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Review of Unweaving the Rainbow - Robert Tulip 
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Post Review of Unweaving the Rainbow - Robert Tulip
An email I received recently...

Hi Chris

Here is a review I have written of Unweaving the Rainbow. Hope you find it interesting!

Robert Tulip

Book Review

Richard Dawkins: Unweaving the Rainbow, Penguin, 1998

Christiaan Mostert: God and The Future, T & T Clark, 2002

Richard Dawkins is justly famous for the remarkably lucid and coherent
evolutionary philosophy he has developed in his books The Selfish Gene, The
Blind Watchmaker and Climbing Mount Improbable. Dawkins presents Darwin
with power, logic and clarity, effectively rebutting the old fundamentalist
idea of God as an interventionist designer. For Dawkins, evolution is the
real context of thought, and the Darwinian logic of cumulative adaptation
is entirely sufficient to explain all apparent miracles of evolution, from
Cambrian phylla to bat's ears to eagle's eyes to human brains. He considers
that any thinking which fails to engage with scientific understanding sets
itself outside the boundaries of intelligent conversation.

Unweaving the Rainbow further develops these evolutionary themes, with
different approaches to the rainbow providing a motif for the cultural
battles faced by scientific understanding. For Dawkins, Sir Isaac Newton's
use of the prism to explain the structure of light has a beauty which can
only add to our subjective vision of the beauty of rainbows in nature. By
contrast, John Keats' comment that Newton 'destroyed the poetry of the
rainbow' by reducing it with 'cold philosophy' actually diminishes the
scope of our imagination. Science is the foundation of creativity, so when
poets like Keats deride knowledge out of some romantic nostalgia, they push
our culture away from the engagement with reality that has to be the source
of any improvement.

I believe that Christian theology should engage with ideas such as those of
Richard Dawkins in order to retain credibility and contestability in the
broader intellectual community. Dawkins is an avowed atheist, with good
reason considering the lame ideas about God he has encountered, symbolised
by the religious demand that the rainbow can only be appreciated as a whole
rather than as the sum of its parts. Theology needs to unweave such
'rainbows' as its approach to the trinity, to creation and to the meaning
of heaven and salvation. For example, a key error of many Christians is
the belief that God is like a heavenly watchmaker, designing each creature
to fit its place. Charles Darwin showed that this theory about God is
incorrect, because the only mechanism of design is natural selection.
Dawkins provides a brilliant modern explanation of why the theory of
evolution is so compelling, and why it is simply wrong to reject Darwin.
However, he does not properly engage with the theological conversation
around these topics, appearing to say the refutation of incoherent ideas
also serves to refute coherent theology.

Theology should have the capacity to engage with Dawkins' critique,
developing its own coherence by systematic logic grounded in both an
understanding of natural processes and of the meaning of divinity. To this
end, the way of thinking I would like to explore sees God as the ultimate
adaptive possibility towards which humanity must evolve if we are to
fulfill our purpose in life. A way of putting this in terms of evolutionary
biology is to say God is 'the niche of the world'. This approach sees the
infinite and eternal God as revealed in that structure of reality (our
ecological niche) that will maximise human flourishing. By definition, if
humanity lives according to the will of this God we will prosper and grow,
but if we live contrary to the will of this God we will suffer, decline and
perhaps eventually become extinct. Connection with the divine reality
promotes salvation, understood in entirely evolutionary Darwinian terms,
while disconnection from this reality promotes destruction. There is one
truth, with the big picture equated to God and revealed in science. The
divine human niche is the global, even cosmic, ecological sum of factors
that enable human life.

I like to think of this divine niche as our telos - the Greek word for
purpose. On this basis, teleology becomes the study of how we can adapt to
our real niche, rather than the pre-Darwinian teleology which claimed that
God is somehow actively shaping us to fit nature. Operating as a whole,
our niche is largely passive, consisting of natural structures that are set
in place and mostly continue for eons. The activity is on the part of
organisms, which must find their way of living in harmony with these
natural structures if they are to prosper. Like a hermit crab that must
find a suitable shell to protect it, humanity must find our ecological
niche if we are to prosper. God has created us as complex free beings,
with power to choose if we will live by faith or not.

