeptical, reasonable, inquisitive people who pay attention to very particular things in very particular ways. We are not "non-overlapping magisteria"; we interact responsibly to one another as specialists in different fields.

      But one of these things is not like the other, of course. Theology is not like natural and social sciences, because its object is not first and foremost an aspect of the world from a certain perspective that enables greater access to its truth. The object of theology is God. When we speak professionally about the world, it can only be from that perspective. And not all of us are qualified to speak professionally about the world! I do not ask an exegete for theological anthropology, because scripture is not principally a textbook about the world. As an exegete I rely on knowledge about the world to speak about scripture, and to read scripture's witnesses to God in ways that give me better access to their meaning and better skepticism about where their truth lies. And when, as a theological ethicist—or so-called "anthropologist," because anthro of religion is still anthro, but "theological anthropology" is not an anthropology—I speak in the discipline I share with others who approach it differently, what we are doing is quite explicitly overlapping as magisteria in discussion of the same thing.

      We took the enlightenment compromise and attempted to make of our remaining domain a place where we could remain superior. "Yankee doodling," as it were. But nobody actually gets to be "queen of the sciences." That's not how science works. It's only how ideology works.

    3. So what I would say is: some version of the cooperation of specialized sciences is correct and laudable. NOMA is not such a thing; it is a framework in which "religion" and "science" as ideologies can be held in tension, keeping the culturally-involved fundamentalisms of either side in check. No science—natural, social, or theological—needs to fall on either side. We work together better when we're not under the illusion that we should be in interminable conflict, and that our disagreements preclude meaningful consensus and require both sides to attempt to work the other territory without input from its experts.

    4. (And, y'know, when "religion" isn't simply assumed to be Christian or meaningfully compatible with an abstraction of Christian principles.)

    5. Matt, as seems often to be the case in our interactions, I find your responses to be less than clear. I'm having a hard time understanding what you are trying to say, because much of it seems to contradict what you wrote in the original post. You seem to have misunderstood my point about NOMA as well, and you also continue to misconstrue NOMA itself, loading it up with all this unnecessary talk of tension and ideology. But let's try to cut through the rhetoric and get to the point.

      Your original post appeared to argue that theology and the natural sciences are even more radically distinct than NOMA claims, while your comments to me claim that they are much closer together and should be seen as cooperating sciences (the language of cooperation appears nowhere in the original post). Do I understand you correctly if I say that theology (I don't see the point in talking about "religion") and natural/social science are two different sciences with very specific objects of inquiry? Natural/social science pursues knowledge of the empirical world. Theology pursues knowledge of God. Have I got that right?

      If so, how is this not **in some way** (the qualification is important and was in my previous comment) a version of NOMA, **replacing** Gould's terms with the ones I've just given? I don't see any reason why this should preclude cooperation and dialogue. The point is simply that theology and natural/social science explore different objects in their own distinct ways. To be sure, there are places where they overlap, such as the doctrine of creation. But I heard you saying -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- that when the theologian talks about creation, she talks about a theological reality inaccessible to the natural/social scientist. There is no competition. Or as you said, while they "interact, they do not overlap."

      I assume I'm missing something, but it's unclear to me so far.

    6. The difference, as almost always between us, is context. I have not misunderstood your point about NOMA; I believe you have misconstrued the context in which it stands, and what it actually implies. I should probably have said so in the first place. Gould's sincerity, especially as a professor trying to give his religious students something he deems usable in place of the inadequate frameworks promoted by the fundamentalism/modernism split, does not get him outside of the post-Enlightenment paradigm upon which he is building. That it is the most eirenic adaptation of that paradigm does not make the paradigm itself correct, and we have no reason as scientists and theologians to pretend the paradigm imposed upon us is necessary. NOMA, in other words, is an accommodation to a thing we need not accommodate to do what Gould intends.

