Penman has replied to my last post on Simon Conway Morris’s positive take on Biblical miracles. I think a post-length reply might be more helpful, not least because it gives me the opportunity to move away from Morris the individual. I mainly wanted in that post to show that childhood reading was what started him “ticking” – I’d not want to be responsible for a discussion about him behind his back that made him sick, rather than tick…
So, leaving Morris aside for the moment, I want to address the question of those who accept the Biblical miracles and yet have problems with God’s “intervention” in the world’s natural history. That seems to apply to some of the BioLogos guys, usually because of some combination of the ideas that science would stop, or that God’s involvement “ought” not to be detectable, or that God would be somehow cheating, or at least acting beneath his dignity, so to act in real time.
Alvin Plantinga has an interesting viewpoint on miracles, pointing out that the idea of scientific law presupposes a closed cause-and-effect economy: they apply in the Universe only inasmuch as there is no input from outside the Universe. Now of course, the Christian concept of miracle implies just such an external input on the part of God. To change water into wine or raise the body of Jesus implies not a breaking of scientific law, but a change of the conditions in which they operate. To give a clear example, if from heaven God were to apply an equal and opposite supernatural force to the gravitational field on earth, the law of gravitation would be overcome by an external factor, rather than broken.
So far so good. It would seem that theistic scientists must believe some such thing in order to accommodate Bible miracles – the Universe cannot always be a closed system. Natural science, in fact, is then most correctly seen by theists as doing its work on the approximation that the Universe is closed, just as the engineer will exclude certain factors not because they are absent but because they are mathematically negligible.
But miracles are not the only, rare, instance of the openness of the Christian Universe. Providence, even in the vague and loose form acknowledged in much modern Evangelicalism, also works on the assumption of an open Universe. This applies at all kinds of levels. Answered prayer implies that God acts in response to our entreaties, if only to change our own hearts: I know of no mainstream Christians who abhor prayer. Fulfilled prophecy is dependent not merely on foresight but on ordaining what will happen (Messiah will be born in a surviving Bethlehem of David’s maintained line and will save his preserved people, and so on.) God judges only if he acts – and alternatively can only show mercy by refraining from acting. And, of course, the frequent claims in Scripture of God’s care and providence for his creation imply some kind of openness to his will.
One might argue for an extreme form of fine-tuning to account for these things, which are as much a core part of Christian faith as the miracles. Logically it would be quite acceptable for the eternal God, hearing the cries of his temporal people out of time, to create a Universe in which, at just the right time, the king of Assyria has to cope with a rebellion back home. But from what we know of the natural sciences, such exact physical determinism lacks any plausible mechanism, even without accepting the reality of any degree of human freedom of action. Simon Conway Morris, for example, seems to hold that whatever “natural” principles govern life govern it across the Universe – life has probably arisen in many places and will tend to converge on the same general evolutionary outcomes. Mankind would be a typical example of the inevitability of intelligent life: I doubt he would consider that it is always bound to produce John the Baptist a few months before Jesus Christ.
Reformed theology has gone further than most traditions in establishing a robust doctrine of providence, and does so not on the basis of such a kind of Hyper-Deism, but on the immanence of God within creation. He upholds it, sustains it and directs it at every turn. One might argue about how that works – whether by directing chance, by controlling quantum events, or by the proverbial “tinkering”. But willy nilly, it implies, like the miraculous, a Universe that is open to God, rather than being a closed system operating only by the predetermined principles of nature.
If that is the case, then the quest to find a complete explanation of the natural history of the Universe – including evolution – through science appears rather perverse, except as a convenient working assumption. We have no more reason to believe it to be exhaustively true than we would expect the Resurrection, somehow, to be a clever outworking of the physics of the big bang. We should expect the working assumption to break down at some point, just as the engineer may have to take “negligible” forces into account under some circumstances.
The big debate around ID, then, boils down to this: is the information present in life encompassed by the working assumption of methodological naturalism, or is it at least in part a reflection of the openness of the Universe to the God who dwells apart from it? It seems to me that this question is no different from that facing Christian scientists in drawing conclusions about the processes that led one to a life-changing evangelistic meeting, or that led Pharaoh’s daughter to Moses’ basket in the Nile, or to return to penman’s post, that caused a storm to stop just as Jesus rebuked it.