Chaos or Kosmos in the Classroom?


Rome: The Trevi Fountain The fountains of Rome reflect the papal perpetuation of an ancient Roman practice. Disorderly, chaotic "nature" is brought under control and water is made available to serve "civilized" human needs. (Photograph taken by Warren Johnson.)

Rome: The Trevi Fountain
The fountains of Rome reflect the papal perpetuation of an ancient Roman practice. Disorderly, chaotic “nature” is brought under control and water is made available to serve “civilized” human needs. (Photograph taken by Warren Johnson.)

In his 2005 release “Fine Line,” Paul McCartney mused that “There is a long way between chaos and creation” (Paul McCartney, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, EMI/Capitol Records). Perhaps unwittingly, the Liverpudlian noted a critical point in the intersection of faith and reason. Sir Paul’s declaration reflects a theological/philosophical reality of which biblical authors and Greek sages were aware, and this concept is at the heart of the issue of teaching within the context of Christ-centered higher education. Once we realize that we can comprehend the world in which we live, we discover that we need to ask a logically-prior question: “Why can we comprehend the world in which we live?” The issue of how we make sense of our world presumes that we can, in fact, make sense of our world.

Among the ancient Greeks this concern was expressed in the distinction they made between chaos and kosmos. In answer to Hesiod’s question concerning the origin of all things, the Muses informed him that “first chaos came into existence” (Hesiod, Theogony, 116). While this poet may have understood chaos as no more than an unformed substance, Aristotle’s comment on Theogony reveals his perception of chaos as disorderly and ugly (Aristotle, Metaphysics 984b.20-39). Aristotle consulted Hesiod while the student of Plato was searching for the cause of all good order (kosmos) and arrangement (Metaphysics 984a.15-17). He sought to comprehend why we live in the midst of order (kosmos) rather than disorder (chaos); the former offers a reasonable expectation for understanding our universe, the latter does not.

Curiously, McCartney’s lyric makes a similar point in terms that echo biblical language. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth was tumbled and jumbled” [Hebrew: tohu vevohu] (Gen 1:1-2a). Facing the formless void that was the primeval earth, God began bringing order to the chaos; he sorted through what was tohu vevohu. Light and darkness were separated from one another as were sea and dry land. Plants and animals were brought into existence in various distinct, orderly kinds. Aristotle’s term, kosmos, would be appropriate to describe the results of this work of God, but a better Greek word is available: ktisis, “Creation.” While both kosmos and ktisis note the orderliness of the realm in which we live; the latter term acknowledges (at least implicitly) the action of the Creator.

Because we live in a kosmos/ktisis, our quest to comprehend our surroundings leads us toward a reasonable goal. In a kosmos/ktisis we can hope to perceive the order in which we are immersed and to take (at least preliminary) steps toward discovering the character of that order. Existence within the tumble and jumble of chaos would offer no such hope; the concept of “laws of nature” would be meaningless, even the communication necessary to express such laws would be impossible in a chaotic state where all words mean everything and nothing simultaneously.

At this point a distinctive quality of Christian scholarship becomes evident. Whereas all scholars must recognize the (at least partial) orderliness of the kosmos, without recognizing the kosmos as ktisis they are ultimately unable to account for the existence of this orderliness; they can proceed no further than the unsatisfying assertion that the kosmos just is (and we do not know why it is). Christian scholarship recognizes the orderliness of the kosmos/ktisis and finds there evidence of the Creator. Now we are prepared to return to the question raised earlier: “Why can we comprehend the world in which we live?” Such comprehension is possible because the world in which we live is not a chaos but a ktisis, formed by the Creator. What we comprehend is the order imposed on chaos by the Creator. There is indeed “a long way between chaos and creation.”

In many instances the intersection of faith and scholarship, the context in which Christ-centered higher education occurs, is most clearly evident when considering such fundamental questions as whether our classrooms function under the influence of chaos or kosmos. As Christian scholars we are compelled to respond “Neither”; in the world of Christian scholarship, we work within the framework of ktisis. The various disciplines that constitute the Christian academy intersect most clearly at this foundational level. My desire is to consider the outlines of some of those intersections, investigating how Christian scholarship informs theology and how theology informs Christian scholarship. If successful, I hope that I will detect a few fingerprints of the Creator.



Wait a second…HOW big did you say?

I have not yet had the opportunity to watch the new version of Cosmos that Fox put together this year, but earlier this week I saw that it is now on Netflix, so I have added it to “my list” for viewing in the near future.

Pale Blue Dot

Source: Wikipedia “Seen from about 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles, 40 astronomical units), Earth appears as a tiny dot (the blueish-white speck approximately halfway down the brown band to the right) within the darkness of deep space.[1]”

Upon first hearing that Cosmos was going to have new episodes, I thought about the famous “Pale Blue Dot” photograph. I don’t recall the exact time, but at some point in my youth I was made aware of the existence of this photograph and how it had been taken as the request of Cosmos’ original host, Carl Sagan.

Now, this is not meant to be a discussion over Sagan’s particular viewpoints, although I do find it amazing that given the exact same evidence two groups of people could be so absolutely sure of two polar opposite possibilities (deists and atheists). Perhaps that is another discussion for another day.

This post is about our place in creation.

