The first of Darrel Falk’s two-part response to William Dembski’s article on BioLogos is, once again, more significant for what it doesn’t say than for what it does. Given, from previous writings, his preference for the idea of a creation permitted constrained freedom to “make itself”, which was stated more or less as the official BioLogos position in my last interaction with him, it is surprising that this receives no mention in the first part, which lays out the theoretical grounds on which he means to engage Dembski.
He makes a conventional distinction between “natural” and “supernatural” events, acknowledging the existence of the latter in salvation history and, in theory, in the creation realm. One does, from his previous record, suspect that the latter is being set up to be discounted, in contradistinction to Dembski’s “supernatural” IDism. Whether that is so will emerge in the next post – but it would be pretty irrelevant since Dembski’s main thrust was the compatibility of evolution with Christianity, not the merits of ID, and still less an insistence on supernatural mechanisms for it.
But regarding the “natural” category, Falk is quick to name this as part of God’s activity, and his ongoing activity at that. He rightly points to Scriptures that speak of God’s sustaining hand on creation. But it is apparent to this writer that he is carefully steering clear of making similarly overt references to God’s governance of creation (as distinct from his sustaining of it), which is actually the greater Biblical emphasis.
See how God’s natural activity is developed in his model. First, the distinction between “natural” and “supernatural” is drawn on the basis of their lawlikeness and spontaneity, respectively:
The laws of nature, then, are simply a description of the ongoing activity of God whichbecause it is so consistent, dependable, and pervasivepoints to the trustworthiness of God. Put another way, the activity of God is not restricted to that which we call the supernatural; it is all Gods activity. It is just that some aspects of Gods activity are so consistently repeatable that we can develop laws which describe the regularity of the divine activity which holds and sustains the universe.
Natural law, though a modern concept, nevertheless does indeed arise from the originally Hebrew idea of the consistency of God’s sustaining activity in the world. In this natural, law-driven, category, Falk puts the evolution of life on earth. But having made the distinction between predictable natural law and occasional (and by implication rare or absent in the normal world) supernatural acts, he blurs the question of God’s governance and providence by obfuscation. He continues:
This latter [lawlike] type of activity is no less magnificent just because God does it continuously. Indeed, the Psalmist marveled at Gods natural activity and worshipfully reflected upon it.
He cites Psalm 104.28 (the Lord’s feeding the creatures) and Job 40.9 (the thunder as God’s voice) as examples of God’s natural activity. But in neither case are these merely described as the outworking of natural law established at the outset of creation. Psalm 104 speaks not only of the feeding of the animals to satisfy them, but of his hiding his face to terrify them, taking away their breath so they die – and then sending his Spirit to create them anew and replenish the earth. There is indeed awe and reverence here, but if anything it’s awe at the Lord’s apparent caprice (or at least inscrutability) rather than his predictability. This is governance – decision making – not mere implementation of natural law. Indeed, the lesson the psalmist draws at the end of his meditation a few verses later is not just praise for the order of nature – though that’s there – but a desire that sinners will vanish from the earth. In other words, that God’s individual governance may be seen to extend from nature to the world of men.
As for the Job reference, once more the context isn’t at all the acceptance of God’s invisible role “behind and under” the power of thunder. It’s God’s rebuke of Job for discrediting his justice:
8 Would you discredit my justice?
Would you condemn me to justify yourself?
9 Do you have an arm like Gods,
and can your voice thunder like his?
10 Then adorn yourself with glory and splendour,
and clothe yourself in honour and majesty.
11 Unleash the fury of your wrath,
look at all who are proud and bring them low,
12 look at all who are proud and humble them,
crush the wicked where they stand.
If it implies anything other than simply poetic metaphor, God’s “supernatural” power (if we must choose between the two terms) is attributed to the thunder: hear thunder, and God is exercising judgement somewhere. Falk also misses out the ensuing passage, in which God takes personal credit for the wisdom of the individual features of behemoth (the hippo, in all probability) and leviathan (the crocodile). This too must mean more than the sustaining of natural law, whether that refers to a lawlike evolutionary process or to the “freedom of creation to make itself” that Falk actually favours.
Although, then, seeming to go beyond a commonly-held Christian misunderstanding of “natural” as “God absent” to include God’s ongoing creating and sustaining role (which is certainly necessary in today’s climate) Falk is actually robbing the realm of the natural of the direct governance of God, which has always been central to Jewish and Christian thinking. At the beginning of his post he says that he does not consider his view Darwinian (an interesting turn of phrase crying out for clarification – apparently, that’s in the next post!), but at least it seems to have been heavily influenced by that part of Darwin’s theory that attributes evolution to natural law without the intervention of God, for it imposes it on his overall theological understanding.
And remember, he speaks here as the official voice of BioLogos.