      The paradigm NOMA attempts to domesticate is designed to separate "religious"—i.e. metaphysically supernaturalist and non-empirical/non-naturalist—claims about the world from claims totally predicated on naturalism, and only to grant the former to the extent that they accommodate the priority of naturalism as the only necessary explanation for the world in its own terms. This is a product, not of the overreaching of Christianity against the sciences it overwhelmingly promoted (contra the Galileo narrative), but of the development of elite non-Christian and anti-Christian ideologies in the Enlightenment as a response to the political control of the church over European society. This was a conflict between societal elites for sociopolitical power, and it had nothing to do with science or theology, except as it devised means of separating the sciences from their Christian ideologies. That conflict was manufactured, top to bottom, and it is the whole reason there exists a fundamentalist/modernist split.

      The whole point of "non-overlapping" is to maintain the accommodation now understood as necessary between religion and science because of that imposed conflict by which the sciences were made explicitly non- and implicitly anti-theological. But in point of fact our magisteria do overlap when we discuss the world, and necessarily so, because there is only one such world. If they did not, there would be no need to posit that they do not, and to teach this accommodation. It is meant to keep "religion" from interfering in the sciences by maintaining anti-Modern fundamentalism as the ground of "religion". That's the pigeonhole. But it is also meant to allow all manner of naturalistic religious speculation. When Hawking goes off with some co-author and babbles incoherently about his own naturalistic theology, that's a feature, not a bug. That's what Lessing built the ditch to protect.

      We do in fact overlap, as theological and natural and social scientists, when we talk about the world in which we live, and how it works, and how it perhaps should and should not work, and what we might do to make it work better. To posit our non-competition as people who have some basis for talking about the world is to demand that some parties of this conversation remain isolated in a growing idiosyncrasy that in turn justifies their exclusion from the whole. To give that isolated group something to do, some positive work they might be capable of doing as long as they remain over there, even if we mean it charitably, is not to redress the wrong done to the whole. This is the problem I have with NOMA.

    7. So, to the extent that you have understood me correctly—which is most of the way—that's the largest missing piece. The next largest piece is that when we talk about the broader doctrinal locus of "creation", as theological scientists, we're having an argument about how to talk about the world. And we're having that argument in some connection with how the world came to be the way it is.

      What a Barthian has (or should have, if they pay attention to the material) that nobody else seems to have is the realization that the doctrinal locus of creation is not therefore about the act of creation simpliciter. As Barth says, creation is not the doctrine of the world-cause. God's act of creation does not get us to where we are today. Our being God's creature does not adequately describe the way things are today. So, to the extent that we as theologians speak of creation, we are speaking of something the natural sciences have no access to, and it is therefore something we must relate to how the world is the way it is today by some means other than rubber-stamping "GOD" on the back of things we like, and "SIN" on the back of things we don't.

    8. "But in point of fact our magisteria do overlap when we discuss the world, and necessarily so, because there is only one such world. ... We do in fact overlap, as theological and natural and social scientists, when we talk about the world in which we live, and how it works, and how it perhaps should and should not work, and what we might do to make it work better."

      Compare that with: "While these objects—God and the non-God creature—interact, they do not overlap."

      I just want to make it clear that the position you have stated in the most recent comment is precisely the one I was putting forward in my first comment. My disagreement with you about NOMA was on the grounds that "at some level the objects have to overlap"!

      In fact, we simply disagree on what NOMA entails. I dispute your penultimate paragraph, or at least the second-half of it.

      But we might also disagree on a larger theological issue. I think the empirical/theological distinction is given a theological grounding in dialectical theology. Many critics of Barth point to him as simply adopting the Kantian distinction between religion and reason, and then try to fault him for it. My response to this is that he does indeed have this distinction, or at least a version of it (time/eternity, history/eschatology, creature/creator), but he grounds this distinction theologically. He draws on Kant only to give language to this argument, but not as the basis for it.

      It sounds like you want to make Barth a partisan against this distinction altogether, and I frankly don't see how that is possible.