As much as the “Pale Blue Dot” photograph and Carl Sagan’s famous speech from his audiobook of the same name puts all of human existence in a small place, this video, which I came across just this week, makes us seem even smaller in the grand scheme of things:

The above video takes the idea of the “Pale Blue Dot” and literally multiplies it infinitely.

Why bring this up?

Last week I wrote that Alan Huesing, myself, and everyone else that has experienced God’s influence should make a point to “write it down” as a testament to future generations. Well, in KINE 1301 Intro to Kinesiology (mostly freshmen), I try to get the students to think about how many books their total life’s story would actually entail. That part is easy for most of them…they realize that such a collection would, even at 18 or 19 years-old, be so expansive that no library could contain it. Then, I literally ask them to look at everyone else in the room, emphasizing that each of THOSE individuals also has a life’s story that is already near-infinite in nature.

To Kill a Mockingbird” taught me that to understand people you have to walk a mile in their shoes. To foster any positive change, regardless of occupation or God’s calling for your life, understanding people is a bare minimum requirement. That said, to walk a mile in others’ shoes you have to realize that the complexity of all of the factors in someone else’s life is just as complicated as your own.

Beyond the person next to you in class or working with you at your job, there are over 7 Billion people currently on the Earth with untold others before, and each of THOSE people also has or had a story that would fill entire libraries.

Here is the point: We have no concept of the expanse of God’s creation.

When made aware that they live on “a fraction of a pixel”, some people might feel overwhelmed or worthless. However, while we may be only a teensy-tiny part of creation, we are not insignificant.

Students must understand that regardless of their stature (relative to the rest of creation) they are important cogs in God’s creation. “The body is not made up of one part but of many.” If I can help students reach that state of mind and accept it, I have succeeded in part of God’s purpose for my life.


Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham

I was asked about my response to the Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham debate. I will admit I had mixed feelings about the debate which apparently is what most of the web felt. You have some that loved it, some that hated it and many that were ambivalent about it.

My initial response was wow, what a setup. It was an elaborate stage with a wonderful technology and a professional setup. But looks aren’t everything…

My response quickly changed to one of disappointment.  A definition of a debate is “a structured argument.  Two sides speak alternately for and against a particular contention usually based on a topical issue.” The topic at hand was “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?

Neither side seemed to focus on the topic. And while the debate seemed structured, the arguments were not.

Mr. Ham started in a good way by putting forth a definition of the term “science”. He posited two kinds of science, observational and historical.  Observational is the current method of exploring the universe. Historical then takes the observational and extrapolates it back to origins. He continued by speaking of secularists hijacking the word “science”. They define science as naturalism and outlaw the supernatural. Ham then defined “origins” as creation vs. evolution. And that was what the debate was really about.

Mr. Nye opened with a story about his family and bowties.  Entertaining but completely unrelated to the topic.  Then he brought up science as shown on the popular TV show, CSI, an entertaining show, but with little to do with real-world science. He continued with a series of disjointed statements about the flood and billions of non-Christian’s religious beliefs about creation. This debate quickly became unstructured.

What followed were both sides giving good decent presentations of their particular model of origins.

Mr. Ham had the more cohesive presentation.  He started with the need for defining science and evolution and stayed with that mostly.  He strayed a bit with questions to Mr. Nye about where naturalism gets logic, and which technology requires a naturalist belief. He came back around to his two kinds of science argument from his opening. Then he focused on “evolution” as another hijacked word.  The definition of evolution has changed over the years. He finished by stating that naturalism and evolution are just another type of religious worldview. In the middle, he had teasers of evidence of creation origins (see his website for more information).

Mr. Nye’s presentation was at best disjointed and, at worst, very confusing.  Even when he had valid scientific points, he put them together in an awkward way. His arguments centered on the short time frame in the creation model. He went from layers of ice to tree rings to number of species to working at Boeing to large boulders lying around the state of Washington. This jumping from point to point was hard to follow.  Then he talked about how Noah’s ark wouldn’t work and they wouldn’t be able to feed the animals based on the National Zoo which was imaged from a satellite in space which would baffle his grandfather (more head scratching). If you could hang with his line of thought, there were some evidences given that should be considered as one has time.

Now to be fair, this is a very difficult topic to debate.  There are a lot of complexities involved with origins that can’t be explained adequately in one or two hours. That is why many people think it is a waste of time trying to debate topics of creation/evolution.

You see, creation as defined by Ken Ham has the earth created in 6 literal 24-hour days about 6000 years ago with God guiding the entire process. Bill Nye defines origins as about 4.5 billion years ago with evolution guiding allowing life’s changes from slime to humans (and everything else alive today).

Let’s just look at the timing.  How long is 6000 seconds?  If you do the math, 60 seconds per minute and 60 minutes per hour you get just under two hours (actually 1.667 hours).

Now how long is 4.5 billion seconds? Continuing with the math, it comes out to be just under 143 years.  This is the difference you’re trying to make scientists believe.

Two hours compared to 143 years.

If I hold to the young earth model, I cannot even come close to discussing spiritual needs and how God’s love works with most scientists. The young earth model becomes a stumbling block for them hearing the gospel. So in my circle, I steer towards spiritual discussions and the gospel rather than origin debates.