Can this approach reconcile with Christianity? My own belief is that Jesus
Christ provides the model of human evolution through his claim that we can
connect to God through grace. Further, I believe that trinitarian theism is
absolutely necessary in a cosmic sense if we are to develop a vision of
salvation that builds on our scientific understanding. If the niche of
human potential may properly be identified with the Christian God, we are
called to live in the image of this gracious and glorious God, representing
truth through language and establishing the Kingdom of God in the world by
promoting the Christian teachings of meaning, purpose and love.

If God is revealed in the cosmic force of nature, the question arises how
this force can be represented in human life. This is where the Christian
trinitarian conception is so powerful. When Jesus said 'Believe me that I
am in the Father and the Father in me' (John 14:11) he claimed to incarnate
the cosmic spirit of truth. His ethic of love, courage and sacrifice led
him to the cross and the resurrection, whatever that may really mean, and
this ethic continues to reverberate in our world through the holy spirit.
It is not necessary to postulate an anti-scientific personal God as
Heavenly Father to see that God became personal in Jesus Christ.

In grappling with these ideas I have found the work of Christiaan Mostert
immensely helpful, in his God and the Future, a study of the great German
thinker Wolfhardt Pannenberg. Mostert provides a masterly presentation of
an entirely coherent and compelling vision of God, with potential to help
Christian theology engage more broadly with the best of contemporary
thought. Recognising that 'the reality, power and goodness of God are
radically debatable' (155), he supports Pannenberg's contention that the
doctrine of the Trinity provides the framework for understanding creation
and history. The Trinity is often misunderstood, so Mostert's complex
orthodox 'unweaving' of this topic is refreshing - especially his focus on
the relations between the Father, Son and Spirit, and his argument that for
God to be a God for humanity, the Father needs the Son just as the Son
needs the Father. Mostert quotes Pannenberg's statement that 'the
resurrection of Jesus is just as constitutive for the divinity of the
Father as for the Sonship of Jesus' (p196), a confronting idea which really
helps to understand what it can mean to say the infinite God of the
universe cares passionately about humanity. Although Mostert is critical of
process theology, I would claim my own idea of God as revealed in the niche
of the world finds support in his statement that "if Jesus' message of the
coming kingdom of God is taken seriously, our view of God must include
God's power over all finite reality, which can only be awaited from the
future. This is the key point for any theology which intends to do justice
to eschatology' (p.151). The implication is that the power of God will
provide the meeting point for theology and ecology within human history.

Biblical prophecy claims to anticipate the future rule of God and to
explain what people must do to participate in that future. I would suggest
we can get a better understanding of the parameters of that future by
combining the scientific framework of evolution with the Biblical framework
of trinitarian eschatology. This points to three areas where I would be
interested to see Mostert expand; firstly, his understanding of divine
purpose or telos, secondly, the role of the Son in the consummation of
reality (a role Mostert assigns to the Spirit), and finally, his reading of
the Book of Revelation, and whether any of that mysterious book can be
rehabilitated as we seek to understand God and the future.

Robert Tulip

Edited by: Chris OConnor  at: 10/4/05 9:12 pm

Fri Oct 24, 2003 11:57 pm
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Post Re: Review of Unweaving the Rainbow - Robert Tulip
Does anyone want to discuss this review?

Tue Oct 04, 2005 8:12 pm
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Post Re: Review of Unweaving the Rainbow - Robert Tulip
I'm going to lock this thread. I've added the review to a new thread in Additional Book Discussions. Once we're done discussing this review I'll move that thread back to this forum and delete this thread.

Go there by clicking here.

Tue Oct 04, 2005 8:30 pm
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