    9. Which is to say: theological science has no better access to explanation of how the world is the way it is, just because we study God. We, as scientists who attend to the world by first attending to God and then the relationships that entails, do not have any epistemological cheat sheet that explains how the world ought to be, or why it is the way the natural and social sciences tell us it is, and the archaeological/historical sciences tell us it has been in the past. We certainly have nothing that justifies us in saying that the world is not the way the sciences of the world tell us it is. We don't even have, if we are honest with ourselves, a total grasp of the knowledge of God—and likewise honest, we should admit we have no solid grasp on knowledge of scripture or tradition or the church without those other sciences. But what we do have, that no other sciences do, is responsibility for talk about this God, whom we know by these means, and for approach to the world as it stands relative to this God. In that, and that alone, we do not share responsibility with natural and social sciences. Only as a magisterium about this God do we not overlap—until we stand on the same ground as all others do, and can beg no special pleas about the facts of its existence.

    10. David, please forgive me, but I'm not about to accept your terms regarding NOMA as a non-specialist. I hear you telling me this is not a battle that has any point, that I am essentially splitting hairs, but there is terrain on which a distinction here does matter. I accept that you are satisfied with NOMA for your purposes, because its flaws don't affect your work. But they are flaws, and they do have this historical context, and they were put there intentionally, even as Gould is only minimally perpetuating them in an attempt to make something useful out of a bad situation.

      When I'm talking about "non-overlapping objects," I mean that theology is a set of sciences about God, which has no basis for taking the world as a theological object in its own right. We have no access to the world analogous to the natural and social sciences without engaging in them. We only have such access to God as God gives Godself, and as witnesses have preserved and speculated over what they have seen and understood of that. That is our only real science; the rest is implications.

      Theology as a science of two objects, God and the world, cannot proceed to discuss the world as though it were self-evident in the ways it is to the sciences of the world. The world is only a theological object as it can be related to God, which means to the extent that we may make theological (God-determined) statements about it. And unlike so many others, the Barthian theologian should know that nothing in the world has a relation to God that can be used to make theological claims from the world. We should not—to the extent that you are still a Barthian—imagine that there is anything theological about naturalism. Saying something theological about the world is hard, and involves not first of all talking about the world. You may have comparable advantages derived from Bultmann, but Barth's can't be easily reduced to the dialectical theology movement. We come out of a range of people fighting (including one another) for just the right distinction here.

      For Barth, there can be no granting of a distinction between religion and reason. The binaries of time and eternity, history and eschatology, and creature and creator owe nothing to the presumptive divide between reason and religion. They are not versions of it. God and the things of God are not unreasonable objects, and they are also not for that reason reasonable objects if that means "amenable to naturalist epistemology." Nor is Barth interested in natural/supernatural as a divide, as though God were other than nature in any exclusive fashion. The game in both of these binaries is to force conformity to or exclusion from the broadly understood system of naturalist epistemology. It is not a game Barth is willing to play, and his use of Kant follows Kant's attempts to break this game. Kant speaks of our epistemological limitations while asserting that we can speak of the phenomenal without reducing it to a singular system under metaphysical naturalism. The phenomenal is not opposed to the noumenal as two realms of things, but rather in terms of our access to things. The terms in which Kant attempts to speak of the relationship between God and the world, and especially about ethics, are problematic, and Barth doesn't take them over; he writes his own.

    11. Matt, this will be my last comment. Let me clarify that when I say Barth has a "version" of the Kantian distinction, I do not mean that Barth's terms function in the same way or with the same content. Obviously, creature and creator are not rational and irrational; I have not said that. What I am saying is that Barth's theologically grounded distinction serves the same function as Kant's distinction, namely, to differentiate talk of God and talk of the world. Barth has his own way of justifying this that is unique to him, but it does serve a similar purpose and role -- namely, to free theology from the sciences, to give theology its own due as the science of God. I think we agree on that much, but you seem to be clouded by a polemic against the Enlightenment.

