Falk not replying to Dembski

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 which—because it is so consistent, dependable, and pervasive—points 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 God’s activity. It is just that some aspects of God’s 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 God’s 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 God’s,
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.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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3 Responses to Falk not replying to Dembski

  1. Gregory says:

    Hi Jon,

    Just wondering if you’re going to offer a thread with a critical response to Dembski’s two posts also or only to Falk’s responses to them. Should we take it that you agree unreservedly with Dembski in what he writes at BioLogos or will you give us a sign of how you may or may not also challenge Dembski?

    One example already to note, making it unclear if you’ve carefully read Demsbki’s piece or were being loose with words in response:
    You wrote: “Dembski’s main thrust was the compatibility of evolution with Christianity”

    Please correct me if I’m wrong, but Dembski’s ‘main thrust,’ consonant with the (assumingly) requested title of his paper, is about ‘Darwinism and Christianity,’ not merely ‘evolution and Christianity.’ You surely would not wish to conflate those two terms in all or even most cases, would you?


  2. Gregory says:

    Btw, I fully agree with Dembski on this:
    “The most difficult tension to resolve in our present discussion is the one between Human Exceptionalism, (C3), and Human Continuity, (D3).”

    It is noteworthy that on a recent post about ‘Human Exceptionalism’ at UD, no one, not even the thread’s originator, would answer a question about the relationship between ‘human exceptionalism’ and ‘intelligent design’ theory. Likewise, Dembski’s references to ‘design’ in his BioLogos posts, stop just short of the sentence quoted above.

    Does ‘design’ have anything to say about ‘human exceptionalism’ particularly in a ‘natural scientific’ context (because of course it does according to theology), in your view?

  3. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    Hi Gregory

    I hadn’t planned to blog on Dembski because the disagreements I had with what were, mainly, just points for discussion were minor issues that would have made for a boring blog … like, for example the blurring of MN with MN, which was understanable given the fact they usually areblurred, but in the context of sounding out BioLogos would have been better strictly separated. And the like.

    I used “evolution” for “Darwinism” because I was slightly sensitive to “Darwinism” as a pejorative term and Dembski’s use of it. And, Lo and Behold – Darrel uses it as a pejorative and distances himself and BioLogos from it altogether. It looks like you noticed something that actually was of significance there!

    It may take the UD guys some time to adjust to the BioLogians not being Christian Darwinists after all … and it may take me some time to work out whether there’s a real difference, given the careful avoidance of God’s government in Darrel’s reply – creating and sustaining don’t necessarily act as a counter to “unguided and purposeless” unless you’re taling about a good deal of frontloading of the “laws of nature.”

    Exceptionalism – I have some thoughts on that and will proceed with another post forthwith.

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