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Ellis, George F. R. “Intimations of Transcendence: Relations of the Mind to God."

In “Intimations of Transcendence: Relations of the Mind to God,” George F.R. Ellis explores a strongly theistic interpretation of religious experience. He aims to show the logical coherence of a particular “kenotic” theological position, as well as its consistency with current views within both physics and neuroscience. After outlining the position he takes on fundamental issues such as the role of models in science, the hierarchical structuring of science, and the relations between causal explanations from different levels, Ellis presents a summary of the theological-ethical position that he developed with Nancey Murphy (Nancey Murphy and George F.R. Ellis, On the Moral Nature of the Universe (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996)). “Kenosis” is a term from Christology that referred originally to Christ’s “emptying” himself of divine attributes. Ellis and Murphy extend the meaning of the term, using it to describe God’s loving self-sacrifice as revealed in the life and death of Jesus. On this view, kenosis is an overall key to the nature of creation because it is the nature of the Creator. A kenotic ethic of self-giving love reflects the ultimate nature and power of God, manifest most clearly in the resurrection of Jesus.

Evidence for the theological vision proposed here comes from a variety of human experiences, which Peter Berger has termed “intimations of transcendence.” Ellis argues that while there may be evolutionary or functional explanations of moral behavior, human creativity, aesthetic appreciation, love and joy, in all of these cases there seems to be an excess. Humans, for example, sacrifice themselves not only for kin but for strangers, and human love goes beyond the bounds of the practical. However, none of these intimations is sufficient to yield a detailed account of the nature of the transcendent. Thus, Ellis asserts the need for a channel of revelation. A major goal of this essay is to argue that a view of divine action (revelation) through the mediation of the human brain is consistent with contemporary neuroscience. He speculates that the causal gap revealed by quantum theory allows for a “causal joint” whereby information may be made available to human consciousness without violation of energy conservation. However, Ellis’s argument does not depend critically on the role of quantum phenomena in consciousness, but rather on the coherence and explanatory scope of the theological vision he proposes.

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