The more I think about it, the more the good folk at BioLogos appear to me to be between a rock and a hard place in formulating a theoretical framework appropriate to their mission. From the start one should acknowledge that, like any such organisation, BioLogos is a broad church. That in itself can cause problems, but it goes with the territory and, in any case, leads to fruitful debate. Rather, I’m restricting myself to the predominant theology of its main supporters, which as I have discussed at length in the last few posts is Open Theism, and to that part of its aim that has to do with reconciling an Evangelical view of God with mainstream science.
BioLogos was set up by scientists who professed Christianity, so I’m sure the main reconciliation they had in mind was between their own mainstream scientific thought and their Christian thought, rather than trying to make Christianity acceptable to the scientific world at large. The latter aspect, however, is not entirely absent both from a broad apologetic viewpoint and in the fact that BioLogos has sometimes enlisted the support of unbelieving scientists, for example in attempting to refute Intelligent Design. Neither is it humanly unlikely, or particularly reprehensible, that Christian scientists should also wish to maintain the respect of their peers whilst acknowledging their faith.
Nevertheless all those subsidiary aims are less important than resolving ones own faith and science in a satisfactory way, lest any attempt to bring others on board be doomed to failure.
But the problem starts with the very definition of mainstream science, which as it now stands has methodological naturalism built into it. A religious explanation for anything is by definition not scientific, whether or not one is prepared to concede the possibility of its having any meaning at all. ID, whose raison d’etre is a scientific program, has sought to contest this limitation by saying that it is an obstruction to knowledge. If aspects of the Universe, like information, truly do have a supernatural explanation, then science is shooting itself in the foot as a quest for understanding by excluding the possibility a priori.
Biologians, on the other hand, are broadly happy with this view of science and, indeed, of the Universe, and prefer to tailor their theology so that God’s role in the Universe is not detectable by science. Hence the appeal of Open Theology. To many unbelieving scientists this is still unacceptable – even a silent God is one god too many. To others, it is acceptable only because, in essence, such a God does not exist at all. One snip with another scientific tool, Occam’s perennially sharp razor, and such a deity ceases to be relevant, except insofar as his followers are seen as poor scientists for multiplying entities unnecessarily.
The apologetic task is therefore hampered from the start, but as I have said, this was always less important than the resolution of the science and faith of scientists themselves. This leaves Biologians with the task of producing a coherent system for themselves. How does one understand God as being one who is both intimately involved with the physical Universe and undetectable within it?
One solution might be the classical liberal one of limiting God to the subjective and personal life, and excluding him from science and the physical world altogether. In no way is such a God our Creator – which raises the question of what right he has to be involved in our lives at all. It also denies a fundamental truth of Christianity, as well as a BioLogos core belief that we believe that “God created the universe and continues to providentially sustain the natural world.“
One attraction of Open Theism is that superficially it appears to free God from the “need” to interfere with the running of the Universe. The theory goes that he has created the Universe with both deterministic natural law and its own creative autonomy: the random events that seed evolution and change its course are random with respect to God as well as to fitness. That’s why creation is full of poor outcomes and bad design as well as innovation and wonder. Yet in his wisdom God uses what this free creation produces to fulfil his purposes. But do you see the Catch 22 here? In order to “use”, then God must “act”. If natural law continues according to its rules, and random chance is part of nature’s “freedom”, then what tools can God use to act? And if he does use them, it will be interference and a denial of the principles of undetectability and methodological naturalism. God can watch – but not touch, at least in the non-human sphere with which evolution primarily deals.
Even in the human sphere, science claims the right to apply evolutionary principles to everything. Judging from the negative responses on BioLogos to my friend Gregory’s plaintive protests that not everything evolves, many in the organisation would agree with science. If human psychology, history, sociology – even sin – are the outworkings of an evolutionary process in which God does not intervene, what does he actually do, and how can it be compatible with science?
A concept that seems to provide a way out is the thoroughly truthful Christian doctrine that God sustains all existence from moment to moment, which as I have already pointed out is a core belief of BioLogos. However, in the classical formulations of this idea, such providence is thoroughly sovereign and causal. “A man casts the lot into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” Chance, to our eyes, may comply with statistical or chaos theory and yet be truly random – but it is God who decides which individual wins the lottery and which low-probability mutation arises. But such providence is unnacceptable to science, and unattractive to many Biologians, committed as they are to a view of random events that makes them independent of God. Apart, then, from the mere sustaining of existence, what tools does such a God possess to affect the world’s events?
I too sustain the existence of billions of micro-organisms and, potentially, larger parasites within my body, but I can hardly be said to influence how they lead their lives. If I did, say by swallowing a healthy dose of antibiotic, they’d soon enough be able to detect my existence.
All this is not to say that I think it’s impossible for BioLogos to square the circle. I fully believe that theistic evolution is a coherent position, though it will never be acceptable to a secular academy as long as “God” is in there, which is just tough. But some things, in my view, just have to go. The first is methodological naturalism, because God cannot both act in the Universe and be undetectable, unless he is the Deist God who works only be the laws he set up long ago. The second is the bizarre idea of a free and independent creation, which is both internally incoherent and also, at a stroke, destroys the rather more important freedom of the Creator himself – or at least, our ability to understand and worship him aright for it.