      "The world is only a theological object as it can be related to God, which means to the extent that we may make theological (God-determined) statements about it." This is the position for which I have been arguing, ostensibly in dialogue with you, and until I see reason to think otherwise, I contend this results in a noncompetitive relation between theology and the sciences -- one that we can fairly describe as compatible with NOMA. You can dismiss me as a nonspecialist if you want, but I would contend you are guilty of rejecting NOMA on the basis of the genetic fallacy.

      I'm sure we'll circle around this issue more times in the future.

    12. We agree, we just don't agree about how to agree. Which is about par for the course!

      And, of course, we also have substantive disagreements behind that fact, or we would be in complete agreement about the manner of cooperation among the disciplines.

      "Barth's theologically grounded distinction serves the same function as Kant's distinction, namely, to differentiate talk of God and talk of the world." Yes, of course, but it's naïve to suggest that Barth (or Kant) is therefore freeing theology from the sciences. You are missing my entire point! "The sciences" are not the opponent here, nor would Barth or Kant agree that they are what holds theology in its ghetto as long as it refuses to naturalize. "The sciences" are also not a product of the Enlightenment—that was just a clever re-branding exercise that achieved general acceptance.

      Only when we see that the sciences are not something to separate theology from—which is the entire point of Barth's development of theology as a science—and when the natural and social sciences see that theology is not something they must exclude and attempt to replace without consultation, will we actually have a noncompetitive relationship between them as fellow specialists in different areas. But at that point we may begin to have real and fruitful competition with one another as specialists whose disciplines produce interacting and often usefully conflicting implications in our common domain: the world. That competition, in which the sciences are always already engaged with themselves, is the goal!

      In those dialogues, we ought never to resort to the kind of pigeonholing and special pleading that even NOMA as the broadest and most charitable version of the forced Enlightenment compromise still encourages. There are no special domains of knowledge about the world.

      If we would claim better knowledge about the world as it is, we must compete for recognition with all comers. But again, as I keep saying, Barth does not claim better knowledge about the world as it is. He does not claim to contradict the natural and social sciences. He is not freeing theology from them; he is taking theology back to its roots, which do not involve drawing protological and teleological implications from the way things are, much less pitting scriptural narratives against scientific models.

    13. This is why his distinctions are between God and the world, the Creator and the creature, eternity and time, eschatology and history. And that last one is the most important to grasp for the meaning of the rest.

      History talks about the origin and end of the world. The historical is understood to be naturally possible, and yet things happen in history that are not, that come into it from without. When Barth talks about the origin and end of the creature, he maintains an eschatological separation from the outcomes of creaturely-determined history. But "the eschaton" is for that reason the wrong way to put it, as though the only break were promised at the end, and we were naturally continuous with our creation. Worse, to suggest that "the eschaton" isn't really a break with history, but simply a moment in which it is concluded without winding down, as the resolution of an internal logic from its origin. And taking protology and eschatology out of the realm of the creature and making them parts of the doctrine of God only winds up cosigning this mess by making the beginning and end of the creature implicit in God's self-revelation.

      This is why it's so important to understand that Barth separates the creation and redemption of the creature from its providential election and reconciliation toward right/faithful covenantal being-in-act within history. Reconciliation doesn't begin from creation, and it doesn't lead to redemption. It begins from the eternal fact of redemption, which is in no way at odds with the eternal fact of creation, and which we can only anticipate as beyond any future we can make. The point of ethics isn't to get right for the eschaton; it's to be what we were made to be, through responsible participation in God's eternally prior grace.

      And yes, this is a novel thesis for reasons that as an attentive reader escape me, unless I explore the history of present readings, and Barth's reception history. To which approach no sensible scholar should retort "genetic fallacy"!

    14. I don't ultimately care if you agree that this is your problem. Better for you if it isn't. I've never tried to pin this massive historically grounded situation on any one individual. That would be the genetic fallacy, and I'm glad to leave it to people who want to blame things on Luther or Scotus or Ockham, because usually they stay out of my way. (Except for the rare occasions when your theologically conjoined twin makes me read them when they talk about Barth, poorly.)


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